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a fond farewell

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On a snowy day in January, 1997, a tiny grey face peered up at me from underneath our front porch and meowed. It was love at first sight.

When Heidi moved into our home, she was Cat #4, and, as it turned out, was carrying Cats #5, 6, 7 and 8 in her furry belly. I called her “Heidi” because half the time we had no idea where she was, a habit that became even more evident when she got close to giving birth.

At first, she was skittish, and although she clearly appreciated being inside, warm and fed, she was not a cuddler. I was determined, though, and I wore her down – and when she went into labour, she sought me out, following me around all day and sticking to me like glue. She gave birth (to four kittens that seemed impossibly large for such a petite mother) in our bedroom closet… I was pregnant myself at the time, and Dr. T was away, and this tiny grey ball of pain and fury looked straight at me and screamed as each huge kitten emerged.

One by one, her kittens went to their new homes, and one by one, our original trio of cats left us, and eventually Heidi was Cat #1, a status that she enjoyed for almost a decade. She curled up next to my babies when they slept on the couch, and tolerated toddlers testing to see is her fur came off.

heidi

She was the tiniest cat with the biggest purr. She brought me mice. She sat on my lap as I wrote blog posts and sat on my students’ essays when I marked papers. She “helped” the boys with their homework, and kept Dr. T company when he sat up too late watching TV.

She used to follow me to the Metro and follow the boys to the playground (and she even got it when I suggested that other parents might frown upon a cat in the sandbox). Once, she followed us about six blocks when we went to vote – apparently she was very civic-minded.

Heidi has been the other female in the house, making me feel a little less outnumbered. She’s snuggled with me in bed and on the couch, and enjoyed the laps of many friends over the years (particular favourites being Terence and Erin, and one memorable, almost pornographic moment with Kevin B.).

Earlier this year, it became clear that Heidi was in decline. Over the past few months, we’ve been monitoring her condition with the world’s best vet, so we knew that the end was coming – her kidneys were showing signs of failure. In the past couple of weeks, things have gone downhill quickly. We don’t think that she’s in any pain, yet, but she’s stopped eating – even Fancy Feast – and is almost literally a shadow of her former self.

This evening, our vet will come to our home, so Heidi can be at home, with her family, and we’ll say goodbye to the best cat we’ve ever known. She’s had, I like to think, a good life, and she’s made our lives better, immeasurably.

I cannot begin to express how much I am going to miss her.

Must be doing something right

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On Friday, Colin celebrated his 13th birthday.

Wait, let me rephrase that:

On Friday, my son became a teenager.

I enter this phase of motherhood with more than a modicum of trepedation. I have been a teenager.

First of all, there were all kinds of things that I experienced as a teenager that my little boy is clearly too young to know about, much less experience for himself.

Secondly, I know for a fact that when during my own adolescence, my parents went through a concurrent phase of being ridiculously unhip, uninformed, and unsympathetic, and I can only hope that this was a purely coincidental mutual madness.

As I've said before, my own aging process does not bother me - I'm not obsessed with grey hairs, or wrinkles, and I feel no compelling need to buy sensible shoes. Colin's development into an actual human being, on the other hand, makes my arthritis flare up. His feet are already bigger than mine, and he's a mere three inches from being taller than I - and since he grew more than four inches this past year, it's only a matter of time before he's patting me on the head.

He wears deodorant, and needs to.

So far, despite the occasional bout of teenage attitude and an inherited intolerance of mornings, he's a great kid - quickly becoming a great guy. He's generally considerate, unless you have the misfortune of being his younger brother. He's funny, and smart enough to know which parent to thank for his humour (and brains).

I feel it is tempting the fates to think that our entry, as a family, into the teenage years indicates a relatively easy ride, but so far, it's survivable. Of course, pimples and attitude are nothing compared to baby's first hangover or "um, I had a little accident with your car," but I like to think that we've laid the groundwork for dealing with those when they inevitably occur.

On the other hand, I have to remember that in two years, there will be two teenagers in the house.

Settling the Nature vs Nurture debate?

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In about a month, Colin will officially be a teenager. Eep! My own age doesn't make me feel old, but watching my kids turn into actual people sure does.

As the boys get older, they become more and more unique - there are obvious genetic similarities, and they have some wonderful things in common, but they are clearly very different people, with different senses of humour, different ambitions, different philosophies, and so on.

I realize that this observation is not a revelation.

