Category Archives: Gratitude

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” ūüėČ.

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.

The Women in my Daughters Life … Who Aren’t Me

I received a text from my friend Amanda yesterday. She sends me various texts over the course of weeks, checking in for this or that, or just saying ‘Thinking of You’ (she is great at that). Yesterday she sent me one asking my daughter Megan to babysit. 

Amanda has two kiddos younger than mine, and a few years ago she was one of the first people to entrust their care to my own kiddo on the occasions her and Brian venture out into the world as adults.

As we worked out times and details, I thought about her presence in Megan’s life.

I think many things help build a child’s character over the course of their lives. One of them I have seen for my daughter, and one I never underestimate, is the faith and trust that others have placed in her to care for their own children over the last number of years. 

 
Megan’s knowledge that Amanda, along with Mary, Jenna, Sesaly and Karen all think of her in that way – as a responsible, intelligent, caring, young woman of whom they can trust, has helped to build a confidence in her as she has grown from a girl into a young woman. She prides herself on the job she does, she adores the kids she cares for, and I see how important it is to her that other women think of her in this way to call her on a regular basis.

These are but a few women who have come into my daughters life and played a role, perhaps unknowingly, in shaping who she is in the world. And this example of child care is but one instance where I see this happening.

There are also the women who actively build a relationship with her in a different way.

Women who in my own life I share wonderful rich friendships with, but who also have developed their own relationship with my daughter. It may be small and it may be infrequent, but it still exists all the same. I see examples and the results of it all the time.

It’s when Megan comes through the door in the middle of a party and races over to hug Sesaly or Dena. This doesn’t happen from circumstance – this happens because these women have gone out of their way to ‘see’ her, to take an interest in her life independent of their friendship with me. Megan feels that and she seeks them out. 

It’s when Kathy comes to visit from Ottawa and she carved out some special alone time with Megan, inquiring about her interests and activities, finding common ground and laughing and sharing stories. I see in Megan’s eyes the sense of respect and pride she feels with Kathy who takes a true interest in her life.

It’s when she is jogging over the road one day and feels an uncomfortable feeling that makes the hair stand up on the back of her neck – because a strange dog is following her – and she doesn’t hesitate to go to Amanda’s door to seek refuge – a place she feels safe, with a woman she is comfortable confiding in rather than being embarassed around.

It’s in the phone calls from both Amanda and Sesaly that came on June 30th. Phone calls where I pick up the phone and they ask for – gasp – Megan, not me – because they want to congratulate her on being named Valedictorian.

It’s Norah who never ever – not once – misses calling for her birthday. And it’s never enough to wish her a Happy Birthday, but she spends time talking with her about her day and her friends and her plans. It’s Norah who thinks far enough ahead to always have her gift here, on time, from a different Province, or who listens so intently to the small things Megan says that she remembers to ask about them months later.

And ofcourse it’s Nanny and Granny who are there for concerts and games and graduations, sitting in the audience as the ones who she sees as her family who she can always count on. Who play games together and surprise her with this or that. Who remember the big test she has. Who make a big deal of the little things. The things that truly matter.

These women in my daughters life – not girls – not people her own age – but women – who ‘see’ my daughter and who actively nurture and build a relationship with her are, without consciousness or purpose, creating a foundation for her. A foundation that has the potential to influence and grow over the years becoming something Megan can count on in years to come. 

So often we think of the people who influence our children’s lives as being teachers or coaches or others who are in obvious ‘helping’ professions, positions, or blood relatives. And while certainly that has rung true for Megan, I am filled with such gratitude for those women who are not paid, nor expected, nor in any ‘natural’ circumstance to influence her life. But instead these women who put themselves out there and ‘choose’ to be a part of her world – who each have their own different, personal, unique connections with my daughter. 

 
As a parent, it’s hard to realize you can’t be everything to your kids. There is a selfish part of me that wants to be. I’m embarrassed to admit that. I’m even more embarrassed to admit that sometimes I’m a wee bit jealous of these women and the relationship they have with Megan. They never have to be the heavy hand or the ‘Charlie Brown Teacher’ lecturing ‘woh woh woh woh woh’.

