Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Ode to the Single Mom.

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Oh sweet single mom

At the end of the day

When you flop exhausted

And road weary

Into your bed

The pillow beside you

Empty

Whether by choice

Or by chance

Intended or unforeseen

It matters not

You keep your reasons

Close to your heart

Along with all

The other artifacts

That brought you to this place.

The darkness settles in

And the mind races

Relentlessly

Out of control

It babbles and rebukes

Bluffs and bitches

These noisy

Disrespectful

Unkind thoughts

That drip

Persistently

Into the wells

Of tired

Spent eyes

Sockets full.

Your body aches

And cries out

For comfort

Relief

Reassurance

A gentle caress

Tenderness

Human contact

Anything will do

At times like this

When you are

Depleted

Drained

Consumed

By the demands

The needs of others

Your children

Always come first

That’s the deal.

These cherished offspring

The loves of your life

Their birth

The ultimate creative act

Nothing compares

And you know it

You became a Goddess

In the moment

Of their conception

And they are yours

Eternally.

They are the source

Of your greatest pride

Deepest devotion

Unwavering adoration

Biggest fears

Grandest hopes

They inspire you

To soar with the angels

They provoke you

To grovel in the mud

With the devil himself

They have the capacity

To bring out the divine

Reveal the retched

Make you feel

Larger than life

Insignificant as a mite

They give you

Super powers

When you feel helpless.

They bring meaning

To your life

They bring purpose

To your days.

You are unfailingly present

To make their daily life

Extraordinary

The task is both

Daunting and endless

You are there

In the trenches

The bleachers

And hard benches

On the sidelines

Leading the charge

And the loudest cheer.

You are the one there

For homework

For practice

For sports events

For dance lessons

For music recitals

For teacher night

For beach days

For dog walks

For stray cats

For bike rides

For Sunday dinner

For Monday mornings.

You take temperatures

And wipe runny noses

You dry tears

And supply tickles

You’re a chauffeur

And a chef

Entertainer

And educator

You are the

Tooth Fairy

The Easter Bunny

And Santa Claus

Your arms are always

Ready for a hug

Your lips prepared

To smile

Your voice trained

To sing

Your heart eager

To laugh

Your hand fixed

To hold

Your storytelling skills

Are epic

And your goodnight kisses

Are unforgettable.

You are a single mom

But you are not alone

Know that

You are loved

And cherished

Admired

Needed

Respected.

You may not hear it

When your head rests

So heavy on your

Singular pillow

But the applause is loud

The honor immense

And the gratitude mighty.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Till It’s Gone.

4 Kings on a Wall

This morning

While I was sitting here drinking coffee

In the silent stillness and stifling solitude

Of my writing space

My mind drifted lazily

Back

To when I was a young woman

And my two oldest kids were still my kids

The time of two cats in the yard

Where everything was loud and noisy

Gritty and grating at times.

 

I was obsessed

With cleaning up my messy life

Which was actually

A deliciously divine messy life

But I didn’t know it at the time.

 

You see

Back then I believed

My messy life wasn’t good

And certainly not

Interesting

Beautiful

Virtuous

Or worthy.

 

It didn’t fit

Into the glossy pages

Of a coffee-table magazine

I would never ever be

Wife or mother of the year

But oh how I longed

For that impossible

That implausible

That unattainable

Distinction.

 

I thought

So foolishly

It’s laughable now

That this messiness was a problem

This glorious domestic chaos

And magnificent uproarious thunder

Racket and tumult

This callow tender tackiness

Of everyday life

Was something to be fixed.

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Halloween Aimee the Crayon + glum Tom

Halloween Aimee the Crayon

Polaroid Pictures Mom + T + A

Polaroid Pictures T + A Xmas

Tom + Aimee + Oona + DeeDee in Orange Chair

Tom + Aimee + the TO Gang

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Tom + Aimee on the steps of 402 Northcliffe

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Hang Out With Animals.

