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Mother of One

Mother of One

Testing the Senses

Pregnancy is a beautiful time. People say, “you’re glowing” and “you look so happy” and on top of it all, there’s a sweet little baby growing in your belly. I’m living all of these wonderful things but let me tell you, it’s not all peaches and cream.

For example, today I showed up for my “Making the Future in Canada” class at McGill and an acrid stench assaulted my nostrils and swished right up into my brain as soon as I entered the room: a fresh coat of paint on the walls. And I detected it with my new spidey sense of SUPERSMELL! Other fun odours that I can sniff out from a mile away include sausage meat on the Rock’s breath even after he has brushed his teeth, cologne or eau de toilet or perfume of any kind, and armpits—I’m pretty sure I can smell the curry sweating out of my classmate’s armpits every Wednesday morning.

Being pregnant heightens all the senses. Touch. Boy, oh boy, am I sensitive to touch. Sometimes I can’t even stand the feeling of my pants fabric against my waist. In fact, before the pregnancy test came out positive, I already knew I was pregnant because my breasts were too sensitive for my bras! I remember taking the test, as I had done every month since we started trying and seeing the single blue line that means there in no baby. But this made no sense! What about my sensitive breasts? I assumed that the tests don’t lie so I must be wrong. It was devastating. I called my mum crying, of course, “I’ll never get pregnant” *sob sob* “There’s something wrong with me” *sniff*. Her sage advice was to calm down because anxiety makes it even harder to get pregnant and just live my life as I normally would. That meant eating sushi and drinking wine until the test came out positive. Keeping this advice in mind, Rock and I went to his best friend’s wedding where I was plowed with champagne, red wine and the strongest mojito I have ever choked on in my life. That same night I ate about six pounds of ribs. Ten days later I woke up at 5am to retake the pregnancy test (they say that your morning pee contains the highest concentration of the pregnancy hormone) and I was rewarded with two blue lines. It was now 5:03am and I sprinted into the bedroom with my fists in the air like a cheerleader at homecoming, screaming, “We did it! We did it!” The Rock, thoroughly startled from his sleep, immediately caught my meaning and gathered me in for the tightest hug in the world. I was so ecstatic that I didn’t even point out how badly he was squishing my overly sensitive breasts.

fish   That was the beginning of the happiest time in my life. We had created life. We would be parents. And I discovered my super senses. Taste was the next sense to magnify exponentially. Suddenly, everything tasted like vomit and made me want to throw up. Everything except for Goldfish crackers. Those fishies slid down into my belly just fine. Little baby Gagné loves her cheesy Goldfish. I remember going to Florida for Canadian Thanksgiving and not being allowed to tell my family the news without Rock, who could not join us. There was nothing I could eat at any of the restaurants. Later, when we got home, I would finish a bag of Pepperidge Farm delights and hide the evidence in the trash. When I finally came clean a few weeks later, Pecan said, “I was wondering what happened to all those Goldfish. I didn’t think I had eaten all the bags by myself.” You hadn’t, my little Pecan. It was the baby.

The baby also thought it was funny to turn my favourite foods against me. My favourite snack of all time: melted peanut butter and banana made me want to puke during the first trimester. Chocolate, candies and any other dessert also brought on nausea. Coffee made me dizzy enough to crash into the walls—literally, my arms and legs were covered in bruises from veering off course into a wall on my way to the bathroom, bedroom, or any room, for that matter. Then, the dizziness made me want to vomit. It was a pukey time.pregnancy-cartoon_01

Certain foods I can eat now but coffee and chocolate remain menacing forces that I avoid.

The next super sense that I discovered was SUPER EMOTIONALISM! Stay tuned for those anecdotes. You don’t want to miss ‘em.

A Country Bear

We are not city people.

We don’t like traffic; we don’t like metros; we don’t like pollution; we don’t like searching for parking on our street and sometimes having to park a 10-minute walk from our rented apartment. We don’t like renting; we don’t like the noise outside; we don’t like the noise coming from inside either–our landlady whose deep masculine voice can be heard from the stratosphere, barking in Portugese at her husband, nephew, mother, brother and all of the other various relatives living underneath us. We also don’t like the smell of dead cats coming from down there.

