“I’ll have the pink hair with broccoli, and a side of angst.”

The wet snow looked like buttery popcorn as we stepped out of the salon.  She pulled up her hood, her eyes fixed on the wet ground, walking slowly behind me. For awhile, I said nothing. Then, more sharply than I intended, I looked back and said, “Let me guess. You hate it.”

She looked up, and seeing my expression, she turned her eyes towards the cars, splashing noisily alongside us. “Well, um, it’s just that–”

I interrupted her with a exhausted sigh and glanced down distractedly at my phone, signalling my annoyance.  We walked along in silence for the next few minutes.

As we walked, I could feel the familiar anxiety rising in my chest. I  was desperately trying to summon up the mother who could easily put aside her own irritation at having set aside an important work project to pick up her daughter early for the haircut she  begged for just that morning.  I wanted so badly to be able to reach back and take her hand, tell her that it was totally alright if she didn’t love the 25 dollar (!) haircut, that it would grow back in no time at all, and that we’d wash the pink sparkles out as soon as we got home.  Because that’s what Good and Loving Mothers do, right?

Only, I didn’t do or say that. I lifted one eye from my phone and said, angrily, “You know, for once, would it kill you to just pretend that you like it?”

“Ok” she said tentatively. In that moment I could almost see, between the kernels of popcorn snow now falling heavily between us, the angst swell up inside her tiny body. She took off her hood, and I watched her attempt a nervous skip as she caught up with me, as if to say, “Look at me and my new haircut — isn’t it TOTALLY AWESOME!”

We arrived back at the school and got in the parked car, neither of us mentioning the haircut. She tried to engage me with the usual sordid tales of Grade 2 that I normally can’t resist,  but I found myself responding with only curt “uh huhs” and perfunctory smiles.  In the rear view mirror, I could see the tender edges of nervousness creeping into her face, and eventually, she sat back in her seat, stopping her story mid-tale.  And yet still, I said nothing.  By this time her brother had arrived and, sensing the tension between us, offered an uncharacteristically earnest “how was your day?’ as we pulled away from the school.  “Fine,” we both muttered sharply, at exactly the same time–prompting the boy to offer an instinctive, barely audible “jinx zipper spots!”  (don’t ask — kids are just weird).

When we got home,  she marched up to her room, where she stayed long enough for me to unload a well-curated list of “all the things I do for her” on my partner, who nodded sympathetically here and there as he cut up the broccoli for dinner. And then, without a word, he carefully set the table, poured me a glass of wine, and asked if it was time for a hug.  I immediately bristled, thoroughly annoyed at the gall of him in suggesting that all my Very Serious and Important Complaints could be somehow reduced to a hug.  But a second later I nodded, my body gently sinking back into my chair. Summoning up my very best version of my defeat meets exhaustion-induced neediness face,  I waited. He kept chopping.

Hello?” I said, exasperated. “I thought you were going to give me a hug,”

Without looking up, he said calmly, ” I didn’t say that. I asked you if it was time for a hug. I didn’t mean from me.”

I walked up the stairs and knocked gently on her door. Before I could say a word, she burst from her bed, wetting my shirt with her hot tears, telling me how much she really loved the pink parts, but was worried that the snow would ruin it. “I just wanted to get home quickly and look at it in my mirror before showing my friends at school.” As the shame of what I had put her through on the way home swept over me, I started bawling too. We lay on her bed for awhile, staring at the ceiling and blowing our noses until her Dad finally called us down for dinner.

Parenting breaks your heart into a million pieces, a thousand times a day.

PS. The broccoli was really good.



York University Libraries is about to embark on a major reorganization. Today, I interviewed for one of six new positions that have been created as part of the new structure. The position is for a Director of the Content Development and Analysis Department.  I’m excited about the reorganization, and (hopefully) moving into a new role.

In case you are interested, here are my presentation notes , my presentation slides and my bookmark!.


We were packing the car when the news of Charlottesville was breaking, heading off on the camping trip that we now refer to as our Annual Screen Sabbath (because evidently, it now takes a five-day provincial park permit and a weak cell signal to pry us from our devices, but that’s a sad story for another day). The timing was good: my low level but ever-present anxiety and frustration at the state of all things that began on that fateful Tuesday night last November had taken a toll, and I had been wrestling with the tight edges of fatigue and disheartenment for several weeks. Low on patience and empathy for things I normally valued, I hoped that a few days under the stars, my phone turned off and my beach reads lined up, was just the remedy.

And in some ways, it wasI got some much-needed sleep, restored my suffering reputation as the household queen of Dutch Blitz, and on one crisp morning, sat in my favourite canvas chair watching a half-crazed chipmunk scamper back and forth across our site for so long that my daughter actually got concerned: “Mommy…are you, like, okay?

