Full, beautiful, blessed and lonely

Hi world,

I know it’s been a while.

Life here is relentless. I work, I take care of my family, I try to sleep enough and I go to the gym. Taking care of mind, body and family is all that my 24 hours currently allow. Of course, my family is a little larger than average and my work has no clear boundaries. But last weekend, my husband went on a motorcycle trip with his friend Brad and I had a moment of sadness when I realized that I had no one to talk to.

It’s nothing new. I’ve been on the outer edge of my friends’ lives for most of the last 23 years. But when Paul leaves, the echo rings deep. I have friends, don’t get me wrong, but I never see them. I’m the weeds growing on the shoulder of people’s personal lives: my friendship is the rugged type that blooms in weird and inappropriate places. It doesn’t expect care and feeding, it takes root firmly in the poorest soil but remains mostly ignored and undisturbed. Nobody picks it up or plants it on purpose, it never ends up in a bouquet, displayed in a special spot or marking a special occasion.

It’s a full, beautiful, and blessed life. So full it has pushed out relationships, ambitions and dreams. So beautiful it has built walls around itself. So blessed its halo intimidates those who come close to it. Full, beautiful, blessed, and lonely in the midst of a crowd of children, acquaintances, colleagues and followers.

I started this blog almost 8 years ago while I was expecting my twins. At the time, social media was but an echo of what it has become. It offered a connection with the outside world, a way to keep in touch against the isolation of bed rest and, later, the twins’ infancy. But its promise of friendship without effort was a hopeful lie. Friendship requires presence. Presence requires effort. Our brains are tricked into believing that the little thumbs’ up at the bottom of a post are a meaningful connection but our hearts are not dupe. I am lonely in the midst of a crowd. I get social media wine emojis all the time but I have no one to go for drinks with.

This sense of loneliness and isolation comes at the bottom of a wave, when there is a false sense of calm. In the calm, what was previously hidden appears in sharp contrast.

“And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more.”

This full, beautiful and blessed life has required much. When the water recede for a moment, in the momentary lull between two waves, I feel a sadness at what I have lost, or never been able to gain. In these moments, what has been given disappears in the shadow of what has been required. I mourn the relationships that withered and those who were never given a chance to grow. I mourn the skills I lost and the progress I never made. I mourn meeting someone to play and write music with. I mourn traveling to the cities I only read about. I mourn being sought out for my knowledge and experience. I mourn the person I thought I would be when I grew-up. I mourn the friend I could have been.

When the loneliness weights too heavily, I take refuge in writing and there, in my own thoughts, characters live, breathe and love, they travel, sing and fight. They take risks and make horrible mistakes that they struggle to repair. They live the lives I will never live and screw them up in ways I will never dare. They process emotions I hide deep down and move along an arch that bends away from proper order and convenience. They are left to run freely towards their dreams and ambitions without too much regard for appearances or good conduct.

These days spare little time for fiction and creativity, for pretending, for music and drawing. In times like these, I have to make do with patience and civility, keeping entire universes of things unsaid and stories untold in square little boxes, hoping they don’t escape as angry words, bitter tears or extravagant expectations. I carry the weight of this contained universe in my chest and pray that it doesn’t implode and burn everything in its vicinity.

Universes are hard to carry: they are slippery and they don’t have handles.


More mixed nuts: Election debrief… Whoa…

Ha! So I blew my election predictions in every way possible: not only did the Conservative not form a minority but the NDP is not even close to be the official opposition. Some formidable parliamentarians fell to the anti-Harper sentiment, replaced by people who now have big shoes to fill. As defeated MP Paul Dewar said, there is no safe seat. But I’m still reeling from the sense that our Parliament will be diminished from the loss of the wrong people. My former boss and friend, Pierre Lemieux, a man of admirable strength and integrity, one who earned the trust and love of his constituents one intervention at a time since 2006, lost it all suddenly on Monday. I’m not one to lament the exercise of democracy, even when it doesn’t go my way. I’ve written enough polite letters  to people who thought it was all about them, in some gosh-forsaken corner or rural Canada; I’ve scrolled through enough Facebook statuses calling Canadians idiots for electing a Conservative majority the last time around to fall to the same excesses. Elections are a beautiful thing, period.

