Thursday, May 31, 2012


spring babies

My son was born in mid-October, which is a wonderful time to have a baby because you are about to hunker down into winter, keeping your babe warm and safe. But babies born in spring - as was my daughter, as was her son - come into the world just as the world itself is producing new life. Every day, I marvel at the growth in my garden - the roses, yes, glorious, but also the growing vegetables, the bellflowers, columbine, lavender, the thyme bushing out, the brave indestructible hostas, the first crop of rhubarb, stewed with sugar and orange peel and eaten for breakfast - today, a first flower on the jasmine, so sweet. Never did I think I'd be a gardener. And here I am, a garden slave, enraptured.

And then I went across town to visit the new family. Fury on the way, the Queen streetcar designed to drive those who need to go further than Bathurst Street mad - four short turn cars went by before I finally got on one that'd at least get me partway there, and got a cab the rest of the way. Talked to the driver about our appallingly disorganized and badly run transit, thinking of New York, London, Paris - the efficiency, cleanliness and speed. However. I got where I wanted to go.

And there - well, others have been visiting, others not as emotionally or genetically connected as I, and all have been saying - this is one amazing baby. At ten days, he is a sturdy ten pounds and gaining, his neck and body are strong, and when he's not eating, sleeping and pooing, he's curious about his new world. A most relaxed baby, because he has a most relaxed mother, who's on top of her job and organized - the tidy tray of diaper stuff she keeps in the living room, so she doesn't have to get up, sometimes, to go to the change table - and blissful.

I got to feed him a bottle of expressed breast milk. Oh the animal feelings, once more - the tiny snuffling creature in my arms, sucking, waving his arms about - my own breasts started to ache, with a vague memory of those days in my own life, those long days and nights nurturing a newborn. Meanwhile, her arms freed for a few minutes, my daughter was getting lunch ready for us, texting her myriad friends, writing thank you cards.

While I was feeding him, there came several explosive noises from his other end, so when he'd finished the bottle, I handed him over and his mother changed him, then showed me her high tech secret - a warm hair dryer to the bum, and the boy is clean and dry.

Finally, I had to give him back and get on the extremely crowded rush hour streetcar home, to sit in my garden with a glass of wine, gaze lovingly at my roses, and toast my grandson and his amazing mother. My daughter should run the TTC. The streetcars, guaranteed, would run on time.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Drop in writing class Tuesday

A last minute announcement: because of all the chaotic activity in my life this spring, I've cancelled this term's home classes. Several keen students were eager for a class, though, so there's one tomorrow evening at 6 p.m. chez moi. If you have been in my class or worked with me in the past and have a piece of writing that needs feedback, this is your chance. Come on over. 

Drop me a line and I'll send information. 

beautiful music

Eli gained one pound in two days! When I gain one pound in two days - which happens easily - I keep it to myself. But the little mutt's weight gain is the biggest news around. It's just after 8.30 p.m. Monday, so he is exactly one week old. Happy birthday, fatso.


My God, a week gone already - where? Today is the first day of the rest of my life, as a grandmother with short greying hair. At yoga this morning, I thought about my last post, how afraid this new vulnerability and love make me feel. And I decided not to feel afraid any more. It's silly to anticipate and fear disaster; God knows, it comes anyway, whether we fear it or not. So better to cherish what's good now and march fearlessly into the future.

Easy to say. I touch wood on a regular basis. One of my oldest friends has a Syrian partner who has lived here for years, but his family is still in Syria; every day, looking at the news is agony for him. For lucky me, now, when I see Stephen Harper's face, I immediately turn and look at my screensaver, which is a wonderful picture of my grandson looking right at me. Reminding me of what's good and warm and true.

Yes, had time to read the papers today, to take a yoga class, to clean up the mess. To welcome old friend Shari Ulrich for lunch. Shari is here on tour with her daughter and another talented young musician; they're playing at Lazy Daisy's at 1515 Gerrard Street East tomorrow at 7. Between them they play tons of instruments, and the harmonies are exquisite. Highly recommended. Beautiful music from a beautiful woman.

As for this old bag - now that the boy has gained one pound in two days, she can get on with her life.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

okay, that was amazing, now back to work

We had a barbecue at the house this afternoon - grandmother (Yikes! Moi!) and grandfather, mother and uncle, our two most significant family others Holly and Wayson, and the small centre of this universe. Who did not eat steak, salmon and grilled vegetables with us; who, in fact, would hardly wake up for some nutritious milk. We laughed a lot, we ate a lot - unusually, we did not drink at all, except for Glamma who, because she has spent time in France, had a glass of wine with her meal.

And then it was time for baby to go back across town with his contingent, for Grandpa to drop them off and drive on to the airport, to fly home. As the car pulled away, I thought, Everyone who matters most in my world is in that car. My heart hurt so with love - and fear. It is frightening to feel this vulnerable, to care so deeply about the fate of a few others, to feel connected with every fibre and breath. I went into the garden to recuperate, and vigorously sprayed the roses for aphids and black spot. It felt good to be doing something positive and immediate to safeguard my little piece of planet. To keep something beautiful healthy and well.

During the visit, the cat opened one sour eye, stared at the small interloper, went back to sleep. No competition there.

It's time to take a deep breath and move on, resume my routines, get my life back. The little family will flourish on the other side of town, tall young man is striding confidently into his adult life, and Glamma needs to pull herself together and FOCUS. Mind you, there's another pressing need - my mother. She is having a marvellous time in the hospital; my brother called to say she has a new lease on life, looks wonderful and is full of an energy she hasn't had in a long time. When we called her this afternoon, she was out somewhere and could not be found. But there are decisions to be made about what's next.

And there are students to think about, memoirs to edit. More planting is needed in the garden, pruning, spraying. My bedroom and office, a chaotic jumble of clothes and papers, look like a 15-year old lives there, because I haven't had time to put things away. I am reading a library book called "The Hoarder in You: how to live a happier, healthier, uncluttered life." "Happier and healthier" are not my concern; things are more than okay right now - she said, touching wood - in those departments. It's the "uncluttered" that needs help.

And most of all, there's writing work to be done. Somehow, I must drag my brain back from Babyland.

happy families

Two tall men

 Uncle Wayson
 Grandpa assumes the position ...
... much appreciated by Eli.
 Perky, for a moment, between feeds.

A slightly different kind of nuclear family, in front of the house that has sheltered us for 26 years.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


 There are many photos of Ed's father in his favourite position: in his LaZ Boy chair with all his grandchildren, one after the other through the years, asleep on his belly. A family tradition continues.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Day Four

Kind thoughts and good wishes continue to pour in; Greg, who used to colour my hair before I decided to go au naturel, asked me to come by the parlour today, and gave me two framed prints of baby, from pix downloaded from my website. Imagine - the boy at 3 1/2 days old is already framed on the piano! As friend Margaret wrote from Vancouver, the upside of this age of information is being able to instantly share each other's happiness. Thank the lord I don't tweet, because the outpouring would be incessant.

