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To Party

Even for the most droll of us, there is some kind of party that is doable. Whether a soirée, an all out crazy dance time, a choreographed family gathering or even a simple lunch, there is a way to interrupt the flow of one’s daily routines and break up our ongoing days. I am not a party person, but even as a girl who would imagine herself invisible as she blended into the wall, preferring not to engage in any chatter or move to the beat of the music,  I occasionally craved a party.  And sometimes, we do in deed, need to party.

However, what I have always enjoyed is party prep, either as guest or giver. As guest, finding the right outfit, how to self style could fill several hours with fascination, contemplating the location, time and tempo of the event. How to straighten bangs that curled at the first hint of moisture in the air? Jeans or bling? But  even better for me , is to be the arranger of events, deciding how to enliven the mood, enhance the celebration and make the honouree of the party really shine .

Although my husband who does not meet his milestone birthday till next Tuesday had insisted without pause he did not want a party, I felt a party was exactly what was necessary.Optimism peppered with my strict commands and outright threats, for last year’s family birthday dinner had erupted into a diatribe between sibs about the existence of aliens( no joke) that left his 69 th in angry ruins, I decided to persevere with plans. In deed, children were sworn to good behaviour, avoiding such contemptuous topics. So without his consent but their promises, it had to be a surprise.  

Over the years, I have been able to surprise him for his fiftieth and sixtieth birthdays. The former was a trip to Boston where the children carefully fashioned for him a tourist map of all the activities planned, from five star restaurants to baseball games to museum trips . The sixtieth as well included two ball games in Chicago, this time our children and their partners coming along for the weekend. Special hotels, meals, diversions were all carefully considered although the sixtieth also included a backyard party with our close friends who shouted “ surprise” on cue. 

But this birthday party was to be different and I tried very hard to meet the challenge. Because I am now in California during the winter, I had to plan a July birthday in December before I traveled. I decided a small family dinner was just the thing amidst his continual grumbling that he did not want anything, particularly when friends and family persisted with, “ You MUST have something.” I pretended to support his irreverent decision, even planning to be in North Carolina when the day arrived.( Who knew he would trip in Berlin and make that trip impossible?)
No matter, the date chosen for the surprise was a week earlierthan his  actual  birthdate.

Our family has a special relationship with On the Twenty where Jordan proposed to Gillian. In the sweetest of family lores, over a dinner date more than ten years ago, he produced his journal for her to peruse over dinner, romantically kept from their earliest meeting. On the last page, he had written as she read, “ Tonight I will ask Gill to marry me”. So the out of town -usually 1 ½ hours if the traffic is good was far enough away and the stunning spot at the Cave Springs Winery was lovingly imbued with our own family history. Besides that, Howard and I, ourselves, had experienced the quality of farm fresh and locally crafted artistry of their fare numerous times when we needed a special dinner.

Fortunately there was a private room that would accommodate our family and so I booked it. Yup , back in December. They described the room as The Wine Library , not Cellar so there would be light and seclusion from the rest of the restaurant’s lively kerfulle. Knowing the Shaw Festival nearby and summer visits to Niagara Falls would fill the hotels and B&Bs, I also reserved accommodations for the kids in Niagara on the Lake and at White Oaks, putting Howard and myself at the Inn on the Twenty. Even back in December, believe it or not, not one location could meet the needs of all four families. So I spread them them out through the sumptuous wine country. 

Later in March and May, I could finetune the party. As the photographer suggested a colour scheme, I chose white, figuring all male members including kidlets would wear white polo shirts, the gals left to their own choices, but also whites: these, by the way, included one stunning Grecian number, two summer tops, one embroidered, the other peekaboo and my fav Max Mara maxi linen. To ensure the look, back in the the spring, I had ordered the shirts and sent them to my daughter’s house. If they had arrived here at our house, I would have throw them in a cupboard and retrieved them the day before.  

Wise woman that she is, Ariel opened the packages to discover a collection of black tee shirts, tank tops and mini dresses. One might think an exchange no bigee, but after fighting with a phone representative for half an hour, I finally demanded the manager who calmly and simply allowed an exchange.


