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Aug. 9, 2022

Leah McLaren: A Mother Of A Story

Going There. She moved to London, but boy, she’s still writing. Leah McLaren talks to us about her new book ”Where You End and I Begin”. About her writer mom, family commitments, being weird (aren’t we all?) and “whatever happened to that fucking guy?” Ya, that one, who may have started it all in a barn when her mom was 12.

Maureen cracks a few narcissist jokes. Leah is not sure they apply.

Leah McLaren is a writer now based in London. She started off as a columnist for the Globe and Mail, where she was like a Canadian Carrie Bradshaw, writing about sex and other fixations in the big city. She now writes for Macleans, the Toronto Star and a bunch of U.K. papers.

After years of trauma, drama, and lots of love she has written a book about her and her mom. Where You End and I Begin. We wonder what mom thinks! Is it true that “commitment sucks the life out of you”? There are also tales about never trusting anyone to tell your story, especially a journalist.

Sign up for Leah's Newsletter here. https://leahmclaren.substack.com/p/how-to-write-your-life-without-losing

We love writing and would love for you to read what we write. Sign Up for our Substack Newsletter.

We also want to thank everyone at Schneider & Pollack Wealth Management for making this podcast possible.

If you would like to support the show, we do have partner opportunities available. Please email Wendy and Maureen at womenofir@gmail.com


Voiceover 00:00:02
The women of Ill repute with your hosts. Wendy Mesley and Maureen Holloway. 

Maureen Holloway 00:00:02
Wendy, why did the narcissist cross the road?

Wendy Mesley 00:00:10
Oh, boy. Why?

Maureen Holloway 00:00:13
She thought it was your boundaries.

Wendy Mesley 00:00:16
As in cross boundary. Okay.

Maureen Holloway 00:00:18
Wait, you have another one. What are the narcissistic cows? Say what?

Wendy Mesley 00:00:22
Me? I suspect there might be more.

Maureen Holloway 00:00:28
Yes, there is.

Wendy Mesley 00:00:29
There is.

Maureen Holloway 00:00:29
A narcissist walks into a bar and what happens when the rest of the joke doesn't matter? That's it.

Wendy Mesley 00:00:36
So I guess here we go. Our topic today, you may have guessed, is narcissism. Specifically being a narcissistic parent, and even more specifically, being the child of a.

Maureen Holloway 00:00:47
Narcissistic parent, but also being able to write about it brilliantly, fearlessly, and even with humor, if you can find it.

Wendy Mesley 00:00:55
Yeah. So you might have figured this out. Our guest today is Liam McLaren. She is a Canadian author and journalist. Kind of famous, if you remember Mall back, I don't know, 20 years ago. Almost 30 years ago. 20 years ago, I guess. She was writing for the Globe and she was writing all this personal stuff.

Maureen Holloway 00:01:12
I read her faithfully, religiously even. Yeah.

Wendy Mesley 00:01:15
So she's been writing personal journalism, which when she started was like, oh my God, all the old boys were like, harem harum. Meanwhile, guys were writing about their hemorrhoids and stuff. So she's been a regular columnist for the Global Mail. Her writings appeared everywhere from Shadowing to McLeans. Times of London. She now lives in London. She has a bunch of boys. We can talk about that.

Maureen Holloway 00:01:35
You mean children?

Wendy Mesley 00:01:36
Yeah.As in children? Yes. She's actually given birth to them and she thinks she actually wrote that they are the most beautiful children in the world. So we'll have to argue about that.

Maureen Holloway 00:01:46
Oh, my children and your children are the most beautiful.

Wendy Mesley 00:01:50
I think she's on the line. Anyway, go ahead, because there's more.

Maureen Holloway 00:01:53
Well, Lea has written a book, and it is her third book, and it's called Where You End and I Begin. And it is about her relationship with her mother, Cecily Ross, who is also a writer. And when Cecily was a child, and I mean a child like twelve or 13 years old, she was coerced into a sexual relationship with a man, a horse riding instructor who worked for her father. And by coerced, I mean raped, she was a child. This relationship with the horseman, as he's called in the book, went on for several years and had an overarching effect on Ross's life, including and especially her relationship with Leah.

Wendy Mesley 00:02:27
Yeah, and they've been fighting over who would tell that story and how the story would be told. I've sort of been hearing about this in the ether because the mum is a writer and kind of famous, too. So anyway, Leah has now written a rather telling book about the whole thing.

Maureen Holloway 00:02:41
Well, it's sensational. And I got to tell you, Wendy, the truth is this story is so familiar, I want to send copies to all my friends and relations because Lee has essentially written a story I'm afraid to write myself. And there is no horsemen in my mother's life. But there were deep secrets and her style of parenting, if you want to call it that, evolved in much the same way.