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Girl Warrior.  Hang out with animals. It’s next to impossible to be in a foul mood when you do. They have an infinite capacity to lift the spirits of their human friends. You’ll be happier and healthier in their furry or feathery company. Your beaming joyous face is proof positive.

Pet a dog when you’re anxious and within minutes you’ll be relaxed. Watch a cat chase a light beam around the room and you’ll find yourself giggling hysterically. Cuddle a bunny and you’ll know instantly why good things come in small packages. Sit in front of a fish tank for ten minutes and without effort you’ll be meditating. Listen to the birds sing and you’ll know what real communication is all about. Get on the back of a horse and you’ll understand the true meaning of balance and strength.

If you’re feeling blue, they’ll brighten your day. If you’re lonely, they’ll be there. They’ll teach you things about loyalty, faithfulness, dedication, steadfastness, resilience, trust, courage and bravery.

And most importantly, about unconditional love.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Stray Cats, Hitch Hikers and Under Dogs.

Some of the strays who found their way to 204.

I love stray cats.  I’m not talking about the feline variety, although I do like them.  Nor am I talking about the band from the eighties.  I like them too.  The stray cats I’m referring to are all the misfits of the world.  The ones who don’t belong.  Or haven’t found their home.  The square pegs. The oddballs.  Weirdos.  Freaks.  Under dogs.  The ones called last to the team.  Or not at all.  These are my favorites.  I have a huge place in my heart for this motley collection.

I don’t remember when my heart first opened up to let the strays in.  From the very beginning of me, it seems.  Like Lady Gaga, I was just born that way.  I also think that Ma and The Old Man were born that way too.  Maybe it’s in our family DNA.

Little back story.  Over the years many stray cats found a place at the table at 204.  Or on the couch.  Sleeping bags in the backyard.  Rusted out vans in the driveway. Everyone from cute young hitchhikers to the lost girls I met at school.  The travelers.  The seekers.  The Emotionally wounded.  Those consumed by wanderlust.  And the temporarily homeless.  All were welcome.

Some travelers who camped out in the back of 204 for the night.

One girl comes to mind readily.  Although we haven’t spoken in decades, I have never forgotten her.  To the best of my recollection, and photographic evidence, we met for the first time in grade eight.  We were an unlikely pairing.  Yin and yang.  I was painfully shy, quiet and introverted.  She was naturally outgoing, loud and gregarious.  One day she would blossom into a beauty but in grade eight there was very little to suggest that this would ever happen.  That was an awkward age to begin with.  For all of us.  One look at our grade eight class photo says it all.  Not one raving beauty in the bunch.  In all fairness, we were transitioning through that God-awful uncomfortably homely stage where our body parts hadn’t quite jelled.  You could see it in our grim expressions.  If there were smiles at all, they looked tentative and forced.  We were a collective mess.

But in her case things were even worse.  Add a high forehead.  Acne.  Lazy eye.  Thick glasses.  Not a pretty picture no matter what lens you use.  Too bad there weren’t more crystal balls around back then so we could have seen the swan emerging.  There were hints of course.  Perfectly even white teeth, great smile and beautiful legs.  I didn’t have a lazy eye nor a high forehead but I did have acne flareups, thin lips and skinny bowed legs.  So I could relate.

Beneath her wise-cracking-gum-smacking-nothing-bothers-me veneer, she was also angry.   I was too.  Another thing we had in common.  Except she probably had more cause to be.  I was angry at the world for its lack of equitability.  I moaned and groaned at how unfair life was.  And she was my case in point.   Her mother died when she was a little girl leaving her and her older sister to be raised by their alcoholic father.  The Old Man was an alcoholic too but he was a saint next to this guy.  They lived in a tumbled down weather beaten house on the fringe of our neighborhood.  I don’t recall ever going inside.  The outside looked like one of those scary haunted houses in horror movies. That was enough for me.  The ramshackle nature of the place, and her father, both embarrassed and humiliated her.   Like many alcoholics, especially those who are gooned most of the time, he was unpredictable.  She often sought refuge at 204.  Like in the Dylan song, we gave her “shelter from the storm.”

