Happy birthday momma. It’s a party.

Today is my momma’s birthday.

She would have been 70.

The last time I visited her, in February of 2018, I asked her, “what do you want to do for your 70th? Maybe we could do something as a family – like go on a trip together or organize a big party?”

I remember she was flossing her teeth – something she took very seriously. She paused before looking straight at me.

“If I even make it that long,” she laughed half-heartedly.

Her comment left me upended – as though I had just missed a step at the bottom of a staircase.

I had somehow kept believing that – despite the stage four metastasized breast cancer – she would live forever.

It was the first time I heard her acknowledging the opposite. Her words were like a knife to my heart.

“Of course you will make it!” I blurted out, wanting desperately to erase this subtle, yet momentous shift that had just occurred.

She shrugged and went back to flossing her teeth.

I went to bed dreaming of a birthday party abroad.

When I talk about my mum, which I do all the time, it’s always to marvel at and impress upon just how well, and how often she lived.

It’s why I had such a hard time imagining her dying – and why I have such a hard time remembering that she is dead – because no matter how sick she got, she never stopped.

She never stopped working, and she never stopped working out; doing yoga and volunteering; helping with her grandkids and with her daughters’ professional and personal pursuits.

She hosted the most brilliant and boisterous dinner parties, marched in solidarity with other women, challenged herself to know more about reconciliation and how to be a better ally. Debated her friends who held competing views. Loved and nurtured and believed in the incredibly unique and beautiful community that she built and that she held close in her heart.

It is these people who have consistently reached out to myself and my sisters over the past year. On Mother’s Day, Christmas, the day of her death. To tell me: I see you. I am hurting too. I miss her. I miss and think of her every day.

I get so angry sometimes, thinking of others who have remained silent and conspicuously so. I feel like I have been cut off, like a gangrenous limb. Severed from a family who no longer thinks or feels about her, or her daughters, or what it’s like to live every day without your North Star. And the painful journey of reorientation that reminds me every day: she died.

Especially on days like today.

But then I hear a gentle voice at the back of my head: a voice that pipes up, mid-floss, reminding me to hold close the community that she held in her heart. Because those are the people who held her.

And to celebrate today.

So happy birthday, momma. I know you’re somewhere beautiful.

And that’s it’s a party.

Queen of spades

Kids! Tomorrow is my mother’s birthday.

To celebrate this day, I would like to share with you a memory I keep close.

(As re-imagined as my grade-two self.)

I am seven.

My mother isn’t home very much.  We live in Vancouver but she works in Ottawa from Sunday until Friday.  She’s writing a very long decision that will make sure that all Canadian women are ensured equal pay for equal work.  I think the whole thing started with a nurse who made a complaint, but I can never be sure because I’m still suspicious about why someone would need to write a decision. 

They are usually things you just “make.” 

Then I get sick.  Like really sick.  I burn so hot that when I take a bath the water feels like it comes from an iceberg.  Sometimes I imagine I am mutating.  After I shed all of my blistered skin, I’ll emerge taller, sleeker.  I’ll be a superhero, more powerful than ever.

I can’t eat very much and when I do I throw up.   

When my mother tells me that she’s taking a week off to look after me, I nearly jump off the bed with excitement.  

I spend the week wrapped in blankets and fleece, flushed and feverish, my mother sitting next to me.  I wear and wash my favourite pajamas every morning so I don’t have to wear something new.  It is a long dress and it is light blue, with a sleepy but stern looking owl printed on its front. 

It is my favourite.

In between my ice bathes and simple mouthfuls of vegetable broth, we take turns reading aloud from The Secret Garden. 

My mother doesn’t ever do voices when she reads, but her tone is soothing. 



I want to run away to the North of England.  I want to skip rope amid the twists and turns of a sprawling manor estate, fall in love with gentle Yorkshire boys who can tend to the earth and talk to animals, and eat hot, crunchy biscuits smothered in butter and jam.

I want to be friends with Miss Mary, learn to plant seeds, feel fresh earth between my fingers, and chirp at cheeky robins that flit and flutter under a low-hanging sky.

But mostly I want to find a garden of my own.  I want to discover a place that has been shut up and forgotten and reawaken the magic, magnificence, mayhem and majesty that once flourished there.

A place where I will be safe and strong and smart and stupefying in my splendour.

A place where I can be free.

Growing up my little sister and I spent every conceivable minute playing outside.  And when we weren’t outside, we were building forts in our basement. Our overactive, bizarre and totally bonkers imaginations ensured that we were never bored and never without a storyline to pursue.

And yet, despite the number of times I played in our garden, or the front yard, or at the park, or in the school yard, or the overgrown alleyway, I never truly felt how I had hoped to feel, when reading about Mary Collins’ adventures in her secret place.

Now, as a bizarre, slightly bonkers adult, I still search for that feeling, this tangible moment of discovery and awe.

Last summer I had the chance to visit a garden where I had, for an all too brief a time, that moment.

It was a place of magic and mayhem.

(But the good mayhem, not “the Bay is being looted and my car is on fire.”)

It was a place of discovery and awe, governed by a beauty tied to a nature no one believes in anymore and the stories of the all too few that do.

Dreaming of a garden for you today (and tomorrow) momma!

Happy natal day to you.