Wendy Mesley 00:03:01
Yeah, you have a lot of secrets. I don't know whether you're going to tell them all, but a lot of them are about mothers today.

Maureen Holloway 00:03:07
It's about Leah.

Wendy Mesley 00:03:08
My mom was a piece of work too, but she loved me. The real difference was that she loved me, obviously, and I was an only child and so therefore I'm amazing. My mom told me I was amazing, so I must be amazing. And I recently wrote a piece about her just recently in the Globe, actually, where Leo used to work, about being raised by a woman of ill reviewed. And anyway, there were some secrets that I didn't feel comfortable sharing at CBC. But we want to hear about Leah's story.

Maureen Holloway 00:03:36
Yes, enough about us. Let's talk more about us. Leah Clarence joins us next.

Wendy Mesley 00:03:48
Leah, how are you?

Leah 00:03:50
Hello. I'm good. How are you guys?

Maureen Holloway 00:03:52

Wendy Mesley 00:03:53
You're in London with the beautiful boys and beautiful husband.

Leah 00:03:56
Yeah, I am. He is a boy, last time I checked.

Wendy Mesley 00:03:59
It's a social construct, gender, the whole personal journalism thing. Like you've been writing I don't know, you've been writing about trends and women's issues and big political issues and big news stuff and also stuff very personal stuff, which was sort of new. And it just seems, I don't know, I guess I shouldn't talk, but it seems that everybody these days is kind of like spilling the beans about family and like your family's particular. Interesting. But what's going on? Why is everybody talking these days?

Leah 00:04:30
I think the internet started that just to get my column, which was how I started. It's funny to look back on those years and the amount of pushback I got. But also it was just an amazing opportunity. Actually, one of my first readers of the book was an old mentor of mine who's now like news director at CBC. And she said to me she loves the book, but she said, I think you were too easy on us, all of us, like in management of the globe because we really like, commodified you, you and all the young ones. And I said, yeah, but you also gave me a career and taught me how to write and like five minute seminars that taught me more than journalism school ever would have had I attended. So I don't know. But it was a weird time because there was no social media. I'd go in on Monday and my inbox would just be like full, just brimming and it would just be like hate after hate because there was no way to hate someone in the public eyeball without hating them directly. So in a way, I think social media for some people who are in that kind of woman of illegal public eye. I don't know why people just don't stop looking at it. Like, just don't look at it. Your email inbox, though, is hard to look at. They used to put our remember our global email addresses at the bottom of the column disaster. And we were meant to respond to all the readers and it would be like, you filthy girl, I want to do X, Y and Z. Thank you very much. Please don't drop your subscription.

Maureen Holloway 00:06:08
It's weird, but that has not stopped you. That has never stopped you doing what, wendy Paul's personal journalism, which everybody seems to be doing right now through social media. You're coming through a more formal channel now with this book, but you've always been fearless and you've always been open despite the negative pushback. But you've also had positive pushback as well. You've had fan girls like me, but you've never hesitated to share. This new book is definitely going over the edge, but you have always been wide open and I wonder your fearlessness, is that what it is or you just don't care?

