Power of pawsitivity

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Madison Elizabeth Freckles Kay Kouniakis

The human capacity to love is such a beautifully humbling thing and, if we’re lucky, in this life we have so many opportunities to embrace and express this emotion.

The love between family members is constant and dependable; the love in a friendship is buoyant and joyful; the love of lovers is all-consuming and earth-shattering and the love of parent and child is unconditional and never-ending. All of these relationships are life-changing and shape who we are as people. These are the relationships that make life worth living.

I’ve been incredibly lucky in love. I have the most incredible group of friends. My family is full of generous, kind, caring and supportive people. My husband is the greatest person I’ve ever met and our daughter has shown me how deeply one’s well of love can flow.

There is another kind of love whose power to transform cannot be overstated: that of a pet.

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Murphy was 15 years old when this was taken.

I grew up with dogs in my life. I’ve been a cat mom for almost 14 years now. These beings have had such a profound impact on the course of my life and have been a source of comfort through some pretty dark times. I would even go so far as to say that everything I am and I have today is thanks to a dog.

My first dog was Nicky. A plucky little American Eskimo my parents rescued from an abusive situation. He was devoted to just our family and was incredibly protective. Saying goodbye to him was one of the hardest things I ever had to do in my life. He set me on my path to being an animal lover.

Then came Murphy. Another American Eskimo (my family had a type) who was perhaps the kindest most innocent soul I’ve ever encountered. He never wanted anything more than food or love. He’s the dog that set the bar for all other dogs in my life.

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Mia the laser cat.

When I moved out on my own, Mia, a tabby cat, came next. She’s a tough one to love. She is not friendly. She will cuddle me when she senses I’m in distress and she’s protective of our daughter but everything is always on her terms. Shortly after she came into my life, Montgomery, the Scottish Fold cat, entered the picture. He’s the exact opposite of Mia: sweet, loves affection and playful. He keeps me company when I’m sick or very sad. He’s been a source of great comfort.

Next came Murray. A beagle-terrier mix my ex-husband and I adopted him from the SPCA. He schooled us in patience. He was a handful, to say the least. Our house was turned upside down for months as we all adjusted to this new living situation. He eventually became a wonderful dog after A LOT of hard work. He stayed with my ex after we split up because we decided he needed the consistency of his dad. He now has a lovely new mom, a beautiful little human sister and a huuuuge backyard. He’s a very happy boy.

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Murray

About a year after my divorce, I adopted Hannah from a rescue. She was some sort of Spaniel cross but they really didn’t know what. She was a ray of sunshine. She breathed life into me. Unfortunately, two weeks after the adoption was finalized, the rescue called me to say her family was looking for her and they wanted her back. It was absolutely devastating. Saying goodbye to her almost killed me.

After Hannah, I hit a serious low. I was in a bad place after the divorce. I didn’t really go out much. I spent a lot of time alone, self-medicating and feeling sorry for myself. I was being consumed by shame, guilt and self-loathing. When Hannah was taken away, the life was sucked out of me again and all those negative feelings amplified. I know the people around me watched in horror as I became a shell of the person I was.

My parents came to me one day about a month after Hannah left, probably out of terror, to offer to buy me another dog – they knew I wouldn’t go the adoption route so soon after Hannah. Part of me resisted the idea of replacing her but another part of me knew I needed to fill that hole in my heart before it consumed me. I agreed.

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Hannah

That’s when Maddy came into my life.

She is a beautiful little Cavachon (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel crossed with a Bichon) who reminds me of Elizabeth Taylor from Sex in the City. The moment I laid eyes on her, I was instantly and irretrievably in love with her. I think it took her some time to return the feeling but I was devoted to her from the get-go.

She was the CUTEST puppy you’ve ever seen. I took her everywhere. Walking her was the joy of my life. Cuddling with her was heaven.

After a month or so, I realized I was becoming something resembling a human being again: I was talking to people and going places. I was laughing and enjoying parts of life that I hadn’t for some time.

She taught me how to live again. She taught me how to love again.

When Maddy was about six months old, I decided I wanted to try dating again. I figured I’d give eHarmony a try. I filled out all the questions with great care and made a promise to myself that I was going to be incredibly picky about who I would go out with.

