Everything’s coming up Winehouse

Every time I go to hang at my friend Lars’s house, he puts on Back to Black on vinyl for me. It was the tail end of summer and he’d just enthusiastically procured flats of peaches and called me over for our annual canning session. His wife Zofia and I poach, pit and peel, but Lars is the sterilization and syrup master. He runs a tight ship. And that’s part of the joke, really. He’s so stern with us, that we invoke sulky teenagers who are forced to spend time doing chores when we’d rather be riding bikes.

Every January when I open a jar of summer, I say a prayer of thanks to my friend for insisting we do this crazy thing that takes a whole day and wrinkles our fingers and stickies up the floor, with an adorable terrier trying to trip us the whole time.

He plays the epic Winehouse LP on every visit, because one time, before Zofia was in the picture, we went to karaoke together and I sang “Rehab.” And whether he has a clear memory of this or not (I’ve never asked), Lars has somehow connected me to Amy Winehouse in his mind. A fellow big schnoz babe with a furry face, I love Winehouse, but to be honest, I never REALLY listened to Winehouse, at least not with intent until this past holiday season.

I am a big lover of Christmas. It’s my jam. I’ve always made a big production of it, for my entire life. I’m the girl who starts playing Christmas music in November. IDGAF, I love the ridiculousness of the whole thing. It’s the same reason I love Celine Dion, or period films. I love pomp and circumstance. I love overt gestures. I love when anything is done big and loud and proud.

But this Christmas I was a mess. I spent Christmas Eve with my parents (watching a period piece). I woke up early Christmas morning and drove out to my ex-in-laws in a snowstorm, to watch my kids open their gifts. It was the first of maybe 19 Christmas Eves that I did not spend with all of them, at my ex-MIL’s house. And it was ROUGH. My ex-MIL, who is not evil (not since she stopped being shitfaced daily anyway) gave me a passive aggressive greeting card. It said, “Merry Christmas to the both of you.”  Which was kind of hilarious, but also she didn’t do it for any sense of irony, just “why waste a perfectly good card?”

I spent NYE completely alone. By choice. I made a bubble bath and bought myself a baby bottle of Veuve, moved the TV to the bathroom and rang in the New Year watching Call the Midwife. Hashtag: #doublebubbles. But leading up to all that was so fucking painful. I don’t even know if I fully understood that pain. It was like when I went to go get my tattoos. I was in a trance, completely out of body—no, the opposite, so completely in my body, but also in that quiet room in my brain. The holidays were like that, too. I was getting through, but going into the panic room in my mind, hiding the bodies there.

And so my love affair with Winehouse began. Because listening to someone else spilling their entire soul into a work of art was preferable to tuning into my own.

For you I was a flame
Love is a losing game
Five story fire as you came
Love is a losing game
One I wish I never played
Oh what a mess we made
And now the final frame
Love is a losing game

Theo and I have been talking. He has been making eyes at me again, but I have not indulged, even if it would feel really goddamn good. One Friday night, he asked if he could buy me a drink while waiting for our daughter to come out of music lessons. I should not have had a second bourbon cocktail in under 30 minutes. But I did, and I started to reveal things and to ask things. I told him that I was kind of seeing someone, if you could call it that. When he asked if I could take our daughter the next day (it was my weekend off), I told him about Ali and our impending date the next night. Then I told him how Ali is in his thirties and can go three rounds in three hours and how he’s just for me right now, just for fun. I shouldn’t have. And yet… was there a part of me that wanted Theo to hurt?

Then, boomerang to the face.

“I was seeing someone too,” he said quietly. When pressed, it turned out she was a young woman he used to work with. A 20-something ballerina, because OF COURSE. And I should know better. Boundaries, blah, blah, blah. But I went there. WE went there. I saw her tall, perfect-postured, size-ZERO photo. “What was it like, being with her,” I found myself asking. “Do you really want to know?”


“Well she was young, so she really wanted… to learn.”

“Aww, your teaching degree finally came in handy!” Laughter from both of us. He told me she was ultimately boring and not funny, so it pilfered out. Yeah mofo, because this kind of humour comes from crazy and crazy is work! “Are we friends now?” he asked. Sure, I replied, why not. It was one of those “fuck it” moments where suddenly you are going there, like when you have a Big Mac combo (and maybe a McNugget appetizer) and it seemed so fine and cool when you decided to do it, but the next day you feel like total shit.

But somehow the thing that has survived this fucked up scorched earth of a year is our friendship. It’s like the cockroach in Wall-E, it refuses to be incinerated. It’s here to stay, in this ugly, unforgiving landscape. Because there’s still life on this planet.

Played out by the band
Love is a losing hand
More than I could stand
Love is a losing hand
Self professed, profound
‘Til the chips were down
Know you’re a gambling man
Love is a losing hand

We had another boundary issue when Theo walked in on my “session” with Ali on the weekend. And that is a really funny story that I want to tell in full humour mode, not in this sulky, “who the fuck am I and where did this all go wrong” mindset. But let’s just say we now have a code in place and it’s called “going offline for a few hours,” which I thought was really apparent while being subtle when I texted that, but apparently not, because SURPRISE! Anyway, lesson learned.

The day after THAT incident, we all went to the movies as a family and it was nice. I like that we can hang out. It’s awesome for the kids. But it’s also confusing because fuck, don’t we all just want to be a family in the real way again? Like if you eat vegan cheese all the time, don’t you sometimes just want to go down on a double cream Brie? Don’t you wish you could stay there forever without enslaving cows?

Let’s just say that it’s been a month of openness and transparency and that’s lead to some comfortableness in what we are sharing and how we are talking to each other. So we went to what I will forever refer to as “the Big Mac” place again today. I texted him to ask if I could have a second weeknight off during the weeks, now that the job he’s working on is wrapping up. He was weird about it, like why would I be asking for more equal distribution of time with the kids? Or maybe he was miffed that I said it was 75/25 right now (pretty damn close when you add it up). He doesn’t count the hours they sleep in my house, he only counts awake time, so you can see where this gets complicated.

