Monday, April 28, 2014

To my Luiz morak, with love.

My mother’s sister, Luiz morak (morak is Armenian slang for “mother’s sister”), was a fiercely proud woman. Once she made a choice about something, she stood by it. She would wait on you hand and foot out of pride for her home and her cooking, and so that no one could ever say she didn’t take care of her family. When we opted to stay in a hotel rather than in her apartment in 2011, so that we wouldn’t make more work for her while she recovered from her cancer treatments, she was pretty mad at us.

It soon became clear we had made the right decision. Even days after receiving chemotherapy, she laid out elaborate tables of food and tea for us at our visits. She would have bathed us all by hand if she’d had the strength, but we pretended it was because we didn’t want her too. (Well, it is kind of an odd custom.) She was frustrated that she couldn’t show us around the city, like she had in 1988 on our first visit. It was, to her, like admitting defeat to the disease that claimed her life this morning.

She wasn’t well enough to leave her apartment much, but thanks to the fantastic Turkish window basket system, her fresh bread and various sundries could be elevated to her flat. For Lucine’s sake, she lowered the basket so that Barbie could get that same VIP treatment and Lucine could have a memory of my aunt and Istanbul that went beyond post-cards and souvenirs.

As a young girl, she married the handsome Migirditch and moved in with his family in the Armenian neighbourhood of Samatya. My aunt Luiz never spoke much of that time to me, but my mother would tell stories of how far away it was from the other more central Armenian neighbourhoods of the old city—like Feriköy, Şişli and Beşiktaş—back in the day. Very young and with no great wealth for anything fancy, Luiz spent her wedding night in the same apartment as her mother-in-law. They had two sons, whom she was devoted to, while Migir worked at his shop in the Grand Bazaar. I remember passing Samatya on the train to Bakirköy ,where my paternal grandmother lived, and seeing flats with giant peppers drying on balconies in the sun. It seemed like another world (Armenians have lived there since the mid 1400s), but perhaps it was made so in my mind by my mother’s portrayal of it as a backwater district.

In August of 1988, she did actually give me a bath. It was awkward to say the least, because I was 14 and my small, pert breasts were the source of many giggles for my aunts. I recall that there were water shortages so everyone took conservation very seriously. You had to sit in the empty tub and have water poured over you with a bowl, but she insisted and so I sat while she cooed “Yavrum!”and washed my hair with joy.

On that same trip, we travelled to a small seaside resort in Turkey and my sister and I fought over who would share a room with Luiz morak. (I think we each got a night.) On my night with her, I remember laying awake in the dark, having a very grown-up heart-to-heart. To a 14-year-old it seemed that all the adults were talking in hushed tones about how her eldest son had just had a cute baby with a Turkish woman. Would the baby be baptized? Taught Armenian?

“I know what people are saying,” she said to me in the dark, “But sometimes it’s better to go through life playing dumb.” I have no idea how I replied. “He’s my son! What am I supposed to do?” she continued, “Stop loving him? So I just say nothing. Remember that, you can know better and keep it to yourself. Just smile and nod.” (I wish I took that lesson to heart a bit more.)

It’s funny, the things we remember, when we try to piece together a life, what someone meant to ours. What I remember vividly is that 1988 was the year I lost my innocence, and that in a time of great confusion in my personal life, my aunt was there for me with love in her heart and truth in her eyes. When I saw her on our last trip in 2011, she welcomed my daughter and I with warm arms and her incredible laugh. The world lost a great woman today.  RIP Luiz morak. May you be reunited with your dear Migir in heaven and watch over us all.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

On sweaters and distant uncles

My uncle Arto loved sweaters. A tall, grey man, he hated being cold above all else -- a combination of a weak composition and an upbringing that valued staying warm. It’s the reason Armenians travel everywhere with slippers and keep spares for their guests. Cold could mean the death of you, and upon moving to Ajax, Ontario in the late 1980s, the frigid Canadian air became my uncle Arto’s arch-nemesis.

