To Kellan, On Occasion of your First Birthday

Dear Kellan,

Kellan, a few minutes old
When you were just a few minutes old

Shortly after your brother was born, I wrote his birth story – but I haven’t written much about yours. Your arrival was … unexpected: It was the day after your Mamma’s last day of work – she was taking the last month of her pregnancy off to enjoy herself  and prepare us for your arrival, a good five weeks before your supposed birthday. Your Mamma and I were out on a date to celebrate her last day. Liam was staying over at his friend Luke’s place. We had a really nice dinner at l’Abattoir, then came home. In the middle of the night, Your Mamma woke me  up because her water had broken – this was very unexpected because you weren’t due for another 5 weeks or so. On the flip-side, you couldn’t have picked a better night: Liam was taken care of so we didn’t have to wake him up to go to the hospital.

We went to St. Paul’s hospital, where your Mamma works, and then waited. And waited. The doctors decided to induce labour, as it wasn’t starting on its own. But the first time they hooked up the IV, it wasn’t working, so none of the drugs were actually being used, which caused some additional delay – by this time it was coming to be mid-day on May 14th, many, many hours after we first arrived. Finally, they fixed the IV, and labour began. It only took a couple of hours until you arrived:

We were very excited to meet you – but it was clear that you were having troubles breathing. Mamma, after a few quick cuddles with you, handed you to the nurses and you were whisked away to the NICU. You had it extra good because that’s where your Mamma works, so everyone knew her, and knew how to take really good care of you. The St. Paul’s NICU is a good place, but they didn’t have all the stuff you needed to help you breathe, and so after a few days, you were taken to the Children’s Hospital NICU.

Peeking out

There, you lived in an incubator for the next 12 days. Mamma spent virtually all day, every day with you. Your Nanna came out to meet you and help us get your brother to & from school. I came to visit after work every day. This was, I’m not kidding you, a really hard time. You seemed to be slowly getting better, but it was hard to tell and you were just so little, surrounded by such big, loud machines.

But your Mamma was a great advocate with you, and knew just what to ask for and when to push, so you got great care. And because your Mamma is literally a pro at taking care of little babies, you came home much earlier than you probably would have if you had different parents.

Much like when Liam was born, we weren’t fully prepared for your arrival – there was still lots of things to get and do and whatnot. But we were so happy you were home. You were so very, very tiny. And those first few months at home you were very very difficult. You weren’t a big fan of sleeping, and you were so tiny that you had trouble eating. I had taken to calling you some pretty unflattering nicknames in private because it was sometimes so hard. You would cry and cry and cry and we didn’t know why. We tried everything. I would hold you and rock you in my arms and sing every song I knew to get you to go to sleep. And your Mama, she deserves a medal because during the week, when I had to work, she tried so hard to let me sleep so that I could get up and go to work. Then on the weekends I’d try to let her sleep. But you know what Kellan? I think I failed more often than not at first. You were so different from your brother even then.

Then one day, things got a lot better. I’m not sure when, exactly, or how old you were – I think you were about 5 months (4 months, adjusted) when you started sleeping “through the night” (by which I mean you slept for more than 2-3 hours at a time). And napping. And generally being a much happier camper. And you started growing, and growing and growing. We went from being worried about how small you were to worried that you were too big! You had your first halloween. We dressed you as a little dragon, but you didn’t seem too impressed:

Our Sad Little Dragon
Our Sad Little Dragon

And then there was the helmet. Because you came so early, and spent so much time hooked up to machines, your head was a little misshapen. Not grotesque-gargoyle misshapen (although I did like to call you my little gargoyle), but enough that we decided to get you a helmet to help correct this. There was much deliberation about it, weighing the pros and cons. And then it came, and you wore it fore about 2 months until we couldn’t take it anymore: your head was so vastly better than before, it that short time; it made you so unhappy; and worse, there didn’t seem to be any real science backing the use of the helmet, or any long-term studies about potential side-effects.

Kellan in his helmet
You, wearing your head-shaping helmet

Since December, you’ve been growing like mad. Now at a year old, you’re happily crawling about in clothes labelled for 18months & 24-months: you’re big! And you’re happy. You love the cats, particularly Twitch, who is infinitely patient with you because you love to chase him and pet him and climb all over him:

Kellan Loves Twitch
You love the kitty so much!

