Words of Wisdom

mom

 

Ok guys. (And girls. Oh who am I kidding, mostly girls.). It’s time to talk about something serious for once. Something tragic and heart-wrenching and life-altering and emotionally exhausting and physically overwhelming.

I am talking, of course, about the very sensitive subject of… parenting teenagers. (What?? What did you think I was going to talk about??)

I am almost done with parenting my second child through adolescence. No, no, that sentence should in no way be read to imply that I am almost done parenting. It’s just the adolescence part that ends soon. My second child is turning 18 in a few months. And as we all know, the magical thing that happens after adolescence is that your child has matured into a responsible adult and leaves home the day after he turns 18, shaking your hand on the way out the door and saying “Good job, mother, I’ll be on my way to my Fully Planned Out Well Balanced Life now. Thanks so much for all your hard work, I will of course reward you for all your sacrifices by keeping in touch on a regular basis, having meaningful conversations with you when we meet for coffee every week so that I can tell you everything that’s going on in my Wonderful Successful Life, and thanking you in my acceptance speech when I receive my Nobel Prize or Academy Award.”

But since we are still a few months off before all that happens, I would like to share a few thoughts on the parenting experience as it pertains to the ages of 12 to 18.

For those of you who still have kids younger than this age group, don’t worry, it’s really not that bad. For those of you who have kids past this age group, get up off the floor, it’s not polite to roll around laughing like that. Yeah, yeah, we know it really actually IS that bad, but there’s not much point telling them, is there? It’s not like they can change anything about it, it’s too late now. And besides, they are still in that phase where they think “It won’t happen to me. I have a connection with my kids. I have a plan. I have read parenting books, taken a class, thought it over, talked to the Dalai Lama and well, I just know it will be different for me!”

Come on now, up off that floor! It’s just rude. Let them have their dreams. There’s plenty of time for the “I told you so”s later.

There’s really only one foolproof way to make sure you don’t struggle through the teenage years as a parent… Don’t have kids. But if you are reading this, chances are you have already created a little bundle of joy, maybe even more than one, and he or she is running around right now being cute and cuddly and asking “but why?” a million times and you think the worst of your struggles are the middle of the night nightmares, the stomach flu and the constant interruptions until you get used to repeating the beginnings of sentences several times.

But no. Well, actually, yes. Middle of the night nightmares with teenagers: check. Only it’s you having the nightmare, and you’re wide awake, in the middle of the night, standing next to the window, eyes darting back and forth from your mobile phone to the road outside because your teen isn’t home yet. And isn’t answering his phone. And should have been home 20 minutes ago. Which isn’t so bad in the “real world” because people are often 20 minutes late for appointments without the rest of the world getting furious at them, but when it’s your child, it’s different. You are standing there with that wonderful mix of feelings that is a cross between loving them so much you are literally aching to see them walk around the corner and being so angry you will probably ground them until three weeks after they turn 30.

Stomach flu with a young child compares nicely with that moment when one of your kids’ friends brings him home drunk. ‘Nuff said. And you thank the friend for having the presence of mind and decency to get him home. And the next day you find out it was the friend who brought the booze.

Constant interruptions? Slightly different twist to that one. Conversation with teen:

I walk into his room and say “Is tomorrow the day of your math test?”

Teen, looking at his computer. “Hahahahahaha. “ Looks at me: “What?”

Me: “Have you studied for your math test?”

Teen, looks at me: “Math test?” Looks back at his computer, which has beeped 3 times. Says  “Yeah right!” to it and types something very quickly.  Looks back at me with a blank expression.

Me: “Don’t you have a math test tomorrow?”

Teen, having picked up his mobile phone and reading something. Holds up one finger and says: “Just one….” And texts quickly while looking serious. Then looks up and stares at me with a blank expression.

Me: “Seriously, are you ready for your math test?”

Teen, puts down his phone and replies to the beeping computer while mumbling.

Me: “I found 50 dollars, would you like it?”

Teen, stand up, faces me, fully focused, at attention, staring directly into my eyes: “Really? Are you serious?”

Me: “No, now what about math??”

Teen: “What math?”

 

So you see, it’s not really that bad.

On the plus side my son recently made a Spotify list on his account entitled “Songs Mom Might Like”. For those of you who don’t have teens yet, that is an enormous compliment. It means my son thinks I might have taste, or at least i could be influenced to have taste, and especially, he thinks I have enough computer savvy to use Spotify!  It doesn’t get much better than that!!

Fun and productive things to do while waiting in the hospital.

I have a friend right now who is at her son’s bedside in the hospital, an unplanned vacation from the real world which happens so frequently in the life of a cancer mom (or cancer dad of course). It made me think about all the long hours, days and nights we spent in the hospital with Elliot, waiting, pacing up and down the halls, sitting by the bed, waiting, going down to the coffee shop to get coffee to bring back up, waiting, chatting with other parents or nurses, waiting, trying to get our child to cooperate with the nurse or doctor, eating cold meals or warmish sandwiches, waiting, holding our child down while the nurse or doctor does whatever it is they need to do, waiting, texting friends or anyone who might possibly be awake at 3am, and of course, waiting.

And so, I have come up with a creative list of fun things to do while waiting in the hospital. As I’m sure many of my other cancer mom friends (and cancer dads!!) will have suggestions, please feel free to comment at the end.

Good times…

 