I was honest and said, “Look I’m going to start dating with intention soon, not just fucking around, and I need time to be able to explore that.” And that turned into a looooong text exchange and he was left feeling like the one who just ate a Big Mac I think. There’s always that moment where I think, he could just come out and say it! Just ask! I would consider it. Because I still love him, though not in the same way I suppose. Deep down I am still that girl who wanted her father to love her, who became the woman who wanted her husband to love her. I got my father’s love in adulthood, when I let go of needing him to be like other fathers. But would I, could I, ever get the same with Theo?


I finished my fave breakup podcasts: Alone, A Love Story, A Single Thing and the ex-husband/ex-wife combo that did the fantastic Our Ex-Life podcast decided to call it quits on the cast, because the dude started dating someone seriously and I think it bugged her. So today I started Esther Perel’s Where Should We Begin? Coincidentally, the day that Theo told me that he no longer wanted to be romantically involved with me, I began listening to Perel’s book, Mating in Captivity.

The premise is that Perel gets one counselling session with couples in crisis, and each episode reveals the massive fault lines under the bedrock of every kind of marriage. The second episode, with two moms struggling to make each other feel special and loved under the weight of little kids destroyed me. Because I found myself back in the place I lived in for so long, where I wanted to desperately for Theo to feel loved, and I wanted to feel loved and appreciated myself.

There was talk of defining roles. One person has to be the planner of the date, the other person has to be the planner of the logistics of the children so the date can happen. And these women, they so clearly loved each other, you could hear it. They were just missing the path to connection over and over again. And that’s when I started sobbing uncontrollably in the car.

“He couldn’t do it, remember! You were doing it ALL. All the roles were you. And he kept saying that he didn’t have the capacity to love you how you needed to be loved. He refused to meet you halfway. He refused to date you. He kept saying the children came first and you kept telling him that making time as a couple was ultimately good for the children and he refused because he didn’t want to be with you and you just have to fucking accept that!” my inner voice screamed. Heck, I may have said some of that out loud.

Every, single time I think about getting back together, my wound reveals itself, reminds me that our marriage was cast aside like an orange rind. Like something that was once so whole and perfect, it contained all of our life, but now there was no putting it back together or seeing it the same way. It was refuse, and we were left exposed, vulnerable, thin-skinned, in pieces.

Though I betted blind
Love is a fate resigned
Memories mar my mind
Love, it is a fate resigned
Over futile odds
And laughed at by the gods
And now the final frame
Love is a losing game

I went down the Winehouse rabbit hole in the dark months of winter. I listened to Back to Black on repeat. “I died a hundred times,” she sings on the title track, and didn’t I feel exactly that? I wanted to know every lyric, every inflection. I wanted to crawl inside her hurt and wear it like a blanket. The album became the holding place for my own pain, like a machine I could put my broken heart in to have it come out as polished as beach glass. Garbage, but pretty garbage. Smooth garbage that could become something worth looking at.

Then I watched the movie.

I’d been putting off watching Amy, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary, because kind of like watching Titanic, you know how it’s going to end and it’s not pretty. And man did I ache, watching a talent so rare be destroyed by the media machine and by her own hand. To be consumed by heartache. To live in the place of longing and worthlessness. It’s so terrible to watch a bright spark be unable to see the shiny diamond she is. I think my friends felt this about me, too. My relationship consumed me and anger ate me from the inside out. I was mentally bulimic. I would put good things inside me in the form of experiences or art or meditation, only to barf it out to make room for the demons. I just wanted him to see his fault in it all, as if somehow that was the way out. As if somehow that would make it all better. Instead it took us both down, like the heroin did Amy and Ray-Ray.

The day Lars, Zofia and I canned the peaches, it became clear that we needed help if we were to get it done with an evening to spare. So I texted Theo to ask if he and the kids would mind helping us. So they joined us, pitched in, laughed and in the end we all went up to the roof deck for shawarma as the sun set, pink and orange on our famous city skyline.

So we are history
The shadow covers me
The sky above
A blaze that only lovers see

This family, it’s not quite a masterpiece, but it’s a work in progress.

The peaches? Perfection.

On self-confidence

I’m supposed to be working on my book. But, reasons.

I’ve had A WEEK, but I’m on the other side of it and wrapped up a huge presentation by going to therapy over lunch. In therapy I talked through some of the things I’ve been going through and some of the breakthroughs I have had. I’d like to get them down here, because maybe those insights could help you on whatever journey you’re on too.

I haven’t been to therapy since before Christmas, which is part of the reason I know I’m getting better. I’m not not-anxious, I’m not perfect, but I’ve got coping skills now. When I have a panic attack or a crazy-session, I have this inherent knowledge that it’s going to be OK. I have this little place inside myself where I can go to find calm. I have a feeling that that tiny spot will grow into a huge palace if I spend enough time there.

I went to therapy to debrief. A check-in of sorts. Because talking to someone who will call you on your shit is glorious. I told her about a three-day leadership program I did that was earth-shattering. Work sent me and I was surrounded by supportive colleagues I had never met before, who brought to my attention that I have a self-confidence issue. My therapist suggested that I work through it in my writing. (However my table at Just Write the Damn Book Club is chatting about Tessa and Scott—my favourite pasttime—so not sure how this is going to go.)

I am a woman who second guesses herself. A lot. In her parenting, in her outfit choices, but most prominently at work. I still act like the kid at the grown-ups’ table and somehow can’t grasp that I am now the grown-up! I don’t need to check with mommy every time I have a decision to make. And yet my instinct is to use a sounding board, or run it past someone before I commit.

And I think a lot of that has to do with being gaslit for so fucking long. For having to check everything against whether or not it was my crazy talking. It probably goes further back than that, to my childhood, where I had no autonomy or agency, because my mother dictated everything. And so I’ve forgotten how to trust myself. That part is clear to me now. In fact I can’t recall if I’ve ever truly trusted myself. How I get out of that cycle is what I’m going to spend some time on over the coming weeks.