We don’t like paying exorbitant hydro bills, but what can ya do? I get cold in the winter. The poor Rock gets so hot with me stuck to him like a clam: on the couch watching a movie, at the table while we study, during supper, at night while we sleep…I’m like a heat-seeking gremlin. When I wake up to pee in the middle of the night, I have to detach myself from the sweaty suctioning force that glues our skin together. And he’s so good-natured about it. Sometimes he’ll push me to the other side of the bed and keep me a leg’s length away. Literally, he’ll put out his leg as a barrier. Most of the time he lets me cuddle to my heart’s desire.

The Rock even shaves his beard to make cuddling more comfortable for me. Otherwise his pointy little hairs scratch my forehead and cheeks, leaving tiny red tracks on my face.

Two nights ago, The Rock forgot to shave. Just before assuming my clam-suction position, The Rock admitted, “I forgot to shave my bear.”

I chuckled.

“Phewf, I thought you would be upset.”

“About your bear?”

“Ya. Because I forgot to shave it.”

“Don’t worry about it, honey,” I replied with mirth.

The next morning, The Rock noticed the red forest of beard pricks on my face. “I’m sorry, ma belle. It’s my bear isn’t it.”

This time I couldn’t hold back the laughter. “Yes, it’s your bear. But in English, we say beard.”

“Baird.”

“No, that’s the Minister of Foreign Affairs.”

“Huh?”

“Beard.”

“Beeeer’d.”

“You got it.”

“So what’s a bear?”

You can imagine what fun I had with this conversation.

To be honest though, I would prefer a little country roughness–a little bear–in my life, instead of this city living. Ok, maybe not a real bear because they are dangerous. You know what I mean. I would move tomorrow if I could. But I can’t. I have to finish my Bachelor’s degree at McGill–it’s been almost a decade, after all. The Rock has to finish fireman school. And my dance career is based in Montreal…for now.

Lately, I have been taking private pointe workshops with the Montreal Maitresse (let’s call her M&M for short). I have dubbed her such because she is in high demand as rehearsal director, ballet mistress, open class entrepreneur and audition guru in the city. I consider myself quite fortunate to be receiving the benefits of her years of ballet and contemporary training, performance, and teaching. Her wisdom is boundless. With M&M’s help, I feel like I can do anything and I can’t get that in the country. M&M is part of city infrastructure–the land of the beards, not the bears.

The gang is also part of city life. By gang, I do not mean the drug lords that rule la ville, but rather the ballet crew, as I have come think of them. There’s Roro, Jet, Pheonix, Leo, Rich and the new acquisition: Catch. Catch came to Montreal to do The Nutcracker and take class around town. Somehow, we wound up taking ballet class at the same companies and studios nearly every day for the past month. It became a running joke. “Fancy seeing you here,” we’d say at the barre at 9:30am. Or, “I missed you yesterday” if we somehow ended up at different studios one morning. Unfortunately, our schedules are moving in different directions because I am on a plane to Toronto right now and she leaves Montreal in 5 days time. That’s how city life goes. Everyone’s coming and going and you never know who you’ll run into. The world is small enough, even in the big city, to know that you’ll always bump into old (or new) friends again.

I guess city living isn’t that grey if you know what to do. Don’t take the car downtown for some frozen yogurt because you’ll end up doing a 360 and returning home without dessert because there is no parking to be had. Don’t wait until 4pm to go home by metro, bus or car unless you’re willing to wait in traffic and then park 10 minutes from your apartment. Do take ballet class all over the city to see familiar faces and meet new ones. Do stay home with your husband on a Friday night, stuck to him like a clam on seaweed while watching cartoon movies on the couch. Be grateful for the unique resources that the city has to offer.

When it’s finally time to leave for bear country, I’ll probably be missing the beard.

The Science of Growing Up

I haven’t been to The Ontario Science Centre since Pecan’s 9th birthday party. At the time, I had braces glues to my teeth, which was a step up from the headgear I wore the previous year, I was obsessed with a white T-shirt bearing the slogan:

Tennispink star which I wore almost everyday, and I sported a boy’s haircut. It was not a good time for me. Of course, I didn’t realize it back then. In those days, I thought everything was cool: my orthodontics, my hole-riddled wardrobe and my ‘do. Thirteen-year-olds aren’t too bright.

