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Musings of a Former Cancer Mom during the onset of a Pandemic.

For the past month and a half I have watched as the world reacted to the first far away, and now ever closer, reality of a new pandemic.

During that time I have been conscious of how I view and ultimately take action during these times is often very different than many around me.  For better or for worse it is.  And it always will be.  You don’t see it really.  Most of it is how I process and think about it.  But I am conscious it is different. And it’s different for the same reason any of our thought processes as people are different around any event.  Because of the experiences we have each personally been through.

For 3 years and a half years my son’s immune system was consciously and methodically torn down. 

For three months after that he was given a reprieve to start building it back up.

For five years after that we were bombarded with the reality of relapse because of a high risk prognosis, analyzing bloodwork and results from procedures.

In the middle of all of this I managed to raise a family, participate as fully as we could in life, travel, work, encourage a barrage of activities, friendships and experience endless “touch points” that at any moment could send us reeling back into illness because of exposure to a myriad of viruses if he happened to be neutropenic at the time.

So I bring with me a little experience and perspective on the subject.

No expertise.

But experience and perspective. 

And here is what I learned.

Small practices can become life saving habits.

I would never say I am thankful for cancer coming into our lives – especially the way that it did via my son as its host.  But I will say that I carry over many behaviours because of that diagnosis.  Behaviours that have become habits, that I still practice today, regardless if there is some scary pandemic out there, or just because it’s a regular old Tuesday. 

For instance it’s still rare for me to touch a door handle in a “common” spot or light switches with my fingers; I have been known to seek out and congratulate managers of establishments that have open lid garbage cans located near the bathroom door; I keep Purell in locations one would never think Purell would be; I use my knuckles so much I resemble a mother chimpanzee; and I don’t remember the last time I didn’t silently sing Happy Birthday in my head as I washed my hands.

I do these things because cancer or not, I believe they make a difference. I do them because we cannot argue they work. I do them because I am conscious that none of us ever know what status our immune system is currently in. 

Be uncompromising in the quality of what you allow yourself read and view.

I refuse to even begin reading an article related to any health topic until I know its source.  If it isn’t clear at the beginning, I will scroll to the very bottom and not read a word until I find it. 

I pay little attention to letters at the ends of names unless I can verify them and I don’t care if my very best friend was the one who posted it on social media. If it is intriguing and I’m still not satisfied I google the person and the source.

I do all of this before reading it.  I know this sounds insane.  But I have learned that finding out after the fact matters little – because that probably-false information is still rolling around in my head somewhere, influencing my thought patterns.  So I try to be uncompromising in what I choose to read or watch. (Regarding health information that is – trust me I’m still a sucker for a good pop culture piece about Jon Bon Jovi).

Do not panic.

Panic is so fueled by the media and outside forces. We know this.  But it is like gossip. It can be so easy for people to get caught up in.  Even when we know better. When we panic we tend to share that panic with the people we care about the very most and it builds on itself to a point where you can’t separate out any logic at all.

I do not have time for panic. Panic also means I have lost perspective and am not prepared.  (Why what a perfect segway Karrie-Ann ….)

Have perspective.

Perspective. Sheesh.  That isn’t always easy.  It isn’t always easy when we are already busy and tired and over extended.  To try to put perspective on something new and outside our control can seem daunting.  You can sometimes – almost – understand why people just “swipe left”, listen to Fox news and call it a day.  (Not – but you get the picture). 

Gaining perspective takes work. And time. The best that I can say is most simply this.  Take the time. Become educated on the topic. Gain perspective.  It will change as circumstances change.  But learn to be steadfast in making yourself listen to it.  Accept that it will be different than your neighbours.  It will be different because of your circumstances and beliefs. You will each make different decisions.  But at least those decisions will be based in something real, thoughtful and fact based.

Be prepared. And be prepared BEFORE you need to be prepared.

For me – in order to achieve perspective, and avoid panic, I need to – as those famous lines indicate – change the things I can.  Being prepared has everything to do with perspective.

To me it’s absolutely no different than having a storm tote in your basement. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst (within perspective).  So instead of assuming certain items would be available in stores when we need them, I choose to make sure we have what I feel to be essentials already in my home. Most of the time we already do, but I always re-assess early in these events. 

So in January I picked up a couple extra things.  But here is also where perspective comes in.  I picked up a FEW extra things after checking expiration dates of what I already had.  I prepared for a pandemic.  Not Armageddon. 

Your actions can affect others disproportionately.

During times like these it is vital, as human beings all together on this earth, to realize that YOUR actions may not affect YOU.  Your choice of not sneezing into your elbow may seem such a small choice for you. That action may never affect YOU or YOUR loved ones.  That is WONDERFUL.  Truly. What a beautiful luxury you may happen to feel. 

But as I sit next to you at the health clinic, that action can mean everything to my child and whether or not he is then later admitted to a hospital.  Literally.  Your action, or lack there of, CAN – without exaggeration – start someone else on the fight for their life.

There is no just.  There is everyone.  Period

Just because a pandemic targets those with weakened immune systems and/or the senior population, and just because you are lucky enough not to be within those audiences, doesn’t mean that the experiences of those in those populations, or their fear or reality, should ever be diminished. 

