Babes and Bellinis

Once again I’m reminded that Bellinis on Monday nights are exclusively for the twenty-somethings…and I’m not one. Why is it when you no longer have to carry around a fake ID card and can have access to all the alcoholic drinks you want at any time and virtually anywhere your body is the one that flat out says “no”?

Last night it was my best friend’s birthday. This particular friend is full of spontaneity: perhaps it’s because she’s also married to a Mr. Mocinho of her own (nice or good guy in Portuguese) and so she can afford spontaneity. In any case, she is always up for a quick jaunt out – be it a coffee date, manicures, dinner and a movie and this time, drinks!

BelliniSo on this particular Monday night, at Ms. Spontaneous’ request, we all agreed to ditch kids and hubbies, work and responsibilities and meet up for bellinis, a glorious concoction of ice and alcohol, in other words, a grownup popsicle – it was girls night out! I felt like I was back to my university days; drinks after a stressful exam well written or better yet, drinks for the sake of drinks. Better yet, “Thirsty Thursday” drinks – those random, raging gatherings that would often go well into the wee hours of the morning from which I’d have to do the quickest bounce-back so that I could function the following day as if the night before never happened.

Only it did. Only the bounce-back never came. Only I’m no longer a twenty-something.

Perhaps the conversation over the evening should’ve been the hint – rather than discussing boys or our favourite music bands, we discussed all matters of religion, child rearing, construction and careers. Rather than ordering that tipping point round, we thought better of it, cut the night prematurely and decided that at least 6 or 7 hours of sleep would be better than walking home.

No, I’m no longer a twenty-something. And I’m ok with that. With one more school year behind us, my rearview mirror is becoming full…

When I first starting writing this blog, the now double-digit 10 year old (actually, nine and just two days shy of 10 at time of writing!) was six and I was (as usual) complaining, rather, acknowledging just how cold my behind would get sitting rink-side while I waited for him during his hockey practice. My recent senior kindergarten graduate had only just turned two years old and had yet to make his debut in his mother’s ramblings.

Just two days ago, I convinced Mr. Niceguy and the boys to walk down the street from my parents’ house to a garage sale. I love garage sales. I find them so fascinating; just like I find playing with neighbourhood kids on the street a true privilege – something taken totally for granted in a peaceful, rule-driven, democratic country; growing up an ex-pat in Saudi Arabia I never experienced either.

Walking through garage sales I like to imagine the kind of life these articles for sale actually had…and the role they played for their owners: a lamp manufactured not in China but somewhere in Canada; a chair that came over on steamship from a great wood worker in England; and would I find that one piece of buried treasure? When my soon-to-be-10 year old bought me my very first present out of his own volition, with his own money, through no prompting of any sort – he created that treasure.

Within 30 seconds of browsing through this particular garage sale, Mr. Niceguy and the six year old announced that they’d prefer to “play outside” while the soon-to-be-10 year old and I sifted through collectibles, antiques, and lots of junk. Prepared to chalk our experience up to just that – as I normally do, we started to leave when all of a sudden, an old, run down, wooden chair caught my eye. The eternal project seeker in me decided that for five dollars, this would be a fitting pastime for me while I wait for my own large-scale renovation to be complete. It would add to my own story and years down the road I could declare that I bought this chair on that very hot day the summer we were living at my parents’ house at a garage sale. Only the story wouldn’t end there…

As I carried the chair towards its owner to make my payment, my son asked, “Are you buying that? That old dirty chair? Look at the paint on it – it’s all coming off. And there are spider webs on the bottom.”

To which I replied, “Yes. This is a treasure. Look at this solid wood; it doesn’t wobble, it’s strong. Someone built this with their hands – it didn’t get built in a factory. All I have to do is clean it and with a fresh coat of paint, you’ll see how great it can be again.”

old white chairAs I put the chair down and reached into my pocket for my money, unbeknownst to me, my son opened his play wallet and out of his meagre funds, bought me my chair. And when I handed my five dollars to the homeowner, she said, “your son bought you my mother’s old chair”. My son bought me my treasure.

Perhaps this story won’t resonate with everyone…perhaps it’s because you haven’t had your “treasured moment”. But in a week that started with just how much I longed for my twenties, for my spontaneity, for my bounce-back, I would not have traded the way it’s ended for the world.

As time forces us on, these little moments that fill up our rearview mirrors are the things that will define us – they are the markers of a life well lived. And as a mother of a now-10-year-old, I’m feeling the magic…I’ll enjoy a coffee on my new chair and take stock of a job well done.

Babes and bellinis

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Superheroes, surfer dudes and dads…

When it comes to cars, perhaps the one thing I’ve paid the least attention to is the roadside assistance package.  Mag wheels, spoilers, off-roading capability – these are the things I’m interested in…it’s not that I don’t value emergency preparedness, it’s that I’m fortunate to have a superhero for a dad who has gotten me out of every conceivable vehicular mess I’ve ever been in and who, virtually from the moment I got my driver’s license, handed me NOT my own car but a CAA (or AAA in the US) membership card.  I was given a physical representation of “responsible” rather than the teenage dream of a brand new car wrapped with a shiny red bow…would a library card be next?

But as teenagers, what do we really know anyway?

