Category Archives: Gratitude

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.

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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.

I Do Know

I do know.

I do know I’m abnormally attached to your boys.

No really. I am.

I very much see this for what it is and feel a little sorry for your kiddos who have to endure yet another adult who is so invested in their presence on this earth. Particularly during a time of teenage hood where they would be happy if a giant hole swallowed everyone over the age of 30.

But there I am – always in the wings.

I cheer just a little bit louder when “they” have their time in the spotlight either on the court or walking across a stage accepting achievements.

I tease ‘them’ just a little bit more than their counterparts.

I wave a little bigger and my heart melts a little bit more when I see ‘them’.

I do know my love for them is one that is usually reserved for family members.

I do know I’m a little too thankful for them.

I do know I’m a little too invested in their lives. That I ask about them a little too often.

I do know that when Mark is having groups of friends over I always hope to hear their name in the list of attendees (which is pretty much always true).

And I do know sometimes I even expect a little too much of them – as I do from people I truly care about. I do know the unfairness of that to them – and to you.

And I do know they aren’t my children.

I do know all of these things.

But what YOU don’t know is this:

There was a time in my life I didn’t know my son would have these friendships. At all. With anyone. I didn’t know that he would be blessed enough to have these relationships. That he would know the camaraderie of being one of the gang. Something that has now come to mean everything to him.

And here’s the other thing:

I bet you always took for granted that your children would form these bonds. Maybe you didn’t know who they would be with, or when they would happen – but I bet in life you pictured they would have close friends who would have their back.

There was a time I didn’t.

There was a time I didn’t believe he would have the privilege of fist bumps and shared laughter. I didn’t believe he would be on a court working with others. I didn’t believe he would have that feeling that comes from close knit friends.

So yes. I do know I care a little too much. I even know I care much too much.

But this was a future I never knew he would have, and so the hard truth for you and your boys is this: I don’t know how to be any other way.

Celebrities on Planes

When your husband texts you from the plane saying YOU’LL NEVER BELIEVE WHO I GOT TO SIT NEXT TO ON THE PLANE!!!!

But you haven’t received the photo yet.

So you sit and wait and think. OH MY GOD – WHO IS IT GOING TO BE? What famous person is travelling from Halifax to Toronto on January 26th that Craig knows I would be incredibly excited about?? Jim Cuddy? Drake? Meghan Markle? Prince HARRY!! (Because of course he flies commercial coach) OMG OMG could it be Bon Jovi??? It HAS to be someone INCREDIBLE AND IMPORTANT AND AMAZING for my easy going husband to be so excited and text me about it.

And finally the picture comes in.

And sitting there – with two huge goofy selfie grins on their faces – is my husband and my sons Oncologist.

And I start to laugh and cry at the same time … and I can’t stop doing either.

Because I couldn’t have been more right – about the incredible, important and amazing person part.

Period.

The White Spaces

Merry Christmas 2017

“Open Your Heart and Look Around

Listen. Listen.

Hear the Song within the Silence

See the Beauty When There’s Nothing There”

~Idina Menzel~

This quote is of course from the incomparable Idina Menzel and her song December Prayer.  It has been the song that I find myself looking most forward to this Christmas – the one I relate to this year – the one that gives me pause and reflection.

As I was driving the other day I kept repeating the above verse in my head. I thought about how busy Christmas can be and I thought of our old fashioned calendar that hangs on fridge at home.

It probably surprises none of you that our entire lives are on that calendar.  The kids have been well trained (haha) over the years to put all their happenings there (Craig is less trained, but we laugh and forgive him as we sigh and go mark in his appointments and activities for him).  We have different color sharpies for each of us and we have become a well-oiled family machine of organization. (Albeit a machine that is maybe a little ancient because it still uses paper and pen – but alas it works for us).

At this time of year I often use that calendar to help me write our Christmas newsletter.  I pour over it and it helps me remember all the things that the past year held for us.  Looking at it I’m reminded of amazing trips and camping adventures, new jobs and new schools, sad endings and exciting beginnings.  This little calendar holds so much of our wonderful history over the past year.

But also, especially in months like December, the calendar can seem overwhelming. At first glance it is a sea of green, red, blue and black.  A constant reminder of all the things that need to be done, that we need to drive to, that we need to make time for.   There are times it’s easy to get anxious about the December page and how many boxes are filled in – not only with one color but with all four.  And yes – they are full of fun things we all look forward to – but still they are commitments that come with preparation and that often take us in four separate directions.

But then I take a deep breath and I look again.  And it is there I see my favorite thing and I smile.  All throughout this colorful, marked-over, tattered piece of paper there actually are some blank spots.  Beautiful blocks of emptiness. White space I have become fierce about protecting.

It is this white space that I have learned is sacred. These are not boxes ‘to be filled up’. It is here – in the space where “there is nothing there” – it is here where there is everything. Because it’s here where we are all together and unscheduled.  Sure there are lots of times we are together with green pen – times when we have family events & dinners at friends.  But these white spaces – this unplanned openness – those become the most beautiful days and evenings at Christmas. Times for us as a family.  Days and nights filled with ease – when we don’t have to get out of our pajamas, where we sit around the tree, watch movies, read, eat chicken bbq nachos and play games. Together. Those times are the most precious to me.  Those times don’t get penned into a calendar. Those times are found in the white spaces.

