All posts for the month October, 2011

Happy times with my Daughter

Published October 27, 2011 by megdedwards

Treat. Yo. Self.

This was my daughter’s mantra on my weekend visit into Halifax, the city of students.

For us, a brunch out, a day of shopping and a dinner out were the extent of our madness, but was it was great to do whatever we wanted and take all the time we wanted eating and talking.

What could be more fun than spending time with a beloved child who has grown into a magnificent adult?

We even traded roles at one point as she led me through a maze of malls in order to catch our second bus to the destination mall. I needed to pee and I was hot and tired, and started moaning about how we could have just stayed in the North End and looked at the second hand shops.

She wisely paid no attention to me, made a short stop into a chocolate shop where we jammed lots of sweets into our mouths and carried on.  The clerk at the store expressed shock that we did not need a bag for our bonbons, but we were on our giggling way before his comment about the number of treats sunk in.

She got me to Winners, where I did in fact find a dress for the upcoming wedding at the happy price of $29. This was not the only time when I felt like my Mama role of doting benign dictator was floating away.

She had been right about the shopping and I was the whiney kid! And I saw how gradually I will not be the one in control anymore. Just as it is with me and my Mom now, I told myself to just let it happen, and enjoy the blessing of real friendship with a daughter.

She is a marvelous person, such a person.  But she has some odd struggles, such as thinking that Joe and I would ever be disappointed in her for not becoming an academic or the classic hipster kid, lost, angst ridden and pessimistic.

I am not sure why we would want this for here, just so that she could be like us when we were younger? When I talk about my behavior in high school I remind her that my parents had split up and my sister had jumped off a bridge, just for starts, so I was in a different space, and the seventies were undeniably a different time.

I really don’t know any kids her age with as much drive or moral certitude. She is a bright light, and I take no credit for this. When people meet her they see what they want to see, a bright eyed and optimistic young woman in a nice outfit. They assume she comes from a suburban home with pushy parents and has not had many life experiences.

In high school, clean cut, ambitious and hardworking, she edited the school year book and started her career as a freelance writer.   But she would sometimes find herself defending and explaining her life style up to that point, a life history that included moving every few years, no home ownership, travel, home birth, home schooling and non-vaccinating. She didn’t even have antibiotics until she was 16 years old.

She may have thought for a short time that Joe and I would judge her for becoming a business woman, but we have been pretty clear that we admire her abilities and just happen to be bad at it ourselves.

She is now studying business with even more energy and enthusiasm than she applied to journalism for the last five years. Just the thought of my daughter in a position of power makes me happy, because I know that a woman who volunteers to look after children in a North End school every day is going to be a responsible company owner.

A thoughtful democratic feminist who relates to the disenfranchised and yet wants to be actively involved in the ‘real world’, well, good on her!

We only want her to be happy, which is in itself a rather unreasonable expectations considering the regular grind of hormones mixed with real life.

We have always let her decide what she wanted to do. No school, fine. No swimming lessons, fine.  Quite by accident we may have created a driven and ambitious woman with high expectations for life.

But then again, I don’t think we can egotistically blame or credit ourselves for who she has become.

We have done our part in the nurture department, she was the first child and god knows what our peripatetic life and scrambles for money did to her. We had a lot of fun too, parties, travel and excitement.

Her nature as it emerges, speaks of all her grandparents in equal parts; Safta’s enthusiasm for personal challenges, Nana’s interest in fashion, Saba’s cool good manners in all occasions, and Grandpa’s enthusiasm for work.

When I told her about her slacker parent’s time on the beach in Thailand a few decades ago, she surprised me by saying, I couldn’t do that, I‘d have to have something to do.

Those were my Dad’s words!  He would be so proud of her. I know I am.


Dinner Table Manners

Published October 24, 2011 by megdedwards

There is a myth circulating in present day media that all families who are any good, and any parents who have any control over their kids, will sit down and eat dinner together – whether they like it or not.

And I am not sure I subscribe to that popular guilt trip – just as I don’t actually think children will keel over without a regular bedtime.

