We got flooded at Thanksgiving last year and then we had bronchitis and other family disasters at Christmas time. We've endured a lot of complicated living situations and crud, so I figured a really fun Easter might turn things around. I was prepared; I had the eggs, the Easter baskets, enough chocolate to put us all in a diabetic coma, adorable Easter cards made and photos taken.
My time at home with my babies is over. Four years ago, almost to the day, I was heavily pregnant with twins and left my job with only a vague idea of what was to come. I had notions of heading back to work as soon as my maternity leave was over. I was all “I am woman, hear me roar” about it and there was no way I was going to give up a career I had worked so hard for.
That didn’t happen. A different kind of feminine notion took hold in the minute between the first and second of my sons was born. In an instant, holding them both in my arms for the first time, I grew up, got wise, and became the fierce mama I am.
Being a stay at home mom has been an experiment in extremes, punctuated by life events that were completely out of control and all the expected things that kids bring, but double the intensity. The highs are higher and the lows are lower with two, and we have ridden that rollercoaster 1398 days now.
My boys are wild, loud, beasts who will take over the world some day with sheer force of abandon. My Unicorn has imagination beyond compare and an incredible depth of kindness. My Engineer has an aptitude and precociousness for figuring out how the world works and he does it with wit. These are things I already know about them, and I know in my heart who they will be long before they get there. And so I don’t worry for that; I know that they will be themselves, and if they’re lucky, be happy at that.
And tonight, tonight it hit me with the force of a speeding railway, after they were snuggled into bed, after all the dishes were done, and the wine drunk, the relaxing over. Tonight, as I went to check on them before I turned to bed myself, I realized that tomorrow we will wake up and be a different kind of family. I will be a different kind of mom.
I know that the fact that I had a choice to stay home and now go back to work was a great luxury, so I won’t dwell on it. But I will grieve a little for this shift in my universe; this separation that I never wanted. I will still do all the mom things that moms do everywhere every day. I will still be there in the morning and at night and every minute that I am able. They will still need so much from me.
And oh my god, I am grateful, so profoundly grateful that I had nearly four years to spend with my little folk and grateful that I found it in me to do it, because I was so afraid that I didn’t. I am grateful for the things that they have given me; the patience, the knowledge that time passes whether it’s good or bad, and how to find joy in those small moments even when the day has been hard.
So tomorrow I send them off into this world a little bit in a way I am not prepared for yet. I will have to approach it the same way I approached becoming a mom; vague notions and blind faith that it will all work out alright. And it will, because I am armed now with the knowledge that as long as those two little goofballs are in this world with me, everything is ok.
So way back in October we went to New York. We saw many fabulous sights, including Broadway Shows, a taping of the Daily Show, a concert at a bowling alley in Brooklyn, and a lot of people buying toilet paper in preparation for Hurricane Sandy. I am told that last part worked out fine.*
All of those things were very exciting and deserve a long post about how much I love New York. But I am here to talk to you today about Chess Tourism.
All my knowledge is courtesy of Mr. Giraffe, who spent his youth playing chess. Needless to say, (and thankfully) we don’t run in to legions of old girlfriends.
Tournament goers are very diverse, but tend toward eccentric. The one thing that they have in common is that they are brilliant with the sixty-four squares and seem to enjoy sitting. Forget your notions of ornately carved wood and comfortable leather chairs, this is low rent but serious business.
A typical chess trip is something like this:
1) Study chess. This requires reading books full of diagrams like this:
2) Cram into car with as many chess players as you can fit (they’re more flexible than clowns this way due to budgetary concerns).
3) Check in to crappy hotel, and prepare not to see the sunshine for four days.
4) Sit with your head in your hands for six hours without movement, food, or breaks, occasionally moving a piece as needed. Other player observe in silence and occasionally nod in approval or defeat.
5) Hope to repeat #4 as often as possible because that means you’re being successful.
6) Review games with other players and fret over all of your key mistakes in life.
Anyway, because of all the hours invested into such things it was natural that when we hit New York we were going to fulfill a lifelong dream to hit all the chess landmarks.
There are three.
Washington Square Park
This is where the chess players play outdoors in all the movies. We met a charming man named NaShawn at Washington Square Park who held his own against Mr. Giraffe for many hours on a sunny fall afternoon.
This gentleman kept me company while Mr. Giraffe was playing and insisted I take his photo.
I assure you there was nothing untoward, as he was mostly showing me pictures of his girlfriend on his iPad complete with Barry White soundtrack. Their living situation is tragically complicated by his parole conditions, but I think those two are going to make it.
