Category Archives: Gratitude

So I Sit and Watch

My daughter and son both play basketball. Until they started playing, I didn’t understand what a full-on-contact, hard hitting sport it can be. There are times I would rather have them play football. At least they’d have padding.

Yesterday I was watching the last game in my son’s tournament. He plays on two different teams, a school team and a community team. I love watching him. I’ve found as a parent, there are so many aspects to the sports they play, not the least of which is my own enjoyment.

There are moments in life that are overwhelming just by the very nature of being a parent. Those moments where you sit back and just “see” your kid. See them excel or shine in some way, and you stand in awe at what amazing little human beings they are becoming.

And then there are those other moments that stop me in my tracks. The ones where the reality of our lives come rushing back. My son had cancer. My SON had cancer. And not just any cancer. He had a high risk, very rare cancer. The odds were not in his favour.

To see him do these things at this age, the simple act of playing a game of basketball, to see him have this life, it is just sometimes very emotional. I sit and watch him and realize that he is not only living, this kid is flourishing. Physically, emotionally, socially, academically. His attitude, his spirit. He is flourishing. If you were to line him up with his peers you would never pick him out as the one whose odds were against him. The gratitude I have can take my breath away. Watching him do simple things that everyone else around me simply take for granted. 

Yes, it overwhelms me. 

So here I sit. And I watch him play this game he has come to love. I watch him with a heart full of pride and reverence. 

But here’s the thing, there is also a part of me that watches with incredible trepidation.

My mind knows it has been 7 yrs since chemo. And I know it has been 4 years since a positive prognosis.

This is a good thing. We are out of the woods. My mind tells me we are so far out the woods. We are in a grassy field in the middle of the flat prairies of Saskatchewan with not a tree in the distance. But it matters not. Because I realize that I watch with a different set of eyes than these amazing mothers next to me. I just do. It just is.

I sit on the sidelines and smile and laugh and talk and joke. And ALL of this is real. None of this is fake or put on for a show. If you knew me you would know this. I sit and watch with all of these things – joy, eagerness and gratitude – 100% of the time.

But there is still this fear. And that too is there – 100% of the time. There are days it is near the surface, and there are days that it is buried so deep that I barely know it’s there.

But it always is. He is my child. It will always be there. 

A hard hit here. Knocked down there. How long will that bruise last? Will it come quickly and go quickly? Will I have to count the days? Where was he hit? What are his platelets sitting at? What is his ANC? Bruises. I lived and died by bruises for so long. And can I just say – worst sign of relapse to watch for. Ever. He is constantly covered in them. And tiredness and bone pain?  Tell me the difference between that and growing pains and teenage laziness? And what about all those sweet little drugs that affect bone density and heart function and foot drop? What will his next bone density test show? What about his next ECG? Will they be above or below his baselines? Should he be playing as hard as he is? What if the tests come back on the downgrade? Chemo does no favours for your developing bones nor your heart. 

And, and, and, and. There is a list a mile long of latent long term side effects. Some that we are still being followed up for. Some that are standard and some that are unique to his therapy. Is him smashing into walls and floors and boys two feet taller than him doing him any favours? His body has been through so much.  

Yesterday my eyes welled up for a moment when he went down hard on the court. And on the inside of five seconds all of these thoughts came rushing to me. As they always do and probably always will. But then on the inside of “six” seconds I push them back down again and realize that yes – of course this is the life I want for him – a life not one smidgen different on the outside than the rest of his friends. This is what life is supposed to be for him. Living big and bold and running in toward the basket for that “take” with no trepidation at all (at least on his part).

So I sit and I watch. I smile and I laugh and I talk with the other Moms. My friends. And yes, I hold my breath. But even as I do, there still isn’t one moment where I don’t continue to whisper thank you – for all of it. 

Two Days with Five Boys

 A self indulgent, terribly long, tongue-in-cheek post that waffles between the first and third person. Mainly to serve as a memory so that some day, far into the future, I can remember two days with five boys.

Remember when your kids were young and your childcare provider would give you a run down of their day when you picked them up?

This week I took five boys to the city for two days. Here’s my teenage boy version of that run down.  

Day One of Two

Leave at 9am. Stop at Superstore to let the boys spend $40 of my points on snacks for the weekend. They momentarily consider spending all the points on a large stuffed pink hedgehog to use as a mascot the entire weekend instead of food. Teenage stomachs overrule the brief sidebar and junk food it is. Surprisingly though some fruit and cheese are also part of the equation. Small wonders.

11:30 am we arrive at the Oval and rent skates. The boys request sizes that range from 5 to 13. Seriously. When else in life do you have friends that range so much in physicality? 

I learn that The Oval only carries one pair of size 13 skates. At all. Mental note to reserve them next time, and hope Matt doesn’t keep growing, otherwise we will have to rent a sledge to push him around with.

Put skates on and answer the question “do I have to wear a helmet?” Yes. Sorry. It’s the uncool part of the program, and I have big plans of bringing home all five of you with intact skulls.

Out they go onto freshly zambonied ice. (I know it’s not a word).

I immediately sigh with relief as I realize I’m not the only parent who hasn’t taken my child skating since Grade 5. I stand and watch as they look like a cross between drunk gazelles and baby deer. With the exception of hockey-player Daniel who glides effortlessly around the ice with his hands in his pockets like he is in a 1940s Black and White Film. I expect Audrey Hepburn to jump out of the bushes at any moment to skate hand and hand with him. He’s that smooth. 

Meanwhile some of my other flock have taken to utilizing the child-assist skating devices. I worry for a moment if they should be giving them to the small children, but quickly recognize that is a moot point – as the 8 year olds skate circles around my 13 and 14 year olds.

