Peeling The Onion

By: Talyn Terzian-Gilmour


I wish I had a “mental camera”, like Jim and Pam on ‘The Office’ (one of my all time favourite shows and an absolute masterpiece in ensemble writing) so I could take a snapshot of those moments which I know I’ll want to recall for all time.  This is particularly true for me since I unexpectedly lost my beloved aunt Susan.

My “Shoushig Horkour” was a pure, beautiful soul.  While she was tall, and with a commanding stature, she was very kind and generous – just like my father.  Only, unlike him, she was also extremely in touch with her emotions.  To know her, or to be in her presence, meant that you were going to be exposed to an absolute range:  from her boisterous belly laughs, to her stern berates of her beloved parakeet, Sammy, to her Niagara Falls worthy tears borne from joy, sadness or whatever – typically because she would once again, be leaving us, her brothers and her nieces, to go back home.

As a child, she fascinated me.  Her down-to-earth and extremely sweet nature was in stark contrast to my mother’s cosmopolitan elegance.  And she stuttered…which made her even more endearing.  I understood from my father that this very slight stutter of hers came about while she was just a young girl, and as a result of the inconsequential actions of a spider who found a soft landing in her lap.  She was startled into a stutter.  I shudder to think what that spider may have looked like…though knowing my aunt, and her big, huge heart, she probably gave it way too much importance to the detriment of herself.  Interestingly, the almost 9 year old and her must be cosmically connected given his almost total, irrational fear of spiders also!  Only in his case, his big heart is buried much, much deeper!

Some of us, like my aunt Shoushig, wear our emotions on our exterior, like clothes – we leave nothing to your imagination.  As much as I want to maintain a cool, elegant and dignified exterior like my mother and sister, I’m afraid I will forever be that “open book”:  what you see is what you most definitely get.  Perhaps that’s why I have such a fascination with poker players and international spies…

Mr. Niceguy, in a way, is my complete opposite.  I guess we inevitably end up balancing ourselves out – perhaps for the good of our species or to ensure the survival of the human race???  Who knows…

Mr. Niceguy is more like a sweet Maui onion (Aloha!), that you have to, sometimes painstakingly, peel away, layer upon layer, and fight through the tears stinging your eyes, just to get to the centre where true emotions live.  It seems that as the mother of two boys, I am completely surrounded by Maui onions…and as they get older, they develop even more layers and I know my eyes will water and tear ever more as I try to get to the bottom of things.

Yet, I believe the universe, or God, has mercy on me.  I can say this because every now and then, that onion peels without any effort.  And it’s absolutely glorious to watch:  like a symphony of fireworks (not just those cheap, convenient store, backyard roman candles).  Like when we go through the Tim Horton’s drive thru and Mr. Niceguy’s stuck ordering for our family, notorious for changing our order at least 45 times, and the sheer embarrassment of having to apologize for inconveniencing the drive thru operator again and again sets him on fire, just like a firework, and we see a true expression of emotion!

More often then not, though, I’m peeling, and crying.

Take my mom-friends who tell me that their children give them a full recap of their day complete with their feelings.  Oh the envy!  They’re connecting and truly relating:  “Hi mom!  You know we did a lot of work today and I made this drawing of our house – look that’s you and me shoveling the snow! I have math homework pages 24 to 26 for tomorrow, and Alex said that I’m a fart face so I told the teacher instead of calling him names, just like you said, and my friends and I are working on a new comic book.”  Utopic. 

For me, the reality of living with my sweet maui onions goes a little more like this:

Me:  “Hey boys!  How’d it go today?”

Boys: ***GRUNT***

Me:  “Anything interesting happen?  Who’d you have lunch with today?  That boy Johnny seemed nice.  What about him?  Or Michael?”

Boys:  “Hmmmpppphhhh.”  *Big shoulder shrug*

Me:  “Are you going to tell me anything?  How am I supposed to know if you’re ok?  Arrgg!!  Well, do you have any homework?”

Boys:  “I dunno…why’d you make us go to school today?!  It was so cold and snowy and so many kids got to stay at home.”

Me:  “What?!  Why on earth would you skip school?  I pay good money to get you an education!  You know, I walked, WALKED to the subway every day to go to work, even when I was pregnant with you two, in the cold and the sleet to earn the money to pay for these schools.  And now I’m even helping them to raise money to make sure that you get the best teachers and best opportunities!  Now WHAT DO YOU HAVE FOR HOMEWORK?”

Boys: “Hrrrmmmpph.  I can’t remember.”

Me:  “Seriously??!  You CAN’T remember??  How do you NOT know?  Were you NOT there for the past 7 hours!?  I wasn’t there!  I don’t know what’s going on!  You guys are practically teenagers!!  You have to tell me these things!  How will we stay connected???  What’s going to happen to your futures – especially if you don’t keep track of your responsibilities???  WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO????  Text the other moms to find out what you have for homework?!!!”

Boys:  “Ya.  Could you?  Oh, and can I have a playdate with…”

Maybe I’m much more like my aunt than I thought…open, emotional though perhaps with the added sting of onion myself.  A nice mix.  After all, Mr. Niceguy’s grandfather said it best, “If it doesn’t taste right, add another onion…”  Keep relating, keep at it, and keep making those connections…they may be gone before you know it.

Also…I mentioned above that I’m helping to raise money for my boy’s school:  ARS Armenian Private School.  This year is the school’s 40th anniversary.  For 40 years this school has related the centuries-old Armenian history, language, music and culture to our children all while preparing them for their futures here, in Canada.  Please show your support.  Go to and click DONATE.  Thank you!