Don’t become someone who uses the word ‘just’.  Don’t ever say “The numbers aren’t that bad, this won’t affect many people …. just those with weakened immune systems.”  Don’t every say that or think that.  That person matters.  That person is someone’s mother, father, brother sister friend or child.  And someday that person could easily be you.

Say and do the things that matter. Now.

Don’t wait. Check in with your people.  Be thoughtful and purposeful about it. Do so without being driven by fear or irrationality.  But do it because sometimes these are moments where we should actually pause and be thankful for the life we have. Reach out to someone and tell them what they mean to you.

Why wouldn’t you? That’s kind of what life is all about. Be it a pandemic, or like I said earlier, just a regular old Tuesday.

“I’m Not An Exception”

My daughter turned 20 this weekend. For those of you who didn’t get the memo, birthdays are a big deal for the Wilkie/Robinson Clan. Handed down over the generations is an expectation that you deserve to celebrate, and be celebrated, on the day you were born ~ because the world is better for your presence.

This year because of the pandemic Megan is living at home. Two and a half hours away from her university campus ~ a campus that is barely (by the skin of her teeth BARELY) in another Province.

So as you can imagine 20th Birthday Plans have been in the works for a long time ~ especially because of the pandemic and not seeing everyone like usual. The party was planned (within the guidelines of 10 people) dinner reservations made, dresses tried on, drinks purchased, bags packed and surprise decorations apparently ready to be erected. Three nights and four days of being back together and celebrating. The group chat was blowing up with anticipation.

And then Thursday comes. At 4pm on Thursday we were having Megan’s Family Party before she left for Sackville. At 3:45 pm she gets a text that NB Zone 1 (which includes Sackville) is going to Orange Level. This means different things, but one thing it includes is no travel recommended in or out of the Zone.

Megan stoically smiles through the family party but it’s not until afterwards that we get a chance to talk about any of the developments.

The disappointment is so evident on her face ~ we talk about the horrible timing ~ about how she feeling ~ and about what decision she is going to make. She is, after all, 20 years old now.

We talk about how grey things are – how travel is not ‘restricted’ but also how NB is only allowed one other household bubble now. How we aren’t in lockdown, how difficult it is to make these decisions, and how in reality she could probably get away with it.

But the thing that stands out to me most about the conversation are six little words she says to me as she is sitting on the stairs looking at me through frustrated tears.

“But Mom, I’m not an exception”.

And that’s it. That’s the hardest thing for each of us to truly understand and put into action. It’s so easy to preach about following public health directives until a situation directly affects YOU and YOUR plans and YOUR loved ones ~ and when you are faced with decisions that aren’t breaking any ‘restrictions’ … just ‘recommendations’.

We could all talk ourselves into being the exception ~ how our one little action won’t make things worse. We are just one person. We just want to do this one little thing.

But THIS is where the rubber meets the road.

And my daughters’ words really brought that home for me.

“I’m not an exception.”

As much as I respect Premier McNeil and Dr Strang’s need to identify where community spread is coming from – and boy do I ever – I hope they also remember there ARE young people out there making decisions that are thoughtful, empathetic, responsible and community driven.

They are making these decisions with sacrifice ~ and I know people may roll their eyes at that word sacrifice ~ not hosting parties isn’t much of a sacrifice ~ but remember what it’s like to be young ~ really try and remember.

So you’re right Megan. You may not be the exception in this circumstance. But you coming to that conclusion and putting it into action (or actually inaction) by staying home this weekend, sure does make you “exceptional” in my book.

My Non Personal Personal Decisions (and the struggle with my internal Gumby)

It’s November 2020 and we are marking roughly eight months into the Covid 19 pandemic.

Pandemic.

Do we go more than 48 hours anymore without saying this word out loud?

I know for a fact we don’t go more than 24 hours without hearing it or reading it ~ that’s for sure.

It has become our new normal (insert me cringing at buzz words) which actually makes me wonder if we know what the word normal even means anymore.

What I do know is that throughout these past eight months I have felt that I am constantly making internal declarations about where I stand at any given time on some sort of pandemic spectrum.

Firmly following public health guidelines was easy when we were locked down.

Ok. Maybe easy isn’t the right word. But I was confident and clear in my decisions. And the majority of people around me were making the same decisions.

And then June came, restrictions were lifted and a feeling of safety washed over us.

It was a window of opportunity. If I said these words once I said them 100 times, and we took advantage of them. The good weather, the low infection rate, the Atlantic bubble. I clung to it all and ate it up like candy.

Venturing back into society, rekindling in-person family adventures and friendship.

It was blissful, and if I listened closely I could hear a collective sigh.

But now we are at another precipice ~ the beginning of the second wave and the first signs of community spread in NS.

It is all a little less clear now. The waters are murky, everyone is tired and I don’t think things will be as straight forward as they were in March. There is fatigue and our comfort levels are all over the map for many reasons.

So I’m left to make decisions that seem to change not only daily, but hourly, in my mind.

I’m left with feelings of discomfort that are difficult to explain or put into words, and that others may or may not share ~ because it feels like now we are “navigating” rather than “following” and navigating is hard.

Navigating requires sorting through not only information and evidence, but also your heart, and making the best decisions based on everything from physical risk, mental health, connection and community health.

