Last week, my husband, 10-month-old son and I travelled to still-wintry Montreal for a series of readings I was giving at three CEGEPs. I hadn’t been back to Quebec since I lived there as a student, back when I was poor, morose and drowning in the black sea that was my post-adolescent poetry. Of course, I had a much better time now that I am marginally less poor, only occasionally morose and no longer drowning in poetry of any kind.
We ate poutine (of course) and sugar pie and I managed to sleep more than usual, all good things. The readings went really well, with three very lively groups of students, one of whom told me my descriptions were “sensuous,” which made me feel vaguely strange, but then I thought, If you’re comfortable saying it, then I’m comfortable hearing it. But the best thing I heard had to have been at the very last reading, and it was the very last question.
A young man who had already asked one or two questions raised his hand at the end of the hour and, with a serious face, asked, “How do you stay so fit and beautiful after having a baby and writing two books?”
At first I thought it was a serious question and mulled over what parts of my non-existent workout regimen could be revealed (carrying a 20-pound baby, squatting to pick up dropped toys, stirring pasta sauce with one hand), but then I soon realized that there was no serious answer to be made. The other students were laughing or sitting with their heads in their hands looking mortified, so I just said, “I think I’m too old for you. Besides I’m not fit.” To which he replied, “Oh yes, you are.” My host, a lovely man who teaches these rascally youngsters, stood up hastily and said, “All right. That’s all the time we have.”
Now, I’m not telling you this because I actually think I’m fit and beautiful. I’m telling you this because it’s hilarious. I am twice this kid’s age. I haven’t slept properly in 10 months. I haven’t even had a haircut since Christmas. A compliment, no matter how strangely timed, can really lift a new mother’s spirits, and not only did I laugh for days over this brave young man’s comments, I felt much better about the heap of zombie-like body parts that is me. Maybe I’m not so hopeless after all.
Now, if only all readings could be like this!