In our teens, our hormones have us wired to be adventure seeking daredevils – well at least they did me – ready to push some boundaries and certainly prepared to aggravate my parents’ collective temper and anxiety.  In fact, I recall going out with a friend on an “unauthorized road trip” significantly out of the city where we blew a fuse and had to use a flashlight as a proxy for headlights on a small highway with no streetlights just to get home…

With time and age, that CAA card has come to represent much more than the boring gift of responsibility.  I have come to appreciate it as my father’s acceptance that his daughters (yes, my sister got one too) would be released to explore the world.

My parents witnessed my many road trips to visit friends and head off to new opportunities in different cities, and all the while they took comfort that their daughter had that magic card in her wallet – to this day, my dad still pays for my CAA card and after the very first long weekend this summer, boy was I ever glad.

Once again Mr. Niceguy had signed up for an obstacle course this time one developed by US Navy Seals and I swear he’s living out his dreams of being a super “double-0” agent!  I admire him tremendously; a former cheeseburger and beer connoisseur, Mr. Niceguy is now in the best shape of his life thanks to an unwavering dedication and discipline to improving his physicality.

Bonefrog Challenge_20160521_090953_RJM_0735Incidentally Mr. Niceguy is also a constant reminder to me that I need to get off my duff and do a leg lift or put aside my third coffee and croissant…

So off we went, kids in tow, to the Bone Frog event in Charlemont, Massachusetts; aka the middle of nowhere about 2.5 hours outside of Boston.  This trip would do us some good as we would be giving my poor parents a break from our collective craziness and the 9 year old and 6 year old would have an opportunity to visit with some cousins.  Plus, travelling is in my blood and who doesn’t love Boston?

A lazy start to the day had us hit the road about two hours behind schedule but we were in no rush and were enjoying our conversation – all made possible by the liquification of our children’s brains in the backseat thanks to a portable DVD player, the iPad and Nintendo. I’ll go on record and say that I encouraged said liquification, though I did make them stop and look out the window as we passed some cows and horses.

Suddenly Mr. Niceguy said, “I’m losing power.”  Of course the first thing I thought was, what have YOU done to my beloved car?!?!?!?! And, ugh!  Just get out of the driver’s seat and let me take over!  But when he said, “we’re overheating” and I saw the white smoke coming out from under the hood, I realized we were in trouble.

IMG_8397Thank goodness for my superdad, and my CAA card.  At that moment, that card meant I didn’t have to panic – even though I did, a little…ok, a  lot.  While I made the necessary calls to get us on our way, despite my state of disbelief, calm, cool and collected Mr. Niceguy treated the boys to a little adventure in the middle of nowhere.  He took out our jackets and made a picnic blanket for the boys to sit on, brought them their crayons and colouring books, and turned our mishap into a memory.

Two hours later we were back on our way in a rental that was clearly loaned out to an owner of a kennel and despite the allergic reactions of Mr. Niceguy and the 6 year old as well as my asthma flare up, we were able to accomplish all of our weekend plans.

It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns, though.  While the boys did get an adventure, I got anxiety – particularly when the 9 year old exclaimed, “Awesome!  What car do we buy next?” and every part of my insides were screaming OH MY GOD!!!!!  Mr. Niceguy ignored my thoughts of impending doom and said the following, “How lucky are we that this happened on a major highway and in daylight?” and “Thank goodness we didn’t hit a deer” also, “Lucky the car didn’t burst into flames, right?”  Hrrrrmmmppphhhh….

Parking brakeI resisted the urge to “pull a Mike Tyson”…and a good thing I did because once the nerves settled I could hear what he was saying, this cool surfer dude, and I allowed myself to get swayed.  Each time I would revert back to my  panic, he would make a joke like, “at least the tow truck driver wasn’t a serial killer” and I would go through my cycle again:  Tyson, no don’t do it, it’s not so bad, I can be cool too, but can I really, panic again, insert Mr. Niceguy…

So there it is.  I know I’m not being totally fair to myself when I say that my crazy often needs the balance of both my superdad and my super cool surfer dude.  Sure I can be cool to but in the wise words of my mom-in-law, thanks to my wonderfully calm, cool, collected and highly wise men in my life, I can take wings.  Happy Father’s Day to all the wonderful dads out there – YOU are the best gifts!

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Keeping “cool” in the sandbox…

Isn’t it amazing how, no matter your age, you still find yourself in the sandbox?  That metaphorical playground for society, or your own social circle?  The one where “they” decide your status, as much as you think only you do…  And while in there, you’re either blocking your eyes from the stinging sand that’s being flung in your face or you’re fighting off the hordes from filling your “deep hole to China” that took forever to dig and taking the only shovel in the pit?  All the while, trying to maintain your “cool.”  Yes, the sandbox is truly a metaphor for life…

Lord of the FliesOne look south of the 49th parallel only confirms that even those who have reached the world’s pinnacle are very much playing in a sandbox.  In the run-up to the US Presidential elections, it’s amazing how candidates for the leadership of the world’s most powerful country can act, well, totally insane, territorial, and like they’re on the island with Jack and Piggy from Lord of the Flies.  I mean, Trump’s whole idea of building a wall is like barricading the sandbox from “infiltrators” and making sure that he doesn’t have to share his “shovel”.  And (I can’t believe I’m going to say this) given his polish, Jeb Bush could’ve been a more qualified choice for the GOP ballot but he just couldn’t hold onto his cool against Trump’s golden blowout.  No…I don’t believe we ever truly leave the sandbox…

As bewildered and confused as I can get when I find myself engaged in the sort of the behavior that I would equate with the happenings in an elementary school playground (“It’s my turn!” or “Oops!  Did she hear me say that?” and “She copied MY outfit!”), I’m also concerned about the kind of sandbox that our kids are going to inherit:  suicide bombings, being under high alert, curfews, and the sort of terror that one used to mostly see in the movies.  Thankfully my boys are still at an age where they only actually fight over real toys and not any metaphorical ones…

Though well advanced and in my early forties, I feel like my own innocence, my swagger, my cool, is also dissipating (and quite frankly, under attack).  Am I supposed to fight and try to hold onto it?  Most days all I want to do is watch the politicos vying for power in House of Cards and the hordes fight in Vikings rather than navigate the social scene and fight off the hordes myself.  I want to wear “Blublocker” sunglasses and block out the stinging sand, filter out the light, and climb out of the sandbox.  Press pause on the fight?  Peace out?

