Write your leadership manifesto

How does anyone learn anything? By getting their hands dirty and figuring it out.

So, even though I’ve been studying leadership in the workplace for a decade, dipping my toe in here and there…

I learned to lead over the past year, because of my family, because I had to.

At our house, I’m the lead parent. My partner is wonderful. And we have agreed that I’m the lead parent.

The primary steward of two special souls, entrusted to me to raise on this earth. A sacred privilege. Significant.

I am responsible for feeding them and ensuring they get enough sleep. I identify when they’re not well and make sure they get treated.

I set boundaries. I draw the lines around which books and toys and activities and friends and caregivers and screens and language we do and don’t engage with.

And as the lead parent at our house, I have cobbled together what I stand for in that role.

My leadership manifesto.

Because after stumbling through it for the last year, questioning whether I was doing it right, when everyone, everywhere (literally) is doing it differently, I needed to find my feet as a leader. And stand on them.

It includes things like: They chose me as their mother. We don’t meet one person’s needs at the expense of another’s. Humans before schedules. One of my jobs is to demonstrate living the kind of aligned life I want for them… the list goes on.

So, why am I telling you?

Because I want you to think about your leadership manifesto, whether you’re leading children or a company or a team or a wine club.

Get clear on what you stand for. Get empowered in your role. Define yourself as a leader, in whatever aspect of your life feels most in need of steady, empowered, authentic leadership RIGHT NOW.

Because you were made for this. And because the clarity and confidence you create will carry you through the up days, the down days, and all the days in between.

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Courage, my love.

Ever since I had my chakras opened, I’ve been keenly aware of a presence in my hundred year old home… So ya, that’s happening. And I’m thinking about how the same space transforms over time, depending on the energy contained in it.

For some reason this got me thinking about Kensington Market in Toronto, and this vintage shop there Courage, my love that I used to visit in high school. To me at that time the whole neighbourhood felt like freedom, escape and grown up sophistication, with racks of old leather jackets, incense, and an enticing level of grit you didn’t get in suburbia.

I remember going to look at the beads in Courage, always with no or very little money, imagining in detail the beautiful things I would buy if I had more to spend. Raised with not a lot of extas, I was always good at saving my money and getting fun out of imagining instead.

Years later I learned about a whole other side of the market when I married a second generation Canadian whose father has made his living there for some 50 years. He came from Portugal in the sixties as a teenager, barely conversant in English, and started working in a fruit and vegetable shop. The market was a hub for immigrants at that time, many financially poor but rich in spirit, hustling hard, raising livestock in tiny urban yards, engaged in a total metamorphosis, breaking away from the old back-home ways to create a new future.

Same neighbourhood, different time. And a whole different kind of grit.

This week, something shifted. It could be all the time I spent making funny noises with two tiny people. It could be Jen Sincero’s badass audiobooks. It could be the fact that I’m finally making room for some creativity in my life. Or dare I say the chakra opening?

Before, I had been thinking about fear a lot. I’ve been thinking of fear as this omnipresent obstacle that we need to power through. As in, feel the fear and do it anyway. In this narrative though, the key word is fear. It’s something to overcome – hold your breath – and endure.

And seemingly out of nowhere yesterday, the shift came: Courage. Courage is the ticket through the fear. Courage is the positive, courage is the hope, courage is the power position. Fear is no match for courage.

This is the new narrative. Having courage, feeling courage, living courage. Courage to face the unknown, do the undone. Even befriend the ghost.

A new kind of grit again.

Now go forth and be courageous.

Breathe. Shift. Breathe. Repeat.

Moving on

My family is neck deep in endings. Dismantling the homes of two grandmothers at the same time. On the English side, the condominium at Yonge and Wellesley was systematically stripped bare and decked out in fresh carpet and paint. But all I see is the ghost of its former self, comfortably worn in and smelling of lamb shanks and vigorously steamed broccoli while we gather over cherry tomatoes and beer. My grandfather’s beer stein said “Please bother me, I’m studying.” He earned a PhD in his seventies.

The place is empty now but I see the corner cabinet with the game of Othello inside and remember my grandmother’s hands so deliberate as she flipped the pieces. In my earliest memories I was curiously aware of the skin of her arms, fine and lined as tissue paper reused a third, a fourth, time. My grandfather was an engineer, apprenticed in his teens in Cornwall, and each room bore out his genius through quirky practical inventions: the homemade clock, the adjustable drafting table, the handy mechanism for storing plastic bags.

On the Portuguese side, the sidesplit in Etobicoke was well preserved until after its sale, a shrine to the family that came across the Atlantic in pieces to call it home. The fruit trees in the backyard flourished under the gentle supervision of my partner’s grandfather. His Pomeranians lovingly terrorized the neighbourhood with their puffy zing. This was a man I never met but imagine my husband to be like in many ways; I wish I had known him. The prominent family portraits on the walls proclaim the importance of family, of traditions. The recent Christmas nights I spent there, watching nature programs, chatting casually, enjoying cake and tea, I didn’t know how fondly I would remember those moments until now that they are firmly, gone.