And so I’ve found myself navigating all of this since June (because again remember March to May were “easy” 😂) feeling like a Gumby Doll. One day I’m this, the other day I’m that.

The decisions keep getting harder. Do I do this? What about this? What about that? It’s outdoors with limited numbers. But I don’t have to. It’s not essential. What about that? Do I do that? I was comfortable with that yesterday ~ but now there’s new information.

But I guess in the end what I’ve realized is this:

Every decision I make ~ even when I’m feeling like Gumby changing my mind from one moment to the next ~ every decision I make comes from the most personal place ~ and that is to be able to be an active and physical presence in the lives of the people who matter most to me and who may be the most vulnerable (even if maybe everybody doesn’t know it)

So if I say yes to dinner one day and no the next, if I am suddenly uncomfortable riding in a car with you, if I don’t “like” your photos on social media because I’ve literally set insanely low screen limits for my own mental health, if I cancel plans that we made two weeks ago, if I go on a rant about the social determinants of health, if I hug you one day but not the other, if I say yes to having four boys over one day and no the next, if I balk at a weekend away I was excited about last month, if I insist on only eating on outdoor patios bundled up in blankets, if I remind you to wash your hands when you come into my home, if I take two steps back (figuratively) or one step back (literally) please try to remember … none of these decisions I’m making are personal toward you.

They aren’t personal at all.

Truly.

And yet ~ they are the most personal decisions I will ever make ~ because they are built completely around those who matter most to me. To those who raised me ~ to those I am raising ~ and to those who don’t share my blood but who I share a life with. Keeping them healthy. Keeping myself healthy so I can be available and present for them.

They are ~ at their very core ~ decisions based wholly in love.

And it’s then that my Gumby feelings fade away and become much more resolute ~ because I know in my heart there is nothing more important than that.

It’s Not Who Stands by you in the Worst of Times

There is a very common saying in the world that goes something like “You know who your real friends are by who stands by you in the worst of times”.

While I understand where that sentiment is coming from, I have to say that I have never found it has been true for me. Atleast maybe not in the way I perceive it.

Like all of us, my family and I have seen some pretty crappy times over the course of our lives. And we have also seen some pretty euphoric times as well. Both of these ends of the spectrum are just that really.

Ends of a spectrum.

And here’s the thing. For me, the breadth and depth of that spectrum ~ the length of it ~ that middle ~ well that’s in truth where most of my life is lived.

It’s there where the every-day lies.

It’s there where the mundane and boring and middle ground is found.

It’s there in the middle where we go to school and work and participate in clubs and sports and projects and meetings and conferences.

Its there in the middle where we get up every Monday and put the week on repeat until Friday.

It’s there where we make the majority of our decisions, and there where we choose what action we will or will not take in life on a daily basis.

It’s there where my family honestly lives a good 75% of our lives.

This middle is by no means horrible or sad or negative.

But neither is it necessarily exciting, unique and joyous.

It is just … well … everyday life.

It’s the sitting on the porch drinking coffee, reading a book, playing video games, texting, walking around campus, talking with friends, biking, hiking, hanging in the school cafeteria, endless work meetings, sharing small parts of every day life.

It’s the middle.

It’s the somewhat mundane.

And I believe it’s here where we find out who our friends are.

Not in the worst of times.

My experience during the worst of times has been that I sometimes am literally surrounded by people ~ both friends and strangers ~ and people maybe wanting to be my friend.

When tragedy strikes or bad news arrives, it’s been my experience that people want to come together and help.

It’s a wonderful and overwhelming feeling.

It is most often genuine and selfless and a true testament to the greatness life has to offer.

And I have been so thankful for it.

But if I’m being honest, and I know this isn’t the part I’m supposed to say out loud, it also can provide people with a sense of being on the inside of something greater. There is a strong and wonderful pull in human nature to be a part of something. This, as with all things, can be beautiful or it can be challenging.

When bad news arrives, we can sometimes find our lives surrounded by so many people who want to help.

I’m thankful for each of them.

But in that sea of people, during the worst of times, I am very aware, and I try to make my children aware, that there in that moment is honestly not where you “find out who your friends are”.

Maybe it’s where you find out what beautiful large hearts people have. But if you are speaking of the true definition of friendship ~ where there is a different level of being valued by someone ~ maybe it’s not there you find your actual friends.

Instead you find your actual friends in the middle. In the mundane. You find them not in the highs of the best or the lows of the worst.

Your friends are the people who are consistent and present in your life. They are the people who have put in the time ~ and especially the balance ~ during that entire middle part of the spectrum.

You find them in the people who still want to be with you during that “middle” period of life.

For when tragedy strikes, I don’t turn to the person who suddenly shows up.

I turn to the people who have always been there. Slugging it out with me in life. Making me a priority even when it’s just a boring old Wednesday.

It’s these people I have built a true relationship with. It’s these people who I have built up trust and history and confidence with. It’s these people who have reached out to me, and I to them, during plain old regular days.

They have been by my side even if I’m not trendy.

They have reached out to me for no reason at all except to say “Hey. How are you on this every-day-nothing-special-day? I’m thinking of you. Just because. Wanna get together?”

It’s this balance and effort during those times ~ the middle times ~ the boring times ~ that does, has, and I know will continue to, sustain me during the worst ones.

