love

Mini-Boom

That moment when your bestie becomes a father.

That’s right. Mrs. Dynamite gave birth yesterday to Mini-Boom. A healthy baby, miniature and perfect. Mommy, Daddy and baby were all happy and exhausted when I left them yesterday.

As I gently touched my Muslim godson (yes, I am Auntie Vanilla, his non-Muslim godmother), I whispered my prayers for him,

Mini-boom, you are gonna grow up to be as smart as your daddy and as funny as your mommy. You will perpetuate their legacy of kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity. You will appreciate the satisfaction of a hard day’s work, and not be afraid to stand by your moral convictions. You will be open-minded. And you will be brave. I don’t want you have an easy life. I want you to have a full life, which means you will be faced with difficult moments and you will navigate them with honor and integrity. You will have dreams, and you will follow them.

I love you. You are my Bingi, my darling. We are family. You don’t know this yet, but you have a huge family, blood related and not, who will take a bullet for you, face down the monsters under your bed and in the real world. You are loved, you will always be loved, and you, in turn, will love wisely and truly.

And then Dynamo showed me the video of Mini-Boom’s birth, the moment Mrs. Dynamite first heard her son’s cries, and I cried. To be accurate, I should describe my crying as sniveling and hiccuped sobbing, an overwhelming rush of emotion I’ve never felt before, wonderment, joy and awe. For once, for once, Dynamo did not make fun of me – he deemed that to be an appropriate reaction to something that far transcends the limits of words and language.

Mabrook!

My Arab & Muslim family

When I told BossMan and IronSweetie (Dynamo‘s brother & sis-in-law) I was coming to Dubai, they insisted I stay with them.

“Vanilla, of COURSE you will stay with us, you are family. Don’t insult us by staying anywhere else.”

You are family. Strong words. I wondered if perhaps the phrasing was slightly hyperbolic and dramatic, as is sometimes the case when dealing with Arabs, and especially with BossMan (#dramaqueen).


Dynamo’s wedding last year.

IronSweetie took me under her wing: teaching me how to dance & introducing me to her family. Showering me with love, despite us only having met twice, briefly. I was Dynamo’s friend, I had been a friend of BossMan prior to his move to Dubai; that was all she needed to know, to befriend me.

Dynamo insisted I participate in the wedding pictures, adjusting his bowtie. After the first dance, when the dance floor opened up to family and close friends, I hung back, until BossMan yelled at me to join them, because I belonged.


I cannot dissociate my mother’s sudden death with Dynamo’s incredible care of me. Which is perfect, really: my mother was Love. It is fitting that her death triggered one of the most perfect demonstrations of Love I’ve experienced.

Dynamo had to leave for a month-long business trip; he almost missed his flight, taking care of me in the immediate aftermath of my mother’s death. He was distraught that he’d miss her funeral. I tried to explain that he had misunderstood: his presence at her funeral, while lovely, was irrelevant. In the Russian Orthodox faith, a person’s soul stays on Earth for 3 days after their death – on the third day, it departs to (hopefully) heaven. Therefore, my mother had seen his kindness and help towards me and my father. She knew we were loved, and that would free her soul to continue on its journey. He had done more good than he could know – he had helped my mother.

2 days later, at the wake at the funeral parlour, I was surprised to see Dynamo’s sister arrive, alone. I’d met her a handful of times, over the years, but we were not particularly close. She bore a beautiful bouquet of flowers, with a card. She met my family, paid her respects, and stayed 30-45 minutes making perfect small talk and giving her support.

“Our thoughts & prayers are with your family. May God help you within hard and good times. God bless her.”

I assumed Dynamo had sent his sister to represent his family, since he was out-of-town and BossMan had moved to Dubai. I was wrong. She volunteered. Those beautiful – perfect – words were her own. I carry that card with me always, to this day.  (Yes, it is water-stained from my tears.)

Dynamo’s family is devoutly Muslim. My family, especially my parents, is devoutly Russian Orthodox. Dynamo’s sister found the perfect words to bridge the (irrelevant?) gap in our faiths. In the Russian Orthodox faith, we believe that praying for the forgiveness of sins of the departed matters, and contributes to their salvation – our human understanding of time is inevitably too narrow when compared to the Eternal. Similarly, I believe that the prayers of my Muslim darlings for my mother’s soul have contributed to her salvation. That they would care about her salvation, and pray for her, fills me with endless gratitude and love.