The truly great news is that Grandpa Ed arrived yesterday from Washington. Ed and I were colleagues in the theatre world of Vancouver in late seventies; we began dating in December 1979 and got married in May 1981, a week after the birth of our daughter. Our son was born in 1984, in Ottawa, and we moved to Toronto not long after. It was in T.O., with the pressures of the big city, the exhausting and relentless demands of his work, two small kids, my own floundering uncertainty, that our marriage succumbed; we separated in October 1990, the worst experience of my life, by far. Once lawyers were involved, a fairly amicable situation disintegrated; we even went to court. But when we saw the damage our discord was inflicting on our children, we simply made the decision to work together. And from then on, we did. He was always welcome at Christmas or family events or, in fact, anytime. The kids went separately in their late teens to live with him in the States.

Now he is happily married with a job he loves and a bright, hilarious nearly three-year old daughter who looks just like him, and he has come to town to meet his grandson and spend time with his grown-up children. He stayed here at the house recently when I was out of town, so I invited him to stay again - and he accepted. This morning, we were together under this roof for breakfast for the first time since October 1990, and how right it felt. We first met in 1976, when I was 25 and he 22; we have scores of friends to catch up on, mothers and siblings to discuss, and most of all, our grandson to babble about.

He is with Anna all day today, driving her in his rented car, I think, to get things she needs, like a breast pump, and then Sam and I will join them tonight for dinner.

Other great news: Anna's milk came in last night; the baby is nursing madly and slept from 12.30 to 5 a.m., rejoice. It's hot and humid, a record-breaking 31, like mid-summer already - and my rosebush, which usually offers 4 exquisite blooms, has popped out about 40 buds this year, ready to burst. And my mother is still too busy to talk - she has made a best friend, who's 90, and is at lunch and exercise class with her.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Eli comes home

This is Eli. He is two and a half days old.
 This is Glamma. She is happy. Eli looks a bit squished in his little bear hat.

 Home and dressed. Showin' a bit of sexy chest.
 The best place in the world.
 Two handsome boys.
Full baby container.

And he shall be named ...

Elijah. An important prophet for Christians, Jews and Muslims. Elijah Donald, for his Uncle Don, his father's older brother, a humorous, brave, stubborn soul, given a decade to live after his birth with severe cerebral palsy, who died six years ago, after a rich life, at the age of 54. (His Lives Lived obituary is on this website, under Articles.) And then the boy will carry his mother's last name, and then his father's.

He'll be known, I am sure, as Eli. Eli's comin', as Laura Nyro told us long ago. A beautiful name. A beautiful, calm young man.

I spent the morning at the hospital, waiting with Anna for the doctor to proclaim him healthy and for forms to be filled out, his hearing to be tested (100% okay), the last of his hospital accoutrements to be removed. For a long while, when his mother was busy, he slept on my stomach, snorfling and smacking like a baby animal. Now that's bliss. We packed up all the stuff and took a cab home on this hot day, 30 degrees or so. Anna's housemate Nessie had prepared a giant tray of sandwiches and pastries and fresh coffee. The midwife arrived to check everything and give breastfeeding pointers - what a great support system is in place now. My mother loves to remind me that when I was born, in Manhattan in 1950, there were only 2 women in the crowded maternity ward who wanted to breastfeed, one of them being my mother, and there was no one to show her how.

He was changed, nursed, rocked, and much admired. His uncle Sam arrived. And then it was time for us to let the new young family be. Babe was put into his bassinette, his mother lay down to sleep, and her brother and I tiptoed out.

The other joy of grandparenting, as I've so often heard - giving them back.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

going grey

Swimming in new waters, all of us. A message waiting from Anna when I got in this afternoon, her voice crooning with bliss - "He's in my arms, asleep - no monitors, he can sleep in my room tonight. We're just sitting here. I'm so happy." I saved the message. It may have to stay on the machine for the rest of my life.

If the results of his tests are fine, they can go home tomorrow. She has asked me to be at the hospital early, because if it's good news, she'll need help getting him and all their stuff home. And if it's bad news, she said, with tears, she'll need a pair of comforting arms. "Look at him, Anna," I said. "How can it be bad news?"

The depth of feeling is incomprehensible. As I walk, I think of him, of her. Seeing other children, I want to watch them, be with them. A whole new level has been carved into my being. A new umbilical cord has been sewn onto my body, my heart, leading directly across town.

But I didn't go over there today - had to try to regain my own life and to leave her with her friends and the baby's father. She didn't need me today. She may need me tomorrow. And then, she said, we have to pick out the perfect outfit for him to meet his grandfather. Because her dad is coming in tomorrow evening. He's staying here. I have to clean up. Sometime.

Went to runfit - it's Wednesday - and as I sped around, I thought, My grandmothers sure didn't do fitness classes. We're a different breed. Carole, my favourite teacher and inspiration, is the grandmother of 3 teenagers. She looks about 45 and runs many miles a week. As I said, a new breed.

Another big decision today - I went to my hairdresser to get my hair coloured, as usual - if you saw the pictures on the blog, in the one of me holding him, you can see my silver roots. I have been toying with not dyeing my hair any more, and yesterday I looked at that silver and said, It's time. I'm Glamma. I'll reclaim my real hair. But then I thought, I'll look washed out and old, and cycled off to have Greg apply his magic.

But Donny, my hairdresser and friend Ingrid's partner in business and life, took one look at me and said, Why don't  you go silver? He sensed what I was feeling. We had a consultation inside, Greg, Ingrid, and Donny, and it was decided - it's time. They put a rinse on that began to silverize the whole thing, and soon I'll have it cut to get rid of the brown, and it'll be just me - Glamma, silver grey-brown, old and wise. With very red lipstick, in her runfit class.


I have so much to do, and instead moon about looking at pictures of Prince Handsome. Look at those chubby arms, that sensitive face. No question, the chemicals of love have overtaken my body.  I have a big, big crush.

Mama slept across the hall from the incubator room and got up every two hours in the night to nurse; nursing is going well, baby is thriving. It's too bad, they were probably overly solicitous about this baby, which means he is still attached to various monitors. She hopes he'll be released from them today and can sleep tonight in her room across the hall, and then after various tests will go home with her tomorrow. She says she sits for hours holding him, and then goes back to her room and lies in bed looking at pictures of him on her phone. Some serious chemicals at work there.

Genetics - thinking of how she is like her great-great grandmother Anna Gordin, a motherly woman who loved cooking and babies, just like my daughter. I've always wondered where that came from, because she didn't get it from me. Now we know - from Russia, circa 1859. Anna Gordin started her big family at the age of 14, though; my Anna will not try to catch up.

But in the photos of her in bed the morning of her delivery, she looks exactly like my father. His serious strong face, sitting in bed in pigtails, texting and reading Harry Potter. And in her earthy humour and honesty, love of the good things in life, especially food, her stubbornness and powerful personality, she is just like him. You're here, my father. We miss you.

Okay, woman, get a move on, for God's sake. Get your life back on track. Just live with the fact that you've a huge new love, and on you go.

But first, I have to get some pictures developed and send them special delivery to various relatives. Especially great-grandma in hospital in Ottawa, aching to see our brand new boy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


to health

An old guy already - he's one day old. Experienced. Figuring it all out.

Or maybe not quite yet.

Today's problem - none of the newborn clothes Anna brought to the hospital will fit him. Newborn, apparently, means about six pounds. Luckily, on a hunch, she brought one that says, "1 month - 10 pounds." That's the one he'll go home in.