Time for Chris to return his skates and helmet. When asked what last name it was under he says Ann. My last name is not Ann. I have known Chris for 5 years. This will be the “bit” of the weekend.

Chris apologizes. Karrie-Ann threatens to take Chris’ fruit away if he keeps apologizing for things. Sweetest most respectful kid ever.

Leave the Oval. Justin trips over a stick and falls down. He lays in the ground a long time and looks to be injured. Crap. We are only 3 hours in to this weekend and we already have a man down. Damn it. Wait. Nope. He can’t catch his breath because he is laughing so hard. No harm no foul.

Load in the van. Give them choice of where to eat. Will drive them anywhere. They unanimously and excitedly request the food court at the Halifax Shopping Centre.

Huh?

Mental Note: Start taking kids out to places with more culture than food courts.

They proceed to spend two hours at the mall. This is new. The mall? Shopping? I guess they aren’t 10 anymore Dorothy.  

Watch as some girls watch the boys and the boys watch some girls.

Head to the hotel. We have only rented one suite for six of us. They will break some fire codes and “illegally” cram into the living room side of things to sleep on the floor, pull out sofa and “feel” like they have a room to themselves.

I ask three of them to come with me to check in, leaving two in the van. I have a flashback to when the kids were little and I would have never left them in a car by themselves. 

I wonder for a moment if someone might try to kidnap the 6’2″ children. 

Check in and go dump stuff in room. Try to discreetly go back downstairs and sneak remainder of “the children” through the side door.

Learning of the day: They are all too big and loud to try and sneak anywhere. Graceful and sleuthlike is not their forte.

Arrive in room. They hook up the XBOX to the TV. I never would have agreed to bringing a video game system on our mini vacay if it wasn’t for the pending storm knowing we could be stuck in the hotel room a good part of the day.

I learn later that night that there are screens and then there are screens. These games they play – they never stop talking and laughing. It’s very unlike screens when they are on their social media. 

Head to cineplex to beat the storm. Drop boys off. Go shopping. Worry the entire time if the storm will start early as I have four kids who are not my own with me. (The fact that I am literally less than five minutes to the hotel doesn’t seem to factor into reality for me).

Go to Boston pizza to pre-order pizza. BOGO on pizza. Score. We can eat supper for $10 each.

Return to find boys at the theatre arcade. Matt and Daniel are either incredibly skilled or incredibly lucky at an arcade game and receive an unusual amount of tickets to trade for bouncy balls. Which of course they must have. 

The dichotomy of this age is one of the things I love most. 

Young woman behind the counter becomes confused and somewhat defiant when the tall men-like creatures standing before her insist on acquiring all of said bouncy balls with their dozens of tickets.

Sadly Karrie-Ann (again Ann is not not her last name) must break up the conversation as she insists it’s time to go as a blizzard is forming quickly and we do not want to be stuck in the Cineplex with rude-bouncy-ball-lady for the entire weekend.

Eat the cheap pizza at hotel.

They go to the pool to swim. Return within 5 minutes. Too many little kids. (Be still my heart – they aren’t ‘the little kids’ anymore)

Return to pool after some serious gaming. Apparently have pool all to themselves later in the night.

Karrie-Ann chooses not to supervise them at pool – there is only five of them – letting them grow up and go. 

She instead spends the entire hour in room praying they don’t make stupid decisions to dive head first into the concrete bottom.

They return in one piece. Phew. Dodged that bullet.

Try to sleep.

12:35 am. Karrie-Ann quietly but meaningfully turns on her light and shuffles about her room hoping they can see the light from the crack under my door. She hears “shhhhhhh” and laughter. She makes a mental note in 10 minutes she will be less discreet and go yell at the boys that it’s time to settle down.

12:36 am. Karrie-Ann falls asleep. Who the hell knows what happens between 12:37 and 7:00 am. Bars and strip clubs perhaps.

Day Two of Two

Wake up and give thanks that a) it appears no boy wandered out of the hotel room never to return and b) we did NOT get kicked out of the hotel.

That’s how I’m defining success this weekend.

Inform boys next time there will be a morning curfew – no one out of bed until 8am. Matt and Chris agree. Particularly Matt who got elbowed by Daniel several times asking if he was up yet. No Daniel. He wasn’t up. Truth be told though it was Chris’ alarm and my early morning son and Jackson who started the sunrise fiasco.

Boys head down to eat breakfast and play a tournament of something on the gaming system. 

Karrie-Ann drinks two large cups of coffee. Without Baileys. Give myself pat on the back for not being inebriated around the children.

Somewhere around this time they call me on “a swear”. I called one of them a smart-ass. I love they think that qualifies as swearing. I love even more I never heard one disrespectful word from them all weekend toward me. Not one. And that’s the truth.  

Get ready to leave hotel for Get Air. 

Uh oh. Realization that a bomb exploded in the boys room. We may need a late check out just for them to clean it up. 

The sloth-like creatures do a reasonable job in an unreasonable amount of time. How the hell are they so fast on the court?

Arrive at Get Air. Everyone from Halifax and Dartmouth are there. No really. Everyone. People have quit their jobs to come here today. The line is nearly out the door.  

Finally get through. Boys go jump. I go sit and make small talk with other Moms I’ve never met before. Big mistake. I don’t have the energy for small talk. I should have went and sat in the van by myself. 

All five return after their one hour jumping session with no injuries and have apparently not jumped on nor injured any people shorter than them either. 

Once again – success.

Look for van in parking lot. We are all confused when it won’t unlock. Another mental note – pay better attention when renting a vehicle – memory consisting of “blue van” doesn’t cut it in the city.

Pile back into the correct van only to pile back out again after a vote calls for eating prior to leaving. 

Go eat. Sit away from them to give them space. I’m so tired my head feels heavy. Would it be conspicuous to lay my head down next to my quesadilla and take a little nap?