What I think I love most about getting to know you is seeing just different you are from your older brother, and such a wonderful little boy all your own. Your eyes, which likely haven’t settled on a colour yet, seem to be headed into the hazel/green/grey palate, much like your Mamma’s, unlike Liam’s whose were as blue as the sky from day one. You’re not quick to smile or laugh, but when you do, they’re great big smiles and huge belly laughs. You are a baby on a mission! Sitting still and carefully examining things is for chumps! You learned to crawl for a reason and you like to crawl a lot. I suspect that one day, very soon, when you figure this whole walking thing out, it’ll be even more crazy trying to keep up with you. Your love your big brother and just want to follow him wherever he is. Fortunately, you have an amazing older brother who loves to play with you, and will look out for you. You are loud! You like to talk, a lot, and tell us in no uncertain terms when you’re unhappy. At home this is ok. But, little bear, you need to learn to travel better. See, we love to travel. And we got spoiled by Liam who was a great traveller from day one. But plane rides with you are much less fun so far. Because you can’t crawl wherever you like on a plane and darn it you just want to move! But we’ve still been places. You’ve been to LA already.

You, your big brother & your Dad in LA
You, your big brother & your Dad in LA

My first year with you has been so amazing, little bear! I can’t wait for us all to discover what comes next.

To my Mum, on International Women’s Day

My Mum, Rosemary Tannock
My Mum, Dr. Rosemary Tannock

My Mum, Dr. Rosemary Tannock, is one of my heroes. I don’t actually know too much of her early life, but I know it was not a particularly easy life – her father, my grandfather, never returned from World War II, and things were unsettled.

She studied to be an Occupational Therapist in the UK, but married my dad, and, like many women of that era, followed him as he advanced career. They lived in Houston, TX for a while where my brother was born. Then in Holland, where my sister was born. Then back to the US & Philadelphia and finally Toronto. Of the many stories my Mum has told from this time, very few seem to be particularly happy. My dad was a medical student, a PhD candidate, with all that those entail, they were poor and my Mum was often alone, isolated with 2 small children in a foreign country.

By the time I came along, my parents had settled to stay in Toronto, my dad was working as a doctor, and my mum decided to go back to school. She got her PhD from OISE, which she finished, I believe, when I was about 5. Even this can’t have been easy – while I have no memories, she & her former office mate tell stories of my napping under her office desk while she attended class, or wrote, but one of my earliest memories is finding her on the lawn outside Convocation hall at UofT, with her wearing her convocation gown.

And then she finally, already nearly 40, got to start her career. When I was in elementary school, she started working at Sick Kids hospital in Toronto, where she still maintains a lab today. And while my mum worked incredibly hard, incredibly long hours, I don’t ever recall a time when I was young that she wasn’t there for me.

My Mum epitomizes the struggle that so many working  mothers face: she started her career later than her male counterparts; throughout most of my early life she still did most of the primary childcare (to my Dad’s credit, this changed dramatically as time went by); She faced institutional sexism from both her colleagues & her superiors; She felt like, and probably actually did, need to work much harder, much longer to get equal recognition. There was a many a night when everyone else would long be asleep when my Mum would still be up, perfecting a grant application, or editing a paper, or reviewing one of her students’ presentations. But then, come the next morning, she’d still be already up helping get me ready for school.

I remember many an evening when I was a little older when my parents would both be sitting writing grants. In the solarium at the back of the house, my dad would be scribbling rapidly on yellow-lined pads, occasionally stopping to chew his pen, crossing out the odd word here and there. Writing seemed effortless to him. My mum, at the computer, or editing sheets would be crossing out huge sections, writing massive edits in the margins, working it, working it, working it until she was satisfied. Writing was hard, to be taken seriously, a process, not a natural thing. The end results for both are uniformly fantastic – both are very well-published academics. I’m lucky in that my writing has gone much more like my Dad’s – it comes out more or less fully formed. I couldn’t say for sure, but I suspect my brother’s process is much more like my mum’s. But seeing that dedication to minutiae, that attention to detail has informed my coding style professionally my whole adult life.