  1. Wait. (Just in case you hadn’t thought of that)
  2. Read the same paragraph in your book over and over since you will be interrupted by your child, the nurse, a clown, the doctor or some other important person roughly every 6 minutes.
  3. Polish your finger and toe nails. Since you will not have any nailpolish, use a q tip and some of the yellow iodine tincture. It will look unique and clever.
  4. Make beautiful water fountain statue out of syringes, I.V. tubes, and bedpans.
  5. Take a plastic cup and write “Urine Sample” on it. Then pour some apple juice in it and secretly place it on the nurses’ desk.  Hours of entertainment while you watch them try to figure it out.
  6. Place a bunch of pillows on a wheel chair in the shape of a person, then cover with a blanket.  Leave a little note pinned to the blanket saying “do not wake!” Then put the wheelchair in the elevator. Bet with the other moms and dads how long it will take till someone does something.
  7. Steal as many toothpicks from the cafeteria as possible and build a smaller scale version of the Eiffel Tower. Place it in the hospital lobby and watch as people admire your artwork.
  8. Start rumours about the hospital personnel. Make them as unlikely as possible, and tell only one person. Then see how many hours it takes till you hear the rumour again from someone else, and how much the rumour has changed from your original version.
  9. Pretend you are an interior designer with unlimited budget, and plan what changes you would make to the department you’re in.
  10. Write a letter to your health minister outlining the improvements you feel are necessary in the lives of hospital patients and families. Since you will probably not have thought to bring paper and pens, use toilet paper to write on and a syringe filled tomato soup as your pen.
  11. When the head doctor comes in with some students, quickly give your child a metal bedpan and some spoons. Secretly tell your kid the doctors enjoy drum concerts while they talk.
  12. If your child is going to receive dexamethasone or other steroids, just before the treatment make sure to watch the movie “The Exorcist” especially the scene where the girl’s head spins around. You will be better prepared although you may look back on the movie with thoughts that the girl was in fact quite cute and innocent looking in that scene, compared to your own kid now…
  13. If there is a suggestion box in the hospital cafeteria, write “cocktail hour” on several notes to fill it.
  14. If you have been awake for more than 36 hours and your child is so bored he is driving you crazy, it is official hospital policy that you can push the nurses’ call-button as many times as you want, even if you can’t remember what you needed by the time she gets there.
  15. Since your child is not in school you need to supplement his education. One science project is to use several sugar packets from the cafeteria and mix them with whatever liquids are on the meal tray until they form a paste. Then, your child can wash the windows using that, and see which combinations clean best. It’s all in the interest of education so it’s ok.
  16. Fill several hospital gloves with water and start a water balloon fight with the other kids. The nurses LOVE this.
  17. If the doctor or nurse comes while your child is in the bathroom, look all surprised and say “Oh I thought he was with YOU!”
  18. Make a list of all the things you will do when this phase of your life is over. It doesn’t matter how crazy or unlikely they are, just write them down. There is a life after this, and you have the right to dream big.

Our First Date

 

heart

Martin and I like to look back on our “first date” with fond memories. The funny thing is, when we started comparing how the date and the lead up to it went, we had quite different versions of the same story. So, here, in all its glory, is the story of our first date, and I’ll let you be the judge as to who probably has it right.

 

Nicole’s Version.

 

So there I was, a single mom, living in Switzerland, enjoying life and work and travel, when one of my friends at work decided it was time for me to start dating again. I thought it over. I hadn’t dated in uh… a little while. Life was good, who needs a man anyway? Ok, it would be nice to have someone to go out for supper with, watch movies with, someone kind and intelligent and willing to be in charge of bug squashing and remote control battery buying, two tasks that were sorely unmet in my home. So I decided she was right. I was Ready To Start Dating.

 

She took this on as a mission. I found folded newspaper pages in my locker at work, the classified “men seeking women” section, with big red circles around certain candidates, and notes written on the side like “this one sounds fun!” and “loves travel!”. I read them with interest, put them in my bag, and never looked at them again.

 

My friend did not relent. She started checking into some of the new guys at work, a whole batch of them had just arrived, having been transferred from Zurich. “Fresh meat!” she said, rubbing her hands together greedily (Ok she actually never said or did that, but I like to imagine it that way).

She came up with a candidate.

“Martin. He’s Swedish or Danish or something. One of those countries up there.”

I nodded.

“You don’t know who he is, do you.” She accused.

“Uh…  Is he, uh, tall with dark hair?” I was just guessing.

“They’re all tall with dark hair. Nicole. He’s got potential. He’s taller than YOU. “

I hesitated.

“He reads. He speaks, like, a lot of languages. He’s smart.”

I headed for the door. “My break is over, I’ll check him out” I said enthusiastically.

“He’s perfect!” she called after me.

 

So a few days later. I‘m at work, on a break (you’re starting to think we’re always on a break, but we do actually work too.)

 

I’m sitting at a shared computer area, at one of the many computers available for our use during breaks. I am aimlessly reading emails. Nothing new. I think over this Whole Dating Thing. I really should make more of an effort.

Then I notice him. It’s that guy my friend mentioned, sitting at a computer just across from me. Martin, right? He looks ok. Harmless. Hey, he has a book! Potential.

How do I ask him out? I actually am free tonight, Jesse and Daniel are in Canada at their dad’s for a week!

I get a bit nervous. Come on now, just strike up a conversation. Say something clever and funny.

Silence.

Ok say something deep and meaningful.

Silence.

I have re-read the same sentence on my computer 17 times.

Say anything. Seriously.

“Hey, have you seen that new movie, blah blah blah?” (The blah is because I now can’t remember which movie it was, since I was obviously just pretending I wanted to go see it.)

“Oh,” Martin replies, glancing up from his computer at me. “No. I want to, it should be pretty good.”

“ Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard too!” I say enthusiastically, clearly overjoyed at the possibility of soon seeing blah blah blah.

Silence. Martin goes back to looking at his computer.

I try again.

“Do you know where it’s playing?”

“Uh, nope” he says, and looks away again.

“Oh, that’s too bad.” Now madness takes hold of me. “Maybe I’ll look it up. I could go see it tonight after work. My kids are in Canada, so I’m pretty much free.”

“Hmmm” Martin says, obviously not interested.

“Yep, I’m free as the wind. Free as a bird. Free to do whatever I want. It’s great” I chuckle. (Inner voice: WhatintheworldamIsaying?).

“Huh.” Martin offers, and then stares at his computer again.

“Kind of don’t feel like going alone though.”  (Inner voice: DidIactuallyjust saythat??)

“Hmmmm.” Martin says, staring at a spot next to my head.

“Wonder if anyone else here is off work soon and feels like going too?” I look around the room vacantly, not seeing anything at all, my eyes blinded by my temporary insanity.

“Oh.” Martin looks around too. Then his eyes finally stop on me. “Would you like to go to the movie together?” He asks casually, like the thought just occurred to him.

“Hey, sure, why not?” I respond, acting spontaneous and cool and sophisticated and thrilled and casually interested and nonchalant and bedazzling.

The bedazzling is the best part, isn’t it?

So that’s how I remember it. Then we went out, first to a restaurant downtown, then started talking in real English, and never did see blah blah blah.

 

Martin’s Version.

New job posting in Geneva. Cool. Work is fun. Nice to meet new people.

Hey, there’s a girl who seems nice. Find out name. Nicole. Find out if single. Yes. Make mental note to ask her out when the opportunity arises.

Sitting at a computer on break. Reading about cool interesting gadget stuff. Make mental note to buy everything.

Thoughts interrupted by voice asking about the movie blah blah blah.

Oh, it’s that girl.

Mind goes blank.

Try to think of a way to ask her out.

Nothing.

She keeps talking.

Still trying to think of a way to ask her out.

Nothing.

She is still talking.

Maybe should just take a risk and just ask.

If she would just stop talking I could concentrate on how to say it.

Ok here goes.

“Would you like to go to the movie together?”

She smiles. Says a lot of things. Pretty sure it’s a yes.

She is quite bedazzling.

 

So there you have it, Version 1 or Version 2, who knows which is closer to the truth (well, mine obviously), but regardless, the date was a success since we are now happily married 7 years later, and have still never seen the movie blah blah blah.

