Learning to Love a Kitchen

I’ve never liked a kitchen before. When I was a kid it was too adult. When I was a student it was too dirty. When I was single it was ignored. I’ve never been interested in cooking. It’s a necessity not a joy. Doing the dishes is my least favourite chore. I hate the simultaneous dry and wet feelings between my fingers and the damp mildew smell of the sponge. I have never been fond of the kitchen.

However, since Joanie learned to sit up in a high chair my hatred for the room has subsided. The living room is no longer the hub of the house. Most of the living is done in the kitchen. It’s where I eat supper with my family, bake muffins for breakfast, and sing the ABC’s loud over the sound of the blender. But the kitchen is no longer solely for cooking. It has become my office with its bright south facing window and expansive table on which I spread all my papers and write this very blog. It’s also where I play tug-of-war with my dog, pace back and forth while arguing on the phone with my internet provider and laugh over coffee and gossip with my friends. It’s a place of noise. All day I alternate the sounds of news radio, NPR, Hall & Oates, dishes clanking about, dogs barking, and singing. Oh so much singing. I’m sure my neighbours love to hear me sing:

Oh, they built the ship Titanic

To sail the ocean blue,

And they thought the had a ship

That the water wouldn’t go through,

But the Good Lord raised his hand

Said that ship would never land.

It was sa-ad when the gre-eat ship went down.

And other such morbid tunes from my girl-scout days.

One of the first conversations Eric and I had after we decided to have Joanie was about dinner time. We made a pact that supper would always be served at the table and away from the television. Even if we have nothing to say to each other because we’ve spent the whole day lying about, we will at least make it to the table. Unless dinner’s pizza. Pizza should always be eaten with television.

We’re by no means traditional. We’re not married, we don’t attend any sort of church and our daughter was born two weeks before the one year anniversary of our first date, if you could call it a date. It was more like me stumbling to his house after the bar to drink absinthe then cabbing home at 4 am with the nicest lady driver I. But there are some traditions that appeal to me, the big one being family dinner in the kitchen, that noisy, messy, colourful place full of sunlight and smells.

When I was pregnant I spent a lot of time on the couch. Eric likes to joke about how I beat Netflix. There was nothing it could suggest that I hadn’t already seen. Things were sloth-like but cozy as I knit myself in a stagnant wooly ball. Since Joanie’s birth our lives have burst into activity. The living is no longer done in the room of its namesake but in the kitchen. Our living room is where we crash from all the living we do in the kitchen.

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Be a Little Afraid

Donald, a young and fair-haired coworker, reads my blog. Hi Donald. After my recent post about getting caught at the airport covered in Joanie’s diarrhea, he told me that I have scared him away from ever having babies. I cautioned him about the efficacy of condoms then got to thinking about my readers. Hi readers.

In response to Donald’s feedback and in anticipation of a few friends’ due dates I want to clarify my goals with this project.

Dearest reader, I don’t want to scare you. Well, maybe a bit. What I’m trying to say is: be afraid, but know that you can do it

One of my goals is to combat the silly tone of What to Expect When You’re Expecting and other texts of that ilk. It’s unrealistic and patronizing and it makes the whole affair sound like a magical frolic through a meadow of cotton candy and pillows. I’m a grown woman. Give it to me straight.

The idea for this blog came to me while sitting in the back of a birthing class, trying to eat my carrot sticks quietly. It was the first day and we were watching The Movie. You know the one with the very close and graphic view of a birth. Eric and I watched it the same way we watch that show Hannibal. I cover my eyes and he tells me when the gross parts are over. When they finally were and our enthusiastic teacher turned the lights back on, I was surprised to find all of the other couples crying. All of them. Not the fearful crying you might expect but one of joy in the face of true beauty. My reaction was very different. I wanted to jump on my chair and yell, “That box got torn apart!” Luckily I was pregnant and it was unsafe for me to stand on chairs. Was I missing something? Am I colder that most people? Maybe, but perhaps it has something to do with an image of motherhood that’s been blurred of its gory details, like the picture of the woman with angel wings and perky boobs on the box of nursing fenugreek tea in the back of my pantry.

The tone I want to use is closer to my first impulse. It’s hard and painful and gross but I’m very happy about it. That’s the paradox I want to address.