IMG_8049Ahhhh…I think back to my singleton days…

Me:  Hey, pick me up at 8:30 tonight so we can go to my BFF’s birthday party dinner for 9pm. 

Mr. Niceguy:  OK.  Usual gang tonight? 

Me:  Yes.  I even got us all on the guest list!  No waiting around outside.  Just please don’t wear messy jeans…dress code is tidy jeans.  And no sneakers…or purple docs.  ***Please, oh please, oh please, be cool in front of my friends tonight.  Ooouuff boys!!***

One of my very dearest friends put it well when she asked, “Will I ever be cool again?”  She recounted how she knew she was in a total state of “un-cool” because she kept looking at our children (in a very misty way) and saying, “God bless them” – akin to the style of the old granny who had Tweety Bird for a pet…remember her?

So is she right?  Did we actually lose our cool?

Somewhere along the way with all the baggage we picked up, did we just decide to put it down and never went back to retrieve it?

When she first brought it up my initial reaction was indeed to fight back.  I responded, “Who even cares?!”  Like any of that really matters anymore.  I mean, I’m just going to rock my mom jeans and comfy orthopedics if I want to.  I earned it.  I’m not going to sweat the small stuff.  I’m going to have my chicken soup for the soul.  But then I thought – wow.  How uncool.  And I know that’s not me.  And it’s not her either.  Nor is it most of the women of our generation.  We. Want. It. All.  Including that cool status we put down for a moment.  It did NOT go out the door as soon as we hit a milestone or start to pop babies and begin our families.  We just forgot to focus on it and we forgot about the sandbox…  Cool is just on PAUSE.

IMG_8051Unlike when we’re in our roaring twenties, we now know that we can push the pause button anytime we want.  PRESS.  Like my parents and my grandparents before them, I’m happy to say to my boys, “Oh, life is so easy for you now – just wait until you have kids of your own,” or “When I was your age I used to walk 5 miles to school in hip deep snow with no shoes on” Or my favourite Armenian saying, “When you get older, you’ll forget.”  UNPRESS.  I danced on the bars on the beaches of Mykonos!  I hopped up on stage and played the piano in a random restaurant in London!  I’m going to blaze my own trail, you don’t have to like it, you don’t need to “get it”, just watch me rock it – mom jeans or not.

Life with BOYS!

Dedicated to my two moms – my own, who is responsible for all of my good and my bad, and my mom 2, who gave me one of her most prized possessions…Mr. Niceguy.  Now if only she could’ve left me with the instruction manual…

Another long weekend is upon me and the pressure is on to have fun and go on adventures – for this is what it means to be in a household full of boys.  No time for just relaxing, no desire to sit and simply read a book while sipping on a fancy coffee and listening to the birds chirp, and certainly no yearning for the trendy shops and restaurants in Yorkville…

When I was toiling away downtown at my “high-falutin” finance career, I used to live for long weekends…an extra day off work, extra time with the kids and who knows, maybe even a sleep in.  But now all of that has changed.  Life as a stay-at-home-and-work mom is different and most of the time, long weekends actually mean an extra work shift at “the plant” that you weren’t expecting!

When I think back even further, back to the days before the 7 year old and 4 year old were even on the scene, things were even more different still – I’m reminded of just HOW different particularly when I compare my life to the lives of singletons or people who don’t have children.  Sometimes, I hear them rave about recent escapades, spur of the moment getaways to exotic places and I sigh…

If there was a contest to see whose life had changed more and the only 2 contestants were me and Mr Niceguy, I think I would win.  And in his highly logical and rational way, he would concede defeat by stating that I would win only because of the limitations I impose upon myself…

Recently, the 7 year kid brought home an assignment and at the end of it, he had to choose five words to describe his mom (me!).  Among those chosen were funny (true…I have a good sense of humour I think) , pretty (well what mom isn’t pretty to their children), fun (I work very hard at that one), smart (that will surely only last ‘til he hits grade 6 and then I won’t be able to keep up with the homework and the cat will surely be out of the bag!) and lastly, I suppose he ran out of single words here, I quote: “doesn’t like adventure”.  I.  Was.  Floored.  Me?  Not like adventure?  Say what??!!  When did that happen?!

I’m the girl that lied to her parents about going camping and flew to LA for the weekend to (hopefully) catch a glimpse of the boy I had a crush on.  I’m the girl who, upon obtaining acceptance to graduate school went across the Greek Isles and Italy with nothing but my two best friends, a back pack and a smile (and as many cute sandals as I could cram…).  I’ve been to topless beaches and raves that would last until the break of dawn.  I could run just as fast as anyone, climb higher, drive faster, dance harder, and up for virtually any new experience!  And against all odds, I married Mr. Niceguy – an extreme adventure, if you ask me, given that the expectation for any nice, Armenian girl is to find another nice Armenian boy, make Armenian babies and add to the Armenian population!