So he kept cosy with thick cardigans and tweed blazers, even in the steam bath that Ontarians call July. He wore his moustache thick and nuked his beer for 15 seconds in the microwave to take the chill off.

He did not like actual kisses, for fear of germs, and we made a game of our Armenian obligation to greet each other as such by making overly cartoonish air smooches instead. "Mwah, mwah," he'd say with an impish grin, with a grandiose head bob from side to side. But on a couple very special occasions, (my wedding day and when my children were born), he carefully grabbed my shoulders and planted one right on my cheek.

Related to me by marriage, I got to know very little about him in the 25+ years of our acquaintance. He loved to travel and was a business man of some sort. He liked to be warm, and even though he may have seemed cold affectionately, he always had a big grin for you and an ear to listen to what was new in your life.

He passed away last Saturday on his 76th birthday. I think there’s something poetic in that – leaving the earth on the same day you arrived. Life comes full circle.

Rest in peace Arto day-day. I hope heaven is warm and cosy, full of sweaters and lukewarm beer.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Secret

"Girls' night!" I squealed with enthusiasm as the boys left for drum practice. "Milk and cookies? Don't tell the boys, k?" She nodded her head as she swung an arm around me, batted her eyelashes to convey her "girl code," then stifled a giggle with her hand. "Seeeeecret!"


We've had a tough week. L has been crying every single day. All day. Before going school, at drop-off, during school, at dinner. She's complaining of stomach aches, but a quick inspection lets us know she's totally fine physically. Tired maybe, dark circles under her once-bright eyes, but nothing major. She can tell us that she's nervous or anxious but not why she's feeling so sad. And with a parenting editor for a mother, believe me, we've gone down every possible line of questioning. It's absolutely heart-breaking. It just popped up out of the blue and now I want to know when it will go away.

We read Virginia Wolf last night, one of my favourite Canadian kids' books from 2012. It's told from the perspective of a young girl, whose sister is suffering from depression (obvious to grown-up readers and blurred slightly for younger ones) and how her illness affects the whole house. "Mama, I'm feeling wolfish," L said quietly as we closed the book. "I know sweetheart," I accepted, "but we'll get through this together."

We had a Skype session with our homeopath/friend Dr. Zee this morning, but it seemed to yield little change in my formerly joyous and gregarious little girl. So, I thought, we'll just have to wait it out. I went on the school run and endured the tears and the begging for me to take her home. I cried as I walked to work. And then I did something I don't do very often: I listened to my mother.

In an email, she reminded me of how my younger sister always had phantom tummy aches growing up. Don't pay it too much attention, my wise mother said, grating on my every last nerve with her rightness. Because we do that, don't we? This generation with our books and our internet and our trying to be present every moment -- we take things too seriously sometimes. And the attention, especially in the age of busyness, well the attention would be addictive to even the strongest person, let alone a 5-year-old. If you had a captive audience that snuggled you and told you that you were loved every time you did SOMETHING, wouldn't YOU keep doing that thing?

I walked in tonight, holding my breath. "Mama, I cried today at school," came the familiar refrain. "Oh well, it happens," I shrugged it off. "Yeah..." she replied and then proceeded to hug me and kiss me and make me laugh. My sweetie, back, a bit.


"They're gone! Quick!" I said, taking out several packages of strange Italian cookies that got passed to me via my mom via her Italian neighbour. "Warm milk? With cinnamon?"

"Yessss! And honey please."

I fixed her my famous "Warm Cinnamon Milk" and we dunked cookies and laugh. Then I noticed my herbs -- that I've so meticulously kept alive indoors  -- out on the deck, frozen dead. I seethed at the fact that while I am married to someone who cleans the floors, he doesn't know that putting delicate herbs outside in -11C weather will kill them. It's petty, but I blamed their whole gender in that instant. (Which still probably doesn't excuse what I did next.)