I really lucked out: the first date I went on was with my future husband.

When we first started messaging back and forth, I remember thinking ‘this funny, smart and sexy dude is out of my league.’ But I was so filled with confidence that I went for it. I know that confidence came from the reassuring little dog I always had by my side.

My husband, who grew up without pets, likes to remind me now and then that it was in fact Maddy he fell in love with first. I don’t blame him.

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Maddy offering a ‘high’ five.

He spent about as much time wooing Maddy as he did me. He used to bring her toys that he slept with so that she got used to his smell. He would walk her all the time and take her to the park to play. In a way, she brought us both to life and bonded us together.

Now here we are with our amazing daughter and our beautiful home. Our life is by no means perfect but it’s lovely. Most of all, it’s a life. And always, there with us, is that constant little presence. Watching over us and loving us.

It’s with so much pride that I tell you my daughter’s first word was ‘Adden.’ For the longest time we couldn’t figure out what she meant. Then it dawned on me: ‘Ooooh! She means Maddy!’

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Clever girl

Jurassic Baby

Photoshop skillz courtesy of Patrick Weberman

I always thought that when I became a mom it would be an effortless transition.

I’ve had pets all my life and I took pretty good care of them. Except for the time my turtle starved to death, and that other time my hamster starved to death (I was kind of forgetful in my youth), I have a pretty solid track record.

‘How much harder can a baby be than a puppy?’ I told myself.

Now that I’m in the shit, literally and figuratively, I think an apt comparison would be Jurassic Park.

Dinosaurs and babies = Samesies

You see, it all starts out the same: you read about dinosaurs/babies and they’re so fun and cool. You’re filled with all the romantic notions and you just know when you come face to face with them you’re going to know how to handle it. You’ve been to the classes, you’ve skimmed all the books and in theory, you’re an expert. Most importantly, they will just fall in step because they will feel the love emanating from you.

Then the time comes for you to get to the island/give birth: the ride is bumpy, sometimes painful and you might shit yourself but when you arrive at you destination/see your baby, you forget you almost died in a fiery helicopter crash or that your ungroomed lady bits were on display for a room full of strangers.

Seeing your baby for the first time is like when Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler see real live dinosaurs roaming the misty countryside of Jurassic Park; it’s a dream come true and a thing of real beauty. It’s just as you imagine it and so, so much more. You cry a lot.

And the first little while after you have your baby/walk with the dinosaurs it’s like this. For the purposes of this comparison, we’ll call this the honeymoon phase. This is the time where you’re in absolute bliss. Everything seems magical and happy and you’ve never been more in love. What on earth could ever go wrong?

Where’s the poop?

About 12 to 24 hours after arriving on the island, though, tiny cracks in the facade start to appear: your baby has trouble latching and you start to worry about her starving to death or you realize they have a T-Rex at Jurassic Park. Your baby screams for approximately eight hours straight 24-48 hours after she’s born because she’s realized she’s no longer in the womb (this is a thing I didn’t find out about until I was in the middle of it – thanks world for not preparing me) or you find out JP scientists have bred raptors.

After that night of endless screaming, my enthusiasm, and I’m sure my husband’s, for the new role we’d taken on dimmed somewhat. We saw that no amount of book learnin’ can prepare you for the reality of being a first-time parent. Kind of like when the JP visitors realize like: ‘whoa, these gigantic animals have been extinct for millions of years and we really don’t know shit about them!’

Into the wild

When it came time for us to leave the hospital, we definitely had mixed emotions: we didn’t want to leave the safety net of nurses and doctors but the idea of spending a night in our own bed sounded like heaven. To be honest, it was terrifying. I really didn’t feel like we had a handle on anything and she was so damn tiny. But we did it! We strapped our little peanut into her car seat and off we went into the world/Jurassic Park!

Now, those early months with your first baby are kind of a blur. It’s really a time of discovery for all of you. There are some really incredible moments: the first time she smiles is like the first time Dr. Grant sees a living, breathing triceratops. Or the first time she grips your finger is like the excitement Tim feels when he thinks he’s going to see a T-Rex.