Leah 00:06:41
Well, no, actually, I mean, the column was very much a specific mandate. One of the editors of the Globe, a guy called Richard Abbas, brought in a Brit for when it was a newspaper war. I remember he said, I just want this call it's like a Girl About Town column. Just talk about your friends and the stuff you do. And it was personal, but it was very much meant to be kind of arch and funny and in fact, I used to call it the Japanese fandant show all reveal nothing. Because I really actually didn't put a lot of my real feelings or what was going on in my intimate life. It was meant to sort of entertain and amuse and hopefully enlighten from time to time. And then after that I spend a lot of time. I've done a lot of long form journalism and actually quite a bit of investigative journalism for magazines like McClain's and Toronto Life. And that's a very different kind of hat that you wear when you do that because it has nothing to do with me. It's just about getting the documents and landing the interviews and stuff like that. So I find it totally fascinating, though, because it's storytelling. And also I've written fiction, so I've written two novels as well. So this book where you end and I begin the book with the long title, I feel like it sort of rolls all of those skill sets together. And it was actually a book that I didn't mean to write. It was born as a collaboration between me and my mother. From conversations we had postmetwo when, frankly, a lot of women who had been abused or harassed or whatever were thieving about it, as we know, but also wanted to find out, like, what happened to that teacher who felt me up in the cloakroom in grade five. I want to find out what happened to that fucking guy. In my mother's case, it was really a pretty terrible story that marred an otherwise quite lovely and affluent horsey idyllic kind of childhood. So we embarked on this kind of investigation. I thought it was going to be like, I'm the investigative journalist, and I'm going to find out what happened to this guy as a kind of act of devotion for my mum. But what I forgot is that I have a really complicated relationship with my mom, which is both intensely close and at times very emotionally enmeshed in my childhood and my adolescence particularly. And since I've had children, it's become very fraught, because what happens when you have children, or at least it happened to me, is that all of your parenting instincts are based on kind of what happened to you. And mostly what happened to most of us had to do with what our mother did, because my parents had a pretty tradition al marriage. Like, my dad was around, but he was a traveling furniture salesman, and my mum was a stay at home mum. And later, I went to live with her as a single mum in the city. So she was so formative, and I started to get angry and upset because I realized a lot of my instincts were just quite weird and maybe not the best thing for my kids. So we embarked on this book, and then, I don't know, we had some fight over whether or not she was going to pick me up at the airport. You know how arguments with your mother start? Just like how arguments with your husband or anyone start? It's just like, what did that start over, anyway? And it ended up she sort of said, well, I'm not going to do this. I don't want to do this. And I had been for six, eight months by that time, writing a proposal. And I went to my agent, who I think was about to send it out, and I said, I have a problem. And my agent said, Just keep writing. Just keep writing and see what comes out, because I think there is a book here. I just think it's maybe not about the horsemen. I think it's about you and your mother. And I was so pissed off that my mother had sort of pulled out that I thought, yeah, fuck it. I'm just going to keep writing. And I did. And then what came of it was this book. So it's not the story of the horsemen. It's not about the story of my mother's abuse. It's about the story of the story. It's about what victim narratives and narratives of trauma mean to families and the powers that they actually wield and the question of the very live and thorny question of who owns them. You know, that term like her story to tell, like when someone says to you, oh, what's going on with Linda? Oh, that's her story to tell. That really irritates me.

Maureen Holloway 00:11:25
Especially still around.

Leah 00:11:27
She still is. She's totally alive and listening to this.

Wendy Mesley 00:11:31
Well, we can get into that in a SEC, but I just wanted to give our audience a sense of like, your mum was fascinating. She's a great writer, she was ruthless, but writing all of these great stories and the life that you had together at Vulgari, for example, was like, just this magical place. You grew up with this magical mom and this magical place, but she was also kind of a shitty mom, right? Like, when you moved in with her, she put up on the fridge. Commitment sucks the life right out of you. This is our family motto. I mean, that's nuts. And when you told her that you were going to write this book, she was like, I feel violated. How dare you tell this story? She killed your hamster. She was like, she's not like a.

Leah 00:12:13
Yeah, she was like, your mother was a pet killer.

Maureen Holloway 00:12:16
She killed your hamster. My mother killed my hamster, too. And my cats. My mother was all the things that your mother is like, literally, you've written the book that now I don't have to. The thing is, she loves you. Your mother loves you.

Leah 00:12:29
Yeah. And I would say, Wendy, I don't think she was a shitty mom, and that's not what this book is about. And actually, I wouldn't use the term narcissist, or if I did, I would say probably we might both have some narcissistic tendencies, which I think is true of, like, 99.99% of writers, particularly my writers of memoir. Because, I mean, frankly, who does that for a living? Like, my sister's a civil servant, and she's just like, Why is this your job? I work in Health Canada and I'm like, yeah, and I don't even get a pension. So I would say, though, my mom, she's just a very complicated person and she's very funny, and the commitment sucks the life right out of you. Motto. It was a joke. Like, we actually found it funny, and then I began to find it less funny. But sometimes I still actually find it funny because it's actually kind of true. When you have kids, you realize, oh, my God, this is so hard.

Wendy Mesley 00:13:33
Has she read your book?

Leah 00:13:35
Yes, she has an early draft, and I think she has it's fair to say she has mixed feelings. I mean, my mom is mixed to negative, but my mom is very mercurial. Her feelings on things change, as do many of ours, and our relationship is just an ongoing, complicated negotiation. I will always love her and care about her and have her voice in my head. That's the other thing about your mother. She's right there that will never leave. And I think she would say the same of me. So it's a painful sort of book. But the book I don't want to sound precious, but I really did feel like I couldn't not write it. It just sort of came out of me. And I've never felt that way about anything. Not a column, not a magazine piece, not a novel. I've never had that feeling before. I felt terrified of it. Just terrified. Because, really, to write honestly about a very complicated and formative relationship with someone who is quite a quirky, flawed, but loving person is really hard because mostly when we write about our parents, most memoirs I find, or personal nonfiction, when it deals with mothers, the mothers are either Mommy Dearest, like The Glass Castle. I don't know if you've read that book, but there's a whole genre of horrendous mother books because it's fascinating, right? But there's also a whole genre of perfect mother books. And this is kind of the problem with being a mother or having a mother is that most mothers are just neither. And my mom was I actually would not change for all of my complicated feelings about my mother, I would not change anything about my childhood. I really do feel like she completely made me I was so weirdly confident in my late teens, I would just talk to my friends mothers as if they were human beings, which they are. And that gave me a huge advantage in university. And then in my 20s, working at the Globe, I didn't see grownups as different for me. I was totally unintimidated by adults, particularly adult women. And also she taught me to read and she taught me to write and she taught me to think.