We ran upstairs to get on our jammies and watch some Harold and the Purple Crayon, because that's kind of a sleepy bedtime show, with Sharon Stone's soothing, sultry voice, and then I don't have to think about what was just published about kids who watch TV before bed not getting enough sleep.

Still pissed about my herbs as we got dressed, I whispered, "I am going to tell you the biggest secret in the world." She gasped with anticipation. I made her promise she would never tell. Horrible things will happen if she tells. OK, she breathed, just tell me.

"Girls are smarter than boys," I said, kind of regretting it the moment it escaped my mouth, but then her reaction was so swift and perfect that I was secretly glad I was doing this slightly wrong thing.

"Yesssssss! I knew it!" Air fist.

"It's because they have penises. We think with our brains and our hearts. They think with their brains and their penises."


"Yeah, I mean, big deal, you have a penis."

"We can't say that word at school anymore."

"Really, why?"

"Because when you say it to them, sometimes they just pull down their pants and just show you! Can you believe that?"

"Yeah, that's sort of what grown up boys do to grown up girls, too."

"They think saying it means you want to see it!"

"Yup. Yup." I sighed snuggling in, realizing the miles we have to go and that, based on this interaction, I am not equipped to handle any of it without acting like a teenager. I felt guilty for a moment, but then I'm pretty sure my husband has had a similar interaction with our son. Not the penis for brains part, obviously, because he's far more mature than I am, but the part where the opposite gender doesn't understand the opposite one and somehow feels smarter. And then shares that theory with his impressionable offspring.

"I think I'm going to cry at school tomorrow," came the quiet voice when the fun had passed. "That's OK, we'll deal," I said casually, hoping the morning will have more laughs and less heartache. Then Daddy walked in and L gave me a look that said, "Seeeeecret." I hope it empowers her tomorrow. And I hope she forgives me when she finds out I'm wrong 50% of the time (on a good day).  Just like I'm going to forgive her dad for killing my plants - tomorrow.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

To my muse on his eighth birthday

When I first discovered a life growing in my belly, I was filled with a fire, a compelling desire to do something big, to change the world! As my belly grew (and as the pages of the this blog describe), I didn't really have a clue. Not how to begin, nor that the biggest battle I would fight would be with myself.

Boy child, you started me on a path to where I am today. I am forever your ally, your student, your biggest fan. The journey we've been on over the past eight years has taught me more about life than any book ever could. You taught me to live, to accept, to appreciate, to truly love.

It's funny to say, but I owe my career to you. Your conception gave me a regular writing practice, something I was sorely lacking. That writing practice lead to job opportunities I would not have had were I not your mom. That writing practice gave me numerous friends I would not have met had it not been for the bond that your birth created. By my mere sharing stories of my experiences as your mother, I opened a door to a world I didn't know existed. Well, the truth is that this online world didn't exist before -- we kind of came of age together.

You. When you're older you won't care so much about how you changed my life, but you'll likely want to read about who you were, what you were like as a child. Let me tell you, I know a lot of people, and I have yet to meet anyone as spectacular as you.

You are good, intrinsically good . You share, you give without a thought, because it makes you feel good to do so. You believe that making the right choices and staying true to yourself will lead you on the right path and rarely do you sway as a result. If the kids in the schoolyard are playing in a way that you don't like, you tell them so and then walk away. Because you won't bend on your morals, this makes it tough for you to truly connect with the other kids. You no longer have a best friend, but that's OK. When the right person comes along, that person who REALLY gets you, you'll be glad you didn't settle for someone who wasn't a true friend to you.

Everyone is your friend. All the kids at school like you. What strikes me as interesting is that I could have typed the last two paragraphs about your father! He's the same way. A lone wolf whom everyone loves. Try not to be elusive or an enigma. Open your heart to new experiences and new people. You don't have to alter your morals to be their friend, but you can still learn things from people who may not completely understand you. In fact, you'll learn more from people who aren't quite the right fit than from people who think and act just like you.