In high school, when I looked back at the photos from my preteen years–somehow I am wearing that blasted Tennis Star T-shirt in every single photograph–I vowed never again to wear braces, bite plates, headgear, neckgear or any other tooth paraphernalia. And I promised myself to never again let a coiffure style my hair after Zack Morris.

Ha.

Ahahahhaha.

Ten years later, while recovering from mono, I wound up in NYC, sitting in a salon chair and looking at a skinny, pale-as-death brown-haired Zack Morris in the mirror. My hair didn’t even touch my ears. Not even a full year afterwards, I sat in my dentist’s mint green reclining chair while he fitted a pink gel mould around my teeth in order to fashion my new bite. “You cracked your tooth last year because you grind your teeth at night,” he informed me. “If you don’t want anymore root canals, I suggest we make you a nighttime bite plate,” he continued. Suddenly, I was flashing back to those horribly awkward preteen years and thanking my lucky stars that the old Tennis Star T was long gone in a pile of rubbish.

Today, I’m returning to The Ontario Science Centre. No bite plate (except at night while I sleep), no Zack Morris (although I still love Saved By the Bell), and no Tennis Star (I never really was a star but I do like to play tennis). The biggest difference this time around, is that I’ll be staying for ten years.

The museum is opening a new exhibit on athletes and the physical capabilities as well as limits of the human body. My good family friend, Ali, gave my name to the coordinator for the section on professional dancers. I underwent a phone interview and then, bam! You are looking at a museum subject. (Look a little further up on your computer screen, to my blog header…yup, that’s me, the new museum subject.)

It’s crazy how much has changed and how much stays the same. In the photograph from my little sister’s 9th birthday party, I’m sporting boy hair. Now, my husband is the one whose hair does not touch his ears. His style is not a fashion statement, but a necessity as a fireman. The rules and regulation are quite strict: military-esque, actually. That means brush cuts, uniforms, shoe shining, and “Sir, yes Sir!” Looking once again at that photograph, I realize that my wardrobe of worn out clothing has been replaced by a wardrobe of another kind: costumes. The photograph that will accompany my museum profile is from a show that The Rock and I performed in Trois Rivières this past summer. We are clad in different shades of brown and beige, displaying different grades of nudity: a nude-torso-ed Rock showing off his muscles and me, in a sheer-topped one-piece.

Finally, I notice the “Happy Birthday” cake in that old photograph.

Just last week I baked my father in law a birthday cake. It was vanilla with a layer of caramel and lemon royale icing on top. Pretty delicious, I must say. And never have I had better reception for my kitchen endeavors than here in Baie-Comeau, with The Rock’s father, P’pa. Well, except for The Rock, himself. He always appreciates my cooking. BUT he doesn’t like to share. I, on the other hand, love to bake cookies for his fireman colleagues, or bring treats to our friends’ birthday celebrations, or giving away leftover cookies and cake to our guests after hosting a big dinner.

Lately, The Rock has taken to forcing promises out of me:

This time, no giving away my cookie. We keep the leftover. All of it.

Seriously?

I want my cookie! They are my cookie.

Okay. Deal. They are your cookies. 

It seems that P’pa feels the same way. A few days after his birthday, I made some thumbprint jam cookies. We had flour, eggs, sugar and my homemade strawberry jam, so why not? I separated 8 cookies from the batch with a note to P’pa to give them to the neighbour, who is always friendly and welcoming with me. Then I packed my bag and went to work. (I am teaching contemporary dance and choreography at The Academy until Christmas.) That night, while talking on FaceTime to my hubby, P’pa came up to my computer and mentioned the jam cookies, trying to make The Rock jealous. However, poor P’pa could not hold back his incredulity at having to give his cookies to the neighbour.

“Now you know my life, P’pa,” said The Rock, resigned to his future of sharing. “I always have to give my cookie.”