And because I watched my Mum rail against seemingly arbitrary bounds of her professional aspirations; watch as male colleagues with few publications, with less grant money, with less all get promoted a head of her. Watched as she dealt with the collapse of a long professional relationship into slander and harassment; watched as she struggled with her career aspirations and balance them against my Dad’s in a way that men aren’t expected to; without it ever making her waver from her goal, or, at least to me, question her own worth was, and continues to be inspirational too. Her efforts, her confidence have shaped my own today. I have, without a doubt, been very lucky in life. But I don’t take it for granted, and I’m constantly challenging myself, my opinions to measure how they might have affected my Mum.

Today, my Mum is very successful in her career, her life, and I couldn’t be more proud of her. So, Mum, in recognition for everything you’ve done for me, for our family, and most importantly for yourself, I raise a glass to you on this International Women’s Day.

Conflicted, again

Every holiday, birthday or even the occasional weekend, I find myself again conflicted over the a) the celebration of a religious holiday, no matter how distorted and b) why everything seems to be celebrated by buying something for Liam.

Don’t get me wrong – I love buying things for Liam – the way his face just lights up when he realizes that he’s received a gift; the way he says “thank you” – all hurried and hushed as if he doesn’t say it fast enough, it’ll all be taken away; the unadulterated joy of watching a child play and explore something new. But then I’m immediately, glancing around the apartment at all the stuff we have, and all the stuff he has, and I feel guilty for how lucky I am, at how materialistic we are. I have a sneaking suspicion that, should I have a mid-life crisis, it might involve the shedding of possessions – even without, I sometimes have fits of wanting to throw everything away save for a laptop, a single book & my music, and go walkabout.

And holidays such as Easter & Christmas exacerbate this for me. For Leah, who grew up without a lot, these were occasions to actually celebrate, and her family made sure that there were (little) presents at these occasions, and her family made a big deal of it – which she, quite rightly, wants to continue with her family now. For myself, growing up, Easter wasn’t a big deal at all. When I was younger, we did the semi-mandatory Easter-egg hunt, but that was about it. Christmas was certainly celebrated, with presents and the like, but with less fervour. I suspect my own parents had very similar conflicting feelings. As we kids have become adults, Christmas has switched to be an occasion were we’ll all be able to take some holiday to actually see each other, spread as we are across 2 continents and several timezones – which I like.

To compound this issue further, I always feel vaguely quite hypocritical when taking advantage of any religious holiday. I’m not relgious in the slightest, so why should I celebrate? And I realize that it is because in part, these holidays have become quite secular, or rather, quite commercial, and so have successfully divorced themselves from religious significance. I don’t know where they do come from (I suspect, somewhat ironically, that both may have pagan origins), but neither the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus feature in any biblical text that I know. But they do feature strongly in commercials wherein they bring gifts to people!

Even Liam’s birthday is a time for this guilt for me – I was recently at another toddler’s second birthday, and it was an orgy of presents! So much that the kid was overwhelmed, I suspect, and won’t really even notice many of the presents for days or weeks to come. Which isn’t great for the giver, for we always want our gifts to be appreciated and toddler’s just don’t have the capacity to process so much. I want so much for Liam’s birthday to be good for him, and good for those who attend, and if I must place, good ‘for the world’. I do well enough that Liam’s not really wanting for much now. There’s nothing in particular that he needs that we could ask our friends and family to get for him. But I think my friends and family would like to buy something for him, as opposed to contributing to his college fund (which would be great!) or donating to Oxfam or some other well-deserving charity on his behalf. I have hopes that we’ll be able to work with him to instill the desire to help others, and maybe, follow the examples I’ve read on parenting blogs of their kids wanting to have guests donate to a cause. Of course, the flip side of these is that they’re nearly always related to some very personal tragedy – cancer, mental illness, etc -and I certainly don’t want Liam to have to experience that sort of sadness.

I don’t have a solution for this. I have some ideas that we’ll put into practice over the next little while. I’m even considering, when Liam’s old enough to understand, taking Liam to church for these holidays, or at the very least, trying to teach him the origins of why these holidays exist, so that while we’re blatantly disregarding them, he might be able to understand why I’ve disregarded them – or he might decide that the religious aspect is meaningful to him (the very idea of that, I’ll admit, terrifies me). Who knows. But maybe if he can understand my ambivalence, he’ll, in childhood innocence, suggest a clear path through.