In many ways, those first few months are dream, at least now that I look back on it. Babies are kind of like little blobs (but way more precious, of course!). They don’t do much. They don’t go anywhere and they don’t get into shit. It’s kind of awesome.

Welcome to the jungle

The first time our girl rolled over is when it feels like shit really got real.

From the moment she knew she could do it, she never wanted to do anything else. Even when you’re trying to clean up the biggest, stinkiest and messiest poop in the history of poops, she wants to roll and roll and roll so that she’s covered in it, I’m covered in it and our dog is covered in it and eating it. It’s pretty shitty – literally. It’s like when the T-Rex eats the goat and throws the bloody leg on the Jeep; it’s bloody messy and you just know it’s going to get worse from here on out.

And it does. The more they move around the more stuff they can get into. And you can try to contain it with baby gates and electrified fences but despite your best efforts to control and protect them, they always find a way to outsmart you.

This is the time in their development when they’re most like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park. They are constantly checking the fences for weaknesses or testing the limits of your resolve. They learn and adapt quickly to their surroundings and if they’re in a pack, you better hope you have enough toys, activities and food to keep them satisfied because sister, they will eat you alive! I had a moment last week where I watched in horror as my darling girl tested a door knob; my mouth went dry and I felt faint. So much like that scene in JP where Dr. Grant watches in terror as a raptor turns a handle and opens a door. I feel, however, my real-life scenario has far more frightening consequences.

All the feels

To be fair, around this time kids can be like those super lovable veggie-eating dinosaurs too. When our daughter started laughing and doing things to get a rise out of us, our relationship took on a new dimension: it became more give and take and less give and give and give. She became more fun to hang out with and it was truly fascinating to be up close and personal with this tiny developing person who was experiencing the world for the first time.

While Jurassic Park, in theory, is a wonderful idea it sadly turns out to be disaster for all involved. The comparison to parenthood might be a little harsh in that regard. Still, it’s interesting in the sense that those ancient beasts were thrown into a situation believed to be under the thumb of their creators and yet, they found a way to evolve beyond those controls. It’s kind of like kids: despite our best intentions they will always find ways to defy expectations and remind us just how little we know about people, life and love until they charge into the picture.

Running the gauntlet

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Last week, a story about two colleagues, a man and a woman, switching names for week to see what it was like to work as the other gender, made the rounds on social media.

The man came to the startling conclusion that his job got so much harder when people thought he was a woman. He said half of his time was spent proving to clients that he was capable of doing his (her) job.

My first response to this piece was, “well, DUH!” I mean, proving I’m more than capable to do my job has been an almost daily part of my career (I’m in media, one of the most notoriously sexist professions, without a doubt).

When I reread the ‘switching names story,’ though, I was taken aback at how truly shocked this man was by this discovery. I mean, I guess until you actually experience it firsthand there’s no way to really quantify how degrading and counterproductive this attitude towards women can be.

The female colleague didn’t really have any revelations at the conclusion of the experiment and seemed to just accept that her job was significantly harder because of her gender. It was really depressing to see this reality confirmed, yet again, and to feel that I could totally relate to her.

A few years back, I interviewed for a role at one of Canada’s biggest media companies. Interviewed is putting it mildly: I tried out for a position. I wrote two assignments and sat through two interviews before I was asked to come back for a third with the big boss. I was told I was one of two candidates being considered for the position.

I prepared for this interview like it was no one’s business. My husband relentlessly quizzed me, I exhaustively researched the company and the division I was hoping to work in. I polished my portfolio. I bought a smart little outfit and took special care with my hair and makeup (tone down the trollop).

I got there early so I could take a few minutes to collect myself before going in. I’d heard good things about the woman I was interviewing with from a male friend who had worked with her. I felt pretty comfortable when we first sat down together in a conference room even though she came across as a little cool and closed off.

First off, she asked me to tell her a little about myself. I gave her a quick little rundown of my schooling and professional experience. The words were flowing, I felt calm and confident.

Her next question was: “Where do you live?”

Me: “Burlington.”

Interviewer: “Hmmm. That’s pretty far. How would you feel about coming here everyday?”