The Chess District
South of Washington Square Park in the hopelessly complicated maze of streets that is Greenwich Village, there is the largest chess district in any urban dwelling. There are over two stores packed to the rafters with chess books, sets, t-shirts, clocks and any kind of chess related paraphernalia you could ever imagine. My favourite part was that I was allowed to use the bathroom there because Jesus Christ, where does anyone go to the bathroom in Manhattan? Are you all chronically dehydrated? Is there a special brand of Depends for Manhattanites that gives you all pert asses?
Marshall Chess Club
Two blocks north of Washington Square Park, inhabiting a beautiful townhouse in Greenwich Village, is the Marshall Chess Club. Some enterprising chess guy dedicated an expensive piece of Manhattan property to the pursuit and study of chess. The door is so elusive it will only appear to you if you know what a Spassky is. Grandmasters from all over the world have honorary memberships. This inspires a bit of class warfare between them and regular members who pay steep dues only to have their asses handed to them at tournaments. Even chess players have problems.
Chess Tour Notes
Mr. Giraffe had thoughts about all of this ranging from awe to being underwhelmed by certain aspects. Unfortunately, I don’t play chess. Instead I contemplated the socioeconomic implications of the down and out players at Washington Square who eke out a living hustling chess not knowing that the high falutin’ Marshall Chess Club existed only blocks from them. On the whole, the players at Washington Square seemed to be having a better time.
The Rollergiraffe recommends the NYC chess tour for those who enjoy chess, chess history, and chess politics. All eleven of you. It may also be of interest to those who enjoy wafts of pot smoke, observing racial and socioeconomic tensions, conversing with ex-convicts, and watching old white men attempt to wrap bologna sandwiches in wax paper. Bathrooms are located in the Starbucks at NYU on the east side of the park, in the chess stores and NOWHERE ELSE IN MANHATTAN.
*Hurricane Sandy did not work out fine at all. Please catch up on ongoing relief efforts at http://sandyrelief.org/
This post was inspired by the redoubtable Carrie Rubin, who braved a magic convention with her son. She also wrote a book while still being a doctor and a bunch of other stuff, and I am more or less convinced she’s actually Wonder Woman.
Alternately titled: Extended leave from the hardest job ever of being at home with the kids
It’s been almost exactly four years since I waddled off the job seven months pregnant with twins. A year later, I would be fired by voice mail when returning from mat leave, all of my stuff would get lost, and I would vow to never go back to consulting again. After a stunning existential crisis I have reversed this decision and decided this is the best possible move. I have a life path! Probably full of landmines! So freaking freaked out about it, you guys. Here’s why I am doing it:
1. I am only reasonably sure I brushed my teeth today.
I had a sock on inside out today. Sometime in the intervening hour the sock was turned right side out. I can only reasonably conclude that I did that myself, but I have absolutely no memory of said event. Therefore, I think it’s safe to infer that the habit I have every morning of my life happened, but I have also forgotten to use deodorant on multiple occasions in the last year, so who can be sure? Anyway, what I am saying is, I think that going back to work will provide a little structure and force me to pay attention to myself a little more.
2. Cash money
I thought being a kept woman would be delightful. Turns out I am not very delighted. Despite the fact that Mr. Giraffe
has learned does not seem to mind when I spend his money, it doesn’t feel good to not earn a salary. I know that stay at home parents provide a gazillion dollars worth of service every year and all that shit, but guess what? No one shows up with a goddamn cheque. Not even a funny novelty one as a thank you. I think that would have been nice. So now I can earn my own money. And use that money to buy more bees, thus ensuring an exit strategy from the workforce when I one day quit to address a looming honey over-supply problem.
3. I have a theory that time outs are going to be effective in the workplace
If there’s one thing motherhood has afforded me, it’s a firm hand for discipline and zealous need for control. This will either make me the best worker ever or completely unbearable. Or maybe I will relish the fact that my coworkers can do up their own pants and just kick back. My emotions are a totally unknown quantity here. Adventure awaits at every turn.
4. No one will yell at me in the toilet
I hope. I had a job once where the boss got very mad when I used the washroom, but she also had a piece of popcorn stuck in her hair for 3 days once so I don’t think that was a typical experience.
5. A job will probably solve my ongoing cell phone crisis
I have been trying to pick out a smart phone for about 4 years. I am guessing that my new company will make my decision for me and I will be grateful. That is one aspect of communism I think I would really enjoy.
6. If I have to make one more meal in my life I am going to lose my shit
I recognize I still have to cook food for my family to reject and ferry everyone about, but it’s not all I have to do forever.
7. This year is ALL ABOUT ME
There, I said it. Say what you will, but I feel like I am going to be healthier, happier, and a better parent by going out into the world and bringing new stuff back to my family. And I will delight in each uninterrupted lunch hour like Nichola Tesla gazing upon his pigeon. If you’re not familiar with Tesla, trust me when I sat that is quite a lot of delight.
