It’s the least wonderful time of the year

It’s February—the bottom of the winter barrel. It’s that cold, blowy, snowy month with little to get the blood pumping to combat the cold.

This is the time of year when we’re desperate for hope. Every year at the start of the month, crowds stand in freezing temperatures to watch a guy dressed like an extra from Murdoch Mysteries hold up a bleary-eyed rodent to issue the long-term weather forecast.

“Please let it be an early spring.” I think that every year even though I know a sunny day is bad news as far as groundhog predictions go. It’s just pure desperation.

But I’m so tired of being cold and disappointed by snowed-out plans that I’m willing to hang a portion of my hopes on Wiarton Willie.

The minute Christmas and New Years decorations are passé and slapped with orange discount stickers, heart-shaped chocolate wrapped in red foil and red velvet boxes with sketchy “assorted creams” appear on store shelves.  And then there’s the cards that inspire a full cringe, the kind that make my head do that involuntary bobble and my arms twitch.

There’s something about Valentine’s Day that makes me feel like a zoo animal expected to mate. It’s like being a panda bear. Your busy doing panda things all day then all of a sudden you’re sitting across from another panda at a dimly-lit restaurant. You have all the bamboo you can eat and sparks should fly as you indulge in a meal that didn’t involve a microwave. But just minutes before you were stuck in rush-hour traffic. And it’s Wednesday, which means an early morning. And you can’t stop wondering why your coworker made that snide comment.

I guess that’s still better than when I was younger and Valentine’s Day was a measure of your social status. At my high school they managed to alienate single teenagers with candy-grams and or flowers that were delivered with much pomp and ceremony during class.

I know of at least one person who sent flowers to herself to avoid the shame of not having an admirer.

It was also an opportunity for horrible people to send flowers or a candy-gram to someone who did not have a boyfriend and was therefore unlovable. The idea was to pretend to be a boy who was secretly in love with her and have a laugh at her expense.

If karma exists I have to wonder where those cruel-hearted people are now. Jail? Divorced with kids who hate them? Or do they have a hot date with Taco Bell takeout and Jerry Springer this Valentine’s Day?

I suppose a few successful Valentine’s Days can lead to the next abomination—Family Day. It sounds like a good idea. A day off in February, what could go wrong?

Family Day isn’t like Simcoe Day or Victoria Day–two other holidays that don’t seem to have the kind of gravitas of Christmas or New Years—because on Simcoe Day or Victoria Day you can walk outside without losing the feeling in your face. These holidays, though often spent with family, seem to offer up more freedom, more choice.

Family Day, unless you ski or skate, seems to be a day where you sit inside with your family, especially if they’re teens, and argue about what to watch on TV.  There is no way they’re going out there in the freezing cold, and secretly I’m fine with that, but what to do?

That is the question for February. What to do?

I am worn out by winter. I’m worn out by slipping on ice—my feet going this way and that until I look like an Irish dancer wearing shoes cursed by leprechauns. Though the light is coming slowly, I’m tired of eating dinner surrounded by blackness on the other side of my windowpanes. And I am tired of tripping over boots at the front door and finding somewhere to hang my coat. I am tired of damp gloves and cleaning off my car while the snow blows into my face.

I am tired of winter.  Valentine’s Day and Family Day aren’t going to change that. So move over Wiarton Willie, I need a nap.




Why I hate camping: Part 1

I’d like to say it was a near-death experience that turned me against camping but that wouldn’t be entirely true.

I did almost suffocate due to a malfunction or user error—the jury’s out on that—in a Boler trailer, but I hated camping long before the camper was towed up our driveway and then parked temporarily in our backyard. We (my grandparents, my father, and me) travelled to the east coast and back with that overgrown chestnut behind us.

My grandmother emerging from the Boler while I try to keep my dignity armed with a hair brush.

My grandfather loved that thing. He was mesmerized by the genius of each part of the trailer doubling as something else—the kitchen table folded down to a double bed, the “couch” back and seat could be converted into bunk beds. Brilliant.

After that trip through the Maritimes, the Boler was not parked at the curb with a “Best Offer” sign attached to the door.

Instead it was moved to a sliver of dirt under some pine trees at a campground called Ponderosa (I’ll let you imagine it) in the little town of Mount Albert.

My father dropped out of the group and remained in Toronto, leaving the three of us to enjoy the relaxation of camping. I was promoted to the bottom bunk in his absence, so after a thorough check of the inside of my sleeping bag with a flashlight—always check the seams, that’s where earwigs hide—I climbed into the bottom bunk.

