Tag Archives: memoir

On mothers, imperfection and love

It is Mother’s Day and I’ve been very blessed with a son who not only took me to lunch but to an art gallery then dinner! Can you imagine doing all that for your mom? I know. But it isn’t all bliss on the parenting front. In fact, being a mother means your worst self will be scrutinized and commented on for as long as you are alive. Your children, in all their innocent and not so innocent honesty, will bring you face to face with your shortcomings like no one else.

Recently my son said he felt like I didn’t teach him enough tasks and that I was annoyingly positive. Well, there you are. But as I ruminated on my failings at 3 am, I thought of my own mother and her imperfections and how they now endear me to her even more. Where once I was a critical 20 something I am not a not-so-smug 40 something who can, with empathy and love, look back on some of situations I was in with my mom and hold them close as cherished memories instead of damning her for being, well, human. To that end, I wrote a poem about a time when, in today’s politically correct world, my mom would have been seen as lax or worse, negligent. But I see it very differently. I my son will too some day.

Imperfect Mother

It is the imperfections of my mother

I hold dearest—

The time for instance when turning off of

West 16th near UBC in her red Beetle the

door beside me swung open and since it was the seventies

I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt

and I went with the door, grasping the handle to

avoid the road rushing below me.

I looked back at my mother who

while still turning with her left hand lunged across to snatch my

flimsy t-shirt with her right and pulled me back into the car.

It was a one shot deal but she managed it. The door banged shut as

she completed the sharp turn and we kept on driving as though

I hadn’t just about fell out of the car and onto the road.

 

A block later a small eruption of laughter burst

From my mother. It made me clap my hands together

In gleeful loopy agreement of what I wasn’t sure but

The sun was streaming through oak leaves as we drove

Creating a beautiful pattern on my mother and I kicked my legs

Out from the edge of the sticky car seat to the radio played

 

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city

 

I could say my mother was negligent

I could get maudlin, drink myself silly

Recount her imperfections that had caused

My life to zig zag like a silverfish on the run

 

But then I remember how she didn’t pull over

And fuss and fawn and make a big deal of

My near death fall and how years later this

Would give me courage when real death

And real heartbreak would pull me pull me down

 

And I would swim up to the surface, clapping my hands

Ecstatic for life’s small moments of survival.

 

*Song lyric from Summer in the City by Lovin Spoonful, 1966.

 

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Your Life: Sit Up and Take Notice

When I was five, my mother took me for a test at the school near our house. I remember it was a sunny day and I wore a dress, hoping to add to the impression that I was capable of going into grade one instead of kindergarten. Why I was taking the test in the first place remains a mystery but I suspect my mother wanted me to start grade one early because after eleven children she simply needed her days alone and silent. I remember walking across the black asphalt of the playground afterwards and my mother beaming as she told me I had passed with ‘flying colours’.

Scan 1

So, at the age of five I entered grade one. Unfortunately, the night before my father cut off all my hair and I was crestfallen when I walked to school with a boy’s hairstyle. I’d had high hopes for my debut in grade one. Instead, I slinked along the back wall, furtively searching for my name on a desk and secretly hoping there’d been a mistake and that I hadn’t gained entry into this new and bewildering world and could go home and help my mom with washing the floor or laundry or sorting socks. And yet, there was my name, second row in, two desks from the end. MARGARET spelled neatly on an index card.

Behind me sat a boisterous girl with shiny thick black hair and luminous brown skin and mischievous eyes. She didn’t hesitate to speak up and raise her hand, unlike me who prayed I wasn’t singled out by the teacher for anything and hung my head low behind the student ahead of me. She quickly surmised I could be teased and with tremendous entertaining results. Her name was Sharon. She spoke fast and had a sharp wit and wielded it confidently like an adult; she noticed everything including my crappy shoes and the fact I’d forgotten the belt on my uniform. I longed to be her friend, mostly to avoid any deeper insights into my character becoming known to the rest of the class. Thankfully, she seemed to sense my desperation and let me into her safe zone as an ally despite my shortcomings.

Forty-three years later: we are sitting and drinking in the middle of the afternoon on a sunny day beside the ocean. I find myself once again admiring her way with words, just as I had at age five, the sure and confident manner as she speaks to the waitress, her still beautiful brown eyes that are full of life, intelligence and humour. I notice they have more ‘life’ behind them now though, one that I am hearing as we, at first cautiously then with abandon, pull threads out of the stories of our lives and stitch together our past into a new shared story.

