In recognition of International Women’s Day

While I know I promised to write more regularly, an incredible opportunity to speak at the Armenian Relief Society’s annual International Women’s Day luncheon, occupied every spare moment for the past two and a half months.  From being buried in post-it notes full of ideas jotted down during all hours of the day…and wee hours in the night, to continuous editing and practicing in my car, in the bathroom, while cooking, and in front of any random and willing audience, I finally got it down.  This speech was delivered on Sunday, March 1st, 2015.  It is certainly geared towards a female audience, regardless, I hope all you readers enjoy it just as much as I enjoyed delivering it…

TTG SpeechGood morning.  I’d like to start by thanking the ARS (Armenian Relief Society) Rubina Chapter and today’s organizing committee for inviting me to speak at today’s luncheon.  It’s really such an honour.

When the committee asked me to speak today, they said I could talk about anything and I thought…oh, my goodness!  Where do I even start?  You know, a year ago I decided to take a break from my career and spend some more time with my family while I figured out what to do with the rest of my life.  Never in a million years would I have thought I’d be standing here in front of you.  But, with this opportunity at hand, I thought I’d talk about the challenges that thirty and forty-something women face in today’s world.

While it is a HUGE topic, I’ve distilled my very candid observations down to 5 major challenges that I believe young-ish Armenian-Canadian moms and women face these days:  moms and motherhood (gotta talk about our moms), men (another must topic), the elusive work-life balance, one’s identity and what’s really important…you’ll find out.  I wonder if some of my observations will hold true for you.  Agree or disagree, let’s start relating!

Moms and Motherhood

Challenge #1.  Our first glimpse of motherhood, comes from our own mothers.  Moms, you inspire us, you teach us, you support us – in your own controlling – I mean loving way.  My own mother is very smart, beautiful, talented, and very, very understanding…so understanding is she, that she’s not going to get mad or upset or offended by anything I’m about to say…right mom?

As a general observation, Armenians are very passionate people:  we’re passionate about food, passionate about our causes and above all, we’re passionate about our families.

So in a culture where family comes first, it follows that our parents’ happiness means everything to us – their approval is nearly always essential and consequently, one can be quite vulnerable to any critique.  If moms believe that they’re acting in our best interest, they don’t hold back.  They’ll tell you what you should or should not be doing, saying, wearing, eating and even thinking!

I mean, I’m forty, and my mom is still telling me what to do!  Not that being 40 really means anything because while I feel a lot more confident and self-assured, in some instances I’m still trying to be one of the cool kids.  I feel like I’m in a kind of limbo:  not old enough to be wise, and not young enough not to care.  Not old enough for a cosmetic procedure, not young enough to not consider the prospect of a cosmetic procedure…am I too old to wear uggs?!

But I digress…  Everytime I write a column for TorontoHye Newspaper, my mom and I have the following conversation,

[ARMENIAN]  “Talyn, ayt eench keuradz eyeer terteen mech.  Eench bedee gartze joghovourteuh?  Antzial amseuvah hotvadzeut shad avelee lav er.  Artyok, hoknadz e-yeer?  Lav goodess?  Tzezi hamar aghvor jash meuh yepem?  Chem hasgeunar tzezi.  Ays seroonteuh darper eh.  Gyankeuh avelee arak eh.  Mer adeneuh assank cher.  Akh, aghcheegeuss, assee koo amenen tjouvar dareenereut en.”

[TRANSLATION:  “Talyn, what have you written for the paper?  What are people going to think?  Last month’s column was much better.  Could you have been tired, perhaps?  Are you eating well?  Shall I cook you a nice meal?  I don’t understand you…this generation is completely different.  Life is too fast – things were not like this when we were growing up.  Oh, my dearest daughter, these are your most trying years.”]

Huh?   How many of you have had this kind of conversation?  How did we go from, I didn’t quite get this month’s column to these are your toughest years?!

When you’re young, it’s hard to understand why mothers do the things that they do.  I gave my mom such a hard time because I thought MY life was difficult.  Like the time I ran away from home for a few hours to my Armenian best friend’s house and promptly called my mother to let her know I was ok.  My mom told me that she understood I just needed the space and most of all, that she loved me.  I know now that she was probably falling apart inside.  I also know this because every now and then she reminds me…  Regardless, she stood by me.  And I know she’ll always stand by me no matter what.  So every time we have that conversation about my articles, she makes me strive more, reach more, and try harder.  And I just hope that’s what my two boys remember when I’m mothering them!

Mothering Two Boys

Speaking of my two glorious, young and active boys.  At this stage in their lives, we are their everything.  But the time where parents are everything to their children is fleeting.  So…with that in mind, I’m prepared to make sacrifices.

For example, I’m constantly having to go on “boy” adventures – I can see all you moms and aunties of boys nodding your heads – you know exactly what I mean.  My kind of adventures are more like a night out on the town with my girlfriends or an exotic trip.  Boy adventures, are like:

  1. Clothing optional sumo wrestling
  2. Or roughing it in the dreaded “North” full of mosquitoes with no restaurants, shops, and worst of all, without female companionship!!!!

It’s not easy being a parent.  Kids don’t come with an instruction manual.  They make you second guess your every move.  I’ve resorted to begging, pleading, bribery, and even manipulation – some days, I hardly recognize myself.  Unlike any other job, the job of raising our children is 24/7, forever, the stakes are infinitely higher and the pressure for perfection is omnipresent.  For while we won’t be their everything for long, they will be our everything for all time.

