Dark Cloud


Dimit®i / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Dark Cloud slumped into my office before I had a chance to pick up the phone and fake a call. She flopped into a chair, looked at me with her signature doughy pout, and sighed.

I knew how this worked. I lived it at least once a week.

Dark Cloud would invade my office and huff. I was supposed to ask what was wrong. And then she would tell me.

She was either annoyed, frustrated, irked or offended. At everyone. Most often because someone had asked her to actually do her job. The conversations were more airing of grievances than discussions.

When she’d had her fill of belly-aching, she would slow-stomp past the terrified assistants and slam her door.

Later in the day, she would send some passive aggressive emails and make accusatory comments about who had eaten the last cookie (yes, it was usually me).

On the days when she didn’t bother me directly, she still managed to cause trouble, sowing misery in the office by ruling the supply cupboard with a tight iron fist or demanding excruciating detail for the smallest petty cash request.

I couldn’t fire her. I couldn’t even get her out of my office.

But that day, I refused to be manipulated into speaking.

I sat silent. It was a standoff. It was petty and childish and far from crack leadership but I’d had it. She was too much work.

She huffed again.

I cocked my head and widened my eyes, cursing my body for betraying me by wordlessly catering to her brattiness.

“I’m in love,” she breathed. “SOOOO in love.”

“Well, that’s great,” I answered. I was surprised. An electric eel would be easier to love. “Um, congratulations?”

Why was she telling me this? Why couldn’t she just get out of my office?

I was sort of amazed, and sort of revolted like that time when KFC announced that insane sandwich.

double down bacon and chicken

“I met him online. We both enjoy swimming. It is so intense!”

Kill me now!

I admit I was thinking of setting a small fire to escape as she droned on about how they both despised their stupid co-workers but loved cats and how she needed to be where he was. Out west. ‘In love’ Dark Cloud was just as awful as ‘Bitter and Hostile Dark Cloud’.

“So I have to quit,” she finally said, in a sorrowful apologetic voice.

It was time to listen properly!

“I know it’ll be tough without me but I have to do this,” she said.

I bit the inside of my cheek to clamp down the joy. “Well, if you’re sure…”

The Dark Cloud was on the horizon and headed away.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/writing-101-day-twelve/

The Wild Life – Part II – Even Wilder Wild Things

The hanging flower baskets on the deck outside our bedroom looked like they had been attacked, insulted and then run over.

What could have done such a thing?

It was a mystery we intended to solve. We decided to re-hang what was left of the bedraggled plants and sleep with the curtains open to keep an eye on things.

After just one night we knew that our baskets were victims of raccoons. Our deck was their playground and the hanging plants were the swings. Our next-door-neighbour’s deck was their toilet so we were luckier than they were but it was annoying and noisy.

We tried to make the baskets less entertaining by tying them to their hooks with wires (to keep them hanging no matter what) and even oiled the plastic rods and pots to make them impossible to grip but it seemed like that just made it more fun. The whoops and thumps of raccoon joy continued.

I thought we should give up on the baskets – take them down and move on. My husband, Michael, was not pleased with this strategy but agreed.

The raccoons may have been bored without their swing but they continued to enjoy our deck.

At first we thought they were wrestling which was kind of cute. But it wasn’t just wrestling and it wasn’t cute at all. They were having obnoxiously loud raccoon sex*. On our chaises.

We joked that we’d somehow built a raccoon ‘Lido Deck’ but it wasn’t that funny. That deck was supposed to be for our enjoyment not hard-core rodent raunch.

Ew.

“That just isn’t right!”


“Seriously. It’s our deck,” Michael told me with a crazed glint in his eye after a particularly bad night.

I had no answer. They were getting to us both.

“They hate fresh mint,” my mother told me. “And mothballs. You should cover your deck in mint and mothballs.”

Despite the mediocre results of my last attempt at pest control with seasoning, I was willing to try the mint. But not the mothballs. I didn’t want a deck that smelled like an old person’s closet. I went out early in the day and jammed mint sprigs into all the cracks.

It didn’t work.

I came home late one evening to a silent house. I called out but there was no answer even though Michael’s shoes were at the door.

On the second floor the blue light of the television flickered and glowed on mute but he wasn’t there. I called out again. I was getting a little worried.

I went up to the third floor and there he was, my husband, crouched low to the ground with his face pressed to the screen door, a garden hose in one hand poking out between the doors. He turned to me and mouthed ‘Hi!’ He blew me half-assed kiss then did the finger to the lip motion, and turned back to the deck.

“How long have you been like that?” I asked, trying not to sound alarmed.

