Monday, 26 January 2015

Marina Has Son

Have you ever felt that someone's watching you?

It happened to me recently, while on my regular power walk in the sunny south. I wish I were one of those people – those true Canadians – who slide into their insulation activewear and go on with their exercise routine as if it weren’t winter, braving the cold - almost not noticing it. Tough luck -- not this one. Between now and spring, the only thing I am capable of doing is my hot yoga practice. And sitting in an infra-red sauna, writing.

As I walked down my favourite trail, I sensed it - someone was watching me. Now, this is a very family-oriented gated community. The only folks I tend run into are the Cuban crew of shrub manicurists who are making sure my every view is prettier than pretty. I practice my Spanish with them and they are lovely.

As the feeling persisted, even though I felt foolish I turned around. Unexpectedly I found myself face to face with - a minivan. The headlights had eyelashes and there was a giant red sticker for the lips which made the ordinary vehicle look cute and girly. The rest was covered in colourful gerberas. Charming, not creepy. It was staring at me while motoring along beside me at the same pace.  On the side of the van I read the name of the flower delivery service and determined that the driver must be having hard time finding an address. I offered to help and the thankful man made a U-turn.

My walk is my meditation time. I seldom listen to a book or a talk; I almost never listen to music. Somehow, the walking time transports me into my subconscious mind and I learned to surrender, allowing those thoughts whose time it is to surface up, to come join me. This past December morning when the van left, what surfaced was a memory of another flower delivery.

In the making
January 24th 1996 was a Wednesday. The evening before, a major ice storm had hit Belgrade, causing interruptions in the city's electrical grid. Thankfully, by the time the streets became too dangerous to drive on, I was already in the triage at the maternity ward. My father, who had carefully driven me there, was safely back at home waiting for the phone to ring. My mother and my aunt were glued to one another on two lonely hallway chairs, a floor away from a bunch of fathers-to-be. A favour from the Chief of Neonatology and a friend. They were listening. Waiting.

This was my second time at the hospital that day -- my regular visit for week 38 revealed that the baby was almost ready - positioned head down, his lungs and intestines and testicles showing well.

"Ma'am, you are going to have a son!"- were the words of an obstetrician a few months earlier, making happiness spill over my entire body like a wondrous wave. Why? Because she hadn't said A BOY. She had said A SON! What an incredible difference one word can make! With the first one, I'm a stork. With the second one, I'm a mother. Wow. I never forgot her grace which had made that moment so intensely sweet and memorable for me.

"He just needs to grow a bit more, 50g per day - otherwise, he is ready!"

I am not sure if a thought alone can induce labour two weeks early, but I believe that I understood those last words as permission. Permission to start my new family. To become a mama. To meet my little man. And to move on from what felt like having both knees simultaneously broken. With a sledgehammer.

An hour before that ultrasound, one day before my son was born, I filed for divorce. Ten days prior to that, the baby's father had served me an envelope of neatly packaged papers providing all signatures and assurances that he would never have to deal with us again, other than paying child support. Never looking me in the eye, he had just slinked down the stairs leading to bus number 31 and then boarded a plane to Texas.

Such is the power of a woman's body... it can create a perfection out of a drop of protoplasm. It can also endure a 17h labour with no epidural. It can bargain with God - you give me a healthy baby and I will never complain about what's just happened to me.
My hero: Mila Alioski
So while I heard deafening screams from other rooms in which women succumbed to the force of contractions, their husbands in the waiting room a floor below, I channelled my incredible pre-natal teacher Mila Alioski, who had fiercely whipped all us moms-to-be into shape, searing her unique breathing method and recognition signs of the stages of labour. As my eyes counted the green tiles in front of me, I heard her voice ordering me how to breathe to keep the diaphragm steady, waiting for the order to push. An incredible woman, Mila (76) was my mother's pre-natal nurse when she was carrying me. I hear she is still working, having prepared over 100 000 moms for labour. My hero.
1996 - Beautiful family of two
I met my son at 4:40 a.m. Belgrade time. He was small and slightly purple, his little nose squished flat having spent the last four hours stuck in the birth canal. When I took him in my arms and pressed him to my bare chest, he was trembling in the cool air, his forehead a bit puffy and higher than his tiny golden hairline. To me he was the most beautiful being. He was perfect. Grateful, I kept my end of the bargain and I never complained again.

