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Pickle Me This

November 25, 2020

The Seasons of My Life

Back in the Day

I have outgrown picture books…again.

Which I feel nervous even writing. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all, and all that jazz, and I have learned through my interest in kids’ books over the last eleven years that those who create these books can be a bit sensitive about their work, about its relegation to the world of childish things. Wonderful children’s literature appeals to readers of all ages, and readers who restrict themselves to a certain age group (or genre, etc.) are missing out. All of this is true.

But it’s nothing not-nice that I’m trying to say here. Instead, it’s a matter of practicality. That for a long time, picture books were my primary way of engaging with my children and this opened up whole worlds to me, and some of those worlds seemed as real as the one I walk around in every day—but time makes you bolder and children get older, and I’m getting older too?

We still read them sometimes. Iris is only seven and we have so many great books on our shelves that all of us enjoy, books we can recite by heart. There are picture books in our library I’ll never be able to part with, and yet—we’re reading them less and less. I used to blog about picture books weekly, but now I hardly do. Everybody in our family is firmly into chapter books now, books we read on our own and the ones we read together. Picture books don’t have the same integral place in our daily life that they once did.

And none of this is remarkable. Children outgrow a lot of things, and families do too. We used to go on road trips listening to the same CD on repeat, this song with a barking dog in the chorus, because Iris cried in the car otherwise, and we don’t do that anymore. I used to get a big kick out of reading Go Dog Go in ridiculous accents, but these days the dog party is over.

But I feel a little bit disloyal, admitting to giving up on my allegiance to picture books. Or rather, moving on from it—although the new frontier, for me, is middle grade and also graphic novels, and I’m getting the same pleasure from relating to Harriet through some of the novels she’s reading as I once did when we used to examine the illustrations in Allan and Janet Ahlberg’s Peepo together, her gummy baby fingers pointing out the dog in the corner that shouldn’t be there. But I’m also trying to give her space to develop her own relationship with books and reading, one that has nothing to do with me.

And this is what happens, of course, the way things come and go. And how when they go, new things grow up in their place, which I keep reminding myself of in these moments of unprecedented change and upheaval. As businesses shut down in my neighbourhood and city and it’s enough to drive one to despair sometimes, the extent of the loss, all of it so overwhelming and hard. But even harder is trying to hold on to it all.

(And remember: a blog needs space to grow and room to wander!)

It’s okay to grow. It’s okay to change. It’s okay to change again, is what I’m thinking, and for the thing that used to define you so much and mean everything to become a spot of the horizon. And those things we loved will always be a part of who we are, because of the way that we wouldn’t have become ourselves without them.

August 24, 2020

20 K

There are people who get off on pushing limits, on the intensity of winning, overcoming. I am not one of those people, which is part of the reason my children could not ride bicycles for years. The other part of the reason why my children could not ride bicycles for years was that they were really bad at it, and we were even worse at trying to teach them. We tried everything, but once one knew how to do it, the other one was struggling, and finally what it took in the end was a pandemic, for the world to be brought to a halt and my husband to be so frustrated by our situation that he taught our youngest to ride in an afternoon and had everyone’s bikes tuned up and ready to go in a space of a week.

And so we ride bikes now, out for ice cream, to the Korean grocery store, to Dufferin Grove Park. So when my cousin called me out of the blue yesterday and suggested we meet at Humber Bay Shores, way out in the west end, I decided we would ride bikes to get there. According to Google Maps, it was fifteen minutes quicker than transit.

But, dear reader, Google Maps LIED. As we made our way down Shaw Street to King, it occurred to me that a return trip in the other direction was going to be hard work (the problem when your entire city is built on a subtle slope). And then when we got to King and realized that not only were there no bike lanes, but that idiots roared along in their stupid cars like the street was a racetrack, we joined our children on the sidewalk. And as Liberty Village turned into Parkdale, the sun grew hotter, and it was around Dufferin Avenue that somebody started to cry.

But by then it was too late to turn back, and there was still so far to go. Why is there no shade in Parkdale? Why had we decided to make this journey on the hottest day of the year? Would our children ever forgive us as they furiously pedalled on their tiny single speed bikes that they’ve both outgrown already? How were we ever going to get home again, I wondered, as we persisted, the lake getting closer. We pointed it out at our first glimpse of it, but the children were too tired to care.