Ma and The Old Man loved this girl.  Flaws and all.  They saw past the loud, often obnoxious behavior to the insecure girl crying out for love and attention.  And for whatever reason, I just plain flat-out liked her.  She was hilarious and fun.  Spontaneous and full of surprises.  Every day was a new adventure.  She took me places that I would never have gone otherwise.  Introduced me to people I never would have met.  Widened my circle.  Broadened my horizons.  Expanded my universe.  We may have had a few close calls along the way.  But it was worth it.  All relatively innocuous when I look back on it now.   She dressed up my drab life and I am grateful.

She added thrills and spills to my life and I kept her out of trouble.   When she went to the edge of darkness, I had her back.  Took care of her when she got drunk.  Held her hair out of her face when she threw up in the revolting toilets at the Arena where the weekly teen dances were held.  The smell of the urine soaked concrete is permanently imbedded in my head. I also made sure we got home safely to 204 before things went too far.

Ma saw herself in this motherless girl. She understood profoundly  the craving for a particular kind of love.  That only a mother could satisfy.  The truth is, this girl was a snap to love.  She was abundantly affectionate and demonstrative.  Hugged hard.  Squeezed the love right out of you.  She expressed her rainbow of feelings without hesitation or self-consciousness.  Who wouldn’t be drawn to a person like this?  Ma, The Old Man and I were like bees to honey.  She had us at the first hug and tight squeeze.

All were welcome at 204 even the cute ones.

Some people bring out the best in you.  Others just bring you out.  That’s what she did for me.  I always felt more courageous when I was with her.  Less inhibited.  More myself.  I liked who I was when she was around.  We may have been yin and yang but we were also two peas in a pod.  We were more alike than we were different.  I think that’s true of most people.  If we dare to peel back the layers.  We find ourselves there too.

It’s what’s on the inside that counts.  Most of us are taught that at our mother’s knee.  Tired cliche.  Overused platitude.  Hack-kneed homily.  But cliches don’t become cliches for nothing.  Within their lackluster facade are essences of truth and wisdom.  Don’t judge a book by its cover.  Another cliche.  Also true.  It’s hard not to judge people.  Especially when they are different.  All the more reason to pause and open your heart and mind to what it feels like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.  Another cliche.  Again true.  It changes you when you do.  I have proof.  Sitting in the front row of our grade eight class picture. The only one wearing boots.  My unlikely friend.

What did Ma, The Old Man and I see in this girl?  Quite simply. Ourselves.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Not a Dream House But a House to Dream In.

The little white house around the corner.

I own a home.  Truthfully, I own it with my husband and the bank.  For the most part I don’t think about the bank partnership, except for when it comes time to renew our mortgage.  I had dreamed of owning a place on the West Coast long before it became a reality.  You might say that the day we were handed the keys to the front door was a dream come true.

Little back story.  Both my husband and I had owned homes in previous lifetimes, with our former mates.  When I was five months pregnant with my oldest daughter, my ex-husband and I bought a house.  It was brand spanking new and nestled smack dab in the middle of a cul-de-sac in an equally new suburb within walking distance of the house where I grew up. I use the term “suburb” loosely here because I’m talking about a town, not some sprawling city.  There really weren’t suburbs, just neighborhoods added to neighborhoods added to more neighborhoods until some were almost on their way out of town, like this one happened to be.  And to be honest it didn’t take much to be within walking distance of anywhere in my hometown.  For two very good reasons.  Firstly, it was considered small – not rural small but definitely on the shy side of a real bonafide city –  so walking anywhere was within distance.  Secondly, I have always had a love affair with walking, and can go the distance, at least within reason.  A trek across the country would be considered unreasonable in most people’s books, although some have ventured forth.  But that is not my idea of a good time so it won’t be happening any time soon.