But somewhere along the way my priorities shifted…I traded my passport and stilettos for my “Mom-UV”, weekly soccer matches and “gourmet” Mac and cheese.

What’s worse still is that when, in my horrified state, I told Mr. Niceguy about the assignment, he agreed!  Or as he said, he could see where the 7 year old was coming from.  But in my defence, this is what my boys classify as adventure:

1.  Running around in nothing but their underwear and holding martial arts demonstrations

2.  Asking me to take them to the park so that I can be the “pusher” of the swings

3.  Watching Mr. Niceguy play with a remote control truck in any random, dusty, abandoned parking lot – who, by the way, is just one big kid and doesn’t do the best job of sharing his toy as it, together with all of its accessories, cost more than my designer bags and non-existent, figment-of-my-imagination designer shoes (oh Manolos…I should’ve bought you when I had the chance!!)

4. Throwing rocks in the smelly lake or dirty river while I ward off rabid dogs and other unidentified wildlife – did I mention that if there’s a mosquito within a 100 mile radius, it will find its way to my body and have a royal feast?

5.  Getting in the “truck” and driving to destinations unknown and staying overnight in “family oriented” accommodations that are void of restaurants that require reservations

6.  And the dreaded leaving of the city for the “North” where there are no lights, no shops and yes, NO SOCIETY!!

Of course I’m not going to like their definition of adventure!  To know me is to know that my kind of adventure requires a passport (and some mascara)!  In all fairness, I’m not all THAT high maintenance (or as high maintenance as I’m making myself out to be).  Throw me on a beach and I’m in my happy place.  Take me to some ruins and hand me a map, and I’m ecstatic. There’s just something about adventuring with boys that brings out, well, a different side of me…

So I guess these days, I don’t really seek out adventure – I’m too exhausted and too overwhelmed by how quickly time is just passing me by…  Yet, somehow adventure finds me.  It remembers that I crave it.  It remembers that I love it.  And somehow it knows that in my life with boys, I need it.  For without it I’d be miserable: my horizons would not expand, I would not be challenged, and most of all, I would not feel what it’s like to really be alive

My most recent adventure was sitting on the stands, watching my son be trained during a once in a lifetime soccer training session with the FC Barcelona soccer school coaches.  I sat there, during a torrential downpour and watched my 7 year old have the adventure of a lifetime, an adventure I was having vicariously through him….one that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.

One day, and certainly sooner than I’ll be ready, I’ll be able to once again hop on a plane at the drop of a hat to one exotic locale or another…though perhaps not a topless beach – at least not without good SPF!!

Me Adventure

Ugh…homework!!

Dedicated to a very dear friend for whom I promised to (try) and be funny again!

Although I often forget to be grateful for the roof over my head and the food on my plate, as someone who’s been out of school for more than a decade, I never forget to appreciate that I no longer have homework!

lighten-homework-loadAs a Type A personality, I had virtually all straight A’s throughout my school career.  I diligently studied for tests, poured all my effort into assignments and yes, completed every shred of homework – no excuses.  So what happens when a Type A and a Type B collide over Grade 2 homework…

According to Wikipedia, Type A’s are “ambitious, rigidly organized, highly status-conscious, sensitive, truthful, impatient, always try to help others, take on more than they can handle, want other people to get to the point, proactive, and obsessed with time management…they are often high-achieving “workaholics” who multi-task, push themselves with deadlines, and hate both delays and ambivalence.”  While Type B’s “generally live at a lower stress level and typically work steadily, enjoying achievement but not becoming stressed when they do not achieve. When faced with competition, they do not mind losing…they may be creative and enjoy exploring ideas and concepts.”

When Friday afternoons roll around and it’s time to pick up my boys from school my first question is always, “do you have any homework this weekend?”  Of course, the 4 year old’s response (thankfully!) is always “No!” but the 7 year old kick-starts my anxiety with a simple shrug of his shoulders and an “I dunno.”  And so, it begins.  I start wondering, when are we going to do all his homework?  How much does he have?  Is it going to take me hours and hours???  Why can’t he be more motivated?!  Doesn’t he realize that Grade 2 homework is the first step to the REST OF HIS LIFE??!!!!

One of the greatest challenges of being a parent is raising a child and trusting them to become independent and have the courage to stand up for themselves and go after their dreams…whatever they may be.  I’ll digress here:  throughout my formative years I wanted to be many things:  astronaut, painter, even an army general!  But as time goes on, reality (and social pressure) sets in …my dreams of becoming a fashion designer transformed into becoming a chemical engineer (no idea what they do but a particular dignitary was visiting my school and I couldn’t very well disgrace my VERY traditional Armenian parents by choosing such an “outlandish” career)!  Incidentally, I did neither.

In today’s world, our choices are virtually unlimited and children have the gift of potentially making a real living following their dreams and passions.  But today’s world is also more competitive than ever…which makes being a mom, harder still!

Like most 7 year old boys, mine is not quite a Type A.  So when it comes time to ask him to centre in on his homework, I already know I’m swimming upstream – see, unfortunately I do not have a cool laser gun that pops out of my arm, nor can I shoot fireballs out of my eyes and defeat evil takeovers of the universe!  I’m seriously lacking in the super power department for that’s what’s required to capture my 7 year old’s attention!