Friendship

Lately the cancer world has me pondering the importance of friendships. What would we do without friends? Women, especially, needs their gal pals. In fact, recently on facebook a post went around about a study that was done that determined the best thing a man can do for his health is to marry a woman, whereas the best thing a woman can for her health is to nurture her friendships with other women.

It’s just so true.

A friend can be there to support me through the difficult moments of Elliot’s diagnosis and treatment, even if her children have never had cancer. She “gets it”. It doesn’t matter that it’s not her child, she actually feels the fear and anxiety I feel. How do women do it? We take on all the pain and suffering of those around us. When someone we care about hurts, we hurt too. Men are better at compartmentalizing their lives, at separating their emotions from their actions.

I was chatting recently with a mom, whose son had cancer years ago and is now considered “cured” (apparently you can only say “cured” with quotation marks, because there is never a real guarantee. Darn it, and here I was hoping for some kind of official He Is Cured document from the hospital at some point!) She mentioned that someone had recently told her that she should now “shut the door” on cancer, that it’s part of the past and it’s time to move on to thinking about new things.

We stared at each other a bit after she said that. Then she said it would be pretty hard to do as she had just signed up for a two-year term working with a children’s cancer group.

We laughed.

The thing is, there’s no door to shut.

Being a cancer mom isn’t a choice, and it’s (unfortunately) not a temporary role. Nobody enters the cancer wold willingly, but once you’re there, you don’t have much of a choice. You adapt. Even my friends whose kids don’t have cancer have been dragged into this world with me, sure, not as intensely as I have, but whether they like it or not, they can now chat easily about blood cell levels and remission and chemotherapy side effects and vomit stain removal and needles and port-a-caths. And they can laugh at it all, and cry at it all, and while they laugh and cry they can also make supper and do two loads of laundry and find the missing lego piece and clean the living room and feed the cat and stop one child from hitting the other and text a friend and polish their toe nails. While they are doing all this the husband usually only has time to walk into the kitchen open a cupboard, stare into it’s depths for several minutes, then ask, “Where do we keep the salt?”.

Ok I don’t mean to insult the male population there, and I may be slightly exaggerating (my husband actually knows where the salt is!). But seriously folks, let’s take a few seconds here to applaud all the women out there, cancermoms and cancerfriends, who are going through this journey or have gone through it already.

I live in an all-male household. This has some advantages. I told Jesse the other day to take out the garbage, and he replied with some kind of grumble that sounded like “ok”. A friend of mine (male) with a teenage daughter recently told me he had asked his daughter to take out the garbage and the girl broke down crying, accused her dad of trying to ruin her life, and ran to her room, slamming the door. It turns out she had just done her hair and put on her new skirt which she had wanted to show her dad (which he failed to notice) and it was raining out, which, any woman would know, means there is no way the garbage is being taken out in these conditions and how dare you not notice my hair and outfit?!?!

Jesse took the garbage out without another word. He also did not bother to put on socks and shoes or a t-shirt. And it was raining out. When he came in I said,  “You”ll catch a cold going out like that!” and he grumbled something that sounded like “ok” and walked into the kitchen and ate an entire loaf of bread, jar of peanut butter and drank a liter of milk.

So there are advantages to the testosterone prominence in my home, and disadvantages. Sometimes, I miss having someone to talk things out with. There are occasions, during quiet moments, when I have said to my husband “So what do you want to talk about?” and he gets that slightly panicked look. Daniel comes home from school and I excitedly ask him how his day went, what did they do etc etc (It’s a new school year, I’m curious!) and he replies “it was very… school-ish.” and I don’t get much more than that…  I still recall noticing Jesse, around age 6, staring intensively out his bedroom window for a long thoughtful moment, and asking him what he was thinking about. He replied “Well, when I see a car, I think: ‘a car’. When I see a person, I think: ‘a person’.”

With my friends I can talk easily about all of life’s mysteries. The anxiety of worrying about a relapse. The ups and downs of every day life. The stress of juggling the kids’ back to school schedule. The joy of shoe shopping. The confusion of relationships.

There is a special bond between cancer friends too – we who have faced “the dragon” and felt its hot breath hovering over us (oh that was very descriptive, wasn’t it? Feels right, like we’re little knights in shining armour brandishing our swords above our heads, torn between fear and fury).

You would think a group of women bonded by cancer would be a sad, weeping lot, all of us sitting together in a semi-circle, sharing our sad tales over tea, a box of kleenex nearby being quickly used up. Well, so far, in my experience, it has been quite the contrary! Swap that tea for a good bottle of red wine and there we are, laughing our heads off as one mom tells the story of sneaking a pizza in to her daughter’s hospital room and being caught by a nurse. Keep the kleenex – we’re laughing so hard we’re crying.

Don’t get me wrong. Behind that pizza story is the very real image burned into our minds of the mom who has stayed by her child’s bedside for days, the i.v.s of chemotherapy and anti-cancer medicine hanging overhead, and then the anti-nausea medicine, the anti-pain medicine, the medicine that helps you get over your addiction to the anti-pain medicine, the medicine that helps you sleep, stay awake, poop, not poop, and of course the medicine to treat the side effects of all the medicine. The mom who is exhausted, hungry, scared, sad, and has decided that dammit, she’s having pizza with her kid. The mom who is overjoyed if her child is actually willing to eat one bite of food.

We don’t need her to explain all that because we’ve all lived it. What we need, mostly, is to laugh. And be together.

Because when the dragon rears its head and starts charging at you, and all you’ve got is your little sword, you need everyone else to show up with their little swords. One dragon against a whole bunch of sword carrying women (and a pizza) is all we need to keep fighting. And hopefully, most of the time, win the war.

Moving to Switzerland, One Expat’s Story.

With the right hat, maybe I can fit in?

PART FOUR, Can I fit in?

So apparently not.

I am not dressed right. I can tell by the way I have suddenly become invisible. In Canada, the t-shirt and jeans I am now wearing seem to work for me. Dressing up would involve changing the strappy sandals to slight heels and some lipstick. But here, I am way, way, way out of my league. All of the women are dressed in very pointy (we’re talking poke-your-eye-out pointy), very high healed shoes, somehow managing to never get stuck in the cobblestone sidewalk. They are all extremely thin. They are all wearing dresses or skirts. No wait, there’s one wearing tight curvy pants. Oh no, sorry, that was a man.

They all have huge sunglasses, huge purses and are all apparently talking on their cell phone. Side note: cell phones are not actually called cell phones here, a lesson learned a few minutes ago as I made the unfortunate mistake of calling out to a woman who had left hers on the table at the outdoor restaurant where she had been sitting “Madame, votre téléphone cellulaire!”. She leaped back to the table (they all seem to be quite flexible despite their dangerous shoes, probably from all the elevator yoga they do) and grabbed the phone then gave me the coldest, stoniest stare I have ever seen and said “mon natel, merci” in a voice that implied I should not step any closer to her lest my uncoolness be contagious.