Me: (In my head) Uh, weird, but ok. “I’d feel fine. I live right near a GO station.”

Interviewer: “Yes but it’s a long way to come. You think you can always get here on time?”

Me: Huh? Am I not sitting here right now? Aren’t there like thousands of people who commute to this city everyday. I know our transit infrastructure is bad but…?  “Barring any train delays, I don’t see why not…”

Interviewer: “We sometimes have to work late. Would that be a problem for you? How would you get home?”

Me: Ok. But don’t you want to know about, like, my professional attributes? “Not a problem. The same way I came here…?”

Interviewer: (Long pause as she reviews the pieces I’d written during the application process). “Well, you’re certainly a very good writer.”

Me: Whew! Back on track. “Thank you. That’s very kind of you to say.”

Interviewer: (Another pause as she looks me over. I catch her glance at my wedding rings.) “Do you have a family?”

Now let me just break here for a moment. This question was not asked in a friendly, conversational way. It, honest to goodness, felt like a challenge. This was the question she was trying to get the answer to with all of those other shitty questions. This woman was asking me if I had kids and it was very clear that if I did, it would be a strike against me. I was maaaad.

Me: “Of course I do. We all come from somewhere don’t we?” Then I gave the most innocent smile I could muster in my rage.

She was NOT impressed. She gave me one of those tight-lipped smirks where the edge of her lips turned white. She clearly didn’t like having her bullshit thrown back in her face.

Needless to say, the interview ended rather quickly after that. She didn’t even shake my hand. I also didn’t offer it.

I didn’t hear anything from them. Such a waste of time and energy.

I’ve sat through other really uncomfortable interviews. One, even, where the interviewer implied that I had slept with the author of one of my reference letters because it said too many nice things about me (media, seriously, super insanely sexist). That guy actually ended up hiring me, funny enough, and I (and a fair number of my former female colleagues) could dedicate an entire book to the seriously uncomfortable situations I found myself in with that dinosaur.

This interview, though, was worse. I was being discriminated against because I was a woman, by a woman who was not much older than me and who could probably tell tales very similar to the one I’m telling now. It was truly heartbreaking; she’d given up the fight.

I cannot imagine a professional scenario where men are asked these kinds of questions: asked to prove that not only are they capable of doing the job but that they can physically find their way to the office.

I suppose to some degree I get that you see a woman of child-bearing years sitting across from you and maybe it gives you pause because ‘Gasp! She might get pregnant and disappear for a year and I’ll have to take time to hire someone to take her place! Woe is me!’

Here’s the thing, though: y’all need to Get. Over. It. You need to step up and adapt to reality.

This is the 21st century and despite the fact that there is a patriarchy still clearly trying to put us ‘in our place,’ we aren’t giving up any more ground.

Women have proven time and again that we are brilliant, witty and resourceful. We are savvy, strong and independent. We are professional, caring and innovative. We are all the things that make today’s workforce diverse and more productive. We are a force to be reckoned with.

In light of these revelations, I’ve decided to craft a new cover letter. I feel like it will cut through all the bullshit and will save time the next time I apply for a job. It reads as follows:

Dear hiring manager,

I am eager to apply for [position title] as I feel my years of experience in this field and passion for [whatever product they’re selling] makes me an ideal candidate. Please refer to my portfolio and long list of references for further proof that I am awesome and you’d be stupid to not hire me.

Before we go any further, though, I feel we need to address the elephant in the room: I have a vagina. Sometimes blood comes out of it. Sometimes babies come out of it.

Let’s agree that these things are not, in any way shape or form, your concern as they in NO WAY affect my integrity or diminish the pride I take in doing a job well. They do not take away from my professionalism or the impressive skill set I bring to the table. Also, my biology will in no way inhibit my ability to tell time or find my way to the office.

Sincerely,

A.K.

Ode to a sour key

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I only have eyes for my sour key.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

There are few things in life as constant as family and friends. I lucked out in that arena for sure.

However, there are times where nothing they say or do can help. That’s where my not-so-secret lover swoops in and saves the day.