So moms, grandmoms, and tantigs, we get it.  Thank you for all that you’ve done and continue to do.  Thank goodness, though, we don’t have to do it alone…which brings me to my Mr. Niceguy – better known as my husband and challenge #2.

Men

Men are an interesting breed:  so even keeled and wonderfully objective – so long as they’re not tired, hungry or sick of course.  Men (and boys) have such different priorities –underwear left in the middle of the floor or dirty socks left on kitchen counters is surely not the end of their world.  For them, the end of the world looks more like a favourite soccer team losing a match – the sorrow of which is quickly forgotten with a deep fried or sugary snack of some sort.

When you’re getting married, the focus tends to be on the wedding, how you’re going to sign your name and officially moving out of your parents’ basement.  Over time, real life will test you, will make you want to move back to the safe cocoon of your parents’ basement, but hopefully it will also transform your marriage into a real balanced partnership.

For example, I’m a bit of a dreamer and an optimist – Mr. Niceguy is logical and rational.  Oftentimes, he refers to me as “passionate” – not that kind of passionate – his way of saying I’m a quick-tempered, headstrong Armenian woman. I’ve become even more passionate as a mother, particularly while trying to discipline our children who are not listening to a word that I’m screaming and when he materializes from thin air and begins to lecture me on the latest scientific research on parenting.  Ya, I’m passionate all right.

In any case, accepting our differences has made us stronger.  Just because I think that the Bachelor should stay friends with the bachelorettes he doesn’t give a rose to, and he thinks that that’s totally absurd, doesn’t mean we can’t get along.  Men are certainly from Mars and Women are from Venus but we’re all living here together on Earth so I call a truce.

The Elusive Balance

Another balancing act we’re faced with today is work-life balance… the “Elusive Balance” – Challenge #3.  Here’s what I’m going to say about this – and if I may be presumptuous, mainly for the benefit of those, like me, who are still seeking their balance: balance is what you make of it.  There is no one formula.  And while that may sound bewildering, it means that you can have a hand in its design – if you’re brave enough.

Striving for a career only to find that it interferes with your personal life is devastating…at least it was for me.  That’s why I took matters into my own hands and am carving my own path – a path that likely would not work for someone else.  Finding balance also requires help.  On the career side, you absolutely need the right environment.  You also need buy-in, you need to build your brand and your value to the point where you are supported to have more flexibility because losing you or replacing you would not be an option.  On the family side, you also need support, and you need to dial back expectations…in my case, those perfectionistic tendencies.  There will always be feelings of guilt – I wish I was more dedicated to my job, I wish I was more dedicated to my family.  I wish I had the time to have a haircut, manicure and a latte in peace instead of freezing my butt off at an arena or constantly responding to the buzz of my Blackberry!

Finding balance and maintaining balance is tough.  What’s great, however, is seeing so many women taking charge and courageously creating the kind of life that they want, rather than what someone else imposes on them.  Bravo.

Identity

Challenge #4.  Identity.  What is your identity?  How do you define it?  Identity is influenced by a number of different things like your age, gender, language, history, religion, employment and so on.  Identity is not static and is shaped and developed by you over time.  And I believe, that at some point, we all stop and ask ourselves, “Who Am I?”  I tend to ask myself this question when I’m up at two in the morning wondering if I’m ever gonna get my act together – and if my lack of sleep has anything to do with perimenopause or something – totally FREAKS me out…I think I’m having a hot flash right now!

Most women face a real identity crisis at some point.  And as an Armenian woman, this identity crisis gains a further complexity.  While we struggle with building a successful career and balance that with a full and complete personal life, many of us also struggle with the DNA-programmed need to preserve our culture and our heritage.  I know in my case I was raised with a healthy dose of “Hayeren Khoseer” and “Azad, angakh Hayasdan”.

I call this my three-legged identity tripod:  career, family and being Armenian.  These are the things that define my identity – if any one of these three legs does not match the length of the others, I topple down.

When it comes to my identity, I also realize that I don’t have to be perfect.  And that it’s really important to take risks.  Risks make you feel alive.  They make you feel like you’ve achieved.  Standing here is a HUGE risk for me.  Risks force you to expand your world and look beyond what you think you already know.

As I said before, being Armenian is a big part of who I am.  I am married to a non-Armenian (“odar”) who challenges me, supports my ambitions and respects me and my heritage.  My children speak Armenian.  They are learning about our culture and heritage and which is one way that I am preserving a very important part of who I am and passing on that ingrained Armenian DNA.  I also volunteer at the ARS Armenian Private School (if you haven’t yet donated to Telethon 2015, please do so) and the Zoryan Institute – a centre dedicated to the education, research, preservation and documentation of genocide and human rights violations, particularly the Armenian Genocide.  Working there feeds my soul.

But being Armenian and staying Armenian has not been easy.  Perhaps it’s like blasphemy to say that on some days I wished I was French or Italian – so much easier to relate and to have people understand who you are and what you’re all about without the burden of struggling to survive.  But as I’ve gotten older, and hopefully gained more wisdom, I’ve come to believe that the hardest things are the ones worth fighting for…marriage, your children, your friends, your family…and yes, your identity.  These are important things worth fighting for.

What’s Really Important

And that brings me to the final challenge.  Challenge #5, discovering what’s really important.  Some recent news about a friend’s situation really put this in perspective for me.