The men are dressed only slightly less beautifully than the women, and their shoes are also equally eye-pokingly dangerous, and they are also all talking on their natels.

They all, men and women, whether they are pedestrians on the same sidewalk as me, driving their car or more likely speeding around on their scooters, ignore me completely. To the point where it is actually dangerous for me to be out here among them. I am getting bumped constantly and once had to leap out of the way of a scooter that was manoeuvring into a makeshift parking space, which happened to be on the sidewalk exactly where I was standing admiring the architecture of a building.

I dash into a store to escape the insanity. It happens to be a camera store, and since I need batteries for mine, it is convenient. The woman at the counter ignores me and taps with very long fingernails on her cell- oops natel. I say: “Excuse me, could you tell me if you sell batteries for this type of camera please”?

Now those of you who have lived in Switzerland have probably already spotted my mistake. My Fatal Error. My Unforgivable Rudeness. But those of you who are not familiar with the rules of politeness in Switzerland, be warned, my sentence was equivalent to someone yelling after the puck is dropped (for you Americans, equivalent to calling a southerner a yankee, for you Brits and Irish, the equivalent to not buying a round of drinks when it’s your turn and for those from Australia and New Zealand, the same as… I don’t know, is there anything that’s rude down there?) Anyway, I digress. It was uncommonly rude. A wave of cold air blows from her glare over to me as she icily says “Bonjour”. (Yep, that was it, you always start with bonjour. Always. Always. Always. Well, unless it’s afternoon. Then you say bon après-midi. Or evening where you say bonsoir. The exact hours where the bonjour converts to a bon après midi etc , are variable and subject to change, and foreigners are rarely permitted to be fully aware of them. But we’ll get back to that later.)

I say “Bonjour” and wait. She continues to stare at me. I start to feel slightly scared of her. (Oh who am I kidding, I’m terrified of her.). A few seconds go by, while, during our staring contest, I unsuccessfully try to summon up some courage and fail. I clear my throat, and cleverly say, in heavily accented French “Do you sell batteries for cameras?”

She raises both eyebrows simultaneously (without, by the way, causing any wrinkles to form on her forehead), and replies in a flat tone: “Well yes, we are a camera store. “ A couple more seconds of staring go by, until I, not knowing what else to do, hold out my camera to her tentatively… She glances at my shaking hand and quickly spins around on her pointy toe high heels, takes two steps to a shelf, and returns with a small package of batteries. “Was that all?” she asks, jabbing quickly at the key on the cash register. I mumble “Yes thank you” and she says the price, which, despite the fact that I am fluent in French, I do not understand at all. “I’m sorry, what was that? How much?” I am babbling. She sighs and slides the receipt across the counter to me, and taps it twice with a long burgundy fingernail. I quickly look at the receipt and of course it is covered in numbers arranged in columns, which tells me the batteries are either 24.10 or today is November 15th or the batteries are 11.15 and today is October 24th, or perhaps the time is 11:15am, or… In any case, I of course pretend I have understood completely and open my wallet. Suddenly I remember that I only have large bills, having only just taken money out of the bank machine at the airport, so I sheepishly hand her a 200 franc note and ask “Sorry, this is all I have. Is this ok?”.

And again, those of you who have experienced life in Switzerland are laughing their heads off here, because of course it’s ok, you could pay for a 5 cent piece of candy with a 200 franc note without batting an eye (side note: of course, there are no 5 cent candies, or any other items on sale for 5 cents in the whole country). The Swiss carry large notes in their wallets everywhere. The woman at the counter looks at me with zero understanding and carefully takes the money with a suspicious look in her eye. She hands me back a bunch of different coloured bills and a bunch of change of various size. I stuff it all quickly into my purse and wait a moment for her to put the batteries into a bag and hand it to me. She has turned away, then, seeing me not leave, says “Was there something else?”. “Oh! Non non, c’est bon merci “ I say enthusiastically, smiling like a mad woman, pick up the battery pack and carry it limply out of the store, feeling slightly like I might be stealing it.

I am exhausted by my first experience with a real Swiss person (well actually I guess M. DeLestrade counts, and the woman who taught me the word “natel” also… so my third experience with a real Swiss person). So I decide it’s time to eat.

Roughly 45 minutes later I have learned another hard fact of Swiss life: it is not possible to eat in Switzerland outside of “normal” eating hours. Since it is now 11:20am, I am tragically too late for breakfast and too early for lunch. In Canada this is not a problem, in fact most restaurants or coffee shops actually want people to come in and spend money on their food, but clearly that is not the case here. I feel slightly more than discouraged, and wander down the busy street aimlessly, stomach growling. I spot a bookstore on the other side of the street and stop to consider whether I could kill some time in there. Immediately, all the cars travelling at extremely high speed on the street come to a screeching halt. I look around, wondering where the accident is, then realize they have all stopped to let me cross. Not knowing what else to do, I scamper across the street to the other side.

In the bookstore I remember to say “Bonjour” to the sales lady, who responds with an unsmiling “Bonjour”. I wonder if I have already done something wrong, maybe there are special bookstore rules regarding the Bonjour. After having lived in Switzerland for a while I did find out that the Swiss do not give away smiles the way we do in North America, but that this is not out of anger or unhappiness. They simply reserve their smiles for genuine occasions. They must actually think we’re clowns, smiling insanely at every possible moment, regardless of our inner emotional state. It’s a habit I have not succeeded in changing, I smile all the time and am always painfully aware that I might be appearing comical and silly. But I digress. (Again. It’s a habit.)

For some reason I zero in on the English book section, and am peacefully browsing along when I bump in to a young boy sitting cross-legged on the floor reading a book (I actually don’t bump as much as trip over him). I quickly apologize in French (and smile), which is illogical since he’s reading an English book, and his mother, who is roughly 10 months pregnant (been there) rushes over.

She says, in broken French: “I am from the sun.”

I laugh.

She looks slightly scared and worried.

I say, in English: “It’s ok, I tripped on him actually, not his fault at all”.

“Oh” she sighs, relief pouring from her voice, and switches to English. “You speak English! My French is really bad. Most of the time I get it all wrong and people look at me like I’ve got two heads.”

Unable to contain myself, I laugh and say “I think you meant to say “Je suis désolé” right?”

“Uh… Is that not what I said?” She is looking exhausted.

“Well, it was pretty close.” I reply, always the optimist.