In no organized fashion, here are a few of my thoughts as we move into the next chapter of Canadian history.

And a 1. I’m not one to blame media bias for the electoral loss of the Conservatives. It was annoying enough when the defeated Liberals blamed their misfortune on Conservative campaign ads. All the major newspapers endorsed Prime Minister Harper as the best choice for Canada, to the Left’s great chagrin (and even some on the right). That said, the CBC’s giddiness toward the Liberal majority government is just a little unbecoming. Call me a realist but I never expected media to be unbiased: journalists are humans, with likes, dislikes and opinions. However, there is a certain finesse in peddling your wares in a way that at least appears balanced. Showing-off your red knickers on national radio and television is just coarse.

And a 2. Speaking of red boxers, the Public Servants who live and work in Ottawa had no love lost for their Prime Minister. Their organized strategic voting campaign and open support of the Liberals and — to a lesser extent — the NDP definitely had a powerful effect on the electoral make-up of the Ottawa area, who went from tri-colour to bright red. The Canadian Public Service is rife with with bullying, mental illness and absenteeism. It is also rife with highly skilled and highly competent men and women who came to their position through a rigorous process of promotions and contests. I have never been privy to any negotiations or backroom talks between the Conservative government and its Public Servants but it always seemed to me that — in very broad strokes inadequate for such large topic — our outgoing government was approaching the relationship with the bullying, absentee Public Service in mind, whereas the incoming Liberals approach it with the highly skilled and competent Public Servant in mind. Of course, both approaches are lacking, one for being too stern and paternalistic and the other for being too soft and coddling. The truth is that the driven, committed and public-service minded Public Servants suffer from the deadwood in the Public Service at least as much (if not more) as the taxpayers and service seekers do. The clerk responsible for my maternity leave with the twins made several mistakes that cost our family dearly, among other things putting me on maternity leave rather than short term disability when I went on bed rest and my sick days ran out. It forced me back to work when my twins were 10 months-old. While I was on maternity leave trying to straighten this shit out, my pay clerk was on a never-ending series of sick days, with no one responsible for her files. Call again Friday, maybe she’ll be there. I had to make several trips to the nearest Service Canada office to wait in line for hours with my 2-3 month-old twins to lodge a request to start my mat leave on the right day, which meant a retroactive redress calling for a administrative tribunal decision. This anecdote is not meant to pile-on Public Service employees. On the contrary, it’s to show that the people who have to cover for, redress and handle the mistakes of one colleague, presumably over and over again, also have an interest in a vibrant, productive and healthy public service. Whatever the solution to the issues with the Public Service is, it should involve the people on the inside, the hands and heads who are doing the work, interacting with colleagues and dealing with the fall-out of bullying, mental illness and absenteeism. I do hope that better labour relations between the Public Service and the government will in fact lead to a more constructive approach to Public Service reform. Although if the Ontario Liberals are any indication, as far as labour relations are concerned, the only thing being a Liberal guarantees is not being Conservative.