Towards the evening of our first day as mom and son and just after another breastfeeding, a big bouquet of flowers waltzed into the room where I shared my first day of motherhood with ten (10) women. I know!

I was in the bed far right next to the window and when the rickety little man started approaching me, I felt repulsed. My hand went straight up into the air and I demanded he not make another step towards us. The evening nurse caught up with him and began throwing at the poor man an avalanche of rules and regulations - no fresh cut flowers allowed with new mommies being one of them.

"But, but, but... what do I do with these?! They were expensive!"

As 10 pairs of eyes darted towards me, I ordered him to hand the flowers to the lady who had just shined our floors. A few days later - yes, one used to stay a week in the hospital after giving birth, babies in Serbia not being treated like wisdom teeth - a night nurse brought me a piece of paper.

"This was in those flowers. I thought perhaps the message was important."

Houston, we no longer have a problem!
At the very end of my power walk last December I ran again into the fancy Florida flowers delivery man in his pretty van:

"Hey, thanks again for saving my time – it was a cul-de-sac, I kept missing it!"
"What did she say? Did she like them?" - as a life coach, I tend to be a hunter-gatherer of extraordinarily happy moments.
"Nah... she was on the phone the whole time!"
"Oh..."- I felt disappointed - "but for the most part, doing your job, the word you hear most often is WOW, right?"
"Nope!" - he said, bursting into hearty laughter - "It's BASTARD!"

What was a tiny 19” baby at birth is today a towering man of 6'3". His 6 lbs 6 oz little form has become that of a strong young man, enhanced by the "freshman fifteen". He has just turned 19.
2014 - University move-in day
He has also been my greatest teacher. He taught me that I am enough. Not just good enough but great enough. That motherhood is my highest calling. He showed me that the world is abundant and that everyone is replaceable. In a light-hearted yet resilient way, he demonstrated how to transcend the boundaries I grew locked up in. While there was no biological father present, he followed his pure toddler heart and chose a dad for himself. This was the man he learned from. And in his teachers, his neighbours, his friends' parents and camp counsellors he saw a conglomerate of the wise, timeless and omnipresent role model he could always rely on. I haven't been a single parent after all. With my son’s incredible patience, and while I was trying to wing our happily ever after, he taught me that I was lucky for having broken knees at one time -- once they mended I became strong and intuitive and compassionate while living fearlessly. Not in the absence of fear - never - but welcoming it daringly as a part of our experience. My other option, had that feeble one travelled with us on our journey, it would have been like a paper cut: a nagging and annoying pain that only requires a band-aid and doesn’t inspire real growth.

Fun-loving yet caring, confident yet humble; wise well beyond his years, my super cool computer geek has been the best companion one mama could ever ask for. Thank you for making me feel proud and successful as a parent. Thank you for allowing me to brag about you in advance, then proving me right every single time. Thank you for helping me unleash the writer in me and begin hearing her voice.

Now that your wings are strong and flapping vigorously, leaving the nest of your childhood behind all I feel is condensed in one tiny crystal clear tear, whispering: thank you. You weren't just good luck. You are my great luck. Happy Birthday Filip! I love you.

Mission accomplished!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

How to Prepare a Chef

Who knew that an evening of mindless channel cruising could've led me to gain 6 pounds in mere two months... Damn cable TV!

Season 2 starts Feb 8 @7 pm EST
Thanks to Netflix and programming on demand, I haven't entertained the regular sit down evening in front of our ever growing TV screen in quite a while. Life is busy, kids are really small and really loud and usually, by the time we have them wrestled down to bed and could actually drop on the comfy couch to watch something, all that is offered is the grim recap of the worst news from around the world. If it's CNN we also get why they knew about the bad news all along coupled with why it will never get better. As the turquoise-eyed and tight lipped anchor keeps questioning the two opposing parties in the latest conflict, they yell, bark and interrupt each other leaving me with an upset stomach, a fluttering heart and an uncomfortable feeling I wasn't smart to bring three lives into this unhappy planet. As if none of any opinions even matter, the blood red ticker line at the bottom of the HD screen keeps counting the dead, measuring disasters, ramping up warnings. Exactly what full time employed busy mother of three needs at the end of the day. Yeah right.