I try hard to remember, and I try so very very hard to teach my kids, that no, maybe you don’t find out who your friends are during the worst of times.

Maybe in fact and instead, you actually find out who your real friends are during the boring, every-day mundane times.

Look around you then.

Look around you during “the middle”.

Those are your people.

I know for sure they’re mine.

Interviewing Anger during a Pandemic

Anger what are you doing here? It’s not your turn. Fear was supposed to be next.

 

I skipped the line. 

 

Again?

 

Yes. Again! What are you going to do about it?!

 

Well I’m not sure it’s the time for you.

 

You’re wrong KA. It is the time for me. Now is the only time for me. If you wait it will be too late.

 

Sigh. You know what Anger? You really drive me up a wall sometimes. Let me check in with everyone else. Hang here a sec. 

 

Ok. For once they all agree, it is time for you. Let’s do it then. You’re up.

 

Actually, when I think about it it’s very predictable that you would cut the line. 

 

Ya. I’m like that. You never know where I’m going to pop up or when.

 

Tell me about it.

 

But Anger, I’d honestly argue that about any of you. Joy, Fear, Sadness – they are all around any corner – when we least expect them. But you certainly are the loudest vocally, I’ll give you that!

 

So. How are you doing today?

 

I’m mad! I’m mad I’m mad I’m mad.  No. Strike that. I’m pissed!

 

But Anger, be honest.  Don’t you kind of feel that’s your default? I mean really. You’re always mad about something.

 

Well sure – you have a point – but KA I really have something to say here.

 

Ok. And what is that Anger?

 

Well people don’t like to leave any space for me. They leave space for everyone else, but never me. A lot of people say I’m supposed to stay bottled up inside.

 

Well, I know it’s not healthy to stay bottled up, but a lot of the time you come out in unmitigated and unproductive ways that can be very hurtful.  That’s what happens when you explode all over everyone all the time.  And there are keys to that sentence anger – unmitigated, unproductive and all the time.  

 

What do you mean?

 

Well, I personally agree with you Anger, that much of the time people don’t leave any space for you.  You are a very polarizing and scary emotion.  But I also feel that much change in the world has come from a place of anger. Anger is a very strong emotion and sometimes a strong emotion is needed in order to make change. Anger can actually be a very intense motivator for change.

 

 

We would never be where we are with AIDS treatments had a small group of men not gotten a little bit angry and insisted their voices be heard. And this turned into a large group of many and changed everything.

 

A small group of workers became angry about their treatment and unions were born.

 

A small group of women became angry and a movement was born. 

 

A small group of educators voiced their anger at the system and education became better for it.

 

All of these things happened because people saw something happening in the world, got angry about it and change happened.  They weren’t afraid to express it and give voice to it and ensure they were heard.  BUT they also didn’t make it their default.  They used that anger to be heard and then moved forward with 100 other emotions built into their arsenal.  

 

Yes, yes, yes!  That’s what I’m trying to say!

 

I do know that Anger, but with you, to be honest, often it is the only emotion we see from you.  If you are nothing but angry all of the time how does anyone know when to sit up and really listen to you? It’s like the boy that cried wolf.

 

Huh?

 

Well.  Let me give you an example that happened to me recently. I felt very strongly about something. Something that made me angry.  And I decided to express that anger publicly.  But the thing is – I feel people stood up and took notice from me when I did it, (more than from you), because it is a rare emotion for me to show. So, the decision to do it was based in something very strongly that I felt rather than a default emotion.

 

And how did that work for you? 

 

Well.  First, I would say that as a woman I’ve been conditioned not to be angry. Certainly not to express it or give it a voice.  People don’t like it when I show anger. When WE show anger. I really can’t emphasize this enough. It’s a conversation for another time but let me tell you it’s a big one.

 

And secondly, for me personally, people are used to me generally expressing one of two emotions. Gratitude or Joy. Karrie-Ann usually fits pretty neatly into a box people are very comfortable with and generally like.  

 

But this wasn’t something I was willing to keep in a box. I felt it was too important. I FEEL it’s too important. Over the course of two weeks I’ve chosen to have a voice in a conversation. Having a voice isn’t easy. Those voices I’ve shared publicly have had a wide range from empathy, humour, caring, gratitude, wisdom in experience and yes anger. I’m very ok with that. I have not been one thing and I am not one thing. I have felt that this is too important for one emotion. And it’s too big to not speak what I believe – and yes that sometimes means I speak with anger. And I know that makes many very uncomfortable. Most of the time its all the other emotions, but yes, I’m also ok with anger sometimes.

 

Whoa.  That’s a lot KA

 

I know right?  This whole thing is a lot.  It’s a lot of emotions to process and it can be really easy to push others aside. But we need all of you to get through this – we all have to work together and talk to each other.  And that includes you too Anger.

 

It does?

 

It does.

 

But ….

 

But?

 

But if I see you are nothing but Angry all the time and not leaving space for everyone else … well … to be honest I won’t be listening to you very much.

 

Even if its always about anger towards Trump?

 

Even then Anger. Even then.

😉

Interviewing Joy During a Pandemic

Hey Joy, thanks for taking the time to chat with me today.

Oh I’m happy to KA!

I struggled with which of you to interview first, but I think you are maybe who people need to hear from most right now. You were either going to be first or last. So tell me Joy, how are you doing during these uncertain times?