I realize what a long period of consecutive waking hours they have been together – usually they would have breaks in time when spending two days together. They have done very well. They are good kids and they make me proud – even though only one of them is mine – I’m so proud of them all.

Ok. All done. Time to go home.

The drives are always the best part. They chirp each other and make the stupidest jokes and try to one-up each other. They try and beat each other at some game I can’t pronounce. They fight over the back seats which is where they are most squished but still want to be.

There is one point as I’m dropping Daniel off to his house that I laugh so hard tears literally pour out of my eyes. I’m so so so tired. Why don’t I have a vehicle that drives itself?

Two days with five boys. 

Each of who unfold themselves from the van as I drop them off. Each of whom try and find their bags and pillows from the piled-high-Beverly-Hillbillies-Van. And each of whom holler a big and sincere “Thank You” as they drag themselves to their homes.  

Each of them exhausted, over tired and zombie like. They don’t exactly “look” like a great time was had. They are smelly from Get Air. Come to think of it I’m not sure I saw any toothbrushes out at the sink either. And certainly not a shower was had. Will their mothers ever let me take them anywhere again?

But even smelly and exhausted, I wouldn’t trade these two days or these five boys for the world. 

These are the moments.

Oh – and by the way – the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead. 

It’s an inside joke. Which isn’t so much a joke as a game. And which I wasn’t really on the inside of either.

But how thankful I was … to be on the outside of it looking in.

The Boy and the Girl Next Door

One year ago I stood and watched my childhood home burn to the ground.

It seems like a small thing now doesn’t it?

In the midst of world events. 

I guess. Maybe. But it wasn’t small to me, and it wasn’t small to my parents then either.

It’s the eternal cliche, but time really does help heal and fade so many tragedies.

But today I’m looking back and I’m remembering that day, and it’s hard to believe sometimes that 365 days have since passed.

I could write about a million feelings and stories that spring from that day, but the one memory I always come back to – from the day itself – is the moment I turned around. Once metaphorically and once literally, to see the boy, and the girl, next door.

I was in Liverpool in the middle of a meeting when I got a phone call from my brother telling me the news.

It’s strange news to comprehend really. You’re not sure what to feel. Immediately the only thing that matters is that everyone is safe. So that is your predominant emotion the entire day/week/month. Nothing else matters.

Except. Somehow. It does. Maybe?

Because throughout the entire hour and a half drive from Liverpool to Nicholsville other thoughts start creeping in. What are they? They seem familiar. But wait a minute. All I’m supposed to be feeling is grateful. Everyone is ok. 

But there they come again. Those thoughts. They well up in my chest and start falling out my eyes. And they are coming in the spits and spats. They are coming in between the “what will my parents do now?” question on my head. And they sneak through the logistical “what a nightmare insurance will be” questions. And also they dive right through the sense of loss I immediately feel for both of my parents and selfishly myself.  

These images and feelings and thoughts I can’t seem to name just won’t let go, even among the other 103 things whirling around my head right now. What is going on?? 

And then it hits me. Somewhere around driving through Morristown. 

Oh. I recognize them now. It’s the memories. They are pesky little memories. Particularly memories of my childhood.

And bam. All of a sudden the only thing in my head (wait, no, make that my heart) is the one mile stretch of pavement between the Palmer Road and Victoria Road and a black house that sits on a small hill. 

For the rest of the day that was all my world consisted of. Which funny enough is where the fire trucks blocked off all traffic from entering. That one mile stretch.

When you grow up in the country you have a lot of space around you. Which means that you don’t have as many neighbours as you would in town. But the neighbours you do have take on a different role. The people I grew up with were “in” my life in a way that is difficult to explain. I called their parents “Aunt” and “Uncle” even though there were no blood ties. There was a comfort there that went beyond neighboours or friendship.

But ofcourse life, and people, grow up and move on. I had long ago “moved away”. And these people on this stretch of road become fond memories but no longer really “present” in your life. 

Because that just kind of how life is.

But as my brother and I drove up to Victoria Road and hit that threshold – that one mile stretch – the waves of memories with these people came crashing back.

I drive this road all the time still to come visit my parents. Why were these flooding back so significantly now?

And then we pulled up to the house burning. And there were Mom and Dad. And I became 10 years old again. And suddenly I knew why I was feeling those memories so strongly.

Because my entire childhood was on that road, in that house. It sounds so simple, but is so true.

And so we stood there for quite a long time watching. The four of us. My Mom, Dad, brother and me.

And to anyone watching us that’s exactly what it looked like. Just the four of us.

But it wasn’t.

Not for me.

I was somehow also haunted by all of the people who touched my lives while I grew up in that house.

And as I stood there watching, all of a sudden there was a tap on my shoulder. And there she was. The girl next door. Dawne Boates. Who didn’t really live next door – but in fact a mile down the road, and whose last name is no longer Boates, but there she was, and for a moment nothing else mattered. I can’t imagine wanting to see anyone more.

She hugged me, and that hug seemed to last forever. I can’t ever explain to her what that hug meant – how much was in it.

And then she did EXACTLY what I needed. She gave us a bag of clothes (oh my god those clothes were better than gold – my feet were so cold) told us she was there for anything we needed. Hugged me again. And then she left. Left us to be alone and deal with our emotions and grief. It was one of the most respectful, most needed things that has ever happened to me. Her action in coming. Her hug. Her gift. Her respectful leaving.

In those moments I knew how much she was hurting for us – how much she wanted to help.

And the rest of the day came and went – in loss and uncertainty.

But it did so with a little gentle help from another someone else from beginning to end.

From the boy next door.