But then, I remember the super-power of pressing the channel up button and I rip through a few dozens of channels. Click. A powerful car commercial. Click. A must have mop for our home. Click. Cereal commercial portraying a family just like mine starting their day happy, organized and serene. Shut up! Click. A guy getting eaten by a snake. Click. Dermatologist recommended face cream that is proven to take away my early signs of aging. Click. A history lesson showing how Holocaust was ignored for the first three years of the WWII. Click. Vitamix infomercial. I stay here longer as a very eloquent dude that clearly abused some self tanning product, throws in a half of a green cabbage with some frozen berries, making a delicious vegan ice-cream. The attractive brunette is licking the spoon tossing her hair back. Simultaneously I restrain myself from agreeing to four simple payments -- I have already bought the mighty machine and note to self I must try this mix, since it's promising pleasure. A lot of pleasure. Click.

On the next channel, a guy is sweating while peaking through the oven window. A girl is vigorously chopping parsley nervously glancing at the clock. Another woman is contemplating a disaster - the dough might still be raw in the middle. Three men in sleek suits are circling around them like sharks, asking somewhat uncomfortable questions as if these people, handling both hot and sharp objects while counting seconds are in any position to be chatting. The tune that accompanies them is something from a heart-stopping thriller. Or the "JAWS" movie, hence the shark analogy. Nevertheless my eyes are glued to the TV. When the show ends in some 15 minutes, a woman has been eliminated in a "Survivor" like fashion; instead of her torch being extinguished she is told to take her apron off, her kitchen war flag with her name embroidered on it. She has been defeated and she sheds a few tears.

"Join us next week to find out who will get 100 000.00$ and the title of the first MasterChef Canada!"

Without hesitation, I hop on Google, find out when and on which channel the show runs, so I don't have to chase it on the West Coast schedule and I put it in my calendar. That's how much I needed to know what happens next! Then I realize, I am starving...

Family treasure written in Serbian Cyrillic
Strong women, fearless, educated and opinionated have always been a point of pride of our family. As a girl, I enjoyed hearing about my great grandmother Milena Tubić, who was in mid 1800's one of the first woman teachers having to acquire her higher education in Thessaloniki, Greece as there was none for women at that time in Serbia. Milena survived four wars, lost three homes and mourned two children, somehow still keeping her spirit bright and empowering. Everything she knew she taught her one surviving daughter, my grandmother Tomira. Milena died peacefully four months after the birth of her last great-grandchild: me. The most incredible woman on my grandfather's side of the family was his mother Ljubica Čemerikić "Maka" who crossed the Atlantic on a ship back and forth ten times, so that she can live with her daughter's family after they immigrated as well as stay close to her sons. In March of 1972 she was hit by a car and suffered a fracture, then got transported to a Belgrade hospital where she shared the room in the ER, divided by only a curtain with the index case of the major strain of Variola Vera. The male patient from Kosovo contracted the deadly virus while on a pilgrimage in Mecca, bringing it to Serbia where the last case of the disease was reported in 1923 and it was considered extinct. 10 000 people have been quarantined, 175 patients contracted the disease, 35 died. Within the following two weeks 18 million citizens of then Yugoslavia, had to be vaccinated to prevent the spread. My extraordinarily feisty great-grandmother spent the maximum number of days in the hospital quarantine, watching people around her get sick and die, helping the decimated hospital staff as much as she could. When the quarantine ended, she walked out of the hospital walking with canes, never even contracting the disease. She died here, in Canada at a tender age of 102.
Our Grandmother's Cookbook
Both women and all of their daughters have been extraordinarily gifted in the kitchen. Despite the times of wars, scarcity and the lack of the essentials in the kitchen, such as a fridge, these women got known for their culinary skills. My grandmother Tomira, who held a degree in Ethnography, wrote it all down, in several tomes of handwritten manuscripts. When she finally got two granddaughters after two grandsons, she was determined to transfer her amazing skills onto us.
I'm not sure what came first, me being a tomboy or the need for the pots and pans to be washed so that the baking and cooking can move on at lightening speed - these were the pre-dishwasher years - but I personally never acquired any of that training. Although I truly enjoyed hanging out in the kitchen, being seduced by my grandmother's stories laced with a whiff of vanilla and the opportunity to lick every bowl, I never got even close to making dough, seeing the yeast rise, bundling the future loaf of delicious bread in a warm kitchen towel. Or handling the big cut of meat, skillfully removing skins and tendons off only to inject it with garlic and almonds then rub it with freshly-ground spices. But my sister... Oh goodness! From a very early age, she was all into it, wrapping herself in our grandmother's apron - her favourite dress-up - and mimicking her every move. Asking questions. Measuring. Sprinkling. Decorating. Tasting all along. Then proudly serving, basking in reactions of people who have seen it and tried it.