Speaking of second-guessing things, things with Ali are… spicy… and confusing. And that’s actually the thing I want to explore today. Two weeks ago, Ali and I went on a real date, one that felt more like a boy and a girl getting to know each other. And that confused the fuck out of me, because, like most women, I’m an over-thinker. So when he asked me questions about what I might be looking for in a relationship, I skipped over the obvious, which is, “Here we are, two friends who fuck, and he’s asking me this question because he cares about me, NOT because he wants you to be his girlfriend.” I went straight to, “OMG! Maybe he’s falling for me.”

Humans are so terrible at actually HEARING each other. I read a quote from Elizabeth Gilbert (and I’m paraphrasing, so I’m gonna fuck it up further), where she received letters after writing Eat, Pray, Love and the letters would be all, “Girl! I relate to your story so much. It’s almost like I could have written it! That part where you talk about how your ex abused you really resonated with me.” Except Gilbert never wrote such a thing about her ex. We write or say one thing, and the person on the other end absorbs and digests it another way. We hear what we want to hear, believe what reinforces our beliefs. And I detest that I do this with men the most.

Because what if I’m wrong? What if I’m way wrong? Like what if I got all of Ali’s behaviour and intentions wrong last summer. What if he was trying to play it slow, pace it and I was just so eager to get into a sexual affair that I pushed us into the sandbox we are in now?

Except I’m not all wrong. I have always been right about Ali fulfilling his sexual fantasy of being with me. And I have played right into that role. I have enjoyed exploring my sexual self as someone’s plaything. But after spending two hours with him yesterday (I’ve been writing this over the course of this week so things are being revealed to me with each passing day), I feel empty. Our conversations are fun, but I think he might agree that there’s something missing in them. We talk fucking and work, there’s little else. We are honest, to a point. Like he’ll tell me he went on a date Wednesday night and how that went, but he won’t reveal whether he wants to stay after sex and watch Netflix with me in bed.

Also I cannot imagine introducing him to my kids. Ali walked me to the streetcar after our dinner. It was maybe 10pm and he was exhausted (he’s training for a boxing match and we’d just gone for three rounds of our own in his apartment). We talked again about whether or not he wants to have kids. Now, I’ll be supportive of anyone who wants children of their own, but feck, you have to really want them. And you have to be willing to do all the work that comes with having them. I think there’s an entire segment of 30-something men who are reading all this “I regret having kids” stuff in the media and deciding it might not be for them. I think Ali would ideally (and this is what I take away from our conversations) love if someone had his kids, raised them and he could just enjoy them. Except a woman like that wouldn’t satisfy his fetish for accomplished career women. So he’d need two, and they’d have to be OK with that. Not impossible, but it really narrows the field.

Anyway, that’s his deal. He’s not… paternal, except sometimes in the bedroom when he’s a bit of a commanding daddy. Hehe. So what I am loving about seeing Ali is that each date gives me insight in what I DO want. It’s practice. I’ve noted now that I want someone who will enjoy and appreciate my kids. And ideally he doesn’t want kids of his own (though if he has kids of his own already, that’s not a dealbreaker). But Ali is just for me. He doesn’t fit in my world outside the bedroom and some romance (though he probably could, but would take some effort).

I’ve been listening to a podcast called A Single Thing, by the adorable Natalie Karneef. And this great nugget I took away from the series towards the end is the idea that if you are using negative self-talk all the time around dating, you’re going to invite shitty experiences into your life. So if you’ve been saying, “I’m not lucky at love” since your teens, you won’t be lucky at love. So in that moment, I made a conscious decision to stop slagging men all the time (which is tough during this era of #metoo and the general awakening to toxic masculinity at every turn). Instead, I’m going to focus on extracting the positive, celebrating the good men in my life, amplifying the parts of dating that empower me and move me forward on my journey.

Ali reminds me to enjoy the journey and not focus solely on the destination. Being single is fucking fun! I’m sleeping with someone who thinks I’m a goddess and is actually encouraging and coaching me to date more. I’m being treasured. Which brings me back to my eternal question, “What is enough?” What will be enough for me? Is this enough for now?

I was supposed to reflect on self-confidence, and I don’t know that I’ve done that here. But I think a large part of self-confidence comes from listening to and trusting your inner voice. And journalling here really helps me to synthesize my thoughts and feelings, reminding myself that I’ve got this! Am I going to make mistakes? Sure! But if I take the time to reflect on what I might learn from them, then it’s all good. I need to push myself into uncomfortable situations, bravely, and then reflect on what didn’t go the way I’d hoped. I’m growing. I’m on a quest, a journey, and if I take the time to breathe and distill, I can truly appreciate the person I’m becoming. Is the shitty voice in my head there? Of course, but I’m learning that I have the remote and can turn down the volume or change the channel when that station comes on. You do too! And that’s a really fucking empowering thought.

My saviours

“How long has it been?” Our firecracker of a tween-age girl looked at us over Family Day dinner. “Since what?” I asked coyly, hoping she wasn’t asking what she was asking.

“You know, since the breakup?”

Their dad and I looked at each other. God she’s astute. Neither of us had acknowledged this fucked up anniversary. We broke up at the end of November, but it was February before he moved out. We both mumbled something like, “A year and a bit.”

“What month? What day?”

February 4th.

I quickly pivoted to talk of Family Day weekend the previous year, when we were painting their rooms, building IKEA furniture, getting ready for THEIR separation from each other after nearly a decade of sleeping in the same room.

But on February 4th, 2017, we were doing something entirely different.

On the morning of Feb 3rd, 2017, my daughter said, “I don’t want today to be over,” and started weeping. She had realized it was our last night as a family of four. I’d dealt with my own pain the previous night by going out dancing with a super fun colleague and her merry band of Polish friends and gotten stupid drunk, slam dancing to Lida Pimiento in a gallery. It was all so awful (the husband leaving, not the dancing) that I only have hazy details sketched out in my memory bank.

Dealing with my child’s emotional pain while nursing a massive hangover was not my finest moment. But that morning I was focused on letting them know we just had to get through it. The social worker had advised against letting them stay home, because that could create an ongoing issue, so I gently coached us out the door.