The first day at home with Joanie I was astonished by how impossible parenting appeared. I was tired, sore, and emotional and my life had quickly flipped from quiet anticipation to frantic action. It was amazing that people had been doing this since the beginning of humanity, but they have and so would I. I’ve recovered, I’m used to sleep deprivation and I have a firm grasp of the basics: diapers, boobs, etcetera. I’ve trudged through the worst of it, and the troubles are probably not over, but I’ve reached a point of happiness amidst all the gross parts.

My reward: Joanie.

I finally get to know what unconditional love is. Even if she becomes a thief or an arsonist or uses the word adorbs, I will love her. Maybe that’s why people create those images of winged women. My intention is to be an alternative to her, one who acknowledges the hair and blood and poop but remains encouraging.

So be afraid, but know that you can do it.

What would I do without free healthcare?

She’d had fevers before. She’s stood on my legs and smiled until the moment before a nurse jabbed a needle into the pudgy rolls of her thighs at which point her small face contorts in agony. I’ve held her close to my chest as she cried a long piercing wail of pain, but when Joanie’s temperature heated for no discernible reason, I was terrified. We were in New York, staying at a modern boutique hotel with a pungently perfumed lobby and nothing was familiar. I woke up early to get some medication at the pharmacy down the road. The air stank of piss and old groceries and the city that was so fascinating the day before now left me skittish. I was eager to get back home where I know the brands of baby medicine, and temperature is measured in Celsius, and healthcare is free.

At home Joanie’s eyes returned to their usual bright state, her cheeks flushed and her arms strengthened, but her fever persisted. Eric assured me she was mostly healthy as I peered down into the crib stroking my little baby’s warm forehead.

“Maybe we should take her to the hospital. Fever’s are dangerous for infants.”

“She’s okay. It’s just a slight fever and she certainly isn’t lethargic.”

“But she’s so small.”

“If it’s like this tomorrow we’ll call Dr. Olav.”

He rubbed my back and stoked Joanie’s soft peach fuzz hair. “Come to bed.”

“I’m going to sleep here.”

“Come to bed,” he repeated, and I did, but only to wake up an hour later and sneak back to the nursery where I curled up on the foam play mat by the crib and slept with my head on Elmo’s tummy, waking up every half hour to check on her breathing.

The next morning Eric laughed and shook his head at the sight of me on the floor with my glasses hanging from one ear. We took Joanie’s temperature and her fever had subsided. She smiled up at us and kicked her legs with the force we had come to expect from her.

“See, she’s fine.”

In our family dynamic, Eric is the one with the calm approach. I tend towards the more spastic and worried. If it wasn’t for him, we would have been to the emergency room at least fifteen times in the last five and a half months.

“Why is she scratching her ear like that?”

“What’s that red mark?”

“She’s coughing! She’s coughing!”

“She’s fine.”

Joanie is a very healthy baby. She amazes the ladies at the daycare with her strength and energy. Even when she’s coughing or feverish she is happy and vivacious. Still, even though we haven’t used it yet, it’s nice to know we can take her to the emergency room and not be charged the equivalent of our life savings. Those few hours in the States with a sick child reminded me of how lucky we are to be born in a country with free healthcare. It blows my mind that people have to sacrifice so much just to get their kids basic health services. Our system in Canada may not be perfect but at least it helps more people than it cripples.

I hate the fat man on the chair

“Help,” I meekly called from the bottom of the stairs up to our apartment. I was caught in the doorframe between the two parts of the stroller.

Eric looked down at me from above and over the sound of Joanie’s shrieks and Frank’s bark he yelled down, “can’t.”

We could have fought. I initially felt a pang of ire but it quickly subsided as I wiggled my way through the frame and up the stairs to meet Eric’s laughter. When I was pregnant I may have been fat but I could still fit through door fames. Situations like this one that elicit bouts of anger were sparse. There was simply less to get argue about. Now it seems like every day there’s a new opportunity for rage. But we don’t fight, not really any way. We bicker about wearing socks in bed but there’s little emotion behind those spats. It’s probably a combination of our mutual aversion to raised voices, our active senses of humour, and a whole bunch of adoration that keep us so calm in our dealings with each other. We high-five a lot.