I’m great KA. There is always joy (pardon the pun) to be found in everything and this pandemic is no exception.

I think that’s a lovely sentiment, but it can be a little hard to believe right now. Can you expand a little? Where are you finding this seemingly elusive joy?

Well, I am seeing the beauty in all the simple things around me and I feel like others are too finally. People are posting about going all kinds of outdoor places they have never been before and finding the beauty in nature that I always knew was there but sometimes we are too busy to appreciate. Plus think about it KA – what is the most important thing you enjoy doing? For me its spending time with my family. And I’m getting to do a lot of that right now. We get to sit down at the table together without having to race here and there all the time.

I completely agree Joy. But we also have to remember not everyone is getting the chance to do that. Some people are having to leave their families and not able to be physically with them to take care of them. Some people have lost their jobs and have some pretty serious concerns right now. Where do they find their joy?

I think they have to look harder for their joy right now, but I believe it’s still there. I think their joy can be found in perspective. You know what I mean don’t you KA?

I do Joy, and I think that’s a really good point to bring up. I think right now its really easy to focus on everything that we feel is being taken away from us to keep us safe. But as you know I have good friends, close friends, who have had their world already taken away. They would give anything to have their daughters and sons back with them – even if they had to go through this pandemic, even if they had to go to work through it, even if their job was lost, even if they themselves got sick throughout it. If you asked them, I think they would tell people they are lucky to have their joy safe and sound in their homes. Is that what you mean by finding joy in perspective Joy?

It is KA.

Cool. So, since I understood your point of view on that, can I ask you something else?

Yupper Doodles KA

Well actually Joy, it relates to just that. Yupper Doodles. Sometimes Joy, and we’ve known each other a long time so you know I say this with love, sometimes your constant enthusiasm and optimism can be, well, damn annoying especially in times of crisis.

Ya. I know. People tell me that all the time. But the thing is that I really believe it. I really believe choosing how to react to things that happen to you makes ALL the difference in the world. I truly believe that your attitude and your action and reactions can make a real difference in yours and others lives. I’m sorry but I do.

You never have to apologize to me Joy. I get it. Trust me – people find me very annoying too. But I think we also have to leave space for what other people are feeling too … and even for what you may be feeling deep inside but maybe don’t know it yet.

I get that. That’s fair and a good point.

I also think we have to be careful at times like these to recognize the difference between being joyful, being happy and being positive. Sometimes they are different. For instance, sometimes if people are only focused on being happy that can lead to a lot of selfishness. Not really thinking about other people. Remember the saying Hakuna Matata (which means no worries)? Well, people can convince themselves pretty easily that Hakuna Mata is a great motto for being happy. But at this time in the world that is a very selfish thing to believe and act on. That kind of selfish happiness can be the reason someone else suffers. Literally. Does that make sense?

Ya it does. I don’t mean to be that way. I try hard not to.

I know you don’t. I’m just saying be careful about it. Also, sometimes if you are just concentrating only on the joy every day you can miss out on really important things. You can’t always be doing cartwheels – you may miss important information and announcements that you need to keep up to date on. You know what can be a really good idea? Talking with your other friends. Anger, Fear, Disgust and Sadness. They are your really close friends and they care about you. They have different perspectives too. Important ones.

Ok. I see that. Sometimes I get carried away. But I think it’s important to share my joys – I think it can be contagious. So can I ask YOU a question KA? Where you are finding your joy right now?

Sure. I’m definitely finding joy through all of this. I play games with my kiddos and find great value and joy in spending time with them, I take a walk every day to either Penny Beach or Blue Beach (with my husband when possible and we are having wonderfully connective conversations), I talk to my Mom every day, I watch every sunrise and most sunsets, I talk to my close friend every single day who helps keep me grounded but also makes me laugh, I write, and I keep up a regular chat/texts with a few crazy beautiful women every couple of days whom mean the world to me. I’m finding great joy in many people coming together ~ caring for each other ~ reading stories of us all pulling together. Finally, I have actually really been enjoying preparing meals for my family (who would have thought?). And of course, I whisper thank you all the time.

I like that KA.

Thanks. Me too. Oh and Joy?

Yes KA?

Before we sign off, can I let you in on a little secret? Overall, in the large scheme of things, I relate most to you. I really do. We need more of you in the world – right now and always. Thank you for being you.

I’m Sorry Boys, It’s Not On.

An open letter to every adolescent with a Y chromosome who is in, or even on the periphery of my son’s life … and of course my son himself.

The world has gotten a lot bigger for you all in the past six months. A lot bigger physically in new schools that span from one end of the Valley to the other – but also a lot bigger online. There are more of you. More people you are getting to know, and more people you may not really know, but sure pretend to know through social media. You are all trying to find your way. I can feel it everywhere I turn. And I can see it no where more clearly than online.

And I’m sorry boys, some of this behaviour that I’m seeing … it’s not on.

It’s simply not.

I know I will earn no respect saying it or revealing it, but I’m not here for your adoration. I’m here to raise a young man. And I’m here to care about other young men who are in his life, or even on the outside circle as classmates, teammates neighbours or old friends.

I understand you are all growing up in a world of social media. I understand you are “digital pioneers”, and that we have to raise you to learn to manage living in this new world.