Because there he was, Tim Palmer, the entire day. Tim, who had built a home next door to his parents and across from mine. Tim, who may have spent as much of his childhood at my house as his own. There he was. The entire day doing exactly what we needed him to do. Walking that very fine line of being present but not in the forefront. Respecting our family’s time together, and never pushing. But instead ordering an entire feast for us from a local diner, giving us shelter to come and go, warming up his truck for us to sit in, lending us clothes, talking and listening, stepping up and stepping back. His presence and his actions, were everything to me.

And so there it was. Who knew that on this awful day when I morphed back into a 10 year old girl, that my two childhood friends would reappear in my life like magic? 

Ofcourse it makes perfect sense. Who could understand my loss more than these two who spent so much time in those walls with me?

The boy and the girl next door.  

There weren’t two people I wanted to see more.

And I will forever be whispering thank you for them.

I Love that My Kids Don’t have a House

It’s the second day of 2017 and I am listening to the all-too-familiar sound coming from the basement of six kids “just hanging out”. It’s a great way to start off the year of course, and I am ever thrilled to have them here.

Over the holidays Craig and I were chatting about how many Christmases we had spent here on the Bluff, and it’s hard to believe we are in year eleven now. Eleven years ago we built our home; and we built it as we try to do so many things, with thought and purpose.  

At the time the kids were ages five and three, and teenage-hood seemed a long way off. But I am a person who is forever looking into the future, and I knew I wanted a home that the kids would want to bring their friends to. A place they could keep busy, enjoy being at, and feel welcome.

And so it began. 

We finished the basement ‘just enough’. Not so much that we had to worry about breakables or spills on high end furniture – but enough that they had a large space all to themselves on a separate floor. Later came an air hockey table, video gaming consoles, basketball hoops, soccer nets, hockey nets, a treehouse, a pool, a fire pit, a hot tub, outdoor movies, a trampoline. All on three acres of land that has seen massive nerf wars, fort building, snowball fights and some ominous sledding.

Phew!

Finally it was complete.

Our own virtual den of bribery.  

(Insert evil cackle).

That was it. We were going to be “the house” all the kids would hang out at. I could feel it in my bones.

(Insert heavy dose of sarcasm and ironic humour). How little I knew!

But it worked.

Kind of.

Our home has seen countless kids, teenagers and families through our doors. I like to think they all feel comfortable here – not only because of the home we have created but because we all enjoy their presence here and we feel they enjoy ours. Everyone seems to want to come back.

Now certainly parts of this blog entry have been written very tongue in cheek. Ofcourse I wasn’t twisting my moustache every day sinisterly planning to be the only home my kids ever hung out at. But when your kids are young and growing up, “letting go” seems overwhelming, and there certainly was a small nugget of truth there in the sarcasm. 

Admit it. You know you used to talk about it. “We want our kids to hang here so we know where they are”. “We want to be the house on the block that all the kids come to”. I remember having this same conversation with atleast three of you over the years, haha, and I think it was true for many of us if we are honest.

And really … I mean come on. I certainly couldn’t have Megan and Mark hanging at their friends houses. There would be drugs and cigarettes and sex there. Not to mention the twenty-four hour parties, pornography and danger danger danger. Wouldn’t there? 

Ok – maybe that’s a little extreme. But even if the parents were nice and friendly, I still needed to be the main adult on the periphery of their social lives … didn’t I?

DIDN’T I???????

Well quelle surprise …

What I didn’t know wayyyyyy back then was how brilliantly and deftly they would choose the people they wanted in their lives. How incredible their friends are, and how ofcourse those boys and girls didn’t magically come from a stork, but from amazing families and homes – homes I want my children to be a part of. 

So it turns out there isn’t just one house I want my kids to be at. Not even mine. My kids are better for not having “a” house . They are better for it not being ours and they are better for it not being someone else’s. 

Each of them seemingly rotate with beautiful frequency. They have shared spaghetti eating and NYE memories at the Cederberg’s, hot chocolate parties at the dePutters, Tuesdays suppers at the Crouse’s, Board Game fun at the Richards, movie magic at the other Richards, etc etc etc. The list and the families go on and on and on.

The point is, how could I have known, when they were five and three, so tiny and vulnerable, that I wouldn’t want our house to be the house … but instead for it to be one of many houses … filled with warm welcoming families that make my kiddos lives so much richer for being there?  

Just as I hope our home and family does for their friends.  

So here’s to 2017, and the rotating door of teenagers – both in my home and yours and yours and yours – how lucky we are to have so many houses.

Why I Still Write that Obnoxious Christmas Letter

I remember about six years ago I was sitting around a table with some colleagues in our lunch room near  Christmas time. We were talking and laughing and sharing, and one of the women mentioned her disdain for a certain trend that some of her friends and acquaintances regularly took part in: The writing, printing and subsequently sharing of the not-so-original Christmas Letter. She revealed her exasperation of this trend while others nodded, chimed in, and whole heartedly concurred. The practice of summing up you and your family’s life into one too-perfect, very-fake, succinct little 8 1/2 by 11 page. How smug these people were, with their narcissistic bragging about their perfect children, their fairytale accounts of their lives.  

And so there it was. On the inside of 10 minutes, a concise yet firm degradation of the somewhat infamous Christmas Letter.

I wanted to crawl under the table.

No really. It was one of those moments I wish the floor could have swallowed me whole.

Because “I” was one of those narcissistic women who penned those Christmas Letters every single year. Only mine weren’t one page long. Mine were three entire pages. Often in the smallest font size that I felt was plausible for reading, just so I could fit more of my bragging onto the page.  

Yes I wanted to disappear that day. Because I was one of those women.

Oh wait.

I still am.

Yes. You heard me. I still am one of those self centred authors of said Christmas letter. The only difference between then and now, is that I no longer want to crawl in a hole over this little tradition of mine – but instead whisper thank you for my consistent decision to participate in it without fail each year.