But my jealousy is quickly brushed aside, because I know that some day she will look for different perspectives and opinions … she will look for a friend and an ear … she will struggle with big and small problems … and although I hope more often than not she WILL turn to me, I am not naive enough to think there will not be times where ‘mom’ won’t be the first nor the most realistic choice. A time when she will need more ‘advice’ than friends her age can provide. A time she will seek out older women in her life she can trust and confide in.

I am beyond grateful that women in my life are building a foundation NOW that will help my daughter in the future. That these women want to – choose to – play that role in her life. A role that sometimes seems so small and random, but that I see helps build her character and sense of self in the world. Women who can be there for her in a way I can’t always be in the role of ‘Mom’.

I wonder if they know what a difference they are making in my daughters life, or the potential it will have to make a difference?  

I hope so.

I am so grateful for each and every one of them.

An Unexpected Gift

My best friend and I don’t get to see each other during the week of Christmas. And it seems the last number of years we don’t even see each other the entire month of December with busy family schedules. We live in different Provinces. And sometimes that really sucks.

It especially does over the Holidays when you want to be surrounded by your closest friends and family. 

Norah and I have been friends for 38 years now. She has been ‘my person’ for 25 of those. I actually ache for her during this time … these two weeks that I seem to define as the Holidays. Sentimental fool that I am. 

Phone calls abound, but I want her physically close to me where I can hug her and cuddle up on the sofa with her, and surround myself with her presence – more than just her voice on the other end of a receiver.

This year, I think in anticipation of that time, she gave me my Christmas Gift early. It was no ordinary gift. When she handed it to me I was like a giddy little girl. It was an entire basket full of perfectly wrapped gifts. An Advent Gift she said. One present to be opened every day until Christmas, beginning December 1st.

I know this is the place where I’m supposed to say ‘it was just a gift getting to see her for 4 hours’ in the city where we met and had a quick lunch together, but the fact is that it WAS really exciting to be handed an entire basket of presents and be told they were just for me.

It’s Christmas and I am a Mom. Nothing is EVER just for me! I spend months making sure everything is ‘just for others’.

So here I am handed a basket full of pretty presents … one to open every day starting the first of December … you better believe I’m a giddy school girl at that prospect!

And because I know my best friend so well, I’m vibrating with anticipation because I know each gift was meticulously chosen with me in mind by someone who knows me like no one else. Now THIS is exciting shit!

So I drive home on a November day, after a long four hour lunch with my bestie, basket safely tucked in the back of the Subaru.

When I come through the door, basket in hand, my kiddos are home and they look up at the basket. They know I’ve seen Norah and are naturally expecting the basket to be the ‘family’ gifts that we always exchange. And of course those family gifts are in the back of the Subuaru too … but I am quick to inform them (with perhaps a cat-ate-the-canary smile on my face) that these are all ‘just for me’. AND that I get to open one each and every day until Christmas starting December 1st.

Oh.

They don’t say it, but you can see the wheels turning in their heads.

Just for Mom?

All those presents?

Oh.

So I sit my basket down next to the armoire in the living room. It’s only then that I really have the chance to take a good look at it. Each gift has a number on it. And the numbers aren’t just written on. They are fancy stickers placed on thick parchment like paper and placed on each gift. Every gift is painstakingly wrapped, and looking at them I would be happy to open just one. But I get to open 24! 

I get a twinge of worry that she has spent too much on me. But I know her and we are both really good at being reasonable over Christmas. She promised me she didn’t go over our usual amount – that it was like a long drawn out stocking. So I quickly drop that feeling of guilt and concentrate on my pretty present.

December 1st is fourteen days away. I’m like a little kid again waiting for Christmas Day. Only I don’t have to wait that long! Inside I’m a little embarrassed by how excited I am, but trust me that embarrassment disappears as the days go by and I’m run off my feet with Holiday to-do lists, and I really remember how much I do for every one else during the preparation of Christmas.

So there the basket sits. For fourteen days in the living room.

And then December 1st arrives. And what happens then, and over the next 24 days is a very unexpected side effect … and is, for me, and for my family, a gift in and of itself.

That morning I get up and come down stairs. It’s a particularly crazy day. I have a Board Mtg at work, Mark has a Volleyball Tournament, Megan has Piano and a test at school, Craig is away for work so I’m on my own. I’m running around making lunches, getting everything and everyone ready for another pretty normal day at the Wilkies. 

And then the kids look at me and say … with these excited looks of anticipation on their faces … “Mom!!!! It’s December 1st!!!!!! You get to open your first gift from Aunt Norah today!”

