Throwback ….

Repost from June 2016

I wrote this last spring but the list of still holds true. These books are some of may favourites. Each one captures the joy, trauma and complexity of motherhood in very different ways. Just in case you’re looking for a new  novel to lose yourself in this weekend … Happy reading! J xo

Originally posted on June 16, 2016 for Mabel’s Labels on



So … About that Easter Bunny….


Confession: I just Googled “What is the religious meaning of Easter?” Because when your almost-5 year old asks “Why do they call it Good Friday?” and the best answer you can come up with is “because there’s no school,” you know you have some work to do.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Easter or Resurrection Sunday,is a festival and holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, described in the New Testament as having occurred three days after his crucifixion by Romans at Calvary c. 30 AD. It is the culmination of the Passion of Christ, preceded by Lent (or Great Lent), a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance.

Hmmm… Still a little fuzzy. Let’s try “What is the religious meaning of Good Friday?”

Good Friday is a Christian religious holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death at Calvary. The holiday is observed during Holy Week as part of the Paschal Triduum on the Friday preceding Easter Sunday, and may coincide with the Jewish observance of Passover. It is also known as Holy Friday, Great Friday, Black Friday, or Easter Friday, though the last term properly refers to the Friday in Easter week. Based on the details of the canonical gospels, the Crucifixion of Jesus was most likely to have been on a Friday (the day before the Jewish Sabbath).

That clears things up a bit, but how does all this translate into a giant bunny breaking into our home to leave chocolate and over-priced pastel-coloured stuffies?

Glad you asked. Another quick Google search of “What is the connection between Easter and rabbits?” turns up a Huffington Post article from 2011, which states: “The Easter Bunny is perhaps the biggest commercial symbol of Easter. But how did a rabbit and eggs become associated with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Well there clearly seems to be no correlation between the secular symbols and the Christian holiday.”

Great. Let’s try again. says “Bunnies, eggs, Easter gifts and fluffy, yellow chicks in gardening hats all stem from pagan roots. These tropes were incorporated into the celebration of Easter separately from the Christian tradition of honoring the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Bunnies, eggs, Easter gifts and fluffy, yellow chicks in gardening hats all stem from pagan roots. These tropes were incorporated into the celebration of Easter separately from the Christian tradition of honoring the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead. According to the University of Florida’s Center for Children’s Literature and Culture, the origin of the celebration — and the origin of the Easter Bunny — can be traced back to 13th-century, pre-Christian Germany, when people worshiped several gods and goddesses. The Teutonic deity Eostra was the goddess of spring and fertility, and feasts were held in her honor on the Vernal Equinox. Her symbol was the rabbit because of the animal’s high reproduction rate.”

So let me get this straight: in order to explain the religious origins of Easter and Good Friday and why we celebrate these days the way we do, I have to talk about death, resurrection, goddess worship and sex. And not just any kind of sex: rapid, frequent and very effective sex – the kind that only rabbits and pro athletes are (fortunate?) enough to be having.

I think I’ll stick with “Because there’s no school.”

Meet criminal Barbie

If you read my last post you know that naked Barbie dolls are littering my backyard, turning the space between the cedars and the school yard fence into the set of a slasher film. Venture back there and you’ll see a dozen naked blondes covered in dirt, painted eyes staring vacantly up at the sky.

Of course I wasn’t happy about this (Barbies aren’t cheap!) but as we also established in the last post, I am not great at attending to domestic chores in a timely manner.

Now it seems the Barbies have suffered yet another indignity. One that involves being shoved through the holes in the fence so Harmony and her friends can play with them at recess.

I know this because I was asked to stay after school and speak to the teacher about it. I also know this because a young boy was apparently “quite traumatized” by finding naked girl dolls in the school sandpit. I also know this because I happened to see Mermaid Barbie sitting on the Principal’s desk during a meeting that, thankfully, was NOT called to discuss the tiny sex offender living in my house.