Wendy Mesley 00:15:58
You're an unusual child, and you've obviously inherited some really wonderful things from your mum. I guess it's just like Maureen grew up in a more complicated family, shall we say, and my mom raised me on her own. So I mean, that was complicated back in 1000 years ago. She writes about how she loved you, but that she never should have been a mom. You write about how you spent so many years seeking to love her, but not and sometimes failing. It must have been really hard. I mean, it must have been wonderful too, at 13, to be able to jump out the window and go and do drugs and play around with your friends and have your mom not care. But I guess I don't know, I guess maybe it's just this old idea that mothers should be there to protect you and you turned out fine, but maybe you wouldn't have definitely.

Leah 00:16:45
No, definitely. She had failings, for sure, and she would be the first to admit that. But in a weird way, what the book is about is that she always said, and it's a repeated mantra in the book, it's your life. I would like to also say she was very much of her time. Like, I was recently talking to Sarah Pali, who I went to high school with who has written a memoir and in it, a lot of it's about her dad. Her dad who brought her up, who she identifies as her dad. And he was kind of a similar character. Like, her mom died, he fell apart. They'd sit around smoking together and talking about poetry and politics and she was like an actor. It's a weird relationship, but it was part of a lot of boomer. Parents were like that. The view on kids at that time was like, grownups just have to follow their own journey of personal happiness and kids will figure it out. And also, the best thing you can do for your kids is treat them like fully formed people, kind of like adults. So I think the way I was brought up was not that unusual in a certain time and place, like, among educated bohemian, media, artsy people in downtown Toronto. I have a lot of friends who had very similar childhood, and now, of course, I'm bringing up my kids in a time when it could not be more different, right? Like, everything is so swung the other way. And I actually have a lot of issues with that. The fact that my kids are so protected and everyone's so terrified to let their kids go to the shop to buy something. But they're allowed to have a smartphone at eleven because, what, the Internet won't hurt them? I don't know, but at least you know where they are, you can track them. But my mother's, the whole it's your life thing, I was actually a really good guinea pig for that because I kind of took it seriously and it gave me a huge amount of drive. I don't think she intended it this way. I think that was just her instinct and partly it was selfish. She just didn't have the emotional resources. She left my dad and me and my sister, and I think she never expected to actually have to parent full time again when she moved to the city. But I was so in love with her that I just followed her. I figured out a way to get into this drama school. She couldn't say no. How could she say no? I was her daughter. So I think she was a bit like, oh, my God, my whole Terry Bradshaw thing. You're really putting a cramp in my style here, kids. And so the deal was like, all right, you can be here, but we've just got to be best friends. I'm not doing any of this. Can I see your report card? She never went to parent teacher meetings. She did come to see my place, but she just wasn't into that. She was into me and I was into her, but she wasn't like a cool mum who's like, have your friends over, let's party. But she was more like, Come party with my friends. But it really worked for me in a fucked up way, because it was dangerous, like, I was feral. But towards the end of high school, I pulled up my marks. I applied to university. Off I went. That's another reason I wouldn't change it. Often I was just the right kid, or it's just by accident. I sort of turned out okay. Although that's yet to be proven. You might argue with that.

Wendy Mesley 00:20:14
Yeah, we'll see what people say.

Maureen Holloway 00:20:17
Look how you turned out. We're still turning we're still turning the juries out until we're gone. The women of ill repute. I don't want to dwell on the horsemen, because that, as it turned out, was just a launching point for the bigger project. But I'm interested. That is the lurid hook, and that is what brought you and your mother together to do this project. Then, of course, he went on to do it as a memoir of your own. But I wonder this was an ongoing relationship that she had as a child with a much older man, and he's dead now, and there's no justice to be had in that sense. But I wonder how much she, and therefore you are a product of trauma. And I can't believe I'm going to quote Ally McBeal now, but often our problems define us. They make us who we are. And I wonder to what extent that has shaped the type of person and the type of parent your mother became and onto you.