And just like that, I have made a friend. And strangely enough, though we walk to a coffee shop and talk for a while, she explaining to me all about her move to Switzerland from the U.K., me asking roughly one million questions, she being somewhat guarded and pessimistic in her responses, I feel more and more sure that I want to move to Switzerland.

That evening I go to a movie at the local Geneva shopping centre/cinema complex called Balexert. I am somewhat confused about the name of the place, which is apparently totally unrelated to the area or street it’s on. But that is nothing compared to how confusing it is to actually find the place… You would think a large shopping centre could be spotted easily, wouldn’t you? But not to my untrained un-European eye… In Canada a shopping centre is easily recognized by the roughly half-million signs announcing it’s location and the huge parking lot surrounding it. Not so in Switzerland! This one is discreetly nestled between two busy city streets and I actually have to ask someone for directions (and said “bonjour despite the fact that it’s 6pm, forgot, and was hopelessly snubbed by the teenager who looked at me with disdain and replied “bonsoir” then pointed to the doors of the building behind me. Have to add, to his credit though, that he then asked me what movie I was going to see and was pleased with my choice, saying it was a good movie. ).

The first thing I am shocked about is the amount of money it costs to buy a movie ticket, snack and drink. It is roughly the equivalent of a downpayment on a small house in rural Canada. The second thing that surprises me is the choice of popcorn, either salty or sweet. I take sweet. I live to regret it later, as I am sitting in the dark theatre trying to pry my molars apart.

But the movie is great. I cannot, to this day, tell you what the title was, or anything about the movie itself, but since I have lots of time before the movie starts I sit there and I get to observe them… The Swiss. The way they dress, the way they talk to each other, the way they walk. Couples, friends, older and younger, streaming casually into the cinema and taking their place. Teenage girls giggling together, much like they do in Canada. Men with their arms casually draped over their wife or girlfriend’s shoulders, whispering into their ears. Some people sitting alone, or maybe just waiting for their date to show up. One woman with her dog. Uh, did I get that right? Eyes quickly back to the woman and dog. Yep, they are taking their seats, actually at the end of my aisle, dog on the floor next to her. Everyone seems to accept this as normal. Ok, I like dogs, not a problem. But what if… Oh shut up, inner voice. Let The Swiss be The Swiss. The woman tosses the dog a piece of popcorn, which he gracefully catches and crunches loudly. I wonder if it’s salty or sweet. The lights go out. The show begins. And I’m moving to Switzerland.

 

 

 

 

Moving to Switzerland, One Expat’s Story…

PART THREE – First impressions… or what crazy thought made me decide to do this? 

So I stumble off the plane, jet-lag having started to settle in already (actually I think it may have started on the drive to the airport in Canada) and am greeted by M. DeLestrade who surprisingly looks exactly as I pictured him: shorter than me (everyone is shorter than me as I am six feet tall. And FYI, in case you are skeptical, that is the first thing I have not really exaggerated in this story so far), wearing a long grey jacket, shiny black leather shoes that I cannot picture any man in Canada wearing, slightly balding and looking simultaneously thrilled to see me and worryingly rushed.

He rushes over and shakes my hand energetically, quickly talking about the weather, the lateness of my flight, the hotel he is bringing me to and the interview tomorrow. What I hear: “…cold for August… Air France always late… Hotel Something conveniently located near the Something… tomorrow at 8”.

During this conversation we walk to the car, dump my inappropriately huge suitcase (also inappropriately old and cheap, I noticed at the baggage carousel, compared to the Swiss) into the trunk, and head off in a wild frenzy of driving at extreme speed through busy city streets while talking (him)/, nodding of the head (me)/ waving hands to stress a point (him)/ holding on the door handle in fear for my life (me). He deposits me at the hotel reception, suitcase embarrassingly being completely ignored by the grumpy looking “concierge” (that’s what his name tag says, although I’m fairly sure it’s his role, not his actual name. But you never know).

The height issue…

Getting to my room is interesting, as the elevator is made for people who are no taller than 5 foot 11 with feet the size of jelly beans and a suitcase the size of a croissant. Fortunately, I have some experience at yoga, but I won’t reveal which Asana I had to use to get myself in there. Hopefully there was no camera. Which is likely as the elevator was roughly 100 years old.

Anyway, I collapse on my bed (made for a person no taller than 5 foot 5  and unfortunately having as a baseboard a beautiful ornamented black wrought iron gate through which my feet stick out like chicken heads out of their coop).

The room is quite small, not a good sign for the image of the company I am considering joining, I think suspiciously. I grab the check-in receipt, and notice the cost is three times higher than the 4 star hotel I stayed at downtown Toronto recently. Alrighty then.

I take a few deep breaths to calm myself, and while doing so repeat my not-so-calming mantra: “what the hell am I doing here?” a couple times ’til I am no longer quite as tired and then jump out of bed. I open the dark heavy curtains and gaze out at Geneva. It looks nice out there. Sunny, people are walking around looking, I don’t know, Swiss I guess.

I decide to join them. Could I fit in here?

Moving to Switzerland, One Expat’s Story…

Ready to take on the world!

PART TWO – How I Got Here

So there I was, minding my own business and perfectly content living in Canada with my two kids, finally making ends meet as a single mom. When suddenly, out of the blue, for no apparent reason, a wave of insanity hit and I applied for a job in Switzerland. Actually, it started innocently enough, when a guy at work mentioned that the Swiss were looking for qualified people in my industry, and since I had just gotten my own computer and internet line at home (this was WAY back in 2001, hard to believe I now walk around with this little gadget called an Iphone and check my emails roughly every three seconds), I thought, why not? And popped online, found their website and quickly emailed an application.

Let’s pause here and reflect on that little phrase… «why not?»… How many of us have ended up in some seriously tricky situations (not to mention pregnant) because of that one little phrase? Sure, it all seems innocent at the time… Why not go on a date with that guy at work? Why not try the raw oysters for once? Why not sign up for salsa lessons? Why not buy the fluorescent mini skirt? What could it hurt??? Hahahahaha! (For those of you who believe in God, that was him laughing sarcastically from above. For those of us who are unsure of his presence, that was probably the sound of my own sarcastic laughter, although I won’t admit to it because that would be like admitting that I talk to myself, a sure sign of insanity. Seriously. I don’t. Yes I’m sure.)

So anyway, I applied. On a whim. Then thought nothing of it for a couple months. Life went on. The kids (Jesse age 9 and Daniel age 5) went to school and did their homework and cleaned their rooms and life carried on as normal (some parts of that last statement may be slightly exaggerated). Life was good.

Then, the phone call.

I answer.

A joyful heavily accented voice says “Bonjour Madame, May I speak with Madame Scobie please?”.

“Yes, speaking.”