Forty years later and my sister Mina is still at her counter, cooking and baking. The dough simply loves this woman! Her kitchen is her sanctuary. Whether seeking relaxation or just plain fun, she always ends up elbow deep in the flour preparing old recipes and inventing twists and turns that make our family favourites more modern, worldly. Can there be a higher endorsement than that she picked a new stove instead of a ring for her 15th wedding anniversary? That stove is her jewel. Our entire family gathers around her table, for holidays and special occasions as that sense of major accomplishment and pride still accompanies the extraordinary love she pours into dishes that look great and taste out of this world!

So when a week later, the first ever MasterChef Canada trophy got awarded together with a hefty dollar prize and showers of confetti, I knew my sister Mina belonged in that kitchen.
Guess who's the finalist on MasterChef Canada Season 2?!
Strong, slender and competitive, our family's "foodie" finally had an arena for where to showcase her passion.
The following two summer months, as any good coach does, I watched and re-watched the entire Season 1, living through every tough scenario of the pressure cooker and surprise challenge. Somehow I wanted to make sure that the flavours of the Balkans make it to the show for the world to see, try and taste. While at work in colourful Scarborough, I went crazy exploring the local favourites of Indian, Korean, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Malaysian and Japanese cuisines - we shall not be niched! I took photos of every plate, then savoured that first bite, acting as a judge! At home, I cooked for my own family, throwing butter left, right and centre (calorie count doesn't seem to matter in this competition) making sure all was done within one hour. Needless to say we dined really well last summer in our very own kitchen! My sister and I got really close - I dare say closer then ever - experimenting, calling each other many times a day, exchanging kitchen tricks. My waistline soon climbed another size - oh well, I will walk it off! We became so MCC-obsessed that even my 6 years old son started counting seconds for me as I poured milk into his morning cereal: "10 seconds left, mama, you'd better be plating!"

The MasterChef Canada Season 2 is starting in two weeks. To say I am suffocating with excitement is an understatement. However, it is not the proximity to the reality TV fame that is the most exciting thing to me. What is so monumentally great is that my sister Mina, a woman with a husband and teenage kids, an aging parent and lot of friends, a successful professional career and a busy schedule as a fitness maven,  someone with important deadlines and to-do lists like the rest of us, has decided to bravely press the pause button on all that and take some serious time to play kitchen, just like when she was a kid.

So you want to know the best recipe for how to prepare a Chef? 

Take equal parts of skill, passion and creativity, preferably with long roots (do not remove!), seasoned with discipline of a black belt karate master and spiked with wicked measuring skills only a pharmacist might have; marinate in love for a decade or so. Then let her loose and let her play!

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The importance of being "gypsy"

There is a very good reason why I didn't study medicine. 

I excel in faking I am super cool and composed while mending minor scrapes or pulling splinters out of a screaming child’s finger with tweezers - wielding the triple action Polysporin as if it was a magic wand. However this only stems from the fact that the accountant in the family would have handled it worse than I. Far worse.

Forget the Discovery Channel's Shark week - I can't even watch a tooth extraction on close circuit TV let alone be close to an open wound, blood or layers of skin stretched open. And speaking of stretched open, that moment when I was told to push and was politely offered a mirror to actually see the baby's birth: "If I was supposed to see that, I would have been a giraffe. No. Please. Thank you!" is what my skilled Mt.Sinai Hospital team heard back. "Never ask me again!” Although, two years later - they did. 

So when a young gypsy boy entered my pharmacy for the fifth time that week, limping on little crutches, I felt uneasy. 

I knew this kid. He was about 10 years old and I saw him every morning as I walked to work. He would be sleeping on the street on a flattened cardboard box covered with a dirty blanket next to his mother, who would, with a baby in her arms, set up her post at about 6:30 a.m., right at the entrance to Belgrade's main hospital complex. The sight of her 'coming to work' always bothered me, as I had heard many stories of how these women are just exploited peons in one stream of organized crime, having the pimp-like characters who would 'protect' them take all the money they collected sitting endlessly on a dirty street. With their kids. Breastfeeding. 