There is a ramp on the other side of the Roncesvalles Pedestrian Bridge, and Iris sailed down it on her bike and ran right into a wall. I chased after her, flinging my own bike to the ground impeding traffic, and feeling like I was going to throw up once I had reached her, because I was already tired, and it was so very hot. (Cheers to the kind man at the Palais Royale who offered to refill our water bottles…)

On the other side of the bridge, we at least got to ride on the waterfront trail, and the Lakeshore was closed to traffic, so there was relief in that. But even from Sunnyside to Humber Bay Shores was so far, and as we approached the slope of the Humber Foot Bridge, we all felt ready to fall to pieces. Maybe we were just going to live at Humber Bay Shores forever, I decided, collapsed in a heap on the concrete.

Fortunately, we had come to Humber Bay Shores to see my cousin and her family, a cousin who has been one of my dearest friends forever, and once we’d recovered our breath and stopped sweating, we spent a delightful two hours with them, and no one ever would have suggested that the journey wasn’t worth it.

But how to get home?

I decided we would cycle home along the Martin Goodman Trail on the lakefront, taking our time (it took 3 hours), stopping often to stick our feet in wading pools, to collapse under shady trees, and eventually even to order takeout from a sushi place which we ate in the Toronto Music Garden. I bought my children orange crush, a staple of my childhood but a curious artifact in theirs, and they were so excited. They definitely earned it. And then after sushi, we cycled just a little bit further, to the streetcar stop that would take us and our bikes right up Spadina Avenue, depositing us at the end of our street.

Which was kind of cheating, but even still, we cycled 20 kilometres, and it was terrible and awful and fun and amazing, and we were so proud of ourselves, and we never, ever want to do it again.

July 9, 2020

Where Are The Dads?

New piece up at Chatelaine. So happy by response to this one.

February 7, 2020

Why We Stand With Teachers

What is most abhorrent to me about how our provincial government is currently trying to spin negotiations with teachers unions in Ontario is that educators are on the front line of this government’s reckless cuts.

And cuts to education are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the challenges our teachers are meeting every day. Maybe the Minister of Education knows this and he just doesn’t care? Or else he has absolutely no idea. (As a person with no background in public education, it’s possible.)

Reductions to minimum wage/ opioid crisis/ cuts to social services/ autism support/ healthcare/ housing/ mental health problems/ domestic violence/ poverty—you name it. Combatting these problems are what teachers do, in addition to teaching (which teachers do well).

One morning last week, I spent fifteen minutes in the school office waiting for a meeting, and I saw it myself, educators rising to the occasion and meeting these challenges with ingenuity and grace.

I wrote a bit about this last year. I challenge people with strong opinions about teachers’ working conditions who have not set foot inside a school since 1976 to maybe update their info.

The one thing that Minister of Education has done well is put his face on EVERYTHING, so we forget that he is only one part of this terrible, incompetent government whose recklessness is going to cost this province for YEARS.

These shambles are not just Stephen Lecce’s. They belong to Doug Ford, and all the MPPs who have paved the way forward for this government. (STILL smarting over what they did to our city council mid election. I will never get over that, and neither should you.)

Our teachers, our public schools: THESE are our social safety net. It’s still full of holes, but it’s the best one we got.

This is why I stand with educators, and Lecce etc. need to shut up and start listening, and maybe learn a thing or two, even if what he learns fails to conform with his ideology (because REALITY).

(I wrote this on Twitter in December, but wanted to post somewhere where it wouldn’t get lost.)

January 23, 2020

Ten Years

I had some strange feelings about reflecting on the 2010s, mostly because I didn’t. There was a meme going around Instagram stories on New Year’s Eve in which we were supposed to list a highlight from each year, and I even tried to post it, but couldn’t figure out how to get the text to fit, which maybe means that the 2010s were the decade in which I stopped being technologically savvy.

But also, the years all blend together, and so much stayed the same. The decade before was much more filled with upheaval and revolution (they were my 20s after all) but in the 2010s were where the pieces started to fit. I stopped having babies, I began to have something like a career, I finally started publishing books, I made some wonderful new friendships, and maintained old ones. It’s been good, but the decade itself, its distinction, just seems particularly arbitrary. Like—even more than a decade should.

