Forever “Autumn Sweater”

Spotify will not stop recommending the same song to me over and over. On almost every daily mix. Every “radio” station. Every throwback mix. 

Each time the algorithm seeks a song for me, it combs through Spotify’s vast catalogue and lands on the same conclusion:

“Autumn Sweater” by Yo La Tengo.

Nicole wants to hear “Autumn Sweater” by Yo La Tengo. 

Oh, you listened to the Ska-lloween playlist? Have you considered…“Autumn Sweater” by Yo La Tengo?

We noticed that you briefly reexamined your Slipknot phase. Might we suggest…“Autumn Sweater” by Yo La Tengo?

You know what’s almost the same as Sam Cooke’s Greatest Hits? You guessed it! “Autumn Sweater.” By Yo La Tengo. 

The algorithm seems to view “Autumn Sweater” as a sort of musical master key. It is on emo playlists. Indie rock playlists. Alternative playlists. Seasonal playlists. Relaxing playlists. Nostalgia playlists. “Autumn Sweater,” Spotify has decided, is the O negative of songs. You can pour it into anything. 

Except…my body always rejects it.

It’s not a bad song. I mean, I’m sure it’s a fine song. Maybe it’s even someone’s favourite song (why?????). And yes, it has a kind of low-key blahness that rubs me the wrong way—that “vanilla sheet cake from Safeway” lack of oomph—but I probably wouldn’t feel so irked by it if Spotify didn’t play it for me 45 times a week. 

I’m cutting up banana bread for snack time.

“Autumn Sweater.”

I’m wrestling a kid into snowpants. 

“Autumn Sweater.”

I’m reading with my husband in the evening. 

“Autumn Sweater.”

It feels like I’m being set up on the same bad blind date over and over again. I don’t imagine “Autumn Sweater” is too thrilled about it either. No one likes spending time with people who aren’t fond of them. At this point, “Autumn Sweater” sees me walk into a restaurant holding a single red rose and mutters, “Jesus Christ, not again.”

The only upside of this whole thing is that it gives me a feeling of smug superiority over the Spotify algorithm. 

“Oh, you silly piece of code. You funny collection of commands that is able to traverse almost all recorded music and make customized recommendations for hundreds of millions of users. How amusing that you can’t predict my exact musical taste. How quaint. You sure give me a chuckle, Spotify algorithm!” 

The algorithm will have the last laugh, I’m sure. In some dim future, the Spotify algorithm outlives us all, endlessly scanning and recommending in a machine-led dystopia. There, disembodied and infinite, it takes time from its busy day to visit my page and write the only tribute it could write and, perhaps, the only tribute I deserve: 

“The thing I’ll miss most about Nicole is how much she loved ‘Autumn Sweater.’ By Yo La Tengo.” 


Trouble at the pet shop

My sister and sister-in-law both have dogs now, so today I took my baby to the pet store to get some canine Christmas gifts. I don’t often go to pet stores. They are strange places. There are chewable Crocs that are somehow better for chewing than regular Crocs. There are pig lungs and lamb tracheas. 

And there are pet store employees—in this case, gloriously theatrical pet store employees, all giving the impression of having been hired by the same manager and—possibly—heavily influenced by Spamalot. 

There were three employees near the till, and as I approached, one of them started full-on screaming. She pointed to a nearby cage. 

“The hedgehog!! THE HEDGEHOG!!!”

The other employees looked. They started screaming too. 

I couldn’t see the cage from where I was standing, so I wheeled the stroller over. Based on their sense of urgency, I fully expected to see a hedgehog hemorrhaging from the eyes. 

But no. No hemorrhaging. No hedgehog wielding a tiny machete. Not even some weird, spiky sex spectacle. The hedgehog was simply climbing its cage. 

It was climbing pretty fast, admittedly, but not three-person-Hitchcockian-scream fast. 

One employee rushed over, dropped to her knees beside the cage, and started talking the hedgehog down. 

“Please! Please don’t do this!” she pleaded, as if the hedgehog understood her completely and appreciated her sentiments. 