I started in 1999. We were living in New Brunswick at the time. Our children were yet to be born and it was mine and Craig’s second year of marriage. We had just come back from three weeks in Europe. It was before the existence of any social media, and before stamps cost a small fortune. That first letter was less than a page long, and I safely, and with pride, tucked it inside each Christmas card I sent. 

As the years have come and gone I have written a Christmas Letter (I began calling them “newsletters”) for each one. As the children came, and as they grew, so did the length of my letters. They developed a feel and style all their own. I took great care in choosing what paper I would use. I had different “sections” that changed over the years. In a world of immediacy and conciseness, I took the time each year to be thoughtful about what I typed.  

I adored these letters. I adored writing them and I adored sharing them. It was before the time of blogging and memes and they gave me a chance to write. They gave me a chance not only to share our year, but to do so in a creative, heartfelt and funny way.

But then, a few years back, enter Social Media. I was consciously delayed to the game of social media, but actively embraced it probably five years back. Now that I was on this platform called Facebook, what was there possibly left to share in the form of an old fashioned Christmas Letter, on actual printed paper? For a moment, a brief moment, I considered stopping.  

And then something, or rather someone(s) hit me over the head, and I realized something that is so clear to me now, it’s a wonder I didn’t connect the dots before.

These Christmas letters I write aren’t for everyone else. Not really.  

Instead they are for four people. The four people who matter most to me. Megan, Mark, Craig, and yes, even me.

A few years ago, as I was wondering what the point of them was anymore, and as I was feeling a little narcissistic about writing them, I turned around and I saw my daughter pick one up from the past year. She finished reading it, and asked me when I was going to finish the one for the current year. And it was then it hit me.

These three pages I type each year are a summary of our entire lives together. They are our history. They are carefully chosen words by me, her mother, in my own voice, detailing the highs (and yes sometimes even the lows) of our 365 days together as a family.  

And it was then I really “saw” it. Every year her and Mark wait to read the Christmas Letter. None of it is new information them – but they can’t wait to read it. They read how proud I am of them. They read what an amazing life we have together. They read about their accomplishments – and mine and Craig’s too. And I realized – my heavens – what a gift these are to them now and in the years to come. Their mothers own words about our lives together. Written with love and humour and pride. 

Our story. 

Maybe not in a book. Maybe not in APA format. Maybe a little too predictable in layout, and certainly not winning any writers guild awards.  But there it lies- our story – each year on the coffee table. Waiting for them. And they will have those forever.

This year (as the above photograph indicates) I caught Megan reading every single one. As she went back over the years I caught her laughing (and crying) and saying more than once “I didn’t know that.”

So yes. I do still write Christmas Letters. And yes, they can be narcissistic and a little ‘polished around the edges’ with a set of rose-coloured glasses sometimes. But every word is real. Every word is our lived experience as a family, a reflection of who we were, and tried to be, over the past years. And while none of it may be “news” anymore, it matters not. Because I’ve realized they weren’t really “news” letters to begin with. They are our history. And this year I am whispering thank you for every single one of them.

She Called Me Back

Three years ago I went through a hard time and struggled with some emotional and mental health issues.

A lot was behind me. Or so I thought I guess. 

But this post isn’t about what I was going through or why. My issues did end up being something I should have expected … they just “arrived late to the party” so to speak.

What this post ‘is’ about is that we all go through hard times, and sometimes although it should be easy to ask for help, especially when you have amazing friends and family like I do, the reality isn’t always as easy as we may perceive.

It was an evening after the kids went to bed. Craig was travelling on the road for work. I had been talking to a friend on the phone and when I hung up, well, that was it.

I broke.

I don’t mean I broke down crying (although I did … a lot) and I don’t mean had a psychotic break (although the potential was there) … I mean I broke in a way that’s difficult to explain, but somehow I know it’s the exact right word to use.

I had never in my life experienced anything like it before. I had been through years of unfathomable situations, and not once did I feel the way I did that night or those months that followed.

I managed to get from the chair by my desk in the kitchen to the sofa in my living room.

I felt if I didn’t reach out to someone that I may lose myself. That sounds melodramatic I know … but it was very truly what I felt. I needed help in a way I never had before and somehow I knew that. 

There are moments in your life that are core memories. Me sitting on that sofa was one of them.

So there I am. Sitting on my sofa in a state I had never experienced before. Even through everything I was the strong one. I was the positive one. I carried the weight. 

What the hell was THIS?!!??

So I picked up the phone. Now this is the point in the story you expect to hear “I dialed a friends number, easily poured out my heart, hung up the phone and it was a rocky but manageable time.”

It didn’t work like that for me. At least not that night.

That is what you see in the movies. In reality – in my reality – it worked like this.

I made a total of four phone calls.

The first call I got my girlfriend on the other end. But because I am who I am (an idiot) I started small talk. I could tell it was a very busy time of year for her and that her life – her cup – was quite frankly overflowing into a soon uncontrollable river … just like so many of us Moms who delicately juggle 20 more balls in the air than we should. We know each other so well and are alike in many ways.

So I hung up the phone with nothing said.

I didn’t want to be one more thing. I didn’t want to be a burden. I think this is sometimes the catch 22 with our closest friends and family. We care so much about them and what they are already dealing with in their lives. We don’t want to be a weight. We want to be the one to ‘lift’ the weight, not add to it. I know this is how I felt that night with her, and I know it’s how I feel with those closest to me like my Mom and Craig.  But it’s not right, and I can feel them yelling at me through this post as I type it.

The second phone call resulted in another girlfriends answering machine.

I left no message.

I was quickly running out of people I could be so raw and real and scary around.

Call number three was a chance.