I understand you have all heard, ad nauseum, about the dangers and pitfalls of the ‘evil online world’ of people looking to prey on you, of bullying, pornography and safety.

But today we are not talking about any of that. We are talking about the young men you want to be in this world.

I feel as of late, somewhere, somehow, an incredibly pathetic low bar is being set in your personal online world. And whether you admit it or not each of you are playing a role in keeping it there. Each of you.

The group chats that happen in the guise of team bonding, the snap chats that come and go so quickly you are lulled into complacency, the memes – some specific memes – that some of you think are hilarious because they only step “one” foot over the line in your opinion but not “two” … and the others that are clearly well over any line.

So here are some things I want to make perfectly clear:

Saying “But it’s not pornography” doesn’t cut it.

Do not set the bar that low for yourself or for your friends. Expect better of them. Or get better friends. Choose respect. Expect respect. Accept nothing less.

Saying “But I’m not participating in the chat” doesn’t cut it.

Even if you never post anything derogatory yourself … ever … just being a part of demeaning conversations normalizes them. The undertones are all too often sexist, homophobic, or at the very least elitist. It creates a sense of normalcy that is false and against the values you should aspire to. Just because you aren’t the ones saying the words or posting the posts, you are still choosing to view the conversation. And I know it’s because you are part of a team or a certain group at school. And I understand “staying” comes from a fear of speaking up and being ostracized. I do.

But remember – you become like the five people you spend the most time with. Online, at school, on the sports team. Remember that. REMEMBER THAT.

Saying “I didn’t understand what that meant” doesn’t cut it.

I get it. There are things out there that “I” don’t even understand online! But ask if you’re unsure about something. Ask an adult in your life. Be grown up enough to find out from people you can trust. We are your safe place. They are your safe place.

Saying “He’s not really like that in real life” doesn’t cut it.

This is real life. It’s ALL real life. And choosing who you are online is choosing who you are in the world. If he’s like that online, he’s like that period.

Saying “I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble” doesn’t cut it.

I adore loyalty in my son and his friends. But if you feel that you have to keep covering for people, or if you think our families expectations are too high, maybe you need to reevaluate some things.

I completely understand you all will make mistakes. I completely understand that in the most literal sense your brains are not fully developed yet and you will have an imegdula-hijack from time to time.

I understand. I do. There are no expectations of perfect. But everyone still has to be responsible for their actions. Both on a screen and in person.

To those of you who I have seen with my own eyes post degrading photos and memes about women … who swear in a way that is not expressive but degrading … who make jokes about being gay … who think you are so much better than people who may be struggling academically or those who may not be good at sports … some of you really caught me off guard. I am ashamed and disappointed in you. I am. And guess what – maybe we need to say that more often. Maybe someone needs to be disappointed in you. I’ll be that person if you don’t have one in your life or if their heads are in the sand.

And once again, to those who don’t post these things but are seeing them and not saying something … who are not standing up … I do know it’s hard … I do know that … I do know decisions to remove yourself from conversations and stand up will affect you for years at school. I do know it may mean not sitting at the cool table.

But make the hard decision.

CHOOSE the young man you want to be.

To those who care so very very VERY much about the numbers of followers you have and who don’t know everyone following you (but only know “of” them …) please be careful not to get caught up in that … you are better than that.

Popularity does not equal kindness. As a matter a fact it requires a sneaky exclusivity and disrespect toward others that is most often the opposite of kind.

Popularity is a slippery slope and you can find yourself at the bottom feeling alone all too quickly. Or you can hurt feelings and relationships that become irreparable. You are not better than anyone. Let me say that again. You are not better than anyone. Even if friends and even parents and teachers and coaches and all kinds of peers and even adults are silently telling you you are. You aren’t.

CHOOSE to be the respected young man – not the popular one.

And finally – I know many of you are revered in the sporting circles. I know you think you are on top of the pack ~ or want to be.

But ask yourself “what pack?”

Are the actions you portray on the court matching your actions on social media? At your round tables at lunchtime? Or in the locker room?

Really ask yourself this.

Are they?

I can tell you they are often not. I’m so disappointed in some of you. I truly am.

I’m sorry boys. I’m sorry Mark. I’m sorry parents, coaches and teachers, who may or may not have knowledge of this specific behaviour. I’m sorry world.

But I’m not raising the popular kid, or a kid to “just get through four years of high school”. I want to raise a confident, strong, empathetic, caring young man and I want him to be surrounded by other confident, strong, empathetic, caring young men. Young men who can be proud of themselves and who consciously choose who to be in the world … and that includes the online world people! There is no distinction or definition there.

Please. Please. CHOOSE the men you want to be. And not just in the easy circumstances and not just around the popular kids.

And adults, it isn’t enough to just let these things pass by or not be aware of them because they are online and you may not see them because they are on Snapchat or have been deleted from Instagram or you aren’t looking.

Boys will NOT be boys.

I’m raising a young man.

It’s not on.

And I’m actually not the least bit sorry.


Post Script:

I wrote this about a year ago. Instead of posting it I used it as a jumping point to begin conversations with my son about behaviour I was seeing start to plant itself in and around his grade. They weren’t easy conversations to have and they happened over time. But I am so glad I started them.