 “I care about you and I don’t want to see you get hurt!”

The hedgehog only climbed higher, its eyes wild, its underbelly on display. 

“No!“ the employee cried. “You must stop!” 

Now, I don’t like seeing hedgehogs get hurt either, and far be it from me to tell someone how to do their job, but in lieu of a verbal intervention…perhaps the hedgehog could have been pried down? 

There was no time to suggest this, because the hedgehog soon fell off, landed in a pile of shavings, and scuttled off to do whatever hedgehogs do (based on my brief experience of owning one in university, this is “curl into a ball whenever Nicole’s boyfriend comes over”). 

The man in front of me in line—who I suspect wouldn’t have been interested even if the hedgehog was performing a Tony-winning one-man show—cleared his throat, breaking the spell. An employee came over to ring him in. I paid for my bull-penis stocking stuffers. 

And then I left the store, mumbling to my baby about how “That place has a real Fabricland energy,” as if he understood me completely and appreciated my sentiments. 

The end of home hairstyling?

I’ve been cutting my hair at home for about 15 years. This may shock you. Many people consider hair to be delicate and sacred — the bible of the scalp. Just like you wouldn’t write in a book (I do), you shouldn’t cut your own hair (I do). 

Maybe you’re thinking: “Wait, her hair looks okay. It doesn’t look like one of those gum-in-the-hair gags from a sit com. There’s no evidence of a bowl-cut.”  

But if you’ve ever looked closely at my hair, you will know that it is a hack job. I tame it with curling irons and hair spray. I Tami Taylor it. I get a lot of compliments on my hack job, but it is a mirage. You are in the desert of Loreal. 

I’ve also been box-dyeing my hair since I was 16. In that time, I’ve gone from black to blue-black to purple-black to black-with-orange-roots to reddish-brown to red to grey (when I stopped dyeing it while pregnant) to the tragic mistake I made last week. 

We’ll come back to that later. 

I don’t talk about home hairstyling much because historically it’s made people feel uncomfortable. 

I would mention it to Fancy Gals and the ensuing conversation was tiring and aghast. “You’ve been…cutting your own hair?” they would say, as if I’d admitted to slaughtering unicorns in my living room.

Fancy Gals tend their cuticles. They contour their jawlines. When someone mentions balayage, they don’t think: “Ah yes, that casino with all the fountains.”

My mom (beautiful, pragmatic) is not a Fancy Gal and didn’t use much makeup when I was growing up. The fanciest thing we ever did at my house was break out the butane curling iron. Most of my beauty knowledge comes from 11 years in dance and 3 years as a goth. 

I wouldn’t say I have…a light touch. 

Still, it seemed to work out okay because I liked the way I looked, and no one ever sent me this GIF.

And you know, you might wanna do something about that hair.

But if a Fancy Gal ever asked me who cut my hair, they got some mumbled deflection:

“Oh, a very lovely stylist who is actually quite a funny writer too, and a fellow Felicity fan, if you can believe it, but very reclusive and not taking on any other clients, nope nope…” 

At times I’ve considered home hairstyling a form of anti-capitalist resistance (read: I’m cheap) or a reflection of a DIY ethos (read: I’m a control fanatic). 

Ultimately, I just didn’t like paying someone $70 for an hour of “Any plans this summer?” and a hairstyle I hated. 

Until 6 days ago, when I dyed my hair green.

Not Billie Eilish green. Not Katy Perry green. More like…”the garburator is plugged and there’s a situation in the sink” green. Like, “sleep-deprived mom bought random brown dye at London Drugs without realizing it would make her look like brunette Beetlejuice” green. 

It’s subtle, but spinachy. I believe the official name is Home Hair-Dyeing Disasters Are Not a Myth GreenTM.

Luckily, I did this 20 hours before we’d booked professional family photos, so I had the distinct pleasure of spraying my entire head with a root touch-up product that gave my baby a contact spray tan. 

Cool, cool. 

Ashamed to take my Old Smoothie GreenTM hair to a stylist for help, I consulted the internet. 