And I have to admit. I was a little taken aback at their excitement. Because this was not excitement ‘for them’ at all. They KNEW nothing in those packages were family related. Nothing for the minors in the family. And as for ‘their’ Advent ‘gift’, well – ever since they were young they only ever got those Advent Calendars that were like $1 from Walmart, with the dinky little chocolates (if you can call them chocolate) smaller than the size of a dime. 

So no. This wasn’t excitement for them. This was excitement they had for me. They were excited for me alone. They wanted to watch me open it, and had comments on what it was and what a great gift it was for me.

And so it went. Every day until Christmas Eve. They would excitedly remind me of my Advent gift for the day, and hoped I wouldn’t open it without them there.

And a few days into this selfishly lovely routine I realized what a beautiful side effect this gift my BFF gave me actually had.

For my kids got to see, in a very unique and somehow tangible way, how very much someone else loved their mother. And even better … someone not related to me. Someone who didn’t ‘have’ to love me. Someone who wasn’t related to them either.

They got to see the care and thoughtfulness put into something for their Mom … who is always the one ‘giving’ in their lives … always the one running and driving and doing and keeping it all together for them. They, as children, are always the centre of attention. They rarely get to see me receive anything except on days that ‘I’m supposed to’. And from someone I’m ‘supposed to’. No one ever does anything for Mom ‘just because’.

And that was pretty cool. For them to be so unbelievably excited just for ‘me’ each day; during a season that is so focused on them as children. For them to visually ‘see’ my worth through another’s eyes. To see how much time someone took to shop and wrap and prepare and think of ‘me’. For them to see me in a new way, and not just as a Mom.  

To see someone’s love for me in such a tangible and consistent way.

It was a very unexpected side effect of a wonderful gift … that was a gift in and of itself. And the entire experience, the gift and the side effect, made my Holiday that much brighter.

It was a gift I will never forget.

Sinking Deeper

It’s our last morning here on the Island. The time always goes by too fast. Another summer gone. We have been coming here, to this very same cottage, for 13 years now. This place has been a constant in our lives since Megan was a baby.  

And here we are, on our last day, again. So we make our way down to the beach for one last walk. 

I don’t know if I’m ever more consistently grateful than I am when I come here. Long ago we traded the kitschy tourist part of the Island for the easy, relaxing, unhurried and unplanned part of the PEI. We spend our days bicycling the trails that run seemingly non stop beside the ocean, walking the beaches looking for sea glass, making hodgepodge with Island New potatoes and treating ourselves to our favourite flavour of COWS ice cream.

I whisper thank you here so often. This place where we were always allowed to come. 

As the kids walk steps ahead of me I stop. And the ocean, whose tide is still high, sends its waves over my bare feet. I look down and take in the moment. I am, at the same time ready in my ‘mind’ to leave the Island, but I am still never quite ready to go in my ‘heart’.

I close my eyes and whisper, out loud, as I always do, these words that have become second nature to me. “Thank you”. And as I whisper them I feel my feet sinking deep into the sand. I’m standing on that soft sand that is at the edge of the ocean as the tide begins to turn from high to low. And I realize at that very moment, with that very metaphor, that is what this summer has been all about for me. Sinking deeper into myself.  

I love that feeling. A place and a season with fewer screens and sometimes fewer people. A place where I’m not defined by the outside world quite as much, but instead by the quiet moments both with myself and my family, that are sometimes never shared with the world at all. A place where I allow myself to completely unplug, both literally and figuratively, for an entire week. A place where we come … ‘always’ the four of us … but at the same time ‘only’ the four of us.

I’m so thankful for this place, for this season, and for this feeling of sinking more into myself. Of not allowing the outside world to be quite the priority I allow it to be during the other seasons or the other places. It grounds me and allows me the time, and almost the permission, to ask myself the bigger questions. The harder questions. The questions I never take the time for because I am too busy or too focused on other things. And in turn a time where I am more apt to listen to myself answer those questions.

This is so important to me. In a world where there is nothing but white noise – a place and a season where I can clearly hear myself. My own voice. My own heart. Without outside influence. Without en masse opinion or approval.

I look again at my feet in the sand. Completely buried now as the tide has ebbed and flowed again and again. Literally sinking deeper. Into the sand. Into myself. It’s the best feeling in the world. 