“Madame Scobie, BONJOUR!!” said excitedly, and from this point the conversation continued in French, with Monsieur Anatole DeLestrade enthusiastically speaking so fast I felt out of breath just listening. What I heard: “Switzerland… your application… job interview… available next week?” (This actually took him at least 10 minutes to say, but those are the only words I really heard).

I started to talk only to find I had suddenly turned into a Parisian-accented, hand-waving bubbly free-spirit who agreed to come next week for the interview. He happily hung up after agreeing on the travel details and saying good bye seven different ways.

I walked directly in to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror and said to her: Are you insane??? You work next week!!! You have kids next week!!! (This week too but that was a moot point). You have other engagements next week!!! (That was untrue as I hardly ever had time or money to do anything but work and take care of my kids but it had the desired effect of scaring me even more).

And then the craziest thing happened. (Ok I know the whole woman-in-the-mirror talking to herself is already bordering on limited mental health, but bear with me here).

I felt suddenly calm. I took a deep breath. I decided I was going to Switzerland for a job interview. I would get it organized.

And I did.

Moving to Switzerland, One Expat’s Story

PART ONE – In the beginning…

They look pretty innocent…

When people ask me why I left my comfortable life in Canada to move to Switzerland, they usually are hoping to hear a story that involves hiking in the Alps, eating chocolate for breakfast and fondue for lunch, and meeting a charming man in leaderhosen called Hans who stole my heart with a bouquet of edelweiss he collected himself… The truth is only…um… slightly different. I have hiked in the Alps, and it’s amazing. The majestic beauty of the mountains, the sparkling lakes, the charming villages, the serene quiet stillness interrupted only by my 10 year old, Jesse, asking for the 10th time “How much further?” and my 6 year old, Daniel,  complaining, for the 25th time: “Jesse keeps staring at me.” In moments like these you take a deep breath, taking in the wonderful smell of fresh crisp air and wild flowers, and calmly look at your two perfect children and say: “If either of you say either of those things one more time I swear I will throw you off the nearest cliff.”

Ok maybe you don’t actually say it, but you do think it.

At that moment (if this story were true, and I’m not saying it is), a man walking in the opposite direction along the mountain path, wearing jeans and a baseball cap (but potentially named Hans) sharply says something in Swiss German to me.  I do not speak one word of Swiss German (can’t even pronounce “Gruetzi” properly, which means hello. Every time I try to say it I inadvertently start coughing.) But looking over at Jesse I know immediately what he means, which is something like “Your undisciplined child has picked some flowers which is illegal as they are protected, which any intelligent person would know but clearly you do not as you are not Swiss and probably have not been walking around in the Alps your whole life, so you should probably get off my mountain before you cause irreversible damage.” I quickly mumble something unintelligible and snap at Jesse to drop the flowers NOW, to which he replies (of course) “But why?”, so I grab the flowers and toss them on the ground, which has the effect of making the man shake his head and walk away. So much for Hans.

Jesse is now very sad, having chosen the flowers “just for me” (he says innocently, and a part of me actually falls for it), and Daniel says “I want some flowers too.”

I realize we need a break from the hiking thing (seriously, the Swiss actually do this all day, their kids happily trotting along not picking flowers and admiring the beauty around them without once asking for an ETA or complaining about any staring sibling. How do they do it? It’s one of the many things I love about this country, the absolute respect for the natural beauty around us, which is learned from a very young age). So I decide to stop at a nearby mountain restaurant to eat, but of course since it is 10am all they have are chocolate croissants (this is the chocolate for breakfast part of the story), so I cave and get one for each of the boys.  Let it be known, my children are different from all the Swiss children (other than clearly being undisciplined protected-flower-pickers) in the sense that eating sugar and chocolate (especially on an empty stomach) actually affects their behaviour (in a negative way, to be precise).

As soon as the chocolate croissant is placed in front of them, the sugar effect wafts up from the table, enters their body surreptitiously (or through their mouth, but it sounds better my way)  and they do their Jekyll and Hyde transformation. From two charming, clever, polite, smiling boys sitting patiently at an outdoor table quietly admitting the mountain beauty around them they suddenly grow long shaggy hair on their backs and sharp claws on their fingers, and begin growling through pointy teeth like wild animals, their bloodshot eyes darting about looking for a potential victim, and coming to rest on me, mouths drooling in anticipation.

The other children at other nearby tables are eating their croissants or escargots calmly, smiling quietly as their parents chat over coffee, occasionally wiping their mouths with their napkins. They are all dressed in perfect little matching outfits that appear to be made from unwrinkleable and unstainable linen, wearing pale hats and smiling calmly, probably reciting complex mathematical equations to themselves for their grade 2 math test on Monday. Or at least that’s how I remember it. It is a few years ago now…

We finish our food and the noise at our table is growing and we are starting (starting? Who am I kidding?) to draw attention to ourselves, with Jesse leaning his chair back so far on it’s two back legs and laughing hysterically while Daniel kicks the bottom of the table with his feet repeatedly so my coffee cup rattles and slides slowly toward the edge. I am trying to get the waiter’s eye so I can get the bill and make a getaway, but he apparently has forgotten we exist (wish I had that ability sometimes).  I actually half-stand and wave at him finally, getting desperate as Daniel has starting singing “Jingle Bells, batman smells” quite loudly, and the waiter finally makes eye contact and nods his head in disdain, sighs and walks away. I am hoping this means he is getting my bill, and am starting to feel downright claustrophobic (despite being in the open air), imagining that all the families at the other tables are throwing disapproving looks our way every few seconds, when suddenly, I spot them. Well actually, I hear them first.

A boy’s voice is saying, in English “Amy touched me!” A girl’s voice saying “Jack smells!” and a mom saying “If you two say that one more time I’m going to throw you off a cliff!” (Well I didn’t really hear her say it, but I know she thought it.)

I zero in on their table. The boy is crawling around on the floor under the table and the girl is wiping her nose on her skirt. The mom is looking scared and exhausted. She spots me looking at her. I smile. She smiles back. A moment of shared compassion between two people caught in a world in which they don’t belong.

Then Jesse’s chair teeters back and he crashes to the floor and erupts in hysterical cries of outrage and pain.

Yes, this was one of my first real hiking experiences in Switzerland, one to match the many more I would have in the years to come. But back to the original questions, how did I get here? For the answer to that, we have to go back to the beginning, before this crazy adventure began…

 

Vacation

Ahhh… the sun on my face, the sand between my toes, the soft wind blowing and the distant noises of kids playing combined with seagulls screaming overhead…. I am sitting in a long chair on a beach in Trouville-Sur-Mer, Normandy, enjoying the sunny day. The weather in Normandy is exactly what people kept telling me it would be: completely unpredictable. This morning was grey and cloudy, and cold. I needed my warmest sweater to go out for a walk. The wind was strong, so much that my hair was always blowing around all over my face like a wild curtain, blocking my view half the time. We considered a picnic on the beach for lunch but eating sand was not appetizing, so we carried our bastognes and salami, cherry tomatoes and baguettes back to our room and ate on our more or less sheltered balcony, overlooking the sea, watching the ships just on the horizon.