We all get bogged down with our own problems from time to time, and lose sight of the big picture – that we only have this one life to live and that we must make the most of it.  Don’t we all wish that we were prettier, thinner, smarter, more successful, more laid back, younger and so on.   The challenge for us is to grab hold of the magic in this life, and that magic, in my view, comes from sharing, from connecting and relating to the people around you, from being present.

It is a rare privilege to get a glimpse or to be present when people experience moments that will shape them forever, whether they’re experiencing moments of real learning, of overcoming, or even of regret.  The moment that you can share your joys and regrets, they become real and allow you to relate to people in ways unimaginable.  And the relating, well that is your legacy.

The connections that you make are what carry you – are what will sustain you.  These bonds – whether created because you had a little too much to drink and your friend held back your hair while you were sick, or you created because a friend watched your newborn, colicy baby while you finally took a shower and got some rest – these bonds are what I’m all about.  And look, you’re not going to bond with everybody, but when you do, stop and remember the magic.  I do it by writing it down – and you relate to me when you read my stories.

Thank you.

Lettuce

(Blowing off some steam post speech…biggest fear is to speak in front of an audience  with something in my teeth!)

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Philosophical mom

Today I planned to be my charming and witty self…instead I’m plagued with fever, a sore throat and consequently, find myself in a weakened state, philosophizing…

Mom somee cardIt’s been nearly 7 months – SEVEN WHOLE MONTHS – since I started on this new chapter in my life as stay-at-home-and-sometimes-work mom.  How did I get here?  When did this all happen?  Just the other day I was telling a friend that I’ve only just recently felt like I’ve started to get into the groove of my new situation.  For I believe that although I am very much a mother, my “mom gene” may actually be missing.

While many of my friends eased into motherhood, I have struggled, every single step of the way.

For years, my companions were spreadsheets, business strategies and financing contracts – the stress around soliciting financial terms and conditions or negotiating during high stake meetings was my permanent state. Oftentimes, when I’d be “playing hookie” and getting a much needed eyebrow wax or buying groceries, I would be reminded that I was at the mercy of work by the cold sweat that would instantly trickle down my spine and the breath that would get caught in my throat when my phone would “TING” with a new email.  Call it PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), call it habit, it’s that edginess and state of constant readiness that had taken over every aspect of my life.  Even when I’d try to slow down, there was something in me that would not allow it for nothing other than complete responsiveness would suffice…until I realized that the price I was paying was much too high.

So, MBA in hand coupled with more than a decade of experience at one of the world’s leading global professional services firm, I figured I could take all that I had learned and apply it to my new job.  No longer torn for having to choose between career and family, I eagerly accepted my new position.

My first order of business would be to deal with all the things that I had neglected over the years:  healthier eating, more exercise, doing homework right away after school rather than cramming it into the wee hours, and even doing some things I’d always dreamed of like finally improving my French, learning Spanish, and how to drive a stick shift.  My ambitions were lofty but the flow charts I’d devised in my mind made me confident that I had it all figured out.

In these last seven months, those flow charts, plans, strategies, and all the learning I did as a middle management plebe slowly unraveled – they may has well have been flushed down the toilet!

I came to realize that while negotiations in the professional world have certain rules and a logical tempo, negotiations with my children are like navigating through land mines (permit the metaphor) and nothing like any business dealing I’ve ever known.  There seems to be only one pattern in negotiations with my children best illustrated by the car ride to school this morning:

  1. My request to please cease and desist playing the flute in the car for it may cause the driver (me) to get into an accident (logical reasoning)
  2. Their blatant ignoring of me – they neither hear me, see me or show any indication of acknowledging my presence (savvy technique)
  3. My request repeated at a higher volume –they must understand that I hold their lives in my hands?!
  4. #2 again (persistence)
  5. Me turning into a crazy banshee lady screaming at the top of my lungs (*FLUSH*)
  6. Still no response – though I did get a millisecond of silence before they started again (mastermind geniuses using torture techniques)
  7. Me feeling guilty about acting like a crazy banshee lady and now overcompensating by resorting to bribery (loser)
  8. Acknowledgement and completion of request (winners)
  9. Utter defeat and feeling a failure as have become cause of ruined futures (digging hole)
  10. Picturing great catastrophic events like man-children permanently ensconced in basement playing video games and eating pizza. (burying head in said hole)

No, the job of “mom” is much harder, the stakes are infinitely higher, and the pressure for perfection is, on some days, omnipresent – and pungent, like a cloud of sulphuric acid.  Where did it say in the job description that I have to be all-knowing and able to answer the myriad of daily questions?  That I need to bandage every boo-boo and quiet the hormonal rage borne from an empty stomach?  And speaking of job descriptions, where’s the training manual?!!?

Slightly feverish, and now panicked that soon it will be time to pick them up from school and once again start on the crazy rollercoaster called motherhood, I’m on the verge of a breakdown…I need a (mental) sick day but I know I can’t possibly have one!  Suddenly, my philosophically-laced downward spiral comes to an end as I’m brought back to the present by that familiar “TING”…and you know what?  Just for one second, a tiny split second, I was transported back…but wait!  No cold sweat.  My breath is flowing freely and I realize – I am so lucky, my world is one that I am designing, flaws and all!  And my current bosses don’t know how to email…yet!

Philosopher

 

The Great Outdoors Pt. II: You can take a fish out of water…or can you?

Summer’s over…it’s back to school and (slowly) back to writing.  But just before I completely leave my beloved season behind, thought I’d share this little happenstance from just a couple of weeks ago…  (Dedicated to all those city girls that put in the effort for their families – and especially to TSM, a true lover of cottaging – how do you do it?!)