Which brings us to problem #2: he's not going home today. Last night, the ultra-cautious paediatrician started him on a course of antibiotics which have to run their two-day course. Anna had a meltdown when she found out, and the doctor in today explained that her boy is in great health, no problem, but once started, the drugs have to be finished. She will stay tonight and possibly tomorrow night, to be discharged Thursday morning.

But though she wants to go home, all she really cares about is holding him and getting to know him. She was in the ICU with him for hours today; I was allowed in too, as her official Other. (Yes, I know it's odd that her Other is her mother, but there you go.) In the ICU, you really see what could have been - in the incubators are perhaps seven extremely small, terrifyingly fragile-looking infants; a young mother sitting near Anna was holding what looked like 3 pounds of minuscule person with translucent skin. And next to her, my daughter with 9 pounds of pink sleeping boy. If there was ever a moment that made me want to give thanks - and those of you who follow me here know that I'm grateful really really a lot - that was it. Who knows what's ahead - but for now, he's a big, healthy bruiser, and soon he'll be going home.

His mother is floating on air, completely recovered from her ordeal of yesterday except for a certain soreness; she grabs the huge empty baby bump at the front and pushes it around. "Empty! I love how it feels!" she crows.
"I thought I'd be scared to bathe a newborn," she said, "but not this guy." After our time admiring and holding the sleeping babe - I got to hold him too, be still my beating heart - I took her for dinner - well, a pathetic bit of chicken from the hospital cafeteria, ye gods, say no more - and then left her, texting, awaiting 5 or 6 friends, looking at pictures of her boy on her phone, and preparing to use the breast pump. He latched onto the breast fine today, but will need a supplementary food source because he's so big.

I promise, once things settle a bit, that there will be other topics besides this on the blog. Though you may get sick of hearing about this wonderful child, so far, it seems that you're with me - usually, about 50 to 60 people a day check in here, but yesterday, there were over 100. The emails are crowding my in-box. Wonderful to hear especially from my father's cousin George Gordin in Washington, D.C., writing that in the pictures on the blog, he can see that my Anna looks a great deal like her great-great grandmother Anna Gordin, born in 1859, much loved by her 11 children.

Thank you, thank you all for your good wishes and love and enthusiasm. What joy, to share this time with you.

And finally, a big, big thank you, as ever, to Tommy Douglas.


This child came on a national holiday - the most glorious day, sun and breeze and no traffic, the hospital quiet. Anna's room had sun pouring in the open windows, which looked out to Lake Ontario dotted with sailboats. They started the pitocin to induce labour at 9 a.m.; she was 4 cms. dilated. The morning was surreal - we could have been in her kitchen chatting, drinking coffee, friends dropping in, except that she was in bed strapped to various monitors. I noted that in her bathroom was a notice -"Are you being hurt by your husband or boyfriend?" - advice on what to do in English, Somali, Polish, Spanish and Tamil. Our new Toronto.

At one point, Anna was discussing some financial issue with her gay best friend Cory, who said, "Don't you worry about that. Just put all your energy into your cervix." Shani, Anna's best friend from senior kindergarten, appeared; her son, it's hard to believe, is now 11. Many other of Anna's bff's appeared, and so did the baby's father Thomas.

At one point, I took a break in the Tranquillity Garden - two benches and a bower covered with wisteria - and on my way, passed a couple with a very sick baby. Just to look at them made me want to howl. Nothing could be worse.

By noon, her pain was at 4 out of 10; we could hear that wonderful quick heartbeat and watch the numbers on the monitor - heartbeat 156, pressure 15, 20, 25. She decided by 1.15 that she wanted an epidural asap - but the anaesthetist was busy elsewhere, and she had to wait. An hour later, she was in such pain, I went to the office, asking them to call in another anaesthetist and I'd pay his salary myself. A bit of melodrama, but anyway, he appeared half an hour later, and the wondrous drug kicked in almost immediately. How amazing - within ten minutes she was fine and could even text again - she texted almost throughout. Meanwhile, various dramas were going on in the rooms all around us, women wailing, nurses running, and then that incredible unearthly sound, the first cry of a newborn.

I assumed at this point that we'd be there all night and probably into the next morning, the bulge was so big and high. Dr. Caloia and I talked about a caesarian, and we all knew that was a distinct possibility because of the baby's size. But by 5, against all odds, she was 8 cms. dilated. The head was still high, though, not descending, and there were worries about his irregular heartbeat, including several times of real terrifying panic. But shifting her position helped bring it back to normal. The midwives were there full time by then, and wonderful it was to have them, Anita from B.C. and her assistant Mooshka from Iran, capable, wise women. Heartbeat 163. Pressure 45. Pressure 65. Pressure 90. Poor Anna has the same stomach she had in childhood - she was a vomiter then and she still is. They told us later, all that vomiting perhaps helped to propel her boy out.

At 7.15, unbelievably, she was fully dilated and the head was "right there," they said. "Great," said Dr. Dave, who has a sense of humour, "three women fully dilated at the same time and only me here." So Anna was put into holding pattern until he dealt with the two others, me patrolling the hall, waiting to hear the cries - there's one, there's another. Two down, one to go.

Dr. Caloia appeared, the midwives, the nurses - time to push. For a while, Anita held one leg, I held the other, and she pushed against us. Such incredible effort, her face purple. Until the end, apparently, the doctor thought she might need a caesarian and had surgery ready to go, and the paediatrician too. But there was the top of the head, so close. He got the vacuum pump, and with the next two pushes, suctioned that baby right out of her body. He slipped out at 8.27 p.m., a bundle of arms and legs, a big head, solid, beautiful, they whisked him away to clean and warm and suction his lungs. And the Victoria Day fireworks erupted.

The next hour a blur - there was worry about his breathing, his mother was only allowed to hold him briefly, the paediatrician gave him oxygen and made sure all was well. While Dr. Dave finished taking care of Anna, her eyes were on her boy. I rushed into the waiting lounge, where a big group of Anna's friends had been waiting all day, shouting, "We have a baby!"and everyone cheered. Photographs were taken. Phone calls were made. Uncle Sam appeared. Fireworks continued.

So finally, things wound down. Dr. C. ended up in the nursing station with the nurses, eating a celebratory Victoria Day cake. Anna was moved in a wheelchair - she still could barely feel her legs - to her room, though we wheeled her first to see her babe in Neonatal Intensive Care, a site guarded by a gorgonesque Polish nurse. By 11, Mama was ready to sleep, and I took a cab home.

Wayson called at 7.15 this morning, and the emails have been flooding in. John just appeared with a batch of freshly baked muffins from his wife. How the world celebrates new life. What joy for us all.

It's only today that I feel my own body and remember that I was pushing too, so hard, pushing with my daughter - my arms and back ache. I can only imagine how she feels, except that she's not thinking of that, only of holding her boy. She has spent a lot of time looking at him this morning; he's fine - they've x-rayed his lungs and all is well and soon she will hold him as much as she wants. They will make sure the nursing is all right, and by late afternoon, the plan is that the new mother will go home. With her son.

And the new grandmother, whose name shall be Glamma, will be there with them and a bottle of champagne.

