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The Deep Freeze: 9-min Trek to Metro Station

Another visitor making an appearance in our lives on Henri-Julien, and everywhere else in Eastern Canada, is this freeze-da-bejeezus-outa-ya cold snap. We are in essence in deep freeze, or the victim of a "Siberian" cold front. Funny how globalization even seems to affect the language of weather. In the early nineties, this would have only been "an extreme cold front" probably coming down from somewhere like James Bay, or Baie James as it's known in these parts. But my guess is that Siberian makes it sound even colder and more dramatic.

"So how cold is it already?" you ask.
(Okay, I promise not to cheat. I will not give the actual temperatures or windchill factors, as Canadians are so annoyingly wont to do.)

What is most surprising is that you don't immediately notice the cold when you step out the door. You might notice the visual sharpness of objects, or how amazingly clear they look. If the sun is shining, which it was most of this week, your first reaction is to think that everyone has been exaggerating about the frigid temperatures. The colour of the sky is also a clue. This week, I saw some beautiful shades of pastel pink, purple, blue and orange, which you only see in winter. You might also notice the crunch of the snow under foot. This sound is also an indication that it's a very dry cold, which people from Winnipeg enjoy telling you isn't so bad. There is a crispness to the cold air that is both fresh and exhilarating. You quickly come down from this initial winter high after you've walked a 100 metres or so, when the discomfort of the cold settles in.

Your immediate reaction is to cover your nose with your scarf, as we know that the first things to freeze are those parts furthest from the warmth of our body. And tips of noses have been known to freeze. As a woman, I can't even imagine what the cold does to the...ah...masculine members. But as a child, I seem to remember a metaphor describing frigid temperatures and their effect on the parts of a brass monkey. And I have to admit, the expression was lost on me. After all, what's a brass monkey anyway? Okay, back to the weather.

At 200 metres, the cold feels as though it's burning all parts that are exposed, such as the teenie tiny space where the cuff of your coat meets your glove, and your exposed eyes and forehead. And remember you're no longer enjoying the crispness of the cold air because your mouth and nose are covered. This is also about the time you start to wish that you'd worn long underwear because the cold makes your pants feel pretty flimsy. Waiting for the light to change so you can cross the street becomes an eternity. Your eyes are already darting ahead to see if there is a powerful gust of wind coming. Because if there is one, even if you're wearing a one-piece snowmobile suit, you're going to freeze your booty off.

At 300 metres, the metro station is in sight, but out of focus because your eyes have started to tear up. You're past freezing now; you have parts that are burning from the cold. This doesn't mean you have frostbite. You've only been out for six minutes. It just means that your skin will stay red for awhile and be pretty dry. Would someone please pass the moisturizer and lip balm!? As you approach the doors of the metro, you're already getting set to take off some of your clothing, as the metro with its thousands of commuters can be a hot and stuffy place even on the coldest days. But as you step through the door, you follow the winter ritual. You let out an audible sigh of relief, dust off your clothes and stamp your feet to get the snow off your boots.

As you get out your ticket, you hear the loud whistle of the wind tunnel created by the frequently opening and closing doors. You feel the blast of warm and cold air, the cleanliness of which you refuse to ponder, as you walk by the person handing out newspapers. After you step through the turnstile, you unzip your coat. You remove your hat, gloves, and scarf, and put them in your bag on the escalator down to the subway platform.

You've done the 9-minute trek, and luckily the memory of fresh air is still with you.
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Who let the bug in?

When you have children, weekends become "together time." Expectations are high. People want to go outside, skate, play in the snow, build a fort, and have fun. I had my kids late in life and keeping up with them can be a challenge. Being tired is an integral part of being a parent and member of the labour force, and juggling your children, a job and relationship is a fine balance indeed. Mothers are people who have to recognize signs and make informed decisions even...for themselves.

So when you've gone to the gym, done the shopping, taken the kids to the park and then start to see yellow and blue spots, you might first come to the realization that you're tired. Never mind! Tired is for wussies. Mind over matter! But then you start to see stars, and think "Oh, maybe I should eat something instead of drinking more coffee." Then there's a chill in the air. It's bone-chillingly cold outside, but all the windows are shut. Hmmm...Your daughter has complained during the day of stomach cramps, but they seem to have gone away. Now she looks right as rain.

Then out of nowhere, something strange happens. You have a knot in your stomach, which starts to constrict. There's pressure that you can't immediately explain. You go down the mental checklist: coffee, exercise, food poisoning, and as the pain increases, you start to ignore your daughter's questions because you can't seem to focus on what she is saying and wish that she'd just speak English instead of French. There's a temperature shift. You suddenly feel hot, and the Christmas tree (Yes, it's still up. No one's perfect!) starts to blur. The reflective decorations have increasingly long streaks of light running through them. Just when you think to yourself, "God, that tree is hideous!" your brain stops processing, you're close to an answer. There's a short replay of a clue from late Friday afternoon.

As the daycare specialist cheerily hands you your son, she says, "Oh, and by the way, he vomited today. Not a lot. Nothing to worry about!"

As I sprint down the hall holding my stomach, I know that I have a bug. But not just any bug. It's a bug from the daycare. As I reach the bathroom door, I think, "Oh, any time but now. Why me?" Not realizing how lucky I am.

The bug is just gathering momentum, and the real victim will be my husband, who gets it twice as bad 12 hours later.
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Identity and Raising Bilingual Children

This weekend, my six-year-old daughter brought me over a coffee cup that had the word coffee written on it in several languages. She pointed to the word coffee in English and said, "That's how English people write café." And then pointing to the word café she said, "This is how we write it in French."

You might think that her comment simply demonstrates her skills in both languages. But what took me by surprise me was the "we" part. Obviously, my daughter identifies more with her French side (her father's side), which I find somewhat strange. Okay downright weird! And for reasons beyond my control, I start to wonder is this really my daughter? I mean when exactly did I get relegated to "you people" status? Or more specifically when does identity start?

To me, language is a strong marker of identity, and I find it hard to imagine that my daughter would not feel at least partially an English speaker. After all, the term "mother tongue" has to do with the language that a mother speaks to her child, and in our case, it is English.

If you think back to life-changing events, most of them are in your mother tongue. In my case, about 30% were in French, like explaining that I was having contractions, or insisting that my water had broken. But my formative or childhood years were strictly in English, and anything French was three hours due east on the Trans Canada highway or in a beautiful foreign country where people wore nice clothes.

I guess I could say that my daughter's life so far has transpired in a community with a Francophone majority, but a fair-sized English minority. We chose both my daughter's daycare and school based on the quality of instruction and care, rather than on language, and it just so happened that the predominant language in both cases was French. Yes, obviously these are two factors that would influence the language she best relates to, but I was always under the impression that a mother's language would outweigh these factors in influencing identity.

I realize that bilingual children go through different phases where one language is stronger than the other. I have also been told not to relent. Your child's English will improve. And bilingual children, we are told, have better professional opportunities later in life. But sometimes I fear that having two languages creates distances that might not otherwise exist.
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