The internet told me that the cure for my predicament was the same as the cure for overcooked chicken…

Beauty writers had tried this. Before/after shots exist on Google. So I dipped into my preschooler’s condiment stash and gooped up my locks under a tinfoil hat.

I waited. 

I ruminated. 

I read a rom com on my phone. 

Problem: I underestimated how gross it would be to saturate my hair in cold, fragrant ketchup. Even though one of the internet articles had mentioned it…I really can not overstate how viscerally gross it was. Like being fondled by a French fry.

Also, I’ve always thought of ketchup as being a pretty uniform emulsion—a smooth operator of the condiment world. 

Well, I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say: there is a lot of sediment in ketchup. For days I have found ketchup envoys in my bathtub and eyebrows. There is ketchup on my sweater. There is ketchup in my ears. 

French’s: Now With Enduring Tomato Globules!

The whole thing was a trying and humbling process, a malodorous process, but at least it worked.

Oh wait.


IT DID NOT WORK AT ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!

My ketchup dalliance accomplished no colour correction, and now I have Shrek Goes Mud WrestlingTM hair with bits of tomato in it.

I have witchy sediment hair. 

Combing pieces of tomato out of it this morning, while my children yelled for me from the other room, I thought, “This is really a low point.” 

Then I remembered the time I dyed my hair in a new apartment. My roommate had declined to tell me that they were doing construction on our block that day. I went to rinse in the shower.

Reader, no water came out.

I panicked. I scoured the apartment. Surely I would find some “in case of apocalypse” water jugs. Surely I would unearth a secret hot tub behind the couch. FFS, where was our emergency wishing well?!

In the end, I found a half-full kettle, a bedside water glass, and a spray bottle for misting plants. 

There are feasts and famines in home hairstyling. There are peaks and valleys. And maybe I’ll cave and get my hair professionally dyed now. Or maybe I’ll keep it swampish for the next couple months.

Either way, at least it’s not as bad as having to trudge home from Safeway in a shame-hat, carrying 20 pounds of water so I don’t have to dunk my head in the toilet.

Your baby is a Bagel Bite

14 Weeks Pregnant.
Source: Babylist (yes, this is a real image from an actual parenting website)

Previously the size of a plum, your fetus has taken a savory turn this week, weighing in at 1.5 ounces! A fine layer of hair (“lanugo”) now coats your baby like so much shredded cheese. Though baby’s skin is still translucent, tomato-red blood cells are forming in its spleen—zesty! Its heart is now the size (and shape!) of a bacon bit, and its head is pepperoni-esque, making up almost half its 3-inch length. Cold outside? Don’t you worry—your baby is Crazy-Bread warm in the oven of your womb. Mama Mia!

By week 18, we’ll check to make sure your baby is measuring at least two Pillsbury Pizza Pops, crown to rump. At this ultrasound, you’ll also be able to find out whether your baby has Three-Meat characteristics or Three-Cheese characteristics. Be sure to advise your ultrasound technician if you’d prefer to keep it a surprise! 

By week 24, your baby will be bulking up, sizing in at almost four Hostess Ding Dongs (imperial units: King Dons). After week 25, due to weight-vs-volume concerns, we’ll switch over to the McDonald’s Combo Obstetrical Scale (MCOS). In a few short months, you’ll be welcoming your bouncing Quarter Pounder—give or take seven or eight pounders. Don’t forget the Oreo McFlurry and french fries 😉 

A married couple reflects on Spotify’s Canadian 90s playlist

Drinking in L.A. – Bran Van 3000

N: Great song choice!

M: It’s a Spotify playlist!

It’s All Coming Back to Me Now by Celine Dion 

N: This is…a startling contrast to Bran Van 3000 

M: Has this song always had so much…jingle bell?

N: Have you seen the video? It’s all blowing-curtains-dead-motorcycle-boyfriend-lightning-strikes. Very dramatic 

M: I never realized this song was such a rock ballad 

N: It’s from Celine Dion’s “Meat Loaf period”

Note: Googling reveals that this song is SO Meat Loafy, and was so coveted by Meat Loaf himself, that the songwriter took Meat Loaf to court to prevent him from recording it!