Leah 00:21:13
Well, you can't prove a counterfactual, so it's impossible to know. And that's the thing about trauma, which I think exists in almost every woman's life, and it's certainly within every family. Somewhere there's something, but you can't really prove its effect on you. But one of the offshoots of trauma for me that I'm very interested in is it really affects the stories we tell, like, whether we choose to talk about it and if we do choose to talk about it, to what ends and in what way. And then what happens to those trauma narratives, like, how do they define us, and what sort of power do they wield between us? So it's kind of like a thing about victim narratives. I have very complicated feelings about victim narratives because on the one hand, they can be just fantastically cathartic, and obviously, women and victims should be encouraged to tell their stories. But once you become a victim, like a public, like an out victim, what do you get if you don't get justice? Like, what does it absolve you of? Nothing or something? Do you get to say, well, I did that because that happened to me, and there was a real threat of that, I think, running through my parenting. There was also just lack of boundaries, but lack of boundaries, which I definitely was brought up with. Now, it could just be genetic, right? Many members of my family have boundary problems, but I think ultimately, we have to be accountable, even if we are victims, which we all are. To some degree. And I also think I don't buy the whole idea that trauma or stories or voices or anything can really be appropriate. I think the whole point of stories are that they are shared. Secrets are something that are not shared, and they are ring fence. But stories, by their very definitions, are shared. They're like cultures, they're like families, they're like countries. They're a thing that exists between other people, and they are very powerful and sometimes dangerous, and people will fight to the death over them.

Wendy Mesley 00:23:29
Well, that sort of brings me back to what you were talking about a few minutes ago, which is your mum at some point saying, I'm not writing this book with you, or not tracking down the Horsemen. And you were like, no, I'm going to keep writing. But she was insisting. I think she even wrote an article saying, this story is mine and I don't trust you. I feel violated. This is my story. It kind of overlaps, I suppose, with, I have a lot of friends, obviously, are journalists and writers, and they're ruthless. It's all about the story, and yet there's people in the middle. So, like, who does own a story?

Leah 00:24:00
That's a very interesting thing you say, Wendy, because I think about that a lot, the way journalists will say, It's my story. Like, don't think about my story. It's a real thing in a newsroom of, like, who owns the story? But of course journalists want to own a story just to tell it first so everybody can have it, right? That's the point, is to disseminate it. And it's kind of true. My mother and I are both journalists and novelists, and it's like a little newsroom in her family, like, hey, that's my story. But I think also, of course, it happened to my mother. It was her lived experience, and that does change it. But the truth is, too, she published that piece, and I was in the middle of recasting the book to just be about me and my mom, and I couldn't write at that point about the abuse at all. But when she wrote that piece, she had talked openly about it before. She was very public about it, but then it was permission to me. I know she didn't intend it that way. She said, and this is in the book, she was just trying to get ahead of the story. Such a journalist idea, get control of the narrative. But for me, it was like, oh, you're not Anonymous. You're not Jane Doe anymore. Now I can I know that sounds just ruthless, but I don't know if you, Wendy, if you have ever done stories on, like, sexual assault or sex crimes, the victim has to talk first until the victim talks, like, literally, you are legally bound. And actually part of the book, as you know, maybe I'm not explaining this to the listener, but it's part of the book is about the writing of the book. So it sort of moves back and forth in time between my childhood and then my struggle to write the book. I think I make it sound too I make it sound too meta when I describe it that way.

Maureen Holloway 00:25:48
No, I just want to jump in here and say, you can't put it down. This is a very accessible story, and it's like, even though it starts off with oh, my God, it's also very funny and very warm. And I just loved it. I think it was one of the better reads, and I think you're going to have a huge response. People might pick it up for one reason, but they'll put it down feeling quite differently, I think. So I want to ask you about writing memoirs. My mother died two years ago. So did Wendy's. They died within two weeks of each other. We have so many parallels in our life. It's crazy. I know. That's just the tip of the iceberg. Well, that's okay. I'm not about my mother.

Leah 00:26:26
Oh, my gosh.

Maureen Holloway 00:26:27
It was a huge relief. But I've got stories I want to tell, and I'm a writer, and I want to be able to tell them, but I have siblings, and one of the first things I was waiting for my mother, because my mother's story isn't shameful. It's just that she kept it so secret. She thought it was shameful. But I want to air it out. But my siblings and some friends, they may never speak to me again. And I wonder if you had any sense of that yourself. I mean, it's not just your mother. It's your father's involved in this, your sister, your friends. I'm assuming you changed some of their names.