An aspiring minimalist, I am punch drunk from witnessing the physical stuff of these flagging lives flashing before me – in bins to go to my parents’, the Salvation Army, the dump; in trucks to come to my house, or my uncle’s, or into storage.

For our part we have outfitted our current space – a rented nest in the Junction neighbourhood – with an appropriate number of our grandparents’ things. We’ve hung their art and replaced the environmentally questionable glue-and-chipboard dining set with their much nicer teak one.

Keeping these things feels right. They’re a tribute to the spaces they formerly inhabited, to the people who chose them, loved them, and lived there. And something to show our baby daughter when she asks about the great-grandparents she never got to know. She and her great-grandparents are ships passing, as the saying goes.

As for Toronto’s insane real estate market, the endless headlines that used to depress me are now amusing. I am no longer surprised when acquaintances relaunch their careers as realtors and developers. But these financial assets, these plaster, brick, wooden structures are also containers for our everything. Watching my family unload a century’s worth of history on anonymous strangers without so much as shaking hands feels, well, odd.

We’ve cleared the rooms like a film set after all the actors have gone home. But there is still something left in there. A shadow that can’t be scrubbed out. A lingering feeling, a late grandfather, left behind.

And so to the buyers of these homes I tell you: good and kind people lived here. There was a baby grand piano over there. My grandfather used to play on Sunday mornings while my grandmother went to church. His answer to religion perhaps. As you settle in with your boardgames and portraits and enmesh yourself with the wood, I tell you this: the late afternoon sunlight is glorious. Just lower your blinds if you want to protect your furniture. And don’t challenge the local ghost to Othello – she is crafty and she will win.

Going shoeless

This summer has been unlike any other summer. Thanks to caring full time for baby F, my schedule is pretty flexible. It’s been almost a decade since my family sold their cottage in Muskoka, but I find myself freshly missing it. I romanticize it – boiled hotdogs on the front patio, squatting to pee behind trees as a kid. Building things out of moldy wooden planks leftover from a building project in the seventies. That vertical beam that held the heights and names of all my aunts and uncles and cousins. That beam was a piece of family history. An orphaned piece. Driftwood.

We are taking our first family vacation this Fall. And I wondered to myself whether I should buy water shoes for baby F. Who doesn’t walk. Who stands occasionally. Then I caught myself. What am I thinking? Real old school cottagers understand that shoes are optional. Putting on shoes to go anywhere but into town is, well, a bit tame for the wild North. I’ve noticed the skin on my feet tells this story. What should one expect after spending weeks on end just plain shoeless in the woods? All those pine needles and sharp rocks and sticks. But, oh those soft wet mossy cushions! And the heavy sand at the shore!

Running around like a wild animal. Developing accidental grit.

No, I will not buy water shoes for baby F. Even if there is no more family cottage, she will have her share of shoeless moments.

After watching this documentary, I think Tony Robbins is a phenomenon. He’s really floating my boat this week. Him and Oprah. Seriously, these guys are just full of great messages for humanity. They remind us to take all of the wonder that we are – our pasts and presents in all their skin wrecking, family and nature treasuring glory – and own it.

Own your wonder. Without clinging to the driftwood, without questioning other people’s choices, without doubting the rightness of how we got here.

Just throw off your shoes, face forward and smell the fresh air!


Goodnight laundry (a bedtime story)

Parenting today was letting my teething four month old gnaw on my knuckles. And sleep on my body like I was a piece of furniture.

Four short months ago, baby F was literally part of my body.  Attached, inside. No wonder we are connected, no wonder she regards my appendages as comfortable infrastructure for her to lie listlessly on, convenient bits and bobs for her to chew.

She has fallen asleep tonight within arm’s reach of the bedtime I’ve decided is appropriate. Which is a win.

Remember bedtime as a kid? The. Worst. Something to look forward to as a parent.

But actually, watching J moo at baby F while she waited – naked, wriggling and giggling on the kitchen counter – for her sink-bath to begin, I couldn’t contain my joy. I think they call it Unbridled Joy.

Not much else happened today. But such is life with a baby at home. Some days conventional, productive, adult-type things take place. Some days, not.

And so the fridge is still a mess. And while I’ve discovered great satisfaction in starting the  laundry process, I’m less jazzed about finishing it. Which means there are stacks of clean folded clothes literally covering the dressers and ottoman, waiting to go home to their drawers and hangers.  To return to service.

Why do I leave them in limbo?

I don’t know.

Sometimes those still viable, useful and even prepared, spend time in limbo.

But wait. The word limbo is flawed. It’s just a fearful name for a new place, perhaps an in-between place, but the present place after all.

Sometimes those still viable, useful and even prepared, spend time in the present and find Unbridled Joy,  passion, purpose and love there.


At present  I am in a new place where my flesh is furniture and a teething aide for a perfect tiny creature I created out of love, for whom I am guide and keeper on this earth.

Goodnight ego. Goodnight manicure. Goodnight sangria.

At present I’ve decided the clean clothes will stand out in the open another night. It’s time to watch Mad Men and go to bed.

Goodnight laundry.