You are brave. When faced with bullies, you channel your inner strength to defend yourself. I am so impressed by how well you know yourself, how little fear you feel. You weren't always so courageous, so this is an area that I've really seen you grow and it makes me so proud. I wish I could be more like you. I'm glad I'm not raising children who are afraid of stuff. See! If I'd chosen to spend my life with someone exactly like myself, we would have perpetuated my fear and anxiety together and you might have grown up just as nervous as me! Seek out those who are different. Try to have compassion for them and put yourself in their shoes. You will find endless gifts in their differences.

You and I have been talking about Wayne Gretzky's quote, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." I know that will be a guiding principle for you. Know that when I do crazy things like get up on stage to sing with a band, it's so you can see that anything is possible, that we can do anything we put our minds to.

You are a fighter. I knew that from when you were still in my womb! But I see you now, refusing to give up. You're teaching yourself to skate and you fall and fall and get up again and persevere. "I'm not going to give up Mom," you tell me. You've been studying the drums for a year and through what skating has taught you about yourself (that you improve the more you try), you've decided you're going to practice harder than ever to make sure you finish Book 1. It's taken me my whole life and I still don't think I've mastered that lesson. If you end up with a disciplined approach to tasks, I will shoot confetti off the house. I hope that I will learn by watching you. (As you might be able to tell, breaking the cycle of things I dislike about myself and my own childhood is something I'm rather obsessed with.)

You're a fighter, but the biggest part of being a fighter is knowing when not to fight. You must remember that war and battles rarely result in any good. Channel your rage and frustration into something good. Turn it into passion. Or muscles. And know when to give up. Sometimes you have to let the current carry you out rather than struggle against it.

I've just peeked in my archives. It looks as though I didn't write you a letter when you turned 6 or 7. Sorry about that. In the past two years you've become obsessed with science. You fell in love with sharks last year when we went to Atlantis resort in the Bahamas. So 2012 was definitely the year of the shark. You like to read non-fiction. You're like me in your appetite for random facts and your incredible retention of them. You got your yellow belt in karate and your pleasure at building Legos has yet to subside. You love the outdoors and camping, you love eating healthy and living right. You're a bit of an insomniac, but hey, so am I! Like your mom, you can read late into the night.

You read at a Grade 7 level (I can hear you turning the pages of The Hobbit right now) and you love math. You've had your share of challenges at school over the past two years, but I know if we work together you'll get through them. You've got Dad and I at your side, willing to do whatever it takes to help you succeed.

You love your sister. You are best friends, even if you fight sometimes. I hope you always have each others' backs the way you do now. She's finally stopped trying to get you to marry her, but I always loved how you were quick to remind her that it would be against the law anyway.

You're funny and thoughtful. The other day, we passed some elderly folk eating brunch in their nursing home. I asked you and your sister to wave and as we walked away you remarked, "I just had a vision. That some day you will be sitting there like those ladies and waving at little kids."

And I thought to myself, "Dude! Don't you dare put me in a nursing home!"

Tonight at dinner you said, "Having kids is nice because I think it must be so great to tell your kids stories about when you grew up." Kiddo, it's far more fun to tell you stories about what it was like when YOU were growing up.

Eight years ago I had no clue how to change the world. Today I know that just by having you and raising you right, I have. Happy birthday my sweet son. I love you more than sunshine.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Five going on fifteen

Lucine, Loogoo, Lucy-loo, Lucy, Sousy, Luce, Souce, Luce-Pouce, Muffin, Muffy-muff, Muffy-head,  Peanut, Lucy-bean, Lucia...

You turned five today. On a Saturday like today, you arrived at 6:33 am and changed my life forever.

