How to get a new wardrobe without negotiation

As soon as I stepped into the house, the scent of bleach filled my nostrils. Ben was  sitting on the couch watching television.

“Did you clean something with bleach?” I asked.

“Bleach? No, why do you ask?”

“Because it smells like bleach in here,” I said, but he was immersed in his show.

I’ve learned to listen to my little voice when things don’t seem right. I went to each room looking for the source of the smell. I opened garbage cans to see if I’d thrown out rags that might still bear the scent. I checked the inside of the dishwasher (I don’t know why; it just seemed like the thing to do.) Finally, I gave up.

The next day while doing laundry, I laid a black, fleece sweater on the dryer to be washed with dark colors.  I noticed the top of the dryer was wet and when I looked more closely, I saw a small pool of clear liquid.  I picked up my sweater and held it up to my nose:  Definitely bleach

I put my sweater in the sink and opened the cupboard above the dryer. That’s where we keep cleaning products – including a brand new bottle of bleach. The cupboard shelf was soaked and the fumes stung my eyes. I put all the cupboard contents in a laundry basket and set it outside. When I came back, Ben joined me.

“I dropped the bleach bottle yesterday, but it looked OK, so I put it back in the cupboard,” he said. Fair enough. I hadn’t seen any signs of a crack in the bottle either.

I finished cleaning, including the inside of the washing machine in case traces of bleach were waiting to tie-dye our clothes, then went onto other chores. That’s when I made a fatal or fortuitous mistake, depending on how you look at things:  I left the sweater in the sink.

When I came back to throw out the bleach-soaked sweater, it wasn’t in the sink.  Slowly, I turned toward the basket on the floor of clothing to be washed. There it was, sitting on top of a pair of dark-wash jeans that now had splotches of bright white. Two pairs of work trousers, a crimson blouse, a royal blue sweater and another pair of jeans met the same fate. In one foul swoop, a good chunk of my wardrobe had been wiped out.

“I left the  sweater in the sink to make sure it didn’t contaminate the other clothes,” I told Ben. I wasn’t angry, just disappointed because two of the items were favourites. He peered at the big, unnaturally white splashes of white in haphazard patterns on my clothes and said, “Oh, sorry, I’ll buy you new stuff.”

I smiled and turned away. Who says old favourites can’t be replaced with new ones?





Just Be Kind

I saw this quote today and it reminded me of something that happened years ago. I was at the pharmacy filling a prescription for my daughter. I can’t remember what it was for, but I know it was something minor like a skin irritation or allergy.

It had been a long day that started before dawn. My husband was travelling and I was on single-parent duty. I got up very early so I could shower and get ready for work before waking the kids. When I was sure they wouldn’t roll over and go back to sleep, I went to prepare breakfast. I fed them, finished packing their lunches, tidied up, made sure they were warmly dressed and got them to the bus stop. Then I made it to work with no time to spare.

I left the office early to take Luce to her medical appointment. With the prescription in hand, we drove back to the school to pick up Erik and head home. I prepared dinner and threw in a load of laundry while the kids started their homework. Only while we were eating did I remember that we hadn’t filled the prescription.

So, after dinner Luce and I put on our coats to go to the pharmacy. Erik was sitting comfortably on the couch watching the hockey game. “Do I have to come?” he asked. He was only 10 but we would be gone less than 20 minutes.

“OK, you can stay here, but lock the door and stay in the house,” I said.

While we waited for the medication, my mind wandered over my ever-growing “to-do” list. The pharmacist brought me back to the present when he handed me the medication and said, “You could also buy some anti-bacterial soap. It’s in aisle six.” I know he was trying to help. But I was exhausted, it was getting late, my son was at home alone, it was dark and cold out and I just wanted this day over. So, I sighed and hesitated for a fraction of a second.  And that’s when he added in a judgmental tone, “It’s not expensive.”

I could feel Luce looking at me as I locked eyes with him. With that one phrase, that one look, and that condescending tone, he made me feel small, inconsequential and like a terrible parent. He didn’t get it. It wasn’t about the money. It was about reaching limits. I told Luce to go and find the soap. Then I stood, weighing my response. In the end, I decided it wasn’t worth the effort.

The quote reminds me of that pharmacist and that day. And it reminds me to try to be kind because I have no idea what’s going on in someone else’s life.


Moments that make up a life

Quebec is on lockdown again as the second wave of the virus sweeps through our province. That means we can’t celebrate Thanksgiving with our adult kids, visit my elderly mother or see our friends. But we decided to have our turkey dinner anyway (yes, we will be eating leftovers for days) to celebrate going through this unprecedented time together. Our future wasn’t always a given.

We came together as a blended family when our kids were four and six respectively. Anyone who is part of a blended family knows that it’s hard. It comes with its own set of challenges that we didn’t see for the rose-coloured glasses. For those considering embarking on this journey, I would say:  Go for it. But just know that there will be times of heartbreak as well as times of great reward. We weren’t always sure we would make it. But we did. And we’re grateful for that and for the little moments of deep contentment that now make up a shared life.

It’s those small moments in a day like having someone to say “Good morning” to or to ask the mundane question “What do you want for dinner?”.  It’s being able to watch television in the evenings in different rooms (he likes sports and I like the Gilmore Girls on Netflix) knowing there is a comforting presence nearby.

Ben has been working from home for over a decade. So in the early days of the pandemic when I started to work from home, I was afraid the enforced togetherness would drive us crazy.  But we fell easily and naturally into a new, companionable routine. Both those words – companionable and routine – sound staid and boring. But they also sound steady and sure. It feels a little like having both our hands on the wheel, steering in the same direction. Occasionally, there is a minor dispute about that direction. And, if I am honest, occasionally there is a not-so-minor dispute. The important thing is that, so far, we have been able to agree on where we are going and get back on a shared path.

So tonight we’ll raise our glasses to that and to the things we have instead of focusing on the things we have lost, at least temporarily, to the virus. And we will toast to the specter of better days ahead. Happy Thanksgiving Canada.