May 21, 2012

Pictures of Mama's morning, relaxing, texting, some heavy reading (one page, admittedly), her team dancing attendance ... and then no more pictures till after 8.30 p.m.; the cameraperson was busy. Dr. Caloia did his job superbly, baby appeared, mother and baby were whisked away. The room awaits the next new life.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Could I love this picture a little more? Not possible.

welcoming our boy

Anna's baby boy was born at 8.27 p.m. Nine pounds (4.07 kilos) and 21 inches long, a big boy. I was beside her for the whole thing. Until the end, I was sure she'd have to have a caesarian - no way that enormous bulge was going to pass through that portal. She pushed like Hercules, my girl, and the midwives and I, on either side, pushed with her. At the end, the doctor used the suction cup, and two pushes later, out he came. The most miraculous imaginable sight - a human being. A perfect new person.

And a few minutes later, the Victoria Day fireworks exploded outside the window, over the lake. The whole city, celebrating with us.

When things settled a bit, I went into the hall to call Anna's dad and her brother, both sitting by the phone. Sam appeared not long after, and the baby's grandfather will appear in a few days. Sam called one great-grandmother, and I called the other.

It was a long day, it's 11.15 p.m. and I got to the hospital at 8.45 this morning. So, more detail tomorrow. Mostly to say - that he inhaled meconium on his way out, so the paediatrician was there waiting; they cleaned him and put him in the warm bassinette thingy, and then she began to work on his lungs. They were concerned because he was having a bit of trouble breathing. So they put a tiny oxygen mask over his face and pumped in oxygen. After about an hour, they brought him to Anna, to hug and hold for a minute or two, and then they took him to neo-natal intensive care. We visited him there. His colour is good, and he's in expert hands; they just want to keep an eye on his breathing. He lay there in his little white hat, opening his eyes, pushing out his tongue, flailing his magic arms and legs, perfect hands, perfect feet. He opened his eyes; he squeezed his mother's hand. It felt like I knew him already.

Monitors everywhere. When this is over, I don't ever want to hear a machine beep again, ever in my life. Something beeped in the cab on the way home, and I jumped into the air. No beeps. Ever.

He's a Taurus, on the cusp of Gemini. Whatever that means. And now, I need some food. I think I'll cry now. My daughter is a champion. I am in awe.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

tonight's prayer

A beautiful, perfect day. Anna called first thing, to say she'd just had an ultrasound and all is well. "I just caught my first glimpse of my son as a teenager," she said. "They wanted him to move for the ultrasound, and he was asleep and didn't want to wake up. They poked a little with the wand and he tried to push it away. It was so cute."

A walk on the Don Valley trail, where I saw two families of Canada geese - male, female, goslings - on the shore by the river. John came by and fixed the electricity. I cooked while listening to Eleanor Wachtel on CBC, feeling, finally, that I am home, that this house is truly mine again. I just watched the season finale of the Sherlock Holmes series on PBS - riveting. Victoria Day parties and firecrackers are popping out there, at 10.30 p.m. - lots of noise.

But everything is changing. Tomorrow morning early, I will go to St. Joseph's Hospital, across town, to do what I can to help my daughter as she gives birth. This seems so monumental an event, and yet women, mothers, grandmothers, do this all the time, every day, everywhere.

So I sit in my big house, listening to the firecrackers and the drunk party guests outside, with the sweet night air wafting in, and I pray for the safety of my family. As my friend Wayson says, all that matters.

P.S. The cat sleeps, sleeps, sleeps nearby. Just looking at her forces me to relax. How can a creature do so little and still be alive?

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Anna spent the day cleaning her apartment with her two roommates, in anticipation of the small new roommate to come. Her brother came over here last night after work, to check on the old homestead, he as glad as she to come home once in a while. He can even crash, if he wants - which he often does - in the bedroom where he spent the first 18 years of his life. It's a lot neater now.

John the handyman arrived on this beautiful sunny Saturday to deal with various disasters, including a blown fuse in the kitchen. He went down to the breaker panel to check, and everything went wrong; when he left, two breakers were broken. There is no power at all at the front of the house. Luckily there's electricity in the kitchen and my bedroom, so I don't need to go to bed by candlelight. Never dull, this house. The new breaker panel was only installed in 2006; how can it be kaput already?

Anna's dad has written that he's coming from Washington D.C. on Thursday, for a 3 day visit. He has a two year old at home, a marvellous little girl who looks just like him, and he is recovering from surgery - recently he donated one of his kidneys to his wife. But he's flying in to be with his other family, and will stay here, at this house which was once partly his. He and I will greet our first grandchild together. What a great gift this child has given us already.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The emperor has no clothes


That complicated line of text is actually a portrait of our esteemed Prime Minister, naked, modelled after Manet's "Olympia". It's a wonderful piece of work, featured tonight on CBC Radio's "As It Happens." I urge you to paste it in your server and relish the view.

No, below is not the Prime Minister's belly, it belongs to my patriotic daughter, whose once-tiny Canadian flag tattoo is much more prominent now. She is spending today with friends in 

the suburbs who have a pool; she and her flag are anxious to spend some time weightless.

When I called my mother, she couldn't talk because she was being led to an exercise class. Of sorts.

It's a holiday weekend, with nothing but sunny skies predicted. This means the city will empty, and us non-cottagey types will have lots of quiet. It's very quiet right now in my too-big house. Time for a snack. Your faithful correspondent is one happy, happy camper.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


I've said it before and should not say it again: one of the reasons for going away is so you can come home. What pleasure the most mundane things gave me today - standing upright in the bathroom, for example, as the one downstairs is made for smaller folk. This evening, cooking with my daughter in the big, bright kitchen, familiar plates, knowing where everything is ... Yes, mundane. Heaven.

This morning, at the meditation session at Judy's, she asked us to consider an issue, perhaps a problem, something preoccupying us right now, and to sit beside it for awhile. I ignored, for one moment, the grandchild-to-be and the great-grandmother in the hospital, and thought instead about my house; about the fact that it's too big for me, so much work, so much time and energy and worry to pay for and maintain. And yet I adore it. Judy said, "Remember that thousands of people, maybe millions, all over the world, have the same concern as you." I smiled, because I don't think that millions of people all over the world are concerned that their house is too big. As Anna said when I told her, "That's a first world problem. Like, oooh no! The cupholder in my SUV is too small for my grande latte! A first world problem."

Later in the meditation, Judy asked us to conjure up an older version of ourselves and greet her. I saw myself at 75, an interesting, well-lived-in face, but what I really wanted to know was: where are you living, old Beth? Are you still in the house or in a nice easy apartment? And if you're in an apartment, where's all your stuff? But she didn't let on.

As if to reinforce this point, I spent the rest of the day gardening; Scott and I spent three solid hours digging and planting, and then I continued after he'd gone. Masses of new stuff, especially impatiens filling the ragged, shady bits. Best of all, my first real vegetable garden - lettuce, tomatoes, Swiss chard, eggplant, peppers. Just a few, to start - to see if it's in the right place, or if the raccoons get there first. My sore body is feeling every shovelful, right now.

Anna spent the afternoon with me, celebrating the return of a house that's hers too. She's easily tired, suffering from heartburn, always hungry - but she planted my herb box, sat in the sun, slowly made her way through a hamburger, and, mostly, cooed at her cat, who lives here. We are making plans for Monday - how things are supposed to unfold, who should be where, when.