Some won’t agree that I choose to randomly look at my children’s phones. Some won’t agree with this post overall. And that’s ok.

Within myself I am personally so happy with the conversations we have had that came from these actions. It opened my eyes. It stopped me from thinking “this person or that person would never do that”. Including my own kids. It reminded me of so many things I knew but needed reminding of.

Even more so I am incredibly proud of my son and the choices he has chosen to make over the last year. They were not easy choices sometimes. But I believe this kid had dug deep into choosing who he wants to be, which has sometimes meant stepping away from some old friends, some new friends, teammates or classmates and deciding what was more important.

I’m incredibly proud of him this past year. I tell him all the time. (And each time he rolls his eyes at me).

Finally, I wrote this as if I was talking to Mark and his peers. In retrospect I would like to add a note to each adult that touches these boys lives. And it’s this:

Popularity, privilege and being overly adored by adults and peers (including parents, teachers, coaches, mentors etc) is all too often where behaviour and thought patterns begin, that can later end in appalling behaviours (such as those by some Dalhousie Dentistry males a number of years ago.) Don’t have your head in the sand or be fooled by outwardly polite behaviour on the surface.

Remember not to equate popularity with positive behaviour.

It begins here. It begins now. And it begins not with “other kids”. But with our own.

And Then It Happens

We were sitting in the waiting room of the IWK Heart Centre when it happened.

I was looking around the room with a head full of thoughts. The play toys all seemed so small now. The chairs next to them so tiny. I remember how Mark and I would sit together in them and play countless games while we waited over the years.

We are sitting together today too. But there’s nothing little about him anymore. I steal a glance at him to my right ~ he sits taller than me ~ engrossed in his Michael Crichton book.

And then it happens.

A faint noise outside in the hall.

A honk?

I see Mark lift his head.

Wait. No. Not a honk.

A squeak. A rubber chicken squeak.

And then I can see it in Marks eyes ~ a sense memory that lives somewhere between his brain and his heart. From long ago.

That sound is more than familiar to us.

Mark discreetly but purposefully looks over his shoulder through the glass wall out into the hallway.

He slowly looks back to me and smiles.

“Buddington?”

“Buddington.”

We sit there for maybe one whole minute and we don’t say a word. I know without a doubt we are both thinking the same thing.

“What do we do in this situation?”

Mark is probably thinking “I desperately want to go see this person who was the most consistent part of my time here at this hospital. But I’m 15, and I don’t want to make a big deal and I’m not really a patient like I used to be.”

Meanwhile I am thinking “I can hear him playing with a young child.He is in the middle of something very important. And these kiddos deserve every moment with him. We had our time. Now it’s their turn. Plus we have an Echo to get done.”

This is what we are individually thinking in that 60 seconds.

That’s the key word. Thinking. This is what our brains are telling us.

But our hearts, well, they are much more straight forward. Our hearts simply want us to run out the door into the hallway and catch him before he is gone and yell (with no grace or humility) “We are here! Come see us! Play with us! Talk with us!”

But we don’t.

Ofcourse we don’t.

Instead I smile weakly at Mark and say “We should respect his time. We can try and drop in another time when he has a moment for us”.

Mark agrees and nods, and goes back to his book.

But I swear his ears are at 180% listening power trying to hear that familiar voice and laughter.

I know mine are.

And wait a second. Is that sound getting closer? It is. We both look at each other again and then before we have a chance to voice anything the door to the Heart Centre opens, and in comes a small boy, his mother, and a clown.

The Heart Centre waiting room is quite small with chairs lined along the walls facing inward to the centre. I am sitting immediately to the right of the door and Mark is next to me. I almost have to shift in my seat so the three of them don’t bump into me when it opens.

The Mom heads to the reception area and Buddington and the little boy sit smack dab in the middle of the floor – facing in our direction.

Mark and I can’t stop smiling.

Ear to ear smiling. We must look like idiots.

But we don’t say a word.

This clown who we have come to care so much for is working. It may not initially look like that to an outsider, but he is. His attention is focused on his work – on who is in front of him. He is fully engaged on the floor with the young boy. And its not our place to interrupt that, as much as we want to.

A minute goes by and we sit and watch.

I feel as if I’m in a dream watching this man, this clown, play with this boy – who I know isn’t my child – but it so mirrors the time we spent here. It mirrors my memories from long ago. It’s the most surreal feeling.

So I’m sitting here filled with nostalgia and gratitude trying not to cry, while Mark, well Mark quite clearly wants only one thing – to leap out of his chair and talk endlessly to him about his life now as a teenager.

And so we sit.

Silent. Thinking. Wondering if he would even recognize Mark now that he is a young man.

Smiling our stupid grins.

And then it happens.

The radiologist comes out to the waiting room and loudly and distinctly says two words.

“Mark Wilkie”

And at that moment, not taking our eyes off Buddington, we see his head raise up from the floor and meet our gaze.

The recognition in what he has heard is instantaneous and the look in his eyes match exactly the look in my son’s face: a mutual, genuine and deep affection that time hasn’t changed.

Mark unfolds his 5 foot 8 frame from the chair, walks over to him, and what happens in the next thirty seconds before we go into our appointment can’t be put onto paper or into words.

It will remain one of my most vivid and personal memories ~ that short interaction between them in that Heart Centre waiting room as they, together, process the years that have passed and the years they have shared.

