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Monday, 8 June 2015
There's No Place[nta] Like Home!
One of the toughest things I ever had to do as an immigrant-single-mother was become a landlord.
I visited my friend the other day giving her a hug after her exciting time abroad. And as we chatted and laughed I casually disappeared to the kitchen and silently opened her freezer. I scanned the few boxes - some packages of edamame and a frozen yoghurt desert. Phew, no umbilical cord stored -- they dodged the hospital, but what about the cord blood banking? It’s now up to Bella*, her poodle to check the backyard for anything else.
That skill was required if we were to succeed with an arrangement that my son and I can start living independently in our own house five minutes away from the school as well as steps away from my mom - aka Bajce aka day-care aka before&after school program aka ruthless retired-lawyer tutor aka #all-meals-made-from-scratch. Often in my early days of motherhood that coincided with the early days of heartache over my unexpected divorce I would come to the conclusion that no one really needed a husband, if they only had a mom like mine!
The tough part about renting the basement of my mother's house was that for 500$/month it was hard to attract a “high quality tenant”. So, burdened by my own story and wanting to save the world one single mother at the time, the first two tenants have both been single moms, each with a little boy in tow. The first one lasted only for a few months. Her beautiful blue sparkly eyes hid a severe mental illness I couldn't have picked up on the interview. Nor would I have deemed it fair to deny her shelter because of it. After all, I am a healthcare professional - stigma stops with me. Unfortunately, the social services picked it up no problem as they came to collect the 4-year-old that she left home alone while she went running on the streets, shouting and hitting cars with a wooden plank she picked up along the way. Naked.
The second single mom was a child with a child. I should have known there was no way she could afford to be a responsible parent let alone a tenant - there was a venti Starbucks frappuccino in her hand every day coming home while her boy munched on a mummified McNugget, greasy little fingers clutching the happy meal toy. My hope was that by mere proximity to my mother, who was always a mom to any kid we happened to bring home, she would start knowing better, doing better. Once when she hadn't left her apartment for a few days, mom went down with a hot soup and a freshly-baked banana bread, sure they were both down with flu, only to discover they must have moved out overnight, forgetting to lock the door and pay the last three months rent. She had said she was between jobs. I nodded and said I understood.
Thankfully an unemployed history teacher turned Riverdale jail guard working the night-shift soon moved in, causing us to relax for a long stretch of time. We appreciated having this interesting and well-read man sleep all day. He appreciated finding a banana bread on his window sill when he came home at dawn.
But just before him, we had another tenant - an old lady, Jun… Oh, do I remember!
Back in the nineties, it cost me a fortune (36$!) to place an ad in the newspaper hoping to find a renter. Today there is just about a million free ways to search for the right tenant - pages and pages of rental websites can be found in seconds. Between Airbnb, Craigslist, Kijiji, Tripadvisor and a myriad of local rental hubs, it is easy for one to post an ad - the photos, the hood, the price. Right?
Who would you want to live in your space, should your work, say, take you abroad for six months of the year? A period too long to just put sheets over the furniture and too short to contemplate selling.
A friend of mine - a smart, honest and meticulous human being - took an analytical approach to advertising her beautiful place downtown. She was looking for a professional (read: pay rent on time) couple (single people can attract all sorts of trouble back home with them), non smokers, no pets (for obvious reasons), no kids (perhaps because she's met my kids?) to leave her sacred space to strangers for six months (in exchange for rent money, of course). As it turned out, she had an amazing choice of couples from which to choose. Guess we always look for something similar to us and something we hold in high regard when making these decisions. That way, although there are no guarantees, at least for the start we feel like we made a safe and reliable choice. So, no wonder, my friend settled, after a series of Skype calls, on a couple that was already on route to the big city: a PhD candidate and his yoga instructor wife. It spelled: responsible. Honest. It radiated: karma-conscious. In subconscious mind: safe. Decent.
The neighbours said they were quite nice. For the most part - quiet. They kept to themselves.