It's been a while since I wrote you one of these. Your last two birthdays were spectacular celebrations of who you were at the time. When you turned three, we let you have a ridiculous Little Mermaid fest, completely with Daddy dressing like King Triton for you -- because you're just the kind of kid that people want to light up. Also, maybe, because you don't take no for an answer ever.

Last year we went with Pirate Princess (Daddy dressed up for that too) and that reflected who the four year old Lucy had grown to be: tough, fearless, adventure-seeking, but still cute and girly enough to want a flouncy skirt involved. Also you have this random obsession with money and treasure and although your parents are socialists, like Elyse and Steven we're fascinated to think that we may have an Alex P. Keaton on our hands.

I love that about you. That you can be the mermaid or the pirate, the romantic and the hero, the girl who is obsessed with kitties but also with climbing mountains. One second you are screaming at me that you are a big girl and can do things yourself, the next you are crying because you want desperately to be a baby again -- though my spidey senses tell me that what you want most is to get any sort of reaction out of me that you can.

This year, while at a family dinner party, Nate was reading dinner party questions out of a box. When it got to "If you could have any superhero power what would it be?" the rest of the table shouted cliches like, "The power to fly!" "The power to heal" "Invisibility!" Your brother answered first. He chose "The power to create a force-field around myself." You chose "The power to choke someone with a rope." On further interrogation you added, "But only to bad guys." Your Auntie Lise quipped that Nate was wise to choose that force-field.

We went to Lago Silencio, like we've been doing every summer since before you could walk. And, as always, you woke me at the crack of dawn, except now you know to keep your voice down (ish). Our morning hikes used to be a way to keep you from waking up the whole campsite. Now they are something I look forward to, a way for us to connect with nature and one another. Sitting with you and watching the lake wake up is one of my favourite rituals.

This year you discovered that you could do more with your body, that you could challenge yourself in new ways. I, of course, wasn't ready for this, but you told me to get used to it, in your own way. When I pointed to a safer path on the trail, you huffed and said, "Mom, I am going the other way. I want you to close your eyes and look away until I get to the bottom!" I had no choice but to comply. I briefly exchanged glances with another female adult, who had her hand over her mouth to stifle her giggles at your brazen way. Soon you were next to me, beckoning me to charge up another rock and then scale a straight 15 foot drop.

You took my "no" as a sign I was merely afraid. I threw your sweater down the side of the rock to show you how dangerous it actually was. You grew impatient, and for a moment I thought that your hand might be hovering around my back, tempted to push me forward.

"Fine Mom. We'll go your way." I saw your dad in the clearing, waiting on the beach with Nate. I rolled my eyes and flapped my arms in frustration at your mouthiness. You retaliated with, "You don't even know how to climb!"

"Oh, great. Now you're taunting me," I replied, making eyes with another adult female within earshot. "And she's FOUR! I thought I had another decade before I had to deal with the sass." This meant war.

"You're not even funny mom."
"Yeah, well I know lots of people who would disagree with you. Loads of people think quite the opposite."
"Yeah? Well they're wrong. Just wrong."

I will give you this: You are certainly funnier than Dad and I combined. We are doomed. We gave birth to the lovechild of Sarah Silverman and Amy Sedaris.

So today you turned five. FIVE! And you wanted an Olympics party, having just watched some of the London2012 games and falling in love with women's gymnastics (thank gord it wasn't synchronized swimming!). Your dad was a gymnast as a kid, and so it seems you're finally exhibiting signs that you might have some of our DNA. Anyway, it was that or princesses, so we encouraged the Olympics theme with its active/fitness message and the co-ed guest list.

You've inherited the drive of your two aunts. That desire to succeed, excel and challenge yourself is something you should be proud of. It means you will fall on your face a lot. But Dad and I are here to give hugs, wipe tears, kiss booboos and laugh at your jokes (and your road rash). And on the days you decide you don't need us, that you're a big girl and I should look away while you flirt with danger? Remember that when you get to the bottom (or rather, the top) Mom's the one who's going to need hugs and kisses and tears wiped.