Or do I only think that because when the decade started, I was sitting in the very same place that I’m sitting right now?

Okay. not the exact same place. (We finally bought a new couch, remember?) But the same address, our apartment, which we moved into twelve years ago this April, the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere. I moved in as half of a young married couple, and now I’ve got two kids and I’m forty, and have been married almost 15 years. The little kids who lived next door moved out and went to university, and then moved back in again, although it didn’t do me much good when they did, because now they’re too old to babysit. But, as the middle section of To the Lighthouse, so astutely put it: Time Passes.

Imagining our own story as told from the perspective of the house as Woolf does in her novel (except with less war and death). The people coming and going, coats and jackets hung up on hooks and taken down again, early morning alarm clocks and dinners, and house guests, and holidays, and the quiet weeks where we’ve all gone away, and coming home again, an explosion of luggage, and the babies arriving, and late nights with the lights on while the world sleeps, and the babies grow, and all the books that come in and those that go back out again (returned to the library, or left on the garden walls for any takers), and the birthday parties, play dates, first day of schools, pencilled lines in the door-frame measuring from small to tall, and boots and shoes and sandals in a pile at the door, and the triumphs and disappointments, throughout anxiety and contentment, and these walls have contained it all. Even as spare rooms turned into nurseries and cribs turned into bunk-beds, and empty space turned into clutter—Lego, puzzles, and play-doh—and that ring on the carpet from where I put down a teapot and it melted. How places seem to hold us, even more than time does, and how a single place can hold so much, and so can a life.

January 15, 2020

Marching

I don’t know that so much has really changed since that November night back in 2016 when I’d baked a Hillary Clinton victory cake in determined optimism. (“And if she loses,” I’d decided, “at least we’ll have cake.” But that cake tasted terrible.) The only really substantial change has been that I’ve since had my eyes opened to the realities of the world, to the fact that people in general are less kind, wise and curious than I used think we were, and it had been my privileged position to exist without having to know that.

But one more thing that’s different—these days I also keep a collection of broomsticks on my porch.

The broomsticks are fitting really, because most of us haven’t heard this much about witch hunts since the 17th century, although our family doesn’t use our broomsticks for flying. (At least, not yet.) Instead, our broomsticks are for marching, which was an altogether new experience for us as we joined tens of thousands of people at Queen’s Park on that mild January Day for the 2017 Women’s March. As we walked through our neighbourhood holding our signs (duct-taped to said broomsticks, and also a couple of dowels I’d picked up at the hardware store), it already felt like a parade, neighbours leaving their houses holding their own signs, passing cars honking their support.

I remember the ground softened by mild temperatures, my green rubber boots going squish in the mud on the lawn at Queen’s Park, and how it seemed like everyone we knew was there. And how everyone who wasn’t there was out on a similar march in cities all around the world. I remember feeling hopeful for the first time in months, and that maybe we weren’t so alone after all, and good things were possible. People spread out as far as I could see in all directions, an endless horizon of humanity who’d come out to stand up for social justice, and perhaps all was not necessarily defeat.

The Women’s March was originally cast as a failure, even before it had taken place. In the weeks before the event, as there were struggles about organization and inclusion, so many pundits and cynics declared it just so, but the march itself defied them. The march itself, of course, being the team of organizers on the ground that organized events in towns and cities all over the world, in Toronto, in my particular case. And I don’t know that I will ever be able to properly be able to express my gratitude to those organizers for what they gave all of us that day, for that light in the darkness. For rekindling some hope, and making us feel part of something bigger and stronger than tyranny or authoritarianism.

In spite of an event that broke all precedent (and almost broke the president!) and managed to set records and change the world, the narrative of the Women’s March being fraught would continue to be perpetuated. There was a breakdown between an administrative body and local grassroots organizers. There was controversy among those who’d been figureheads of the March in the US. Subsequent marches did not bring out the same numbers. In 2020, in Toronto, there would not be a march at all.

And yet.

Three years later, there is that collection of broomsticks on my porch. Since January 2017, when none of us had ever marched in the street before, or ventured outside with a political slogan on a button, let alone a placard, we’ve pulled out our signs and demonstrated to show support for refugees in Canada, and for International Women’s Day. I’ve joined small demonstrations of strangers to counter anti-choice protesters on the sidewalk. We’ve taken part in Fridays For Futures, strikes to stand up for climate change action, and I’ve even organized rallies against education cuts in our school community, and joined our neighbours back on Queen’s Park to stand with Ontario education workers. In the two years following January 2017, we all marched in the Women’s March again—last time in the midst of a blizzard.