For party favours, my preference is always chocolate. On line I could have Howard’s head inscribed on M&Ms, silver, pink and turquoise. Candy $6.98, mailing; $34.00. Gulp. Then came the great debate over the butt picture for the mini chocolates, both dark and milk chocolate. For really special events, I contact Simone Marie of Yorkville fame for her Belgian delights. On the wrappers she will provide your choice of photo and so there were three photos in the running: one official shot from Howard’s office; one with his back gazing out at the mountains at Joshua Tree ;and our fav of him in his Blue Jays shirt relaxing at The Tin Fish in San Diego. However the last also included a backdrop of another patron’s butt. Furiously back and forth, the children debated the pros and cons, the Joshua Tree could be any one in a park, the official one too stern, but what to do about the butt? In the end( ha), I could fortunately crop out the offending butt and we had ourselves a winner. 

Nervously I approached the day of the party, providing a ruse of wine tasting and a romantic weekend to entice my hubby to the spot. Although the newspapers promised a perfect sunny day, the rain thundered on the roof of our car and the traffic conspired to delay us. I worried that the children had not left in time, that accidents on the road would delay them. And what about our outside photo shot? Could a boardroom provide a dry albeit boring background?Would the drenching rain sour even the sweetest event? As I nervously picked the skin off my fingers as the car stopped in traffic, Howard casually marvelled at how his former partner had planned an outdoor wedding for his daughter on another vineyard several years ago. I recalled it had threatened rain that day but the sun had shone through with no need for the huge white umbrellas stored by the casks of wine. We had no umbrellas stored. But in spite of the favourable forecasts and even the radio’s assurance rain would end by 5!( our photographer arriving at 4), we were now caught in an annoying downpour. I frantically messaged the inn, the co- ordinator, Ariel, begging for another photo spot option. But only later did I realize I had no wifi and the cries for help failed. That worked to our benefit because the rain  eventually ceased and wound up bestowing interesting lighting in the garden dappled with hydrangeas, black- eye susans and lovely greenery. Post rain renaissance 

A public garden adjacent to our suite was to be the spot for the kidlets to cavort, and magically, thank you Weather Gods, it dried sufficiently for the grandkids to climb up and perch on the wooden bench. Even a pouting Remy was persuaded by a flower easily detached to contribute her two year old smile. Four month old Georgia only had to listen to the strains of Green Acres in order to burst into gurgling smiles.

And my curmudgeon husband , when our handsome soninlaw knocked at the door, was truly surprised. And somehow, too, Howard had chosen a white shirt for our outing so he even blended with the family colour scheme.

I knew what would please Howard was the presence of his guitar teacher Nick. Howard said that at first he didn’t recognize the long haired guy with the guitar who casually entered our dining room. Obviously not anticipating his Toronto teacher to be part of the celebration, Howard was again caught off guard. Jordan. Howard and Nick jammed on Howard’s latest hits that included Margaritaville ! Wonderfully Howard was the rockstar of the event, a command performance where his captive audience groved to his playing. Carter added his recorder to the mix to heighten the strings of Hallejuah. The kids danced, romped and even Aaron did a wild arm- flinging body swaying thing near the table, but all were engulfed in a fun evening, the delicious food enhancing the festivities.

A few people spoke, some did, some didn’t, but I contributed a brief speech, attached here:

In life, we are given gifts. I had no idea that my greatest gift would involve a guy in a funny flowered shirt on a blind date that has continued for 44 years of romance and adventure.

When you’re a kid, you take in a lot of information: on how the world works; who are the good guys and bad guys, what rings your chimes, how to live your life, and what you might want in the future. 

I was pretty ordinary, but had parents who loved and cared bout me. And I liked art- a lot. 

But when I met Howard suddenly my world came into focus. He made me feel I was special and smart and for the first time, I really believed in myself. As well, the values my parents had modelled became more real as I observed in him the integrity, honesty, intelligence and the strength to speak out. Even his admonishing an ancient lady who had skipped the line at Gryfes Bagels to get back in her place. 