So it’s Sunday night, an hour to bedtime and after studying for two spelling tests and doing some required reading, we turned to his last piece of homework:  writing a poem.  WHAT?!  Poetry?  In Grade 2???!!  Completely bewildered I turned to a friend who suggested making it fun by choosing a song together and “simply” replacing the words.  Easy enough, right?  NO.

Honestly, there I was, my Type A self, pouring everything I had into this “poetry assignment” and there he was, my little Type B, cycling song after song just so he could play around with my iPhone!  I’m trying to come up with words for his poem while he’s more interested in the cover art!!!  My nerves were getting shot!  I begged!  I pleaded and here’s what I got:

Stuart was a little mouse,
He lived in a great big house,
His brother’s name was George,
Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, adventure

WHAT?!  I kept explaining that he had to rhyme with “George” but he just stood there staring at me, a blank expression on his face.  Perhaps it was the crazed look in my eyes, my nails digging into our dining room table, the beads of sweat appearing across my forehead, my hair starting to frizz or simply the fact that I had gone from shouting to an almost possessed person whisper…or perhaps neither of these things that finally lead us to this…

Me:  *exasperated, worst parent ever as have now resorted to begging and pleading* Please.  For the love of God and all that is holy, please, just choose one song and stick with it.  It’ll make things easier.  You can’t keep bouncing all over the place.  We’ve been at this for over 45 minutes!  You’ve just really got to focus and it’s almost bedtime, tomorrow’s a school day…

Him:  *shrugs shoulders* Maybe I should take a break.  Can I go play outside?

Me:  You played earlier.  Look, we have to finish.  You have to do your homework.  You must be prepared.  This is all about your future!  Trust me.  You have to pay attention, get good grades and then you will be able to open doors to all kinds of possibilities.

Him:  *sprightly*  What doors?  Where?

Me:   *!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  trying to keep it together…* The.  Doors.  To.  Your.  Future. – not actual doors, you know, just a metaphor for possible paths you could take…look, it’s even bath night, we don’t have much time left…

Him:  YAY!  Bath night!  Can I play in the bath?

Me:  UUUGGGGHHH.

It took every ounce of me to not take his exercise sheet and pencil and try and “forge” a poem!  I mean EVERY-SINGLE-OUNCE.  True, that would have been the absolute worst form of parenting but I’ll admit, I WAS DYING TO DO IT!!

Realizing that I was now on the verge of going against everything I stood for, I walked away and gave him his space.  And you know what, he did it.  I was his crutch and when I removed my (psychotic) self from the situation, he demonstrated that he could be a self-actualizing, independent thinker.

I guess more than one of us completed our homework this weekend…

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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

Lessons from a fish…seriously.

Every now and then we step out of ourselves and take on an alternate persona.  For me, this is akin to the person I become after a scotch on the rocks…or two…okay three!  And yes, I did say scotch; though I can be a pink, frilly cocktail kinda girl too – hand me a Prosecco with berries any day –I’m a closet scotchaholic!

That aside, after a couple down the hatch, I transform – it’s a chemical thing!  Now I’m not saying I’m one of those loud, obnoxious and mean drunks – ok, loud and obnoxious, never mean though!  But somehow, after a few drinks I’m brassier and ever so entertaining – at least by my own interpretation.  And I spend a great deal of my time trying to convince all those around that I am actually lucid; that my slurred speech and general incoherence should be no indication of my well-being.

Why fake through the situation?  Why not admit that yes, I have succumbed?  What am I so scared to admit?

Most of the time, I’m a pretty lighthearted, easy going (albeit somewhat complicated) extrovert.  But every now and then my extroversion gives way to a very introspective, insular side of me.  Call it a funk, call it the blues, call it taking stock, call it what you will…but it’s during these times when I wonder if I’m where I should be and doing what I want to do, or whether I’m just trying to keep afloat.  Isn’t it better to just be grateful for the stability I already have – whether it’s the roof over my head, a steady job and income, good friends and family?  True, these are all good.  But I want more.

And this time, the realization came from none other than Zoom, our family’s pet betta fish.  Every now and then, when it’s my turn to feed Zoom during all the chaos that ensues around me (usually at bedtime when arms and legs are flailing to get into the right arm and leg holes of pajamas, teeth are supposedly being brushed, and prayers are being said) Zoom comes to the top of his tank and waits.  And I swear, he’s looking at me…trying to say something…me and zoom

Perhaps it is strange to write about this fish.  Perhaps I should go back and talk about the three scotch I downed this past weekend, or something more comedic like the seven year old or the three year old’s latest antics, but I swear, this fish and I are kindred spirits and here’s how I know.

Zoom came to us by way of a birthday party favour.  I remember it well – it was the year all the children in my 7 year old’s class were turning five.  As we were set to leave, the child’s mother handed us a plastic bag with a fish and a small baggy with food.  While some would baulk at the idea and think, “Oh no!  Another responsibility!!”  I was delighted (perhaps even more delighted than my son!)   Then, about 6 months ago, Zoom started to display some very strange behavior.  He would ignore me.  He would hide in his fake plant all day, or play dead with his head down and his tail suspended above him.  I freaked out.  And I did what any one in my situation would do:  GOOGLED!  I refused to be responsible for fish depression or worse yet, “fishicide.”

After ruling out fish swim bladder disorder or some other fish ailment, I did what I do best:  I went shopping…to the pet store.  Close to thirty design decisions later (round tank or rectangular, coloured or natural gravel, toys or plants, etc.) we moved Zoom into a larger, more professional tank, in a much busier area of the house and the result?  A much happier, active and thriving betta!