First of all, I already don’t like the traditional yelling that happens when a family is called for dinner.  Typically someone is late or does not immediately rush to their place at the table because they want to finish their project or whatever, and then the yelling becomes angry sounding.

As soon as a meal starts with angry yelling, I am out of there. I don’t like meals which start with yelling and then continue in some mad rush to get the food down as fast as possible.

I am one of those over sensitive people who is affected by ‘bad’ table manners.  I really care if you show your food in your mouth, or belch, or fart, or place both elbows on the table and stuff the food in as fast as possible. The sight and tension of this sort of eating can actually give me a stomach ache.

And the thing with table manners, is that every family has different standards. I was brought up fairly strictly, possibly too strictly, but the damage has been done and I can’t go back.

The rules were something like this: cut up some of your food, then put your knife on the side of the plate and use your fork to eat; use just the one hand to eat, leave your fingers out of it, and leave the other hand on your lap. The other hand does not need to be nailed to your lap but do not rest one or  both arms on the table as if you are too tired to hold yourself up.

Lift your food to your face; don’t lower your face to the food.  Tip your soup away from your lap in order to get to the bottom of it.  Don’t crash the tings of the fork on your teeth, just eat more slowly and place your utensil more carefully. Cut bread, break buns. Take small bites so that you can talk and eat without a huge challenge.

I think that was about it. Excuse yourself when you are done and don’t put your napkin in your plate. When your plate is finished put your fork and knife on the side of the plate. Our mom argued that we should know how to eat properly so that it would become second nature and we would never be nervous if we are invited to a fancy dinner.

She was right about that, and I think the manners are nice and easy to follow. However, I don’t get invited out to fancy dinners all that often and most people I meet eat like ‘farmers’ as my Mom would have said.

But I don’t think table manners are a snob issue.  I have met plenty of actual farmers who eat really nicely. I am beginning to think that it is a personality type and that the less uptight people are the ones who eat with the most gusto and indelicacy.

My husband tends to do a whole host of things that I was taught to never do. I don’t know why, some of his family members eat all nice and neat some of them do not.

We have had an argument in the last few years over the practice of sitting down to eat together as a family. He says;  see how they all sit down to eat as a family in Leave it to Beaver?  We borrowed the CD set from the library and often watch while eating dinner. And I say; notice how they eat with small bites, sitting up straight and barely even chewing or swallowing?

So basically, I have had to get over myself.  I remind myself that I don’t really care where the fork and knife sit, or whether someone eats dinner as if there is an urgent deadline. The only thing I still quietly complain about is the conversation started mid large mouthful.

I know that I am a bit uptight and sensitive about eating sounds and sights, and depending on my mood, more intensely or less intensely aware of table manners.

The solution in our family is to leave the dinner hour completely free of stress:  one announcement that dinner is ready, come or don’t come that is fine. And we might eat in front of the television and watch Coronation Street, or we might sit at the table, where there will be a wide range of table manners.

For some reason my eldest  sister and I got on the topic the other day and it made me think that our childhood dinner hours were not stress free, what with the constant teaching of manners. And I distinctly remember my crazy sister and I fighting over who sat closest to Mom because she had the loudest mastication of the family.

And then my eldest sister remembered how we always had candle light and classical music. And I realized in a flash of knowledge that it was my Dad who was sensitive to eating sounds and that is why we had the music. Ah ha!

We had good dinners and bad dinners. Sometimes it was light hearted, but by the time my memory was really kicking in, I think my parents were on the outs and my Dad was depressed. I remember him sitting by himself after dinner, with the classical music, drinking wine and looking morose.

What is truly important, obviously, is not so much manners or family traditions, but whether the people sitting at the table want to be there.  My husband does not have that same sad ritual, and I am grateful for that and able to leave behind some of the rituals of my childhood.

And my husband excuses me too, because sometimes after a long day I just want to be alone or write, and not be at the dinner table with the elbows flying and people choking as they try to talk, laugh and eat food at the same time. Much as I appreciate their gusto and laughter, I will come to dinner when I feel like it, and not when the bell  rings, as it did in my childhood.

Hi I’m Meg Edwards, How may I help you?