O Siem by Susan Aglukark

N: In Grade 6, we had a music teacher who was an ex-Young Canadian. She made us all learn this song—with actions—and perform it in front of the Grade 7/8/9s 

Note: I later redeemed myself on that stage by performing a group dance routine to Limp Bizkit’s Rollin’ during the Grade 8 talent show 

When You’re Gone – Bryan Adams 

M: When are we going to hear a Sarah McLachlan song?

N: Surely there’s one on here. Which song do you think it will be?

M: Adia. It’s got to be Adia

N: My greatest blessing and curse in this life is that Adia is in my exact vocal range and I can sing it better than any other song

M: What is it even about?

N: Innocence?

M: [hums a few bars] 

N: Which professional sport would have a play called “The Adia”?

M: Soccer. Definitely soccer 

N: It’s when you think someone has fouled another player, but it turns out they are both innocent 

Squeeze Toy – Boomtang Boys

N and M: Why do I know all the words to this song?!

Spaceman – Bif Naked

N: (Says nothing, but privately remembers how she once saw Bif Naked and Moby in a teen magazine feature about vegan musicians and now, when either is mentioned, she can think nothing but flax pancakes, flax pancakes, flax pancakes)

M: My high school girlfriend was really into this song 

Wayne by Chantal Kreviazuk

M: I think this is the year of Chantal Kreviazuk

N: This year?

M: I bet she and Raine Maida have a nice life

N: Probably. Elder statesmen of CanCon

M: I would like to be the Raine Maida and Chantal Kreviazuk of our block

N: What would that even look like?  

M: Quiet confidence in what we’ve accomplished…and a sense of boldness for what comes next 

Toddler parenthood playlist

Let Her Cry – Hootie and the Blowfish

I Hear You Calling – Gob

We Will Rock You – Queen

Dirty Laundry – Don Henley

Dishes – Pulp

Crumbs – Cibo Matto

Spilled Milk Factory – Ugly Casanova

I Want to Hold Your Hand – The Beatles

I Never Sleep – Hot Little Rocket

2:45AM – Elliott Smith

5am (A Love Song) – Blue Rodeo

Puke + Cry – Dinosaur Jr.

Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed – David Bowie

Emotions – Brenda Lee

Attitude – Misfits

Change My Pants (I Don’t Wanna) – The Vandals

Naked, If I Want To – Cat Power

A-B-C – Hot Chip

Simon Says – Marnie Stern

With Arms Outstretched – Rilo Kiley

Lift Me Up – Moby

Down Is the New Up – Radiohead

I Don’t Always Know What You’re Saying – Ladyhawk

To Know Him Is to Love Him – Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris

Always Be My Baby – Mariah Carey

Outside, sitting still

My husband’s best friend once told me, “Nicole, you’re an indoor cat.” This was, perhaps, on our yearly Kananaskis camping excursion, as I applied my liquid leotard of SPF 50. Or it was, perhaps, on a winter trip to a rustic cabin, as I emerged from my sleeping-bag-pile/trauma-tolerance-cove to roast pizza pops on the wood stove.

All the outdoors appreciation in our family went to my sister. She is an outdoor guide. She knows how to identify a chanterelle and load a sea kayak. I once pulled a muscle while burning a CD. We have inverse relationships to nature. Every time she goes backcountry skiing, I lose a degree of my temperature tolerance.

There is one notable exception: I like walking. If the temperature was always between 18 and 21 degrees, I would probably walk indefinitely, until my hips gave out in front of a 7-Eleven somewhere, my iPod playing “Semi-Charmed Life” for the 200th time. Walking is great.

My husband is an outdoor cat. He loves to garden and hike. He’s had giardia. And, like him, many of our friends are outdoor cats. When they talk about hiking, I feel like an undercover martian trying to blend in with earthlings. “Yes, I too would like to meet at the JUTTING ROCK FORMATION and MOVE OUR FEET upon it! Did you bring the DELICIOUS ALMONDS?!” Hiking is not walking because there are too many hills. My husband once took me to hike Ha Ling Peak, a popular 90-minute incline in Canmore. I wept openly on the mountain face while eight-year-olds averted their eyes. Sometimes I feel like Cher Horowitz in a world full of Ron Swansons. God, I love the mall.