The familiar noise of keys jingling in my friend's hand as she approached her front door six moths later invoked a feeling of anxiety - what would she find walking back into the sacred space she worked so hard for? The recent news-story of an Airbnb condo being trashed beyond recognition as if a rock-band had been holding an after-party and a barfing marathon in it probably sits in minds of anyone who has ever handed the keys of their home to a stranger.
So when the door opened and she caught a glimpse of the inside of her home looking familiar and welcoming she relaxed. As agreed, the couple had hired her own cleaning lady to come several times during their stay and clearly they had kept their part of that bargain.
Kicking off her shoes, she went to her bathroom to refresh. Brand new soap bar. Clean towels. Thank goodness.
Nothing feels more like “Home Sweet Home” then stretching out comfortably on your own familiar bed. Your bedding. Your pillow. The scent of your favourite fabric softener. The ultimate comfort we work hard for.
She didn’t know whether it was an unfamiliar smell or was it the room’s Feng Shui that seemed odd and all upside-down but for some reason she just couldn't relax. She tossed and turned and became restless as if waiting for some truth to sink in.
And what do we do when we feel the pang of unexplained anxiety? We make a trip to the fridge! She was still contemplating which healthy snack would provide both ease and comfort, her hand on the fridge handle when a note under a magnet caught her eye.
It was a neighbours’ "welcome to the hood" note. Introducing herself. Listing the best coffee and take out places. Then saying she was excited to meet the little fella soon.
Little fellow? What little fellow?
Although my friend is a devoted doggy-mom the ad had specified no pets. A vet had recommended that so that her dog would feel like she was home once they returned.
Could it be a child? All these calls - they said nothing about bringing a child!
As it turned out, the yoga instructor - I’ll call her Rosemary - and her academic hubby were liars. Rosemary was nearly 7 months pregnant when they moved in - easy to disguise on Skype if one wants to. Not so easy to disguise as one waddles down the street and runs into a neighbour.
People don’t need to ask landlords for permission to have kids. I get that. How about getting consent to having a home birth?
My friend’s place was also a training ground - apparently two mid-wives in training attended as well, together with a crowd of family and friends likely holding hands and chanting “Kumbaya” in lieu of an epidural. Or to clear the karma of two parents who conscientiously chose to birth their child in a cloud of deceit - equivalent to having him wrapped into a yoga mat made of lies. How very granola of them!
I’m an unreasonably-affectionate mother of three. For 823 days of my life I have been an expectant mother, loving my nausea and my swollen feet, nightly leg cramps and even the dreaded finger exams - all this was leading to my motherhood graduation days one January, one July and one October. And with recent public lash-outs on breast-feeding moms or the omnipresent fat-shaming should one not shed all the baby weight in the first few weeks like our Angies, and Jessicas and Giselles effortlessly do - I am extremely protective of new moms. They don’t tell us how hard the first few months of ultimate sleep deprivation are. Or that breast-feeding at the beginning hurts more than the roughest of labour pains. Or that the baby blues is often a cruel downplay on postpartum depression we feel too guilty to admit and get treated. White knuckling those first days and months trying to look as blissful as expected. Reading those damn cards that completely misrepresent the chaos we are trying to get the hold of (Hallmark and I have never been on good terms). No one tells us that it sometimes takes years to get our bodies back in shape or our marriage back to harmony; our jobs back to rewarding. And our self-esteem back at all!
And with all my love and understanding of new moms I can’t fathom any place but the hospital for me to leave my sweat and tears and many other bodily fluids coming out of me and my baby. Leaving it in someone else’s home is just plain gross and irresponsible. And a biohazard.
You see, that old lady Jun - my last horrible tenant - was a hoarder. As seen on TV. The worst find during the clean-up after a long-fought eviction: fish insides, guts and intestines, bagless in the fridge and freezer. Although we had to replace the fridge I was so relieved the bloody fragments actually belonged to a fish. It could've been worse. That fall as we prepared to plant bulbs in the flower beds, we discovered that Jun buried about 3 dozen fish heads. The rotting smell scarred me for life. Gave up gardening - forever.
But still better than finding Rosemary’s placenta stashed somewhere!
*not her real name