Howard isn’t impressed by money or power and he is not judgmental.And he continues to teach and guide me every day. Ours is a give and take relationship. I’ve often repeated how before email technology , he made it a point to be home to have supper with the kids every night, returning to the office only after you guys were asleep in bed, sometimes midnight. He encouraged me and supported me to become a doctor of education, thus allowing for your truly wonderful dinners as the fighting family in the window of St. Hubert’s Monday nights when I was in class.

As a father, he has been exemplar, always there for you- whether calling with an attack of blindness from Albany; visiting for a weekend in London; or just hanging out at a Jays Game. Not to mention the family trips to Europe: of shivering in Brittany, eating pizza at Il Castillo in Montebuono and dumping scorpions out of our shoes, going down the wrong lane at Borghese Villa or blaming that poor Japanese tourist at Giverny.  

It is also true, life is no picnic, but dad is the cup full, not cup empty kind of guy. And win or lose, he soldiers on, putting life into context for me. 

So much goes into a relationship, the spaces between the pearls, as I said at Jordan’s wedding.But here on this magical night with my beautiful children, their spouses and  the grandchildren, I think we are all part of one another, and this spectacular man you call dad and I call Moo, I toast you as my heart my soul and my love. 


Short and sweet. And he even cried as I did. Happy tears. There are those moments in life that we want to revisit and hold close. The night of the party and the next night the memory of the party and its preparation reverberated in my head. Truthfully I was delighted at the perfection of planning that brought together the family for the celebration of their father.He truly deserved every detail, every word.  A party to cherish.


The Motherlode

Last week a newspaper article poked me in the direction of a documentary about women’s rights. I recognized the name of a former student so I set the timer for the show. Women from Ottawa, Windsor and Washington described how difficult it was to be a mother first and a professional person second, often citing that they have not risen professionally because of having to attend to their children’s needs. They lamented that roles for women had not really changed since the 70’s and queried why. Here’s how The Motherload produced and directed by Cornelia Principe began in a voice over:

Dads were supposed to carry more of the load. Motherhood was not supposed to become so idealized. Employers were supposed to be more flexible. Women were supposed to climb higher up the ladder, but feel less guilty. Society was supposed to live up to the promises our mothers made. From single moms to CEOs – a generation of burnt-out, disillusioned moms are waking up and smelling the coffee. Forget having it all – today’s working moms are doing it all.

Although I cannot disagree with the idea that women are still primarily the ones who must leave their jobs if junior gets sick, my years as a woman and an observer of gender equality lead me to alternative considerations.

First, I do observe many more men are staying home and taking MAT leave- AND actually having the opportunity to do so, pushing carriages, playing with the kids in parks and being mother. My own son will interrupt his workday if a child needs to be seen by a doctor. As well, he does the runs to hockey, some drama and other activities for the kids. I think this arrangement is now pretty typical- likely for middle class or upper middle class families, fathers not patting the kid on the head and only sitting down at dinner to enquire how little Johnnie’s day was. I believe couples are balancing responsibilities better than in the past.

When my children were young, my husband walked the kids to school, was there for pick ups early evenings, and even when our first would not stop her screaming, he sat up with her all night. When I returned to school for a doctorate, he manipulated his schedule to ensure that he was able to manage supper at St. Huberts chicken deli, the family in the window, a squabbling group who vented their post- school frustrations openly and loudly at the table. However, I see my son and his ilk doing as much or more these days.

Yet this generation as shown in The Motherload wants it all. They seem unable to accept that there are consequences for choices, and if you decide on bringing three children into the world, that are three times as many mouths to feed, bodies to navigate, personalities and needs to fulfill, and someone must do it. The mothers in the film descry, “ …but why is it me?” Just because you want three doesn’t mean you abrogate your responsibility and yell that the system is not working.

Should more workplaces have daycares? Absolutely.

Should there be more care options for families with kids? Again, yes. However, children are not little clocks to be wound up, set on the shelf and stay there uncomplaining. Little humans have needs to be satisfied and like it or not, it is usually mommy for whom they yell for first. Accept that, and comprehend what that means.