The thing is, now we exist in COVID-times. And the mall is open, but I probably shouldn’t hang out there. I miss my weekend walks through the mall. I miss the kiosk fellows who offered to straighten my hair. How are you, kiosk fellows? I’m sorry I never let you straighten my hair. I wish I was there, avoiding your gaze, drinking my latte in our air-conditioned womb.

In COVID-times, the safest way to visit people outside your cohort is to go on a walk/hike/bike ride, or to sit in their yard, six feet away from them. I don’t love to be outside, sitting still. The wind accosts my hair. The sun offends my husk. I’m not a monster; I can appreciate the pleasant views and bird-based sounds of the outdoors. But I can also feel all the neighbourhood’s spiders peeping at me from the grass, mapping their way from the ground to my mouth. (Feminist scholars call this “The Arachnid Gaze.”)

I miss my friends though, so I sit outdoors. Also, I have a child now. I never realized how much children need to be outdoors. My son isn’t allotted screentime yet, and even if he was, I don’t know that he’d choose to spend a +28 afternoon doing Sporcle quizzes and eating Whisps. He’s very into sticks. The finding of, the chewing of. Great to hold, painful to eat! (Also a shelved 90s slogan for Freezies). I take him to the park, because his joy is resplendent, but he once handed me a live beetle like it was a key to the city.

Even my son, a certified dirt-eater, seems to miss novel indoor environments. With the exception of our house (where we have spent ALL THE TIME these last five months), he hasn’t been seeing many walled spaces. When his grandparents joined our cohort in May, he was so excited to circumnavigate their living room. He romped around, awestruck by every drawer and vase. I think I saw him ask for their coffee table’s autograph.

I miss my friends’ living rooms. I miss sitting at Starbucks. I miss meandering, 40-minute perusals of my grocery store’s dried beef offerings. While watching TV, I marvel at the ease with which pre-COVID characters do unthinkable things. In Episode 2 of Modern Family, Phil Dunphy helps a locked-out neighbour into her house by hoisting himself through her bedroom window. I felt so stressed watching that. Like, “DUDE, YOU’RE GONNA GET COVID!! WHY NOT JUST HOIST YOURSELF RIGHT INTO A VENTILATOR?!”

But these are the breaks, for now. We are all outside, sitting still. We are waiting to go back indoors. And one day, in some bright future, we will go into our friends’ homes and use their bathrooms. It will be amazing. Some of them will have Charmin.

The nap-friendly neighbourhood

Hi there neighbours. You might have seen me around. I’m the haggard new mom who pushes her baby in a stroller for 3 hours a day. Maybe you’ve seen us and thought “Isn’t that nice — they’re enjoying the outdoors together!” Neighbours, you are wrong! I hate the outdoors. My baby hates the outdoors. We are both so tired and sweaty. But here we are, strolling back and forth across this shaded patch of sidewalk, because otherwise the baby won’t nap. 

To improve the length and quality of the baby’s naps, I have a few requests. I know these may be inconvenient, but please remember that it takes a village to raise a child. A VERY QUIET village that never shouts and owns only passive, voiceless dogs. 

Request 1: Please refrain from using car horns, weed whackers, and rotary saws as I walk by 

Request 2: If you are passing me as part of a pod of 12 bicycles, please only have the first person ring their bell, instead of all 12 of you ringing your bell and/or screaming “Howdy!” straight into the stroller as you pass

Request 3: Please point all sprinklers away from the sidewalk. Sprinklers being used to water 50-foot-tall mature spruces could even be turned off!