I dream of when we’ll be together and I can taste him. One look at his soft curves will set my heart aflutter. My mouth waters with a glance of his long shaft.

He is: the sour key.

I cannot tell you how many times the sour key has come to my rescue: he’s saved me from the 3 p.m. wall – and again at 3 a.m.; he helped cover the nasty smell of onions on my breath before I went into that meeting one time; he was my constant companion for all-night cram sessions; he’s been a permanent fixture on my desk at work; he was there to see me through Super Mario Wii to the bitter end; and he’s been my rock through all the breakups and bad relationships that litter my past.

Ah yes, he’s been my trusty steed in times of need.

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My sour key and I in happier times.

His ooey gooey goodness flavours some rather fond memories while his sour sweetness has propped me up in times of turbulence. He is my rock.

There have been times I may have overindulged and the morning after I will swear him off forever, but it doesn’t take long for the urges to return. Even the times my tongue bleeds for love of him, I can’t keep myself from going back.

I’ve tried others: those cheap imitation ‘soothers’ don’t come close – though in a pinch, they’ll barely suffice. Sour snowboards are another that leave me wanting, a poor man’s key, if you ask me (I think they’re priced similarly, oddly enough). Don’t even try to tempt me with sour cherries or peaches because they will never hold a candle to my dear, sweet key.

I have been known to go to great lengths to track him down, wandering aimlessly from 7-Eleven to Beckers and beyond just for a taste.

Oh my darling sour key, I would just like to thank you for your years of service. We have come to a point in our lives where our paths may cross less. My metabolism is not what it used to be and I am supposed to set an example for daughter now. I will look back on our time together with great fondness and weep for days gone by when your juicy, fruity tartness did not add inches to my waistline.

Our time in the sun is at an end, but we will still rendezvous out of sight, away from judgmental eyes and away from my child because I couldn’t dare share you – and she’d totally want you because she wants EVERYTHING I have!

Adieu, sweet and sour friend. Until we meet again (probably later tonight).

Coming soon: Gummy bear ballad and The Doritos dissertation

You’re watching Treehouse

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Before a little person came out of me, I had lofty notions about parenting and how I was going to do it.

Never was I ever going to drive a minivan (I still don’t, but my bff just bought one yesterday and as she was describing all of its baubles and conveniences I thought my head would burst from jealousy); never would I ever co-sleep (first night home from the hospital we broke that rule); never would I ever allow my child to watch TV.

The last one was really hard to justify especially because for the first few months of her life I was parked in front of the television as I sought to distract myself from the endless cycle of breastfeeding and holding her while she slept (also something I vowed I’d never do).

When our daughter got to an age where she was aware of stuff, we decided it might be time to start watching more kid-appropriate programming. I’ll admit, I was selfish and reluctant to make the switch as my super-intellect demands to be challenged by shows like Love It or List It, Property Brothers and Real Housewives of Orange County, but I think we’ve made the most of things.

The Treehouse network has become a familiar backdrop at our house. It’s only natural that my husband and I have become kid show connoisseurs. In fact we’ve really gotten into them. Where once we debated the dark themes in Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, we now theorize on the whereabouts of Max and Ruby‘s parents (and their sudden appearance – what’s that all about? They’re so lame!) or the ramifications of the relationship between Leah and the genies in Shimmer and Shine.

So, because I am an expert on kid TV now, I thought it would be fun to come up with a Top 5 Treehouse shows for adults. Keep in mind, this is based on adult watchability not if they’re any good for our children – who worries about that anyways?

5. Go Jetters

This show features four adventure-seeking superheroes who travel the globe under the guidance of a disco-loving unicorn named Ubercorn. They often cross paths with super villain Grand Master Glitch who, with his Grimbots, is always up to no good.

I won’t lie, I’ve actually learned a lot from the Go Jetters. Ubercorn’s Funky Top 3 is VERY informative and super funky. The reason this show is in the Top 5 is because my husband and I loooooove the theme song and also, we think Grand Master Glitch adorable and he is one of our all-time favourite villains – he really is just misunderstood.

4. Sesame Street

I feel like this show needs no introduction.