We had gone to school together until grade nine, during which time we’d shared dozens of sleepless sleepovers, elementary school dramas, walkathons, endless hours of Catholic prayers and the uncertainty of hormones and fears of growing from little girls into young women. Our friendship had started to wane just before we both left to go to the all-girl private school our mothers sent us to for grade eight. But I got caught up with ‘public school kids’, which was seen by my mother as the surest way to hell and, looking back, in some ways it was true.

My childhood seemed to have suddenly vanished and I was lost in a world without boys and the seemingly endless unspoken politics of daughters from the wealthy elite of Vancouver where my non-working-widow-mom and less-than clothes and accessories were wincingly noticed and graded as a fail. Eventually the wagons circled with me on the outside. By the second term of grade eight, I was defiantly taking off my uniform and dressing into jeans and a jean jacket in the bushes after school so I wouldn’t have to be ‘seen’ by my public school friends in the telltale uniform of Little Flower Academy. The fact was, I never could quite fit in and didn’t know how to but Sharon managed to find community and a place at the academy and made a success of her high school years there.

As we sat across from one another in the busy restaurant and slowly unravelled our lives I felt like almost no time had passed while simultaneously trying to take in the enormity of all that had happened to us over the many decades.

With more scar tissue than either one of us would liked to have acquired, we shared one story after another after another with ease and a frankness that was unexpected. The afternoon light changed, food plates were stacked and taken and replaced by drinks. A one-hour lunch stretched into three as our lives and the people in them were introduced or re-visited. Deaths, break-ups, love, children, parents—all got covered off in a matter-of-fact way but it was the small details, the understanding between us of the hopes and dreams we had as young children set against the tableaux of where we were now, sitting across from one another as women in the middle of our lives that kept me thinking for days after about the past.

In fact, the past had been calling me to pay attention all week, nudging me to listen, just as I was trying to let it go. Only the day before my lunch with Sharon, I had re-connected with my boyfriend I had been madly in love with in university. We met for lunch and appraised one another with smiles and delight, me noticing more crows feet and gray hair and the gestures I used to be so smitten with, he well, hopefully not noticing the crows feet so much. There’s a sweetness to seeing an old love, a tinge of melancholy mixed with joy and remembrance accentuated by oh fuck’s and awww’s and sighs and long looks of remembering what was and a quiet listening for what is.

My sister-in-law is always telling me to stop living in the past and I’ve come to see that not dwelling in the past makes the present so much more lived and full of potential. To be present is to edit your life with ferocity. Staying present is like working on the ab muscles of the soul. You have to practice it daily to have any strength in resisting maudlin moments.

Yet this week the past found me in my present and the movie of my life suddenly enlarged, went wide-screen, became richer with more characters and synapses and discoveries that didn’t pull me back into sadness or regret but instead, opened up like a new canvas. After all, I was alive wasn’t I? And my old friends were too. How lucky are we to get to share a meal with one another! This is the sweet grace of the past coming to revisit you. Life itself winks and you finally get it. Oh right, time is passing—forty five years just went by like that—so I’d better get on with it and do the absolute best I can with what remains.

I’d better sit up and take notice. What story do I want to tell forty years from now? This is the work at hand. Now.

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On aging eyes, secret drawers and a long lost neighbourhood

My eyes are a mess. I stare at computer screens for a ridiculous and unhealthy amount of my life so it’s no wonder I have chronic dry eye and issues with my vision. I take the equivalent to a salmon farm’s worth of Omega vitamins and all sorts of potions and concoctions to no avail. While visiting my ophthalmologist the other day, she pointed out my lenses didn’t have a very big reading area (they have three sections to them for people who are aging but not yet ‘old’ I guess). She pointed out I should get some reading glasses and I said, Well, I just spent the same amount on these glasses (indicating to the ones on my face) that I spent buying my first car. Her face remained passive. I realized in that moment she had clients that had glasses for different parts of their life like brunch or the opera or driving and who didn’t have a budget for just one pair as I did.

She astutely picked up on the fact that I was unable to afford another pair of fancy glasses as in not one of her regular clients and ushered me over to the far end of the store. In a hushed tone she signaled to a drawer below us. “We do have some glasses for (in sotto voice) only $75.00.” She nudged open the drawer then put her hand on my shoulder and said I could take as long as I needed. It was as though she’d just delivered some heart wrenching news about a loved one and it was likely I’d need some time by myself. Or as in this drawer does not qualify for a sales person to help you.

So, this was the poor drawer.