Although not in words, Zoom had communicated that he was no longer happy in his original fish bowl – he’d outgrown it.  And this has served as a little reminder that perhaps I too need to be honest.  I too need to be courageous and face the music:  Have I outgrown my fishbowl?  Will I be happier in another?  How will that happen?  Who will move ME into a better tank?

Probably the most frustrating thing for someone as loquacious as me and with very large, grandiose (and perhaps somewhat unrealistic) dreams, is feeling invisible and not being heard.  It feels unjust.  Recognizing that I don’t have a plant to stick my head in and that perhaps diplomacy, humour and wit (not to mention charm and a killer smile) won’t always save one from circumstance – as I have repeatedly experienced while trying to weasel out of parking tickets, or getting out of sticky situations though it could be that perhaps I’m not as charming as I think or my smile isn’t so, well, killer – what does?  What does one do when utterly frustrated, overwhelmed and fighting every instinct to bang one’s fists, throw something and just run away?  And, quite frankly, how do you run away when you’re trapped in a fishbowl?

I think of my kindred spirit, Zoom.  I think of how clever this little fish was in communicating his needs and, well, I’m clever too.  Starting tomorrow, I’m breaking out of my fishbowl.  Charm, killer smile, diplomacy and brains…I’ve got all of these in my arsenal.  And who knows, perhaps I’ll lapse into a persona of courage, and before I know it, I’ll be celebrating in a dapper way with a Prosecco in one hand, and a scotch in the other.  The countdown is on…this year is going to be great!

scotch

The Great Outdoors

If anyone’s seen the movie, the Great Outdoors, with John Candy and Dan Aykroyd, they’ll know that sometimes things can be quite unexpected…and it is in homage to this, that I name this post.

The Great Outdoors (film)

The Great Outdoors (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vacation is upon me…finally.  And this time, we are filling our time off with a short trip to the cottage which I’m spiritually allergic to:  I mean, no AC, no cable TV, no WiFi, and essentially, not much of a boundary between Mother Nature and me…  I’m allergic to anything in the “great outdoors.”  Call me urbanite – the closest I get to the great outdoors is the park around the corner where my kids sometimes play.

For example, take day 3 of our 6 day getaway to the family cottage – I swore I’d never stay at beyond a night (two if absolutely necessary).  My legs are swollen and itchy from the bites of creatures or scrapes of plants unknown, my hair is at least 4 inches shorter as it has curled up and bunched up into anti-nature dreadlocks, and my face is covered with ugly brown spots and freckles.  Despite all these little discomforts, I sat in awe of the most incredible thunderstorm I’ve witnessed in a long, long time.

The cottage has a very large picture window overlooking the lake, which, just moments ago, was being punctured by millions of the largest, hardest drops of rain while the “north shore” across the way gets ravaged by bolt after bolt of lightning.  And I’m watching the steam rise up from between the rows upon rows of trees in response to the cold rain.  It’s so ominous…

The storm has passed – I learned once that the longer the time between seeing lightning and hearing thunder, the further the storm had traveled and hence, the closer to ending.  I’ve just imparted a little wisdom here and since I’m on vacation, if what I’ve said is fiction, well, I chalk it up to days of totally being out of my element and being completely discombobulated.  But do look it up and Google it – let me know if I was wrong!  But now, with coffee in hand and a nice piece of toast, I’m literally floored by how majestic things seem up here.

When we first arrived at the cottage, while Mr. Niceguy and the boys were full of anticipation and bubbling with excitement, all I could think of was how I would stop myself from inevitably going absolutely stir crazy?  How would I fill the time without cable TV?  How would I entertain my highly active kids and keep them from driving each other (and me) crazy?  But with the sun’s heat radiating down on me, I began to give in to my surroundings as I began my usual eternal debate between lusting for relaxation and a deep, bronzed tan juxtaposed with premature aging and skin cancer.  Secondary to this consideration was which bikini to start this so-called vacation in:  sporty (very efficient for all water activities) or sexy (no tan lines but likely to end up around my ankles with every jump).

Truth be told, these are all moot points given that I still have to lose about 5 to 7 pounds for either to really look good…though who am I kidding? 

One glance in the mirror will confirm that I am not Jennifer Aniston’s doppelgänger, so once again, a moot point. 

I went with a mix: sporty top, sexy bottom…and after about 2 hours of the same cycle:  sunning, getting too hot, jumping in the freezing cold lake to my children’s squeals and utter delight, coming back out and starting all over again, I needed something more to do…so I toilet trained the 3 year old.  That’s right.  Toilet trained.  We are just about 100% there.  And I have to pause here because it was his 3 year old friend’s mom that actually gave me the idea.  Thank you.  She made the comment that her son would come over and take all of my extremely selfish, possessive and territorial 3 year old’s underwear (Cars, Curious George, the whole lot) since he wasn’t using them… I exploited this…and it worked!

I’ve always known my kids were lovers of the great outdoors, and this potty training unleashed one more aspect that can only be described as “pure boy”:  not only does my little guy use his simple potty seat, but along with his brother, he likes to go in the lake, on the rocks, along the path and pretty much anywhere can mark his territory.  Well I say, well done!  This achievement is HUGE for both of us!  Thank you possessive human nature and thank you great outdoors!