No person in society is provided with everything they want or need: the perfect job with the perfect hours and the perfect pay. Truth be told, the system does not work completely. And I sympathize with Cathy, the single mother from Windsor in The Motherload. She was a nurse’s aid who lost her job and now maintains two jobs, as a receptionist and a driver and support of children with special needs. From the segments I saw ( and I admit turning it off about ½ way through), I could empathize with her dilemma- not because she was the mother, but because her life is confounded by her work situation that does not support her properly, financially, intellectually or socially. That her life has been made more difficult by the fact that she is a single parent without the kinds of benefits that would make life easier. Yet Cathy’s attitude differed from the lawyer’s in Ottawa, not suggesting she had entitlement, but perhaps sadly, a rather a dogged acceptance to get on with life and try and make things work.

Who should not cry out for a system to help us, all genders, through the constraints and dilemmas on a daily basis?

In some ways, there have been changes that speak to the needs of parents, not only women, but the poor, immigrants, for example. I believe that part of the reason for all day kindergarten is to provide the poor with professional competent daycare for their children. And in spite of the costs being high, at least we know a safe and supportive environment for these kids may render them better educated, healthier and happier humans than if they were dumped at Aunt Sally’s daycare until mommy gets home from work.

In this way, better educated kids take the burden off welfare lists. And yes, I know of the studies that trump all day kindergarten because the gains supposedly even out after grade 3, all day programs or not. Ah, but we can do what we wish with statistics to prove any point. I query, “Has the benefit of the stimulation factor, positive attitude, camaraderie, collaborative experiences, lifelong learning also been taken into consideration?” I imagine Charlie Pascal nodding his head in agreement!

Ontario’s Early Learning Study 3 in 2011 stipulates that “…by broadening education’s mandate to include younger children, we can bridge the gap between parental leave and formal schooling. By including the option of extended-day activities for families who request it, Canada can have its long-demanded early learning and care program..[which]includes better parental leave, income support and family- friendly work environments( McCain, Mustard and McQuaig, Introduction, Chapter 2; Also see Chapter 1, Closing the gap between rich and poor.)

McCain, Mustard and McQuaig put forth this scenario, albeit using the “dad-parent”, to demonstrate the reality of today’s childcare situation,

Michael arrives at the centre with 2-year-old Cleo. As they enter the playroom Cleo turns to her father, clings to his leg and begins to cry. Michael picks her up, strokes her back and talks softly to soothe her. As Cleo’s crying slows down, Janette, the early childhood educator, approaches and talks quietly to Michael. Their conversation begins to interest Cleo as Janette tells Michael how much Cleo enjoys the playhouse. When Cleo stops crying, Janette suggests she show her dad how she makes cookies in the play oven. After a short demonstration Cleo is ready for her day and kisses Michael goodbye. (Early Learning Study 3, 2011 Chapter 3,p. 50)

Chief operating officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” trumpets how not to give in to your female fears, accept compliments, and climb that “jungle gym” to success. She need not worry; she can delegate to others. And that is not to say, she does not worry about her children.

Ironically Susan Faludi sees Sandberg’s tome as making women “marketable consumer objects” ( See Faludi, Susan. “Facebook Feminism, Like It or Not”. The Baffler. Baffler Foundation, Inc.) just adding to their worries of depersonalization and feelings of un-worth. Ironically Faludi reports Tina Brown’s Lean In moment: getting her parents to move from England to “the apartment across the corridor from us on East 57th Street in New York,” so her mother could take care of the children while Brown took the helm at The New Yorker.

Read Faludi as she describes the rise of the women’s movement from Lowell Massachusetts in 1834 if you want an understanding of what I think my former student and The Motherlode really want to attack. These are the collective issues that women face daily, and my former student’s life does not stand in as an example of how tough it is, although nurse Cathy’s might.

I am not saying women should not have babies because it will prevent them from rising on the corporate ladder. I’m saying that biology has perhaps saddled you with an extra burden, and that is, if you succumb to maternity, accept you must learn to juggle and hopefully with your partner or partners, or best yet in a job that will provide you with a sustainable routine and reasonable income.

It has to do with priorities and context. Would the “mill girls” agree? I’m not sure.

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