I breathe in. I breathe out. 

Soon summer will be over. 

Soon I will have to lift my feet out of this comforting sand, and get back to a larger reality.

Soon. 

Soon.

But, thankfully I whisper, not … quite … yet.

Every Year I Forget

Every year I forget. I forget that this place has a tangible feel to it. I forget that that feeling begins at the curve in the road, about ten minutes from our destination, and that it grows from there … when I see Crescent, and then the general store and finally the sign. And even then I forget how tangible it really is until I step out of the truck and breathe in that air. That sometimes-foggy, often-cool, but always-salty sea air. Yes. I always forget. But at that moment, as I take a deep breath in, every single moment and memory seems to come rushing back to me all at once. And I remember.

I think we all have a place like this. A place that is not home, because home is of course unparalleled; but also because home brings with it laundry, and calendars, and dirty dishes, and broken porch steps, and to do lists, and responsibility.  

I think we all have a place where we breathe a little easier and become less burdened from the very moment we arrive. A place that seems to be waiting for us; and when we arrive seems to say ‘I’m so glad you are back. I’ve missed you.’

I’m lucky to have two such places. Today I’m spending the weekend at one of them.

This place has a memory to it. It has seen so many versions of myself, and they all come flooding back the moment I step on that white sand.

There’s North Rissers where Melinda and I thought we had the world by the tail as 12 year old girls, giggling and exploring while tenting with my parents. There were the beach days with Sean, my head-over-heels first love (could have that time been any more “beginning of Grease? Haha!) There’s my first girlfriend road trip in my 1980 Thunderbird with Julie, Tonya and Jennifer, setting up tents … thinking that summers would always be this easy and fun. There were summer cottages with my parents as I got older, where the door was always open; and as we came and went we always returned with seemingly half the beach on our flip flops and towels.

There was camping with Michelle and Dave in Site 28 during that time as young couples in our 20s when we only had to be responsible for ourselves. And of course there’s the place on the boardwalk where Craig pulled out the diamond I still wear on my left hand and proposed to me at sunset. 

And then came the kids, and this place became so much more. The memories of them toddling along the beach, making sandcastles until my knees hurt, grandparents around the campfire, the endless hunts for sandollars, the ice creams at the canteen and the countless friends they’ve brought with them in the trailer.  They are making their own memories now, and camping here each year has become as important to them as it has been for me. 

Yes, the minute I step on the beach all of it comes flooding back. And I realize how grateful I am to have such a place that holds so many of my memories year after year, consistently and gently. A place that wants nothing from me. No pressures or expectations. No appointments or commitments. A place I can get away to, where my head empties and my soul fills up. I’ve been coming here since I was a child, and it astounds me how I’ve never become complacent about its beauty, nor its ability to calm my senses.

Every year I forget. But then, in an instant, with that rush of air and sand on my feet, I remember. And silently with a barefooted step, I close my eyes and whisper my gratitude, for this place … this place that we always make time for, without fail, each year … this place that will forever be a part of me. 

Setting the Stage

Summer is here. And while it seems to have come in a late and lack luster manner, it indeed has finally arrived.

I know this because of the laughter and splashes and hollers coming from the open window where I can hear Mark, Megan, Sydney and Josh having the most carefree day in the pool. The girls are taking on the boys in a fierce game of water handball, and I beleive by the indignant (on one side) and righteous (on the other side) screams that the girls are in the lead.

And the same thing happened yesterday on Canada Day and three days before that and again two days before that.  Yes summer is here.

Little brings me more joy than this. I know I’ve shared that before, but it remains so true. Hearing these kiddos be so carefree and jubilant in an unstructured setting. This is what summer is to me. Freedom from responsibility. Spontaneity. Days filled with an easy-ness that can never be replicated once they become adults.

But it’s not really as spontaneous as it all looks is it? 

All this summer jubilation.

As a Mom, I used to be in the middle of it. Literally.  I used to have to put on life jackets and be out in the pool with them, making sure they were safe, while at the same time suggesting games and playing with them.

But not anymore.  Now I sit here completely removed from all their activity. They are growing up and they are on their own with their friends managing their days.  They breeze in and out the door, fly to the basketball nets, race to the pool, meander downstairs to play air hockey or Xbox, plod to the kitchen to raid it for snacks … and I barely make an appearance, except to answer “Yes?” on the other side of a random yell of “MOM!!!!'” 