I thought I had come a long way since the old days of braces and boy cuts but it seems that as I move forward, I take as many steps back. Learning to share cookies was never difficult for me, but I did have trouble sharing my toys or allowing my play dates to be the princess during a game of Princess and Goblins. Furthermore, every night, as I heat my mouth guard under hot water so it can mould to my teeth and prevent grinding, I am taken back to that photograph at The Ontario Science Centre. Maybe I haven’t come that far, maybe we never really change, but let the world see my Princess side nicely polished and displayed in a glass case–I’ll keep my Goblin side hidden in the family albums, for now.

Once a Month

For those of you who are women, or have ever been women, or have ever known women, you know what it’s like. You understand the explosivity; one wrong word or look can send us into a rage. Then you say “calm down,” and it erupts into an 8.2 on the Richter scale…. “I AM CAAAAAALM!!!” You are also well aware of the oversensitivity. You ask me if I’m feeling alright and it sounds like you’re accusing me of being crazy. It’s the hormones; it’s not my fault. For those poor men in our lives, who have to deal with this every month, I wish you luck. You are brave; you are kind; and you will lose every time because at that time of the month, it is scientifically, mathematically and chemically impossible for you to be right.

Last night I was talking to my Dad on the phone, bragging about my adorable husband who cleans the snow off my car before I’m even awake. Daddy said, “Yes, he’s such a sweet person. So do you yell at him?”

“Of course. I just yelled at him yesterday.”

“And he deserved it, right?”

“Obviously.”

I actually couldn’t tell you what I was angry about, but I know I was right. It’s my period.

The Rock is starting to learn how it works. Now he just smiles, kisses my forehead and gives me a hug. Or walks into the next room. Whichever seems safer. It’s not for nothing that he’s a paramedic turning fireman. The man is always calm in emergency situations. And he only once made the mistake of telling me to calm down. Boy, did he learn his lesson. A quick study, my husband.

Come to think of it, I do remember the horrible words my husband said yesterday, which thrust me into a rabid rage. He asked me if I had seen the lock for his gym locker. That was it. Of course, now, looking back, it was a pretty innocent question. But at the time, it sounded like the most heartless thing to say. It upset me quite a bit.

Once we arrived at the gym, and had begun our workout, I started to feel bad. The Rock saw that I needed some affection (I may have told him in not so many words) so he stopped me on my way to the water fountain. “Do you want to feel something solid?” He joked. The Rock likes to flex his biceps for me or contract a quadricep and make me touch it. Sometimes, when we’re cuddling and I am resting my head on his chest, he will ask if I want my pectoral pillow firm, semi-firm, or somewhat firm. There’s no option for soft on that body. Then he will flex or contract his chest to varying degrees until we find the right comfort level for my cheek. So when he asked if I wanted to touch something solid, I chuckled, waiting for him to show me the guns. Instead, he took my hand and put it on his heart. “My heart, for you is solid.”

The tears welled up in my eyes and I could feel my nose turning red. That man can literally melt my heart. “Don’t cry, don’t cry,” I repeated to myself. You can’t cry at the gym. People lift weights and wear muscles Ts. They pummel the punching bag in the boxing studio and grunt loudly. They drink power shakes. It is not a place for sissies who cry.

Eventually, I collected myself. Everything would be okay. Just four more days and I’ll be my normal self again. Luckily for The Rock, I’m on my way to Baie-Comeau so he’s off the hook for the rest of the month. For the rest of the year, actually. But don’t think that things will be different in the New Year. 2014 promises just as much crazy–I mean, hormones–as 2013. It’s my period; it’s not my fault.

How Do You Measure A Year?

One year.

Twelve months.

Fifty-two weeks.

Three hundred and sixty-five days.

Five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes.

 

Fourteen hundred and sixty apples: Honey Crisp, Gala, Empire, Spartan. Only the sweet, yet firm varieties.

Eighty-five chicken breasts. At least.

Thirty kilograms of peanut butter.

and an equal amount of bananas.

and a microwave to melt the pb that gets poured atop the bnans.

don’t judge me.

 

One hundred and twenty eight rolls of toilet paper. We shop at Costco.

Two thousand dollars worth of heating.

One Cruze. By chevrolet. Not the kind that takes you to the Caribbean and stuffs you silly on shrimp.

One Audi.

with one dent in the front.

and a 3.2 engine.

How do I know that? The Rock reminds me frequently.

One shared chequing account.

and a savings account from our wedding gifts.

and an education fund for our nephew.