This summer, my top priority was to take a break from everything routine – my blog, homework, extra-curricular activities and most especially electronics – and to focus on the great outdoors.  At least I tried anyway…minus my addiction to Candy Crush (I had resisted for so long!) a game where the object is to match up coloured candy in various patterns in order to progress to increasingly more challenging levels. You see, one night, seeing Mr. Niceguy so engrossed in this game, I snuck a peak and got sucked into candy land myself – didn’t matter that I’d been getting facebook requests on a daily basis, but like a lemming I followed Mr. Niceguy into his candy cavern and I swear I now see everything in “candy vision”:  can I shift that car over there and blast that row to drive into that spot?  Let me fork some salad, a piece of kebab dunked in hummus which then snatches some rice – quadruple effect!!

Bachelor-In-Paradise-August-4-2014-Recap-250x200(The lack of) summer TV programming also helped with my goal of getting back in touch with Mother Nature and “a simpler lifestyle”… particularly once the World Cup ended (which, in essence, was a total nightmare for a die-hard Espana fan such as me) but just until a couple of weeks ago, when Bachelor In Paradise started and my Achilles’ heel started to itch…I gave myself the green light – after all, the show is set in the “great outdoors” (ok, not quite the great outdoors but a contrived resort on the beaches of Tulum, Mexico).  But since I too would be going to the cottage for our annual pilgrimage soon, I figured this little indulgence was justified…it would lessen my dread of cottages and whet my appetite for some sand, sun and water activities…I couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Those who know me know that I’ve been quite vocal and unabashed about my dislike of cottaging.  It’s not that I don’t think it’s “of value” – particularly when it comes to children and forging a love of the outdoors, physical activity, creativity, and so on but still, I have to sit through hours of traffic to get to some remote destination where I “have the privilege” of doing all the cooking, cleaning, planning and entertaining…wait, isn’t that what I do at home anyway???!!  

I wasn’t always plagued with such an aversion; my “cottage allergy” has only become more severe since I had children.

Before then, I used to dislike cottaging because I was a bit of a priss and had a hard time letting go of my creature comforts like my favourite pillow, air conditioning, water pressure and the ability to flush the toilet as many times as I wanted (sit down you environmentalists – I do my part in other ways!) and not for strategic reasons like an inherent fear of clogging septic plumbing or worse yet, needing to drown out biological noises thanks to paper thin doors.  Before children, I could do it all and particularly well I might add when helped by a six-pack of beer, good company (especially when rehashing old camp songs and memories) and the ability to stay on the swim-party-sleep cycle indefinitely.  But post children…I’m totally out of my comfort zone and constantly fighting off the bloodsucking bugs (I’m referring to the mosquitos and black flies of course) that seem to relish in tormenting me!  So I ask…why bother?!

As a Canadian born Armenian growing up in the Middle East during its golden age, I had all the makings of a city girl and rugged adventurer!  As my family moved from one cosmopolitan locale to the next, my father, an avid outdoorsman, ensured that my sister and I developed a strong love of nature as he taught us to climb the mountains of Taif (Saudi Arabia), survival swim in the Red Sea and of course join scouting (or guiding as it were) to then rough it in the great Canadian outdoors.  While my sister ended up being much closer to Mother Nature, my relationship with Her was one that was more subdued.

The City captured my imagination – its noises and lights like a constant disco that I couldn’t get enough of – it filled my soul and for many, many years, I was happily at its mercy.  It wasn’t really until I had my boys that I really rediscovered nature – or at least was forced to rediscover nature – and I realized that if my relationship with nature was going to have any chance, I was going to have to put in the effort and let go of much more than I thought…

My struggle is best encapsulated by one particular incident from our recent trip (though believe me, I have many to choose from).  I nearly lost my mind when I handed my prized (and very-typically-not-backed-up) iPhone over to my 4 year old who was begging to take a picture of a speedboat on the dock.  While I was correcting his position (he kept taking snapshots of his own hand) he dropped my phone and everything went in slow motion:  phone, floating through the air, rotating over and over, slipping through the planks on the dock that was floating thirteen feet above the cold, black lake, and landing on the floatation device underneath – all with the gorgeous backdrop of the setting sun…AAARRRGGGHHHH!!!!!!

I felt like I was in a movie…like I was having an out of body experience and I kid you not, I was Hugh Grant. Flopsy, awkward and positively cornered Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral – you know the scene, the one when he’s about to marry Duck Face at the church:  bugger, bugger, bugger…BUGGER!   But what came out of my mouth instead, first in utter disbelief followed by shock and catastrophe, in increasing crescendo and volume was one profanity after the next:  *Bleep* the cottage!  *Bleep* the great outdoors!  *BLEEPITY-BLEEP-BLEEP* the thought that I could actually let go long enough to appreciate any of it!!

coming undoneI could see my phone…balancing precariously on its edge…like my mental state…and at that moment I vowed not to abandon it – my only connection to civilization and the last vestige of who I am.  Never mind that I’d entered into a state of hysteria and was ready to tear each individual hair on my head, I would NOT walk away until the glow from the screen faded away.

Out poured all of my frustrations (at great volume, I might add) – the cooking, the cleaning, the refereeing, juxtaposed with the freedom and expanse of the great outdoors – I was a fish out of water and hated it.  I was coming undone.  I felt trapped and cornered and like I was slowly slipping through the crack myself…but surely this city girl had faced worse than this?  And it was in that one moment – in that break from the insanity – that I came up with part of a solution.  Hearing it through my wails and my tears, Mr. Niceguy took over, reached in and saved the day.