“I don’t know but I’ve given them some major soakers,” he whisper-giggled, staring into the night. A wet raccoon glared back from just out of range. Michael tugged at the hose but it only reached the door and the raccoon knew it.

Michael shook his head and pushed himself off the floor. He handed me the hose and walked to the bathroom. “They’re smart! I’ll give them that.”

He was back a moment later with a tall glass of water. He pulled the screen doors apart very slowly. The raccoon on the railing tensed but didn’t move. Suddenly, Michael lunged and emptied the glass at the raccoon then jumped back in and slammed the doors together, laughing like a madman.

I was married to Elmer Fudd!

“We need to call someone,” I told him. “This has to stop.”

“Why?” he asked, still watching the deck.

“Well, because this just isn’t normal. This isn’t good, you know? Lying here in the dark. With the hose and everything. It’s weird. I think we need professional help.”


JPChamberland / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A great pest control professional isn’t cheap but they are worth it.** Our professional help (aka our hero) told us that the raccoons were living under the deck in the space between the wood slats and the roof. If we closed that off, there would be no problem. We were in. He cleared them out and chicken-wired the gap between the deck and the roof. When he was done, I went out and stuffed mint into every crevice for good measure.

The raccoons were outraged at first but after a few nights, they gave up and an uneasy truce developed. They didn’t go far – we would see them scurrying along our fence, or watching from the tree while Michael barbequed, and occasionally they would walk right up to the back door and bang on the glass in a menacing way – but the deck was ours again.

Mostly.

We were sure that our little man versus nature scuffles were behind us and that we had won. We were blissfully unaware that there was more nature lurking nearby – a creature so hideous that it would scare its own mother. But that is a story for another day.

* I do not know what ‘normal’ sounds like when it comes to raccoon sex but the volume seemed a bit over the top, like they were trying to make a point.

** This post (and Part I) was inspired by a post by Ethan Yarbrough that reminded me of how grateful we were (and still are!) to the ‘raccoon relocation experts’ we hired. http://ethanyarbroughwrites.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/truths/

Our first daughter and her buddy almost two years after this story.

Our first daughter and her buddy two years later.

Photo credit for ‘Isaac/Love Boat’ picture: Shavar Ross / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Wild Life – Part 1

When we bought our house in downtown Toronto, the wild-life I envisioned had more to do with the early throes of romantic love and the total freedom of my life at the time than the creatures that live nearby. I certainly never thought about animals.

We were thrilled to have our house – excited to the point of being keen to do yard work. As soon as the weather was nice enough, we hit the nursery to buy pretty things for our garden.

Our yard is tiny (average living room size) so once we had flowers, making it beautiful did not take long. I had been warned by my mother, an avid gardener and something of a squirrel specialist, that squirrels can be a threat to plants and added a healthy dose of bone meal to the soil to deter them.

Within hours, my husband and I were relaxing in a flowery paradise, toasting each other with wine, extremely pleased with ourselves.

I now realize that the squirrels were most likely watching and licking their twitchy little lips because the next morning, we discovered that they had feasted like, well, animals, on our gorgeous display.

I called my mother.

She suggested that we try again but make our flowers less delicious. She told me to sprinkle cayenne pepper all over the new plants and that once the puffy-tailed rats got a fiery taste of what we were serving, word would spread and our garden would be safe.

We returned to the nursery, bought new plants for the yard, and added a couple of nice hanging baskets for the deck outside our bedroom.

Ever so slightly less cheerfully than the day before, we planted our plants and hung our baskets. Again, we celebrated with cocktails and enjoyed the evening in our yard.

I was brushing my teeth when I remembered about the cayenne.

I ran downstairs, grabbed the spice and went outside.

It was dark but I could see well enough as I liberally seasoned the flowers. It took the whole bag but it was worth it.

I went to bed confident that my garden was safe.

Other than an obnoxious squeal outside our window (that in hindsight sounded a lot like ‘WoooooHoooooo!’), that stirred us briefly, we slept like logs.

The next morning, we opened the drapes, ready to admire our pretty hanging baskets but found them scattered on the deck, crushed petals and dirt sprinkled all around like they had been attacked.

“How did that happen?” we asked each other.

We walked out – picking our way around the plant destruction – and looked over the railing of our balcony to check on our yard two storeys below. We were pleased to see that our plants were still there.

That was when we noticed the smell.

“Wow!” said my husband. “Someone is cooking up a feast and it’s making me hungry. Let’s go for brunch and deal with this mess later.”

As we went downstairs, the cooking odour got stronger.