When I called home after school, it was clear that my kids were not in a good way. My son, who is not generally overly emotional, was a teary mess. I realized that I would circumvent the pressure of the last night all together by overriding it. I rushed home to get them and called my sister on the way. Sushi and sleepover, STAT! My sister is a successful adult human, but also an incredibly childish plaything for my kids, and going to her posh condo would be just the thing to distract us all.

She had a big glass of wine waiting for me and video games for the kids. Somehow it was fun, even though their dad was back home, packing for his move the next day. After dinner, I got the kids ready for bed and then I gently made my way out of Neverland and back to the house we all shared together. Why? Why did I go back to the marital home? I’ll never really know.

The boxes I’d procured for him to pack were sitting empty in the front room. He had done nothing and was sitting in the dining room, watching YouTube on his laptop. My memory tells me that I avoided making a snide remark to cover my anxiety over his lack of packing, but I can’t confidently say that this is true. I know I eventually went upstairs to our bedroom to pack up my own things from the dresser that he would be taking with him to his new apartment.

We must have slept in the same bed that night, but again, I have no memory of it. Did I weep on his bare chest, like I had so many nights leading up to that one? Who knows? That glass Inside Out memory ball is buried in that land where Bing Bong goes to die.

The next morning, we said our goodbyes, Theo and I. I don’t remember that final goodbye either. I could only begin to imagine what it’s like to leave the home your children grew up in and would continue to grow up in, just without you. But he wanted this, I kept reminding myself. He didn’t have the courage to just leave, of course. For years he just made himself absent by whatever means necessary. Now we were just making it official.

I had a fun day planned. I wanted anything but for my kids to have a memory of their dad leaving. I headed back to my sister’s and she took us for a super fancy brunch in a super fancy hotel. My mom called us at some point, to discuss how she’d been a mega bitch to Theo when he came by to get our old furniture out of the basement. She spoke in our native language so the kids wouldn’t understand. My sis and I giggled, knowing mom had my back.

Then the boy child went to a birthday party, while the girl one and I went to the nail salon with a bunch of her friends and their moms. The village I had carefully built over the years rallied together to support us. After manis and pedis, we retrieved the boy one and went to see Hidden Figures with a single mom friend and her daughter, who was my son’s classmate. We were completely distracted and when we exited the theatre, it was suddenly dark out. It had been a bright, crisp February day and to be hit with the dark was a reminder that we had gotten through the worst of it.

“Let’s call your dad,” I said quietly, “He probably hasn’t eaten all day. Let’s see if he wants us to take him to dinner.”

When we got to his new neighbourhood, the girl one didn’t want to get out of the car. “It’s so WEIRD!” she kept saying. And yeah, she was right. Theo was hurt, I know it, but he eventually coaxed her out. We had Thai, and as we sat around the table we raised our glasses. “To us!” we toasted. The 20-something girls at the table next to us made gagging sounds and rolled their eyes.

I was surprised by how angry this made me. I wanted to go over to them, in all their young, hopeful glory, and say, “THIS IS NOT WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE! This family has been through the wars! We have survived the near death of that sweet girl over there, but our marriage didn’t survive the post-traumatic stress after her disease and surgery, and maybe it was long broken before that, but GODDAMMIT we are here today of all days and eating Pad Thai and Cashew Chicken and it’s a FUCKING MIRACLE!”

Instead I swallowed a spring roll and turned to the girl one. “How about after dinner we go see Dad’s place?” And that’s what we did. Except when we got to the corner, I made an excuse about having to buy cat food and took the boy one to the store with me while the girl one skipped down towards the beach where Dad now lived.

“We’re going to buy him some groceries. Just enough so that he has breakfast tomorrow.” Was it generosity? Was it needing to be the smug person on the high road/horse? Old habits die hard, and I always took care of Theo. It’s what my mom raised me to do. So we showed up, the boy one and me, with a bag full of a lesson. It was the kindest way I could imagine beginning this new life.

“This is so WEIRD!” the girl one exclaimed again. It was SUPER WEIRD. Seeing our stuff in a new home, breaking up a life woven together. If you want to destroy my sweater, pull this thread as I walk away.

He came back to the house, I forget why. The shock of bare spots on walls where his concert posters had been removed. The absolute gut-wrenching blow as I walked into our bedroom to nothing but dust bunnies. I’d told him to take the bed, the mattress, the sheets. I didn’t want his energy on anything. I dragged the old futon mattress up from the main floor and plopped it down. When the kids saw this, they asked for their mattresses to be pulled in too. They flanked me, in a makeshift camp, little refugees ready to make a new life, but needing the safety of the maternal womb for the transition.

They saved me. For two weeks I destroyed my back on that floor, but they saved me. I was forced to go to bed early, forced to not cry myself to sleep, forced to accept that I was surrounded by a great love that had been born of the very person who broke my heart.


They are the bright spot in my day. They are the reason Theo and I are still friends. They are my reason for everything (except maybe this writing here, which I’m not sure is sustainable). They are the reason I only moderately fell apart in this last year. They are why I keep going. They saved me then and they continue to save me, one day at a time. I hope I am able to give them even a fraction of what they give me.

I’m not ready to date with my heart just yet, but spending time with Ali, I realize that how my future partner will gel with my kids is critical in my decision-making. For now, Ali is just for me and I don’t know that this will change ever. Ali… sigh… that’s a tale for another post.

Sexual self-care

I was at the chiropractor over the weekend, and boy do I love my chiropractor. Like if you could be besties with someone you see for only 20 minutes every 4-5 weeks, this would is me and Dr. B. Anyway, I was telling her how Theo and I are in a good place now, for the most part, and how we still do little Acts of Service for each other. Things that would have seemed ordinary in married life, but are amplified as super good deeds now that we are apart. And in the banter about how he makes me coffee when he comes over to look after the kids, I mentioned that I had recently encouraged him to go talk to someone about investing the money I gave him for the house.