But, by day two, I was aware of the silence being oppressive, a slow burn in the deep woods, lying in wait. It wasn’t just because it had been a really long time since my phone and I had spent this much quality time apart (that turned out to be far less painful than I anticipated), or that the beach reads I hastily selected from the drug store turned out to be, well, the kind of books that one hastily selects from the drug store. It was more that my internal message to “take a break from the heavy stuff” just wasn’t working. I kept telling myself that our vacation was not the time to ruminate endlessly about Charlottesville, the Orange Man, or the many, many ways in which our world felt broken. If only for a few short days, I wanted to take my lead from my children and bury my head, or at least my toes, in the cool, wet sand. It would, I reasoned, all be waiting for me when I got home.

Halfway through the trip, I was listening to my kids playing in their tent while I prepared dinner. We’ve been rationing our screen time lately, and the new routines have sparked a welcome resurgence of creative role play. So, I wasn’t surprised to hear my daughter giving her older brother explicit instructions for the next scene in their impromptu performance. I was drifting in and out of listening, but I stopped chopping my onion long enough to absorb the plot essentials: my daughter was playing the President, and she had just issued her first executive order to move all the stuffies to one side of the air mattress. “It’s time”, she said blithely, “to build the wall.”

For a moment, I could barely breathe. I briefly considered interrupting them to explain why this wasn’t really the stuff of play, but I forced myself to keep listening so I could make sense of how much she actually understood about what it all meant. (As it turns out, the wall’s singular purpose in this particular administration was to protect the White House’s supply of macaroni and cheese). Still, it was striking to realize that my attempts to shelter them from the divisive and frightening rhetoric of the last year hadn’t been as successful as I imagined. It’s not that we hadn’t engaged the issues at all; we’ve certainly had many conversations about Trump’s election. My son has a decent grasp of our major concerns, and I’ve watched him wrestle thoughtfully with how notions of inclusion and exclusion play out in his own world. They’ve both asked us good questions, and we’ve done our best to answer them honestly without burdening them with excessive fear or anxiety.  But standing outside their tent that night, I was struck anew by the realization they were citizens of the world in their own right, and that no amount of rationing their screen time, careful re-direction or family dialogue could protect them entirely from having to contend with darkness in places where they’ve only ever known light. I think it was the start of accepting that my job was no longer to try to hide it all from them, but to find ways to take their not-so tiny hands, and start walking through it with them.

Later that night, my husband and I finally dispensed with the illusion of getting away from it all and had a good long talk about Charlottesville, Trump and our fears, but also about how to stand with awareness alongside our children without losing our sense of hope, or our sense of humour. We didn’t come up with any clear answers but the exploration made us both feel a bit better, and left us with a renewed determination to find ways to work at things meaningfully, even if only in the small reaches of our daily lives. I’m still unsure about what this all really looks like, but I do know that the uncertainty feels better than despair or complacency.

On the close of my 45th birthday, I am sure of a few things. I am sure that whether you understand fascists mobilizing in Charlottesville to be an overture for something far more ugly, or see it as a critical breaking point in this vile and dangerous Presidency, there is no longer enough sand in the world in which to bury ourselves. I’m sure that while it’s tempting to insist that there is nothing to be done on this side of the border short of waiting and watching in horror, and maybe hugging our loved ones a bit more tightly, it’s frankly just not enough. I’m sure that you don’t necessarily need an official title, a pulpit or a even a blog to start naming hate where and when you see it, even when it feels terrifying. I’m sure that if you are, like me, a white, straight, able-bodied woman living a largely middle class existence in one of the safest countries in the world, there’s probably a ton of stuff you could be doing in the wake of Charlottesville, but that sometimes the most important thing to do is just shut the hell up and listen to people of colour so that you understand what is needed. Finally, I’m sure that it is only when we begin to truthfully acknowledge and talk about our own complicitness in the systems and structures that perpetuate the racism that defined Charlottesville, that we can even begin to imagine an alternative. If nothing else, it’s a decent place to start.

On Magic. And Disney Dreams.

We went to Walt Disney World. If you know us at all, this in itself is pretty surprising. But what’s even more surprising is this: we liked it.  A lot.

Some things were as I expected: at times we were miserably hot, exhausted and overstimulated, and ready to tell Mickey exactly where he could stuff his ears. But more often than not, we found ourselves knee-deep in something we don’t get nearly enough of in our regular lives: the full experience of each other, and of silencing our inner critics just long enough to take in the view.

