How do we go on?

Like most of my friends and colleagues (with whom I surround myself on social media and therefore insulate myself from views I disagree with) I woke up today feeling shocked and so very sad.
I also feel personally responsible, because I have chosen to live most of my adult life in a different country and am asked frequently to explain American things. So for this, the biggest American question in generations, I feel like I need a thoughtful response to offer my friends, and honestly to myself – all of us who don’t understand how this could happen. I don’t have the answers – I don’t understand either – but I’ve spent all morning reading articles and posts, and listening to the news, and trying to figure out how I feel and how I’ll go on visiting my friends and family in my home land.
This quote from the NY Times feels true, and it also feels deeply painful to me: “For some Americans – and this is painful to admit – a woman following a black man to the White House was simply too much to swallow.” Roger Cohen, in “President Donald Trump”
I found myself wondering: Is this disbelief and horror that I feel today, is this how some people felt when Obama was elected? That is also painful for me to admit and imagine. I was so buoyed by his wins, so full of hope, so proud of my country – I admit, I felt like maybe we really could move beyond race in America. I thought that everyone would now be able to see what has always been so obvious to me (thankfully, because of my progressive and kind and loving mother): that people are people, no matter what. We should be born equal, with the same opportunities and chances for success no matter what we look like, who we love, or what gender we were born with.
And I find it so very difficult to respect this vote by my fellow Americans, but I have to try.
Hillary’s concession speech was so full of hope, so upbeat – I don’t know how she did it, but now I have to try to find that hope. Let’s try to respect people’s views and try to understand where they are coming from and disagree with love in our hearts instead of fear and hatred.
But also, now more than ever, we have to fight for equality and justice. We have to show our children that the way to live a life in this world is to be kind, and understanding, and meet hatred with love and fight against racism and sexism and misogyny and to treat every human being with dignity and respect (yes, painful as it is, even Trump) – which is what my Mom has said to us since we were old enough to understand what it meant.
I hope we can all live the values and ideals of this note, which a friend of a friend posted on Facebook and which is starting to build the hope I’m so desperately searching for today: img_8134

Remembering the good old (corporate law firm) days

I just came across this article and it really made me chuckle. Law firm Christmas/holiday cards really do (tend to) stink. And it’s not for lack of trying by the marketing department/corporate communications team. The problem boils down to the truism that it is impossible to please everyone, and especially in a place where there are multiple bosses or owners of the business. Every parter in a law firm has a different opinion and, as owners of the business, a right to voice it and/or demand changes. This leaves the marketing/communications person whose shoulders this thankless task has landed on (mine, so many times) with the impossible task of creating something different/memorable that will stand out from the other gazillion cards the client will get while also keeping everyone (i.e. risk-averse, traditional and/or conservative lawyers) happy. Yep, it’s impossible.

After reading this article I’m really going to enjoy sending out my holiday cards this year – with photos of my kids and a handwritten, individual note to each recipient. Who says I’m not a little bit traditional (old-fashioned) myself?

On luck and a cottage adventure

Luck is probably over exposed these days. What does it even mean? People drop worlds like fate, karma and luck all the time.  Whatever it is, we might have used up a considerable portion ours with this whole Canadian adventure.

When we moved to Toronto a year and a half ago, we had never been here before and knew no one. We were crazy, brave, silly and in denial. Through friends in London, UK we facebook messaged a few people asking various newbie questions, one of which was how to find an apartment. As (luck?) would have it, a friend of a friend said the apartment upstairs from hers was coming vacant and fit our criteria (3 bedrooms, not in a suburb).

So we landed on the greatest street in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area, obvs), or maybe the world. It took awhile (winter = everyone inside or rushing there all the time) but we now have a big group of friends, people we really like, who we think are creative, interesting, and fun to be around. The crazy thing is, they (almost) all have kids nearly the same age as ours. You know how you sometimes become friends with people through circumstance but who you wouldn’t normally choose as friends in ‘real life.’ This isn’t like that – this is serious, unbelievable luck.

