Thursday, February 26, 2015


Just thought I'd let you know that [your grandson’s] tooth cut through! Just noticed this morning,”   read the text from my daughter-in-law.  That was a week ago. 

So the drool was in fact the precursor of teeth, even at three months, in January, when I first proposed the idea that our grandson might be teething.  Signs of teething, at three months.  Could it be?

Well, yes.  His father was also a drool machine at three months.  He cut his first tooth at four and a half months.  Our beautiful boy was five months old on Tuesday.
His length and weight also eclipse the norms for his age.  By five months, his father, my son, had mushroomed to twenty-two pounds.   Could this be just coincidence?  Or rather some evidence for the critical role our genetic inheritance can play in our lives.

I’ve always believed that nurture affects our nature more than, well, nature.  The environment in which we are born and raised determines to a greater extent than our genes our propensities and physical characteristics, I have staunchly maintained. The jury seems to be out on whether nurture or nature has the greater effect; both work in combination to produce the human each one of us becomes.

Still, unexpected events give me pause.  My father-in-law, a very social and sociable man fascinated by everything in life, adored conversation.  He engaged every fibre of his being in the exchange, eyes riveted on the other person, a smile on his face.  When that person’s contribution to the conversation extended what he himself knew or had heard on the subject, his smile would widen, his head lift a tad, and turn a few degrees to the left and back again in amazement.  Almost two decades later, while talking to his grandson, our younger son, I stopped in mid-sentence.  My son’s eyes riveted on me, a smile on his face, his head lifted a tad, and he turned his head a few degrees to the left, and then back.  In fact, I was the one amazed.  My son was born five years after his grandfather’s death.  He never knew him.  Chalk up another one for nature.

Those images consume me as my son and his wife discuss their son’s physical development and his evolving tastes.  Turns out our grandson loves music from the fifties, to the point that his father has begun a playlist of his favorites on Rdio.  Now, one would surmise, he might be getting this preference from his dad, who plays bass guitar in a band.  The only thing is, the band doesn’t play fifties music.  At all.  His father just exposed his son to a variety of musical styles, and noticed a heightened response for rock and roll from the fifties.

Here’s the thing.  His grandfather, my husband, thrives on music from the fifties.  When we travel by car, he keeps the radio on the Fifties station.  (House rule:  The driver chooses the radio station.  In fact, that propensity has motivated me to assume my share of the driving, but that’s neither here nor there.)   He grooves to the songs while driving, slapping his knees and the steering wheel to the beat.  It’s happy music, he says.  A person just feels upbeat when it’s on.  Apparently, his grandson shares that opinion.

Add to that our daughter, the artist.  My husband doesn’t draw.  Neither do I.  My mother, though, had a gift.  Now, her granddaughter brings it to life.   Yes, these observations are unscientific.  But they astound me nonetheless, and, as I watch our grandson develop,  I marvel at nature and our genetic inheritance all the same. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


“Can we help you?”  asks the clerk at Sandbox in the City, a ladies’ clothing boutique my hairdresser recommended to me, as she materializes between racks of brightly patterned sun dresses.

“Yes, thank you, I’m looking for a dress for my daughter’s wedding. In June,” I reply, more to the jeans, tunics, dress pants, dresses, blouses, two-piece coordinating swimwear, and jewellery that consume almost every square inch of the retail space than to the clerk’s face.

“Well, you’ve come at the right time,” she reassures me.  In a month, we’ll be sold out.  Really? I thought, struggling to find byte space for the conversation.  Wow.  And I thought I had time to spare.  “What did you have in mind?”

My head rotates back to the clerk, like a flower seeking sunlight, and I locate my smile.  “Something sleeveless, fitted, knee length, in a solid colour.  Not red.  Not black, either, I hope.”

“Why don’t you look around and see what you like, to start?”

I feel intimidated at the embarassment of riches.  This, too, is an elephant, and a small bite is in order.  I separate the hangers to get a good look at the dresses and check sizes, and  I hook a beige and black geometric design on the end of my finger.  Well, I can see what the general effect is, anyway.  Encouraged but not yet enthusiastic, I add a navy lace, a royal blue straight cut with a gold belt, and another to be unveiled at the wedding. 