I am not an activist. I say this not because I don’t respect activists, but because I do, and I don’t want to take credit for any of their work on account of a handful of broomsticks. Although what is an activist anyway, but an ordinary person who cares about things and is willing to make a stand for a better vision for the future—which is the kind of people we resolved to be in the aftermath of that terrible night, as we choked down the crumbs of that very sad cake.

I’ve been to enough demonstrations by now to be less delighted by old women who can’t believe they still have to protest this shit, or the ones who’d been buried but no one knew they were seeds. But I still believe in seeds—I do. And I know the seeds planted on that January day three years ago will continue to bloom in years to come. I know that the Women’s March, for so many of us, was a political awakening to our responsibilities as citizens and neighbours to help build the kind of world we want to see.

The Women’s March has ended—but it was only supposed to be the beginning anyway. And now the rest is up to us.

September 17, 2019

Waffles, Waffles, Waffles

A baking pan heaped with waffles. Photograph.

One of the things I am most proud of and amazed at having accomplished in my life is a Baby Book for my second-born child. I was never going to be a perfect mother, and being a second child definitely would inevitably suck in all kinds of ways (secondhand snowsuits, no one appreciating the miraculousness of things like you knowing how to roll over, and basically not being bathed for two years) but at least she was going to have a Baby Book, a record of those precious blurry days. Though it was less of a burden for me to assemble than it might have been for other mothers of two—her elder sister was all the way to four by then, and I also spent the first three months of her life on co-parenting duty instead of struggling alone because my husband had taken parental leave, which meant time for naps, and books, and writing down all the things that we’d never remember.

When Iris was two, I added a whole page of notes to the Baby Book, though she was not a baby anymore. But it seemed like there were more things worth remembering then, once she was able to speak, and her remarkable personality had formed. “Things Iris Says,” was how I’d titled this page, along with the date, and I turned to this page just the other day when Iris had brought her Baby Book down from the shelf (and how glad I am that she has a Baby Book, that I bothered to put the effort in. Both my children are so fascinated with their baby selves, and will look at all records of their early periods in a way that’s inexhaustible).

“Things Iris Says,” I read aloud, excited to see what forgotten treasures might emerge from this time capsule, but then. Oh. Almost everything that Iris said when she was two had basically found its way into our family vernacular, and it’s how we all talk all the time now. (Perhaps when I say “we all,” I just mean me.) “Atcheam,” for ice-cream, and “fuff-eye” instead of “butterfly.” And “ra-see-see-wah” for rice krispie square. But then Iris is a little bit like this, in our family as well as in her own peer group. Totally weird, completely absurd, and at first, we’re like, “What are you doing?” And then it doesn’t take long before we’re doing it too.

But really, I want to talk about Teen Titans and waffles. Not that I have actually ever watched Teen Titans Go, but it’s Iris’s favourite show, and somehow without me ever having actually watched it, it’s seeped into my DNA, and I think it’s also the inspiration behind what became our family’s new year’s resolution for 2019, which was Get a Waffle Maker. Part of our pattern of Keep the Stakes Low to Avoid Disappointment. If you package up all your dreaming in the hopes of picking up a secondhand waffle maker from Value Village for $6, things are probably going to work out fine.

Get a Waffle Maker became our family dream because there is a song from Teen Titans Go about waffles—like most things about Teen Titans Go, it’s catchy and also extremely annoying. I am also very impressionable, particularly when it comes to glutinous goods, and so eventually, I had waffles on the brain, perpetually. We got our waffle maker sometime in January, which means our annual goal was achieved, and as a family we could just sit back and relax and be delighted by having accomplished what we set out to do. And make waffles every Sunday.