And a 3. The upheaval in the Conservative party brought-on by their electoral defeat has given way to an unusual candour from Conservative MPs and candidates with regard to their misfortune and what may have caused it. Over the Conservative’s three consecutive governments, much ink was spilled about the “gag order” or “muzzle” Prime Minister Harper and his PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) had presumably placed on its caucus and staff. My observation as a former staffer is that the great majority of Conservative Members and staff had a natural understanding of party discipline and didn’t need a muzzle or gag order to close ranks. The Conservatives, especially former members of the Canadian Alliance and Reform Party, have always enjoyed a confrontational rapport with the media. Get misinterpreted, quoted out of context and attributed a “hidden agenda” for long enough and you stop caring about the press. I myself ended-up on the front page of Le Devoir for attending a luncheon (paid out of my own pocket, attended on my own time) at the Parliamentary restaurant with a leadership figure from the Catholic Church, leading to suggestions of somber motives and machinations. When you get grilled aggressively by a journalist for answering the phone, you stop answering, know what I mean? All this to say, being freed from the requirements of party discipline has opened the door to candidates and staffers’ analysis of what went wrong and has been cathartic for me. When I left Pierre’s employment, I had long stopped identifying with the brand of conservatism sold by the Conservative party. As far back as the 2011 campaign, when I was campaign manager, I knew that strategically-speaking we had to avoid references to the Conservative Party and especially the leader of the Conservative Party when canvassing. We knew we could win on the strength of our candidate as long as the National Campaign didn’t screw-up too badly. We won that election handily but lost the last one in a blood bath: there was only so much ignoring our voters could handle. When I left my job, I told people that I felt loyalty towards my boss but that I couldn’t support the Conservative Party as it was and had been for a number of years. When I heard Lisa Raitt on the radio lament that the Conservatives were unable to appeal to women like her (which are, incidentally, women like me just with less children), it was like a breath of fresh air. Sentiments such as these were never expressed before, at least not in public. Defeated Finance Minister Joe Oliver said that he heard his constituents over and over again tell him how much they liked him but couldn’t support the leader of the party. I’m sure this is something that my boss’s canvassers heard over and over again in the last 6 weeks. When I was campaign manager, this type of feedback was not welcomed by the National Campaign. Same for the PMO when I was a staffer fielding hate mail from Conservative Party members (you know, those who *liked* us?) about attack ads. We were always told that they had the numbers, they had the polling, they had the donations to prove that they had it right. Just stay the course they would repeat. And maybe it was true at the time but with the gift of hindsight and my own experience, I now believe that I saw last Monday’s results coming like a train wreck in slow motion. Now that the Conservatives have received a stunning blow, I hope that something new emerges from the ashes of what used to be. I still hold firm to conservative ideals, which I believe are not mutually exclusive with intelligence, compassion and vision. I also believe in federalism, the Canadian Constitution and Parliamentary democracy. How nice would it be to have a federal Conservative Party that inspires rather than scold? Many have made hay of Justin Trudeau’s charisma but leadership is about more than steering the wheel: it’s also about giving people a reason to follow. We need to be inspired.

And a 4. Bets are now being registered to see which one of the Liberals’ lofty campaign promises — I’m not sure anyone expected to be held-up to it — are going to be shelved first. Income splitting was criticized for benefiting “wealthy families” who can afford to live off one salary. As one of Canada’s new “rich” — as defined by the Liberal platform — I would appreciate the break afforded by income splitting. Believe it or not, when you have 9 dependents, a 4% tax hike makes a difference in such luxuries as groceries and dental work. I would not bet the farm on the widespread legalization of pot coming anytime soon. I don’t think that the Liberals, even given their comfort level with deficit spending, will have quite enough money to borrow to make a dent in our infrastructure deficit. They’ll give it a good try but I don’t think it will come anywhere close to what voters are expecting. What are your bets?

And a 5. You know what? I’m actually happy we have a Liberal majority, in a way. I know that many people expressed the desire for a Liberal minority with NDP opposition to level it off. Believe me, a minority Parliament is not a healthy state in our Westminster system. It is stressful, unproductive and, because it leads to more frequent elections, costly. If Canadians wanted a Liberal government, let Canadians have a Liberal government and give it the opportunity to govern. This is Canada after all: where we have scrupulously fair elections, a functioning judicial system and just about every blessing a country an ask for.

In Rick Mercer’s words:

Montée de lait d’une jeune femme rétrograde

Cette semaine, une amie anglophone m’a fait parvenir un article de L’Actualité intitulé Payer les mères à la maison pour que je lui en traduise l’idée générale. S’il y a des choses qu’on aimerait pouvoir « dé-lire », en voici une.

L’article part d’un récent sondage Leger-Marketing tenu auprès de familles québécoises :

L’été dernier, un sondage de Léger Marketing a permis de constater que, dans les deux tiers des familles québécoises, l’un des parents serait prêt à rester à la maison pour prendre soin des enfants d’âge préscolaire si l’État lui versait une allocation équivalente à la subvention qui est accordée pour une place en garderie subventionnée (CPE ou autre). On parle ici d’une subvention annuelle d’environ 9 000 dollars.