So we had a talk with Harmony about not bringing toys to school, and about why a little boy might be surprised to find a naked female form that looks nothing like his mother buried in his playground.

Shame on me for thinking that would be the end of it. Double shame on me for not realizing what she was doing outside the next morning before school.

Can you guess?

Yup. PUSHING THE BARBIES BACK THROUGH THE FENCE. A tidy little “F you” to the powers that be including, or perhaps especially, her mother.

Then, later that day at recess, my little criminal upped the ante by lying to the teacher who came to investigate the crowd gathered around the sandpit.

Harmony, whose credibility might have been hurt by the fact that she was sporting a leopard-print vest, pink tights, blue rain boots and a tiara, could sense her reign of terror was coming to end. Refusing to go quietly, she calmly lied through her baby teeth and said “Nope, no Barbies here.”

To his credit, the teacher figured out pretty quickly that he was being sold a bill of goods. A bill of dirty, naked, anatomically incorrect goods. So he reached into his arsenal of shame and manipulation tactics and said: “Harmony, you empty my bucket when you don’t tell the truth so I’m going to give you to the count of three to tell me what’s going on here.”

Finally, Harmony caved. But not until he got to three, of course.

Now, all of this wouldn’t be so bad if I hadn’t been elected Chair of the Parent Council last week. Thankfully, I insisted the morality clause be removed from my contract but how long until I’m impeached is anyone’s guess.



The Black Dog



There’s nothing I can say about Robin Williams’ suicide that hasn’t already been said. I can’t mourn his loss,  celebrate his talent or rage against the demon that is depression any more eloquently than has already been done. But one of the crazy things about depression is this: even though people who suffer with it generally experience the same symptoms, it is a very individual and very personal disease. There are few experiences  that are so universal yet so isolating. Depression, thought it might manifest in the same or similar ways, grabs us and keeps us and affects us very differently, which is why I believe that sharing our experiences (without comparison or judgement) is so important.

Mental health is a tightrope many people walk every day, and depression is often triggered by a major life event. For me, it was an ovarian cancer scare followed by pulmonary emboli, surgery and recovery. (Sorry to make light, but anyone who’s given themselves needles in the stomach and been forced to wear a horse-sized maxi pad for weeks knows these aren’t things you easily recover from. I can’t even see a white surfboard without breaking out in hives.)

After hearing those amazing words – “there’s no cancer” – and being sent on my way sans left ovary, everyone around me celebrated (except for the right ovary, who was very lonely). But returning to normal life and trying to put my body and mind back together quickly became an insurmountable task. Some people describe depression as “the black dog” (sorry Austin) or a dark cloud. For me it felt like being trapped in quicksand (now that I have kids I would describe it as silly-putty on steroids.) It was a persistent pressure that smothered me from all sides every minute of the day. It made getting out of bed or off the couch feel impossible. I cried over everything and couldn’t feel happy, let alone ecstatic, that I was going to be okay. I had terrible nightmares about being told they’d made a mistake in surgery and that there actually was cancer but now it was too far advanced to treat.

Predictably, the people around me didn’t understand this. How come I wasn’t happy? How could I be sad when I’d just received the best news ever? So what if I hadn’t pooped for 17 days and my bedtime ritual was a needle in the stomach … there was NO CANCER.

I was emotionally drained, exhausted, sore, mad and VERY hormonal. All before noon. I was like an angry hornet: pissed off because I wasn’t invited to the party and determined to ruin it for everyone else. I didn’t want company but I didn’t want to be alone either. The things that always gave me pleasure, books, my dogs, my favourite TV shows, FOOD…. I didn’t enjoy any of it. Intellectually I saw my emotional state as ridiculous, but I couldn’t do anything about it which only made me feel worse.

The missing ovary and resulting hormonal instability (“hormonal instability”, THERE’S an understatement) probably deserve some of the blame, but whatever the cause I was a MESS. I tried counselling but that got off to a rocky start when my therapist left the office early the day of my first appointment. Apparently she forgot I was coming.