I love you Tanko.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why I should, or shouldn't, write an e-book

A few weeks ago, a very dear friend emailed me with a simple sentence. Something along the lines of, "When are you going to pitch me an e-book?"

My lovely, talented friend caught me off guard. I mean, she works in publishing, so I should not have been surprised that she was looking for content. But frankly, when I imagine my future book (and I do more imagining of it than writing of it), I picture something with pages that flip. Something that would be soaked through should it fall in the bathtub. (I think I can say this without offending aforementioned friend, because we've always been on the same wave when it comes to writing and authorly things.)

But then I started thinking. "This is a great opportunity!" I told myself. Because it is. Every step I've taken in my life has gotten me to this point. It's a fantastic feeling.

Penelope Trunk has a long missive about why she chose to self-publish and the pitfalls of the publishing industry. I think there are some valid points there. I worked in book publishing just long enough to know, well, they don't know what's coming next. They're all waiting for the next 50 Shades of Crap to carry them through financially until the next mainstream hit. 

(And as someone who worked in books, I should tell you that this method isn't the worst thing ever. The Dan Browns and Charlane Harrises of the world, well, they actually fund the losses the publisher usually takes on that first-time author. So don't be so quick to tsk tsk when your friend reads Twilight.)

Why do we devalue the digital? Why is an e-book not as meaningful as a printed book? Why do bloggers obsess about getting their writing in print? (I'm speaking from experience here, as both a blogger who wanted to get published, and as an editor who fields daily requests from other bloggers).

I am a digital content strategist who manages an award-winning web team. I know first-hand that the most beautiful thing about the web is not the speed (though that's a bonus), it's the data. In digital, we know who likes us (and even who pretends to like us). In digital, I am like Jonah Hill in Moneyball: I'm using the numbers to tell me what to do next and where to put my dollars.

I'm also using a fair bit of gut instinct. In digital nothing is permanent. There's a lot of throwing spaghetti at the wall to see if it sticks, without major financial repercussion if it doesn't. I like that, because it allows me to own up to my mistakes without shame. (The digital sphere also allows me to quietly fix a typo without flogging myself over the error.)

Anyway, I'm all over the place with this post. (I should be asleep). I guess what I'm getting at is that as a digital person, I should be embracing new media, including the e-book.

Penelope Trunk says, "if you want to have a good life, you shouldn’t focus on happiness, but rather, on making your life interesting." I've definitely had a crazy "interesting" year of pursuing things that scare me (more on this to come), so I'm on the right track. And in that vein, I'm going to embrace this opportunity and spend the summer writing my outline and reshaping some MFM essays. Let's see if that spaghetti sticks.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Because the night belongs to lovers

You have been in and out of bed about 13 times since I tucked you in. You ask for water, say you have "the snuffies," you need me and only I will do. I know this is all a ploy, dear Girl Who Cried Wolf, but I give in, time and again. I will take this nightly dance with you, because it's all I've got after the long work day. I don't want to need you needing me, but you needing me is so fleeting that I cling to it like a raft.

I lay next to you while your brother tosses and turns in the bunk above, noisily slurping that thumb that he won't give up in the night. I close my eyes, thinking it will speed up the process. It's 9:05 and your father's voice inside my head reminds me that it's my job to make sure you get enough sleep, not to steal selfish glances of your pretend-sleeping face.

Your eyes are forced closed, but you wrap your hand around my finger tightly, to secure me in my spot. Ray Lamontagne plays on the iPod and I wonder what it says about me and your dad that all my favourite love songs now belong to you.

I wedge an eye open, surreptitiously watching the crests of your face give hints to the beauty of your adult face. Your perfect bow mouth, your sweet non-Armenian nose, your eyelashes that end in tips of gold. I want to save it. Every mom wants to save it. So I save it the only way I know how... by being present for it.