I'll remember our tranquil time in the garden, just the two of us plus a very big bulge and a crabby cat. Perhaps our last time alone for quite a while.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

This one's for you, Mitt

James Lipton gives advice to Mitt Romney: marvellous.;Most-Recent-in-News#c=JQYKVP34X3NYQZC3&t=How%20to%20Act%20Human:%20James%20Lipton's%20Advice%20for%20Mitt%20Romney

chez moi

HOME. Repeat after me: home. That wide open "oh", that warm humming "mmm." Home. Home. Surely one of the most resonant words in the English language - and, interestingly, one which does not exist, in the same way,  in French. I spent the dark, thunderstormy morning carrying stuff up and down - reclaiming my home while the Belgians went for lunch, leaving their many, many suitcases in the living-room. Up and down and 3 huge loads of laundry, because my European tenants (and their guests) had used every sheet and towel in the house. The cat hid downstairs, bewildered.

And finally, at 2, their cab came; the bags and the Belgians departed for the airport, and I had the house to myself. For the rest of the afternoon, cleaning sorting tidying - unpacking, even, as there was still stuff from last month's trip not put away. The sun came out, the wet sheets were hung outside, the cat ventured upstairs, the place was scrubbed and de-Belgianed. Especially my bedroom. My bed.

When I went away for 5 months in 2009, my house was rented out the entire time. Not a problem - I was away, and their rent money was paying for my trip. But this time, I was not away. I agreed to rent the house for 13 weeks though I'd only be away for 5. What was I thinking? As you might have figured out from my subtle allusions, it drove me crazy to have these people inhabiting my world while I lurked down under. This very morning, waking to the sound of feet marching, stomping, crashing about overhead, I wondered if some kind of Belgian ballet was being danced in my kitchen. And maybe there was. I will never know.

They were nice young people. They fed the cat while I was away, as arranged, and they did their best to keep my plants alive. They enjoyed what they saw of Canada and their time in Toronto. But they drove me crazy.

Tonight, after teaching at Ryerson, I got back at 9.30 p.m. and went, not to the back but to the front door. It has been so long that I inserted the key into the wrong keyhole and couldn't get in. But at long last, here I am, in my shiny kitchen, listening to "Ideas" on CBC, drinking wine, eating cheese. And who is beside me, above ground on the kitchen sofa, but the crabby cat, snoring, as ever. As I write to you, I can hear Heather, the new downstairs tenant, moving in. I will walk softly in the kitchen from now on.

On the baby front - Anna's midwife has made an appointment for her to be induced next Monday. Even though it's not what she'd hoped for, she is very relieved to have a date, to know that the end of her pregnancy is nigh, and her boy will make his debut.

And when I called my mother this afternoon in the Geriatric Assessment Unit, she was too busy with the dietician to chat.

It's all good, as they say. It is all good.

Especially home.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

wonderful arrival

No, NOT A BABY! Sorry for that teaser, but it gave you a thrill, didn't it? This afternoon, the postman delivered a large box - the author's copies of the paperback of my book. It's got the same image on the cover as the hardcover, except at the bottom is written, in orange:
"A witty, shrewd, elegant book." 
- Tony Kushner. 

JOY. And on the back, excerpts of some other good reviews, including the complete version of Kushner's very kind rave. Sometimes those blurbs make the difference between someone picking up the book and then putting it down, and picking it up, opening it, and carrying it to the cashier. That's the hope, anyway.

In this new edition, I'm happy that one name, Irene Blum, has been added to the list of Acknowledgements. When my old friend Irene heard in 1982 that I needed a Yiddish translator, she introduced me to her friends the Torchinskys, which began a partnership that lasted decades. Without Ben and Sarah, therefore without Irene, the book would not have existed. But when I wrote the Acknowledgements nearly 25 years later, I forgot Irene's vital contribution. She flew from Edmonton for the book launch, and I was able, with relief, to thank her in my talk. As she was dying of cancer two years ago, at 59, I apologized again and promised that her name would appear in the paperback. And there it is.

It is a stunningly beautiful, perfect spring day, hot already. I have started to move my stuff from below to above, because tomorrow the big shift begins - the Belgians go home, I reclaim my house, Heather moves into the basement. Tonight the apartment will be cleaned, and I will spend my last night there. Thursday morning, I will wake up in my own bed, looking out at the ivy and its birds, the fading lilac, the lush greens of the garden. The light.

My mother has moved too - from a hospital ward to the Geriatric Assessment Unit, where they will provide rehab and lots of expert advice on what's next in her long life.

But no big shift in Anna's life yet. She can't sleep, sometimes finds it hard to eat or even breathe, with a foot pushed into her stomach, an elbow in her lungs. Mirvish is offering discount tickets for "War Horse" this week, and I've offered her a ticket to this most beautiful show as a distraction. But she doesn't have the energy. "I like to stay home when I'm not pregnant," she said, "and now, it's nearly impossible to get me out." But she is walking, a lot.

And so - a new life for my book, for my mother, and very very soon - are you listening, young man? VERY SOON! - for my daughter and her son. And for me, waking up Thursday morning to a faceful of  birdsong.

Monday, May 14, 2012


 (Click to enlarge...)
Angels on Adelaide
 Jesus wakes up and smells the flowers
Mother's Day at Rebel House, with old friend Mike - count them, in this picture are one mother, one mother-very-soon-to-be, and three sons

A spring dusk in Cabbagetown: the Necropolis.

It's still Mother's Day to me

Today, this heavenly, very hot May 14, is Anna's due date - but that big boy is staying put for now. I'll have to blog every day from now on, as so many friends are waiting for news, and if there's silence here, they'll assume exciting things are happening on the other side of town. Well, I'm sure they are, but not to my family. Not yet.

Exciting things are happening in Ottawa, though - the re-emergence of my spirited mother. Today she told me that her doctor is so handsome, she's using lots of Elizabeth Arden cream to repair her face, and she informed him she'd like to write a story about the Ottawa Heart Institute, which she so admires. "My daughter is a writer," she told him. "She'll help me." If Mum is flirting with her doctor, all is well. Life has returned.

Yesterday, a sweet Mother's Day. Wayson and I went to Factory Theatre to see a marvellous one-man show, "How to Disappear Completely," written by and starring Itai Erdal, a lighting designer who flew home from Vancouver to Israel when his mother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He filmed interviews with this lively, intelligent woman throughout her dying; he shows us film and talks to us about his work with light and about his family. It's like sitting on an hour long plane ride beside a very interesting, open man who is telling you the truth about his life. Very moving; beautifully done.

When we emerged from Factory onto Adelaide Street, where Wayson had parked his car, we found a huge Portuguese religious parade completely blocking the street - little girls dressed as angels, priests in white, hundreds of the faithful carrying thick white candles and Jesus carried aloft, surrounded by flowers. An elderly woman dressed, of course, all in black, sat in her deckchair at the edge of the road and wept as her Lord went by. Finally, Mr. Choy and I went down the street for coffee; it took an hour before we were able to liberate the car. I found it interesting to be in downtown Toronto and simultaneously in a small Portuguese village, but that kind of faith, particularly as shown by the young people present, I find incomprehensible.

What I do have faith in - my children. Anna and I went to look at baby books, her Mother's Day present from me - my mum used Spock, I used Penelope Leach, and now there's some guy called Dr. Sears, recommended by Anna's midwife. But he's the guy who espouses "attachment parenting" and "co-sleeping" and provoked the current cover of Time, which both Anna and I find crazy and strange and, frankly, gross. What must the feminist French intellectual Elizabeth Badinter think, she who has just published a book about the tyranny of breast-feeding?