Even before the surgery I’d been taking a low dose anti-depressant. Depression and mental illness lurk among the branches of my family tree so I’ve always been a bit obsessive about my mental health. I told myself taking anti-depressants was just being proactive but in truth they made me feel like a different person. I was less irritable and emotional and better able to manage setbacks. Minor disappointments were no longer the end of the world, and I was now able to enjoy myself and my relationships with more of an even keel.

In her amazing book “Twenty Things Adoptive Parents Need to Succeed”, Sherrie Eldridge wisely counsels parents to “Evaluate Your Emotional Health” during the adoption process. Often, the stress of infertility, the waiting for a child, the setbacks, the multiple disappointments can all lead to depression. And then when you actually get your child, there can be challenges you were completely unprepared for and ill-equipped to manage. It’s a cruel fact that the thing you’ve yearned for and waited years for, can be the thing that sends you down that rabbit hole. When you realize that the serene fantasy you’ve spent years envisioning is never going to happen, it can be a real shock to the system.

But we soldier on. We all do. Each of us finding ways to manage our demons and our stresses. Some work and sadly some don’t, but as long as we’re trying and hoping, I think there will be light at the end of the tunnel. Even at my worst, I never even contemplated suicide and for that I am incredibly thankful because I know that place exists, and I can scarcely imagine a hell any more real than that.


Dear Daren…

It’s been 7 days since you escaped left for the cottage. I hope you and your buddies are having an AWESOME time golfing and that the weather has been spectacular. I hope you’re getting lots of sleep and enjoying many delicious meals and adult conversation. Don’t forget to try that new seafood place we talked about!!

Not much is new here. The girls have now memorized the entire soundtrack from Frozen and sing it to each other every night, substituting key words with “poop” or “vagina”. Last night they fought for 25 straight minutes about whether dolphins or mermaids were better. I’m not sure who won because I was smashing my head into the concrete and could not hear, but it seemed pretty heated.

Yesterday Harmony asked “why?” when I told her she should not open the door of a moving car, so I’m pretty sure we made the right decision to send her to summer school. Speaking of which, a bunch of artwork came home on the last day and I saved it for you in the recycling bin.

Good news about the plumbing! It was NOT a diseased muskrat after all. Turns out they had not been flushing the toilet in their bathroom for a few days (thank you environmental science unit!) so we had a talk about conserving water in more practical ways. And speaking of water … here’s what went down in the pool this afternoon:

This is Harmony crying because Leila accidentally hit her in the head with a golf ball. Where did those come from I wonder???


This is Leila crying because Harmony yelled at her for hitting her in the head with a golf ball:


And this is the toad who had the misfortune of hopping into our yard but mercifully kept them busy for the next 5 hours. Expect a call from PETA.


And this is me, taking my first selfie just for you.

You wish

You wish

Can’t wait to see you on Monday. Don’t be afraid to bring wine to the airport.

Your loving wife.




Solo Mission Part II

Daren and the dogs have departed for PEI, kicking off another solo mission for yours truly.


As I write this I can hear the girls in the bathroom, filling up a bucket of water. I have no idea what dastardly deeds they’re planning but as long as no one is bleeding I’m going to sit right here and pretend I’m childless nothing’s happening.

This morning I took them to school in pajama bottoms (cleverly disguised as leggings) and a Jack Daniel’s t-shirt. I’d like to say it was a low point but that’s probably wishful thinking.

Believe it or not we’ve actually come a long way since the last solo mission. The girls are getting along and can play together for hours without fighting (at least, I think that’s what they’re doing when I’m watching Netflix and wearing noise-cancelling headphones). Even though their bickering can make me want to run into traffic, in all the ways that matter they’ve settled beautifully into this new life.