Curry.

A lot of curry.

Then curry overload.

I went to the spice drawer and opened it. A bag of Cayenne sat on top. Missing was the very similar looking bag of Curry Powder.


Chris Falt / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

I had dumped the entire bag in our yard.

As it turned out, we could smell our house from three blocks away. But, as it also turned out: squirrels do not enjoy curry (at least not in massive quantities). Our garden was temporarily protected.

The smell lasted about four days and our plants survived a little longer than that.

I called it a draw.

I didn’t know that this was just the beginning – that nature was at our doorstep, in our garden, and on our deck and that it would drive us to near madness. I had no idea that we would soon find out what had destroyed our hanging baskets. Or that I would eventually know more than I could ever hope to forget about raccoons and their love lives, or that I would learn the difference between a Shanghai King Rat and a Possum.

All I knew then was that we were out of curry.

The road to hell…

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions but  I can tell you that it is actually paved with asphalt and good intentions and the occasional unfortunate squirrel.

I know because I went there today.

Hell(lite) is the drive test centre in Etobicoke where I had to go to take my ‘G’ road test.

It is at the end of an ugly strip mall in an ugly, industrial corner of suburbia and, as predicted by AC/DC, I had to take a highway to get there.

I pulled into ‘hell’ a few minutes early and spent these extra minutes straightening my vehicle perfectly in its space (I had come in slightly diagonal and didn’t want to risk a poor first impression).


nathangibbs / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Then I went inside where I handed over my paperwork to a surprisingly friendly lady and told her I was ready to be judged.

Daylight doesn’t make it all the way into the test centre office and the low t-bar ceiling and florescent lighting don’t do much to brighten the space up. The humiliation of those who have tried and failed to pass the many levels of driver certification floats in the dusty air. Tears have stained the threadbare greige carpet, and I could hear the faintest echo of anguished howls of teens who still require adult supervision on the road. The folks that work there seem quite pleasant, but the place is gray and tinged with despair.

But I may have been projecting…..

I’d been preparing for this day for weeks, years really.

It was time.

I was sent back to my car to wait.

As I waited I thought through what I had read about the ‘G’ test online:

  • According to some guy on the internet who sounds like he knows, I should PRAY not to get a yellow light – that is an automatic fail because apparently, there is nothing you can do that is right when that happens (while this seems like questionable internet advice, along the lines of when I became convinced that my last cold was actually malaria, I had taken it to heart and was really hoping not to get a yellow). I am not a religious woman so instead of praying, I tried to sort of spiritually wish for no yellow.
  • Remember to use the parking brake on the roadside stop. OR FAIL.
  • Make dramatic head movements to demonstrate mirror and shoulder checks – I have been practicing this all week and my children have noticed and commented. They think it is weird and that is saying a lot coming from a seven and four year old. Anyway, it is always better to look like a weirdo than to fail.
  • Stay in the right hand lane NO MATTER WHAT! OR FAIL.
  • Plus all the stuff that was actually in the handbook.

It seemed like forever but was about ten minutes before my test guy came to the car.

The test passed in a blur (within the speed limit of course) and I did get a yellow but, fortunately, contrary to the dire internet predictions, I was not ‘totally screwed’. I also curbed it on my parallel park (just a kiss really) but other than that, the test went well and I passed.

I passed!!

“See you when you’re eighty!” my favourite driving tester in the world said, congratulating me on becoming a fully legal driver.

I am dreading it already.

Snap and become a happier parent!

Almost everyone goes into parenthood with high hopes about how they will do things and the wonderful people they will raise.

The problem is that before most people ever become  parents, they’ve already judged all sorts of other parents for their ‘shortcomings’ (as they, or ‘In Touch’, ‘People’, assorted Twitterers or the rest of the internet perceive them) and in doing so, have set themselves up.

Perhaps you had all sorts of opinions about drug-free labour, even thinking less of someone who had an epidural (though it was never any of your business). In agony, at the hospital on Delivery-Day, you suddenly have to either live up to those expectations or take relief with a side order of guilt.

Or maybe before having a child you knew that you would never give a binky, or a pacie, or sucky – or allow such babyish words to be used in your perfect baby’s presence. Except you never know. You might need to change your mind.

In both of these scenarios, it would be easier if you weren’t up to your neck in potential failure to meet your own standards (as inflicted on others) when you decide.

The judgement epidemic is not isolated to so called ‘bad’ things. We also tend to get awfully tough on people who appear to be super-parents like the Gwyneths (seriously, why do we care that her children speak multiple languages and eat like jet-setting vegans? And how is it bad?) and Pinteresters of the world.