Embarrassed by my behaviour, I shrank away.  I took my beloved phone to my car, plugged it in to listen to some music and realized…that despite my absolute and complete effort to NOT partake in my surroundings, I had just survived an adventure…in the great outdoors, no less!  And despite a battered ego, I came out unscathed with a story to boot!  Perhaps it wasn’t all that bad.  Perhaps I could do it again – after all summer is virtually over and school is about to start maybe I could learn to be more of an outdoors woman?  Or perhaps next time, it can be a boys’ getaway instead…

running on dock

An egotistical indulgence…

Forgive this next entry, but my speed train has almost pulled into the station and I refuse to just travel patiently!  I’m trying to relish these last few moments before I have to disembark…

As spring turns to summer all I can think of is how can I relish these last few weeks – days – hours before I have to give up a decade that has shaped me so much?  It saw my confidence grow which in turn, gave me a better sense of self.  It saw me turn (more like bumble) into motherhood, not once, but blissfully and blessedly, twice.  It tested my every boundary and forced me to accept some very hard truths and change.  And yet, through all of the upheaval, it was kind as it surrounded me with great friends, a wonderful family and some of the most amazing opportunities and experiences that were beyond imagination…

And so you can see why I’m panicking?  Why I’m having trouble letting go?

It’s been just over a quarter of a year (good effect and makes things sound longer and more significant) since “the departure”.  The identity crisis is starting to take a back seat to this glorious weather and I’m starting to find my groove.  I knew it would take some time to get over the routine of career and that I would be overwhelmed with all sorts of emotion (again, dramatic effect but deservedly so).  I was certain in the fact that I would have to respond to the same questions over and over again…all while not knowing the answers myself.  Yet, stepping out of my boundaries has been good.  I say this cautiously because for the first time in almost forever the future is an empty canvas that I can paint however I like…and I must say, I am enjoying the vastness of it all.  And as one of my very dear friends said, being “unpredictable” – perhaps a word I would never, ever use to describe myself.

Just a couple of weeks ago, my biggest challenge was getting through homework, ensuring we made it to my son’s end-of-year school concert and finding a blender.  With my newly acquired wisdom – acquired because there’s now a little room to think about things other than spreadsheets, industry trends and interest rates – I decided that I should seek to become more healthy and stop avoiding entire food groups by blending them all together into a delicious smoothie.  We’ve all seen the commercials and the demonstrations…I was finally converted.

For three mornings in a row I had the following:  kale, spinach, swiss chard, strawberry, banana, pomegranate seeds, cherries, blackberries, blueberries, mango and pineapple all whipped up with greek yoghurt.  To my surprise, an absolute delight.  And yet on the first day, a massive headache.  Was it because I was sipping on this smoothie for most of the day?  I couldn’t get over this migraine!  It came and went for the first three days!  After some googling I found that I had put myself into a state of DETOX.  My smoothie was cleansing my system!  And all the toxins were bubbling up to the surface!

I blame these toxins…I believe I may have been in a drunken haze for in that migraine-induced, dizzyingly hyper-energetic state I decided that staying true to change was of the utmost importance and the key to life.  And in that inebriation, I decided to take yet another risk: after all they’re addictive, get my adrenaline going and make me feel A-L-I-V-E!!

While booking an exciting upcoming vacation, after much research into where to go and where to stay and what to see and what to do I decided to roll the dice!  There was Mr. Niceguy, the absolute voice of reason that with a smile on his face said, “You?  You’re really going to do thatYou’re going to take that chance with the hotel?  OK.  I know what I would do…but go for it!”

Was that a dare?  Did he not think I could go through with it?  And of all the words he said, why did I cling onto “but go for it!”  Did I miss the, but?

As the smoothie haze began to wear off, my old habits bubbled to the surface:  what if I’ve made a HUGE mistake? What if this place is horrible and I’ve ruined our family vacation?   And why won’t this headache let up???   Ugh!  To win big you actually have to get in the game and play.  But the frustration and the tears and the upset that ensued over the outcome…well surely I must have been a fool!  Surely I should’ve known better!

The duality was driving me crazy!  On the one hand, a wild-eyed thrill-seeker, and on the other, a tip-toeing super-planner afraid of regret.  It was time to end it.  For my remedy, and to restore balance in my universe, I popped open a Diet Coke (the nectar of life and I won’t hear otherwise) to accompany some ketchup-covered onion rings and you know what?  After a little recalibration…I think I’m quite pleased with the outcome.  While these final miles on the train are making me giddy, I can handle this next leg of my adventure…

Featurette.Smoothies

Wash, rinse, spin, repeat…

All about the never ending spin-cycle…and the little pauses in between.

survivor-2013-episode-8-480x270Last night the PVR was acting up and it took an actual three hours to finally catch up on my TV and watch the Survivor finale and wrap up show – I may as well have just watched it live.  GAH!!!!  I hate it when that happens.  Some question why I still watch Survivor – I’m a bit of an escapist and sometimes overly confident (add a dash of egotistical, judgemental and crazy and voila!) – I think I have quite the social game and am really, really good at puzzles so I think that I would totally make it to the final four provided I didn’t have to eat any weird fetus, maggot or some kind of larvae.  My paranoid self has just realized that actually writing this may actually tip off Jeff Probst and crew to include the Survivor Food Eating Challenge when I compete…one day….once I’ve actually applied….yikes!!!