The latest cover of Time magazine, featuring American mother Jamie Lynne Grumet breastfeeding her 3-year-old son, Aram. The cover, released Friday, has sparked a national debate about attachment parenting. Grumet defended the practice, saying it was a personal choice.

Saying "I turned out all right, didn't I?", Anna chose Penelope Leach.

And then we walked, very slowly, to Sam's restaurant for dinner. He led us to a table on the patio, and as soon as we sat down,  there was a carafe of red wine in front of me and a glass of Coke for her. Now, that's service. He treated us both to a wonderful dinner. My children are usually a study in contrasts, he a hugely tall blonde beanpole, she short, dark, soft and curvy. But now that at 9 months pregnant she's rounder than round, the two are truly absurd to imagine as brother and sister.

And yet they are. My body and I know that for a fact.

P.S. Here's a cover story, not-very-good review of the book by Elizabeth Badinter in the latest NYT Book Review, which also features a great last page article by one of my favourite writers, Roger Rosenblatt, about having a writer in the family:

Two new books examine the current culture of motherhood: one bemoaning it and the other suggesting what might be done to improve the balance of work and family demands.
Sure, authors get treated like weirdos in their own homes, but they have only themselves to blame.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

happy families

Well, this is a Mother's Day like no other, as my 88-year old maman regains health and vigour in hospital in Ottawa, her voice and mind stronger than they've been in weeks - and my 31-year old daughter impatiently awaits the arrival of her son. The 61-year old in the middle, the ham in the sandwich, celebrates both these fierce, fabulous females. We don't usually take Hallmark days too seriously, but the timing this year is pretty great.

I went yesterday to a baby shower; the older daughter of my neighbours and dear friends, Mary and Malcolm, had a son 8 months ago, and now their younger is due in June. We've been friends since our children were together in grade school; Mary and I spent 9 Christmas eves producing the Riverdale Farm Xmas pageant, starring all our kids in various roles and backstage jobs, most particularly my Anna. "I'm the star," she'd tell people, and she was, walking ahead of the crowd carrying the twinkling star we were all following to the barn.

Anna couldn't be at the shower yesterday because she was working, kind of - she was at the 6th birthday party of the little boy she's been caring for on weekends since he was a baby. He's like family. My actual family is small - only two cousins - but through 27 years in Cabbagetown and my friendly kids, our family feels enormous.

While we're on about family, a student who can't be in class next week has just sent me her essay. She's from Pakistan, and her piece is about her adoring grandfather, whose patience and kindness filled her life with joy. Very young, she slept in his bed, holding his hand, and would wake him up when the night filled her with fear. Finally, he brought home a nightlight through which the name of their god shone, and from then on, she was never afraid. Even now, she writes, he's with me.

A toast, not just to mothers, but to the infinite love of grandparents.

More good news: only 3 more sleeps until this house is @#$# mine again. The tenants are out weekdays, and so, late afternoon, I sit on the kitchen sofa as always with glass of wine, computer, books, looking at my garden in blissful tranquillity. But then there's noise, and inexplicably, the kitchen behind me is flooded with Belgians speaking Flemish. Okay, there are only 3 of them, but it feels like a hoard, chopping and frying and chattering in their tongue. Surreal. So I flee back downstairs. Yesterday they sat on my deck, entertaining Flemish friends who'd come from the States for a look at Toronto and the lovely house and garden these 3 were lucky enough to rent. "Go away!" I mutter, in my less charitable moments. "Now!" I've forgotten the pleasure of depositing their cheques in my bank account.

If I could give them their money back and ask them to leave this instant, I would. Only 3 more sleeps.

Tonight, Anna and I are invited to a Mother's Day dinner at my son's restaurant. I say that as if he owns it, when in fact he has been a waiter there for 2 years. But he is in such command of the place that it feels like he does.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The cab driver and the bank manager

Here, for students and all readers, is a beautiful true story. I say in class that good writing is about paying close attention. And here is someone who did. A treat.

And, in the "Wow, who knew?" department - I just received an email from my long-term bank manager at the Royal Bank, Dave. Dave is such a good friend, he came to my book launch and my 60th birthday party; he has helped me through the bewildering thickets of mortgages and savings accounts. And now, he and his RBC team are about to explode into the world of entertainment on television. In the clip below, Dave is the one who wants to break stereotypes and who talks about his famous "dead bug move."

How wonderful, to have a bank manager as crazy as everyone else I know!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

hello, ceramic Jesus

Holding pattern. Today I made my way across town, to go to an ultrasound and then a midwife appointment with my daughter. St. Joseph's is a friendly hospital ten minutes walk from her home, with a life-sized ceramic Jesus greeting you as you enter. Canada's welcome mat was on display, as every nationality sat waiting for someone to look after them. In the ultrasound room, we were able to see the baby weaving around, his big head, quick little heart, belly and bladder, all good. "He's not presenting his face," said the nurse, "but we have a good view of his scrotum."
"Typical," said Anna.

Then we took the streetcar to the Midwives Collective, and what a lovely place it is - a little house full of women and children, with the occasional proud papa. There were few midwives around in the early eighties, when I was pregnant; my ex and I were avant garde in using a birthing room, in Vancouver for Anna and in Ottawa for Sam. In Vancouver - stop me if you've heard this one - we were only the second couple to use the brand new room, and the nurses didn't know how to use the special birthing bed. As the baby descended, they were pushing buttons to adjust the head of the bed, the bottom, the ups and downs, finally leaving it where it was so the intern had to work on his knees. It's a funny memory, though it wasn't quite so funny at the time.

At the time. Thirty-one years one week ago. I can barely remember - which, of course, is why there are so many human beings. If we could remember the birthing process more clearly, it might be a different story. I do remember feeling like an animal; I was a cow, a pig, a cat, struggling, like my fellow mammals, to give birth. What a wonderful verb - to give birth. Donner naissance. To give life.

Today, I was especially grateful to have had a daughter. Sons are a source of incredible joy. But when my boy's partner is ready to give birth, I doubt I'll be as included as I am with this girl of mine. We now share this ultimate female experience. She could not be more different from me in her lifestyle and choices, and yet, we are bound by DNA, biology, experience. A bond like no other.

On the top half of the sandwich - my mother is doing much better. Yesterday evening, we had a long talk, and I could hear renewed energy in her voice. She was regaining her sense of humour. "Mum," I said, "you're back!"

Health health health - health, and love to and from family and friends and an occasional crabby pussycat. That's all that matters.

P.S. I will resolutely ignore the news that my front steps are being devoured by termites. Yes I will.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Goodbye to Max

RIP, magic man.

Next day: Had posted a great Sendak picture there, but it vanished. Thank you, Maurice Sendak. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

the anvil's lament

Three weeks ago, I was swanning around Paris, taking in art galleries and beautiful buildings and cheese. People ask about my trip, and I can barely remember. Was I really there? The subsequent events have quite taken over. This period will go down as, shall we say, difficult. I am quite raw, often near tears, just so much emotion, on and on.

My mother had a pacemaker installed Monday, with the hope that from now on, all she has to do is get better. But at the moment, she has other ideas - my brother says she seems to have given up. She doesn't want to eat or move, as if she's saying, Enough. I understand why she'd say that, except that she agreed to the heart operation to save her own life, knowing what was in store. So let's hope this is a temporary slump, and soon she'll be on the road to recovery.

