Family myths

Introducing Harold

Canadian Thanksgiving. It’s the one weekend annually where my mom’s family gathers to spend time together. As we are scattered here and there (NYC, Boston, Mtl, Quebec city), most of us are working – the youngest cousin is 22, I am 33, and only 2 of our parents are retired – the logistics are tricky. Christmas? Impossible. Easter? Too short. Vacations don’t coincide, life is busy.

This year, my cousins and I decided to recreate a famous family portrait taken 21 years ago at my Baba’s:

My cousins took this project seriously. Boston cousin #1 purchased a jumper. Qc cousin #2 reached out on Fbk to all her network asking to borrow 3-5 barbies. NONE of her friends answered her plea, so she went shopping. Not to be outdone, I got myself a wig. His name is Harold, and he will be my +1 at all future family gatherings.

My father, upon meeting Harold, “You’re crazy. I mean, you’re all crazy, you Baba-offspring. I don’t mean to single YOU out as being particularly deranged. But that guy there, what’s his name.. Joe, Josef, wtv (Boston cousin #1’s fiancé)… poor guy. He has no idea what he’s getting into.” I suggested that Josef probably had scoped out the situation prior to proposing, “Nah. He has no idea what’s coming at him. I certainly didn’t.”

I think Josef is lucky to be integrating himself into this much awesome:

My family was supposed to show up anytime after noon, with the goal of sitting down to eat at 2pm. At 12:05pm, my father uttered a sad sigh.

Pa: “That’s it, nobody’s coming.”

Me: “You’re absolutely right. Nobody loves us.”

Pa: “I don’t care if they love us or not, I want to start drinking, and I can’t drink alone.”

Me: “…”

Pa: “Oh, you count as a person?! Hurrah! Go get the booze.”

He loves me, he says.

The solution to my father’s drinking problem: he will never be alone ever again. Party!

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Cat therapy

Allie asked me to house-sit during her two week honeymoon with William. Contrary to everyone’s expectations, it’s been 9 days and so far both cat and plants are still alive. #overachiever

The first few times their cat clambered into my bed and snuggled in the crook of my knees, I was startled. Now, if I don’t wake up to her paws stepping over my shoulder to curl up next to my face for a 10 minute session of morning breath cuddles & purring, I am a little disappointed. Wonders’ll never cease.

Last weekend, I kept it low-key. My funk has mostly stopped sliding out of control – treading water totally beats being pulled willy-nilly by the current of my shadow – but I’m nowhere close to being fully myself. I am still exhausted by life, and after the previous week’s hectic wedding activities, I was craving the hermit life.

I don’t own a TV – I am rarely home long enough to make it worthwhile, and I definitely have the type of personality that is susceptible to binge watching shows on Netflix to the point that social and professional life are compromised. So just like I don’t bring any junk food, candy or bread into my home, no TV. 

Allie has a nice TV. 

What better way to spend my Saturday evening than with wine and some good entertainment? Allie’s cat definitely thought it was a good idea.

Scrolling through Netflix, so much appealed to me, but I kept coming back to the Sherlock (BBC series with Benedict Cumberbatch aka Bae aka the only man other than Jon Stewart that I’ll ever love). My mom discovered Sherlock when it first came out in 2011: we watched the first season during my family dinners. We loved that show! We intended on watching Season 2, episode 1 together soon after my 28 bday, but she died before I could get my shit together to go visit her.

Many people encouraged me throughout Seasons 2-4 to keep watching the show. I couldn’t bring myself to. 5 years, I refused to watch that show. My godmother even offered to have sleepovers where she’d cook and coddle me and we could watch it together, just us girls. I couldn’t.

Until this weekend, buoyed by all the love from Allie’s wedding, in her condo, with her cat purring next to me. It still hurt, but I felt safe enough to try work through that painful mix of emotions.

Season 2: done. #toldyaIdbingewatch

Fall is upon us, which I always find hard, I miss her awful, but clearly the gaping wound caused by her sudden death is finally starting to heal. 

Who’d have thought a fur ball would do me so much good?!

Too late

I never understood Mother’s Day growing up. I understood Father’s Day even less. Like, why bother? Y’all are my parents every day, so why are we gonna pretend one day is more important than all the others?

I was a brat, can you tell?