Leah 00:26:59
Yeah, some people. It's fascinating the difference in responses. Like, some people were just horrified. And I have very good friends who are like, what is your book about? But I would hope that when they read it, they can kind of grasp it because it's kind of hard to even talk about what it's about without making it sound sort of awful. But then other people, like my dad, he was just like, write your book, write your book. He's a very straightforward guy, not in a kind of cheerleading way. And it did upset him when he read it, and he found it painful, and he phoned me up after a couple of rum and Cokes and shouted and was like, not in an in a sort of I would say, Maureen, that write about it. Tell the story, but be accountable, because you are going to it's not nothing, and there's a reason people don't talk about these things. I just felt like I couldn't not I'm not saying and I won't try to defend it and say it was the morally right thing to do, or I was trying to connect with other people who have similar issues. I just was totally compelled and terrified and. I was at a point in my life where I didn't even know who I was or what my career was or what I was supposed to do next. And all I know is, as a writer, when your body and your mind and your laptop is saying, sit down and write, you sit down and write. Because you don't get that feeling very often in my experience as a writer. So I don't know, it really is hugely disruptive. Like, writing memoir, honestly, is the practice that will not only put your story out there, it will affect your story with your siblings, with your friends, with yourself. And so, I don't know, like my mom mentions it in the book to me, she says, the last volume of Nauscar's book he wrote, this series of autofiction my Struggle, and is all about how totally fucked up his life is now that he's become a famous writer writing about his life. I mean, ask anyone who writes that kind of fiction. Also, the kind of memoir that it is, it's not a work of journalism. It's not just the facts, Ma'am. It is. Memoir is remembered history. So it's not an empirical truth. It's a remembered truth. So as a writer, as a storyteller, I'm very aware of the fact that I could have written ten different memoirs about my childhood without changing a single fact. Right? And it's really just about how you frame it and how you remember it and feel it.

Maureen Holloway 00:29:38
It's not the story. It's she who tells it. And also the way that she tells it.

Wendy Mesley 00:29:42
I was really struck by at the beginning, when you were a kid, at the beginning, and I was sort of shocked at her revelations about how motherhood was such a burden because I'm a mother and I'm madly in love with my kids, and my mom was madly in love with me. So it was all like, oh, my God. And then I was, like, jealous that your mom was so interesting. Is so interesting. But there was this sort of battle going on in you, in the book at the beginning about, is she an asshole or do I just love her and admire her for all of her good things? And then at the end, you sort of say, well, I love you, and let's just work this out, and we need to be kinder to each other. And I just thought it was like, it isn't just telling a story. It is coming to terms with the whole with life, although your life. And you're right. At some point, I think all of us have this experience of, oh, my God, I'm becoming my mother. Oh, horrors. But you have a nanny, and you grew up in a different era where you didn't have to marry your high school sweetheart. And not that she had to, but people just feel different pressures, and you have other supports, and you can have a career and you have this loving family and you've worked shit out with your mum like, you're kind of lucky.

Leah 00:30:51
No, I am so much luckier than her and have had so many opportunities were afforded me that she didn't have. She felt pressures that I can't imagine to conform to a kind of idea of womanhood. It was really that time. She came of age in the kind of late sixtys, early 70s, but in a family and a world, call it in Ontario, that was very still stuck in the 1950s. But my parents were aware that, I don't know, in Yorkville people were smoking pot. It just was not them. Right? And so I think my mother felt I know my mother felt just this feeling of like, I'm sitting here in this lovely house in this pretty little town on a lake with my perfect family. But she just wanted a career. She just wanted to go out there and have the life that she felt she'd been denied. The story she always told me, and it did happen this way, was that she was abused, but she had an otherwise unbelievably, idyllic kind of country childhood. Ponies, tennis courts, literally fox hunting, and really lovely. She was the eldest of five and quite an eccentric but loving family, most of whom have become writers now, by the way. And I love my aunts and uncles. They're all completely nuts, but in the best possible way. And a couple of them are very pissed off at me at this moment, which is painful. But what happened with the Horsemen and the fact that her father discovered that filter was such shame. Not just that he had discovered it, but that after he, her father sort of dispatched the man, banished him from the county. But of course, he was a Hebrew. He was smart. He just, like, picked her up in his pickup truck because he just moved down the road to New Market. My grandfather was so naive. So that carried on for a couple of years until my mother was smart enough to figure out, oh, like, he's doing it to other girls and he's a dirtbag, essentially. And she broke up with him. And then she met my dad right away, who was like, Captain is the hockey team from the wrong side of the tracks, hard working. My grandfather just adored him. Everyone adored him because he was, like, up from the bootstraps, solid, handsome, loving, and they got married. My grandfather actually was very progressive, the story goes. He refused to pay for my mother's wedding until she had graduated with a bachelor's degree, which in that time is very like, in that time, women got their Mrs. You went to university for a couple of years until you met, got engaged and then you dropped out. Yeah.