Either way, judging others is self defeating. It makes us less kind and more sensitive to the opinions of others which makes us even harsher judges of ourselves which makes us less confident and happy parents which makes us compare ourselves to others and do more judging. A vicious cycle!

There is a solution and it is simple if not easy: We need to stop judging each other’s parenting! 

Here is my idea: Slip a rubber band onto your wrist and give yourself a gentle snap each time you catch yourself thinking uncharitable or judge-y thoughts about someone’s parenting (or your own).

You’re in line at the grocery store, eyeballing the latest gossip rags, wanting to flip through and find out why everyone is so worked up about some Jolie-Pitt kid’s hair. Or did Suri really lose it in a park? Are the royals going to abandon their tiny prince for a holiday? Give yourself a snap! It is none of your business.

Instead of an inward (or worse, a snarky outward): ‘At least I am raising my own kids’ comment about the mom with the nanny, or the family with kids in extended daycare, ask yourself: do you really care or are you just being mean? If this doesn’t work, give yourself a snap and try again.

Snap as required before you judge the parents of the kid who:

Is disheveled;

Has a bad haircut;

Needs a haircut;

Is taking a long time toilet training;

Has tantrums;

Is hyper;

Sleeps in the parents’ bed;

Cries it out;

Eats sugary cereal;

Wears weird clothes;

Eats Lunchables;

Eats only ‘organic’;

Picks their nose;

Watches lots of television;

Goes to bed at 6PM;

Or goes to bed at 10:30PM.

SNAP as needed then ask yourself: Who cares?

Decide that you do not care and, if my theory is correct (and I think it is based on my completely unscientific experiment on myself) your life will be instantly improved because when you cut everyone else some slack, you can give some to yourself as well.

Does it matter how long someone else breastfeeds or doesn’t? If you said yes, take a snap!

Feeling the urge to side-eye a pregnant woman enjoying a coffee as she struts by in high heels? Snap!

There is advice everywhere but what matters is this: if you love your kids and meet their basic needs for affection, safety, shelter, food, healthcare and human interaction, that is good enough.

Obviously, we all have a responsibility to speak up if we see or suspect neglect or abuse, but there is a BIG range of normal and healthy and we need to embrace it.

As a parent who loves and cares for your kids, you don’t need to impress anyone except yourself. It is in your best interest to do what you can to make yourself easy to impress.

Going easier on other parents, will make it easier to give ourselves a break. And if we give ourselves a break, we can actually enjoy some of this parenting stuff.

Driving Ambition

Very high levels of caution generally don’t make for a full or interesting life, so I have fought my inner scaredy-cat for as long as I can remember.

I haven’t grown into some jaywalking, craps playing, skydiver but, with great effort, I have braved up over the years.

Over the past ten years I’ve married, been sliced open three times, started a new career, and taken on a whole new level of worrying by becoming a parent (technically related to the getting sliced up in an ongoing way). But the scariest thing I’ve done as an adult so far is learn to drive.

In a fit of birthday self-improvement in my early thirties (aka quite a while ago), I decided to finally learn how to drive. I was scared to drive, or more accurately, scared to crash, but I was tired of being afraid, and utterly fed up at not being able to do something that most of the adult population takes for granted.

I bought a package of lessons from Young Drivers of Canada (yes, the age jokes were never-ending but I persisted) and went and got my G1 (in Ontario, there is graduated licensing: G1, G2 and finally ‘G’ – the full you-know-your-stuff-and-are-permanently-licensed one – you must take a test to pass each level to get fully licensed).

For my first lesson, my teacher took me to a quiet street, got out of the car and motioned for me to get in the driver’s seat. She told me to put my foot on the brake. I needed more instruction. Which one was the brake?

The next lesson, the instructor picked me up at my building near a very busy intersection. Again, she told me to take the driver’s seat.

“Don’t panic.” She instructed. “Just signal and pull out.”

Like it was that easy!

I turned on the car, foot on the brake (progress!) and flicked the signal-thingy. My mouth was full of dry terror and I could feel my pulse fluttering in my neck.

“Okay,” said the instructor after twenty minutes of signalling. “Maybe we need to ease in a bit more…”

We switched seats and went back to the quiet street.

“I’m PANICKING!” I shouted, a few lessons later as I hurtled down a main street at approximately 9 kilometers an hour and an elderly woman started to lurch her way across the road, dragging her shopping cart behind her. I thought I might throw up.

After the big freak out/near killing of the old lady, I decided to take a break from my lessons.