She loves to flirt, and I said to my bro, if only we could find a handsome man to come visit, she might perk up. But at the moment, she might be past even that; for Mum, that's serious. And I can't go to be with her until Anna's baby is born.

At the same time, my daughter at nine months pregnant is exhausted and grumpy, can't sleep, walks with difficulty. "Stress happens when the mind won't accept what is," I said to her cheerfully, urging her to accept her situation rather than complaining about it. But she has an answer: "It's not stress, I'm tired and uncomfortable, and it makes me feel better to complain, to tell my son to come out NOW. I know he'll come when he's ready."

Okay, is all I can say, if that makes you feel better... On Thursday, I'm going to an ultrasound appointment with her, and then on to the midwife, and then to her favourite barbecue place for lunch. She is doing this most important job, producing the next generation, on her own; I'm glad to accompany her for a bit of it. Even if she does live way the other side of the planet, at Roncesvalles and King.

Somewhere between these two poles is my own life. I sent a whiny note to Wayson yesterday about an upsetting work-related incident, and he sent back a stern email that said, in essence, "Grow up!" I needed that, but it hurt. Sometimes, these days, I feel ancient, and sometimes about twelve, not growing up anytime soon. He and I met to talk at the delicious Mad Dog Café on Gerrard St. "Sometimes, in life, you need to be a hammer, and strike," he said. "And sometimes you need to be an anvil, and bear."

He was saying to me, in his way, just what I was saying to Anna, in mine.

On top of all this, spring sprang for a day or two and then vanished into a dank, cool gloom. On the weekend I wrote to a Sony executive to ask how much it would cost to use Beatles' music in a storytelling event, only to read in the NYTimes that when "Mad Men" used a bit from "Rubber Soul," it cost $250,000. And when I carried the heavy jasmine plant outside on Sunday, I strained my back, which throbs still.

BUT: MUCH to be thankful for. Only one week and one day more in the basement. Flowers everywhere. A Vancouver friend wrote about a play coming to town, which Way and I will see next weekend, baby willing: How to disappear completely, by Itai Erdal, a one-man show which sounds wonderful. I'm reading a fascinating library book called Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. When I told him about it, Wayson said, "I wouldn't have the willpower to read it."

The Globe appeared this morning on the doorstep, as delivery resumes, and John my dear handyman took me to Home Depot, oh such fun, spades and brooms, hooks, solar lights, downspouts and a giant gerbera plant. The cat purrs. Books await. Students write. And what is this before me? How strange - a glass of wine, where did that come from?

I am anvil. Hear me ring.

P.S. Just had a long talk with Mum. It's hard to hear her, her voice vague and frail - but when we talked about the French elections, she grew louder. "When I heard, I jumped for joy," she said, though that must have been hard for someone attached to beeping monitors and stuck in bed.

This does not sound like someone who has given up. Merci, Francois Hollande.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


The "It's for the Best" department hereby announces that the book launch of the paperback of "The Jewish King Lear," formerly scheduled for June 11 in NYC, has been postponed. Tom and Nina of the Stella Adler Studio are producing a major fundraiser in late May and will not have the time or resources to produce my event so soon afterwards. So we are shifting to September, when they hold an arts festival, of which an evening dedicated to the Yiddish theatre and my book will be a part.

I'm relieved. As perhaps you know, there's quite a lot going on right now, so a big event in New York was looming as a vast hurdle among quite a few. Now I just have to concentrate on helping my mother get better and perhaps, soon, move into a new life, and on becoming a grandmother. And on reclaiming my house, teaching, and, oh yes, writing. Not to mention living a life in this exciting city, where spring has sprung. Today, 17 degrees and stunning. I carried out the big plants that had wintered over inside, including the jasmine which is heavy and unwieldy. Perhaps I should not have done that, as the pain in my lower back and down my left leg attests.

On Friday, I went to my daughter's 31st birthday barbecue; she as usual had prepared a feast, which included the best hamburgers I've ever tasted. Her secret - caramelized onions. It was moving to see her room all set up for her soon-to-arrive, very small roommate - the change table with stacks of tiny diapers and wash cloths, the little t-shirts and receiving blankets, the bassinet and crib and wash tub, the tiny shoes and socks and sleepers - she has been given a huge amount of stuff, had only to buy a stroller. Mother is ready. Son, however, not quite.

On Saturday, Anna's housemate, my adopted daughter Holly, came over for the first of our 11 work sessions. Holly had a large debt she couldn't pay, so I offered her a deal: I'd pay her debt in return for 11 visits to help me here. Holly is energetic, hard-working and always cheerful, even when, yet again, cleaning out the basement. "Your basement, Beth," she said, "has kept me alive." Yes, I've spent a great deal of money, through the years, getting Holly's help to stem the tide of junk. Mind you, she was also in the basement, right beside me, when the fire started there. We've been through a lot, Holly and I.

The basement is really tidy now. That is, the storage side, not the apartment side where I'm living, which is a mess. She comes back next Saturday.

Today, France had its latest revolution. Only two months ago in Montpellier, I heard the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande speak, a small, hoarse man with a big round trustworthy face, and now he is the President of France. Perhaps, like Obama, he will be so constrained by the economy that not much will change. Still, what a treat, as we wade through the garbage the Tories are throwing at us here, to contemplate such a sea change in Canada. Thomas Mulcair, anyone?

Saturday, May 5, 2012


 My current squalid digs
 An empty baby container
 A full baby container - my grandson's current home
All ready - birth to 3 months, donated clothing. Waiting to see you in the bear hat, little guy!

Friday, May 4, 2012

in the small boat

As Wayson said yesterday, "Boring is good. You need a bit more boring." Indeed. Thinking back, I see other times - after Dad's death, or particularly after the separation from my husband - that felt like navigating a tattered sailboat in a heaving ocean. This time, my state is not as dramatic, but still, I feel overwhelmed. Yesterday I stumbled on the sidewalk, twisted my ankle sharply, nearly cried. Later tried to fill the bird feeder but the seed bag was too heavy, it dropped, the seed spilled and I gashed my finger - nearly cried. There are several big concerns about work, and also my own physical self, have had two doctor's appointments this week. There's a fuss about renovations the attached neighbour is doing, and the on-going sense of missing my own home, running up and downstairs trying to figure out where things are. Everything feels a bit too much - one too many little things at a fraught time.

But what's important - my mother is much better, back in the recovery ward, and we even talked briefly yesterday. She's upset because now they want to put in a pacemaker, which means another operation, however simple. I didn't know what to say except, "Listen to Dr. Labinaz." Whom we love.

Last night, old friend Margaret came to visit; we sat on the deck in the spring sun, sniffing lilac, reliving old times - we were pregnant with our first babies together in 1981. My baby came two days early, on May 3rd, yesterday's date; Margaret's baby William arrived on Canada Day. I texted Anna 31st birthday wishes, and she wrote back, "Even tho it's my bday, you did all the work, so you deserve most of the credit. Thanks mummy!"

At 9 months pregnant, she understands that particular kind of work. Thanks, girlie.