That ever so brief foray into home ownership was embarked upon more for practical reason than anything else.  Nothing dreamy.  More nightmarish.  I was pregnant, full of baby hormones and hellbent on having a proper home in which to bring my new offspring.  We had been renting a small apartment (by anyone’s measurements) that was barely big enough for the family we already had.  This consisted of my ex-husband, my son and an intelligent black Persian cat named Isadora, who used to pee in the toilet, which is more than I could say about my son at the time. In his defense, he was young and I’m still prone to exaggerate the length of his potty training stage.  In my defense, I think for most young parents this chapter in childhood development feels like an eternity.  But I digress.  What’s important here, is that in my mind it was essential that we find a bigger abode.  Back then home ownership was still within everyone’s grasp.  So we saved four months worth of my wages, slapped down a downpayment and moved in.  A year later we moved to Toronto.  End of back story.

Up until 10 years ago my current husband and I were renters. (This is beginning to sound like I’ve had a string of husbands and habitations. I haven’t.  Just for the record.)  The thing about renting is it costs a lot, sometimes more than a monthly mortgage payment.  And a roof over your head aside, it does nothing for your bottom line.  We never had enough left over at the end of each month to save for a downstroke on a house.  Not that we lived beyond our means, but we did use up every bit of what was left after we paid the rent.  Then Ma died and five weeks later the Old Man followed her into the Great Hereafter.  And then a year later a miracle happened.  With a small inheritance in hand we marched to the bank and proudly declared “one mortgage please.”  It didn’t go down exactly that way, but you get the picture.

Once the mortgage amount was determined, we then knew the price range of the house we could actually purchase.  We met with a Real Estate Agent on a Friday night, chose a selection of places within our price range, and mapped out a plan for the following Sunday to “view houses.” Imagine that.  We were now people who viewed houses.  How exciting.

The next day something very serendipitous happened.  We were on our way to the grocery store when we noticed a “For Sale” sign on a house just around the corner from where we lived.  It was a cute little white house, a forty’s postwar ranch style thingamajig.  There was something familiar about it that spoke to me.  Close proximity to where we lived aside, until I saw that “For Sale” sign I hadn’t even noticed it before.  Not sure why.  Perhaps because it was so unassuming and modest that it just blended in.  We called our Real Estate Agent and asked her to add a house to the list for “viewing” the next day.

The little white house around the corner was the first house we saw.  I walked through the front door and I was home.  There it was.  No need to look any further.  After 25 years I had come home.  It was sweet.  And simple.  And dear.  Unpretentious and humble.  Full of natural light.   Round corners and wooden floors. Families had lived there. Loved there.  Prayed over evening meals and sick children, dying dogs, birds that flew the nest.  It reminded me of the house I grew up in with Ma, The Old Man and my three siblings.  It spoke to me.  This was the house I wanted to buy.  We looked at a half-dozen other places that day but it was all just a formality, the new homebuyer jig to appease the Real Estate Agent and her desire to have done her due diligence. We respected that.  But at the end of the day I declared, “Let’s put in an offer on the first house we saw, the little white house around the corner.  I liked that house.”

This little house that I live in and own with my husband and the bank wasn’t my dream home. Far from it.  This little house was not the picture I tore out of magazines and kept in scrapbooks, nor pointed at while walking with Ma, nor envied while visiting others with homes in the style that I fancied, nor was it the centerpiece of my domicile daydreams.  No, this little white house around the corner was not my dream home.  But it was something far better. It was my home to dream in.  And after ten years, I know without a doubt that it is more than I could have ever imagined.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Regrets, Do-overs and the Night My Dog Died.

Andy hated having to wear the dreaded “cone.”

I have regrets.  Probably more than I care to admit, or face.  I’m not one of those people who boldly declare, “I regret nothing.”  I don’t necessarily wallow in them like a drunk on the bar stool, but they do exist and suffice to say, are now part of my DNA.  I don’t judge but I do acknowledge.