(Probably) Next up: The Rollergiraffe has a crisis over abandoning her kids at a daycare while she goes to a fulfilling job every day. I CAN’T WIN AGAINST MYSELF.
I first started dating Mr. Giraffe in January 2000, after he chased me down in the food court that our office buildings shared after being egged on by his friends. True story. Thirteen years later we are married with twin boys and a wayward dog, and we owe it all to the eerie yellow glow of the subway sign.
A major theme in our relationship has been music. Apart from chess and spreadsheets, it’s what drives Mr. Giraffe. He plays music, better than he would admit to. In high school he resembled Neil Young in both hair and guitar. A thousand times I heard the songs he taught himself guitar to, never lessening in my admiration for his talent. It still makes me swoon a little, even though he doesn’t know that.
He saved me with the lyric: “I am lonely, but you can free me all in the way that you smile” a million times over.
At first it was Miles Davis that we had in common. I listened to the album in my grandparents’ basement a thousand times when I was in high school. We would go on to jazz festivals in Montreal and Monterey. We’d go to smoky clubs, we’d see Maceo Parker in the sweltering summer, still in our fancy clothes and faces still creased from sleeping in the car the night before after a wedding in the country.
We hit the record store downtown and found Hang Up your Hangups. Mr. Giraffe recorded it on our answering machine. It was on there for so long that I called the CBC and begged them to broadcast it for a final farewell. It stayed on until we moved though. Later, we would meet Herbie Hancock at the Monterey Jazz Festival just before we watched him rock a keytar, and I had nothing to say anything other than “Sir, you were on our answering machine for 4 years”. Security whisked him away.
We raced around music festivals; the Calgary Folk Music Festival being the highlight of our year. We spent my 30th birthday in the dust and heat of Bonnaroo. Mr. Giraffe discovered Old Crow Medicine Show and learned to play that song, and performed it with friends that year.
And somewhere in the middle of all of that, we got married. With a party band at our wedding, where all of our friends and family, some lost or forgotten now, danced all night long and we were still singing on the bus to our hotel.
We danced to Sweet Virginia the morning that Mr. Giraffe proposed to me, in the kitchen of our old house. We danced to it on our wedding day. We went to California and Austin for our honeymoon. “Thank you, for your wine, California. Thank you for your sweet and bitter fruit“
After the honeymoon we went to Iron and Wine. I nearly fainted at the concert. I would find out days later that I was pregnant, months later with twins. “Mother remember the blink of an eye when I breathed through your body, So may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten, Sons are like birds flying upwards over the mountain.“
And then our lives as we knew them ended. We’ve been to our Folk Festival, we’ve been moved to tears by Gillian Welch. We’ve been to Monterey. But kids have taken all of my focus and attention. I let myself get too far in one direction, away from you. My valentine to you, Mr. Giraffe, is the promise to try to recapture some of that energy. The stuff we’ve lost in the flood, the drudgery of having kids, and general weariness of age. Because really, that’s where we’ve felt the best and been our best; when the music is good.
Le Clown, you’re just going to have to guess. The letter you have earned appears in the following statement three times:
HAPPY BIRTHDAY Le CLOWN! You magnificent beast!
The letter is a word unto itself, and the word is what you’d use to describe the thing that you think about most of the time. It is the fifth most common letter used in the alphabet and can also be used as a mathematical symbol.
If you can’t guess it, well, I guess I could be nice because I am that way, but I really think that I shouldn’t have to tell you what I am hinting at. I really don’t. I.. I .. I.. just don’t even know what to say if you don’t have it by now.
Got it yet? Let’s get on with the birthday celebrations.
A Year of Le Clown
It’s been an eventful year, where you came barging onto the blogosphere with your magnificent blogging presence. But the modest Le Clown didn’t brag about all of his accompishments. Here are some lesser known events the humble and gracious Le Clown failed to mention.
And now we just get to watch you try and top yourself this year.
On to the Birthday Traditions
Let one of Canada’s finest serenade you:
Just kidding. That was a really mean thing to do on your birthday. This should fix it, you magnificent Le Clown.
C’est magnifique, non?
I also found this gadget that combines a few of your other passions.
And of course cake. Because cake.
And mostly, thank you for gracing us with your presence on this turn around the Earth. I hope that the next swing around the sun is as full of magnificence. You deserve all good things, friend.
And back to the Scavenger Hunt
Here is your next clue:
Gorgeous, unafraid to adorn a mustache. However, unlike her cartoon doppelganger, she has a voice and is not afraid to use it. She does have men gazing at her adoringly much of the time. If she wasn’t so genuine and talented, I’d be jealous. Ok, I am totally jealous. Anyway.. go find her for your next clue!