I’m no longer centre stage. I’m no longer even pulling them into the spotlight. They are fully there, and I’m not even a supporting character like I may have been a couple years ago. I am but a prop master. 

And you would think that would make me sad.  But it doesn’t. Not in the least. Especially not on days like today.

Because the thing is, I set the stage.

I set the stage for all of this to happen for them.  Blow up pool toys. Curse the one with holes. Go to Walmart. Buy new water volleyball. Take off cover. Turn on solar. Fix trampoline net. Change batteries in Xbox remotes. Shop for snacks. Double check with Moms or Dads to confirm plans are good to go. Make brownies (on the good days). Open a bag of Oreos (on the not so good ones). Clean the kitchen. Ask Mark find lost air hockey puck.  Clean bathroom. Just close the other bathroom door. Pick up friends. Make supper. Put down extra seats in 4 runner.  Drive them to movies. Pick them up. Wait until last friends father arrives. 

No, I’m certainly not in the play anymore. But I’m so happy to still have a part behind the scenes. And while it’s a part they never truly see, I do know that they appreciate it. And I also know that someday all too soon, even that part will fade away and become something else.

So I’m sitting here, on the periphery, listening to these four amazing kiddos splash and play, and all I can think about it is how privileged I am to have played a small part in setting the stage for them to have this day. 

For that, today, I am whispering thank you.

What Matters

This weekend is Mother’s Day. ¬†Some people say it’s just another holiday made up by the greeting card companies to commercialize our feelings and to sell multitudes of flowers.

Now I happen to be a mother, so I tend to be very un-cynical about Mother’s Day with its homemade cards and focus on yours truly. ¬†I actually adore this holiday. ¬†I adore almost every holiday really. ¬†I find they help me to mark moments within the year – a year that is usually moving much too fast for my liking – and make me pause and reflect on the important things. ¬†And Mother’s Day is no different for me.

Every Mother’s Day for as long as I can remember we gather with my parents, with Craig’s parents, and sometimes my brothers family. ¬†We travel into the city to spend the day all together with my paternal grandmother. ¬†The only grandmother still living among us. ¬†We gather in her common room and order Chinese food and exchange flowers and cards and gifts. ¬†We take lots of pictures and tell lots of stories.

And it never fails. ¬†Every year. ¬†Every single year for as long as I can remember we make the time to do this. ¬†Somewhere along the way we have said “this”. ¬†This. ¬†This is important to us, and no matter where we are or what we are doing, we always make time for “this”. ¬†We tend to be a family of traditions in this way. ¬†I love that about us.

But this year it’s not going to get to happen. ¬†At least not on this weekend. ¬†My son and I, along with my Dad I find out, have all been hit with a doozy of a bug. ¬†The kind that lays you out for days and the type we would never want to risk taking into my 103 year old grandmother. (And no, that’s not a typo. ¬†She’s 103.)

So I’m sitting here on the coach feeling a little sorry for myself that we don’t get to make that happen this year. ¬†And I worry a little bit that by the time we get nine to thirteen people’s schedules back into play again, that it may not happen at all. ¬†I’ve been sitting thinking about that a lot. ¬†Worrying it may not happen.

But guess what? ¬†That’s our choice. ¬†It’s always our choice what we do with our time. ¬†And I am bound and determined to make it happen. ¬†I’m already counting out the days when we wont be infectious carriers of mean nasty viruses.

I guess that’s why holidays … all holidays … have never been just a commercialized event for me, and why they have always meant so much. ¬†They mark a time when I purposefully set aside a day where nothing else gets to matter more. ¬†Nothing else gets to matter more than this. ¬†Than these people. ¬†It’s a way to make sure the real moments happen with the real people who matter most. ¬†Because sometimes in life we spend way too much time making the superficial things happen with the people who really don’t.

So although I won’t be spending this weekend surrounded by four generations of Robinson/Wilkie/Rhyno women, men, boys and girls, that’s alright. ¬†We will make it happen. ¬†I know we will. ¬†Because we very purposefully set the precedent long long ago, that this is what we do. ¬†This is what we care about. ¬†This is what matters.

And for that, every Mothers Day, I whisper thank you.