A few weeks ago, we got to experience our first Canadian cottage adventure with a few of these families.

First, a word on the cottage experience: it is a summer house, basically, and it is MASSIVE here. It is its own culture. Everyone has a cottage or a friend with a cottage (or desperately wants one). On the evening traffic reports on the CBC, they routinely say ‘and if you’re headed to the cottage…’ When I lived in NYC, everyone (but me) went to the Hamptons or the Jersey Shore for the weekend – but this is even bigger than that exodus, I swear.

And for you Brits, cottaging is what they call it without any irony at all. It does NOT mean what you think it means. It just means going to a cottage on the weekend or for a week, with family and/or friends. And because I have that kind of sense of humor, I use the term as often as possible.

IMG_6282 IMG_6301   
This is what it looks like to cottage correctly.

So, for anyone who hasn’t yet done it, or in case you want to relive your first cottage experience, here are some of the things we learned on this first cottage adventure:

1. It’s vital that you go with people you really, really like because you will be living in their lives for a week, and they will be living in yours. What is typically private will all of the sudden be public (and you realize this suddenly, in the moment that you snap at your spouse or child). You will make decisions together such as when we should eat and what we should do today. And you just might run into your friend of the opposite sex in the middle of the night when you’re both in your underwear checking on the child you hear crying who you think is yours. It might happen, but it won’t be awkward, because it’s the middle of the night and you’re parents checking on kids.

2. If you have children, the other people really should have children, too. Children entertain one another much better than adults ever could. But also, when you are spending so much time with other people and they also have kids, everyone is on the same schedule, broadly speaking: you wake up super early, you get food in them as soon as possible, they play, you eat lunch, they nap (or don’t) etc. and then when 8pm rolls around and all the kids are finally in bed, you all of the sudden have the best time ever – like a great party – for about 2 or maybe 3 hours before you collapse in exhaustion.

3. It turns out that swimming in the lake counts as a bath/shower. True story. (Unless you are my husband.)

4. However much beer/wine you bring, you will need more. Probably a lot more.

5. This is Canada, so bring long-sleeved shirts and pants for sitting around the campfire at night – because it might be a bit cool and because there will be bugs.

6. Oh the bugs. So many creepy crazy versions of bugs I’d never seen before in my life. And larger creepy crawly things too (I’m so glad I missed it the morning we caught a mouse in the kitchen). But also, the fireflies. Is there anything more magical than fireflies lighting up the entire landscape around you? The air was sparkling.

7. You will need rainy day activities (or a very clever friend), both in case it rains and because you will need to entertain children sitting around a table waiting for food.

Rainy day activity thought up by my clever friend.

8. You need to pitch in. Be the village. This seems obvious and comes naturally (thankfully) to my group of friends, but I’ve heard stories… No one wants to hang out with someone who doesn’t pull their weight. The communal living/it takes a village aspect of the week at the cottage was probably my favorite part. Parenting other people’s children, older kids helping out with younger kids, always having something fun to do or someone great to talk to – that really appeals to me. And because we were with the right group, for the most part it was easy (see first bullet point). Everyone shared food and booze, and we had a meal rota for cooking, and no one desperately wanted to do this one thing that no one else wanted to do – it just worked. Seriously, how lucky are we?

These people are awesome.

Toronto, we are learning to love you

Yesterday was Easter Sunday, but more importantly (to us), it was beautiful outside. It was warm enough to feel the sun on your skin, and we decided to pack the kids in the car and drive the 2.5 miles or so to the Humber River trail. It was very busy, with many Torontonians clearly thinking along the same lines we were, but it didn’t matter. It was perfect. Bea happily walked along picking up sticks and stones and chattering away. (She would bring home every single rock, stick and piece of trash if we let her, for her ‘collection’). Stella managed to have a little catnap in the stroller. And Paul & I had an opportunity to stroll and have a leisurely chat. All in all – a great afternoon. And then something amazing happened: we noticed a few people staring at this little falls area of the river so we stopped to look, and saw fish jumping out of the water to try to scale the falls and swim upstream. These were pretty big fish (salmon? trout? we are urbanites so we have no idea) and more often than not, they didn’t make the leap successfully. But when they did, everyone cheered and oohed and ahhhed – it was a special moment.

