Family myths

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

A post shared by June Svetlovsky (@junesvet) on

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

A post shared by June Svetlovsky (@junesvet) on

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

A post shared by June Svetlovsky (@junesvet) on

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.

Squad goals

For someone who has such a disastrous dating track record and a legendary bad taste in men (if I like a guy, even only to the extent of finding him good eye candy, he ALWAYS turns out to be somewhere along the scale of “clueless asshat” to “full-blown psycho jackass”; I’m like one of those divining rods for finding water, except I uncover assholes disguised as attractive males) I consistently do the opposite when it comes to friendships. Over the years, in all areas of my life, I’ve developed the most standup, awesome, diverse, honorable set of friends, a diverse group with different backgrounds & professions. #humblebrag

Allie is one such amazing friend. I met her around the same time as Dynamo, during my first year back in uni as a full-time student. I was an angry, unpleasant person in those days, too busy battling my shame of having failed out of engineering. Allie was in my elective acco class about detecting and preventing fraud #actuallyinteresting #notboring. She quickly pegged me as someone she wanted to get to know, because we had so many acquaintances in common, and I pegged her as the only student in the class that might pose a threat to my goal of finishing with the best grade. I adopted the mantra “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”, whereas she thought we were on a path to be friends. We did a project together and I decided that I would keep her as a study buddy. Yes, I really did evaluate people in terms of their usefulness to me back then. #charming

We completed the rest of our undergrad together. I look back on my interactions with Allie during that time with shame. I was frequently annoyed by her mannerisms, how emotional she would be, a talkative clingy drama queen (#ironymuch? I was not particularly self-aware back then!) I mean, she would call me, instead of texting! WHO DOES THAT?!?! I was consistently rude to her, short-tempered, and judgmental. Yet, for some reason, she persisted in viewing our relationship as something approaching a friendship, instead of a nerdy association. This lasted close to TWO YEARS. The girl was persistent!

Then my ex dumped me out of the blue. The life I thought I was working towards with him was no more. I was gutterless, stuck in a degree I hated with few friends, as I had spent the past 2.5 years ignoring humans, focused only on achieving a perfect GPA. I didn’t know who to turn to, I was disoriented by my new reality. Allie watched me struggle, and gave hugs and encouragement. Suddenly her phone calls didn’t seem like an archaic form of communication, but a sweet way to check in on a friend. Suddenly, I was the one crying emotionally while she listened quietly and without judgment, and then shared her bag of jellybeans with me. When I wanted to drop out of school during my alcoholic haze, she reminded me of the inspiring disciplined study buddy she relied on, and prodded me to get back in touch with that side of myself. My ex’s sudden absence – the one person I’d counted on to always be there – made me appreciate the people that were actually there: Allie, Dynamo, and Blond ‘Fro, amongst others. #majorsilverlining

Over 6 years have passed since that watershed moment. During that time, Allie and I studied and passed the UFE together, got hired at the same accounting firm, in the same department, worked stupid hours. We survived office politics, terrible clients, always pushing each other to be the best damn versions of ourselves we could be. We worked out together, discussed diets and boys endlessly. When she announced her intention to move to NZ, I was dismayed. But I was her cheerleader, encouraging her to follow her dreams despite her inevitable huge doubts and fears. She stayed in NZ for 3.5 years, during which we texted almost daily, emailing often, seeing each other during her Xmas holiday visits. She moved back home 2 months ago, and the hole in my heart disappeared.

One month after her move back to Mtl, she rented a chalet up north, and invited her immediate family and her close friends to spend the weekend with her and her fiancé to celebrate their engagement, their first home and her birthday. Seeing Allie surrounded by her family was a revelation. This is a family that radiates love, generosity and integrity. They care, fiercely, about each other, and about every person that they love. Yes, they are all up in each other’s business (they all call each other ALL THE TIME!!!), but that is because each member’s happiness is dependent on every other family member achieving their happiness – so yes, they will meddle/help/irresistibly push each other to better themselves. Just like Allie has always done with me. That weekend, Allie asked me to be her bridesmaid at her wedding. In that moment, I became an honorary part of the family.

I spent all of last Saturday with Allie, her mother, and her childhood BFF (the maid of honor) shopping for Allie’s wedding dress. While it was only the second time I met her mother and BFF, I feel like I’ve known them forever. We talked of everything, personal and trivial (although, really, no one can possibly believe that the degree of bedazzle on a wedding dress is a trivial topic, right?) Vulnerability is something that comes easily to those ladies. If I had to label the feeling of that day, it would be one of wholesome, uncomplicated love. The love we share for Allie, and Allie for us. The joy in knowing Allie was one step closer to cementing her love with her man. When I am with Allie, it seems simple to be wholly oneself, yet connect wholly to others. The further I distance myself from her orbit, the less that seems possible.

Girl’s got it. I am so incredibly grateful that despite myself, she decided to adopt me.

Allie, Vanilla & Dynamo – at the weekend chalet getaway.

P.S. She said yes to the dress and we cried. And celebrated with champagne and jellybeans.

Guess what? Watering pots are still not useful

I bet y’all thought I would rant and rave about Trump. I won’t, for now. There isn’t much to say. There is a lot to read, and I strongly recommend this and this article about macro factors that are changing the Western political landscape.

Nah, if I’ve been mostly silent, it is due to being over-worked, having little time to write about my very limited social life and too stressed to notice details and funny anecdotes. I have had a lot to think over in my personal life, but most of it involves others, and navigating both my feelings and the individuals’ right to privacy is complicated. Great opportunities for growth and development, but useless as far as blog material.

Still. Here is a short rant.

Remember Porcupine? My darling Porcupine, who reminds me of my mother? I’ve worked through my failures as a friend, my own mental health is stronger, so wtv hiccups previously polluted our friendship are now irrelevant.

I’ve often observed, in my own life and in others, that Life forces us through the same lesson over and over again, until we learn it, accept it and change. But with every repeat, the consequences are bigger, the damage to oneself and others is aggravated, there is a cost. Life loves to bring us to our knees and keep us there. At the time it seems senseless. But like a parent trying to discipline a child, for the child grow into the best version of itself, Life too disciplines us if we but are open to the lessons. Except unlike a loving parent, Life is a bitch, with no empathy. The link too between the change that needs to happen and the format of the lesson is often unclear and confusing – bad parenting, right there! Maybe that is why Life lessons hurt so bad, yet are impossible to forget.

Porcupine is now facing the fallout of a hybrid Life lesson & Universe Bolt of Bullshit. Not wee consequences, but big consequences. Electing-Trump-as-President-the-future-has-forever-changed consequences. It breaks my heart. His anger at the universe has disappeared. Now I sense remorse, grief and sorrow. Sorrow for the possible pain that this Life lesson might inflict on his daughter, his baby girl, the light of his life.

I can’t convey or convince you that Porcupine is a good man. One who has done things he regrets, like us all, just trying to stumble through life to the best of his ability. But he is a man that loves deeply and faithfully. Whose intentions are good and kind. His close friends are the sort I’d be proud to introduce to my parents, not because of any accomplishments, but because of their characters and values. I don’t know why the Universe is so intent on him learning this particular Life lesson, but to see him suffer, the kind of suffering that can only be done alone, makes me cry. I spent my whole life watching my mother suffer. She too frequently embodied remorse, grief and sorrow. She too was a flawed individual, yet she was undeniably a good, loving woman, who brought joy to those who knew her.

Apparently the Universe does not deem “bringing joy to others” as enough to exempt my mother and Porcupine from their share (more than their fair share?) of Life lessons and suffering.

Adulting sucks.

I’m still a watering pot.