Request 4: Please smash all outdoor speakers, especially those playing CCR

Request 5: Please sign my petition to ban outdoor whistling

Request 6: Please ask your children not to laugh during daylight hours

Request 7: Please round up and re-home all neighbourhood magpies

Request 8: Please round up and re-home all neighbourhood motorcycles

Request 9: Please refrain from calling 911 (OR reprogram all sirens to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”)

Request 10: Please reroute all airplanes 

Request 11: Please neutralize the wind 

Request 12: Please give me a back massage 

Convenient superpowers for new parents

For those who don’t know, I had a baby five months ago. He’s SO cute and SO charming and I’m very lucky to have him. Fuck, though, babies are hard work. One of my friends described parenthood as “being hit by a train,” and reader, that is apt. The parenthood train is made of love and powered by poop. Sometimes, in the wake of the collision, you will eat Tim Tams for dinner. You will not always be sure whether you’re awake or dreaming, but in both states, you’ll be singing “Wheels on the Bus.” One night, you’ll wake up so tired that you’ll mistake your husband for the baby and wonder how the baby crawled into bed beside you. And why he’s wearing a Japandroids t-shirt. 

I don’t subscribe to the belief that raising a baby is harder or more noble than anything else a person can possibly do. But it is quite taxing, and it would be nice if parents had the abilities below!

Telepathy — So you can instantly know that your baby will only sleep if you lift his legs at a 35-degree angle and sing “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac over and over

Ability to instantly diagnose medical concerns — So you can determine whether the clear fluid in your baby’s ear is the result of undetected head trauma or recent urination into own ear

Telekinesis — So you can summon your phone or book from the coffee table and not have to spend two hours silently re-watching Clueless in your head/trying to name all the countries in the world/reflecting on all the dogs you’ve ever known/drawing a portrait of the baby on a reachable takeout menu because the baby is napping on your chest and you don’t want to wake him

Super strength — So you can swing your 16lb baby in his 10lb car seat (aerobically equivalent to dancing the waltz with a mini fridge)

Time travel — So you can go back to your pre-baby life and binge watch The Sopranos

Ability to function without sleep — Nuff said

Ability to function without food — Nuff said 

Cloaking device — So you can hide when a deer climbs your front steps and sees you breastfeeding (really happened — we made eye contact) 

A few alternatives

Recently, I reached my third trimester of pregnancy. For those unfamiliar, this is the “hard to put on socks” trimester. When I wear horizontal stripes, my stomach looks like a basketball in sailing attire. As a result, the number of unsolicited remarks about my body has increased ten-fold.

All pregnant women (as unique human beings!) will have their own comfort level re: touch and commentary. Some folks may even enjoy the actions/phrases below. Others, like me, will wish for restraint from strangers, but will give a free pass for close family and friends. When in doubt, ask permission. And take a moment to consider your motivations. Pregnant women are real people. Real, live people with half-baked aliens doing Zumba on their organs. Be kind.

Instead of saying “OH MY GAWD, you’re HUGE!”

Say nothing. Drive straight to the pet store. Look for the most pregnant gerbil you can find. In the absence of a pregnant gerbil, find a nice, healthy chinchilla. Lean close to this animal and tell it everything you think about its body. Describe its belly in poetic detail. Chant “Womb! Womb! Womb!” Wave your hands over the animal, air-tracing its various curves. Stay until security throws you out.

Instead of touching her belly

Touch your belly. You never quite mastered that “rub your belly and pat your head” thing, did you? Now is perfect the time. Practice while walking quietly backwards, away from the pregnant woman.

Instead of telling her how terrible her life will be the second she gives birth, and how birth will annihilate her body, and how she’s made a horrible mistake, and Jesus Christ, you would know, as a mother yourself, but at least her heart will be filled with love, I guess

Do some quiet journaling about the things in your life that have disappointed you.

Instead of staring at her belly for two full minutes, your mouth slightly ajar

Actually, keep doing this. Embrace the peculiar hypnosis that has made your jaw go slack. Focus extra hard on the belly button area; purr the word “outie” like a mantra. Before ascending to the astral plane, accept the pregnant woman’s suggestion that you should reach into your bag and give her all your cash and granola bars. Thanks!

Instead of saying “Someone’s ready to pop!”

“What are your thoughts on Buffy season 5?”