“Wow, you really were doing it all, weren’t you?”

I paused to reflect. Yeah, I honestly think I was. Because if I think about the things he did, he still does them now, just without living in the house. He still makes my coffee and the kids’ breakfasts and lunches, he still shovels the walk (when he’s here during a snowfall), he takes out the trash for me, takes the car to the garage… and he’s a good dad to the kids. Done!

Wait, I skipped too far ahead, because as Dr. B and I were catching up, I mentioned that I haven’t had sex or dated since August-ish. And then I told her that Ali (yes THAT Ali) had been messaging me, flirting and asking to see me. He’d asked me to a concert (I couldn’t go), he’d asked me to make time for him and I was wishy-washy about it, and finally he came right out with, “I need a date and time to see you please, gorgeous.” Well, hello there! Apparently that’s how you get my attention, by being direct and insistent.

The thing is that Ali has been seeing Svetlana (did I call her that? I usually refer to her as the Russian Twinkie). So after I agreed to meet him, I had a bit of panic. I don’t want to be the other woman and break some young woman’s heart. I don’t have any Mrs. Robinson fantasies, last time I checked. I don’t want bad dating karma (which I know is not science, but whatever). In discussing this with Dr. B, the tangent eventually got to all the things I did for Theo.

“You know what? I think you should go out with Ali and just have fun,” Dr. B said thoughtfully, “I mean, you’ve been dealing in a lot of masculine energy by carrying it all, and now you need to balance your female energy. It’s time to let someone take care of you.”

I thought, heck, I shouldn’t assume here. Maybe he just wants to meet up for a drink and see how I’m doing. Maybe he wants to talk through his relationship, decide if he’s having kids and then make dating decisions accordingly. But I washed my sheets anyway. I coloured my roots, and shaved all the things anyway. I put on a body con dress. Because even if it was a maybe, I have not had sex since the summer. Didn’t I deserve a little body worship?

He was sitting at the bar, a sure sign that he wanted to get touchy (as I now know), and greeted me with a long tight hug. We chatted easily, with no expectations and no holds barred. There was a moment when I realized that if we respected each other’s boundaries, this could be one of the best friendships either of us might have. I mean how many people can go out with someone, say whatever they want, ask completely honest questions and have them answered equally honestly and then have that same person want to rip your clothes off? It dawned on me that I’d been selling this possibility short.

To be fair, I think over time and with my distance, he’s learned he can be candid with me and it doesn’t hurt my feelings. Not the kind of candour that’s mean-spirited, but talking through his sexual frustrations with the Russian Twinkie, or discussing whether he could be monogamous ever again. I don’t judge, because he’s not my future husband. He’s my friend who likes fancy cocktails and a solid fuck. Which is pretty much all I have time for once or twice a month.

I’d also been completely denying myself of any corporal pleasure. When I decided to hunker down until I got through the toughest parts of the separation (the agreement, Christmas/New Year’s and the Year One milestone), I became someone who binge-watched a lot of TV and hid under the covers. I barely had a sex drive, because what was the point? I could take the Dolphin out for 5 minutes or I could sleep. Sleep typically won out (though I’ve had to replace the batteries a few times over the past year).

So there we were at the bar, handsome, delicious Ali and flirty me, and it only took one drink for us to get handsy. I found his mouth irresistible and distracting. I asked upfront what kind of agreement he had with the Russian Twinkie and the lines seemed fluid enough that after two drinks I planted a kiss on him. WHO AM I?

He made it clear that coming home with me without telling her first was a little bit of breaking their rules, but at that point I was ready to take him to the fancy single bathrooms in the basement. He paid the check and we walked a good 20 minutes back to my place, chatting and giggling the whole way. He offered dating advice, admitted it would be challenging for me as a smart woman who is “a lot.” (Parking this thought for later.) When I asked him his opinion on #MeToo, I thought, “Damn, that was stupid,” but he answered thoughtfully and respectfully and his opinions aligned with my own, while giving me something new to ponder. Man we make each other laugh, it’s… nice.

The next several hours (yes, HOURS, thank you Mr. 36!) were gold-medal-worthy. He is a generous and considerate lover. Any woman would be lucky to sleep with him. He is just so happy to be fulfilling a seven-year fantasy that it’s easy for me to be my wild self. To play with sexual me, explore what she likes and how she may want to be perceived, but also it’s a huge practice in letting go and getting to the root of my true sexual self in the absence of an ego who is performing for applause. Because there are no expectations to make a life out of what we share, we can just be our animalistic selves. It is dirty and hot, but also playful and fun. No, it’s FUN! Bolded, underlined and italicized. So much flirty banter and talk of fantasies, and LOUD!

Of course today, I’m a giddy schoolgirl. I can barely answer, “How was your weekend?” I should have brought extra panties to work. I found a hickey on my thigh this morning and now I want to answer every question with, “I HAVE A HICKEY ON MY THIGH!” I am writing this on my lunch break to get the goddamn thoughts out of my head.

“I need to do this more than every six months or so, so that it’s not such a novelty,” I texted my best friend. My best gay said, “Oh just fuck him. Be a gay man for a while!” So perhaps that’s it. Ali will continue to see other people and explore what he wants for the rest of his adult life, and I will ask him to come over for afternoon delights every few weeks when I have some time. Neither of us has to get off the path we are on right now.

I’ve never had a lover—at least, not one that I didn’t try to make my “boyfriend.” It seems indulgent, but also feels like the right thing for right now. I’m not ready to date just yet. Not ready to really put myself out there. Not ready to navigate how to be a mom who dates and worries about when to introduce someone to the most important humans in her life. This is safe, and a sure thing, and brings me SO MUCH JOY! I’m not doing it because I have to. It’s not a “should.” I’m filing it under self-care and patting myself on the back for now. Go get yours, girls.



Year one, done

It’s been a year since the worst day of my life. The day I had to break the hearts of the two humans that I love the most. The day I had to tell them that their father and I would no longer be a couple.