15 Myths About Our Journey with Childhood Cancer

When my son was diagnosed with a high risk cancer, I learned so much about life and the twists and turns it can take.  I also learned that many of the things I thought were true, or would be true, were very simply not.  The following are fifteen assumptions I found to be false on our incredible journey.

Myth #1.  Life With Cancer Sucks.

Sometimes it did. ¬†Of course it did. ¬†But the majority of time it did not. ¬†You have to remember, our cancer journey was over the course of five plus years. ¬†And three and half of those were active chemotherapy. ¬†There was no way I was accepting “a life that sucked” for three and half years let alone five to seven. ¬†With or without cancer. ¬†So no. ¬†Life didn’t suck. ¬†Life was full of wonderfully rich adjectives, and with a gratitude that was palpable. ¬†And remember, everything is relative. ¬†You better believe life is sucking more for the family who was diagnosed (or unable to be diagnosed) in a third world country; or a country without health coverage; or circumstances where the child has no support. ¬†Life was still life. ¬†It was ours. ¬†And no one was going to tell us it sucked.

Myth #2.  Knowledge is Always Power.

When your child is first diagnosed with a life threatening disease you become like a blank slate thirsting for every piece of information you can garner about their diagnosis. ¬†But then after a little while you step back and you start sifting through all of that. You ask yourself, what really matters? ¬†Do I need to know everything about everything? ¬†Do I need to know every possible thing that “could” happen, or is it better for me to have a strong foundation about what “is” happening? ¬†And what sources do I trust? ¬†Where am I getting my information from? ¬†Sometimes knowledge isn’t always more power … it’s just more knowledge … and not always reliable knowledge at that.

Myth #3.  Tomorrow Will be Better.

Nope. ¬†Tomorrow might be worse. ¬†Tomorrow might be the day that never gets better. ¬†I’m very much an optimist, but I was always planted firmly in reality as well. ¬†There are no guarantees. ¬†Tomorrow ‘may’ be better or it ‘may’ be the worst day of my life. ¬†I guess it’s that little “will” I couldn’t get over. ¬†There are no absolutes. ¬†But there is today.

Myth #4.  You Have to Have Hope.

Again. ¬†Nope. ¬†I would rather have no hope than the illusion of hope. ¬†I would rather have an educated true understanding of what we are facing than have a false hope. ¬†Again, it’s that “have” to have.

Myth #5.  Blood is Thicker than Water.

I am so lucky to have some mighty thick blood in my family. ¬†My Mom and Dad proved how to walk the talk during so much of this experience. ¬†Which trust me is a difficult thing to do over the marathon that is childhood cancer. ¬†Their support was immeasurable. ¬†Aunts and relatives who came to the hospital and sent cards and gifts lifted my spirits so much, even though outwardly I may have looked exhausted. We were so blessed. ¬† But make no mistake, I also learned the viscosity of water can, in a few particular amazing people, be just as thick or thicker than blood. ¬†And I discovered that the whole ‘blood versus water’ thing mattered not. ¬†Blood or water has little to do with the people who decide to step up, and in turn for the people who just don’t. It has little to do with blood. ¬†And everything to do with the people who choose consciously to walk beside you in the world no matter what.

Myth #6. ¬†Sharing in Others’ Experiences will Lighten Your Load.

This one reminds me a little bit of the child birthing experience where sometimes, in some cases, some mothers feel the need to share every horror story there is … in a very unsolicited way. ¬† And boy, in the cancer world it really depends where your mind and heart are in your journey with whether you can take in all those stories of other children’s side effects and experiences. ¬† Many times these side effects were rare, but significantly life changing. ¬†I found it often burdened me down with worries that may never occur, rather than lighten anything for me. ¬†So I became selective in what conversations I engaged in and with whom. ¬†That sounds awful doesn’t it? ¬†But I needed to take care of me, and my load was heavy enough.

Myth #7. ¬†Numbers are Everything … when it Comes to Survival Rates and Prognosis.

False. ¬†False. ¬†False! ¬†FALSE! ¬†This a myth I debunked early on. ¬†I had to, as Mark was diagnosed in the high risk category of cancers. ¬†I found I had to, in order to live the life I needed to for the kids, for our family, and for myself. ¬†The reality is … our experience is … you can beat the odds. ¬†And getting weighed down in survival rats and prognosis when the numbers are firmly against you achieves nothing, and can significantly harm the time you have – which we all know is only ever “now”.

