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.”