So when someone calls and asks if I am free on a certain date this holiday season, and my answer is no, it may not be because the box is filled with pen – but instead because its empty and I’ve learned to “Hear the Song within the Silence. See the Beauty When There’s Nothing There.”

So here’s to 2018 ~ I wish you all a year filled with health, happiness … and many white spaces on your calendars!

Merry Christmas,

Karrie-Ann

Our Passion and Priority

I’m writing this on the Marine Atlantic Ferry from Newfoundland to Cape Breton, having just spent an eighteen day vacation with my family.

Soon I will return home and I will post an album (or two or three) on Facebook sharing our adventures. These photographs will be incredible memories of our time together – they will be filled with breathtaking scenery, smiling faces and new adventures. They will be many and they will be irreplaceable. Our family’s history, I often say, will not be written – it will be viewed.

But these photographs will not depict any of the “reasons” I purposefully choose to travel with my family as much as I do.  

In fact I can’t think of one of these photographs, from any of our 17 trips (wow!) that will show you why Craig and I work so hard to put travel near the top of our family’s priority list.

The following is a list of 15 reasons we are so dedicated to travelling both near and far with these human beings we happen to share some chromosomes with:

(1) So they can feel what it’s like to be a minority – even if it’s just for the shortest of moments.

Whether it’s a visible minority, a language minority, a cultural minority, or other examples, they each have had opportunities to experience both – if not for long periods of time, at least in situations in which they would not have had the chance to experience at home.

(2) For them to learn and practice compassion and confidence.

I remember being in Montreal when a gentleman with a probable mental health illness approached Mark and started talking to him. Often when we travel they are also learning how to confidently and compassionately interact with everyone in life.

(3) To understand how blessed they are.

Whether it’s travelling the villages in Cuba or the outskirts of Los Angeles, they have seen, walked through, and learned how lucky they are. No lectures or words needed.

(4) To learn new skills and foster strategic thinking.

While in New York City, after a few days, we made them each find our way back to our hotel by themselves – once with a map and once without, just learning how the city is laid out, learning to navigate, learning to think in a spatial manner. Learning to not rely on lazy digital fixes.

(5) To sit in the uncomfortable for awhile … and finally, maybe, become a little more comfortable there.

Period.

(6) To see, touch, and stand in history. 

They will learn so much from books as they go through school. But nothing can replace being there – digging for dinosaur fossils in Drumheller, standing where the Beothuk stood in Newfoundland, touring the many museums of the Smithsonian, sitting in the House of Commons while in session and watching the Prime Minister and opposition leaders debate. These experiences trump the written word for them.

(7) To make the world seem both small, and big, at the same time.

I want both for them. Equally. For the world to be grandiose but at the same time for them to feel its accessibility. 

(8) To experience wonder.  

“Wonder” is a funny thing. It’s not joy or happiness. It’s different for everyone, but you know it when you feel it. For me it’s that feeling when I stand at the peak of a mountain top and see the clouds below me. For my kids it will be something different. But chances are they have/or will come across it in their journeys.

(9) To build their relationship as siblings.

It’s difficult to describe the way in which they bond when they travel. The way they interact and count on each other when they’re together 24 hours a day, 18 days in a row, with no one else their age around. You would think they would fight. A lot. They don’t. It’s so much the opposite.  

(10) To spend true uninhibited time as a family.

There is nothing, NOTHING, for me, that compares to the conversations, experiences and laughter we share while on the road for an extended period of time. It is magical. It was part of the reason we upped the ante on the number of trips we make a priority to take.

(11) To laugh. 

The laughter that comes from their cottage bedroom. Because they always have to share a bedroom. The things they find hilarious. The things we all experience and then laugh for days about until they become “part of the trip”. That is the soundtrack to my life I love most.

(12) To create memories. New unforgettable memories.

Life is short. You are always guaranteed one thing when you choose to make travel a priority for your family – the memories will last forever.

(13) Trial runs for life.

Someday they will spread their wings and be off on their own. Hopefully these adventures will take them far and wide. Learning to read a subway map, or getting yourself from the airport doors through the logistical hoops until you board a plane, or managing the security at a sporting event in the largest arena in North America … all of these are trial runs for when they are doing these things on their own in the world.

(14) Nurturing passion.

There is a theory that ‘desire’ is goal orientated and controlled, while passion is wild at heart and free. Travel as a passion is a gift – one I want to nurture as their mother.

(15) To open their minds, and their hearts, just a little bit more.

Their lives can be so narrow as teenagers – the next soccer practice, the next performance, the next party, the next test. Travel shows them there is more in this life than the over scheduled days in a week. There is much more. And it can be never-ending. Near or far. As long as its a priority.

Sometimes I look at the money we spend on these adventures (as hard as we work to keep them reasonable) and I think – wow – we could have had the house paid off by now. Or that brand name wardrobe. Or that cottage. But no. Instead this is our family’s priority. And I’ve never regretted one moment of it. Nor do I think do they.