I did a half-assed job celebrating Mother’s day, growing up. My mother was always slightly upset by my lack of effort. As I grew older, after I moved out and started appreciating my mother a whole lot more once I realized what a pain adulting could be, I tried to make a bigger effort.

Our last mother’s day. 2012.

2012. Mother’s day. I was swamped with work – putting in regularly 60-65-70 hour weeks, the rest of my life on standstill. Groceries? Don’t know what that is. Laundry? No time, I’ll just keep buying new clothes. I’d cancelled a few of our weekly family dinners, never having time to call and chat, bc I would leave my home at 8am and come back at midnight, 7 days a week. On Mother’s Day weekend, all I had time for was a quick brunch. I felt so guilty, such a shit daughter. My mother’s health was bad – I hated making her come downtown to meet me, instead of me taking the time to go see her.

Look how happy she was to see me – just to spend time with me. My father insisted on taking pictures of us, something he never did because my mother HATED being photographed. But this time, for some reason, she let him. It was a lovely meal – she told me not to feel guilty about my disastrous schedule and poor time management skills: she knew, without a doubt, that I was doing my best, that I loved her, and I would learn eventually to do better. I had enough going on, I should focus on the tasks at hand, instead of taking on unnecessary guilt.

What a mama.

Easter 1988 or 1989. I was almost-4 or almost-5.

I get the importance of Mother’s Day now.


My Ma:

Neighborly love in the suburbs

Yesterday afternoon, after back-to-back meetings, I checked my voicemail; I had a message from a family lawyer, who lives on the same street as my parents, asking me to call her at my earliest convenience.


I attended a French immersion school in a poor immigrant-centric area for my first 4 years of elementary, by the end of which I couldn’t string together a basic French sentence. So, in grade 5, my mom transferred me to the local school a few blocks from my house, in our very francophone suburb of Montreal. Super Québécois – we were only 4 Anglophone kids out of the 50 “graduating” students. I had a lot of catching up to do. It was also a bit of a culture shock, and my first exposure to prejudice: a homogenous population where my maternal tongue made me an outsider.

Because my mama was my mama, she encouraged/volontold me to sign up for a regional public speaking competition in the fall of Grade 5. In French. Why? Because it was important that I develop the self-assurance and confidence to speak my mind eloquently and convincingly, as a woman in a man’s world. Yes, she would talk to me like that at 11 (thirteen-minus-two) years old. I wrote a text called “Oui, c’est beau la vie“. It brought a tear to my mama’s eye – so mature, so wise, her little Bingi was so wonderful. However, her little Bingi had a brutally thick English accent –  the sounds coming out of my mouth didn’t qualify as French words. My mama reached out to a woman living at the end of the street: Mme R, a lawyer specializing in family law, who spoke beautiful French. Mme. R firmly agreed with my mother that the ability to speak my mind persuasively was a critical survival skill-set, and so she agreed to spend 2-4 hours weekly, for two months, giving me free elocution and public speaking lessons.

I quickly grew to love and admire Mme. R. I’d not been exposed to many career women: most of my friends’ moms were either housewives like my mama, or else had simple 9-5 jobs. But Mme. R was the mother of 3 little munchkins and their home radiated comforting love and happiness, just like ours did, except she had a Very Important Job and Didn’t Hide Her Intelligence, my mama said. My embarrassment about my terrible French decreased. I had something to say, and clearly Mme. R thought it was something worth saying and worth listening to (over and over and over…). Her munchkins would sit quietly during my practices and sweetly encouraged their new friend, who was doing something Worthwhile, so their mama told them.

I didn’t rank well at that public speaking contest, despite delivering my best performance. I was the only non-Francophone participating. That was my first time learning that having something worthwhile to say does not mean people will listen.


Mme. R apologized for calling me at work: that was the only contact info she could find via Google. We hadn’t spoken, other than occasionally bumping into each other on the street/grocery store, since I started high school: life happens, that way. She was pleased to see that I’d grown into a belle jeune femme, épanouie et heureuse and hoped that her internet searches were an accurate reflection of my real life.

Her reason for contacting me: she’d noticed that despite last week’s snow storm, my father’s driveway was uncleared, and the flyers were piling up on his front porch. And while she and Mr. R had tried to convince themselves that everything was ok, it had been many days since she’d seen my father around in the neighborhood.