The waffle maker has been a game changer. I used to make pancakes every Sunday, and they were good, but lots of work, and also results would vary. But now the waffle maker does all the work for me, in way less time, and all I need to do is pour the batter in and then read the newspaper and drink my tea while waiting for the light to turn green—so simple. I am partial to Smitten Kitchen’s Buttermilk Waffle recipe. I am also partial to adding poppyseeds and millet to everything. Waffles, waffles, waffles, indeed. I love them, their taste, and neat geometry, and how leftovers could be turned into cream cheese jam sandwiches for tomorrow’s lunches, and all the places where our children’s preoccupations take us.

Even if just to the appliance section at the secondhand store. Hooray for being goal-oriented.

January 2, 2019

Happy New Year

No one got sick on our holiday—no pneumonia, or strep throat, and even the colds were fairly unspectacular. No one threw up on Christmas Eve, which is the first time ever that such a miracle has transpired in recent memory, and could be down to the fact that we ate bread and chicken noodle soup for dinner that night, because it had occurred to me that there could possibly be a correlation between the rich foods we eat every December 24 and the inevitable puking, although it’s embarrassing that it took me so many years to figure this out. With bread and broth, however, all the stomachs were settled, and it all has been a very low-key, relaxing, restorative and pleasant holiday.

Mostly, I just read books, so many books, barrelling through titles on my To-Be-Read shelf, and also getting rid of other books that have been sitting there for years and that I’m never ever going to reading. True confession: the piles of books I had before me* have been overwhelming for quite some time, and reading should never feel that way. *These aren’t necessarily the books I’m sent by publishers, because I’m less responsible for these. Instead the ones that I’ve been picked up on my travels, and have not made enough time for. So I skipped the used book sales this fall, and made a point of reading the books I had this holiday, and now I feel much less likely to die in a book avalanche, which is an excellent way to start off the new year.

The downside to this, however, is that now I’m going to around telling everyone about this amazing novel called Beloved, by Toni Morrison, which only came out and won the Pulitzer Prize 30 years ago, so I’m really on the cutting edge, right? So hip and current. But oh my gosh, the book is extraordinary, and I can see how it ties right into the contemporary Black women writers whose work I’ve been loving these last few years. Another buzz worthy pick was The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton, which is not quite a new release, instead 97 years old, but I did get the spectacularly designed new edition from Gladstone Press, and it was gorgeous, and such a pleasure to read.

I also really loved Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered, which I asked for for Christmas after reading this profile in The Guardian in October. It starts off kind of clumsily and didactic, more about ideas than being a novel proper, but the ideas were so interesting that I didn’t mind, and I also loved how well the two different storylines worked, that I was interested in both of them. And then partway through the book, the narrative grew legs, and I’ve been thinking about it steadily ever since I finished reading.

But I wasn’t only reading. And how can a person read this many books and not only be reading, you might ask? The answer being: I turned off my wifi for a week for my biannual holiday from the internet. It was glorious. I don’t have data on my phone anyway, so no wifi rendered me entirely internetless, and while I love the internet, since I’ve returned to it it’s only occurred to me that Twitter is wholly joyless, Facebook is pointless, and I like Instagram a lot still, but want to make our relationship more casual. And I want to focus on my blog instead, an online space that as ever is in transition. I’m going to be writing more about this in the coming weeks, about what blogs might be turning into. I’m not sure, but I think that for me, mine might be my online salvation. Stay tuned.

While I wasn’t reading, I was ice skating, checking out museums and galleries, playing card games—we got Rhino Hero for Christmas, and I love it with all my heart. I was knitting and delighting in Fargo Season 3 and watching Mary Poppins Comes Back,  and going to for walks down residential streets and through ravines, and making turkey leftovers into all kinds of different things, and seeing friends, and even cousins (which I don’t have enough exposure to and which have always been my favourite part of Christmas), and also reading. Every day when I woke up, the first thing I did was turn on my bedside lamp and pick up my book, which is my very favourite way to start the day, and sometimes people even brought me tea.

And now it’s a new year, and my house is really tidy, after a marathon clear-out on Sunday (including a thorough pruning of my shelves to make space for the books I read on the holidays). I also have a new coat that doesn’t make me look like a hobo, and bought new bras, which was an errand that was three years overdue. Plus, I am currently in the midst of my ideal state of being, ie I am awaiting the arrival of a teapot in the post. What that I could be suspended in this reality forever, but when it ceases I will have the consolation of a teapot at least.

December 17, 2018

Lightbulbs

Photo of a cup of tea beside a computer screen in which the document's title is revealed as THIS DOWNFALL.