I digress.  Mr. Niceguy kept telling me that it was time for bed as I kept nodding off but no, I wouldn’t have it.  I absolutely needed to see who would win and quite frankly, after a long day of cooking, cleaning, gardening, repairing, washing, and homework together with, “Mommy, I want this” and “Mommy, the 4 year old is bothering me” and “Mommy, I can’t find my [insert any ridiculously tiny toy that one would need binocular attachments and some kind of sonar or laser tracking device to find]” – it was my down time.  Thankfully, the phone beeps from a very late night round of texting from my other mommy friends who were obviously in the same boat jolted me awake and I was able to watch to the end…but no downtime ever takes place without exacting some form of payment, a lesson I would come to learn again…

7:00am – alarm goes off.  I was so tired that I didn’t hit the snooze like I often do but instead, turned it right off.  And all of a sudden, there I was, fascinator on, gorgeous two-piece and nude coloured shoes…no wait, that’s Kate Middleton.  What’s she doing here?  Oh my goodness, she’s giving me advice about how to host an outdoor party…how grand.  Wait, I must take notes and listen closely…what’s that?  She’s now talking about what to do when I’ve stepped in what??  And how to get rid of the stench???  I can’t pay attention to this!  Why am I even thinking of arranging this garden party?  How did I get here?  Oh no…it was that second dinner I had at midnight!  That’s right…I keep forgetting I’m not 20 anymore!!  Speaking of food…

Oh my God!  8:15am!!!  And Mr. Niceguy is still sleeping too!  We jump out of bed and being the nice guy that he is, Mr. Niceguy makes the boys’ lunch and I decide I can’t leave the house looking like I just woke up and must do something about the embossed sheet marks on my face.  So I scrubbed, moisturized and put on my makeup but unfortunately…no go.  The sunglasses will have to cover my cheeks and nevermind, I’m really pressed for time!!  Quick, grab jean cut offs from yesterday…it was so warm yesterday…argh…quit daydreaming…and pull a beachy look like Gisele!

Finally at school.  Only I’ve just noticed that it’s 11 degrees and one glimpse at myself in the school glass doors and I realize, perhaps today is not the day to try and emulate Gisele…oh, and more disheartening still, the only thing I have in common with Gisele are the freckles on my face.  A walk through the doors would add yet one more disappointment…pizza day.  Why couldn’t I have just checked the school calendar before heading out of the house??!!

So to wrap up, I’m essentially paying for a not-so-exciting-night full of after hour binge eating, TV watching and basically TRYING to carve out some ME time.  WHY IS THE UNIVERSE PUNISHING ME???!!!

I decide that I can’t face the rest of my day without my signature latte and that’s when I ran into a couple of women – other mom friends from school – one of whom is a very hip and cool marketing genius while the other, our local SJP with a downtown boutique full of the latest fashions.  Ever the shallow individual, all I could think was I hope I don’t get judged for my lack of fashion sense re: the t-shirt, cut offs and my signature Converse All Stars, and that the sheet marks had finally disappeared from my face (I swear if someone invents a cheek plumper similar to that instant lip plumper lip gloss that one can simply buy off the counter, I’M ALL IN!!!)

Trying to sheepishly order my coffee and avoid all eye contact to no avail, I was approached and greeted ever so graciously by them both…obviously ignoring my dishevelled and insane state.  And you know what?  I got praised for my writing and praised for a recent outfit I had pulled together for a last minute event and I was on cloud nine!  For just a moment, my insane cycle had been broken.  For just a moment, it was all about me.  Beaming, I thanked them both for their compliments, grabbed my latte and walked to my car…and then promptly dribbled coffee all the way down my shirt.

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Frenemies…a necessary evil?

I’m feeling a little vulnerable…coping with the dreaded Identity Crisis is hard…much harder than I actually thought.  Once again, after years and years (and years) at the same job doing the same thing and referring to myself in the same way, I am now charting my own course.  And while I figure out exactly what that is and where I will go, I feel discombobulated, disadvantaged and confused.  [As an aside, I take full responsibility for part of the “discombobulation” which stems from my particular A-D-D-like nature:  I have so many ideas, see so many possibilities, and have so many desires that it’s hard to pick just one!  While some may call this a lack of focus, I say…well, that’s probably quite true!]

I know in my heart of hearts that the decision I have made is the right one (not just for me but for my family), although it seems that today and at this moment my “self-sabotaging” nature has got the better of me.  For example, while I had hoped for a very smooth transition into my woman of the world or female conqueror being…instead, I feel more like that circa 1952, Betty Crocker baking, bon bon eating, woman of the house…and I put myself here!  Truth is, I know that’s not who I am – nor is it someone I could pretend to be – but the reality is that I went from one uphill battle to another…from working in a very male dominated industry with extreme expectations to altering the perception that just because I’m on my own and I’m at home doesn’t mean I’m now a “Lady of Leisure”!  (Not that it would be a bad thing…?)

I keep wondering…am I letting down the Lean-In generation?

With International Women’s Day coming up on March 8thhave I let down the entire female species? 

Here, in my new office (the local Starbucks), I am left with the thought that these sentiments are akin to the whole frenemy conundrum – yesterday I caught up on the latest Glee episode which centred around frenemies and complicated relationships. Frenemies…we can all point to one or two in our circles…and just in case, here’s a definition from Wikipedia (which I think is très apropos!)

“Frenemy” is a portmanteau of “friend” and “enemy” that can refer to either an enemy pretending to be a friend or someone who really is a friend but is also a rival.