Each time the boy entered the pharmacy I would tense as I wasn't allowed to let him stay and linger due to the threat of him stealing something or robbing one of the waiting patients. He certainly wasn't buying anything. But then, he was just a kid and I felt that possibly I might be that one person who would always be kind to him. Besides being a brand-new pharmacist, I was also a brand-new wife and I didn't have a child of my own yet. So what I tried to offer, as I walked past the little family each morning was a banana, or a granola bar, a silent blessing and sometimes spare change. 

When his turn came to approach the window, he signalled that he couldn't speak, his one leg lifted up so high that only his dirty bare toes with their black toenails peeked out of his trousers. Was he really disabled? I tried to recollect whether he was the one I saw playing with a tennis ball, accidentally hitting me in the back one afternoon when I was walking home from work? I wasn't sure. Trouble is, Belgrade has a family of gypsies lining all major corners; begging is a career. I tried to envision what these slender, swift, dark-eyed children would look like should they have a chance to belong to a normal family. One that owned a bed. And a shower. 

"How can I help you?" - I forced myself to address him as I would every other patient. 
Instead of replying, he signalled again that he could not speak, pointing to his throat.
"Do you have a sore throat?" - I attempted to see what he was looking for, suspecting that he just wanted a few dinars. 
He shook his head and slapped his forehead.
"Does your head hurt?"
He shook his head more vigorously, clearly getting annoyed with me, pointing again to his throat as if to say "woman, I told you already I cannot speak" and stretching one of his arms as if asking for money, his unwashed little palm open in front of me.
"I am sorry, I can not give you money from the cash register. Is there anything else I can help you with?" He pointed back to his throat. Then moved even closer on his little crutches to the glass that divided us. 

Some people in the line behind him started getting impatient. A few coughs and a loud sigh were urging me to end his visit.

In Serbia, many things seem to be 'behind' the advancements of the modern world. I won't argue that. But not the pharmacies. From what I have witnessed in my time as a pharmacist in North America, they have yet to learn what a pharmacy should be like, feel like and smell like. It is a place of individual care and education. It is a temple of sophisticated smells of compounded preparations made according to the unique prescription. The lab behind the row of shelves only staff can access houses both prescription medications and OTC's (yes, teens can't actually buy six bottles of pain killers, at least not at the same place). Behind that wall is an orderly, white and well-lit lab where we mix our knowledge into creams and lotions. And suppositories. The dark glass storage containers are lined up in divine order, their Latin names whispering secrets to us, the pharmacists, in crisp white, starched and meticulously-ironed coats. We are that chosen extended hand of not only the doctor who saw the patient last; we are channeling Panacea and Hygeia and of course Hippocrates. We are chanting his oath with everything we do. 

In stark contrast with North America, there is no fridge with Coca-Cola. There are no Nachos. Or Doritos. Or isles of junky chocolate bars. There is no mascara either. And for sure there are no cigarettes. There is only a counter and shelves behind it. And if you need a heart medication or an antibiotic, I will check your prescription for the dose and contraindications, and hand you your medicine with counselling not obtained while reading the computer screen. In an unrushed minute. Or five. Whatever it takes other than a 16 page print-out set to spook you and confuse you with it's dire legal warnings. No you don't have to roam around the store for the next half hour hopefully remembering you also needed a greeting card, a toilet cleaner and a TV dinner. It is not a convenience store. Or a local grocer. It is a pharmacy. 

The hand of the gypsy boy now entered the little opening in the glass divider where we usually exchange prescriptions and payments. 

"I don't have anything to give you." - I was starting to sound desperate as the line-up stretched behind him. 

With one hand, he now lifted his shirt, attempting to show me a wide yet old scar of what was likely an accident with boiling water. I cringed. Closed my eyes. Then in total panic blurted out loud: 
"You are not sick, I saw you playing with your sister this morning!" 

Hearing that, the gypsy boy promptly stood on his feet, tucked both crutches under his right arm and feistily marched towards the door. Right before he kicked it to exit he turned around and in front of all of my other patients snarled, spitting on the floor first: "Pu, apotekarice, 'lebac ti jebem!" which can be only translated, for sure losing some of its original charm, as: "I f*ck your bread, pharmacist-lady!"

