Too Much

For almost as long as I can remember I have felt like I am “too much” for most people. Maybe not most people, but many people. A great many people if I’m honest. 

And not the kind of too much that is seen as a good thing. Not like too much money or too much Swiss Chocolate.

I guess maybe I can’t really put my finger on the exact words for how I feel, but over time I keep coming back to those two words. “Too Much.”

Too opinionated.

Too loud.

Too passionate.

Too energetic.

Too type A.

Much too emotional.

Feel much too deeply.

A little too real.

Too honest.

Certainly too many expectations. Way too many expectations.

Too big to fit into that box.

Too small to fit into that one.

Cry too easily.

Too questioning. 

Too needy.

Too energetic.

Too optimistic.

Just. Too. Much.

I remember not very long ago at all really, a good friend of mine told me she overheard a couple of people chatting. She came up behind and beside them. They didn’t see her and maybe wouldn’t recognize her. Nothing bad was said at all. Truly nothing. Not a thing. But when she relayed the conversation she said “I cant quite put my finger on it, but I wanted you to know”. And it was true. Nothing derogatory to speak of at all. But I knew then, just like I knew when I was 8 or 14 or 21 or 34 or 42. I knew that what she was hearing at that moment in their conversation was that they felt just maybe I was “a little too much” at times.

It seems to be this theme in my life in many ways.

I remember at work doing one of those personality tests.  It sorted you into colors. Blue, Green, Orange and Gold.

Even then I remember feeling too blue.

(Blue had nothing to do with depression, it had to do with feelings).

Again.  Just. Too. Much.

But over time though I’ve truly learned to embrace my “too much”. I wouldn’t even necessarily say I argue with the validity of it. It’s a big part of who I am, and as I’ve grown older I’ve felt less need to try and change it or hide it.  My “too much” makes me who I am.

And its funny how sometimes we re-frame things in life through our experiences and as we age through our children. Because lately it occurred to me. 

Maybe it’s never been that I have been too much.

Maybe, its that sometimes others aren’t enough.

And I know that re-reading that it would be the perfect way to end a piece of writing.

It’s a powerful play on words.  

But it also sounds mean and that’s not at all how I intend it.

What I mean is this: maybe it’s not always me that needs to feel like I am “too” anything in this world that likes to put us in boxes … maybe, sometimes, the world could stand to have a little more “too” in it. A little more “much”.

Because sometimes there isn’t “enough” of all of those things I listed above. Maybe some of us have to bring a “little too much” to balance out the “sometimes not enough”.

Anyway.

I think that’s how I’ve learned to look at it.

Or atleast I’m trying.

The Voices in My Home

I holler down to the basement.

Warm brownies!

My son and a stampede of six additional footsteps race up the basement stairs as I walk back up to my bedroom. My back is to them on my way up and as each of the six pass into the kitchen they yell, separately, Thank You Karrie-Ann!

My heart always melts at these small gestures of appreciation. Each of them have been in my home time and time again – for seemingly forever. Some of them over a decade. I know them all so well.

But tonight with my back to them I realized something new. My breath catches in my throat. I don’t recognize their voices anymore. I really don’t. I know who has come – who is present – some of them were here just last week. But without seeing their faces I realize I don’t recognize these voices.

And it’s because these voices don’t belong to the boys that grew up here.

They belong to men.

And how lucky am I that as such, those voices still keep wanting to come back to be present in our home.

So. Freaking. Lucky.

Around the Corner

Today I’m on campus.  And by on campus I realize I mean two different things that are now forever intertwined.  First I am on my old campus – my alma mater – a place that holds four years of memories that certainly cannot be 27 years ago.  THAT would be crazy talk.

Secondly, I am on my son’s future campus.  He has chosen to attend Dalhousie University in September, following in both mine and Craig’s footsteps – even though I’m 99% confident ‘footsteps’ were not a factor in any of his decision making.

So here we are.  On campus. And all that it means. (There is an entire other blog post buried in those sentences, but that is not todays story).