It had been two months of harbouring the secret, to get through Christmas, to work out the plan, to talk to social workers to understand how best to tell them. I wanted to do it right, if there’s such a thing. I’m still trying. It’s a constant pull between my hurt feelings wanting to lash out at their dad and realizing that doing so would jeopardize a relationship that was always held together by a string, strong as hemp rope on one end, but thinned out to the most fragile of threads at the other.

Our favourite social worker, the one our family still sees, suggested we present the information as a unified front. Under no circumstances were we supposed to give any hints or suggestions that we may get back together. It was over, we needed to stick to the storyline, because any window of wavering would be a forever open door for kids who just want their parents back together.

We ordered sushi, a family favourite, and talked happily during dinner. People always ask if the kids suspected. I will say that while they felt weird energy in the house during those two months, and caught me crying a bunch of times, they really didn’t see it coming. I never ever wanted to do this to them, as a kid who had suffered a (temporary) parental break-up herself. And I told my now-ex that once we broke their hearts there was no turning back.

He waffled over those two months, but whenever he’d say, “Why are we doing this?” I would ask him why he felt we should stay together. The answer was always (and is to this day), “Because it’s harder than I imagined.” Not, “I realized how much I love you and what you mean to me, and I can’t believe I put you through all that shit all these years.” Nope. Not, “I realize I can’t live without you.” Nope. Repeat: He does not love you the way you need to be loved, Maria. Breathe.

For years, during many late night discussions about the state of our relationship, I warned him about how this would affect the kids, how they would struggle in life while all their peers had (happily or unhappily) married parents. I knew first-hand what it was like, while he, with parents unhappily married for 50 years, only saw that relationship as a trap. His story, his narrative, always won out. He would dig in his heels and say, “The kids will be alright because it’s us. We’re not going to do it in a way that makes us enemies.” It turns out we were both right.

The kids are alright, but they have moments of deep sadness, or fear, anxiety, frustration. They are stuck on the why, but the why no longer matters. It just IS. We must accept it and move on. Theo was right, we would do it differently. I did a bit of mudslinging in early days, but through meditation, yoga, therapy and the buddhist practise of accepting impermanence, I have learned to let go of my anger and my sadness. Sure, they creep in sometimes, but I know to breathe through it, turn it into a joke and to resist sending that angry text.

This morning’s angry text was going to be, “Who the FUCK is that woman on your Facebook feed saying what an awesome family you have? Just because you made a fire on the beach, as if making a bonfire earns you Parent of the Year! Stop using your fatherhood to get laid, you piece of shit!” But instead, I went to yoga and thought my hamstrings were going to snap like elastic bands pulled too far. The kids joke that I’m becoming a Zen master, but maybe I’m just becoming an asshole who buys too many Buddha statues and is getting mature enough not to fire off texts before I’ve thought through the repercussions.

When the kids do express their sadness, we sit with it. I have, in some ways, become a better mother through this process. I’m not anxious about their fears and pains like I used to be. Or rather, I notice the anxiety and guilt rising up within me, and I take a breath and pivot to Supermom. Dad is Fun Dad, and there’s something good in accepting that. I can be too serious, talking them through mega heavy life topics, like drugs and abortion. Dad is just Fun Dad. He gets them outdoors. He pushes their physical selves into the physical world, taking them for hikes on the beach and then returning to his sad dad cosy basement apartment to watch a movie and eat something warm that he’s made for them. I am the keeper of their minds and their souls, he is the keeper of their bodies and their place in the outside world. We both approach their anxieties differently, and both are good.

When I think of us like that, it does make me wistful. It does make me want to get back together, but then I never ever saw our relationship as “that bad” until I got out of it. Sure I was unhappy, but wasn’t everybody? But then I remember that, regardless of whether I agree with the thinking, for him every fight was Hiroshima, every argument symbolizing the end of days. I love him, but I’ve come to realize that he’s a narcissist. He can only really care for himself. But maybe, just maybe, through divorce he is learning how to take care of the kids, too. I hope so for their sakes.

That night, after sushi, we told them. Or rather, I told them. Because he was frozen in inaction, wearing a suit of cowardice, of his own making. We told them he was moving out in a week (which was the timing prescribed by the social worker). And the girl one laughed at first, because she thought it was a joke. Surely her parents who claimed they loved her wouldn’t do this to them! I’d promised her once, and she’s always reminding me, that her parents were never ever getting divorced, because I swore to her that I would do everything in my power to avoid that outcome. And I did. I did do everything possible, from therapy to allowing him to move away to another city for six months, to considering the open marriage he was asking for. But it wasn’t enough. I was never enough.

Why? They asked over and over again. I wish I could tell them. I barely understood it myself, but I HAD to secure my freedom. I could never tell them of the years of mental and emotional abuse. I’m sure their dad would probably say the same about me. How do you tell kids, “Your dad wasn’t strong enough to be my man”? He couldn’t handle that I was smart and funny and pretty and successful and well-liked by so many people, while he couldn’t seem to find his footing as an adult. He was a shrinking violet, scared to share his experience of the world around him, and he felt my strength was drawn by making him weak. I can’t say if that’s true, but it was certainly true for him. I’ve come to accept that, too.

I didn’t kill him when he stupidly said, “We don’t know. There’s a chance we might get back together.” But I did give him a death stare and a strong kick under the table. “That is not true,” I said stoically, trying to close a door that he was trying to keep open a wedge out of weakness, “Dad and I are over. We are never getting back together.” We all cried, and I can never forget the pain of causing my children such agony. I’m still trying to forgive myself.

Then I presented rose quartz necklaces that I’d had made for us all, to keep our hearts close. Then we played a board game. Everything is rather hazy from that time, like when that bad thing happened to you as a teenager and you just walked around with that sick feeling in your stomach for days, wishing it wasn’t true. I don’t know how we got through that week, but somehow we did. And what followed was a time of mourning, change and open hearts, a love bigger than I knew I was capable of giving or receiving.

A week from now will be the anniversary of the day he moved out. I’ll be back next Sunday to reflect on my memories of that story. Thanks for reading.