I looked around the waiting room. It had Herman Miller furniture and was bright and airy with orange and gray accents that mirrored the brand colours. A woman was sitting with a Hermes scarf and coiffed as in I don’t do rain hair and had the largest diamond ring on that I’d ever seen in my life. Another woman had the Point Grey look of “I don’t work, I just workout” complete with a body entirely clad in Lululemon which hugged her like a green screen suit. I quickly turned away should either woman see me scrounging around in the poor drawer.

And yet, here were some nice frames in the back of the drawer. Albeit they were for children but since I am roughly the size of a nine-year-old boy, they worked for me. I found a very nice pair and walked up to the counter. The woman smiled and then frowned as there was no Fendi, Channel or Tom Ford to indicate what to charge me. I whispered, “They’re from the drawer.”

She nodded solemnly, thrilled she could be so discreet and I smiled limply, feeling shame somehow clinging to my aura as I made an appointment to pick them up the following week.

As I drove away, I thought of how much this neighborhood had changed since I was a child. Across the street from that optometrist was a hairdressing shop my mother used to go to when I was little. Her hairdresser’s name was Phillip. Not Phil. Phillip said with a real emphasis on the last p. No slang for him. My mother clearly loved this man who gave her some dignity every four weeks. The salon still exists though it’s lost it’s seventies fabulousness. I loved hanging out with her in that shop. None of the woman who went there wore giant diamonds or ever had designer clothing on. They were local women, women I’d seen at bake sales and in the basement of our church or answering friends’ doors. They were moms and grandmothers yakking and sharing stories. Point Grey was a community, not a real estate listing whose subtext was: please tear me down. Okay, maybe that’s going too far but it’s hard not to wonder what happened to Point Grey in the last 30 years and what it will look like in the next quarter century if we keep developing and tearing down our heritage at the rate we’re going. Point Greyers (my own name, let’s start a club?) who remember when underprivileged, over populated families could still live on West 11th and West 8th and West 13th on Crown and Trimble and Discovery and Wallace will know exactly what I’m talking about.

Something’s been lost and I’m not sure we’ll find it again except in our memories.

Dadvs2

West 11th, circa 1973. My dad and a long lost Vancouver.

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Let the sun find its way to you

HARRISON LAKE 1I used to always feel nostalgic about love during summer. I think the kisses I had in a little park with my first boyfriend made it that way. I would lay with my head on his chest and he’d lazily draw a blade of grass over my shoulder, then slowly along my neck then gently over my ear, finally making me giggle and turn away. And we’d do that for hours. So innocent. So perfect. So sweet.

Lately, I’ve been hugging summer close to me, stretching out in its warm embrace and letting it romance me like I was fourteen again. It isn’t always easy to move towards the present, to really be in it and let go of the past, but once you have life feels as it was meant to.

It feels like the sun can make its way to me without any need for someone else to improve it or a song to score the sunset so I can enjoy it or a book to describe the feeling for me or lover to whisper in the night and tell me what it really is.

No, it’s just seeping into my skin and heart, fully saturated with ripe possibility.

Sweet Sun

 

The sun bleaches all the bruises–

sweat hard, forgive the sun

she’s a guest here, she’ll be gone.

 

Moon gives you blue light

just blue light with no strings–

hold it in, let it go with your lungs

at ease at last in bed alone.

 

Summer

lazy as a cat on a couch

coy and calling in a bowl of berries

finally

you sit down too

content it’s only you.

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The Danger of a Metronome

When I was little, I had to take piano lessons with Sister Margaret. Sister Margaret was our music teacher at Our Lady of Perpetual Help on West 10th avenue in Point Grey. Sister Margaret was terribly old. I used to go to lessons in the convent where she lived, just a few blocks up from our house on Crown and 11th. I remember I would be incapable of studying the hard Conservatory lessons and would divert her attention by making up elaborate stories and punctuating them with dramatic notes on the piano.

At first she tried to reel me in by putting the metronome on. As soon as the sharp, precise, demanding tone of the metronome began I sat listlessly on the bench, slumped over, but checked out. To Sister Margaret’s credit, she noticed the effect and stopped the metronome at once. Instead, she embraced my stories and even ignored the Conservatory lessons entirely. (My poor mom, she’d hoped I would follow in her footsteps and be a great pianist.) Most of my stories began with a deep rumbling of bass notes. Usually paired with a storm, a boat, a maiden followed by a heartless family and then a hero would enter. Standard 6-year-old drama stuff.