Myth #8. ¬†Numbers Mean Nothing … when it Comes to Blood Work.

I know I just said numbers being everything is false. ¬†But when framing it in the context of bloodwork, they ARE in fact everything. ¬†I lived and died by those CBCs. ¬†They told me so much. ¬†How he was doing, what tomorrow may look like, whether we could hope for a jaunt to the playroom, a walk in the park, or the brass ring of going home. ¬†And when we did get home those numbers mattered because they affected our daily life, and therefore what memories and moments we were able to experience. ¬†Would the day entail an afternoon transfusion of platelets, or instead a trip to Hennigars? ¬†We made our fun no matter which it was … but those Hennigar days were precious, and the numbers helped us get there.

Myth #9.  Crisis Brings Out the Best in People.

It doesn’t always. ¬†And you have to learn what to do with that at every turn and at every experience. There will be the people who don’t come to the hospital because it’s too difficult for them. ¬†For them. For THEM. ¬†Sigh. There were others who just seemingly dropped off the face of the earth because they didn’t know what to say. ¬†I had to learn to forgive all these people, to see things from their point of view, or to let them go from my life. I have chosen all three at times.

Myth #10.  Facts are Clear Absolutes.

There are very few absolutes in the childhood cancer world.  Facts must be communicated and they must then be received.  This must happen in an environment that is both unequal and unfathomable, to both the oncologist and the family.  The frame with which this is done, which health professional is telling you, and where you are as the parent emotionally, all significantly affects how you interpret a so called fact.  Trust me.

Myth #11. ¬†It’s All Part of a Larger Plan.

Ummm … Hi. ¬†There is no plan. ¬†There is a big difference between believing in a larger plan and a higher power. ¬†And if by some small measure of truth there is a larger plan, trust me, you don’t want to hear about it. ¬†The ending isn’t always good. Even for children. ¬† So no. ¬† My plan didn’t focus on anything larger. It focused on getting through the day, whispering thank you for the day, being present in the day, making the day incredible. ¬†For Mark. ¬†For Megan. ¬†For me. ¬†For us. ¬†It was about the day. ¬†It was about the here and now. ¬†It was no larger than that. ¬†And it didn’t need to be. ¬†At least not for us.

Myth #12.  The World Stops.

Guess what. ¬†It doesn’t. ¬†I remember my first time leaving the hospital after diagnosis. ¬†I had no understanding how everyone could just be living their life. ¬†It was then I learned you think it stops; but it doesn’t. ¬†And sure, it may stop for you. ¬†For a few moments. ¬†But even then it keeps on turning pretty damn soon after those words are uttered. ¬†Because those bills keep coming, the animals still need to be fed, and work eventually needs someone back all too soon.

Myth #13.  It Takes a Village.

Sure a village is nice, but I found not required. ¬†I didn’t really have a village. ¬†I had just moved, and at that was in between homes. ¬†As in physical houses. ¬†The village I had nurtured was hundreds of miles away in a different Province. ¬†The majority of this journey we did on our own. ¬†There were no freezers full of casseroles or no neighbours popping by. ¬†There were no friends offering to help with Megan. ¬†We knew no neighbours and we had no friends here yet. ¬†And that’s not a ‘woe is me’ thing. That was just the way it was. ¬†We literally were in the middle of a move to a brand new place. ¬† So yes. ¬†A village would have been nice. ¬†I know it would be different now having established relationships here. ¬†But we still managed pretty ok without it.

Myth #14.  Home is Where the Heart Is.

I’m afraid sometimes home is home, and it has nothing to do with the heart. ¬†Sometimes it’s brick and mortar and your very own bed. ¬†I know there were many nights in the hospital I felt this way as I lay on a cot next to his bed. ¬†And I know I felt this the night that Mark lost his first tufts of hair as we were ¬†lying on a mattress on the dining room floor of my parents house. ¬†We were waiting for our new home to be built and while we were in the hospital had to move out of our rental that was our temporary home. ¬†On that night when I saw his hair on the pillow as he lay beside me, home wasn’t where the heart was. ¬†That night I wanted nothing more than to be in my own bed in my own home …not some transient, homeless gypsy, sleeping on the floor waiting for drywall to be erected in Avonport.

Myth #15. ¬†The Oncology Floor at a Children’s Hospital is a Horrible Place To Be.