I had many excellent reasons:

  • Driving is bad for the environment.
  • I couldn’t actually afford a vehicle so what was the point?
  • I was staying fit by walking everywhere.

But the truth was, I was afraid and I excused myself from trying.

For a while.

Okay, for a few years.

Eventually, I decided to finish the lessons.

I restarted the lesson package I had abandoned midway through although I had to pay the difference in pricing due to inflation.

I was more motivated this time (I had a baby on the way and a car that I could drive once licensed) so I swallowed my nerves and quickly got to the point where I started to not completely hate driving.

As part of the program, I attended two full days of classroom lessons where I was the only non-teen.

Some of the questions posed by my fellow driving school students are permanently burned on my  brain:

‘If you are going along a windy one-lane cliff road and a truck is coming right at you is it better to hit the truck or go off the cliff?’

‘Is a deer a stationary object? I mean, like, if it’s standing still?’

Camera Slayer / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

I was scared again. My young class-mates would be sharing the road.

But I kept going. I passed my G2 and started driving more.

I practiced a lot and even invented a style I called ‘Elegant Driving’ (this driving style features smooth gliding stops, excellent etiquette to other drivers etc). I tried to share some pointers on this style with my husband but he wasn’t receptive.

I had a couple of not so elegant, minor scrapes against the wall of our garage but otherwise continued to improve.

Time passed, as it does (long days, short years), and now I cannot imagine not knowing how to drive. And though I still aim for smooth fluid stops and irreproachable etiquette, ‘Elegant Driving’ has morphed into something a little less fancy to meet the demands of the road in the big city.

“Spank the horn Mummy!” shouts my four-year old from the backseat when she hears me mutter a comment at ‘BUDDY!’ who has just done something annoying.

I don’t panic or freak out anymore and I sort of like driving (except for on the highway, the highway is still terrifying).

There is still one more test I have to pass to get my ‘FULL G’. The ‘FULL G’ involves driving on the highway so I am once again a little afraid. Without it, my license will expire and I will have to start over.

So I am nervous and would love to put it off but I am out of time. Apparently, ten years is a long time to work through three license levels.

I know I can do this and I can’t let fear get in the way.

The test is in three weeks.

I wore the same dress as a senior citizen to a wedding

Other than bridesmaids or on-duty uniformed employees, no one wants to show up to an event in the same dress as another woman.

I am not sure why this is ‘a thing’. Shouldn’t it just be confirmation of your excellent taste? But it is embarrassing.

I had a really great dress. It was a rare splurge that was totally worth it and I always felt like a million bucks in that dress. I wore it to work and parties and pretty much anywhere I could. I loved it.

The dress and I were attending our friends’ wedding. I was standing around with my future husband admiring the pretty outdoor setting of the ceremony, waiting for it to start, when I saw a familiar pattern across the garden.

“Hey!” I said to Michael. “A lady at another wedding is wearing my dress.”

I moved closer to get a better look (not sure why but it was like when you see your hometown in a movie or on TV and you get all excited).

“She’s at this wedding,” Michael corrected me when he saw the woman. “That’s the aunt.”

I was suddenly less excited to see the dress.


The Toad / Foter / CC BY-NC

For a second I considered running home to change, but the wedding was starting in minutes and there was no way I could make it.

The dress was not subtle. It had huge polka dots in pink, black, red and white. I know it sounds ugly but it was a really nice dress.

It looked great on the aunt too.

Our eyes met and we smiled and made a little joke about how we could step in if there was a bridesmaid emergency.

I don’t embarrass easily but I admit, I felt a little awkward. I was thirty-four years old and wearing the same dress as a senior.

That is when another woman showed up in the dress. Hers was a different colour combination (brown, beige, orange) but otherwise identical.

My older twin (aka The Aunt) looked shocked. “That’s my step daughter!”

“You should’ve had this one covered,” I told The Aunt who nodded.

The step daughter looked seriously annoyed. She came over to us and said, “Hello” but in a pouty way that put my feelings of embarrassment into perspective – I did not want to turn all snitty like Evil Step Daughter as I immediately named her in my mind.

The only dress anyone is interested is the one on the bride, I reminded myself. No one will notice! And besides, who cares? 

I was wrong about people not noticing – they did and there were lots of comments and little friendly jokes. But I was right that no one cared except for Evil Step Daughter who accessorized her brown polka dot dress with a pained expression for most of the celebration.

It was a beautiful wedding. The couple were clearly madly in love and the bride looked gorgeous.

The Aunt and I danced like fools together for much of the night and had a great time in our pretty polka dot dresses.