Sister Margaret delighted in my hour-long story sessions but as the day of the big recital got closer we both guiltily realized that I had little prepared for a performance. She chose an easy one for me which was Bach’s ‘Air’. I had to work hard to memorize it and it was my first experience of  ‘cramming’ for something. It would, of course, become something familiar to me as I got older.

On the day of the recital, I played my little piece but twice forgot where I was to go next and the air around me was devoid of Bach’s light, lilting notes, as I remembered words instead of musical notes and the lines between the bars and the plot made for a fumbled and awkward performance.

Yet, at the end of the year Sister Margaret threw a party at the convent for all her students and she gave me a beautiful Beethoven sculpture, finely wrought in wood, that had always and forever been on her piano. I could feel the sharp stares of her good students furrowing their brows at my fraudulent profile as I accepted her gift in front of everyone. We had an understanding. I think it was that, out of all the students, I was the only who came with the specific purpose to entertain her. And that purity of purpose meant something to her. I think anyway. I was always deeply grateful for her understanding I wasn’t the metronome type. It gave rise to a life of storytelling.

To this day, I can see a metronome type coming towards me at a hundred paces. I used to always think those types were right and I was wrong but as I get older, I am standing up for myself a little more and telling them to put their metronomes away and just listen. Listen to the story for a moment. It really does have its own, fabulous, transformative rhythm.

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Lessons from the deep end of Empire Pool

I’m 4 or 5 and sitting in the ‘dog seat’ in the back of my mom’s red Beetle. We’re driving along UBC boulevard and by the blur of trees I think we are going quite fast. No matter. My mother is confident in her abilities to get out of any ticket and had in fact been pulled over on this very road, cried convincingly to the officer, was reprimanded and let go. More likely the officer looked at the 6 or 7 children jammed into her small car and thought, poor thing and let her go.

I'm the little girl at in the bottom, middle of the picture.

I’m the little girl at in the bottom, middle of the picture.

We’re going for swim lessons at Empire Pool. I am nervous because all of my clothes are hand-me-downs and while I do have a new swimsuit for the occasion I have old, brown flip-flops that could have been a brother’s, shorts from the neighbour’s daughter down the street who was by all accounts a super-model by age 9, and a t-shirt that is for certain about to be torn into pieces and used on someone’s car in the garage.

I’m excited all the same. Any opportunity to sit in the sun and swim in a real pool makes me happy. I love the beach but the salt water up my nose makes me stumble out of the ocean like a character from a horror film, blindly searching in the air for my towel and curling up in a heap on some other family’s blanket.

Our class is lined up along the side of the pool when I join. Why am I late? I feel a blush develop. One of my older brother’s had told me, ‘you’ll never be a poker player if you blush like that, shows ’em what you’re thinking.‘ Why I had to prepare for poker playing I did not know but I took his advice and wrangled my embarrassment under control. Our teacher was very tall and slim, some might say gangly, but I could see it was a sporty, professional athlete kind of length to her and it gave me confidence she would be a good teacher.

We slipped into the pool and  just held onto the sides and kicked and did simple movements to get used to the water. Our teacher stood above us in her one piece Speedo and loose, softly faded cotton shorts that were tied with a rough string and slipped down her thin hips as she strode along the edge of the pool shouting out to us, “Good job, keep it up! Yes! That’s it, that’s it, kick, kick, kick!” I knew I was sweating in the cool water trying to do a good job kicking and kicking and kicking.

The following weeks were a series of similar exercises and I grew a little bored. When were we going in the deep end? Growing up with daredevils, I was used to a high-level of adrenaline. I watched in awe as divers plunged into the blue sky above me from the 10 meter board. At home later, my brothers would talk about the various stunts they’d seen or done from the same board. I didn’t admit I was still in the shallow end.

The following Saturday we lined up under the warm sun, not yet hot as it climbed towards its noon zenith. She calmly announced we were going to the deep end to learn how to tread water. This was it. The big time. Sink or swim. We followed her along the wide pool deck towards the end of the pool. Here you could see the daredevils back flipping off the boards, cannonballing and roughly pushing each other into the water. More my kind of world and mostly made of boys which was the norm for me with nine brothers. Our teacher gave them a look of disdain.

“Please stay in this area only as this is a busy pool with lots of divers and we don’t want to be in their way.” Well, neither did we! She announced that we’d be tested today on our treading abilities and timed. A lump formed in my throat. I had to pass. I imagined the scene back home when word got out I couldn’t even tread water, never mind dive off a board.