In the past few months, both boys have started talking about their future plans, and while the sudden interest in their future selves is shared, their visions reveal just how different they are. Colin's plans are relatively short-term: he plans to visit several important theme parks over the next decade, perhaps even taking time off between college and university to tour the American parks. Beyond that, his plans are pretty vague.

Robert, on the other hand, has decided that he will (a) go to university so he can get a better-paying job, (b) live at home as long as possible because it's cheaper, (c) get a small apartment when he does move out, to save money, (d) get a job that pays at least "thirty bucks an hour," and (e) move to California.

Colin's plans strike me as what one might expect from an almost-teenager. Robert's plans, meanwhile, strike me as what one might expect from a survivor of the Great Depression.

Just don't cast Redford in the title role

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Many years ago, before our kitchen was "done," we had no cupboard space, and I used the top of the fridge as a makeshift storage area. I kept two or three baskets on the fridge, filled with bags and boxes of spices, lentils, noodles, and the like.

One fine summer afternoon, the back door was open to allow the sun and fresh air to come in - and the wildlife, apparently. My friend and I walked into the kitchen to discover a squirrel perched on top of the fridge, reaching for a bag of walnuts.

He looked at me. I looked at him. I said "those are not yours. Put that down and move along."

And he did... my friend promptly dubbed me "Reasons with Squirrels" (a la 'Dances with Wolves').

Now I may have to trade that title in for 'Cat Whisperer.'

About a month ago, the Domestic Goddess rescued three kittens and their mother from under her neighbour's porch, and brought them to the Animal Health department at the college where we both work. The Animal Health people cleaned up the kittens and spayed the mother, then DG took the kittens to her mother's apartment as a temporary home.

The mother, according to the Animal Health experts, was feral and the best thing to do was to release her back into her territory, i.e., the neighbour's porch, since she'd never be tame enough to adapt to living as a pet. I offered to take her home and house her in our downstairs bathroom for a couple of days while she recuperated from the surgery.

So, hissing and spitting and yowling, she spent the first night in our bathroom. The next day, I found her curled up in the sink, and although she hissed at me, she didn't make any aggressive moves. I fed her, and left her alone. Two days later there was still some hissing, but there was also this:
calypso.jpg

Perhaps not so feral, after all?

Within days, I was leaving the bathroom door open and she was rubbing against my legs when I arrived with food. The next step was to open the laundry room door so she'd have access to the whole basement - and she quickly discovered the cat-friendly access to the large storage closet, and took up residence on one of our suitcases.

She's been here almost a month now, and we've gone from hissing and growling to purring and kneading. She's keenly aware that there's another cat in the house (although Heidi is either completely oblivious or completely secure in her position as Number One cat), so she's been very cautious about exploring upstairs, but I think it's safe to say that it's only a matter of time before she's sitting on Colin's homework and demanding water from Dr. T at 3 a.m.

Her name is Mehitabel. 2009-12-10%2014.30.26.jpg

Go forth and multiply

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A friend recently contacted me, and a few other friends who are also parents, and asked for our input - she has a friend who has a one-year-old child, and who is struggling with the decision to have another, or not, and when. After I sent in my two-cents, it occurred to me that I could share this fiddling small change with the rest of you.

I realize none of you actually asked, but until you DO start suggesting topics*, this is what happens.

So, here's what I sent to my friend - and I'll forward any insight from the comments, should any be forthcoming:

I have two boys, 25 months apart, and although sometimes we sit back and wonder what the heck we were thinking, the benefits outweigh the hard work.

I am the oldest in our family, and my sister came along when I was seven - my brother another six years after that. So when I left home for college, my mother still had a pre-schooler! From our perspective as kids, we felt like we didn't really know each other. My sister and I are friends now, but that took some doing as adults. My brother is practically a stranger. From our parents' perspective, it must have seemed like an endless cycle - just when you finally get one through toddlerhood/childhood/adolescence, here comes another one, and another after that.

When Dr. T and I decided to have kids, we specifically decided on plural, and I said I wanted them to be close together. We actually aimed for something like "Irish twins" (there was a non-starter conception between the two boys).

Sometimes our house is non-stop chaos, but there are plenty of reasons I'm glad we ended up with our boys - they are close enough in age that when one has a friend over, the other can join in without it being an "imposition"; they have each other, not just at home but at school and at extra-curricular events; they share games, toys, books, jokes, bedtime, homework routines, and so on... When they were little, it was hard work sometimes; unlike my parents, though, when we were finished with diapers we were really finished with them. Chicken pox was a one-time occurrence at our house.