ImageThe moment

Seeing Bea so in her element outside in nature made me excited for this summer. (It really is coming, right?) When we get those couple of months of warmth here in Canada we really take advantage of it – everyone wakes up, opens their doors and hangs out together. All of the neighbourhood parks, of which there are many, have sand pits, splash pads and/or wading pools – and are typically chock full of kids. And this summer we will get to experience cabin country for the first time with trips planned to Collingwood and Barry’s Bay near Algonquin Provincial Park with friends and family. After the LOOOOONG winter during which I feel as though we barely left the indoors, I just cannot wait to be outside all the time. I’m even planning a bit of guerilla gardening to brighten up the, shall we say, unlovely area across the street from our house that is a strange trailer park/parking lot owned by the local utility company.

Yes that’s right, we’ll even get to be outside at home, another first for us – we have a backyard! And a tiny little front yard. And two porches. We made it official and bought a house here, which feels a little bit like a declaration: we love you, Canada, and we’re staying. This is where (and how) we want our kids to grow up.

And it’s not only this love of the outdoors that made us choose you – I’ve mentioned before how much I love the diversity of Toronto. It’s a huge part of why we feel comfortable here, why we want to stay. I want my daughters to grow up knowing that there are all kinds of people on this earth, with different languages and cultures and favourite foods. What better place to do that than Toronto, which is the most ethnically diverse and integrated place I’ve ever lived, with an unbelievable array of delicious food. (Don’t believe me about the food? No less than the The New York Times says so.)

So yes, the winter was brutal and felt never-ending. And yes, we are still homesick for England. But we feel like this is the place for us (for now). Toronto we are learning to love you.

ImageBea’s collection, in case you didn’t believe me

How I feel about Rob Ford as a study in expatism

Now that everyone in the world knows who the mayor of my adopted city is, and more importantly, how he spends his time, I’ve found myself thinking about embarrassment as a true test of belonging.

What I mean is this: I’m not embarrassed by Rob Ford, or angry that he won’t step down. I am an interested and entertained observer, wondering what will happen next and how long this can last. But when I was at a cafe with a friend this morning and overheard a radio report of armed men, women and children protesting gun laws in Dallas, I felt ashamed and wondered how gun laws could still be what they are in America after all of the mass shootings we’ve had. I was angry that the US government was shutdown for so long because Tea Party Republicans don’t want everyone to have access to affordable health care in America.

Although I lived in England for over seven years and eventually became a UK citizen, I can’t remember feeling any strong emotions over public policy or political scandals. So is that the true test of belonging, of feeling like you are from somewhere? No matter how long I am away, no matter how much I insist I won’t go back – deep down I’m still an American because it’s the only country I can feel truly ashamed of. (And yes, proud of, too. I was extremely proud of my homeland when the Supreme Court struck down the atrociously-named Defense of Marriage Act. Maybe feeling truly proud of your country is another test of belonging.)

Want to get to know a city? Have a baby!

IMG_9701Our second daughter, Stella Grace, is three months old now – meaning I finally have five minutes to spare to write a new blog post.

Nothing makes you feel more like a resident in a city than a big life moment: getting married; buying a house; having a baby. When you do something BIG like that in a new home city, it seems to me, you instantly become of that city in a way you maybe weren’t or didn’t feel you were before.

We had Stella on a Saturday in July at Sunnybrook hospital. It was a great experience – but the thing I didn’t expect or had forgotten would happen was how we suddenly had to figure things out for this new human. We needed to name her, register her birth, get her a GP, figure out where to buy diapers early on Sunday morning – you know, the important things. And we suddenly knew a lot more people, too. On our street, everyone wanted to meet the baby. In the coffee shops, other brand-new or second-time moms would stop us to chat. It is a very nice feeling, to belong to Toronto and to have a Canadian in our family. It feels like home.