Our fondness for Sesame Street is mostly fueled by nostalgia though there are a lot of really entertaining skits. They have a segment that re-imagines popular movies or shows. Our favourites include: True Mud (True Blood), The Hungry Games: Catching Fur, Upside Downton Abbey, and many many more. Sesame Street might be a show for kids but it’s clearly written with an adult audience in mind. Love that this show is back in my life.

3. Peg + Cat

This follows a little girl Peg and her sidekick Cat as they solve problems using math.

Peg + Cat took time to grow on me. I found Peg a little grating at first but I think that was my sleep deprivation clouding my judgment. This show is HILARIOUS. The writing is so damn clever and the music is way catchy. The animation is adorable and Cat’s dry wit perfectly offsets high-strung Peg’s sweetness.

2. Peppa Pig

I absolutely adore this little English piggy and her family.

Peppa Pig is one of the very first shows we exposed our daughter to. She seriously could not care less about it. I’ve been smitten with Peppa from day one. She’s full of sass, curiosity and sweetness. In an age where princesses seem to dominate the little girl landscape, I can’t help but feel this pink angel is a breath of fresh air. Peppa’s giggle and little brother George’s cry always put me in stitches. I am going to continue to shove this show and all its merchandise down my daughter’s throat until she’s old enough to appreciate just how friggin’ cool Peppa is.

1. Ready, Steady, Wiggle!

These Aussie performers will always have a special place in my heart.

From the moment my daughter first heard The Wiggles, she was enraptured. The Wiggles are the only people who can bring her to a complete stop. The 20 minutes that Ready, Steady, Wiggle is on is the only time I can duck out of the living room to do dishes or go to the bathroom. They are a godsend.

Aside from their ability to hypnotize our daughter, my husband and I love watching the Wiggles. The music is so much fun to sing along with and we find each Wiggles’ persona silly and intriguing and there are some really funny and wacky moments. I truly believe that being a Wiggle would be one of the best jobs in the world; they make it look so fun.

Honourable mentions:

Shimmer and Shine: Zach’s unrequited love for Leah keeps me tuning in. You could cut the sexual tension with a knife.

Max and Ruby: Though this show got suckier with the introduction of their parents, I like the theme song and I think Max is cool.

Wonder Pets!: Soooooooo weird = Awesome.

Author’s note: I am in no way affiliated with Treehouse or the production of any of these shows (although if I was offered a job as a Wiggle, I’d jump at the chance). I’m just a tired lady who has nothing better to do when her exhausting toddler is napping.

The sisterhood

I heard an infuriating story the other day: my friend was shamed right out of a popular baby boutique in our hometown of Hamilton, Ontario.

My friend walked into this store with her weeks-old daughter and her under-two son. She was exhausted and recovering from giving birth. She was barely holding it together. It took all her energy and will power to go to this store that day. She was looking for help with a baby carrier that was sold in the store but wasn’t purchased at this location.

Before she could even make her request, a woman who worked there – at a store that sells itself as moms helping other moms – asked her rudely if she purchased the wrap there. When my friend confirmed that she had not, the clerk said they’d charge a ‘consulting’ fee to show her how to use it. They also took this opportunity to tell her, condescendingly of course, that she was in fact using it wrong and her baby was in danger because of it.

Let’s be clear: that baby was never in danger. This was a scare tactic to get my sleep deprived and emotional friend to cough up the dough because if the baby was in danger and they had a soul, they wouldn’t have asked for the money first.

My friend was flabbergasted. She asked to speak to a manager. The manager entered the fray and noticed that there was an older child in the picture. She asked if she used the wrap with him – she did not. The store ladies started to clutch their pearls. When it was revealed that her son was sleep trained, they were horrified. And they let my friend know they were horrified with her decision. In my mind, it went something like this: ‘How could a mother be so cruel as to not hold her child 24 hours a day 7 days a week? Away with you she-devil!’

That’s not exactly how it went down but the truth of the matter is, my friend left that store in tears feeling an undeserved guilt and unsupported.

No woman should be made to feel alone like that.

There’s no arguing that we got the short end of the stick in biological terms. I’m not sure what we did to deserve periods AND child birth but they suck. Not to mention the fact that when/if we decide to have children, it seems the responsibility for raising kind, socially responsible children falls largely to women. Now this isn’t the deal in our little family but up until a few decades ago, this was the norm.