BossMan and IronSweetie hosted me in Dubai, treating me always, showering me with generosity and time, despite it being a busy work week for them. We traded stories, shared moments of vulnerability. They showed me their world. I spent time with each one individually and together and met some of their friends. They were the best possible ambassadors for Dubai – answering all my questions and explaining cultural differences.

Their love was so strong. I resisted at first: I felt unworthy of such generosity and kindness. But Love, when untainted by other human failings, is too strong to resist. With every day I spent with them, I grew to understand and accept that I am family. They are family.

This may have always been the case. But this trip finally made me understand.

I love them so.

May God bless the Dynamite family.


Recap of this trip so far:

BossMan

Dynamo. My darling. My bestie.

I got to know Dynamo’s brother BossMan in Montreal in 2011. BossMan was going through a rough patch: he was an extremely high-achiever who was underperforming. Born to be an entrepreneur, he was having trouble developing a business model that was successful. A few too many costly flops, and his self-esteem was rather raw. Yet, always, he had an unwavering confidence that he would succeed one day. He just didn’t have anything to show for it, and society does not look kindly upon those dreamers that preach greatness but don’t have demonstrable results. I was studying for the UFE. I was in the danger zone, pre-depression (I slid into it, badly in 2012). I was a bundle of fear and insecurity and anxiety. BossMan decided we’d be friends – he didn’t give a damn whether or not I wanted to explore vulnerability, he imposed himself in my life. (In choosing a pseudonym for him, I considered Endearingly Explosive Bully, EEB for short, but that sounds like some medical procedure.) He saw the real Vanilla, drowning in my fight against my sick brain, and he always addressed his friendship to that part of me. I’d weep about the UFE, convinced I’d fail; he wouldn’t comfort me, no. He’d yell at me for dreaming too small. He didn’t understand that at that time in my life, I physically couldn’t dream – that is the cost of depression. I didn’t understand how he could still dream after all his failures, but I recognized that this was someone who could teach me about life. I clung to him.

Fall 2011. I was in the car with Dynamo, when BossMan called him about a business idea. Dynamo listened. Dynamo cautioned against the inherent risks in that industry & market. BossMan got irritated at Dynamo’s lack of vision. Later, I asked BossMan for an offhand update about that business idea. That innocent question led to BossMan sharing his business plan with me, consulting with me, trading ideas/approaches with me. He’d call me at work and get annoyed that I was busy and couldn’t walk him through a new tweak in his concept rightthatinstant. He listened – the only time in all these years he has ever listened to me. #EEBalltheway I enjoyed working on this prototype with BossMan. I enjoyed seeing how someone with vision and dreams tackled life.

BossMan left for Dubai in early 2012, with pocket change, the prototype we’d worked on, and his dream of success. I thought he was KA-RAY-ZAY. We kept in touch as he struggled to get his new business off the ground. He confided that his romance with IronSweetie was heating up; he married her a few months later. He launched his business, successfully. Via Fbk, I watched his life take shape, and with every new success, I was proud of him for grabbing life by the horns. But like in my dealings with BlondEyes, I knew: that thirst for life was not for me.

At Dynamo’s wedding last year (2016), BossMan was delighted to see that I was less paralyzed by my fears and insecurities. But to my dismay, he told me I still had a ways to go. I wondered if maybe he was right – the first time I considered that freedom from depression was not the same thing as happiness.

BossMan picked me up at the airport when I arrived in Dubai last week. He asked me what tourist attraction or landmark I wanted to see during my visit. My response: his office, to see the results of that prototype that has grown into a very successful business, and spawned a 2nd business that is shaping up to be as successful, if not more. “Of course! You must!” He introduced me to every single one of his employees. I had trouble not crying: I’m so proud of him. Not for succeeding financially – no. Proud of him for becoming the man he knew he could be back in 2011. Not giving up. Persevering. Overcoming incredible odds. Building a life of happiness for himself.