Let me be very clear: I am not normally a “make lemonade from lemons” person, and I have been known to taste sour before sweet on the best of days. But for me, the real Magic of Disney was the way it relentlessly begged me to shelve my hard-won analysis of all life’s injustices and woes for just a little while, and take a good, long, break. For neurotic types like me who struggle with doing ALL THE THINGS and a sometimes burdensome sense of responsibility, this was a beautiful gift, even if it did come packaged in gaudy decor, pervasive, if slightly laboured, good cheer, and oddly terrifying over-sized dalmations.

The Magic surfaced for me in unexpected ways. I was almost embarrassed to find myself tearing up as Belle sobbed over the dying Beast, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the bubble gum pink ball gowns as they twirled effortlessly across the stage. Meanwhile, the seven year old–presumably more of the target audience for such things–fidgeted with her MagicBand throughout the entire performance, stopping only periodically to ask when there would be more french fries. But I will never forget the look on her face when, while relaxing by the pool that night, I handed her a five dollar bill and told her to go and get any drink she wanted. And pay for it ALL BY HERSELF. After clarifying that this directive included orange pop, she nearly tripped over her own excitement running off on what she would later call her Very Important Mission.

There were other moments.. Waiting in line for Big Thunder Mountain wth the Boy, I sensed his trepidation as he listened to the nervous laughter of riders pulling into the loading area. At first I tried to engage him, thinking that talking through his fear would help. It took a few shoulder shrugs for me to realize that this was not at all what he needed.  I think all that mattered, and would be (hopefully) be remembered years from now, was that his mom was with him on that ride. Did I mention we went three more times?

We ordered cheese pizza at midnight. We bought tacky t-shirts, and then some of us bought a few more. We hugged Pluto, and fist bumped a Storm Trooper. We watched as the Boy let down his guard and was charmed anew by a bear named Winnie. We sat by awkwardly, as the Girl, having decided that sitting with us was boring, took it upon herself to adopt a new family on every bus trip to and from the parks.  She made friends with people from all over the States, scored a seat on a mobility scooter with an 86 year old who had tackled every roller coaster in the Magic Kingdom that day, and even learned a magic trick or two. I tolerated a grown man talking like a pirate (and quite badly at that) for almost an entire afternoon, and felt only mild irritation at his insistence on checking off everything last thing on his personal Must See List. I gazed at palm trees, and ate my weight in baked chicken and green beans, and held on for the ride.  It was all so ridiculous, and yet so uttterly, unbelievably, irresistable.

On the return flight, I watched the Girl take out her notebook and write down the list of things she had done in Florida. Interestingly, almost none of them had to do with princesses, pirates or anything you could find in the gift shops. Still, I can’t help but think that those princesses and pirates were a big part of what helped her parents to remember that being seven (and a half) isn’t at all like being forty four, or twenty, or even sixteen. I like to think that over the din of the throbbing crowds, beyond the zillion gift shops and the constant pull of more and more stuff, I could hear them whispering to me some things I could probably stand to hear a bit more often. They were telling me that sometimes, if only for a few moments, or even a few days, it’s really ok to Let it Go, to buy the sugary drink, to tolerate the roughhousing (and yes,  even the pirate talk) just a little bit longer, and to remember that most of the time, they’re just doing their very best to be seven and almost ten in a world that’s designed mostly for grown ups.

I think that might be the best kind of Magic.

Suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement

February 3, 2017

The Honourable Ahmed D. Hussen
Minister of Immigration
365 Laurier Avenue West 365
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 1L1

The Right Honorable Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister of Canada

The Honourable Serge Cormier
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

Dear Minister,

In the names of all those affected by the Executive Order signed by President Trump on January 27, 2017, I write to urge you to suspend the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement.

This Agreement requires that the United States continue to meet the legislative definition of a safe third country. This definition includes a requirement to meet a “high standard with respect to the protection of human rights” and the maintenance of an “open democracy with independent courts, separation of powers and constitutional guarantees of essential human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

President Trump’s Executive Order banning refugees from seven mostly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days represents a serious challenge to this legislative definition of a safe third country. Trump’s statements during his election campaign that he is open to considering the use of torture provides further evidence of this challenge. Therefore,  Canada must exercise its right under the terms of this Agreement to suspend it for three months, pending review.

This action would represent a concrete step in your government’s stated commitment to welcoming those who are fleeing persecution and war, regardless of their religious background.


Patti Ryan
Toronto, Ontario

New Release.

Audrey and the Clementine:   A Memoir.

juice in my eye

Praise for Audrey and The Clementine:  A Memoir

“Sweet and full of surprises.  You’ll want to savour every juicy bite of this work”
Audrey’s Dad.

” A fearless and raw exploration of the deepest, and universal, wounds of childhood.”
Audrey’s Mom

“Dude, why do you only have one arm?”
H, age. 8.

How to Use the Library.