You know, already, then, that I did find a dress, that the clerk’s enthusiasm for the diverse looks I modelled fuelled my enjoyment of the process, so much that I even tried on the red shift and the bright yellow long-sleeved number she suggested.

I try the winner on again at the end of the process, just to be sure.  While the purchase goes through, she recommends earrings, and tells me where to go for shoes, and who to see there. 

She was competent, that’s for sure. Many people can be competent.  How many, however, can manage a distracted customer at the end of the day, half an hour before closing, with that customer’s satisfaction rather than a sale at heart, and the ability to convince me that there’s nothing else she would rather have been doing at that moment.  I leave the store surprised that I have something to wear for the wedding, relieved that the pressure is off, and  grateful for an exceptional service experience.

The prize for not just exceptional service but an unparalleled service experience goes to the receptionist of the imaging department of a hospital I visited recently.  Negativity infected the waiting room.  People used their time to grumble about the wait, to remind the young woman managing the area about the length of their wait.  Not to her face, of course.  They didn’t go to the counter and inquire about their turn in a calm voice, smile on their face, confident that all the employees were doing their best to expedite the service.  Instead, they conversed among themselves, strangers joined in a solidarity of the dissatisfied, connected in their irritation, their words just loud enough to be heard throughout the room.

Rather than ignore those complaints and continue about her business, the receptionist addressed them in the same upbeat, joyful tone she used to interact with her colleagues and patients who presented at the window.  How long have you been waiting, sir?  Let me just check for you.  You know, it will only be a few more minutes.   Her decision to maintain a pleasant disposition immunized her from the negative contagion.  In fact, she herself could vaccinate against pessimism anyone entering the room inclined to benefit from her tonic.  Through her command of both her own attitude and the skills necessary for effective service, she innoculated me as well.

The onus is not only on the service provider, however.  To be fair, as a customer or client, I do have some responsibilities of my own.  I want to smile, be positive and patient, wear my pleasant face and minimize the gestures.  That strategy pays off most of the time in better service.    Only when it doesn’t can I give myself permission to invoke retaliatory measures, as long as those measures don’t involve rudness.  For the boutiques where the salespeople can’t be bothered to say hello when I walk in, especially if they’re not  with a customer,  for example, I make a point of not finding anything I like, an apt consequence, I tell myself, for someone who neither does a job nor provides a service.

Congratulations and thank you to the clerk who sold me my dress and the receptionist at the hospital.  Through the joy and pride you take in the service you provide, you make life better for the people you touch each day.  You also remind us what great service looks like, and give us a model to emulate.

Saturday, February 14, 2015


“Hi, Yvette, it’s your cousin Gisèle calling.”

I knew, right then, what her message was.

“Tante Yvette has passed away, hasn’t she?”

“Mom passed away peacefully this evening.”

”Oh, Gisèle, I’m so sorry!”  That was all I could say.  I couldn’t even focus on the rest of my cousin’s message.  I had to ask her to repeat her request several times, to make sense of it, so it could pierce through the images of the aunt with whom I shared a name.

Tante Yvette:

·  the matchmaker, in cahoots with her husband, Henri, introduced my parents almost sixty-five years ago.  My mother, Évéline, took the bus from the city for a weekend visit to the small town where her sister and her brother-in-law lived.   The story was that Oncle Henri didn’t want to venture out alone twenty miles in a torrential July rain storm on soaked clay roads to pick her up, though, so he asked his friend, Hervé, to accompany him.  Hervé and Évéline were married the following January.

·  the hospitable aunt, welcoming me, the shy university student, into her family for Sunday dinner.

·  the proud mother, radiating joy in  her children’s accomplishments.

·  the grieving widow, rebuilding her life after Oncle Henri’s untimely passing.

·  the efficient professional, providing bilingual secretarial services first at the university, and later, in government.

·  the storyteller, trading anecdotes with me over red wine, steelhead trout, and chocolate lava cake in a quaint bistro.

·  the hostess, eyes alight after an afternoon chitchat with my father, when I picked him up after work to take him home.  

Tante Yvette, at 88, is the last of her family, another in the line of indomitable women I am privileged and proud to call my ancestors.  Strong, resilient, unbowed, all of them.   She and my mother, their mother and their sisters, have taught me well.  Now, the torch has passed to me.