Wendy Mesley 00:33:30
My mom's older than yours, but her dad said, University? You're a woman. Why would you go to university?

Leah 00:33:38
Why would you need that? Yeah, no. And so my mother, essentially, that was the world. So then she has me and my sister, and we moved to this lovely town, and we lived in this lovely house. And then my grandfather died of a stroke. He had Alzheimer's and was very ill and not of sound mind for many years before that. So in a sense, he was gone. But it was his actual physical death that she says it was just like a key fob, like a click. And she just thought, I don't have to do this anymore. The show's over. I'm out of here. And she didn't, like, leave in the night. That only happens in the movies. But it was a long, painful process. But I know my father was just completely baffled. Like, he wasn't perfect either. But I think it was very painful, and it is a very painful thing. I have a friend right now who's trying to leave a marriage with her husband. They don't fight. She just isn't in love with them anymore. They have three kids. That's a very hard way to leave a marriage. And women who leave motherhood and wifehood, not because for any reason other than I want something else. It's a really taboo thing to do.

Maureen Holloway 00:34:51
Oh, it's perceived as selfish beyond belief. More so. And not for men as much. I mean, that they're still judged, but for a woman, a mother?

Wendy Mesley 00:35:00
Are you kidding me?

Leah 00:35:02
Oh, my God. And my father, the Halo Effect, he was a single dad reviewer.

Wendy Mesley 00:35:07
Oh, your father.

Leah 00:35:08
Because he was just this heartbreaking single dad. And I look back on that judgment that my mother endured. I'm able to look at it objectively and sort of see how utterly sexist it was and how wrong it was. But at the same time, and I do think that probably what happened to my mother really did stunt. It formed every part of her life, and it was the reason she married my dad and the reason why I exist. But at the same time, one of the things I struggle with is the horseman himself. I think we give, and this was why the book that didn't get written shouldn't have been written. And I think that's a good thing because I think these predators, these bad guys, I think we just give them too much power often. And what really is the powerful thing, what the legacy that trauma and abuse leaves us with, is the stories. Like, how am I going to tell this story? Am I going to tell this story? And what does it make me? And I really rail against the mystification of predators because often they're just when I actually looked into him, it was just not satisfying. I talked to a detective. This got cut from the book, but I talked to a private detective who owed me a favor and got him to look into it. And he said to me, are you sure you want me to look into this, because after me too. I did a lot of these things and I said, really? You did? He said, oh, yeah. It was like two years of, like, could you track down the dentist who raped me or the gymnastics coach and find out? And he said, Nine times out of ten, I would have to email over a copy of an obit that said, die peacefully surrounded by his loving family. Please send flowers to the Canadian Cancer Society and a long story of this lovely life. Now, everyone knows your ovit isn't necessarily a real rendering of your life, but there's no real, I think, for women, for victims, the truth is not very satisfying when you're looking at what happened to him.

Wendy Mesley 00:37:12
I'm sure Maureen has got other things, but we are going to have to wrap pretty soon. But I guess it's sort of a closing thought. And feel free to go wherever you want to go, you guys. But first of all, my first thought is never tell your deepest secrets to a journalist. So I'm screwed because everybody knows everything. There are still a couple of secrets, but I guess it's like you talk about that there's been damage from that. Your family is mad about certain things, but also how good it has been for you to address this. So I guess you have rendered your story in the end and you've come to terms with your mom and what happened to her and what happened to you together in a part. It's been a good thing, not for everybody, but maybe a necessary thing.

Leah 00:37:56
No, I think that's true. I mean, you guys, you've just lost your mother's, and a lot of people would write this book then, and my mother actually said that to me. Why don't you just write this when I'm dead? Many times. And in fact, all of my aunts and uncles said it too. Just wait till she's dead, like 70. She drinks too much scotch. There's Alzheimer's in our family. You got, like 20 years max, right? And I just realized the reason why I couldn't was because, frankly, I was kind of writing it for her. I wanted to be heard. And I think that's how we all feel about our mother. That's kind of the frustration is if you have or had a difficult mother, it's about telling the story. You'll find this warning. And I'm very interested to know your story. By the way. And I'm not going to grill you because it's inappropriate. But part of it is that you just want to get it out there. Because when you have a parent who frame and all parents do this to some extent. Who creates a narrative of your childhood and your family and your life together that doesn't quite sit comfortably. There is a part well, there's a part of me, anyway, that wanted to say, no, that is not my narrative. This is my story. So it's not about stealing each other's stories. It's more about just sort of saying, we're all allowed to have our own stories. And guess what? They don't need to fit perfectly with each other. We don't need to actually accept everybody else's. There doesn't need to be one truth, what families are, what countries are, what relationships are, or negotiated truths.