Today we are on a mission to get this young man some Birthday SWAG.  Now that he has made his decision, his Birthday Gift will be a Dal Hoodie – which of course Mom couldn’t possibly choose herself – so we are venturing down to the bookstore to browse and buy and walk away feeling equal emotions of ecstatic and surreal.

We chose today to come into the city and shop because we have another errand to run that is literally right around the corner from Dal.  A couple of months ago we had a standard pediatrician appointment that led to x that led to y that led to z, and eventually the need for an MRI at the IWK.

As a Momcologist, I have always held this theory about big tests. Or any doctor appointments for that matter. Its too long to go into here, but suffice to say in my gut – deep down – I wasn’t incredibly worried about this evenings appointment. (My theory has different parts to it, but you should know that it revolves around ‘a mother’s gut feeling not being a simple black or white issue’).

So after our SWAG shopping we meander away from this campus that was a second home to me for four years, to another place around the corner, that has been like a second home to my son for 14 years.

Life is just sometimes so weird.

We walk through the door of the hospital and it is a ghost town. We’ve been here during COVID before, so it’s not terribly surprising, but this is an evening appointment so it truly is a little eerie how few people are here.

An evening appointment for an MRI. I know. That’s where my brain starts to go a little wonky – but I chalk it up to catching up on a COVID backlog and onward we go.

We sit in the waiting room all alone. Just the two of us. I couldn’t count how many waiting rooms my son and I have sat in together. I really couldn’t. Still to this day it is not uncommon. Nor is it uncommon to have a big test or procedure in our lives. It happens roughly once every year or two I would say. Something shows up/comes up/reveals itself in bloodwork or a routine follow up and because of his history the Oncology Team pay close attention and off we go to get it checked out. Neuro, biopsy, echos, etc. It’s part of our lives.

So I’m still not worried. Really.

But.  

But usually it stops at an Xray or a DI. As I’m sitting here with little else to distract me I can’t help but think – hmmmm – MRI – it’s been a very long time since anyone felt he needed one of those.

And then the healthcare worker comes and grabs us and the thought gets put back into the very-well-used compartment of my brain and heart – a place where all too many of those things have lived over the years.

She brings out two clipboards and hands one to him and then asks me “Will you be coming in too?” I look over at him with raised eyebrows, holding my breath, and wait his response. He replies, in typical teenage nonchalant fashion, “Doesn’t matter”. This is my cue to say yes – for many reasons – but if for no other than soon he will be 18 and we may no longer be asked the question.

So in we go together.  Been here done this. Old hat. But only once before right?  Only once before have we needed an MRI.  When was it?  A very long time ago.  He was still on therapy I know that.  But my mind can’t place exactly when.  But I remember the process, so I’m not surprised by the steps we take. 

He gets changed into his Johnny Shirts and when he emerges from the dressing room a wave comes over me.  He is so tall.  The last time we did this he sat on my lap in his hospital gown as we waited.  That I do remember. I look at him and he looks like a giant.  And he has leg hair.  (I swear there will be people who ‘get’ this sentence and others who won’t.  And that’s ok.  But for those who do … I’m just sayin’!)

And I’m sitting and he is standing and he is so old and I FEEL so old and I have to say to myself – I’m not worried. 

We wait a long time. 

I’m not worried.

And then like before the healthcare worker comes and I stuff the feeling into the compartment. 

She starts going through all the prep – the prep before the procedure – and we keep busy doing the small things that need to be done. We are familiar with the routine and wearing that familiarity like a coat of … what? … honour … gratitude … knowledge?  I can’t place the word but damn can I ever place the feeling. It comes with every appointment we have here.

Our final part before going into the room is a spin on the metal detector, and then we are off.  

Into the room we go.  Again, he has been in the machine before, he knows what to expect.  So do I.  I’m not worried.

Mom sit in the rocking chair.  Kid, get in the massive machine. Lay still. Here’s your sheet. Knees bent over the knee bendy thing.  Put your head in here.  Squeeze the ball thingy if you need anything. All good.  I’m not worried. I remember it all.