Devrait-on payer les femmes pour qu’elles restent à la maison? L’auteur explique qu’il s’agirait d’un projet inabordable, particulièrement à la lumière des finances publiques québécoises telles qu’elles sont. Bon, je me dis que les finances publiques n’empêchent pas le gouvernement québécois de poursuivre sa lancée avec les garderies à $7 qui, bien que populaires, ne sont pas exactement un investissement rentable au niveau fiscal.

Mais là où j’ai dû courir à la salle de bain (et ce n’est pas parce que je suis enceinte), c’est à la déclaration qu’il s’agirait d’une initiative rétrograde.


Payer les mères pour qu’elles restent à la maison irait aussi à l’encontre de plusieurs décennies d’efforts visant à améliorer la position des femmes à l’intérieur comme à l’extérieur du foyer.

Si j’ai bien compris, donner le choix aux familles d’utiliser la subvention pour les services de garde pour rester à la maison ferait perdre du terrain aux femmes et donnerait la permission aux hommes de se laver les mains des couches et des tâches ménagères. Parce qu’on sait que la seule raison pour laquelle les papas d’aujourd’hui sont impliqués dans le soin et l’éducation de leurs enfants, c’est parce que madame travaille. Encore une fois, pardon? D’après L’Actualité le progrès ne tient qu’à un fil : la garderie subventionnée. Et pourtant, à l’extérieur du Québec, des papas impliqués décident tous les jours d’être présents dans la vie de leurs enfants et d’appuyer leurs conjointes dans les tâches domestiques. Serait-ce la sagesse d’une génération de jeunes hommes qui ont été témoins d’une dynamique de couple laissant peu de place au père au sein du foyer? Serait-ce la sagesse d’une génération de femmes qui s’attendent à plus de la part de leur conjoint? Serait-ce la popularité croissante du maternage  et des théories de l’attachement qui suggèrent qu’un enfant a besoin de se sentir aimé et valorisé par ses parents afin de développer une bonne santé émotive et des relations saines? Bref, serait-ce une combinaison de facteurs historiques, sociaux et culturels qu’il serait difficile d’expliquer en un paragraphe?

Mais surtout, suis-je la seule jeune femme se pensant libérée qui a envie de mettre sa brassière en feu en lisant que si on donnait un choix aux femmes, elles pourraient l’utiliser à mauvais escient? Qu’il est donc préférable, pour leur bénéfice ma petite madame, de ne pas leur donner? L’auteur se pare du drapeau de la libération féminine en faisant preuve du paternalisme le plus bas. Bravo. Quand j’aurais besoin d’un homme pour me dire ce que je dois faire pour éviter de paraître rétrograde, je saurai où le rejoindre.

Ça m’a rappelé un incident de ma très jeune enfance, circa 1976. Je me suis ouvert le menton lorsque la roue avant de mon tricycle s’est prise dans une bouche d’égout mal fermée. Ma mère a voulu poursuivre la municipalité pour négligence mais a abandonné les procédures lorsque mon père a dû signer une autorisation lui permettant d’entamer une poursuite judiciaire.  Nier aux femmes la poursuite de leurs ambitions, même lorsque celles-ci se « limitent » à l’éducation de leurs enfants, c’est retourner à l’époque où les femmes devaient recevoir la permission de signer des documents importants et de gérer leurs finances personnelles. Leur dire que rester à la maison est un mauvais choix car elles pourraient le regretter dans l’éventualité d’un divorce, c’est substituer son intelligence à la leur. Le combat du féminisme n’était pas de donner aux femmes une palette de choix déterminés « progressistes » mais de leur donner l’autonomie de faire leurs propres choix. Les propos tenu par l’auteur de cet article m’inquiètent bien plus que mes copines qui renoncent à leur carrière pour rester à la maison.