We swam out from the edge and began to practice our treading. I was treading well she said, shouting over the mayhem of boys behind me, “Hold your head up, that’s it, pretend an invisible string is pulling your head up, up, up!‘ I kicked like crazy but my body felt so heavy, heavier than it could possibly be in real life, pulling me down into the deep end. My legs flailed and searched for respite. I couldn’t touch the bottom. Panicked, I quickly swam towards the side of the pool and reached out for the wet cement.

Our lissome teacher bent over to see if I was okay. I brushed her off and said, ‘just taking a break!’ and smiled optimistically up into her sunny face. Reassured, she went on to another student. But I wasn’t optimistic. I was sure I would drown during the test. I began to think of excuses. Sudden stomach cramps? I was late for an appointment? A doctor? What could I come up with on a Saturday in July? Frantic and irrational, I tried to wave her down though she didn’t see my tiny arm whirling out of its shoulder socket amidst her brood of beginners.

I could see no way out. I pushed away from the edge and joined the other swimmers. She counted down and the test began. I was already exhausted. I longed to lie down on my towel. She yelled out encouragement, pacing up and down the side of the pool like a real coach and I focused on her sandy blonde hair moving from side to side, her long arms clapping and waving to us, her lean legs tensed into tanned muscle as she squatted at the edge and screamed “nearly done, nearly there!” My chin was now touching the water. I was going under. Soon my head would be covered. She likely wouldn’t see me for a while as I dropped to the bottom of the pool where I would lay unconscious.

A loud, shrill whistle sounded and through my wet eyelashes I saw a blurry figure clapping wildly and gesticulating at us to come back to the edge. I used what was left of my limp limbs to make it back. She must have sensed my struggle as she came and firmly took my hand and pulled me right out like I was a foam kicking board. I beamed up at her and she bent down to my face and said ‘good job‘ and briefly put her warm, powdery dry hand on my shoulder.

Later, my mother would pull out the paper octopus shaped award of achievement that said I had passed the course. The teacher had written nice things about me on each leg of the Octopus. My brothers hooted and screamed and made fun of my little octopus but I didn’t care. It was like a gold medal to me and I carefully placed it inside my Babar book next to my bed. I knew I would never grow up to be sporty like my teacher but it felt wonderful that night to lie in bed knowing I could survive in the deep end.

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Rockstar Nanny

For those of you who are regular readers, you’ll know I grew up in a family of 13. Second generation breeding eventually happened and there was born lashings of limbs and faces and screaming babies; it seemed that children were endlessly thrown onto your hip mid-hallway or some sweaty hot little body was crawling into your bed or asking you to play at some ungodly hour and since I was now an Aunt I had to act like one whatever that meant.

No one really ‘watched’ after children in our house. You were sort of shunned if you were high maintenance. In fact, as the smallest, and a girl, I always felt lucky to have survived the day. It often felt like a race and I loved the manic pace of it with all the near misses of botched explosions, bikes tearing off of jumps, torturous tickling, pranks, thievery, flailing fists, falling out of trees, and so much more on any given day that the phrase ‘rough and tumble’ simply sounded like laundry softener in comparison to our activities.

My mother alone had a pretty strict schedule, an army-like precision that formed itself around laundry and cooking while our days were spent out of doors, wild and free and game for whatever came our way. I was always determined to follow the group despite my small stature and heard many a time from the front of the pack ahead of me “if you die, we’re not stopping” but I was not dissuaded. I just peddled harder and faster.

So when I was 15 and my friend asked if I wanted to babysit for this fancy pants music agency kingpin guy (that’s how he was described to me) I thought, babysit? My god, who wants to babysit? No one was ever ‘babysat’ in our family. You were left in the care of the mob. Besides, the idea of a clammy screaming baby in the middle of summer was not my idea of fun. It was all I could do to find a moment’s peace and quiet in my own house, why would I want to hold some other family’s baby?

Do me a favour? begged my brother’s friend, David Gray. I argued that it was beneath me to babysit; I was in theatre. At the time, I was volunteering for a Pirates of Penzance musical as an assistant stage manager so felt haughty and  theatrically superior; I likely resembled a strange stage version of Norma Desmond to the people in my life. But David was working as a clerk in an upper crust men’s clothing store in Kerrisdale and this was one of his important clients so I relented.

That is how I ended up becoming a nanny. This family also lived near Point Grey where I was raised but they were very different from my family. Not only were they a small family, they were not Catholic. As in, they were Jewish. I’d never met a Jewish family before then. But I didn’t know they were Jewish for many months and the first Christmas I knew them I brought over a Christmas cactus that was in full bloom. I knocked on the door and the mother said, oh, that’s lovely but we’re Jewish. I felt like a total fool but their wizened old grandma said that the Irish were a lost Jewish race anyway and so I was forgiven all my gentile shortcomings and taken into their fold.