You see, Buddington started working at the IWK only three months before Marks diagnosis. That was 12 and a half years ago.

We don’t remember the IWK without him.

And maybe ~ just maybe ~ in a way, he almost doesn’t remember it without us either.

What is this Feeling?

It’s the first few moments of morning. Those moments where your eyes are still closed, your body is perfectly still and you are just becoming aware of your surroundings.

Simultaneously I experience three senses at once. Touch, sound and smell.

That normally isn’t so when I wake up in the morning, but it is when I’m here.

I feel the breeze on my skin coming through the open window right next to my bed. I always sleep with the window open here.

In the same moment I hear the waves. God do I love waking up to the waves literally outside my window.

And then there’s the smell. The salt air that fills your senses when you wake up only a hundred yards from the beach.

My eyes aren’t even open. My body hasn’t even moved an inch. I’m in that state of mind between awake and asleep. But I know exactly where I am.

I am camping.

As I roll over (quietly so Ginger won’t hear me) I’m aware of my kiddos sleeping in the bunk beds at the back of the trailer.

 
The four of us have been doing this for so long together ~ for seventeen years to be exact ~ and for all the things that we do … the travel and the sports games and the music concerts and the board games and card games … it’s been this that has in so many ways defined who we are as a family.

So here I am. Waking up once again in our trailer like so many mornings. I’m waking up and I’m trying to identify this feeling. It’s so easy to say it’s happiness. And I am. Happy that is. But it’s something more. We over use that word, happy. So I close my eyes again, breathe in that air, exhale slowly, and it’s then I realize without a doubt what the feeling is. It’s contentment.

I’m never more content then when I am camping.

It doesn’t matter where we are – at our beloved Rissers Beach, or Keji. Fundy or The Islands. Thomas Radall or Murray Beach. 

It’s where we take hundreds of walks on the beach together, hike and bike endless trails, laugh over campfires, egg each other on over washer toss tournaments and bocci ball, play intense games of crib and queens. It’s where the smell of campfires become the most beloved smell in the world and where dusk can’t come quick enough for all of us to gather around one every night.

It’s where my kids learned to ride their bikes and then took off on afternoon adventures to lakes and brooks and playgrounds, coming back with their friends having had contests of who could get the muddiest on the trails.

It’s where parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren all enjoy each other’s company equally. It’s where the four of us sit in our camp chairs, put our feet up and are completely silent … each reading our own books … where not a word is spoken sometimes but my heart swells because we are all engrossed in our own novels – but outside and together.

It’s where the best games of football and kite flying have happened. Where catching a wave on the boogie boards was the most important thing for a few summers and searching for sandollars becomes a sport.

It’s where we huddle, in our camper in the rain – a time that is my favourite – listening to that incomparable sound on the trailer roof and playing Skip Bo and drinking hot chocolate together.

 
And as always, Craig is beside me.

The two of us have been doing this together for 25 years now.

  
We started in a two man tent. Packing all we needed in the trunk of his little red Acura or my Z24. Cooking over the open fire, waking up to dampness and sleeping on air mattresses that deflate. And good heavens don’t touch the side of that tent!!

We then graduated to a four man tent. (Oh the life!) And then Megan arrived and along came the used tent trailer, then the used hybrid (man we loved that one. That lasted us 10 years). And then another hybrid and finally this Ultralight which now has a real bed for Craig and I.

Sounds like fun doesn’t it? Haha. Tents and trailers with no fridges and beds that fold up. Well you know what? It was. It was amazing. Our family has been doing this since Megan was seven months old. We consciously chose to raise campers. And I know that sounds funny – but we did. Somewhere along the way we consciously chose to raise our children to be campers. (Or maybe actually it was unconsciously because it’s so much a part of who we are).

Either way it doesn’t matter. Because now it just is. For all of us. And here we are so many years later. Still camping. All together.

So yes – as I roll over – I always know exactly where I am and what I’m feeling. And I know I will open my eyes and see my husband lying beside me. And soon we will get up and he will make me percolated coffee in my favourite stainless steel camping mug. We will go outside and take Ginger for a quick walk and sit together in our favourite chairs listening to the waves and watching them roll in over the sand. And soon the kids will get up and we will have another morning and another afternoon and another evening here together in whatever campground we happen to be in at the time.

And the memories – while we are here in this campground – the memories, well they will somehow, so clearly and effortlessly, simply make themselves.
  

Bicycles

Today, my 15 year old son grabbed two of his friends, hopped on his bicycle and they all rode 20 km into Wolfville together. They went to their old middle school and visited all their old teachers (one of whom he was sad to have missed). Later they met up with two other friends and played basketball, ate at his favourite pizza place, and tried out the hot new ice cream spot.

That is what they did. That was his day.

And in case you missed the important part of this very boring story let me say it again. Today. June 20th. My 15 year old son, who is now taller than I am, got on his bicycle – with a beating heart, lungs full of air, and healthy blood pumping it’s way through his healthy body to drive to Wolfville. Today. June 20th. He came back exhausted and sweaty and beaming from ear to ear having hung out with his friends. Having driven 20 km together. On a bicycle. On June 20th.

And let me say … bicycle ….well …. bicycle quite simply trumps ambulance.