We talked about how to dress later for our afternoon on the beach, which was going to happen regardless of the weather. Elliot’s main goal that day was to spend all his time digging in the sand with his cousins.

Then as we sat there, we started to notice that the dark clouds were being swept slowly away toward the east, being replaced by thin white whisps, and then those blew away like dust and the sky cleared. The bright hot sunshine fell down on us. The light seemed brighter than normal to our startled eyes, it reflected off the sea like a million stars.

We grabbed our things, sunscreen, books, beach toys, and ran out the door onto the beach.

The beaches in Normandy are amazing. The tides are so extreme that at low tide you have a huge expanse of white sand, so choosing a spot to set up is no problem. We rented one of the local beach tents that are typical of the beaches there, a brightly coloured round tent, open on one side, where you can have some shelter from the dazzling sun or wind if needed.

So now I’m sitting here on my long chair enjoying the warmth. I open my eyes and look way out to the sea. There are people jumping over the waves, small dark figures against the sun, and every wave flashes with bright sparkling light, then curls into a white foam and flattens as it slowly rolls in.

Yesterday we visited Juno beach, not far from here. It’s where all the Canadian troops landed on June 6th 1944, one of the five beaches that are side by side along this coast, where the D Day landings took place and the liberation of France began. Apparently there were so many ships and smaller boats in the sea, and men and equipment on the beaches that huge traffic jams occurred. Right here, in this sand, where my child runs now, completely oblivious to the literal blood, sweat and tears that were spilled not so many years ago.

Every town hall I have passed in this region flies all of the flags of the Allied countries which liberated Normandy after D Day, so it’s pretty cool to see the Canadian flag everywhere. The Canadian cemetery nearby has over 5000 graves, in a picturesque setting on a green hilltop overlooking the sea. There are fresh flowers recently placed in front of several gravestones.

Each grave has a soldier’s name on it, his unit, and his age. I didn’t see any over 23 years old. I think about the mothers who lost their sons on that day, and the next several days. The telegram arriving at the door. People feared the postman. A telegram was never good news.

It makes me think of receiving CT scan results. The formal piece of paper that reduces your life to a mere statement of facts.

Is it possible I can now relate anything back to cancer, or is war an actual valid comparison?

I haven’t had lots of time to just sit and think on this vacation, we’ve been busy every day. But right now as we sit on the warm beach in the sunshine, Martin and his sister are chatting, Elliot and his three cousins are digging for lost treasure and I can tune out a bit.

The first unit to come ashore lost half it’s men. Their landing had been delayed because of the weather (unpredictable Normandy, time has not changed that), so the tides had risen much more than anticipated. They couldn’t see the hidden mines and obstacles under the water.

I look out to the horizon. The tide is coming in now, the beach has narrowed a bit. I imagine watching 14,000 Canadian soldiers, barely more than teenagers, running toward me, stumbling, falling, crawling their way up the beach carrying heavy equipment, or maybe just carrying hope and fear for their their lives. I wonder if it was cold like this morning, if they shivered in their wet uniforms as they struggled up the sand past the dunes, over the rows of barbed wire and into the fields. Or was the sun out by then, mesmerizingly bright, blinding them as they tried to make out friend from foe? Did any of them have time to notice how beautiful the sea looked, or was it too red?

I get up from my chair and tell Martin I’m heading back to the hotel for a bit. We’re lucky our hotel is basically right off the beach, just across the boardwalk, so we all make lots of trips back and forth during the afternoon. The receptionist at the hotel does not seem to like this much, each time we have to ask for our key, which is one of those big brass things you could use as a paperweight. The hotel is an old historic building, and since I’m engrossed in WWII thoughts I can’t help but wonder what it was like in those times. Did secret French Résistance meetings take place behind closed doors?

I cross the boardwalk, which is littered with Beautiful People, yes, with capital letters. The Parisians are on vacation as of last weekend, and many of them are here. The women sitting at outdoor cafés along the boardwalk all look glamorous, the men all look sophisticated. This despite the constant wind, sometimes gentle, sometimes not, that blows across Normandy.

I take the ancient elevator up to our room, it’s one of those old rickety lifts with the second inner door that closes once you’re inside. There is barely enough room for three people in it, much less all the luggage we arrived with yesterday.

In our room I glance in the mirror to see how close I am to imitating the BPs, and note with regret that the wind has helped me look very similar to a broom. Oh well. I look out our window and see my family out there, enjoying the day. And yet I still also see all the uniforms running. Who stood here on this balcony on that day?

Is cancer like war? A bodily conflict, the chemo and radiotherapy soldiers being sent in to fight off the aggressor, in the hopes a strong strategy and superior numbers will win? The collateral damage is obvious. In France it’s estimated that at least 15 000 French civilians died on D Day, many from the Allied bombings that cleared the way for the troops.

Am I being too dark? Thinking of war, a conflict that is caused by people, and comparing it to cancer, an illness which none of us deliberately engages in? Yeah, maybe I am.

Martin and I both find we are a bit shell-shocked these days, like we are still reeling from the emotional impact of the last year. In some ways I think we were in “survival mode” the whole time, and just powered through because we had no other choice. Now that we have stepped away from the cancer world a bit, we often look at each other and say “Can you believe what we’ve been through?”

So maybe I am a bit melodramatic with the whole war concept, or maybe I’m suffering from a bit of post-traumatic shock… Or most likely both. I have been told I have a flair for the dramatic (not exactly these words were used, but I am going to take it as a compliment.)

Regardless, I do think I could look fabulous in a trench coat and a fedora, tipped slightly at an angle to shield my eyes, secretly running down the quiet cobblestone streets at night, slipping quietly around corners, whispering through a crack in the door to my résistance friends some secret code word to tell them of the imminent invasion so we can all join in. Martin would of course have been part of the Danish Resistance Movement, had we lived in those times, and would have been one of the many Danish heroes who smuggled all the Jewish Danes out of the country by boat into Sweden, making Denmark the only occupied country to have saved almost it’s entire Jewish population. Our heroic saga would end romantically when we part ways at a fog-shrouded airport, both destined for different missions…

Oh who am I kidding? In truth I would probably be hiding in a basement, waiting it out.

Oh well. We’ll always have Paris.

Living in the “Now”

The first batch

So one of the things that you learn when you are in the middle of a cancer diagnosis (or other major crisis, actually), is the importance of living in the present moment. You learn to value each happy day, each healthy day, and to not dwell on the “what ifs” of the future.