One of my biggest regrets, and the author of my sadness, is that I wasn’t with my mother when she died.  I was there a few hours beforehand but not at the moment she left.  That was over a decade ago and I pined for a do-over, an opportunity to hold her hand, say one last good-bye and bear witness to her presence and her passing.  And until last September I thought this was just the wishful thinking of a heartbroken daughter.  But in a peculiar and unexpected way I got my do-over.

Little back story:  On those rare occasions when Ma went to her Dark Place she would refer to herself as a dog.  “I feel like a dog,” she’d say.  Ma wasn’t one to feel sorry for herself, but we all go there at times and she was no exception.  Although I heard her sorrowful dog Mantra and even took it to heart at times, I also dismissed it as crazy-talk, and never really gave it much energy nor validation.

Then I fell in love.  At first sight.  With Andy.  He was a dog.  Really.  Literally.  A long haired Jack Russell. Not since the dog of my childhood, Sugar Miettinen, had I loved a creature so.  He was heavenly.  Divine.  A wonder.  And I loved him. We got him the year after Ma died.  We responded to an ad in our little neighborhood weekly that said something like “male Jack Russell, 12 weeks old, last one of the litter.”  By the time my husband, daughter and I arrived at the farm where he had spent his first weeks of life, we had him named and our hearts were spilling over with dreams.  On the way home, I happily joked that it wouldn’t have mattered how much he cost, because I knew the minute I laid eyes on him, he was coming home with me.

Our daughter was nine at the time.  Years before, we had promised her that when we bought a house we would get her a puppy.  We were diehard renters and had cats because for some reason they were more “landlord-friendly,” which is, among other things, a testimony to the intelligence and cunning of the feline persuasion.  When Ma and The Old Man died, I inherited a small amount of money, enough for a down payment on our home.  A month after we moved in, so did Andy.

He took over the house and our hearts.  He was brilliant that way.  I expected him to be around for at least twenty years like Sugar Miettinen and Dee Dee, the country and western cat.  Both lived extraordinary wonderful lives.  I used to brag that my pets lived long. I had this naive notion that my love was the secret sauce, the reason for their inexplicable longevity. I was wrong.

At the beginning of September, while my husband was on the East Cost, thousands of miles away burying his father, Andy got sick.  At first I thought he had “the bloat.”  This was something I discovered on the internet after hours of research the night I noticed his stomach was swollen and he was having trouble breathing.  It was serious but not necessarily life threatening.  It was, however, enough to scare the bejesus out of my daughter and myself.  We wrapped a blanket around him and piled into my sister’s car.  I called her because I couldn’t think straight, much less drive.  My brain was consumed by “the bloat.”  By now it was well after ten o’clock so our only recourse was to take him to an emergency Vet clinic across town.  The Vet examined him, then took X-rays.  And then he delivered the news that Andy did not have “the bloat” but in fact, he had congestive heart failure.  His little heart was surrounded by water.  Mine was surrounded by pain.  The Vet, who was very nice, but due to all the surrounding circumstances, and him being the bearer of bad news, I took an instant dislike for him.  Basically he gave us two options: he could euthanize him right then or we could take him home and Andy would continue to have “episodes” and eventually he would have one final heart attack and die.  Needless to say, the floodgates opened and neither my daughter nor I could control the tears.  Not that we wanted to anyway.

I learned a couple of things about myself and my daughter in those moments after hearing Andy’s death sentence.  We don’t take bad news well, perhaps we don’t take it at all.  We’re full of hope, even when it’s clearly hopeless.  And we’re either incredibly optimistic people or we live in chasm of denial.  Regardless, just like that day nine years earlier when I knew I wasn’t leaving the farm without him, I scooped Andy up in my arms and brought him home.  I had no game plan.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I only knew that he had been sick a total of 24 hours and I couldn’t let this be the end.