OK…so what next?  How else to pass the time?  By day 4, we started on fake accents.  Having grown up in Saudi Arabia, to parents who speak at least 5 different languages, my ears have forever been full of so many different sounds.  In fact, my sister and I learned to speak English while watching Sesame Street and Electric Company (American accent) and at a British private school combined with our Armenian mother tongue and our exposure to Arabic.  So for as long as I can remember, I can turn on most accents in a flash, particularly a London accent, but to pass the time, I’ve decided to work on all of the UK:  Scottish, southern England, Sheffield, Manchester, and so on.  And after a couple of beers, and the kids installed nicely in front of a movie, Mr. Niceguy and I have gone from the Beatles, to Trainspotting, to Snatch and Mr. Bean.  “I say, me finks we’re ‘avin a jolly good time!  Rather!”  How droll.

There’s been some real excitement at the cottage too…for instance, we went canoeing, something I hadn’t done in years…decades, really!  And I actually skipped rocks!  And following the 7 year old’s lead, I spent a great deal of my time swimming.  The 3 year old swam too, that is, until the incident with Jenny, a 3 year old, chocolate lab (I don’t know my dogs very well so this is an assumption).  In any case, Jenny was very excited to see us one afternoon.  So much so that without any warning, she jumped in the water and started to try and climb up on top of the 3 year old and his swim ring.  The only thing between this enormous dog and my 3 year old was my arm which got quite bruised in the process of trying to keep myself and the 3 year old from drowning under the weight of this dog!  But Mr. Niceguy (all toned up from his training) dove in and saved the day…my hero!

But adventures aside, the great outdoors has been good to us…and ok, I admit it, unexpectedly good to me.  Letting go of the urban noises and stresses was a very welcome change – as was all the time spent lounging, swimming and staring up at the sky.  If my inlaws will allow it, I daresay, I’d be up for a repeat same time next year…but only once…and only next year!  Oh, and now I hear the sweet call of the city…my phone is beeping and I have to go!

Great outdoors

I think it’s time to cut the cord…or is it?

Hello summer!  You have finally arrived!!  There’s nothing like that added glow from the sun, cute summer dresses, flip flops, a cold beer and an overall sexiness that comes from the heat!  Perhaps the only thing I would change is how frizzy my hair gets…

Summer always makes me nostalgic – I often recall that amazing rush of freedom when I would write my last exam and run out to party with my friends through to the hot summer nights which would then be followed by long summer holidays that felt like they shaped my life and forever changed me…

With all my nostalgia, it should come as no surprise that I’m probably the biggest daddy’s and mommy’s girl there ever was.  If I could still live in their basement, together with my Mr. Niceguy, the 7 year old, the 3 year old and our pet fish, Zoom, I would.  Of course, they would probably drive me crazy – and then my crazy would probably make them wish they could evict me, but being the nice people they are, they wouldn’t and, well, let’s just say that I’d hate for a good thing to go bad.

Being Armenian by heritage, my family is quite similar to Voula’s in My Big Fat Greek Wedding and not unlike the Kardashians (minus the rolling cameras, modeling contracts, and the big house in Calabasas) in that everyone is hip deep in everyone else’s life.  Armenians (at least my grouping) tend to be LOUD, all about food, LOUD, gesticulate with their hands when they speak, LOUD, and above all else, very passionate about family.

In a culture where family comes first, it follows that my parents’ happiness means everything.  More than that, their approval is nearly always essential and sadly, it is this kind of relationship that also makes me quite vulnerable to any of their criticism for they have absolutely no filter and if they believe they are acting in my best interest, the prospect of potentially deflating my ego or hurting my feelings will not stop them…

Take my thirty X girlfriend.  She, like me, is also Armenian and my seatmate on the bullet train to forty.  Just this morning, while dropping off her children at her parents’ house before going to work, her mom did the typical.

Mom:  Oh hello, dear.  What is that you’re wearing?

BFF:  What?  Why? 

Mom:  Are those shorts?  Should you be wearing them to work?

BFF:  They’re fancy suit shorts – they are for work.  And besides, they’re only just above my knee – it’s not like I’m wearing short shorts.  These are in style now, Mom.  And they look great with my blouse and my high heels – I’m very well put together.

Mom:  OK dear.  Whatever you say…but shorts are shorts.

BFF:  <DEFLATED>

How is it that our parents can just get to us that quickly?  Sometimes I wonder if I would be better off if I (could) just cut the cord – if I could separate myself from this kind of emotional roller coaster:  yes I know you were once parents too, yes I know you’ve lived much longer and are therefore wiser, yes I realize that the times we live in now can’t hold a candle to yours, and so on and so forth.  And somehow, the long walk to school in hip deep snow and all sorts of other trials and tribulations always seem to come up as they stress for the umpteenth time how things are so much easier for our generation…blah, blah, blah!

That same afternoon, after a very quick bite I spent the rest of my lunch running some errands which resulted in a quick walk up Bay Street.  Two women happened to be walking in front of me and snapped me out of my thoughts with their loud regales over their night out.  What I noticed first was how tall they were – in my case, I’m vertically challenged at 5 foot 4…5 foot 4 and a half on a good day.  What I noticed next was how envious I started to feel about their fun and fancy free story…

As I kept listening to their conversation (ok, eavesdropping but sorry, in my defence they WERE loud and as I explained above, I’m culturally preconditioned to respond to anything LOUD) my attention became drawn to their outfits, which fit their characters quite nicely.  The first simply wore black pants and a blouse (the “supporting role” in the last night’s wild night), while the second was wearing a dangerously short dress for work topped with a little black cardigan (the “lead role” and main benefactor).  As things progressed, I thought, wow, this leading lady should have chosen a better outfit for work – however would she manage to bend over…or sit down for that matter?  But I was snapped out of my wandering thoughts when I noticed a hole the size of a toonie right on her, well, caboose.