Oh well, whatever, nevermind – a medley

Happy 2018!

My big kid is learning a Nirvana song on the drums right now. We’ve gone down a mega grunge rabbit hole. I’m still unsure as to how to answer, “What does it mean when Kurt sings, ‘Broken hymen of your Highness, I’m left back/ Throw down your umbilical noose so I can climb right back’?” But so far, no one has asked. The print on the sheet music is very tiny, thank Gord.

We listened to “Everlong” by the Foo Fighters, and in context, the lyric, “You’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when,” kinda makes sense, but it opens up a HUGE parenting conversation when you’re trying to teach your kids consent. Technically, Dave Grohl is making a blanket statement here, consenting for the person the song is written for to keep going, no matter how much he pushes back. But as women, we all know that blanket statements don’t apply when it comes to consent. Consent is a moment to moment discussion, a check-in. “Is this still OK?” It’s looking at verbal and non-verbal cues to understand if the person you are with is still comfortable with the set-up.

In going quiet the past few months, I’ve had time to flesh out a few ideas. (PSA: It’s FLESH out, NEVER FLUSH out PEOPLE! Go see The Oatmeal’s description as to why.) For years, I ran my marriage in a “You’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when,” style. There was so much I wrote off as “just his mental health issues.” “Buckle up,” I’d tell myself, “You signed up for this. In sickness and in health, remember?” Mind you, my wedding vows were in another language and I barely remember them, so maybe I didn’t need to focus on them so much, but I digress.

I had lunch with a friend who is a yogi and a healer yesterday. Catching up, I found myself synthesizing my thoughts on the last decade, on where my relationship fell down and my responsibility in it all. It’s dangerous though, because like any story, you get better and better at telling it, and you may unconsciously be reinforcing untruths and false beliefs that make your ego feel better and mean you don’t actually have to own your bullshit.

I recounted how I was told that he was “not in love” with me anymore. I recounted how our marriage counsellor politely fired us. I recounted how I then called a psychologist for myself. I told her that my husband said he’s not in love with me anymore, and that he was depressed and not to be taken seriously, and could she help me build the mental fortitude to insulate myself from these verbal attacks.


There are many things that I
Would like to say to you but I don’t know how (OASIS, WONDERWALL)

It wasn’t until I was told I would need to seek romantic love outside the home that I broke. After months of therapy, I did achieve my goal, although the outcome was significantly different than I imagined. I had the mental fortitude to know I could walk away, that as difficult as it would be, I didn’t have to take the abuse anymore.

“You know, when someone consistently tells you they are a wolf, and you treat them like a cute little family dog, you can’t really be mad when they eat your flock of sheep,” I said to my wise friend over tea. We had a good giggle, because OBVIOUSLY! But sometimes it takes you 19 years to learn that lesson.

Look, the wolf really wanted to be a dog. He tried sitting, and giving a paw and singing for his supper, but he couldn’t stop murdering sheep because that’s his true nature. He didn’t want to be kept in a house, he wanted to be out pissing on trees and hunting bunnies. He wasn’t the most cunning wolf though, so it was easy to believe he was a dopey dog that just needed to be house broken. But I have to own the fact that I did not want to believe him, no matter how many ways he tried to convince me. I thought I had what it took to love the wolf into domesticity, I thought I knew better than him.

I want to be the girl with the most cake
I love him so much it just turns to hate (HOLE, MISS WORLD)

In return, he became confused about who he was. Whenever he took a dump in my new shoes, he’d feel terrible and mope with his tail between his legs. But over the years he grew increasingly resentful at this angry woman, who wouldn’t let him be his free lupine self. Who expected him to hand over the dead squirrels and wipe his paws on the mat on his way in, before chaining him to a repressive life that most people dream of.

But I didn’t listen. When he said he would never live up to my expectations (on our first date), when he said he could only take care of himself (when we were first married), when he said he didn’t see how this was going to work (in the last few years), all I heard were excuses. And, to borrow from my smart yogi friend, I was right, AND SO WAS HE.

I’m so ugly, that’s OK ’cause so are you (NIRVANA, LITHIUM)

Anyway, I’m slowly learning to get over it. To let it go, a piece at a time. We are mostly friends now, because I still tolerate a lot of bullshit. But it’s good for the kids to have him in their lives, and they will draw their own conclusions in their own time. We survived the holidays, which was a roller coaster of emotions. Bittersweet, lots of tears, heart to hearts and big belly laughs, too. And now I sit with my cup of tea and my keyboard, in the cold-warm of January. I’m still dating myself and that’s going well. We like all the same podcasts and recipes and Netflix and Prime shows.
I go through bouts of intense grief, and then I get into self-care mode: bathing, downward dogging, wine and cheese with friendsing, journalling, singing the songs of my youth at full volume, and somehow I am standing strong again. It’s never a straight line, I remind myself, don’t beat yourself up, girl.
I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life
I know you’ll be a star
In somebody else’s sky (PEARL JAM, BLACK)

“Weather is a good teacher,” I told my friend, who is wise enough to know all this, but sometimes even sages need to be told something in a different way, a different voice or perspective to re-learn a lesson. The days are sometimes grey and dreary at this time of year, but one only has to take a flight to remember that the sun is always shining above the clouds. Sometimes we have to wait for the clouds to part or the seasons to change to feel better again. We have to remember that storms will inevitably blow in, but they too, shall pass. Breathe, move, be still, soyez patient! BREATHE!

Grunge music exemplified the pain I experienced going from adolescence to adulthood. It’s working for me now, too, in a different way—reminding me that things aren’t as bad as they seem in this moment; that “future me” has left a letter around here some place, telling me to get my shit together and stop spending so much time getting my eyeliner right and putting my faith in weak men. The world is changing and mine is too. Here’s to the better.

Black hole sun
Won’t you come
And wash away the rain
Black hole sun
Won’t you come
Won’t you come (won’t you come) (SOUNDGARDEN, BLACK HOLE SUN)

And now for the rest of the story

I bawled on the way to work this morning. OK, OK, fine, I cried most of today, including in front of my kids, which is pretty much the worst ever. It’s just all so much sometimes. I don’t even know how to make it all work.