Much of the peace at chez Millard can be attributed to the fact that Leila idolizes her big sister. If Harmony wants milk, Leila wants milk. If Harmony’s wearing a dress, Leila’s wearing a dress. Unfortunately, Harmony does not believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but she’s happy to take advantage of her new little servant and orders Leila around like a tiny prison wife.


So as we buckle up for another mommy-daughter stint I have to remember – in the midst of the fights over who’s looking at who and who gets the pink cup – that I’m ridiculously proud of how they’ve both embraced this change. They not only function, they flourish. Two months ago they barely knew each other, and now they’re sharing a room, a family, a life. Just like prison.




Open to Openness

This week Leah McLaren wrote a column in the Globe and Mail titled “Kids Don’t Care Where The Love Comes From.” It’s a terrific piece about “alternative family models” (those created by donor eggs, donor sperm, surrogacy and adoption) where “biological parents take a secondary role to non-biological parents” creating new levels of openness. Leah rightly points out that because these children are less threatened by the unconventional, adults no longer need to “protect” them from the details of their birth.

In adoption, openness refers not only to how much information is shared with the child but also to  the amount of contact the adoptive family has with the birth (biological) parent(s). As mom to two adopted girls, I feel the same way about openness as I do about Lady Gaga and Brazilian waxes: fascinated and terrified.

Initially, Daren and I believed closed adoption would be “best for the child.” Whether our future child was given up willingly or not, we didn’t see what good could come from ongoing contact. But truthfully we felt threatened. Although we came to adoption happily and willingly, we still experienced a lot of fear, anxiety and insecurity, and we dealt with it by taking control of as much as we could and eliminating wild cards wherever possible. Put your hands over your ears and scream “LA LA LA LA LA” at the top of your lungs. Yup, that was us. But our intentions were good. We wanted to create a safe, secure environment (read: impenetrable fortress) for our little one, and we were determined to eliminate future hurts by making her ours and ours alone. But guess what? When you adopt a child, especially when the adoption happens years after birth, that’s neither possible nor wise.

When you embrace adoption, you embrace the fact that many people other than you will play an important role in raising your child. Birth parents, foster parents, extended family, grandparents, social workers, therapists … it truly does take a village. Modern parenting has come a long way from the Victorian era when children were considered property, like livestock and chastity belts. But while we’re no longer locking our kids in dark closets as punishment for spilling their milk, many of us still think of them as property. And while no one would equate a child with a goat, few would deny feeling a sense of “ownership” over their children. But this doesn’t work in adoption and once we understood that we were able to see all the benefits to openness.

Why is openness so important? Because knowledge is power. Because a child can’t truly understand her story unless she understands where she came from. And if she doesn’t understand where she came from, she will have a hard time figuring out who she is. Think about the curiosity you had as a child, the questions you asked about your parents and grandparents as you tried to understand why you are the way you are and why you look the way you do. Where did my red hair come from (insert mailman joke), why am I so tall when mom and dad are so short (insert milkman joke). If your children don’t find these answers, it can be confusing and upsetting. We all want to feel connection and belonging and sometimes it’s the things that seem trivial (hair colour, height) that help form our identity.

Unfortunately there is still some stigma around adoption (a bright, well-educated 11-year old recently asked me if I got my girls from an “orphanage”), and there is still shame associated with being born to parents who gave you up, willingly or not. Layer in secrecy and a lack of personal history and you’ll probably be seeing that child on the news for all the wrong reasons.

Currently the birth parents of both our children have opted not to have any contact with us. Twice a year I write a letter to Harmony’s birth mom that goes into a file at the adoption agency, and soon I will start doing the same for Leila. If either girl’s birth mom or dad ever requests contact beyond the letters, the agency will ask us if we want to exchange pictures, emails, meet in person, etc. I do this for the parents but also so each girl knows we respect and honour the birth parent relationship. I hope this will help them feel more comfortable talking about and researching their history if they ever choose to do so. I won’t pretend this doesn’t make me want to throw up a little, but it’s a small price to pay for the privilege of raising these amazing kids.