Touched, I explained that my father had left to travel Russia exactly two weeks ago, and obviously had forgotten to consider the weather/mailman in his plans – completely like him. Her relief was profound. She offered to clamber over the snowbank, clear the flyers and reminded me that he could always count on her and Mr. R to perform such neighborly favors. I asked after her family; my mind boggled when she told me the 3 lil’ munchkins were all grown up, and she was now a grandmother! She carefully asked after my mother. 4.5 years doesn’t make the communication of Ma’s death any easier, y’all. Mme. R was dismayed – she’d assumed/hoped that my mother’s absence from the neighborhood was due to her failing health keeping her house-bound.

We didn’t say much else – the memories were too strong.

Our phone call was done in fluent French.


I’d forgotten about that brief period in my life, those hours spent in that safe bubble of comforting love and happiness. I’d forgotten about Mme. R.

I wish I could’ve found the words to thank her. Those French lessons allowed me to be admitted into the prestigious French high school which shaped my personality and taught me the problem-solving skills that make me a good accountant. My ability to speak my mind persuasively & fluently in French has influenced my career: it dictated which Big 4 I was admitted to, the client portfolio I was awarded, the mandates I worked on, the opportunities to travel to France for work, and getting hired here, at my dream job. It is what allows me to pursue my Big Dream to move to Paris within 24 months. Who I am, and what I’ve become, is welded to this language.

Thank you, Mme. R. Thank you for the gift of your time, your language and your love, twenty years ago. And thank you for the gift of your care for my father, now.

Memory box

Growing up, my mother encouraged me to keep a memory box of all cards and letters I received from friends and family, because she told me I would cherish the memories one day. Because she was my Ma, and I took her word as Law, I religiously kept all such items as a child.

I became slacker in adolescence, and to my eternal regret, I stopped when I moved out at 19. There are some cards she gave me in my twenties that I would give anything to find again, but I lost them during all my moves, and my carelessness.

Tuesday, after my bad day, when I was desperately searching for something to comfort and anchor me, I opened up the Memory Box for the first time since she died. I found so many treasures there, including her letter to me, aged thirteen-minus-two and this one:

Jan 19, 1995

Good Morning Miss Bingi,

Shake yourself awake little girl!!!

It’s a new day and how hard you work now will make all the difference in your tests today. Wake me as soon as you need quizzing. Say “Ma, I need you! It’s important, my old mom.”

Yours truly,

Sosipatra Hoggstub

P.S. Nightmares Mimi is having tonight:

  • Oh no! MacDonald’s Mimiburger
  • Oh no! MacDonald’s Mimihotdog
  • What’s next? Mimi Pizza?

(For a full introduction to Mimi, my childhood bestfriend and teddybear, read When you are having a bad day… and Where I rediscover that Mimi is fidèle.)

I have countless such handwritten notes that she’d leave on the kitchen table for me to find when I’d wake up. Some are whimsical (Sosipatra Hoggstub?! Straight outta Harry Potter, before Harry Potter even existed), some are irritated, some are forgiving, all are written with so much love. Due to her terrible health and pain conditions, she often had trouble falling asleep, sometimes only dozing off at 5am, after my father had woken to go to work. Yet, she always wanted me to wake her in case I needed extra help prepping for school.

What a mama.


Today is my father’s 67th birthday. My old man is off gallivanting in Moscow and St-Petersburg with some friends. He is enjoying his retirement, which given how hard he worked his whole life… is a very good thing.

A tribute to my old man

Happy birthday, Pops!

Letter from my Mama – Tuesday August 8, 1995

Good morning, my darling Miss Bingi, Thirteen-minus-two!

Eleven is a fine age to be, I think. Did I ever tell you, my dear little Poozik, how very proud I am of you? Sometimes in the big flood of talk about problems, difficulties, things that need improving, I forget to tell you that you are a beautiful, wonderful, miraculous Choozik. And that everything will work out wonderfully well! Sometimes I lose perspective and forget to have enough trust in God – in life – in me and in you. But I’m learning – and I love you with all my heart – which makes me learn a little faster than I might have.

So my dear delight, let’s take pleasure in each other’s company for soon the summer will be over and it’ll be a busy winter and then, guess what, the year of thirteen-minus-two will be over and the time of twelve will come to you. So let’s make some happy memories of our time together during the summer of eleven.