Yesterday while catching up on some collections work, I stumbled across the first english translation of Umberto Eco’s “How to Write a Thesis.”  It was originally written in 1977, a few years before In the Name of the Rose was published.  Intrigued by the section on “How to Use the Library,” I grabbed it off the shelf. It’s a relatively quick read, and quite delightful.   While many of his practical strategies haven’t aged well (this was pre OPACs), I think that instruction librarians, particularly in the humanities, would find his rich analogies and ways of talking about aspects of the research process really helpful in working with undergraduate students.  I’ve already incorporated a few ideas into my next IL class.

I did laugh out loud at this paragraph:

“You must overcome any shyness and have a conversation with the librarian, because he can offer you reliable advice that will save you much time.  You must consider that the librarian (if not overworked or neurotic) is happy when he can demonstrate two things:  the quality of his memory and erudition and the richness of his library, especially if it is small. The more isolated and disregarded the library, the more the librarian is consumed with sorrow for its underestimation.  A person who asks for help makes the librarian happy” (p. 56).

Almost forty years later, it’s still remarkably accurate.

Weighing the Evidence.

I posted this on Facebook this week. I wrote it primarily for my beloved nieces and nephews, all of them smart, kind, funny people on the verge of launching their adult lives in such a complicated time. Much of it has been said already by other people, but it’s my best attempt to capture my feelings about this election simply and honestly.

Since turning 18, I have voted in almost every single Canadian election-federal, provincial and municipal. I missed the 1999 Ontario election, because I was living abroad at the time. I still regret that because Mike Harris got elected for a second term, and I think he’s a big part of where we find ourselves today, but I digress.

In this election, I will do two things I haven’t done before: 1) I will vote in the advance poll this Thanksgiving weekend and 2)I will vote strategically.

I am doing these things because I have never been more concerned and distressed about the prospect of a Conservative majority. While I have never voted Conservative, I always respected that there were different approaches to managing the health of our economy, and in our understanding of the appropriate role of the state in the day-to-day lives of Canadians. While I always enjoyed debating the merits of these approaches (and still do), I also believed that most of the major political parties shared the same basic values. They include: respect for the democratic process, the pursuit of the public good, openness, tolerance for difference, and justice.

I no longer feel that way.

Under Harper’s leadership, any remaining vestiges of what might be understood as progressive conservatism has vanished. It has been replaced with a narrow and dangerous ideology that capitalizes on our basest instincts of fear and scarcity. This is not the Canada I know, and it’s not the Canada I want my children to know.

Here’s a short (and admittedly woefully incomplete) list of the reasons why I feel this way.  This government has:

  • Silenced scientists and others that serve the public interest when their evidence doesn’t support the government’s priorities.
  • Dismantled libraries and archives across the country.
  • Killed the long form census, against the advice of the Chief Statistician and numerous experts.
  • Obfuscated the legislative process on numerous occasions with large, obtuse omnibus bills that the average Canadian doesn’t have a hope of understanding.
  • Dramatically rolled back on commitments to veterans, women and other vulnerable social groups.
  • Demonstrated blatant and contemptuous disregard for missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.
  • Refused to accept responsibility or even remote involvement in the Mike Duffy scandal

And most importantly, has engaged in REPEATED and unabashed trampling over democratic processes when it serves their interests. To wit: not one but two prorogations of parliament, refusals to disclose information on costs of programs to parliament, directing Senators to vote with the government, etc… For more evidence, see this handy list.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. The recent rhetoric on the niqab was the final straw for me, and it’s why I’m writing this note. If you haven’t done so already, it’s worth taking a minute to listen to Harper’s interview with Rosemary Barton [1]. Pay particular attention to his comments about the niqab and his suggestion of future legislation that will go well beyond dictating what public servants can say, but also what they can wear. Just let that sink in for a moment. When that feeling passes, consider, as Barton does, what might come next.

I don’t use this term easily, but Mr. Harper is a liar. The “vast majority of Canadians” absolutely do not “understand and support” the Conservative’s position on this. The niqab issue was the brainchild of strategist Lyndon Crosby [2] and was designed as a compelling distraction from the lack-lustre progress that the Harper government is making on the economy. It is nothing more, nothing less. It’s absolutely despicable to endanger the safety and security of Muslim Canadians who are the intended target of these vile political tactics.

So, here’s my plea, family and friends.  I can’t, and shouldn’t, tell you how to vote on October 19th. But I will ask that you take some time and ask yourself if the things on the list above are good for Canada. And if there’s even a small part of you that senses that something about all of this isn’t quite right, then I beg you to get out on October 19th (or this weekend) and cast your vote as your conscience dictates. If you’ve never voted before, this really is the time.

[Puts soapbox away and exits stage left].

[1} http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-election-2105-full-text-of-rosemary-barton-interview-with-stephen-harper-1.3259045