I also learned how to negotiate from the first night I babysat.  The dad (the mogul) made me defend why I should be paid. I got a little ticked, I mean, wasn’t he just supposed to pay me an hourly wage? Nope. He didn’t believe in that. What did I do that I should be paid for? Exactly? So I had to negotiate, every time I babysat. For six years. One time I refused to look after the children as I needed a day off and was at my friend’s hiding out poolside when I heard the crunch of tires outside the fence on the gravel drive. The dad popped his head over the fence. I barked from the hot diving board where I was tanning  I’m not babysitting for love or money. I’m not. I won’t. 

He negotiated me into a babysitting but it cost him large. At 16 I was making 60 bucks an hour. Not bad for an afternoon’s nap time with babies.

I became a staple in their house. I loved being there because not only was there always great food (my first time seeing Häagen-Dazs in real life), deeply soft carpets, couches you never wanted to stand up from, Much Music blasting out of widescreen TV’s, but the dad was always-always-making deals on the phone. His business was pretty glamorous because it was the music industry and it wasn’t uncommon for me to chat on the phone with some well-known names. One musician in particular was invaluable to me when I couldn’t figure out the various clickers for the large screen TV’s. I would play on the floor quietly with the toddler and cock my ear to the pitching going on in the corner. I would smile as I could hear the familiar twists and turns of his sales technique and I learned an MBA’s worth of business intelligence from listening to him. I never tired of hearing him regale me with his stories. He’d crawled his way to the top, having never even graduated high school. He’d not been born rich but he’d make it to the big league. I admired him for his tenacity, humour and ability to see right through people in a moment’s exchange. He missed nothing.

There were always lot of galas and parties and I’d love sitting at the bottom of the stairs and look up at them in their tux and gown and watch as they stepped into the waiting limo. At the end of the night, maybe 2 am or so, I’d get to be driven home by the driver. Richard was one I remember well. One night I said, hey I don’t want to be driven home, can you take me to Club Soda? (the dad owned the nightclub so I knew I’d get in). I was 17 by this time but the rest of my friends had all turned 19 and I was forever lying about my age and trying to catch up. Nothing really new for me as the youngest.

Richard the driver lowered the window and said, are you sure? I said, oh yeah, just meeting up with my brother, no big deal. There was a long pause as he drove through the quiet streets then he turned right, towards the Granville St. bridge and I was screaming for joy on the inside. For years no one had ever seen me quietly being dropped off by stretch limos but for once I would be. I took my heels out of my backpack, tucked my sensible nanny shoes back in it and prepared to strike a pose.

It was a great moment to come up to that block long lineup that night, with Richard camping up the driver routine and opening the door as I stepped onto the sidewalk. The bouncer unclipped the rope and I  walked right in. Heady stuff for an underaged girl but for that brief moment I felt pretty rock star-ish.

I was a nanny for the first little girl from the time she was a small infant and held the second daughter the day she was born but as life would have it, I decided to pursue a Directing degree after my first year of college (which my nanny job paid for thank you very much). I had to say goodbye to my surrogate family. I loved the older daughter like my own having essentially been a third parent for her first 5 years and her wails and tears and my wails and tears on my last day holding her in my arms nearly kept me from leaving.

I learned so much with those children and that family. While watching the movie The Help the other day with my son he said, “Wow, I can’t believe people treated their help that way back then.” I said, “it’s not that far off the way some of the nannies were treated when I was in that world.”

It was true. Sometimes, as I’d be sitting in some mansion or other with a group of nannies, most of whom were Filipino, and the mothers would talk about us like we weren’t there. It shocked me but rolled off the backs of those young nannies, most of whom were thankful for the work. I felt a little sick they just took it like it was an ordinary part of their day.

One day we were in Shaughnessy at a birthday party and someone motioned to me and said, ‘where you’d get her?’ to the mother I worked for. She stood back and said, “I didn’t ‘get‘ her anywhere. Margaret is our friend and a part of our family.” And with that we left the party. A brave thing for her to do and I admired her for it.

For a job I never wanted, I gained a lifetime of lessons and memories. I’ve never regretted saying yes to holding that sweaty little baby and looking after her all those years. She was a handful but I loved her spirit and hope in some small way I made an impression on her life She certainly did on mine.

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