With all my love always,

Your mama

P.s. I’m ready for a couple of games of “dourak” and gin rummy today.

Fun facts: I broke my legs and began 5 years in and out of hospitals as a cripple in Fall 1995, and my mother got diagnosed with Stage 4 Breast Cancer in Fall 1996.


I had an absolute garbage day today, culminating in me bursting into tears at my desk at 7:30pm, sobbing so hard with mascara tears down my cheeks that the cleaning team respectfully turned off their vacuum cleaners to give me space and silence. I needed comfort bad. This letter is the closest thing I could get to a hug from my mother.

Some days, I miss her awful.

2017: coping with the terror of joy 

I’m sitting in my Qc uncle’s family room, slightly tipsy, sipping some port, listening to Leonard Cohen.

I feel like weeping.

This was a good holiday season. Unlike last year, I didn’t have a blow out fight with my father. True to the past 7 years, I did all my Xmas shopping on the 24th, in a state of panic, guilt and elation. 25th at my godmother’s, as I’ve done for as long as I can possibly remember: a day of food babies, mundane chit chat, terrible jokes and SO MUCH love. My father and I left Montreal early on the 26th, and made it to Quebec city by lunch time, and have been spending our time with my darlings ever since.

I want one. #socute #corgipuppy #justlikethequeen #auntiejune #xmas #familytime #selfienation

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WE MATCH!! #socute #familytime #matchingpajamas #jellybeans #cousins #cousinlove #xmas #bestpresentever

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Domestic bliss. La belle cousine, les beaux chiens. #xmas #familytime #dogstagram #cuties

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It makes me SO happy to see my darlings grow into mature adults. They might be younger than me, but they impress me with their wisdom and courage in their quests to become the truest and best versions of their selves that they can be. Nothing is better for my soul than time with my cousins.

I spent the day remotely working from Qc city; tomorrow I will do the same. Friday is shaping up to be a full day at the office as I lead the year-end close like a big girl. Back at it, Jan 2nd – I’ll hit the ground running. Not gonna lie, work is stressing me out. But even as I feel pukey when I look at my impossible to-do list, I feel joy at having found my dream-job, dream-team and dream-company. Joy at being healthy enough to struggle with this challenge, and the opportunity at manifesting an important side to my personality (smart, assertive, ambitious, possibly bitchy, mentoring leader).

I have a long list of people I am supposed to try squeeze in my few hours of free time after work tomorrow and the 30th. My NYE plans are yet undetermined, but my friend Superwoman has determined that wtv happens, we will see each other. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: I’m blessed with the best friends ever.

So why, if everything seems to be falling into place, do I feel like weeping?

True to my cerebral self, I tried various theories: shame at the insane amount of weight I’ve piled on these holidays, and fatigue at always having body-hatred issues. Stress from work, knowing I am likely to miss some deadlines on important projects. Adolescent insecurity at not having firm NYE plans: nobody loves me, I must be lame. Dismay at not having a particular boy to flirt with at the moment. But those are all superficial discomforts, and do not justify this deep malaise. Part of it is finding myself with the headspace to hear my own thoughts; the let-down after a particularly intense December, and the anxiety/fear of a big January. My paranoid brain, resentful at having been given the backseat for so many months, is trying to get itself heard.

And there we have it. I feel like weeping, because I am too happy. Too bone-deep happy. This is the closest I’ve ever been to being fully myself, unshackled by fears and insecurities. When I wrote the post Aiming for Happiness, back in August, who would have thought I was so close to finding this level of joy? Having found it, I’m petrified. Petrified that it is too good to be true, that I don’t deserve it, that the Universe will deem that I am a fraud, and true to its habit of bringing people to their knees for the fun of it, the Universe will strip me of my joy and send me back down the dark path of depression. Its been 2.5 years since my last depression, 18-20 months since my symptoms lapsed and 7 months since I stopped therapy. I’m due. Fundamentally, I do not believe I deserve this level of well-being/contentment/peace. Or so my paranoid brain whispers to me. Like Judd Apatow explains so well:

 

I feel like weeping, because I am tired of constantly battling my paranoid brain. On the eve of 2017, I wish myself the freedom to feel joy without the terror.

#mentalhealthstruggles

P.s. Interesting article in the newyorker on happiness.