However, anger has to go somewhere. It’s like the first law of thermodynamics (forgive my layman’s explanation) which states that energy cannot be created or destroyed. It can only change forms. Instead of a familial argument, my ire changes form and becomes rage directed at another man with whom I have no real contact: the fat man on the chair. I hate the fat man on the chair.

For the past few weeks there has been construction in the street behind my apartment building. I don’t drive and I’m usually awake at seven when the bulldozing begins, so I’m not bothered by the work itself. What works me into a flushed, exaggerated, perhaps disproportionate rage is the fat man on the chair. His only job is to guide trucks and pedestrians through the intersection, and he’s terrible at it. Yesterday I made it all the way to a giant hole and back again before he called, “le trottoir est barré!”

In Montreal corruption is assumed, especially when it comes to construction. It’s normal to see twelve supervisors standing around a hole while one worker digs. Quebec is a welfare state, and I’m all for paying high taxes for the sake of public programs but the mismanagement of funds is so catastrophic that citizens rarely see where taxes are spent. Our infrastructure is crumbling, our high school drop out rate is astronomical and we are still dealing with asbestos in public institutions. The fat man is emblematic of that corruption, or to put it mildly, that poor budgeting. His job is so utterly pointless that he has brought himself a chair from home. I walk by him at least four times a day and he never moves from that spot. He is constantly sitting, sometimes eating, usually smoking and always soaking up public money. I hate his stupid snide grin and his fat calves stuffed into work boots, a likely indicator of gout. I hate him. I hate him. Oh damn it, I hate him.

Now I know that the fat man on the chair is not the cause of all of Quebec’s problems, but he, as a symbol, has stumbled into the path of my expelled anger. Aristotle wrote about how anger is a good thing when directed at the right object and used to fuel political action. I could use it to write fervent letters to the city, or speak passionately at counsel meetings, but my rage is not being used for such lofty ideals. It is instead directed at a man who I have never met and with whom I have only exchanged a few curt words.

Aristotle would be very disappointed with me, but I hope he would understand. Between family, writing, groceries and work I don’t have the time to be as politically active as I would like, and at least no one is feeling the effects of my vented ire. The fat man on the chair has no idea who I am. He doesn’t notice my seething glare, and by directing my rage at him the people I love most escape it.

Everybody wins.

Grannie, Poppy, Nana and Gramps (or Grumps depending on the situation)

In the wake of Joanie’s first meeting with her paternal grandparents and the birthday of my own grandma, I reflect again on the role of grandparents. When I was pregnant there was a lot of discussion about the names we would use to address each grandparent. Eric’s parents already have a grandson so their names were chosen: Nana and Gramps. My parents had yet to decide. I’ve always referred to my father as Pops. The natural progression from there is Pop Pop, but since that’s the name of the selfish buffoon of a grandpa on Arrested Development we settled on Poppy. My mom was more torn over the issue. She wanted a name that both acknowledged her role as grandmother but didn’t make her sound old. We settled on Grannie because of its regular appearance in fairy tales, though I’m not sure how it reflects her age.

Just as there are different styles of parenting, grandparenthood differs as well. Consider my own grandparents and their wonderful influence. My paternal grandpa Pama, a name of which the origin is a mystery, taught me that every thing has a use. He constructed from garbage tables, boats and even a surf board type contraption complete with a deck chair, sail and pontoon. My Grandma Nina, with whom I have always been close, is a pillar of warmth and companionship. When I was small enough she perched me on the back of her kayak and rowed around the lake. Sometimes I’d slide off on purpose just so she would tug on the collar of my life jacket and save me. Grandpa Bob once grabbed a book of poetry from my mother’s grasp because she was “not reading it with enough conviction,” and proceeded to read it with his rich British accent, the likes of which David Attenborough could never compete.

Motherhood is really really hard. Aside from all the practical stuff, diapers, breastfeeding, finding tiny socks stuck to the inside of the drier, I am constantly concerned about the less tangible aspects of parenting. Is she understanding what is said when the T.V is on? Will she remember all the times I cursed around her? Does the macabre song about the Titanic effect her notions of class and engineering hubris? It’s all a little much to deal with, but if Joanie’s grandparents are anything like mine, they’ll be a huge help.