Published October 21, 2011 by megdedwards

I live in the Canadian Maritimes among some of the most kind, polite and thoughtful people in the world. We smile at strangers, wave at cars in our small rural village, hold doors and offer help.

It is lovely and the one time someone was randomly rude to me in a parking lot, I turned to him and said, “Are you not feeling well”? That is how lovely it is.

Even teenagers talk to me, sometimes laughingly apologizing for their language, (can’t be worse than me on a bad day) and I have even seen teenagers upbraid each other for rudeness or littering.

The division between the very rich and the very poor is not overly painful in the east because we seem to have a large middle class that encompasses everyone.  Most people can afford to buy their own house, which evens the field considerably.

So for the most part there is not much snobbery, people are pretty straight forward and down to earth. I think the Scottish/English blood was much improved by a liberal mixing with the local First Nations and the French Acadian people.

We have a  lovely university town a mere twenty minutes from where I live that offers all that you want in a small town, a thrift store or two, little cafes, an  independent cinema, an  artist run art gallery and all the offerings of the local university.  And in this delightful town are some of the most snobbish and unfriendly people in the Maritimes.

There are people in this town who carefully avoid eye contact so that they do not have to say hello. While this may be common in big cities it is ridiculous in a small town. I refer to them as the ‘bourgeoisie’ because that seems to identify their aspirations and general social pretensions.

Some are college professors and some just think they are better than other people. When we first moved to the area I was eager to meet people and have parties. Those parties did not quite materialize, although I do have a bunch of artists that I like to have over.

This conversation will give you a clear picture of the social dynamic of this little town. I wanted to get to know a local professor, known to be ‘shy’ (give me a break). I thought that since I was great at parties and for coffee meetings, we could be friends.

For a few years she avoided eye contact, then one day we were stuck in a small entry room waiting for a theater production to let us in. We were approximately 2 inches apart. I said,” Hi, I’m Meg Edwards”. She said, “Oh hello, oh yes, Joe speaks very well of you”.  I said, “Yes, well, he has to he is my husband”. And that was the last conversation we had.

You would think this elite collection of people would have approved of me and my husband Joe. Joe’s got a PhD in British History for god’s sake. But we are not snobs, and this may have affected our life choices and job possibilities all along. We come across as sort of ordinary.

And we have done all sorts of jobs. When we first moved to New Brunswick  12 years ago we had no money, a student loan, a freshly minted PhD (him), an article recently published in Homemaker’s magazine (me), two cats and two kids.  We moved in with my beloved brother and took his advice, take any job you can get and then move up.

We had to take any job, we were desperate, and we are not bilingual. He worked in a packing factory at first and then got a sessional job teaching at the local university. I worked at Zellers, I kid you not, and then at a call center.

I learnt a lot at the call center. First of all, the only reprehensible call center jobs are the ones in which you make outgoing calls.

I tried it once; I called a lonely old lady at dinner time and could not make another call.  But I ended up working the night shift at a package delivery company in the brokerage department.

It was an odd environment; every worker is tethered to their pod by their head sets, and often they get up and stretch or pace as they talk to the customer. The workplace is a busy droning beehive full of women working at night to hold their families together. That was also when I learnt how to have a conversation with your eyes while speaking to someone completely different on the phone.

Here is some invaluable information. If you don’t like the representative you first spoke to, call again and try someone else.  You might get me. I forgave brokerage charges all the time just as long as the person was not rude. The ruder the person was the more I sat back in my chair and thought, fuck you then. For nice people I would give elaborate explanations and create files and call them back with resolutions.

Meanwhile, I have vivid memories of those phone calls and I was entertained. I can hear you opening the cat food, and I can hear you going to the bathroom. Those ear phones are stuck to our heads for our shift. The most excruciating for me were people who had to eat and talk. I have a weakness in that department and had to hold the phones away from my ear.

As a curious person I would allow the conversations to wander.  I met many IT people starting new entrepreneurial careers in exporting and importing. I was in people’s homes every night, hearing their dinners and their problems. I loved it. I talked to shocked  Americans on the very day that New York City had been attacked.