It was to a friend who had only been in my life a few years and quite frankly we hadn’t had many soulful conversations – just ones that touch the surface of our lives – kids, work, school, activities – but I felt there ‘could be’ something deeper there between us.

So I called anyway.

She was home.

She was also in the middle of kid-crisis mode – her son had a significantly large project due the following day – of which he had barely started. So she was up to her ears in deadlines.

Once more I made small talk and hung up the phone.

Certainly these are examples of what NOT to do when experiencing an emotional breakdown. I should have “taken care of me” more and been honest with these women. I should have worried less about disturbing their lives and poured my heart out. And although that’s easier to say than do when people are busy, I do also know that each of them would have been there for me, but I didn’t give them the chance to do so.  

I think it’s hard to admit, but my hesitation to disturb these women’s lives, these friends lives, is an all-too-common trait as mothers and women in the world. It’s one thing to say it – it’s another thing to walk it. Especially in a moment when I was so vulnerable and terrified of what was happening to me.

So we are on to call number 4. Looking back now it amazes me I even picked up the phone 4 times. It isn’t like me to reach out for help in that way. I think it’s a testament as to how bad it was.

I remember sitting on the edge of the couch and kind of slipping down off of it. “Well that’s stupid”, I thought, as I sat on the hard floor crying. That IS something that happens in the movies. Who falls off a couch?? 

And then it became hard to breath and I really thought I may be experiencing a true mental break that I may have to call an ambulance for. It sounds so absurd as I type it – but that is the state I was in.

So somewhere I found the strength to pick up the phone again. 

This call was a risk as well. Someone I knew on the periphery of my life, who I would absolutely call a friend, but not close. She did however, always have a depth that I ‘recognized’. I looked up her number in the phone book (a pretty good indication of our lack-of-bond). I remember thinking how small the print is in the phone book and how hard it was to read.

Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring.

No answer.

That was it.

I had nothing left in me to reach out. I was done.

At that moment I have never felt more alone in all my life. I’m trying to think if that’s really true and I think it is.

And then – the phone rings. 

It’s her.

And I pick it up.

She saw my number on her display. Or she star-sixty-nined me. I don’t remember now.  But there she was. 

The minutes, hours and days that followed is a long story for another time. 

But I will say, that after a few months, and then a few months after that, I finally was on the other side. I had symptoms of delayed Acute Stress Disorder. It is similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and ofcourse it was a no brainer it had finally come home to roost after seven years. It was time to break. Time to stop being strong. And combine all of that with turning 40, preparing to shave bald, and hormones … well … it really is miraculous it hadn’t happened before this.

I often whisper thank you for finding the strength to ask for help during that night – and I carry with me many lessons learned about being better at asking for help ‘the first three times’ no matter what.

These many years later there are still things that are crystal clear from that conversation during my ‘fourth phone call’ and there are many things that are not. But the following two I remember with great clarity:

Her saying: “I’m so glad you called”.

And me thinking: “I’m so glad she called me back.”

The One We Never Expected

We met him the first day we came down to 6. When we were initially admitted it was to the 7th Floor – only because the sixth floor was too full and had no room for us. Floor six was oncology/nephrology. You never want to be in the IWK. But you most certainly never want to have to press the elevator button for 6. 

But down to 6 we went. And smack. Everything was all too real. The IVs, the wheelchairs, the sheer number of staff and, of course, all the little bald heads.

And then HE came through the door. 

Well – he didn’t so much come through the door as he ran into it. Pretty much face first. And then once more with feeling.

I couldn’t quite get a handle on him at first. Who WAS this guy? He resembled a clown I guess, but not in the way you first think of them. He had no mask on, nor any big clown feet. No horns or balloons. He wore a baseball cap sideways, an oversized plaid blazer and his nose just had the smallest red circle on it. His eyebrows were blue. Not fake pasted-on eyebrows, they were real eyebrows, they were just painted blue. 

He was not loud or boisterous like you traditionally think clowns to be. But instead he was actually calm in many ways. He had a soft way of speaking, but in the goofiest tone. He always asked if he could come in and if we would like to play. He was possibly both the most respectful and yet foolish person I had yet to meet. Ever. He was such a juxtaposition. Who was he? A volunteer I assumed. I would later learn that he wasn’t of course.  

His puns were never ending, and as an adult absolutely ridiculous, but I constantly found myself laughing out loud despite myself. I never really understood why. Because let me tell you – these puns and jokes were lame with a capital L to a thirty three year old woman. But laugh I did. Again and again.  

But my laughter didn’t matter. What mattered was what Mark and Megan were doing when he was around.

  
And so he quickly grew on me.

On the surface I guess it was because he made my children laugh. Laugh out loud every day. But of course laughter was just the tip of the iceberg. Laughter wasn’t why he became the most important person in our lives for five years.

No. Not really.

He became that because of all the things that I didn’t see at first, all the things I didn’t know were important, but of course became important all too quickly. All the things that become – frankly – everything.

Consistency 

Things are sometimes different in a Children’s Hospital than what you first think. We were not followed by one doctor, but instead an entire team of doctors. We never saw only one nurse, but sometimes a dozen all in one week. Nurses, doctors, lab techs, all of these people came and went – different ones different days or weeks. But Buddington remained. There weren’t two or three or six or ten of him. There was just one Buddington. And when you are young, having consistency in people is pretty important.

Levity, not just Laughter

Many adverse events happen all around you when you are literally living in a hospital. Adverse events to you and to so many around you. Pain, relapse, secondary disease, illness, death. Levity – the kind that twinkles in your childrens eyes and that causes them to laugh out loud – well that is a gift.