I still remember the day I started writing Mitzi Bytes, in late June of 2014, and how we’d had dinner out on the porch, and I had this idea for a story, and we talked about it through dinner, the conversation providing the momentum for me to finally get started. Iris was still a baby, so didn’t have a lot to contribute but Stuart and Harriet had seemed as invested in the project as I was, and that night Stuart washed the dishes even though it was my turn so that I could sit down and begin writing.

Always for me, writing books has been a family project. We spent dinner last night brainstorming titles for my latest manuscript, a #MeToo era novel about a woman whose older politician boyfriend is accused of sexual misconduct alleged to have taken place a decade before, and that that woman herself is estranged from the boyfriend for mysterious reasons, having returned alone to their hometown months before in disgrace, only makes the situation more complicated to navigate. The novel unfolds over the week that the scandal does, the story of their relationship and his betrayal gradually revealed. 

“Wow, you’ve sure done a lot thinking about this,” Harriet said to me, after drilling me on all the details, but I knew about the worn tread on the outdoor carpet on the boyfriend’s mother’s porch, and about the protagonist’s sister who runs a Montessori school, and I was more than a little proud of having impressed her. She was fixated on the hometown though, in the context of her Grade Three social studies project on communities, I think. 

“Well, what’s the major industry?” she kept demanding. “Tourism? Resource extraction?” I confessed I didn’t know, exactly. I knew the town had a drug problem, opioids, and that the librarians were trained in administering Naloxone. Harriet did not consider this sufficient. “I think,” I told her, “that the town had at one point been a manufacturing base, but then the factories closed down, as they do.” But what had the factories made, she wondered. A novelist has to be specific. 

“Light bulbs?” suggested Stuart. Yes, maybe light bulbs. The town doesn’t even have a name—maybe we could call it Edison. (I just googled to see if there is an Edison in Ontario, and there is, an Edison Mountain, named for a mine owned by THE Thomas Edison, but it turned out he didn’t invent the lightbulb after all? Further googling reveals that the incandescent light bulb was invented several times in various places all over the world—but it was two Canadians, Woodward and Evans, who sold a patent to Thomas Edison in 1879. Who knew?) 

And then we got back to titles, and Harriet suggested the novel’s title be a warning to the protagonist: “Stay Away From That Man, He’s Bad News.” And I thought about “Bad News,” because of the role the media plays in the story. Then she and Iris started rhapsodizing other possibilities: “Love in the Darkness.” “Terrible Love Story.” “The Shadow of Love’s Heart.” “Don’t Tell Mom, The Politician is a Smarmy Git”—that one was my idea. 

“Summer of Love?” Harriet suggests, but no. “What’s the season?” she asks, and I tell her autumn, fall. The novel takes place in October, and it’s raining a lot, and I start thinking about fall, falls, being fallen. “So now I now how downward spiral goes,” is a line from a poem I wrote many years ago that has found its way into my new book, which is about downfalls, the kind that happen to men and the kind that happen to women, and the distance between those two experiences. And there we had it—downfall. This Downfall. An actual title. after months of edits on Untitled Story Draft Two

Always trust in the process of discussing my novels over dinner, might be the truest writing advice I know. 

December 11, 2018

Ode to a Parkette

That the park is being bulldozed doesn’t affect my daily life in the slightest, because we don’t even go to the park anymore, and it’s mid-December so we wouldn’t even if we did. But it’s at the symbolic level where it gets me, this park where I spent some of the best years of my career in motherhood, where I came of age as a mother, so to speak. This park where certainly things have changed over the years—the mysterious disappearance of the bumblebee bouncy toy, leaving the ladybug all alone; the tree in the north end was cut at some point; the tree in the south end that was planted to honour somebody’s grandmother, where the leaves were always changing, and falling, and the ground would turn from ice to mud to summer. Where my children changed—they don’t eat the sand anymore, for example—and certainly I did, but the fundamentals stayed the same. The bench on the east side that was missing a slat, and the boarded-up house behind the baby swings that made all of Harriet’s baby photos look like she was swinging out front a crack den, and the little hill on the south side which was perfect for tobogganing on days when you just don’t feel like climbing big hills. 