But the very fact that I have worked at a call center is going to embarrass the cold fish elite in that small town.  But never mind, as Kurt Cobain would say, after ten years I have found the gold in the muck and have a few wonderful friends.

Quite possibly the muck is only there because the university town imports people who think they could do better. And in this part of the world, we are content to let them go.

Bye Bye, now. Have nice day!

The Life and Death of Jackie

Published October 20, 2011 by megdedwards

Jackie was my Mom’s best friend and was always in our lives, sort of swinging around the outside of family events like a satellite for as long as I can remember.

She worked as a nurse, and then got her MA and taught nursing. She was a calm, practical person, who was great in a crisis or just out for a nice lunch.

She always remembered what was happening in your life, she showed interest in  other people without looking like she was following a polite protocol, she told amusing anecdotes about her life but never complained or ever showed self pity.

She was present when the family was still together and we had happy raucous Christmas parties and long summers at the cottage.  She remains part of our childhood memories. She had no children of her own, so we were hers by proxy; she  accompanied my Mom along the path of parenthood with a sense of fun and adventure.

My Mom first met her in the sixties during a night class in art history. Mom was older and married but they became fast friends, talking a mile a minute all the time. Jackie was tall, 6.2 possibly, with long black hair and piercing blue eyes. She always dressed carefully and was incredibly poised. I secretly thought of her as 99, the sidekick to Max in Get Smart; graceful, well mannered, lady like.

She was there when the whole family moved to Clinton, N.Y., feeding Mom cigarettes on the long drive while four kids were packed in the back of the VW bug (I was stashed in the boot with blankets).

Jackie was there when my sister Kate was hit by that bullet in Clinton, and Jackie was there when my father found out about my mother’s boyfriend, and returned in a drunken heartbroken state.

Jackie had come to support my Mom. I remember watching them from the kitchen window as they sat having a drink in the backyard. Jackie was trying to maintain a calm atmosphere and Dad eventually broke that social convention, calling her names, something I have never seen him do before.

After Dad moved out, Jackie lived with us in the old family house. Jackie rented a room from Mom while she was separated from her husband.  I enjoyed the fun feeling of a friend in the house, as I see my kids do when I have an old friend visiting.  I was studying  Grade 9 history and British royalty while Jackie was studying for some nursing exams. We commiserated in the kitchen.

I loved having her there, she made me feel safe.  When I had difficulties with my Mom’s impulsive and competitive nature, Jackie stood strong. She was still Mom’s best friend and said so, but she was also my supportive friend.

Over the years she attended my children’s birthdays and went out of her way to buy me little presents and take me out for lunch. She was the absolute best person to talk to when you had a problem; her area of expertise in nursing was psychiatry.

When I was in shock and pain upon discovery of my youngest daughter’s sexual assaults, her response was to be outraged, angry, even unforgiving.  No one had given me the permission to be as angry as I was; she raged for me. I will never forget how grateful I felt, and relieved.

We had a few long talks about sexual abuse when she was in palliative care with pancreatic cancer.  I learnt that Jackie’s  Mom, who had tortured Jackie with unpredictable cruel, critical rages, had been sexually abused as a child by Jackie’s grandfather.

She quoted the Bible, which is not often done in our house, to emphasize her point; the sins of the Father shall be visited upon the son. She meant that the sins of sexual abuse continue to poison the family in unexpected ways.

She sent me a short story she had written a long time ago, called Bitter Black Tea, about an especially painful week visit with her mother in England. In my heart I connected her health break downs with her visits to England with her mother.  She did not deny the connection when I mentioned it in the hospital.

When it came to dying, Jackie was supremely organized. She talked about it openly with her loving husband Paul, who she did end up staying with, and her doctors. They were impressed with her ability to face death. She planned a living wake in one of their favorite pubs and she made Paul promise to go for counseling and not drink more than beer, and get out a bit.

The only time she ever cried with me was during one of our calls when she was in palliative care.  She said the only reason she really did not want to die was because she did not want to leave Paul. And her voice cracked.  Far away and trying not to cry myself, I told her that Paul would sense she was with him, and she would be able to comfort him that way. I hope that is true.