I was roused from sleep with a smack in the face and a mouth of vinyl as my body was thrown, then pinned against the wall.

My lips were tingling as I tried to figure out what kind of wild animal tasted like vinyl. As I started to come out of the too-much-fresh-air fog I was in it occurred to me I was being attacked by a Mount Albert thug in a faux-leather jacket. As I tried to kick my legs I realized I was trapped under the top bunk, which had swung back to its daytime resting place as the back of the “couch.”

I couldn’t move my arms, so like any sane 15-year-old girl, I started to panic and scream. My voice was virtually silenced by layers of factory-made and wildly unnatural fabrics—vinyl, foam, plastic, some kind of woven, wool-like material.

The humiliation of being suffocated by a synthetic bench while camping was too much. I tried wriggling like a claustrophobic caterpillar having second thoughts about the chrysalis phase.

I tried to rock my body against the bunk and after what seemed like 15 minutes, I managed to wake up my grandparents from their slumber on the dining room table. The bunk was lifted off me and as my grandparents stared down at me in their pajamas I yelled at the top of my lungs, “I could have died!”

I argued that the stupid trailer wasn’t safe and we should pack immediately so we could leave in the morning and go back to civilization.

My grandmother was the undisputed family health and safety expert. She could predict death, loss of limbs or other disastrous outcomes in any given scenario from swimming immediately after lunch (cramps and drowning) to neglecting to eat fruit (horrible bowel ailments).

Yet, I had almost died under that bunk and she couldn’t see the risk. She told me to settle down, stop being so dramatic, and go back to sleep as she climbed back onto her dining room table/bed.

And that’s what camping does to people. It turns them reckless and wild.

Textbook phobia

We all have phobias, that’s normal—spiders, confined spaces, heights. The phobia that haunts me, that lingers in the back of my mind all the time, is the terror that some part of my body will be the big, glossy picture in a medical textbook. A lumpy growth on my arm, or face, or worse, that oozes goo.

I suppose it would be equally bad to be the textbook example of syphilis because if a doctor, who has seen loads of syphilis, wants a picture to remember it by, you’ve got something special.

I never want to be the person examined by multiple strangers in lab coats while I stand there shivering in one of those blue over-laundered gowns.

I imagine it would go like this: “Hey Bob, take a look. Have you ever seen anything like this?”
Bob slaps a glove on and gives it a poke. “In all my years, I’ve never seen anything like that Martha. Has Jim seen that thing? Maybe he could lop it off.”
“We thought of that,” Martha says, “but a scan shows tentacles are growing on the inside of her body and wrapping themselves around her liver and kidneys…”

The pictures in medical textbooks are always in colour and close up. First-year med students probably take the book home at Thanksgiving. After the pumpkin pie, they pass it around to gross out their family and see who can keep their turkey down. I don’t want to be part of that ritual.

Then, after midterms, those same medical-school overachievers print out pictures of the worst, scabbiest sores and diseases to make drinking-game cards. And my ailment is worth two drinks. That’s my nightmare.

I don’t know why it scares me so much. Maybe it has something to do with being abnormal, a sensation I’ve had all my life, and have worked hard to hide. Maybe a medical-textbook photo would expose me and confirm my greatest fears about myself, that I’m deficient in some way.

It’s not as if anyone would know who the model was for the lumpy, tentacled thing. I know the pictures aren’t accompanied by a headshot and short bio with phone number and email, but still. It terrifies me.

So when I felt some weird, scaly patch of skin on my back I thought, “What the hell is that!?”

I spun around in front of the mirror and twisted my neck until I got a glimpse of a brown spot. What if it’s a disease on the inside of my body that has broken through the skin? And what if it slowly spreads across my whole body? What if the medical community is stumped? In my most rational moments I prepared for a skin cancer diagnosis.

While I waited for my doctor to come into the exam room and poke and prod, I took a look at the graduating-class photo on his wall just to make sure he’s actually in there. He looked really young then. And I wondered if he played  drinking games.

He came in carrying my file and said, “You’re concerned about a mark on your skin. Lets take a look.”

A moment later he announced it’s ugly but harmless. “It’s just part of getting older,” he said.

It could be removed if it makes me really unhappy, he noted, but it’s not really worth it. “Who’s going to see it anyway? You don’t wear backless clothing, do you?”

Nope. Got me there.

I never did wear backless tops much, but now I feel like I’ve missed out on something. Like something has passed me by and I can’t have it back.
Instead of having my brown spot removed, it will remain part of my life, a reminder that I’m getting older.

It could be worse. My doctor could have taken a camera out of his desk drawer and asked if I was ready for my close-up.