Wendy Mesley 00:39:33
Well, it was something that I really appreciated about my mom when I was a kid. My parents got divorced when they separated when I was a baby. And I would always ask my mom, so whatever happened, mom? And she'd say, well, we loved each other and it didn't work out. And it wasn't until I was a teenager that I learned that he was gay and that he wasn't interested in her and that it was illegal to be gay back then and he loved her. But whatever, we're going to fix it because it's a mental illness, not but that's what it was in whatever. But she tried to influence me and tell me the truth about her version of the truth about so many things. But she never tried to say, your dad hurt me or lied to me or whatever. She just said that he loved me. And then when I met him when I was an adult, he tried to tell me stuff about her, and I was like, no, don't go there. So it's like everybody's got different versions of the truth. And I think as long as people are okay with the version that they're told, then they're okay.

Leah 00:40:30
Yeah. That's fascinating. He wasn't that gay, wendy, come on. Here you are.

Wendy Mesley 00:40:36
He wasn't that gay. Well, I could tell you about that.

Leah 00:40:40
Can't we say he's by? He's pan.

Wendy Mesley 00:40:43
Maybe just say Paul Newman. They both watched the Paul Newman movie. And here I am.

Maureen Holloway 00:40:51
Leah. Your book. Where you end? It's a long title. When You End and I began where.

Leah 00:40:57
You End and I Began.

Maureen Holloway 00:40:59
Just a wonderful book and wish you all the luck with that. And thank you so much for talking to us today. You're a true woman of ill repute.

Leah 00:41:07
Thank you so much.

Maureen Holloway 00:41:15

Wendy Mesley 00:41:17
Yeah, well, she doesn't hold back. I'm not telling her any of my secrets, not that I have any.

Maureen Holloway 00:41:24
Well, if you dig hard enough, you'll find something. It's funny about narcissism, which is how we kind of started this conversation. And I maintain that if not Leah, I still think her mother is a textbook narcissist, from what I can tell. But what I love is that Leah forgives her for that. She forgives her, period.

Wendy Mesley 00:41:43
Well, it was like I said on the podcast, like, I started off thinking, oh, my God, she's a bitch. And then she was like, well, she actually loves her and she's getting stuff from her and she's open about how she feels, and I'm glad I didn't have her because that would not have been easy as a mom. But not that anymore is easy. As you know, I'm talking to the.

Maureen Holloway 00:41:59
Mother, and so were you.

Wendy Mesley 00:42:01
Yeah, well, better than her mom. Who the hell knows? And I thought it was funny that she thinks that her mom is Carry Bradshaw, because to me, she was always Carry Bradshaw. Yeah. I feel like I called her mom a shitty mom at some point. Yes, and she was at some point. And you called her Narcissist, which she was at certain points.

Maureen Holloway 00:42:21
Exactly. If Leah forgives her mother, then who are we to sit in judgment the circumstances she had an absolutely traumatizing event happened to her. But again, as Leah says, you got to be accountable for your own life at some point.

Wendy Mesley 00:42:36
I want to hear what her mother and her father and her brothers and sisters she says they're all, like, screaming at her. So I'd love to know more about that. That's kind of inside baseball.

Maureen Holloway 00:42:48
Well, the other thing I want to be honest with and, you know, my story, it's not really my story. It's everybody in my family's story. And I don't mean to be coy, and I am going to be more open about stuff that's happened to me and my family at some point. I'm just still feeling my way. Yeah, that's somewhat sensational and hilarious and shocking, but I'm not just dropping these little tidbits because when Dale yes, actually, that's exactly what I'm doing.

Wendy Mesley 00:43:15
Well, it's hard to talk about these things about mothers when you and I and most people have, like, massive mother issues, but I don't think that your story needs to be told. On a chat with Leah McLaren, you choose your moment. You just sort of acknowledge that your mom was a piece of work.

Maureen Holloway 00:43:36
She sure was. Can I leave you with one more?

Wendy Mesley 00:43:39
Sure. Oh, no, not another job.

Leah 00:43:41

Maureen Holloway 00:43:42
What did the Narcissist say to the Cannibal?

Wendy Mesley 00:43:44

Maureen Holloway 00:43:45
I'm kind of a big deal.

Leah 00:43:47
Good night, everybody.

Voiceover 00:43:50
The women of Ill repute with Wendy Mesley and Maureen Holloway. Available on Apple Podcasts spotify Google Podcasts or@womenofilreputecom produced and distributed by the Soundoff Media Company.