And now the earplugs and the goggles.

The what? Huh? 

I forgot about those. 

They are the last things she does for him and as I look at him before he gets slid away into the machine my heart starts to beat a little faster. I don’t like not remembering things.  You see if I remember things, and they turned out ok, and then we have to do those things again – even if they are big things, and even if they are a decade later – well then in my head they will be ok this time too. 

I know. We Oncology Moms don’t think normally.

But I didn’t remember this. Those two little things. I didn’t remember.

I sit there watching him move in and out of the large machine that actually makes him look small.  And I spend the next hour wavering back and forth in my thoughts.  An hour!  I don’t remember it being an hour either. My gut says not to worry about this.  But look at this machine and what it does – they wouldn’t send him down here ‘just because’. But they are just being cautious because of his risk.  He has been off treatment forever. He is so ok.  Damn that machine is so loud. I forgot how loud it is too. Just when my heart settles the stupid thing sounds like there is an emergency. And was that screen always there counting down each “take”? I don’t remember that count down clock. I think it’s a good thing at first – we will know when it is over. But they keep resetting it over and over and over again. And most importantly how is he? How is he really? Is he doing ok? I hope he asks for help if he needs it. Teenagers. He is a teenager.  Almost a man. Where are his thoughts right now? 

Back and forth, back and forth go my thoughts and my heart. 

And then from somewhere … from nowhere … everything settles down inside me.

And suddenly all I feel is familiarity.  It all feels familiar again.  Because in that room, it’s only him and I. Just him and I.  Us. Together.  And we have done this before. So many times. And if we need to, we will do it again. And again and again and again. It’s who we are. It’s what we do.

But can I just say … can I just put out into this big wide amazing universe … I sure do hope he gets the privilege of being ‘around the corner’ in September … wearing that sweatshirt we just bought him two hours ago.

If he does, well I guess a side of MRI with the SWAG today was an ok price to pay.

** Note – I would never write this publicly without sharing that literally the day following the MRI we received a call from our long term follow up care coordinator saying that the results of the MRI were not related to the presence of cancer.**

**So around the corner he gets to go.**It’s a good day**

No Other Way

It’s 9:30 am and there are still no signs of life from the boys in my basement.

I’m sorry. Correct that.

The MEN in my basement.

Because that’s who they are now. Men. In age (some of them legally ~ some of them only a breath away), in physical stature, and in ability. And last night as they raided my kitchen for SuperBowl wings, pizza, dip and popcorn chicken there is nothing boyish about those appetites either.

But they will always ~ always ~ be boys to me.

That became crystal clear this morning as I awoke at 3am. I always sleep very lightly when my kids have friends over, but last night was a significant snow storm and my 3am wake-up was also due to howling winds from a vicious storm. My first thought before I even opened my eyes was “are they all ok”?

I’m past the point of being able to go to the basement to check in on them physically ~ but downstairs I go, taking care of them still, in whatever way I can.

I listen at the top of the basement stairs … and then wonder … what, exactly, in God’s name am I listening for?

Ofcourse they are ok Karrie-Ann. What logical reason would there be for them not to be ok? A rogue tree hasn’t made its way through the locked door onto the couches they are splayed out upon. A window hasn’t broken and let in an avalanche of snow.

And even if any of these things have indeed insanely happened, they are smart enough and strong enough to take care of it, roll over, and continue their carefree dreams with no need for any assistance from me.

But worry I still do as the snow piles up and the wind screeches.

So I pitter patter around the kitchen, tip toeing silently, not wanting to wake them, and I fill up more jugs of water, and top up the bathtub in case we lose power. Doing nothing really, but needing to do something.

As I’m doing all of this, I wonder if I will always worry about them in this way.

But it’s a stupid thing to wonder.

Whether they are men or whether they are boys, whether they are still in my life, or whether they have moved on, ofcourse I know the answer.

And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

“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.