Andy lasted a week.  My daughter and I tried everything we could to save him starting with a second opinion.  Two days later we took him to our own Vet and she offered us the hope we so desperately sought.  She gave us medication and prescribed a heart healthy dog food.  But by this point, Andy wasn’t interested in food and getting the pills down his throat was next to impossible.  It was tantamount to wrestling an alligator.

Thursday, September 8 was Ma’s birthday.  It was also the day Andy died.

All that day, at the back of my mind I thought “this is the day.” Ma died from congestive heart failure.  So did Andy.  Not all that unusual I suppose, perhaps a little coincidental at best, except for this.  One of the reasons I knew I would never leave the farm without Andy was because of his eyes.  They were dark and sweet like the finest rich chocolate.  When I looked into those dark sweet eyes I saw my mother’s eyes looking back at me. There was an ancient connection.  I knew him.  I shared this “knowing” with my husband and daughter.  I’m not sure they really understood but they never ever, not even once in nine years, denied my conviction that in some cosmic kooky way my mother was with me through Andy.  I always called him my “healing dog,” the one who helped ease the pain of relentless grief, and recover from the rawness of loss.

On the night Andy died I got my do-over.  I was sitting in my office waiting for my bedtime cup of milk to heat in the microwave.  It takes 220 seconds to do so.  I heard the sound of a dog’s toes tapping along the wooden floors of the hallway leading to my office.  I assumed it was our other dog Coco, who we had rescued a few years earlier from a life not worth living, coming to visit me.  Andy hadn’t been able to make the climb up the stairs for a few days so I was surprised to see him walk through the door to where I was sitting in the dark.  I greeted him, gave him a gentle pat behind the ear, told him how lovely it was to see him.  He laid down on the floor facing me.  I thought this was some sign from God that he was having a miraculous recovery and that he was healed. Hallelujah. Before the microwave could beep, Andy got up and headed towards our bedroom.  Instinctively I followed him.  He got next to the bed and started to heave and gag.  I knelt down with him, massaged his throat to help him breathe – we had been doing this all week during his episodes – and told him it would be okay.  Everything would be all right little buddy.  He let out two deep grunts, stiffened and collapsed.

That was it.  I got my do-over.  What a privilege to have been with him in his final moments, to have been the last one to touch him.  What a gift that he chose me.

I didn’t really have a game plan for how I was going to care for Andy after we left the Vet’s but I did start to think about what I would do should he die at home with just my daughter and I alone to manage on our own. I was terrified. I also knew I wanted him buried in our garden, the place where he chased sticks, laid under the Garry Oak trees, drank from the pond, sat with my husband and watched the fish, the place where he barked incessantly at every passer-by, where he stood on the rocks keeping guard over his family, the place where he pooped.  That’s where I wanted him to be.  Close.  Forever near. I knew I couldn’t dig a hole, at least not one that Andy would be placed in.  But I knew someone who could.  While my daughter held vigil, I threw on my jacket and went next door to our neighbor, who is young enough to be my son, strong from years of working as a garden designer, and who on that night, brought truth to the meaning of “good neighbor.”

In the quiet darkness, on September 8th, Christian dug a hole, and while doing so we talked in hushed tones about our mother’s deaths, about our connection to the earth, the trees and plants we both salvaged from their gardens, and most importantly, how connected we were to them. Something beyond words happened that night.  Something far greater than the death of my beloved pet.  I learned about the unwavering kindness of human beings, and their generosity and willingness to help with things that are often incomprehensibly difficult.

I am forever grateful to Christian.  He knows this.  The following evening he contacted me to see how I was.  He shared something with me, something so profound it took my breath away.  As grateful as I was to have had him participate – however unintentional on his part – in this sacred ritual, he too was grateful.  It touched him deeply.  All that day he told me he “felt so alive.”  Is this what true, unselfish acts of kindness do for us?  Even in the face of death, in the middle of the night, in the shroud of darkness, if we reach out, feel our connectedness, we get a glimpse of the Divine.

And then, we know for sure that we are alive.

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