No Expectations 

Every single staff person that steps through your hospital room door wants something from you or your son. Each one is incredible and each one we built amazing relationships with, but still, each one needed something from us. A procedure, a poke, a transfusion, a report on bowel movement! Except him. He just wanted to play. And only when we wanted to.

Positive Anticipation 

In a hospital setting, especially when you are in patient for six weeks at a time, you are so very aware of how short life is … but on the other side of the very same coin, ironically, also how long a day is. Buddington gave us something to look forward to in a day that is 24 hours long in a tiny little room that isn’t home.

Those are just some of the reasons Buddington became so important to us.

In my “head” I have always tried to respect the boundaries that come with a patient/family/staff relationship. It is not always easy – and is an entire book in and of itself – but it is important for staff, and healthy for families, and I understand why.

So in my “head” and in my conversation with others I talk about the Therapeutic Clown Program. Because that is exactly what it is. There is best practice and evidence that supports its implementation in children’s hospitals, and to refer to it as anything less than that undermines what Buddington is all about. A trained child-life professional who has specific knowledge, qualifications and skill sets. A health authority employee who researches and stays up to date on everything from pain management to chronic disease. The gratitude for the Clown Therapy Program and the support it receives from the IWK is immeasurable.

But in my “heart” he is just Buddington. He was, he is, in a word, perfect. And it was he – not peers or docs or nurses or patient navigators or psychologists or other parents – who became the most important person to us over the past ten years. The gratitude I have for this man is endless.  

He was … the one we never expected.

(If you “whisper thank you” like I do and would like to read more stories like this, press the follow button to receive emails when a new story is posted)

Someone Else

You were always my “Someone Else”.

Even though we never stayed in touch.

But we didn’t need to did we? We recognized ourselves in each other and didn’t need the expectations to be anything we weren’t or couldn’t be.

I creeped you on Facebook today. For the first time. Ever.

Ten years later.

That’s hard to believe isn’t it?

A part of me was scared of what I would find.

Or more accurately what I wouldn’t find.

But there she was. A head full of hair. A beautiful, growing teenager – with a smile to rival any.

Standing with awards and proud parents. 

My heart exploded!

I just went through old photos and there she is in so many. There you are.

Both of you nearly bald.

How has it been ten years?

Ten years since we met. Since I gave you that Pink Fuzzy Bird. Just like mine. 

Since we made each other go outside and breathe fresh air. Since we made each other leave their sides – for just an hour while they slept.

I remember when we finally left. Six weeks later. For good. We got to leave before you. A part of me ached for you even though I so much wanted to go. 

And then a part of me wanted to stay. Safe. Secure. Up on 6. The opposite of what most feel about that number. That floor.

I remember soon after I left – your letter to me. Her heart stopped from one of the drugs. I wasn’t there. How could of that happened when I wasn’t there? When I wasn’t there for you?

I remember when we came back with the liver disease. For a month. And then it was you who wasn’t there. My turn to feel the loneliness. My turn to walk in the darkness for real this time.

There are stories of people and friendships that were forged during these times – who still stay in touch and have become each other’s comrades for life. Side by side. Best friends in each others lives.

That isn’t our story. That isn’t what everyone always needs. We needed all the strength we could muster to be what we needed to be for them. There was little left to give.

How can a time with someone that was so fleeting be so significant?

I love that we never tried to be any more or any less than what we were to each other.

We didn’t need to be.

You were perfect. 

We were perfect. 

Exactly what I needed. At the time when I needed you most.

Still.

Always.

My Someone Else.

Celebrating … Well … Me.

This past Sunday I was standing at my kitchen counter washing dishes. Dishes actually aren’t a chore I particularly mind doing. I get to stand at my sink, which has a two large windows above it, and stare out at my panoramic view. There are worse things in the world.

The windows in my home happen to have wider than average windowsills, and atop many of them sit picture frames. A LOT of picture frames. Interior designers would cringe at my home – such as it is with photos perched, placed and hung in every direction. 

Yesterday I took particular note of the ones above my sink.

Two of them are from “Birthday-Eve” celebrations. And if you looked around my house you would find three more framed from different birthday years.

Each photograph is taken in a different location – a Vineyard, my favourite Mediterranean Restaurant, my Living Room, Blueberry Acres … etc etc.

And each one has something in common – I’m surrounded by girlfriends. Sometimes almost a dozen and sometimes as few as four.

To look at them you would think “What incredible friends she has – planning parties for her every year in different locations, doing different activities – wow – she is so lucky!”

And ofcourse you’d be right. About the incredible girlfriend part. Because I do and I am. Women friendships are among the most important things in my life, and I feel incredibly blessed to be surrounded by the many different groups of women I get to call friends.

But you would be wrong about one thing. You would be wrong that any of these soirées or outings or birthday celebrations of my own were planned by anyone other than little old un-modest me.

Yup.

Looking around at all of these “Karrie-Ann Birthday Eve Photos” I have to say – I planned them all.

I decided what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go and who I wanted to be with.

I sent the invitations, planned the food (and asked people to bring it), made people take photos, and generally asked them to come and celebrate me, myself and I.

Can you believe that???

The nerve!

The un-modesty!

The gall!

The narcissism!

The lack of humility and grace!

Well …. maybe.

But here’s what I really think. What I really believe. 

I deserve to be celebrated on the day I was born.

Yes. I said it.

And I deserve that day to be more than some “acronym-wish” posted on Social Media site because someone received a notification on their phone.

I deserve a little “hoop” and a little “la”.

Because you know what? If I don’t celebrate me … who will?

All of my girlfriends are amazing, generous, thoughtful women. But they are busy. They are raising children and managing careers and marriages and their own interests and pursuits. Just as I am.

We talk ad nauseum about time moving too fast and the importance of simplicity and spending time with those who matter. 

Well what better time for that than my birthday?