I don't remember ever having laughed so hard while at work. A few patients whose ailments did not tamper with their sense of humour also giggled. The others just moved closer in line as I continued with my regular work, pursing my lips yet still laughing. 

One of my favourite movies
What was so funny to me? I laughed feeling the relief that he was gone but healthy - his leg wasn't injured. And he wasn't mute. Or crazy even though he kept pointing to his head. He just grew frustrated that his gig didn't work this time, knowing exactly what to curse - not me, but the way I earned my living. 

Twenty-one years later I still laugh at this. This time, I laugh more because it strikes me how much I learned over the years from the gypsies. Not only from my young friend who spat on the floor of my pharmacy, but from all I came across, all I met over the years. They packed lightly, moving swiftly.  There was an importance to setting up a home even if it were only for a day spent on a cardboard box.  And they often lived more joyously than those who had everything. This benignly profane line when said in Serbian is what works for me when seeking refuge from stress. It gives instant relief while I long to let something I cannot control go. And it does it completely and swiftly. Both crutches under my arms, slam the door, I'm done with this!

It doesn't have to be smart. Or sophisticated. I just want it to work. This one works for me. 

Realized I lost my favourite wrist watch. Pu 'lebac ti jebem! 
Husband gave kids' large school photos to his mother leaving me only the wallet-sized ones. Yes, she already framed them. Pu 'lebac ti jebem! 
It's -19 C outside. Pu 'lebac ti jebem! 
It's gonna be -19 C for the next four months, if we are lucky. Pu 'lebac ti jebem!

It might sound very un-sage like for me to suggest you find your own relief profanity. But if you can create a shortcut out of some daily crap not spending too long simmering in what you cannot change? What the heck, be a gypsy!

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

ATSL: All the single ladies, all the single ladies!

Picture this: I just drop off my kid to a screaming-and-bouncing play-place for a birthday party, grateful he quickly releases my hand while at the same time kicking off his shoes and dropping the gift bag topped with fluffy tissue paper before savagely throwing himself into the mayhem of the jumping castle.

On that note, can we please agree to stop with the fluffy tissue paper - that flimsy, useless layer camouflaging the gift? No matter how expertly I swing my arms up and down, left and right, hoping to fluff it up, it over-wrinkles and quickly collapses looking re-used. Ok, I was desperate so I did re-use it a few times, like today. But I feel and look guilty even when I open a brand new package - the special one with built-in sparkles. Tissue paper and loot bags will have to be on the elimination agenda at some point soon - not kidding!

As seen in LSL's Facebook post

As a rescue strategy out of that play-place hell where all the happy moms stay behind to chat, I sneak out onto a bustling Yonge St. and find the closest Starbucks. The lucky parents in charge have my cell phone number, so if my son gets hurt or cranky I can be there in a jiffy. With two hours to kill, I order one of those mega drinks, whose calories can keep me alive for half of the following week. I pull a book out of my bag and find a seat at the bar - a long wooden plank lining the front window. Perfect light, perfect smell, perfect peace. 

The only thing is, I can't get myself to read the book. It is a sunny Sunday on a ruthless Canadian winter day and although still cold and crisp, it is undeniably optimistic. People have crawled out of their homes to take in these much-needed rays, especially since the gloomy overcast weather started sometime in early November. I am people watching. One of my favourite activities.

Call it a curse, but all I am seeing are ridiculously happy families, strolling past my window, dressed like a Ralph Lauren spread in the winter Vogue. One family in particular decides to stop right in front of the glass, the glare protecting the anonymity of my stare. Mom looks fit and rested, despite the double stroller she is pushing in front of her. Toddlers, likely twins, a boy and a girl, are all bundled up, their pink cheeks and indigo eyes sparkling behind the little clouds of mist they are producing like tiny cute steam engines. Mom is very pretty, with long blond shiny straight hair cascading down her back, as if there were a possibility in some parallel universe to leave some fancy salon after a full hair and make-up session, right before stopping in front of this coffee shop with her brood in tow. I glance at my reflection in the window - signature dramatic glass frames, pixie cut and lip gloss. The maximum I was capable of investing in my appearance while I was looking for the damn invite, a gift bag and tissue paper, and while reminding my son to finish breakfast as he sloppily drew a card for his friend. We had just run out of the generic happy-birthday-to-you cards.