Wayson and I went to Judy's meditation session yesterday morning. I'm the youngest person there, an unusual experience. We spend about half an hour in a deep meditative state, led there by Judy who coaches us through; then, after we emerge, we discuss what happened. It's wonderful to be surrounded by my elders and wisers, to hear their stories, and to descend to that deep, calm, fascinating state myself. Very rich. Afterwards, I accompanied Wayson to Merryberry's, a bright, pretty café on Parliament Street, to get caught up with my beloved friend and mentor, who as usual calmed me down. "Just relax," he said. "None of this - your mother, your daughter - is up to you. You're just asked to be ready to respond." And respond I will. Relax? Working on it.

There were babies at the café, and I was mesmerized - creatures from another planet with giant heads and wide, guileless moonfaces. It was hard to restrain myself from going over to pick them up. Impending grandmotherhood hits.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Life's Great Mysteries Department: I came in tonight from teaching, poured a glass of wine, sat at my computer table to check email - and saw something sparkle next to my computer. It was an earring. A diamond earring. My diamond earring, that went missing on Sunday. It had been on the bookshelf with its mate, and when I saw it was gone, assumed it had been knocked off during my cleaning frenzy and sucked into the eternal darkness of the vacuum cleaner.

But there it was, twinkling at me from the computer table. Which is in the vicinity of the bookshelf, but still, there's no way, unless it took a balletic leap, that the earring could have ended up there. Plus I've been using the table for the last few days, with nothing on it but notes and a computer.

Yet there it was, beaming at me.

Any explanations out there?

Tonight, the first class of the Ryerson term - students from, or whose parents were from, Laos, Japan, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Iraq, the USSR, Pakistan ... and two from little ol' Canada. My U of T class, the same. The wonderful changing face of this country.

And ... today's health report - my mother's companion and caregiver Nancy emailed that she is out of the ICU and back in the regular nursing unit, looking and feeling much better. Nancy wrote: Sylvia gave me a wonderful complement this evening after I had fixed her up, she told me I took care of her the way her Mum did when she was sick as a child which was often.

My English grandmother, Marion Edith Alice Leadbeater, was a very busy woman - a supply teacher who bicycled from village to village, as needed, and had an enormous amount of work in the thatched cottage where she was raising her family. She was not cuddly or affectionate. But when her 3 daughters were ill, she was a tender, attentive nursemaid. How happy I am that for Mum, Nancy now represents that care.

It's 10.50 and we're all waiting for Jon Stewart - just me, the crabby cat, and these bright, magical sparks in my ears.

springing on

Mum's first day in the ICU was hard, but she survived. Apparently a bit of psychosis is normal in the elderly after anaesthetic, and she was angry yesterday, especially that she had put herself through this torture again, at 88. But we're sure that she'll forget this bit when she has recovered and is better than ever.

So - relief, if not yet for her, then for us.

I went for a walk at dusk yesterday, in love with my neighbourhood, with spring, with life. A glorious world. Cabbagetown has never looked so beautiful, every tree in bloom, front gardens packed with flowers. I ran into several neighbours - Ryan's baby is now 2 1/2, how did that happen so quickly; young Angeline, a friend of Sam's, is learning to pilot a plane; Riverdale Farm has survived to fight another day. The light was sheer, delicate, fading. So many grand old trees.

My beloved Chris is now spending many hours a day writing his play. He downsized a few years ago to a tiny apartment and has an uncomplicated life. I wrote to tell him how I envied that freedom to work, and he wrote back, "Your life could be so much different if you sold that house. Would you ever downsize?

Perhaps, your greatest accomplishment is not the Jacob Gordin book or the memoir, or being a writer and editor and a teacher. Maybe nothing has taken more work and time than being a homeowner in a very expensive city. All the time that you do work to support that—gardening, finding tenants and most of all, working to pay bills—takes away from a simple easy life that you could have in a small space, if you wanted. 

He's right. But first, though I do not love being a landlady, I do love my work. And second, my name is Beth, which means "house," in Hebrew. I am my house, weighty and time-consuming as it is. Surely not forever, but for now, it's unimaginable to live somewhere else. Right here, right now, in this place. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

flying colours

It's 11 a.m., and my brother just called - "The doctors say she came through with flying colours." The next 24 hours are critical, but so far, so really really good.

Cue the sound of champagne corks going off. Imaginary only, for now.


CLASSES BEGIN TODAY AND TOMORROW.  Today, 12.30 to 3 at U of T: Life Stories.
Wednesday, 6.30 to 9.15 at Ryerson, True to Life.

Now is your chance to tell your life stories, to learn to shape your memories into a narrative to be shared with supportive others, with me as your mentor. I just read this, about the word:  "The common denominator of great mentors is that they are good and active listeners willing to offer constructive, but blunt, criticism and, at the same time, share stories about their own failures."
Mark Evans; Age No Barrier; Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada); Mar 30, 2012.

Not too blunt. And share I do. 

Here's what a student said of her time in last term's class:

You are so well-informed, confident, passionate, wise, clever, and mature in how you present yourself and in what you draw from your students. Your comments on our work are masterful and spot on. You treat us as mature adults and writers from the get-go and you focus on the writing. You get us down to it, and you work us, giving us lots of opportunity to read and learn from critique, allowing us no apologies or excuses.

Come and see if you agree.


It's 7.48 a.m.; my mother's operation was due to start at 7, so it must be underway right now. Dr. Labinaz is fixing my mother's heart. Let's hear it for the superb University of Ottawa Heart Institute. How right that this vital place should be associated with a university where my father taught and did research for many years. Perhaps some of the people tending to Mum right now took his classes in physiology and biology.

Last night, unfortunately, the anaesthetist came to warn her that in 10% of cases like hers, something goes wrong. So rather than focussing on the 90% that go right, she was left with a dire sense of danger. After a bit of talking, though, she calmed down. And I, too, as I sit here so far away, will focus on the 90% and not on the 10.

Anna and I and her bulge had lunch yesterday. That baby could not be more ready to pop out. She stretched her t-shirt tight over her belly so I could see him move - tiny fists and feet, exploring his dark, safe world. She will call me when labour begins, and let me know where and when I'm expected to join her, to do what I can to help her through. A friend told me yesterday of a dream, in which she had to navigate a very long, narrow passageway out of a basement; half-way out, she felt so frightened that she decided to turn back. Hmmm - I don't know about you, but my analysis was pretty easily made.

As I sit writing to you, there's a great pounding overhead - my tenants, having breakfast. Only two weeks and a day until I reclaim my home. You'll be happy to hear that the crabby cat has decided to take up residence down here, with me. That curled up, snoring ball of tabby fur on the sofa makes this subterranean place home. That, and the stacks of magazines, newspapers and books that follow me wherever I go. Yesterday, the library called; two books were waiting for me, Memory, Fragments of a Modern History, by Alison Winter, an exploration of our relationship with memory; and Slice me some truth, an anthology of Canadian creative non-fiction, which is delicious.

The bad news - after that ferocious clean-up on Sunday afternoon, I looked at the little pile of jewellry that I'd left on the living-room bookshelf and found one diamond earring. One. Dropped to my knees and looked all over the surrounding floor - nothing. My guess is that the earring is inside one of the two vacuum cleaners used that day, along with a great deal of dirt and dust. What needs to be done is clear. O joy.

At 10 I will call my brother who will be waiting in the relative's room at the hospital. And then, at the first U of T class of the spring term, I'll explain why, for the next while, I'll be leaving my cell phone on during class.