 

Countless kisses.

Innumerable hugs.

As many tears.

Even more laughs.

Two new wrinkles around my mouth where there is an almost permanent smile.

How many I love you’s and je t’aime’s? Who keeps track?

A box full of love letters.

written in cursive.

signed “ton mari

 

One year of marriage can’t really be measured but we celebrated it anyway. I was in charge. He had no idea what I was planning.

The week prior to our anniversary, I was teaching in Baie-Comeau. On Saturday, the day before the big celebration, I got laryngitis and couldn’t speak. At 4:30pm that afternoon, I finished teaching classical ballet and pointe workshops at L’Académie de Danse de Baie-Comeau, got in my Cruze, and began the eight-hour drive back to Montreal. The Rock met me for a nachos and pizza dinner in Quebec City and then we continued home together. All I told him when we arrived home at 2am was that he would get 5.5 hours of sleep before the activities began.

 

Secret Anniversary Itinerary:

9am CIBC Run for the Cure. We raised $255 and received many emails and text messages of encouragement. Team Gagné. We were given T-shirts and number plaques to pin on them. The Rock wrote on his: “Pour ma femme que j’aime.

12pm Lunch at an Italian diner that we pass all the time and have been dying to try. Delish.

1:30pm Flower shop at the Alexis Nihon shopping mall. I told the Rock to pick a number from 1 to 12 (for the 12 months that we’ve been married). He picked 1. I told him to pick a higher number. He said 3. We bought 3 different plants.

2:30pm Montreal Children’s Hospital. We gave one plant to each kid who was a full time patient. 6-month-old Naomi got a teeny tiny bamboo plant in a little glass jar with grey and white stones. Her big eyes looked all around as we placed the plant on her tray. Bruna chose the jumbo sunflower. I told her I would have picked the same thing; they’re my favourite. Such happy flowers. Perfect for a beautiful fifteen-year-old girl. Bruna was surrounded by her parents and a bunch of siblings. It was a happy room. Priscilla’s parents were also visiting. Sunday must be a popular day. Priscilla is a shy pre-teen and didn’t know what an aloe plant is, so we explained it to her. “It’s a natural healer. If you break one of the branches you’ll find a creamy gel inside that soothes burns and heals skin, among other things.” The floor coordinator agreed. In the elevator on the way out, one of the nurses said, “I heard your reason for coming here today. That’s really special.” Well, The Rock and I give each other so much love and happiness every single day so for our one year anniversary, we wanted to share some of that joy. The Rock couldn’t talk for a couple minutes after we left the hospital. He had some tears.

3:30pm Dessert at Pikarna. One cinnamon brioche, one apple pocket, and one Oreo cheesecake. The server looked at The Rock, then at me, then back at The Rock. I think the poor guy’s eyes were going to explode in their sockets. Yes, we like dessert.

4:45pm Movie. “We’re the Millers.” Hilarious.

7pm Come home to a huge bouquet of flowers from the Finks. The perfect anniversary gift.

 

It was the perfect day, not because of what we bought or what we did, but because we made each other smile. We laughed. There were some tears but they didn’t fall. There was cake and flowers and the whole nine yards. I even found a love letter sitting on my vanity table. It was a year.

Double Entendre

Communication_(1)Today is an English day.

“Sleep, my love,” the Rock said to me at 5am this morning. He and his colleague at the Manic 5 paramedic post had to leave before the sun had even considered peaking through the horizon because the ambulance needs repairing. The closest mechanic is two and a half hours away in Baie-Comeau.

I’m glad they’re fixing the truck because I don’t want my husband rushing to save other people’s lives in an ambulance without functional breaks. The Rock discovered the problem during his routine equipment check upon our arrival yesterday afternoon. That was after he blasted me with the sirens from less than a meter away. “T’es mieux d’embarquer si tu veux éviter le sond.” Yesterday was a French day.

There are many ways to live as a bilingual couple. My osteopath married an anglophone ballerina from Les Grands who doesn’t speak a lick of French. Together, they speak in English and to the kids, they each speak in their native tongue. The president of the ballet school where I teach grew up discussing practical affairs with her English-speaking father and more emotional matters with her Quebecois mother. Other couples switch back and forth at random or choose one language and stick to it. The Rock and I do it a little differently.