Mais ce n’est pas tout. L’auteur va plus loin dans la substitution de son bon jugement à celui des femmes qui décident de rester à la maison en déclarant que les enfants doivent fréquenter la garderie pour y apprendre à vivre :

Une bonne garderie fait acquérir aux enfants des aptitudes cognitives, comme écouter, observer, parler, dessiner, compter, lire et écrire. Elle leur apprend aussi la patience, la persévérance, la responsabilité, la discipline, l’estime de soi, la capacité d’interagir avec les autres, la générosité et la maîtrise des émotions.

Y’a-t-il quelque chose d’utile que les enfants peuvent apprendre à la maison? La déclaration que les enfants doivent fréquenter une institution pour pouvoir développer ces habiletés particulières suggère qu’elles ne peuvent être acquises à la maison ou enseignées par les parents. Pousse mais pousse égal!  J’ai 8 enfants. Certains ont fréquenté une garderie jusqu’à leur entrée à l’école. D’autres sont restés à la maison avec moi. Aucun n’est plus vertueux que les autres à ces égards. En fait, j’ai toujours remarqué que l’entrée à l’école emportait une dégradation marquante du comportement de mes enfants. Tout d’un coup, ils se mettent à pousser pour avoir leur tour, à japper après leurs frères et sœur et à s’envoyer promener. Et pour ce qui est du développement du vocabulaire, on repassera merci : ils apprennent soudainement à sacrer. Il naît de l’école un stress et une impatience qui me surprennent toujours, même après 6 enfants. Pour ce qui est de la garderie, j’ai remarqué que certains enfants en garderie font preuves de discipline et de générosité et d’autres non. Serait-ce parce que finalement, c’est à la maison que ces apprentissages sont introduits et consolidés (ou non)?

Il est difficile de répondre à une déclaration à l’emporte-pièce par l’anecdote mais regardez autour de vous et dites-moi sans rire que les seuls enfants bien ajustés que vous connaissez sont issus d’un centre éducatif et que les seuls fuckés ont été élevés par des mères à la maison. Allez! Sans rire! Si l’auteur pense vraiment que les femmes ne sont pas à la hauteur de leurs propres petits, ce n’est pas surprenant qu’il ne les pense pas dignes de choisir quoi faire avec une potentielle subvention de services de garde.

Est-ce que l’état devrait payer les femmes pour qu’elles restent à la maison? Absolument pas! Au mieux, j’aimerais que les parents qui restent à la maison bénéficient d’un régime fiscal comparable à celui des parents qui travaillent. Par exemple, en permettant que la valeur du service de garde que les parents fournissent en restant à la maison puisse être déduite de leur revenu familial. Ou que le fractionnement du revenu (income splitting) soit permis pour les familles dont un parent reste à la maison. Je ne veux pas d’un chèque du gouvernement pour m’occuper de mes enfants. Parce que du chèque à l’inspection, il n’y a qu’un pas. Lorsque je paye ma femme de ménage, je m’attends à pouvoir lui dire quoi faire quand elle est chez moi. Et je n’accepterai jamais qu’un bureaucrate vienne fouiner chez moi pour voir si j’élève mes enfants d’une manière digne d’être payée. Votre enfant de 2 ans fait-il ses nuits madame? Il va falloir le laisser pleurer! Mes copines qui sont passées à travers un processus d’adoption savent à quel point les attentes d’un ministère quant à ce qui rend un parent digne peuvent être aussi frustrantes qu’illogiques. Je vais me passer du chèque et des interventions.

Je n’ai qu’à imaginer l’auteur de l’article dans le rôle de la police parentale. Gardez votre argent.

Collation au volant

En septembre dernier, j’ai revu une maman que je connaissais depuis longtemps à travers l’école des enfants. Maman à la maison pour quelques années, elle avait pris congé du marché du travail pour avoir ses enfants. Son mari poursuivait une carrière accaparante et il semblait raisonnable qu’elle reste à la maison afin de s’occuper de la caverne pendant que papa allait à la chasse au mammouth.

Quand les aléas de la vie ont vu papa se retrouver sans emploi, maman est retourné travailler à contrecœur: bien qu’elle ait été plus “employable” que son époux, je ne crois pas que papa était un père à la maison dans l’âme. Il s’en suit donc que maman dû maintenir la caverne et s’occuper de la chasse au mammouth pendant que papa s’occupait vigoureusement à éplucher les petites annonces d’emplois dans The Economist — et peut-être se rattraper dans sa lecture, hum, qui sait?