The people were always changing too, and in the beginning there were none of them, just Harriet and me, and we went to the park since I couldn’t think of anything else to do with a baby, because there are only so many hours a day you can spend at the library. Even though parks aren’t really ideal for babies, other than the swings, and pushing one of those for hours is boring, although less so when you do it while reading a book. I remember Harriet falling face-first in the sand there once, and how she got up licking her lips. Our baby days at the park were as aimless as life in general then, but then she got a bit bigger and things got a bit better, and one of the all time greatest afternoons of my life was spent at that park when Harriet was two and she was content to pretend to be driving the jeep toy for hours, and I sat sprawled across the backseat and read an entire book cover to cover. (It was The 27th Kingdom, by Alice Thomas Ellis.) 

It was around this time that I’d met my friend Nathalie, whose children were older than mine and who was blazer of many paths I would follow, chief among them Huron Playschool. When Harriet was two, she urged me to register, but I didn’t make enough money at that time to justify it. Still, when Harriet and I were in the park, I’d seen Nathalie’s son in the park with his play school class, and consider the impossibility of Harriet ever being as old as that. And by the time she was three, she would join him there, skipping off down the sidewalk. Every day at playschool, the children played in the park, and it was where I’d pick her up at the end of the morning. I remember sitting around the sandbox with Harriet during her first week of school, and also I was pregnant, but nobody else knew it yet, and the women I was hanging out with there would eventually become my friends. All those hours we spent in the park, on playschool co-op shifts, and also after, because Harriet had stopped napping and we had no reason to hurry home, and it was spring, so early, but we took our shoes off, and buried our feet in warm sand. 

All the children were there. Among the trees, in the arms of statues, toes in the grass, they hopped in and our of dog shit and dug tunnels into mole holes. Wherever the children, their mothers stopped to talk.” –Grace Paley, “Faith in a Tree”

I wrote a blog post about that spring we spent at the park, about the woman who were so kind to me during my second pregnancy, and supported our family in incredible ways, and comforted me through difficult times and promised it would all be okay. Most of these women I see rarely now, if ever, and our children would not know each other if they met, but they were there for me at such a pivotal moment, and in my memory of them all, the sun is shining always. Although I’d read Grace Paley wrong, I’d discover a couple of years later. What a thing—the most shocking revelation of my literary life. “I really thought that they’d been it, those mothers in the park. I really had thought she meant that this, the mothers stopping to talk, was the most important conversation. But it wasn’t, her revelation. Faith needs more than that, chatting women lounging in trees. The world needs more than that, at least if we ever expect to do anything about it.”

The first time I took both my children to the park alone, Harriet got stung by a wasp while I was breastfeeding on a  park bench, which was not the most auspicious start, but we found our groove, and as a mother I really found my stride.

There’d be one evening in the years to follow when a friend and I would have pizza delivered to the park, and we’d all eat dinner there, in lieu of home and tables, which meant I was a long way from being that woman aimlessly pushing her baby in a swing, and I didn’t even get to read anymore, because there was usually somebody I wanted to talk to. 

Eventually, the park became more special occasion than every day, because daily life became more structured. We’d meet up at the park on weekends and holidays, and during the summer of 2016, there were picnics and potlucks and always pie. I’d see mothers who were there with their babies, and I was a million miles away from them, without a clear idea exactly of how I’d arrived here, although the place was the same. I had two kids who could conquer the big climbers, and they’d fly down the steep slide, and I wouldn’t even have to watch them. I had officially retired from pushing swings.

Last summer, our good friends moved out of the neighbourhood, so we haven’t had pies in the park for awhile, and that the city decided to bulldoze it now doesn’t seem so incongruous. (We did enjoy walking through the park in the autumn, however, on our way home from school, when the park was being excavated as part of a project by the university’s archeology department. Old maps had indicated there had been dwellings on the site, and significant finds included bricks and teacups.)

The park is going to be redeveloped along with the expansion of the University of Toronto Schools next door, who are going to be building a facility underneath it, some of the playground equipment being temporarily located to the vacant lot across the street in the meantime. And by the time it’s all finished, my children will likely be too old for parks at all—who’d ever have thought it? And the derelict house on the other side of Huron is finally being developed, after more than a decade, at least, so maybe we can definitively say that absolutely nothing stays the same, which is the point of cities, and parenthood, and everything. 

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