I never cried when I visited her in palliative care, and even when I hugged her good bye on my last morning in Toronto, she was controlling, “Go now Meg, you have to make your plane, and you have a loving husband and children waiting for you”.

She told me that she needed to be able to talk about herself and that she did not want to cater to other people’s moods on her deathbed.  But even so, our chat ranged all over, just as if she was not going to die at all. We had such a lively talk about family history and she was sitting upright in the bed, with her morphine unit attached directly to her body.

“Oh, you made me realize something, now that is really interesting”. She was thinking, her bright eyes searching ideas in her mind, her long white fingers at her mouth.

This is how I remember her, engaged in ideas, excited about our conversation, sitting up straight with her long legs stretched out, her bright eyes snapping, her long white hand at her mouth; beautiful, alive, analytical and in this world.

I lost my Job and found a Blog

Published October 14, 2011 by megdedwards

This whole tweeting business is much more fun and useful than non-tweeting people realize. I have plenty of friends who think facebook is somehow morally wrong, so you can imagine I don’t have many friends who tweet out here in rural New Brunswick.

But there are people out there in cyber space who are partying and organizing, and I am joining them.

I like participating in this cyber socializing – I love to chat, text and tweet, it is fun! And if you reject new forms of technology you might as well lump yourself in with the ancestors who distrusted the printing press.

The first bonus of  tweeting is that it keeps you busy in queues and at hospital appointments. I always madly texted with my one good hand when I was bored at physio appointments, my other hand encased in hot wax.

Or take today at the Superstore cash out; I had a pile of groceries and limited time to shop and the customer in front of me had the last un-priced kumquat that she absolutely had to take home with her that day, and when the cashier headed down the alleys at a glacial pace, did I sigh and shift about and talk quietly to myself? No, I pulled out my cell phone and tweeted my daughter.

I love tweeting. It is quiet and useful; it occupies me and keeps me out of trouble while I could be ranting or making trouble. And talkative opinionated people like me always have something to say; a line up in the grocers is a gold mine.

What instigated this exciting, albeit unpaid, digital exuberance so late in my non-career? A curt email layoff from our local paper where I had been the roving freelance reporter for about ten years freed me from my paid work.

I was very happy to have that work over the years, because it allowed me to work from home while caring for my kids. The money was pretty good (maybe if I had not negotiated so well I’d still be there now) and more than anything, it gave me a place in society outside of doting mother.

But then I was suddenly free of that work and my eldest daughter Rose created a blog for me, taught me how to text, and later, tweet.  These things don’t happen organically at my age. I sent many a tweet worthy of When  Parents  Text  causing all sorts of  amusement.

I started by texting her randomly about nothing at all while she was living in Toronto this last summer. And, she texted me back, happily, and not because I was a suffocating hovering mama. In the mornings I would receive texts about her war with a particularly angry bus driver and his weird minions that would sit close by him as if for protection. Boy, did they have hostile words in the early morning smog of Aurora. Then, while she simmered, she would tap out her anger on the long trip to her downtown internship.

So, for a mom who is being weaned off her first child’s constant presence the texting was a pacifier; it was good for both of us.

But then I began to branch out and tweet.  The first unexpected thing I did was try an experimental tweet to a writer I admire. I tweeted @tabathasouthey .  I follow her in the Globe and Mail and happily discovered her in Elle magazine while getting my hair done. I often find myself giggling while reading her Elle columns, especially when she gets on to the topic of her Dad.

So I took a breath and dived – I think I wrote “I really love @tabathasouthey ‘s column in Elle“– or something like that. Within approximately 10 minutes I heard a beep beep and she was thanking me for my compliment. I was astonished. Rose may have been surprised as well.

A few weeks later I crept further into the world of tweets. Why don’t I follow some writers on Twitter? I looked up @MisterJohnDoyle, a great television critic for the Globe and Mail. I can catch his articles as he posts them – cool. He also tweets a lot about what he loves – soccer, not for me really.