Now that they're older, they're developing their own interests, but they still spend most of their spare time together, even if it's not always daisy chains and singing ;)

Colin started high school this week, so for the first time EVER they are in school at different places, taking different buses at different times - and for the first time I am actually worried about them getting to and from school, because they don't have each other. Of course, my worries are pretty much groundless, but hey, mums gotta worry!

So, to summarize - two is good, close is good. (wow, that was waaay shorter than the first part)

*which is a neat idea - reader-generated topics! I may regret this, but feel free to send me something to write about. If you ask nicely, I'll even try to avoid ending my sentences with prepositions, 'cause I know they freak some people out.

What I did on my summer vacation [week 1]

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This summer, we are once again in the idyllic Cotswolds, reconnecting with the UK branch of the family. As always, Dr. T can only be with us for one week out of the four that we'll be here, but the boys and I are well taken care of by his side of the clan.

As the most recent member of the family, Layla, arrived about four weeks ago, we were expecting a rather relaxed trip, what with the whole "just gave birth" thing. However, in the week that we've been here, we've already:

- attended a medieval festival in Tewkesbury, complete with battle reenactment
- made our annual pilgrimage to Bournton-on-the-Water's model village
- eaten at Jamie Oliver's Italian restaurant in Oxford
- toured the Corinium museum in Cirencester

Tomorrow, we're off to Raglan Castle in Wales, and on Friday, the boys and I will take the train to Glasgow to spend a few days with my grandmother. The rest of the month will be filled with trips to Milton Keynes, London and Paris.

But the highlight of this summer, as it has been for the last two, is the scenery right outside the front door of the house*.

walk.jpg

Granted, being here has made me appreciate having kids who are no longer infants or toddlers, not to mention having my own bed, in my own bedroom, but the bottom line is that I lucked out in the in-law department. My sister-in-law is someone with whom I have a great connection - not surprising, really, given that her brother is Dr. T and her mother is TWGMIL (tm), but wonderful, nonetheless.

I had a longer post planned, and partly written, but I goofed and inadvertently shut down the computer, after which there was supper, and dessert, and wine, and tea, and, and, and... so I'm posting mainly for the benefit of Dana ;) But there will be more, certainly - in fact, Colin now has his own camera, so there are two of us recording it all for posterity.

*There are loads more photos from our first week on my flickr page.

Pret a (ap)porter

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We're off to the UK on Tuesday evening, and I am in my traditional just-about-to-pack-but-not-yet phase, in which the simple act of getting dressed becomes terribly complicated because I might want to pack that t-shirt, so I can't wear it now.

This situation is newly exacerbated by Colin, who has been asking, every day for at least two weeks, "should we start packing today?"

Further complicating matters is the fact that the UK is apparently experiencing some weird heat wave, which is anomalous with the past three summers we've spent there, which have been cold and frequently damp. Obviously, I have to pack for the hot, dry weather that seems to be happening, but based on previous experience, I also have to pack for cold, damp weather.

In past years, I have tried to be minimalist in my packing, with the strategy that a quick trip to one of the myriad charity shops will fully supplement my wardrobe for the duration of my stay, at the end of which everything can be regifted to the very same shop. This is, of course, a brilliant plan, but in actual execution has proved to be seriously flawed, primarily because the selection of clothing at the charity shops is, naturally, limited and frequently amusing/terrifying. So the result of the carefully-laid plan is that I end up spending a month in the same pair of jeans and increasingly tattered t-shirt, insisting that we go shopping again, like some kind of deranged treasure hunter who believes that this next expedition will be the lucky one.

So this year, in an effort to appear slightly less shopping-mad, I am trying to pack as if there are no charity shops, or Marks & Spencer, or Clarks, or BHS, or woolen mills, and so on, so that our visit can be about reconnecting with family and celebrating the arrival of Layla, the newest member of the family, rather than about me channeling Becky Bloomwood.

One might think that since there are three of us travelling, and we're each entitled to two checked bags, that the obvious solution is to get six suitcases and cram them full of everything we own; however, once packed, the six suitcases would then have to be transported to the airport in one car, then retrieved by one adult at the baggage carousel at Heathrow, manipulated onto a coach, and then stuffed into an even smaller car for the final leg of the journey - not to mention the inconvenience of having six suitcases in active use in a relatively small house for four weeks.