When it came to structuring society back in olden times, we must’ve been PMSing that day because we couldn’t pull our shit together enough to avert the patriarchal set-up we’re still forced to contend with. It’s mind boggling to consider the fact that a man with comparable education and experience to me, working the same job as me would be considered more valuable, but that’s a thing! I’ve been in professional situations where my ideas don’t gain traction – even among women – until they are supported by a man.

And to top it all off, even though we’re all women and we all, to some degree, endure these things there exists an attitude of division among us.

This past year, I became a mother (to a human – I’ve been a fur mom for almost 14 years). In this context, I have come to see just how divided we really are.

I equate walking into a room full of moms and their children to walking into the high school cafeteria: I am very self conscious and worried about fitting in. There are definitely mom cliques in these situations and it can definitely feel like a popularity contest. In this contest, though, your parenting style is being judged and other women are always going to be your harshest critic.

Even among childless women, there is a whisper of judgment lurking in their eyes every time my daughter screams in inappropriate places or has boogers running down her face.

Hey, I get it. I’m certainly no saint in this arena. I am in no way immune to making my own judgments about other women. I’d like to think I’m getting better at readjusting my expectations of others as I get older and ‘wiser,’ but this past year has put me on the defensive and I find myself slipping back into old habits.

But the image of my dear friend, with her two babies, walking away from that store in shame forced me to give my head a shake. I’ve been no better than those women who shamed her for not being like them. And in all this, I can’t help but think if the proprietor of that business was a man, it wouldn’t have gone down like that. Isn’t that a super shitty way to feel about members of my sisterhood?

When it comes to momming, there is no tried and true method. If there was, we’d all be doing that. The truth is, we’re all trying to do what’s best for our kids and our families. As women, because it’s fallen to us for centuries, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to keep all running like a well-oiled machine. It’s so easy to start comparing yourself to other moms trying to do the same job and when they look like they’re ‘better’ at it, the doubt starts to creep in.

I’m thinking it’s time we let go of that picture of the perfect family life; the perfect child; the perfect home; the perfect career; the perfect woman. Perfect is impossible.

We all have different priorities that determine the choices we make and the lives we lead. We need to celebrate our differences and embrace the shared experience of being a woman. Like it or not, this is a sisterhood and we’re far more productive and better off when we have each others’ back .

First impressions

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Madison Elizabeth Freckles Kay Kouniakis a.k.a. The Saddest Dog in the World.

From the moment she stepped out of her car, I knew she was mine.

She reeked of heart-break and vulnerability. I caught undertones of wit and intelligence and the ability to love beyond boundaries beneath the whiff of weed she tried to mask with a piece of winter mint Trident and Calgon body spray.

I knew, from the way her cheap, worn out t-shirt and dirty jeans clung to her emaciated frame that she needed someone just like me to whip her back into shape.

You see, I was only 7 weeks old at the time but wise beyond my weeks. I knew from the moment she looked into the pools of my glossy dark brown eyes, stroked my dangling, silky ears and kissed the smattering of red freckles across my nose and forehead that she would forever fall under my power.

I watched calmly as she stepped gently from her wheeled metal conveyance – I’d soon learn this is called a ‘car’ – and glance around uncertainly at the farm. She took in the little brown pond that bordered the southwest corner of the property and smiled briefly at the small family of ducks that had taken up residence there. She continued her scan of the landscape and grimaced slightly at the chickens puttering about freely near the entrance of the barn.

She still hadn’t seen me but I knew she was looking for me.

Her eyes lit upon the house; an all-brick bungalow with a bright yellow sun room off the back entrance that overlooked a small apple orchard. She started to make her way up the long, asphalt driveway. The homeowner, Rick, came out of the barn, cleaning his hands on a grungy looking rag.

It was then that she noticed us in our little pen down a ways from the entrance of the barn, in the shade of the orchard.