What about @margaretatwood, everyone knows she is super cool and cyber connected. She is lively on Twitter and involved in all sorts.  When she re-tweeted a post on blogging I looked it up. It was funny and informative and I thought I could learn a lot from this writer so I wrote her and told her about my blog. Then this lovely woman read my blog and liked it!

In this way I became on friendly e-mail terms with the writer Tracey Jackson, (@traceyjackson4).  The more I learnt about her, the more our interests overlapped; I too have loved India, I have a daughter who just recently left home, and I also believe that tweezers are essential life tools!  We also seem to share the same tell-all style of writing.

She sounds like a lot of fun, and I already like her but I would never have met her without tweets and blogs. As it turns out she is a real-life successful writer with books and film scripts ( Confessions of a Shopaholic, Lucky Ducks, and her new book, Between a Rock and  Hot Place  – Why Fifty is Not the New Thirty  for starters) and I would never have introduced myself to her at a book signing event the same way I did on her blog.

When I stopped writing for the newspaper, I began to write for myself. I loved my freelance writing gig, but right now I am writing for free, and more freely than I have ever written.   And it was blogs and tweets that turned things around, took a lost job and made it into an open horizon, and made me excited about all the things I want to write.

Marriage is like a nice old carpet

Published October 12, 2011 by megdedwards

A long term relationship, call it a marriage for sake of the argument, is like a beautiful, but worn, carpet. The patterns are worn but the colors remain, the beauty is in the aging. A beautiful old carpet is better than a new one.

Who’s arguing anyway? My husband and I, Joe and me, we have been together for 27 years and are becoming our parents. We have plenty of good times and laughter and joy, but we argue too. Sometimes they are important arguments and sometimes they just end in “Oh, fuck off.”

We met when we were twenty years old and have been together for about 27 years, or our entire adult lives.

One way out of a ridiculous argument, we find, is to quote a line out of a Woody Allen film, in which Woody is at home with his bickering parents. “Okay, the Atlantic Ocean is better than the Pacific Ocean, have it your way”! That usually amuses us right out of the argument.

But back to my analogy; I love carpets, I fantasize about owning a really nice Persian one and that is what I am picturing right now.

In my analogy carpet the original colors and pattern are strong and vivid in a few sections, but much of the color has faded and in some places the cross stitch beneath the pattern shows as an interwoven strong white thread.

The carpet makes the room though, with its wine red and aqua blue pattern.

The carpet collects dust, is hard to shake out and has corners that flip up and trip people as they enter the room.

There are stains that can be blamed on someone; who left the humidifier on the heirloom carpet? Yeah, well, who insisted we have cats in that apartment.

When someone trips over a wrinkle in the carpet it is someone’s fault. Every solution to every carpet problem has been discussed repeatedly and without end.

The couple has tried to move the carpet around so that they don’t wear a tread right across the pattern, but it only really fits the room in that position.

What am I talking about again? Oh yes, how a marriage is like that carpet.

You can get really tired of looking at the same old pattern every day, trying to resist the same thought patterns that follow along the same track without variation.

‘If we flip the carpet’, one of the married couple will say, ‘then we can stop treading on that turned up corner’.’ Yes, yes’, the other replies,’ we have gone through this. If we flip it then the burn mark will be right in the middle of the room and not under the plant where it is hidden now’. How many times have they had this conversation?

Heavy sigh from one side. ‘Why do we have this carpet here anyway? Why don’t we have bare floors like my house when I was a kid, much less dust’. The other one is now hurt and offended, ‘ But I like the carpet, it means a lot to me and reminds me of happier days, when we were young, and in love’.

‘Do you remember when we had to drag this carpet up four floors to that apartment in Saskatoon, and it got stuck’?  ‘And it took the whole back seat just getting it here – what possessed us to take it with us everywhere we go’?

Married couples have shared memories, a world unto themselves. Every tendril in the dusty carpet’s pattern leads down endless roads of memories. They have a life lived together, which is an amazing gift.

At their best, they are old friends, whose predictability is comforting. They contemplate the same thoughts; they have the luxury of knowing that someone knows their patterns, and considers them valuable.

Dam, I just tripped over the curled up edge and spilt tea on my imaginary carpet. Oh well, it adds character.

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