Mind you, my in-laws are relatively laid back, and if the weather really is hot and dry, maybe the solution is clear - I have to convince them of the benefits of life au naturel.

Then all I'd need to pack is sunscreen :)

The women who made me me

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Next week is International Women's Week. I wrote the following for inclusion in our campus union newsletter, in response to a call for articles on inspiring women:

Many years ago, when I was a student here at Vanier, I wrote an item for the school newspaper, The Phoenix, about REAL Women. For those who may not recognize the group, REAL Women (Realistic, Equal, Active, for Life) is an “alternative” women’s group that primarily champions women’s right to be stay-at-home mothers – a noble cause, certainly, but at the time I was writing, the group’s language was a lot more controversial, and their message included condemnation of women who chose to work, pursue higher education and challenging careers, or engage in oral sex, among other grievous sins.

My response then, as it is now, is that women like my mother – who, at the tender age of 23 found herself a single parent, in a country an ocean away from her family – are the real women that inspire me. My mother worked full-time to support me, and even after she met and married my step-father, she continued to work, because she loved her job (she retired more than a little reluctantly a few years ago). She was a driving force in my education, and encourages my sister and me to pursue our careers with all our passion. Of course she loves our husbands and her grandchildren, but she has never suggested – because it would never occur to her – that we’re doing any disservice to our families by exploring life outside the domestic sphere.

I have learned in recent years that my mother’s extraordinarily progressive philosophy is genetic. My grandmother, born shortly after the First World War, left school at 14 to earn a living and help support her family, which she did for eleven years before she married my grandfather. After her six children were all in school, she went back, finished high school, and got her teacher’s license, and taught elementary school until she retired at 63, the mandatory age at the time. She’s still going strong at 87, living on her own, playing competitive bridge and taking the occasional cruise around the Mediterranean.

Shortly after they were married, my grandfather said to my grandmother “Mary, our family has always voted Labour, and now that you’re in the family, you will too.” My grandmother’s reply? “Edward, women like Emmeline Pankhurst didn’t starve themselves and chain themselves to railings so you could have two votes.” She never did vote Labour, either.

There are so many inspirational women around the world, making changes and leading extraordinary lives – but I am most inspired by, and most thankful for, my Mum and my Gran.

Happy International Women's Week.

It's all downhill from here

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sports2-1.jpg

My lovely friend Erin (or, as Dr. T calls her, my hot supermodel friend Erin) recently interviewed Colin and Robert for her article on tobogganing - check it out!!

In the photo, by the way, Erin is wearing a hat that I made. The hat did not take as long to make as the children.

Owm

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What do you think of when someone mentions yoga? Calm, serene, meditative stretchy bendiness? That's what I think of, certainly.

Now, I am aware that there are other forms of yoga involving sweating and speed, but having never tried these forms I feel completely qualified to dismiss these as horribly misguided distortions of the art.

But that is neither here nor there...

I bring up yoga because it seems to me unlikely that one can sustain a yoga-related injury. What could happen? I suppose you could get stuck in a particularly interesting position, or maybe develop an incense headache, but really, it's slow and calm and generally non-threatening.

Yet somehow, Colin managed to sustain a series of gouges on his face, and inflict some pretty significant damage on his glasses, through yoga.

Last weekend, my friend Erin came over to go sledding with us, after which we went back to my place. I went off to the kitchen to make some well-deserved hot chocolate, and left Erin to be entertained by the boys.

So Colin got up on a chair in the hallway, to show Erin how well he can do the lotus position - that's the one where you sit and cross your legs over each other, or, as my pre-PC elementary school phys. ed. teacher would say, "Indian style." To further impress Erin, Colin wove his arms through his legs - and pitched face-first off the chair and onto the wooden floor.

At which point Robert yelled at Erin "Why didn't you catch him?!"

Erin, who does not any insane children of her own, took this quite seriously, and was very apologetic to Robert, Colin and me about failing to prevent this accident, which clearly was not her fault at all.

I was able to reassure her a few days later, when I told her about taking the boys to the hairdresser the next day - where Robert yelled at his hairdresser from start to finish: "why are you washing my hair?! Why are you throwing ice on my head?! [cold water] Why are you pouring lava on my head?! [she turned the warm water up] What is this towel for?!" And that was just while getting his hair washed.

So, in the end, Colin's fine - his face has already healed, and we convinced a very nice lady at the optometrist's shop to bend his frames back into shape - and Robert is in training to be George Costanza's mother.

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