If today is an English day, then tomorrow is a French day. All conversations, jokes, texts, letters, words of love, arguments, and whatever else is verbally shared between husband and wife is done in the language of that day.

“What if you’re talking about something really serious?” Phoenix asked me one morning while I was working the reception at Ballet Professionnel Montreal. “Do you ever feel like you can’t express yourself or you’re being misunderstood?”

So far, that hasn’t been a problem. The Rock and I take our time to make sure we understand each other and we try not to get offended by a poorly worded phrase or misused expression.

In fact, speaking each others’ language has many perks. Besides learning another language and enriching our own cultures, living like this is hilarious…

…For example, I remember the messages The Rock and I  used to write each other at the beginning of our courtship. In our letters, we discovered that we had both stayed at the Graziano apple orchard in Kelowna while working for different ballet companies in BC. It was a mansion. Massive foyer with a grand piano, a kitchen the size of my old apartment and five or six bedrooms with en suite bathrooms. “I love that hose,” The Rock wrote to me. “It’s a dream hose. One day, I wish to have a hose like that.” Of course I knew he meant house but reading it literally made me laugh until I had no breath left. It also made me want to hug and squeeze him for his adorable mistake.

***

…Another funny misunderstanding happened while we were opening wedding gifts during the car ride from Toronto to Montreal. I opened a very nice card from Claire Bogs. Bogs is Pecan’s good friend and old college roommate. She is the chillest person on Earth. On the morning of a final exam, Bogs slept in and when Pecan woke her, reminding her that she had five minutes to get dressed and run to McGill campus, Bogs mumbled, “oh crap,” before rolling out of bed and calmly sauntering out the door.

I tried to describe to my husband the extent of Bogs’ chillness. “Pecan jokes that she’s so calm she’s almost comatose,” I explained.

“Ew, gross. I hate that.” The Rock made a disgusted face.

“Honey, that doesn’t make sense. Comatose can’t be gross.”

“Fine, I’m sorry for your friend. It’s not gross,” The Rock amended diplomatically. “But I really hate to see that. If someone’s pants are too tight that it makes a sandwich in the front, they should buy bigger pants. It’s especially worse in the fatty ones.”

Then it dawned on me: camel toe.

I called Pecan immediately to relay The Rock’s mistake in believing that Bogs had perpetual camel toe. The three of us laughed all the way to Montreal–Pecan on speaker phone, me in the passenger seat, and The Rock behind the wheel.

***

…The last time The Rock worked a two-week shift at Manic 5, I couldn’t accompany him. Since the beginning of the summer, I have been traveling all over Quebec performing with Fleuve Espace Danse. I also spent ten days teaching for the Ezdanza summer intensive at L’Astragale and rehearsing for our company’s performance in Trois Rivières at the end of the stage. Then there was the launch party for ID Danse, a company started by Anso and her bf, which is producing a new show by David Pressault (I am one of the 4 dancers in the show). All in all, a busy summer.

When I’m not with him in Manic, The Rock passes his time by watching films. One night, he was telling me on FaceTime about a great film called Fruit Loops. I thought it was a joke because he loves Fruit Loops cereal so much and always buys the jumbo boxes from Costco. “What’s so funny?” He kept saying. “It’s a great dance movie.”

Footloose.

 ***

Communication is one of the most important elements in a relationship. It’s tough enough when both people speak the same language. That’s why the Rock and I are so patient with each other. We correct each other’s mistakes, we teach each other new words, and we try not to get frustrated when we need to explain something three or four or even ten times before the other understands. But for the most part, we have fun with our bilingualism.

I recently taught The Rock the expression, “I’m pooped.” He loves to say it.

After hiking to the summit of Hautes-Gaurges’ highest mountain a few days ago, The Rock exclaimed, “I’m poop.”

“Pooped,” I corrected.

“Poops.”

“You need to pronounce the D at the end.”

“Pooed.”

“No.”

“Say it again, please?” He asked sweetly.

“Pooped. Try to say it as if there is a T at the end: poopt.”

“Poo-oop. Sss. Pooooops!”

We’ll work on it.

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