The door jingles cheerfully as the dad of the happy family enters with their orders and I notice immediately that he is handsome as hell - rugged boots, washed out jeans, coarse knit turtleneck and an unzipped pale grey goose down jacket. Inside of it he is sheltering a baby carrier. The infant is sleeping in a snuggly of the best kind, some Swedish name - the one in which sufficient air goes through the comfy yet firm fabric and also keeps the baby's posture safe and perfect. With the confident moves of an experienced multitasker, he hands over a bottle of formula to be warmed up as he orders coffees of different kinds and grabs an orange juice. Vanilla bean non-fat extra foam latte and a 'red eye' - an order of coffee spiked with an extra shot. Why do I still know this? 
He smiles and thanks the baristas as he swipes his card, then a second later swings the doors open and hands the latte to his wife, who melts into a grateful smile while smelling the divine hot beverage. He remembered a touch of cinnamon. The orange juice goes to a kid with a skateboard, sporting one of those cool spiky hats, who just caught up with them. This kid has swag. Who is this kid?

The mind of a then unhappily and chronically single mother could not have fathomed that this was anything but the happiest of all families that ever lived. High-school sweethearts who had one kid a tad too early and who, sure of their love, pulled through their respective schools and first jobs building a solid foundation for the family to expand. This past year as they both approached forty, they just winked at each other, kissed and decided in a hushed tone - let's have one more!

I never envisioned a scenario in which the older boy was hers - the battle for sole custody with the estranged father not over yet; this weekend, it was their turn to have the twins, his ex-dropping them off, as usual with a three-hour delay, forgetting the asthma puffer for the girl and the security blanket for the boy.
The blended hot mess that we are

Life sometimes does happen that way - the Ralph Lauren commercial way. More often it doesn't. And as my life all these years later greatly resembles the life of the family I mercilessly stared at for as long as they hung out in front of that Starbucks on Yonge St. (minus the infant dangling in a snuggly - thank goodness!), I learned an important lesson backwards.
With a π/2 delay. 

Instead of looking at their lives as blessed and perfect, look at my life as blessed and perfect. Or in addition to seeing all of the life around me as blessed and perfect, feel deep in my bones, that my life is indeed its own unique blend of blessed and perfect. No matter the story. And until I love it, really LOVE IT, with all its non-Vogue-spread-worthy qualities, I won't move on. At least not in the direction I desire.

That's the long answer to the question: Should I date myself first?

My favourite quote

The short answer: HELL YES!

Before any of the desired life can materialize we need to know some basics:
  1. What we don't want. 
  2. What we do want -- the all-inclusive, greedy version of the wish list. Screw compromises. 
  3. How it feels to live the "I want it all" version of life (without the "I want it now" burden.)
Then go each day with the seemingly selfish: "Hmmm, what do I feel like doing today?"

Sushi-lunch? Power-walk in the ravine? Quiet-time journaling? (What about? See 1-3 above)
Girlfriends? Movie night out? Sofa, blanket and dark chocolate almonds night in, watching Sidewalks of New York for the umpteenth time? I kid you not, at one point my mother warned me in her always-tactful Serbian manner: "He is not gonna come out of that sliding DVD tray. You need to get out!" Gosh I love my mom!
Go on a blind date; day-time, Starbucks, order an espresso... and if he is no second-date Americano material, act surprised: "Oh, I guess my coffee break is over! Goodbye." If there is more to explore, go for a walk - you'll walk and talk faster, he'll get to know you better! 
Cook a dinner for friends. Become a big sister. Host a neighbourhood meet. Browse the library. See what books jump at you - they know the best what you need to hear! Write old-fashioned letters. Mail them with pretty stamps. Draw. Tear, rip and burn what you no longer need. Not the ex's pictures. We'll cover that in one of the next ATSL blog editions! Sleep. Power nap. Play hooky. Do yoga. See a matinee. Then go on another date. And another. And another. 

Your guy, who already has all the traits you can happily live with, is out there. And looking for you. The best, funny, flirty, effortless you. That's why you need to date yourself first. To find her. Meet her. Get to know her. Fall in love with her. Then see her go! GO!

Alert for all my readers: 
Please don't get sucked into that scarcity all-the-good-ones-are-taken thinking.
Alert for my Canadian and US readers: 
For the love of G-d, please don't start the new season of "The Bachelor". 
Alert for any of the single guys reading:
You are better than the GAP.