On the last day of my trip, I was telling BossMan of the various stories from the dance festival, how transformative an experience it has been, all the people I’d met, my various meltdowns. I got the only compliment I’ve ever gotten from BossMan: “Many people would not have done what you did. Good for you. You are living now. Don’t stop.” I know that he is proud of me for becoming the girl he spotted beneath my depressive mess back in 2011. Not giving up. Persevering. Overcoming incredible odds. Building a life of happiness for myself.

We all need those people in our lives that believe in our capacity to be our best selves even when we can’t see our way.

Dynamo & BossMan. What my life would have been without you both.

Thank you.


Recap of this trip so far:

 

Discovering different kind of friendships – Moments of Truth, part II

On my 3rd day in Dubai (the day before the saga of multiplying dishes of food), I had 2 brunch dates. Funnily enough, both people picked the same restaurant as a meeting spot; I am BFFs with the wait staff now.

The first was my fairy godmother‘s niece. My affection for my godmother is such that if she tells me I should meet someone, I will, because it will be a good experience, one way or another. And so it was. I spent 4 hours chatting with her niece, about all kinds of topics: life in Dubai as an expat, democracy, the struggle of self-realization (finding one’s dream and purpose), marriage, the convoluted twists and turns of a career, misogyny. The conversation had an astonishing level of vulnerability given that we’d never met each other before – we just shared love for the same person, her aunt/my fairy godmother (my mother’s best friend who still watches over me in all her love and wisdom). That love created a safe space for truthful revelations.

My second brunch was with BlondEyes.


I did one year in MechEng with BlondEyes, before dropping out. We were 2 of the 25 girls in the 130 student class. I admired her so much. She represented everything I wasn’t and wanted to be: confident, happy, friendly, fun, smart, determined, a delight to be around, always surrounded by people wanting to enjoy her company. Meanwhile, I was paralyzed by my insecurities – I kept BlondEyes at arm’s distance despite my affection for her, because I was too ashamed of who I was and I feared she’d be unimpressed if she knew just how much of a mess I really was. (Honestly! I remember those days of deep self-hatred, and I wish I believed then what I know now: it really isn’t a big deal, we all struggle with adulting, join the party, don’t isolate yourself child! #vulnerabilityreallyisthewaytogo ). Despite this, BlondEyes welcomed me in her circle.

We kept in touch after I dropped out of MechEng in 2004. BlondEye continued to shine brightly, approaching life as a thrilling ride, determined to squeeze every ounce of experience out of it. I yearned to be fearless like her. Our lives diverged after her graduation in 2008: her career brought her to Edmonton, I was struggling to put myself through school and earn my accounting designation. That is life, right? We can’t hold onto everyone we enjoy.

Fast forward a few years (2012). I was a senior working at a Big 4. My first out-of-town mandate was in Edmonton. I posted a pic of some Albertan oddity on Fbk, and BlondEyes commented, asking if I’d be available to catch up. Yes. We went for a 4 hour brunch. She was so happy, her star still shining brightly. This time, I felt I deserved to sit at the same table as her: she was a respected engineer, I was no longer a flunkee but a respectable CPA. (Seriously. The years of unhappiness my brain imposed on me!) She told me of her relationship with her new fiancé, and uttered a phrase that I will never forget: “Vanilla, I know now that love should be easy. Easy doesn’t mean boring. You can feel more alive than you have ever felt with him, but it should still be easy and simple.” I think that might have been the most important piece of advice I’ve ever received. It had the ring of truth to it: she radiated joy. Rather than feel envy – I couldn’t, my depression dictated that happiness was not within my grasp – I felt pride that BlondEyes, at least, was succeeding at happiness.

Fast forward a few years (2017). I post a Facebook status indicating I’m travelling to Dubai to visit BossMan and IronSweetie. Once again BlondEyes commented, asking if I’d be available to catch up – I’d forgotten she’d moved to Dubai 2 years ago. Yes. We went for a 4 hour brunch. BlondEyes: happily married, pregnant with their first child, career going strong, her star shining still so brightly. For the first time in our friendship, her happiness at seeing me didn’t shame me: I too am capable of happiness. It felt like finally, after 13 years, this was the friendship that always could exist, but had never manifested itself. There’d always been a genuine appreciation, goodwill and encouragement of each other, but my former incapacity for joy had made me avoid hers. Now, my thirst for life matches hers, and we can fully celebrate each other’s stories and struggles. And celebrate we did.