Why NOT celebrate that? Why NOT celebrate me?

Why wait for someone else to do it?

I remember once we were camping and one of our friends daughters was celebrating her birthday while we were there. 

I remember waking up that morning and going over to give her a giant hug and wish her a Happy Birthday. She was a little coy – not shy per se, but a little unsure about the fuss I was making.

I picked her up and stood her on top of the picnic table. I said to her this was HER day and she should shout from the rooftop (or the top of the picnic table as it were) that it was her Birthday and let the world know she was a force to be reckoned with.

So she stood there, spread her arms wide apart and hollered at the top of her lungs “It’s my birthday”!! And continued to laugh and giggle until she doubled over.

It was a joyful, uninhibited, innocent and beautiful moment. 

But as grown women we don’t jump on picnic tables. It’s not particularly socially acceptable I guess and maybe there’s just no time. Our lives are centred around everyone else. Centred around children or spouses or colleagues or parents.

Too often we are trudging through to-do lists and trying just to keep it all together.

So when I sit there on my Birthday Eve, surrounded by my girlfriends, for three or four hours – once a year – celebrating the day I was born into this world – I am not thinking how pathetic it was to organize this myself – or how socially unacceptable it was to do so.

Instead I’m always thinking how incredibly blessed I was to be born into this world “x” number of years ago. How lucky I am to share the day with people who mean so much to me. To be able to raise a glass with them and silently whisper thank you for this past year.

And quite frankly I deserve nothing less than that.

And so do you and you and you.

So stand on the picnic table, shout from the rooftop. 

Celebrate YOU. Take the time. Make the time. You deserve it.

You can bet on August 29th I’ll be “celebrating me” đŸ˜‰.

Seasoned Pros

I am sitting here in this waiting room that is unfamiliar to me by sight, but is so familiar to me by feel … doing what we often do best … waiting.

Our paediatrician has moved offices. Again. And as I sit and look out these two gorgeous, large, completely circular windows I think to myself she has now been in three different locations since beginning to follow us so many years ago.

I glance over at my son, who I think may be able to snag a PhD in ‘waiting’, and he all of a sudden takes my breath away. He looks so … I know there should be a better word for this … but … well … big. Big and old and sure of himself. He shows no signs of impatience – even though we have been sitting here nearly thirty minutes now.

We are so used to this. It has become less and less as the years have passed, but this is something that is as familiar to us as the back of our hands. This waiting. 

Where has the time gone?

It used to be that I would always have a bag of tricks along with me. When he was young it was always about the entertainment. A bag that was never far from reach – filled with card games and string for cats cradle and books and snacks and all kinds of creative endeavours.

But now there is no bag of tricks anymore. No hospital backpack to grab. There is just him and I. He is sitting there reading a book. Looking so incredibly grown up. He loves to read. It makes moments like these pretty easy now when he can just pull out a book and pass the time.

Sometimes though – he would kill me for saying this – sometimes – we still play a game or two of Eye Spy. Or we will randomly start up a round of the Alphabet Game. There’s something insanely comforting in that to me. That we still do this from time to time.

But right now he is just sitting there reading Book Two in a Series of Three he can’t put down.

And I’m sitting here thinking how many times we have done this. Waited. Together.

Over the years I have learned you never know how long you will have to wait. For bloodwork, for a procedure, for a check up, for an Oncologist, a Paediatrician, x-rays, etc, etc. We have waited for literally hours before. I remember more than once ‘waiting’ for a Lumbar Puncture for over 7 hours. All the while NPO (without food or drink). Now THAT was a lesson in waiting let me tell you. Especially the times it overlapped with Pred or Dex.

But I quickly learned that waiting is far from the worst thing in the world. We tend to think it is though in our society. We live in an impatient world where ‘waiting’ is barely tolerated. A world of immediacy – surrounded by technology and ‘fast’ everything. We roll our eyes and tap our feet and drum our fingers if we are forced to wait a mere moment longer than what we deem to be ‘acceptable’ – living an illusion that we have more important things to do and more important places to be. When in reality – we don’t. We just think we do.

At first I did too. At first I thought “I will not stand for this – if the amount of time I have on this earth with my child is not an absolute, then I refuse to spend precious moments of it sitting and waiting.”

But then I learned a couple of things.

Those minutes and hours spent waiting with my son – those moments together as we played and talked and passed the time in uncomfortable chairs – are truly some of the most precious moments we have ever had together. It was in those times we had only each other to communicate with. I never pulled out a cell phone and he never had a device. Instead we just had each other.

And the other thing I learned is this. If you are the one waiting, if you are the one still sitting in the chair, still lying in the bed, still looking at your watch – it is for one reason only – someone else must need that person you are waiting on ‘more’.  

Waiting doesn’t ever imply urgency. It was in fact the times that we never had to wait that scared me most. The times when ‘we’ were the priority. The times when ‘we’ were the ‘reason’ others waited. Those were the moments I don’t ever want to return to. 

So here we are again. Sitting and waiting. So many years after that first time we came through her doors. Him reading. Me marvelling at him. Both waiting to hear that familiar voice say that familiar name. Waiting with learned patience. With an understanding. With gratitude.

Soon we will go in and learn that all is well. ‘Incredibly’ well in a broad sense. We are so thankful.

But we will also learn, and live with, different realities that need to be followed up on. 

Today it will be two specialist appointments we weren’t expecting. Long term survivorship issues. It is a part of ‘what is’, and it will actually mean ‘three’ new appointments.

Three more times we will be sitting.  

Three more times we will be waiting.

And truth be told … guess what? I am more than okay with that. We are no longer the priority. Someone else is though, and they need that doc, that procedure, that blood work before us.

So bring on the waiting. It’s okay. 

After all, we are seasoned pros.