There’s the stress of trying to buy the house, which puts me in a terrifyingly massive amount of debt on my own, but is somehow cheaper month to month than renting a space big enough for the three of us in the city where we live. And I completely understand that that run-on sentence is one of great privilege and I should shut up. But also, I’m losing sleep over it. I’m terrible at budgeting, terrible at saying no to things in the moment.

What to cut and where to make it all happen? I have to be organized as heck. I can’t forget my lunch, ever. I need to make sure our meal prep is buttoned up. I need to cancel the cleaning lady and take that work on myself, share it with the kids, which means increase the nagging, which makes me hate myself.

I have to get my house in order. There are piles of bills and school paperwork and laundry. There are mice under the kitchen sink that need trapping and their toxic poop needs cleaning up. The woodpeckers are pecking holes into the shakes on the side of the house and that probably means there’s something to eat up there and I’m praying it’s not termites. The car needs fixing again and now costs as much to maintain as a new car, but my new mortgage is going up as much as a car payment, so I doubt I can even afford a new car, let alone the fixes. I make good money, so all of this is embarrassing, but I have never had a head for numbers.

(Bear with me while I barf this all out so I can stop crying.)

My evenings mean racing home at 4:30, to pick kids up at various places or just rush to get dinner started. Then it’s a mad race to make dinner while they are trying to tell me about their day, or have homework questions, then clean the kitchen and get them bathed, etc. They are old enough to do most of this stuff on their own, of course,  but there’s a certain shepherding that comes with being a parent, because kids are adorable self-involved assholes and you have to nudge them to keep them on task.

This is common for lots of parents, and there are many couples for whom one partner consistently works late or travels a lot and the other partner has to sort this all out alone. Or a spouse dies. I get it, I’m not the only parent who is doing this dance. But I suppose I got used to having two parents at home in the evening. I got used to one person cleaning the kitchen while the other wrestles with homework and bath time. It’s become difficult to enjoy the evenings when you are only playing drill sergeant.

Of course there are moments of brilliance in there too, but for the most part, after a busy work day when you have NO time to recharge, the kids suffer. You are not the best mom you can be. And that’s a terrible feeling where I am, right smack in the middle of the intense years of parenting. Because I know it’s fleeting. I know my days are numbered and I want to enjoy the time I have with them before they don’t want to be with me anymore.

Also, the kids are the one thing that forces me out of any funk or trash-talking of myself. I hate when they have to comfort me, I have so much guilt about that, but I’m grieving and I can’t always fucking hide it. I remember my own mother crying when my father had a four-year affair and she finally kicked him out. She would sob and it would terrify me. Now here I am, doing the same thing to my kids. She would talk shit about him, and it would make me uncomfortable. Because even though my dad was a supreme dick, it was confusing. Now here I am, in the same place, and I hate myself for it.

But the kids, they are so forgiving, so resilient. They hold my hand and start skipping down the sidewalk and I too am forced to skip and enjoy life. They have adorable, astute and funny insights on things and it takes me out from the dark place where I live now.  I worry that I’m ruining their childhood, imbuing their memories with all sorts of awful. I worry that the happy times won’t outweigh the bad, and that they’ll resent me like I do my own parents. I know they worry about money and how I will be able to afford it all and I hate myself for not shielding them from all this.

I am realizing that I’m stuck in the “poor me” place and I need to crawl out of it. But the weight of it all being on my shoulders is killing me right now. “But you always did it all alone,” friends try to remind me. Yes, partially true, I did do a lot of it. I did not have the most supportive partner, but maybe part of this (which I have to accept) is that I am such a control freak that I was unable to let any of it go.

There is no bereavement leave for those who’ve lost a spouse by any means other than death. There is an equal amount of pain and sadness and paperwork to deal with, but no time off. Suck it up, buttercup, says society. You brought this upon yourself with your feminist thinking and wanting things to be equal and better. You destroyed your marriage, because you couldn’t work full-time, be the primary breadwinner AND do all the emotional labour. You couldn’t be the woman behind the man and coach your spouse to great heights so he could provide and you could be the perfect domestic goddess. You created this situation with your inconsistent expectations, acting like you could do it all until you fucking lost your mind.

If my kids or employees were freaking out like this, I would suggest we make a list. Break it down into manageable chunks. Figure out what the priorities are and what can be delegated. I would encourage them to let go of perfection in place of just plain old “gettin’er done.” I think I am at a point where I need to manage myself that way. And there’s a lot I need to let go or delegate, and admit that I have a LOT of guilt about delegating to my kids. Because none of this situation is there fault.

At the same time, getting them to step up and do more is good for their growth. I just have to find the words and the energy to present it to them that way. There needs to be consequences for when they don’t hold up their end of the bargain. And rewards for when they do. I need to be consistent in my approach, which can be a challenge in a two-parent environment at the best of times, but when the other parent can uphold different rules and attitudes at their home, it presents an added layer of complication.

I have spent the past week isolating myself a bit, limiting my social media and cell phone interactions (I deleted most of those apps off my phone). I’m (not overtly) keeping my family at a distance, same goes for old friends. Because when I post stuff on social, it’s a touchpoint, and people get this general feeling of, “She’s OK.” But I’m not actually OK. I have a lot of emotional baggage to sort through and purge. I have so much of me to excavate and understand. I don’t want judgment, assumptions or unsolicited advice right now. I don’t need the Yaya Sisterhood plying me with platitudes. I need to answer, “Is this true?” about myself.

I need to get real, REAL quiet until I hear my inner voice again. And it’s going to be painful AF. Things are going to get real dark as I withdraw from the distractions and the people who have kept me buoyed up the past nine months. At the end of this withdrawal, after having a Trainspotting moment of seeing a baby with the spinny head crawl along my ceiling, there will be me at my essence. There will be forgiveness. And love.

Just, maybe you can silently, virtually hold my hand while I get through this really tough part, k?