Quand j’ai revu maman, elle avait doublé de taille. La sédentarité du travail de bureau n’a rien de comparable avec la vie quotidienne avec quelques enfants. Et le stress y était peut-être pour quelque chose? Je me préparais moi-même à retourner au travail à la fin de mon congé de maternité et j’ai pris note.

Mais que s’est-il passé? J’ai perdu la note. il est devenu difficile de courir régulièrement. Puis il y a le bol sans fond de M&M que mon patron garde bien rempli “pour les visiteurs”. Et tout d’un coup comme ça, juste avant les vacances de Noël, je n’arrivais plus à attacher mes pantalons. Pas drôle!

J’ai essayé de me mettre au régime mais mon corps qui allaite s’est rebellé. Trois semaines de régime n’ont pas réussi à faire bouger la balance. J’ai coupé le Nutella et la crème glacée complètement. Je n’ai jamais aussi bien — et aussi peu! — mangé de ma vie et pourtant la balance refuse de bouger. Cette semaine, elle a même augmenté de 3 livres. 3 livres… Pas grand choses mais démoralisant quand même.

Faute de comprendre ce qui ne marche pas et d’accepter que la quarantaine qui approche, la grossesse multiple et les 6 grossesses qui l’ont précédé, ont changé mon corps pour toujours, je tente de mettre moins d’emphase sur la balance et son allié le miroir qui me renvoient l’image d’une personne que je ne reconnais pas. Je me concentre sur la course, le prochain demi-marathon, le plaisir que j’ai à aller courir, et une alimentation saine.

Lorsque je déjeune à 5:30, j’ai besoin de refaire le plein avant midi. J’ai commencé à apporter un smoothie pour le trajet au bureau, histoire de ne pas tomber dans le bol de friandises en arrivant.

Le super smoothie simple et délicieux, végétarien, sans gluten et avec un petit boost de protéines en prime:

– une banane fraîche
– 3/4 de tasse de petits fruits congelés
– une bonne cuiller à soupe de beurre d’amandes
– environ une tasse (ou plus selon la consistance) de lait d’amande. Si vous avez le bec sucré, vous pourriez utiliser la version sucrée à la vanille. J’utilise du lait d’amandes normal sans rien.

Et voilà!


Work, daycare and the absence of both Pt 2

I finished part 1 of this series by questioning why it was so hard for mothers to re-enter the workforce after taking time off to care for their young children. The previous post wasn’t strictly about daycare but the undervaluation of a mother’s role and experiences is an important consideration when discussing the interactions between women, daycare and the workplace.

In the Globe & Mail article, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/household-finances/the-daycare-tipping-point/article4465673/?service=mobile

I am quoted saying:

“Right now, I will be paying more in child care than I will make at work part-time, but I will keep my job, my benefits and my continuity of employment. The money that it is costing me to go back to work, I see it as an investment in my career.”

Continue reading “Work, daycare and the absence of both Pt 2”

Reflection on daycare, work and the absence of both Pt1

I was privileged to be interviewed for a Globe & Mail piece on childcare. You can find the piece here. When Roma Luciw interviewed me, we were pulling into Rivière-du-Loup Qc after 10 hours on the road. I wasn’t sure what the article would be about but I hoped that I sounded sane. The daycare tipping point, or the decision to stay home or go to work from a daycare cost perspective:

When does it make sense to put your career on hold and look after the kids versus going back to work and forking out the money for child care?

It’s a directed look at childcare and I am always in support of more public discussion about women, family, children and society. But the decision to work for a pay cheque is rarely as one-dimensional as the piece’s angle. I propose this series of posts as a reflection on childcare beyond basic math.   It’s not about assigning blame or responsibility where no blame is deserved or responsibility owed. It’s a reflection about how we can do better for our sake and for our children’s sake.

Continue reading “Reflection on daycare, work and the absence of both Pt1”