She didn’t see me right away. My excitable brothers and sisters were blocking me from her view with their jumping, barking and wiggles. She cracked a smile – an expression that seemed almost forgotten on her face but brought a light to her eyes that I hadn’t noticed before. She cooed at my unwieldy siblings as they yipped and yapped, all clamoring for her attention. Her attention was briefly taken up with an introduction to Rick.

“Hey there,” he said as he stuffed the rag into his back pocket. “I’m Rick.”

“Hi,” she said. Her voice was a low, light hum. She sounded kind. “I’m Amy. From the kijiji ad?”

“Ah yes, I remember,” Rick said as he looked us over. “Well, you should know, I have a family coming any minute to pick one out also.”

“Oh ok,” she said. “Is it ok if I pick them up and play with them?”

“Of course! I just have a few things I’m working on in the barn so feel free to come get me if you have any questions.”

“Awesome!” She said as she eagerly turned her full attention to my siblings and I.

Amy crouched beside the pen and laughed softly at the display my brothers and sisters were putting on for her. She ruffled heads and scratched some ears before her gaze fell on me standing guard over one of my more timid sisters.

There are moments that will determine the course of the rest of your life and this was one of them. For Amy and for me.

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Our first day together. The beginning of a tumultuous albeit loving relationship.

When our eyes meet, Amy’s light up like a sunrise on a cloudless morning. She smiles with a profound joy. I stare back at her calmly, still offering comfort to my shivering sister. We watch each other over the heads of my boisterous brothers and sisters, sizing one another up.

She walks around to the side of the pen where my sister and I are, reaches in and gently pats the top of my head. I hold her gaze and twitch my tail.

“Hello you,” she says, smiling and eyes welling up. We sit staring at one another, her petting me for a minute or so and silently crying. She offers comfort to my trembling sister but only has eyes for me. Even with all my crazy siblings jumping about, there is a peace in this moment; a mutual sense of peace.

“Do you mind if I pick you up?” Amy asks, as if I can answer.

She gingerly scoops me up and hugs me into her chest, breathing in deeply the smell of my head. She kisses the big freckle on the top of my head and rubs her face into my left ear, all the while tears continue to silently slip out of the corner of her eyes.

“I think you’re the one,” she sniffles. As if there was any doubt.

She puts me down on the lawn. This was my chance. I’d been waiting my whole life for this opportunity. And here, now, this vulnerable, clearly heart-broken and desperate woman has handed it to me. I don’t hesitate. I know something like this won’t come around again.

The moment my toes touch solid ground, I’m off running in the direction of the barn. That’s the sweet spot. I can see my fowl friends in the distance and I know that’s my destination. I don’t look back. I can hear Amy laughing and yelling to me. I don’t care. I can see the gooey, dark goodness that the chickens have left behind on the ground. I can smell its deliciousness. That sharp, earthy aroma that has toyed with me and haunted my dreams for weeks. Now it’s mine.

My mouth starts to water.

As I near my destination, I am overwhelmed by the hubris of this glorious moment and my legs tangle. I stumble and somersault. No matter: I’m back on my feet and running full tilt at my target. Closer. Closer. Closer…

Just as I am about to reach a heavenly steaming pile of goo, I am unceremoniously plucked up by a giggling Amy.

“You are one playful puppy, little girl,” she says. I’m not sure how she knew I was a girl, but that’s the least of my concerns right now.

I stare at her. Hard. Willing her to put me back down. I know she doesn’t quite fully grasp the calamity she has caused but maybe if I play my cards right, she’ll just let me down again.

She nuzzles and kisses my head. Murmuring sweet nothings in my flappy little ears. All the while my mind is working furiously, trying to figure a way to get to the chicken goo.

Rick emerges from the barn.

“So it looks like you found one.”

Amy holds me out, away from her so as to get a good look at my face, to look me in the eye.

This is my chance to communicate all that I’m thinking and feeling. This is my chance to get the goo.

I stare back and as hard as I can I try to send her the message:

“Put me down, bitch.”

Amy seems to register. Her eyes clear and she finds resolve. She heard me! I knew she was the one!

“Yep. This one. I’ll take her!” she says to Rick. She hugs me.

To me she says quietly and happily: “I’ll never put you down again.”

“Fuck.”