Now how many of you, reading that last paragraph, felt just mildly annoyed? Like, you KNOW you’re supposed to “live in the now” and embrace the present, and cherish each minute, but how many of us are actually able to do this?

I would very dearly like to live in the now. But I’m afraid that my kids will destroy my house if I do. I’m fairly sure we will all get quite hungry pretty soon if I choose to embrace only the present moment all the time. And although some people in this home (I’m not naming names) would be perfectly happy just throwing out the dirty dishes instead of washing them for the next use, I have a feeling eating breakfast cereal with milk directly off the kitchen counter would eventually ruin the experience. And frankly, I think if I don’t at some point wash that pile of laundry waiting for me, it will come alive, get up and walk out of our home in disgust.

The problem with “living in the now” is that the future is just waiting there, lurking around the corner, hoping you won’t bother taking out the garbage so that suddenly, when the future becomes the “now” you have to live in the unpleasant now because the old fun now is now the past and the new now stinks.

Did any of that make sense?

My kids are pretty good at it though. They seem fairly confident that everything will always work out and there is no need to really plan anything because somehow, magically, food will appear on the table, clothes will become clean, new shoes that fit will be bought in time, and anything broken will be fixed before it is desperately needed again. This is truly the magic belief of youth… Another name for this magic is “mom”.

In some ways, since I had my first batch of kids at a fairly young age (I just like how that sounds, “batch” of kids, like I’m an oven making cupcakes), I feel like I have been cleaning up people’s nows for a long time. And sometimes the nows seem to repeat themselves. Am I caught in some kind of cosmic time loop? Is that what living in the now truly means, that I get to repeat things over and over (and over)?

The other day, Elliot (sidebar, just want to mention, he already has some hair! Ok it’s just some peach fuzz, but still), decided that since he was going to be sitting on the toilet for a while (5 minutes total, which is a long now for him), he would bring a little toy car to play with. Don’t ask me how you are supposed to play with a car while sitting on the toilet, these are debates I prefer to avoid. In any case, the inevitable happened. And in the hopes of salvaging the situation, he flushed. So the now was now a flood.

And suddenly I was brought back in time 15 years to the same (almost) situation. (That is, different bathroom, different kids, same result).

Rewind to the “now” of one day in 1997. I walk in to the bathroom to find two boys, ages 3 and 6, standing next to the toilet staring in to its depths. The water in the toilet has already risen to past the halfway point and is continuing to rise rapidly. The two guilty looking kids (my sons, I admit) are staring in unblinking fascination at the spectacle as the rising water quickly reaches the brim.

“Hey” I yell, running in just as the water starts to pour on to the floor. “Hey” was the best thing I could come up with on the spur of the moment, though I admit it was not very original. My kids obviously thought so too, as they ignore me but quickly jump away from the waterfall surrounding the toilet bowl and up onto the edge of the bathtub, holding on to each other for balance and wobbling slightly. They stare at me with the same fascination they had bestowed on the toilet bowl, eagerly awaiting my next move as they teeter on their perch.

“Hey, what happened in here?” I ask, quickly grabbing the plunger and throwing an old towel on the floor. The extra “hey” is for effect. Obviously, it has none. The boys continue to stare, mouths wide open in surprise, heads moving back and forth from me to the toilet like fans watching a tennis match.

I fight with the toilet for a few minutes and the tidal wave subsides. Exhausted, I turn around to face the guilty parties and unleash my wrath. They are perched on the edge of the tub, the youngest one, Daniel, clutching on to his older brother’s pyjamas with both hands while the oldest, Jesse, holds onto the shower curtain. Both of them rock back and forth like tightrope walkers about to lose their balance. Jesse speaks first: “Why did the toilet do that?” he asks, tentatively. Daniel, sensing his cue, adds “yeah Mommy, why dat happen?”

Two sets of eyes stare at me in complete innocence, awaiting my response.

Well, I think to myself, everyone in this country is innocent until proven guilty, right? I usher them out of the bathroom and sit them on the couch. “Did anyone put something in the toilet?” I ask, voice a calm reassuring blanket covering my extreme frustration. It is possible, I am reasoning crazily to myself, that the boys were standing innocently gazing into the depths of the toilet when suddenly for no apparent reason (perhaps a very localized earthquake with my toilet at the epicentre) the water suddenly started to rise out of control.

The boys look at each other, then back at me. Twice. Then Jesse, the responsible one, the mature one, the type of person who is willing to accept the consequences of his actions, fesses up. “Maybe Daniel did?”.

“No!” Daniel counters. “Just a wittle toily paper!”.

“How much toilet paper?” I sigh.

“Well,” offers Jesse “It wasn’t too much at all! But it WAS still attached to the toilet paper roll and when I flushed the toilet it just kept rolling and rolling and rolling and rolling (his eyes get very wide at this point in the story) and all the paper on the roll got pulled into the toilet… And then the water thing started to happen.”

I take a deep breath, trying to summon up as much energy as I can. “Look”, I explain patiently, “if we put too much paper in the toilet, or anything else in the toilet, it plugs and then the water can’t get down into the pipes when we flush. So this is what happens, ok?”

“What happen?” asked Daniel.

“The toilet plugged and the water spilled out” I answer, still patient.

“Oh.” Daniel is thoughtful. “But why?”

“Because you put too much toilet paper”

“No! Just a wittle piece!”

“But the little piece was still attached to more pieces and that’s just too much”.

“Oh. Why?”

“Because the toilet will plug.” Said with finality.

“Why?” Innocent eyes staring.

“Because that’s the way it’s made.” Trying to end the conversation.

“Why it’s made dat way?”

“Because all toilets are made that way” Starting to feel cornered.

“Why?”

“Because.”

“But why?”

“Just because”.

“But…”

AAAArrRRRggghhh, loss of control, desperation sinking in, will now do anything to stop the madness.

“Daniel how about a cookie?”

“Otay”.

And fifteen years later I am having the exact same conversation about not flushing objects down toilets, with roughly the same results (it was a muffin this time, not a cookie).

So is this what living in the now means? Being stuck repeating the same situations because there is actually no lesson to be learned?

I know I’m supposed to embrace the moment, seize the day and all that jazz. And it’s definitely true that cancer has made me realize that our time is limited. But despite all that, I do find that planning for the future is great. We’re heading off to Paris today. I’ve researched hotels and sites we want to see, what time of day is best to visit the Eiffel Tower without waiting in line too long. Elliot is insisting we have to take the stairs up, not the elevator. Not looking forward to that “now”, while it’s happening. But the memory of it will be worth the pain, just like the memory of Jesse and Daniel’s little faces as they perch precariously on the edge of the bathtub is all that now remains of the infamous Toilet Paper Incident.

Anyone else have advice for seizing the day, living in the Now?