Will I ever see these women again? Who knows. I really hope so.

It’s taken me close to a week to understand why that day of brunches made me SO happy: it is because I lived Moments of Truth with them.

Looking back on the three years since my mother’s passing, despite doing my best to keep the world at arm’s length so as to not reveal my messy inner turmoil, I now see that I’ve shared several surges of pure emotions with coworkers, friends, and teammates. Some of these shared moments have blossomed into friendships, and some never morphed into anything other than a momentary connection. But regardless of what happened subsequent to each moment, they are all valuable to me, as they involved an emotional connection. We shared a moment of reality, and in that brief moment we shared our true selves.

And so I begin to reconsider my struggle with truth. Perhaps my concept of knowing someone has always been too narrow: however wonderful and deep the connections I shared with that boy and my mother, they were similar to beautiful paintings, constantly getting reworked to become better approximations of reality. Without doubt, I still aspire to share that process with someone once again. But, in the meantime, as I continue to make my way through life alone, I can revel in each of the brief yet permanent connections that come from sharing a moment of truth with another person.

I feel so blessed to be free finally to connect with people, and live these moments of friendship. Deep, joyous and permanent.

I’m alive – something that was out of my reach for so long.

#mentalhealthstruggles

#grateful

#solocationwhat?


Recap of this trip so far:

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.

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.

Universe, nice try / a pre-NYE tipsy manifesto

So. My wallet was stolen at 4pm today, Dec 31, 2016. Because apparently, the Universe felt that I wasn’t sufficiently endorsing the whole #omgomgomgomg2016wasthewoooooooooooorst vibe.

Listen to me, Universe. Yeah, you pissed me off. Getting my wallet stolen, in the metro, from my purse, is shitty. Its annoying. Cancelling all those cards, getting my ID replaced, advising credit bureaus against potential identity theft = pain in the ass. Especially during a long-week. Especially at year-end. Especially when I don’t have time for this shit.

But does this make me lose hope in humanity? Does this make me despair at the pettiness of my fellow man? Is this #theabsoluteworstever proof that 2016 sucked balls?

Hell nah.

Universe, mark my words.

2016 was AWESOME.

I kicked depression’s ass.

I quit boxing to pursue dancing. Dancing has made me SO SO HAPPY. New friends, exploring a new identity, keeping in touch with all my boxers. No downsides, only happiness.

I dated a boy and then I didn’t and I survived and got closer to my friends and family in the process. Since then, I’ve dated others, and am happy and carefree and found my joy.

I discovered a Big Dream for the first time in 6 years and renewed my passion for my career.

I’ve met new people, made new friends via my blog, work and dancing.

I traveled for work and for friendship.

I’ve watched my friends marry and have babies.

2016 was the year of human connection. And that is why, despite all the horror of this year, the Trump and the Aleppo and the Turkey and the Nice and the ISIS and the Putin and the celebrity deaths, and the endless reasons to despair… No. No Universe, you will not quash my faith in mankind. This year, I have met good people and bad people and flawed people who both cared for me and hurt me and that is fine. People who try their darndest to be the best they can be, for all their baggage and scar tissue and weaknesses. Universe, I see the horror, I’m not blind. I am scared of the future. I look at the news, and I feel the panic as we inexorably march towards circumstances that resemble those that caused my grandparents to be uprooted from their lives, and wind up in North America, traumatized from WWII. I know that a time will come where I will be called upon to make decisions, moral ones, horrible ones. Maybe not in 2017, but clearly during my lifetime. I get the temptation to despair. But you see, Universe, time and time again, this year, my whole life, I’ve witnessed more love, gratitude and kindness than I have witnessed cowardice, spite and hatred. This year has introduced me to a swath of new people and guess what, Universe? They cool.

My wallet got stolen? Fuck you, Universe. Let those people who clearly needed it, take it. Meanwhile, I will spend my NYE getting tipsy with my roommate and singing off-key to Adele and the Weeknd, hanging out with my friends, or taking a nap and reading a book. WHATEVER HAPPENS, Universe, I will find happiness.

2016 was awesome.

2017 will be even more alive.


I love y’all, blogosphere. Thanks for reading, thank you for commenting, thank you for spending time in your busy days to follow my rambles. May 2017 bring you joy.

xox,

Vanilla