I walked behind them for about a block thinking about this classic dilemma: do I tell her or shall I just mind my own business? 

Me:  Ummm, excuse me.  Listen, I’m sorry to interrupt but I have to tell you that you have a hole in your dress –

Lead:  What?  Where?  Really?  [Support eyes me suspiciously]

Me:  Well, right in the back, right on your, ahem, bum.

Lead starts spinning around trying to see so Support gets in there and validates my claim.

Lead:  Omigod!  [Blushes beet red and is extremely embarrassed.]  I can’t believe it!  I love this dress!  Thank you so, so much for letting me know.  [Looks to Support]  I wonder how long we’ve been walking for…omigod. 

Me:  Maybe just take off your cardigan and tie it around your waist – you’ll be just fine. 

As I walked on, I thought of my own trials and tribulations over the years.  I thought of how glad I was that so many of my wild nights, drink, and strangers were behind me…for the most part anyway.  And I thought of my parents and how even though I might not want to hear what they have to say, I am grateful that for the time being they are still here to tell it like it is…Though the cord is short, it’s not worth cutting off…

Role reversal…?

Originally written for Mother’s Day…

About 7 years ago, I was standing just outside “flower row” on Avenue Road.  It was a very special Sunday, Mother’s day, and people were buying flowers for their mothers/sisters/grandmothers/aunts/wives.  Meanwhile, for me it was just a typical downtown Sunday, where I had just come from having a very satisfying meal at one of my favourite brunch places, looking every bit the rotund mother-to-be…43 pounds more heavy, 6 weeks pre-baked, prego lady…the perfect subject for a feel-good TV interview piece about Mother’s Day.

A reporter got one look at me and ran right over, practically salivating!  She prepped her cameraman (who also looked really excited but I think more because he could finally get his shot and get out of the madness) smoothed down her perfectly coiffed hair, and then turned to me.  After a quick, three…two…one…the mic was in my face and… “Hi!  We’re here in downtown Toronto on this very special day.  It’s Mother’s Day!  Miss, I mean, ma’am, tell me, how special is this day for you?”  I stood there totally frozen.  Why was this woman waiting for MY answer?  I shrugged and said, “Well, it’s kind of not a day for me, is it?  I mean, I’m just pregnant – I don’t have any kids yet, so I don’t really think of this day as anything especially meaningful.”  At this point she looked at me like I was from outer space…and like she was about ready to tear my head off…so I added, “Umm…I mean, until I have this baby, I think this is still a day for my mom, not me.  But I’m excited???”  Cameraman and reporter both looked at me, mouths agape, shocked…incidentally, I didn’t make it on the 6 o’clock news…

Was she waiting for me to gush:  “Awww…this is the best day.  So amazing!  I can’t wait to be a mother!  I can’t wait to meet this little baby!  I’m experiencing the miracle of life and it’s going to be the best thing EVER!”  Well, that’s just not me…I never heard the birds chirping or saw the clouds part – I had no idea of what I was getting into…and how much I would change as a result…

Seven years later…it’s 11:15 pm.  I just got home from work.  I’ve had one of those days…in fact, more like one of those weeks!  Up at the crack of dawn, drop one kid off at school, while my husband stayed at home and took care of the other (a big ball of ooze thanks to spring allergies and a cold), followed by a 15.5 hour stretch at work.

And the first thing I thought of when I came home?  “Where’s my dinner?”

For anyone that’s seen the movie Pleasantville, there’s a scene in it where the father, a stereotypical 1950’s man that goes to work, while his “little woman” takes care of the house, makes marshmallow salads, and cares for the children, comes home and gets all snappy because things have been turned upside down, his wife has “seen the light” and hadn’t prepared dinner. I felt very much like this man – like everything I knew had been turned upside down.

Here I was clinging onto the middle rungs of the corporate ladder and during this latest stretch of work insanity, my husband’s the one making lunches, wiping noses, overseeing homework and having chats with the other moms in the parking lot!  He’s the one who has become the centre of our home.  He’s the one who knows where things are and what’s happened on Lego Ninjago.  He’s the one they look for…

Don’t I want to be the one to take my kids to school, chat with the other moms in the parking lot and still have time to watch Bold and the Beautiful and do homework?  But also, don’t I want to achieve something that’s just mine…leave my own mark?

Like the pendulum of the clock, I keep swinging back and forth and at close to 1:30 am in the early morning, I decide I’m done.

And I’m strangely satisfied.  I remember that as a mom, I have the gift of continuously witnessing breaks in the time-space continuum – something I never saw before; moments, where I see myself in my kids’ laughter, tantrums, and surprise.  I can almost feel them experiencing life as my heart quickens when I see their absolute joy or total devastation and I’m forever perplexed and amazed at how quickly the world becomes a better place after a simple hug, a high-five and a smile.

I wish I could go back and answer the question I was asked seven years ago, all over again.  I would say to that reporter, here’s what Mother’s Day means to me:  That although I still think this is still more of a day for my mom… that it would apply to me soon.  That although I have no idea what I am getting into, I hope to do a good job and make sure that my kids will laugh loud, genuine laughs every day.  But being a mom would not define me completely and I hope that my kids would also get to know me.  After having said all of that, we’re just going to take things as they come, and figure things out as we go.