For me, my frenemies have almost always fallen into the latter category.  I have been fortunate to have some of the most solid bunch of friends:  from my near and dears who challenge me and support me through life’s ups and downs, to my mom friends who have helped me tap into my inner nurturer and saved me from an unbreakable cycle of diapers and drama, to my work friends who are always up for a bitch session and a beer…like I said, I have been lucky.  But I’ve also been lucky – really lucky – to have had frenemies.

Frenemies can really make you feel small, unsure of yourself, and down.  Like try spending hours upon hours getting deflated balloonready (ok, maybe just minutes upon minutes as who am I kidding?  I can’t remember the last time I actually had hours to primp), picking that perfect outfit to go along with those brand new shoes which you know are KILLER statement pieces and will make any girl swoon and you show up and POOF.  You’ve been trumped.  Her shoes are more killer.  Her outfit, to die for.  Not a hair out of place, not a single nail chipped, not an unconfident bone in her body.  What’s worse – she’s totally oblivious to all of your effort at taking centre stage.  Fssssssss….like a deflating balloon whose fate is sealed, you try and endure.

But, frenemies have had their place in my life – and they certainly continue to.  They have fed my competitive nature, my need for rivalry, and my love of the game; they drive me to find that 10-letter word complete with a Q, X or Z with a triple word score, or fight tooth and nail to find a way to build hotels across Park Place and Boardwalk.

Without frenemies I perhaps wouldn’t have strived more, tried more, dared more and risked more.  Perhaps not right at those moments where I’d been defeated (while I was slinking in some corner wishing I could blend in with the drywall)…but definitely later.  They fed my dreams and desires and just when I had been ready to take myself out of the competition, they put me right back in.

I’ve often thought:  just stop competing.  Stop worrying and getting anxious about what you don’t have and focus on what you do.  Be present.  Be now.  Perhaps that works for some Zooey Deschanel-looking hipsters who are laid back and free spirited – but that’s not me.

With International Women’s Day right around the corner, I hope you will forgive this following imposition.  Let us women, all of us, agree to accept each other for who we are and the parts that we play.  There’s always so much to learn from everything…and every-ONE around you.

Besides, if I have frenemies, then I must be one too….onward and upwardTRUMP!  

onward and upward

FEATURE: All about New Year’s Resolutions…and your resolve!

new-year-resolutions-artAbout a month ago many Torontonians were plunged into darkness.  At a time when we would have been preparing for one of the biggest holidays of the year, a severe ice storm hit Toronto toppling down trees and power lines leaving many without the basic necessities of life:  light and heat.

While Christmas is not for everyone, it is considered to be a day for family, food, warmth and peace.  Looking out of the window while driving along many of its streets, the scene in Toronto around Christmas time resembled more of an apocalyptic aftermath, rather than a time for turkey, roast beef, mashed potatoes, and other traditional fare.  Where was the guy in the red suit?  Where was God when so many felt powerless?  Literally…

Some emerged out of the dark on the countdown to New Year’s day, having missed their traditional Christmas gatherings and dinners.  Like being the protagonist in the climactic part of a dramatic movie – the plot culminating in an unevenly weighted, cataclysmic fight with alien beings that have an arsenal of superior technologically based weaponry ready to destroy the Earth and all that we hold dear.  Protagonists, or in this case, Torontonians, victorious, emerge from the dark and into the light, and towards the promise of something new, as they realize their triumphant destinies.

Making resolutions are akin to this type of sentiment; whether you believe in them or not, make them or not, and are able to keep them or not, resolutions make one acknowledge the passing of the old and give hope for the chance of something new and better…

So what is the history behind making New Year’s resolutions?  Many are aware that the celebration of the New Year predates Christian times when it was celebrated in March under the Babylonian calendar.  Along with celebrating the New Year, many ancient Babylonians made resolutions in the form of promises to gods which predominantly involved the return of borrowed objects and the payment of debts.  Similar to some of the most popular modern day New Year’s resolutions:  spend less, pay off debts, gain financial control, or be a better neighbour or friend.

The New Year was then moved by the Romans to January, a month named after the two-faced god, Janus, who looks backward into the year that passed, and forward into the coming year.  The setting of resolutions during Roman times evolved to be mostly morally based, i.e. be good to others.  Again, this has modern day parallels:  spend quality time with friends and family, help those less fortunate, be a volunteer, help others achieve their dreams.

Although a secular holiday, the act of making New Year’s resolutions can also be found in religious holidays.  For example, during the time starting with the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and up to Yom Kippur, one seeks forgiveness for their wrongdoings over the year.  During Lent, observers sacrifice as a form of penance such as giving up a vice (like smoking, drinking, or chocolate!)

Whether the motivation is secular or religious, making resolutions are a part of many peoples’ DNA.

When it comes to resolutions, the allure or promise of something new and better is overwhelming, while taking stock and being grateful for what we already have doesn’t seem to fit the bill.  But making New Year’s resolutions is the easy part.  The trick is in achieving them.

According to a survey conducted by Red Bull, approximately 40% of men make resolutions while that figure increases to 48% for women.  Of those, nearly all have a top priority resolution which for 2014, was to improve overall health.  Unfortunately, only 12% of those surveyed stated that they were absolutely certain they would achieve their goal.

While New Year’s Day was just over three weeks ago, by now, the dreary, drab and (at times, polar vortex) cold month of January is littered with unmet, unachieved and abandoned resolutions.  It’s commonly stated that it takes three weeks for a new habit to take hold (while it only takes three days to break one) and by this point, those who are still clinging onto their resolutions, having not accepted failure, are likely to succeed.

The probability of achieving a resolution is directly linked to how realistic it is; setting and achieving goals is actually a learned skill.  In corporate settings one of the methods used for setting goals is using the SMART system; in other words, resolutions should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Rewardable and Timely.

Some goals are just too big – and while there’s nothing wrong with dreaming big, to increase the probability of achieving the dream, it must be broken down into smaller parts.  When a 7 year old grade two student was asked what he thought his resolution would be for 2014, his response was to run faster.  When asked how he would achieve his goal, he responded, “by practicing, a little bit every day.”  Wise words from a 7 year old.

What’s also important to remember is that you’re not alone.  Achieving a resolution can be a group effort.  Research states that women are more likely to achieve their goals as they broadly communicate their desires.  If guarding a resolution close to your chest is more your style, for today’s busy lifestyle, you can seek help from your smartphone.  Our smartphones are loaded with apps that help with both goal setting and tracking achievement.  These apps can be helpful in reminding us that we have made goals, or resolutions, that we want to keep.  For example, My FitnessPal and Nutrino are apps that will help with losing weight, while MyQuit Coach and Cigarette Tracker are two of the many apps designed to help with quitting smoking.

Some of us, writer included, make lofty resolutions without considering how we will actually achieve them and so come the dark, dreary days of January and the depression that sets in given the short days and seemingly never ending cold, tired of hibernating we are ready for more.  Most of us are on the precipice of abandoning our resolutions but, like a seed that’s planted before the frost, resolutions need time and effort to come to fruition…don’t give up.   As the young 7 year old said, “practice a little bit everyday.”

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Humanity…never ceases to amaze

Champagne?  Don’t mind if I do…ooh, it’s Cristal!!!  Of course!  Only the best for my uncle’s 65th birthday! I can’t believe it!  This party is totally high class:  great band, great food, fabulous looking people and just look at my dress!  I’m wearing the most gorgeous black and white ballgown – it’s enormous!  Fantastic!  Magical!  Ooh, and now I have a mask on.  It’s a masquerade ball, oh how elegant!  And my hair is so long and gorgeous and shiny.  My lips are ruby red.  I never want this to end…

Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump.  “Mommy, I cold.  I wanna eat something.  I wanna change.”  These were the words of my 3 year old this morning…at 5:25 am!!  A whole hour before my alarm was supposed to go off!  And poof…there went the dream.  I jumped out of bed and started walking with my eyes closed.  Sensing my clumsiness, he held my fingers with his little hand and guided me to his room…at which point I was really debating a detour to the bathroom given my sense of urgency!  But he’s one of the loves of my life, trusts me implicitly, loves me unconditionally, and I would never let him down.  So on I went.

This was a morning like every other – preceded by a typical Wednesday night (Survivor night!)  Tired mom, comes home from work, rushes to get kids fed and ready for swimming classes.  Then back home, bathe them, feed them again (I swear they are machines), read one a bedtime story and then the other, then run downstairs for some QT with my cutie!  Forget that I haven’t had dinner – a handful of almonds, the rest of that half-eaten Aero bar and some fruit gummies will suffice.

In any case, after my “rude awakening” this morning, I was treated with the gift of walking to the subway by myself and the luxury of buying a latte before hopping on the train – no kids to take to school, no bags to pack and no lunches to make!  Had I won the lottery???  Yes sir!

And there I was, latte in hand, watching Twilight: Breaking Dawn on my iPhone (for the fourth or fifth time) when suddenly I started to feel like I lost my breath.  My head started to get very, very warm – my body actually felt like it was on fire.  I put my hand on my chest and it felt very cold and clammy.  My legs felt like they couldn’t support me – I felt dizzy – I couldn’t think – what was I going to do?  With what strength I could muster, I squeezed my way off the extremely overcrowded train and as I was walking, I started to feel tingles and like my surroundings were just fading away…

Luckily I made it to a bench and put my head between my knees.  And the next thing I remember was being so grateful for the humanity of the two women on either side of me.  There I was, a complete stranger (albeit well dressed in my cute little summer dress, faux snake skin ballet flats, and gold hoop earrings) looking ready to be sick or pass out; perhaps a great inconvenience or a complete lunatic.  And in my most vulnerable state, these two women didn’t appear at all worried about who I was or what I might do to them.  They didn’t think about whether or not they knew me, trusted me or whether they could get something from me.  They just wanted to help.  They just wanted to make sure I was ok.

All I could think of while I tried to regroup and pull myself together to get back on the train was how I could repay their kindness…and how I regret not asking for their names.

It’s times like these that really make me feel grateful.  That help me to forget about all the craziness in our world today:  from pressure cooker bombs, to injustices, and perpetual inequality.  It also helps me to forget about the little things – if only I was 7 pounds lighter, if only my butt/arms/legs/stomach were more toned, if only I didn’t have soooo many greys (I do a good job of hiding this fact…most days).  And it makes me feel connected outside of my immediate circle.  It makes me feel like we’re all part of one big whole – which although has some ugly bits, is full of greatness too.

Whoever you were, the girl in the cute summer dress with the faux snakeskin ballet flats and gold hoops that almost fainted at the Bloor Street subway stop thanks you.  Thank you for the reminder.  I know that because of your kindness, your humanity, I was able to have a moment of weakness in a safe environment.  And thanks to you, tonight, when I put my head down after a long day at work and after chasing my two boys around, I can continue my dream at the masquerade ball, unscathed.