People have this pre conceived notion of what an oncology wing at a children’s hospital is. ¬†I know I did. ¬†They have visions of bald little children with tubes coming out of them, being poked and prodded, waiting to die. I guess parts of that sentence are true. ¬†But the reality of the floor is so very far from that notion. ¬† We laughed and played and lived a lot of life there. ¬†We met our strongest allies and our fiercest champions.¬† ¬†We built relationships second to none. ¬†We saw the definition of resilience. ¬†You see, it couldn’t possibly be a horrible place to be, because lives are being lived so fully there each and every day. ¬†They are being valued and treasured. ¬†And they are being appreciated … at least I know they were by one family … because after all, it was there where I first started whispering thank you.

These Women

It’s April. ¬†Although you wouldn’t believe it as I gaze out over a good five feet of snow. ¬†It is indeed Spring they tell me.

I always look forward to April. In my household it brings with it a brief window of calm. ¬†Or should I say calm “er”. Everything is relative of course.

You see at our house April brings the end of the ever-harried basketball season.  That season that begins in late September and encompasses both school ball and community league ball.

Unfortunately however, with the end of the running, the practices, and the games also comes fewer opportunities to see some certain women whom I’ve come to enjoy beyond measure. ¬†Those other moms who gather together and sit on those benches beside me for the entire season. From the first meagre practice to the last nail biting game of Provincials.

We have spent the last six months cheering on our kids together. Encouraging their skills and sportsmanship.

To others looking on at us it appears we are a bunch of mismatched moms sitting on an uncomfortable bench performing our motherly duties. Educators, public servants, librarians, full time, part time, sommeliers, stay at home moms, accountants, dentists, country bumpkins and townies.  Some perfectly coifed and put together, but most in our sweats and sneakers having raced through the door after yet another commitment.

We didn’t come into this place having any pre-established friendships, bonds or ties. ¬†And yes we can seem like a rag tag bunch with perhaps little in common on the outside. But that’s not what I see. That’s not what I feel.

These women have become an anchor in my world. ¬†As I enter the gym I make small talk with people coming and going, I tease the kids and holler to my own about water bottles and sneakers. But all the while I am doing this I am looking out of the corner of my eye towards the benches and the bleachers … I’m not looking out of happenstance, but with purpose … I am looking for these women.

And when I see them there is a small part of me that smiles a little bigger, walks a little faster and thinks, “There you are. I would have missed you today if you weren’t here.”

These women who have become more to me than just other moms.  Some of us have been together four and five years now.  Driving our kiddos, watching them succeed and fail, watching them learn and grow.  Together.  These women have seen the best in my kids and the worst in my kids.

And over the years basketball is becoming less and less the topic of conversation. Instead we share news about our lives, ourselves, and this bond we have about raising these little humans in this crazy world. Our time together has become a great deal about supporting each other as women, and to in turn help our young ones navigate the world of adolescence, academics and social dynamics.

We talk about what a great group of kiddos they are. Imperfect kiddos, but kind and generous and inclusive and fun. And although we sometimes have difficulty taking the compliments ourselves, we are quick to heap the accolades on each other, reminding each other these kiddos didn’t become that way overnight, but in large part because of role we play in their life as mothers.

I’ve thought a lot about what has made these women so special in my life. ¬†This doesn’t happen for me in every circumstance. The majority of time I very much enjoy the other parents I sit with at sporting events, music events, school events. But there is not always that connection or bond. There is something special about these women. ¬†About the way we have come together. ¬†The way our kids have come together.

Maybe it’s the age the kids are. Maybe it’s the age we are. Maybe it’s that we all seem to have expectations for how they treat each other. For who they are in the world. Or maybe its that we are all so tired and run so ragged that we cling to the nearest person who reminds us a little of ourselves. Haha!

But I’ve decided it doesn’t matter. What matters is how lucky I am to share this part of my life with them. I would happily sit here and watch my kiddos perform underwater basket weaving. I’m a mom. That’s what I do.

But these women have made the sitting, the watching, the running, so much easier and richer with their conversation and laughter and sharing.  I have come to count on them, as I hope they have come to count on me.  I actively seek them out, and so very much enjoy their company. They have become my friends.

I will miss them immensely now that the season is over. I will miss that easy-ness that come from being with them 2-3 times a week.

But even though I will miss them I continue to whisper thank you for them and their presence in my life.  It has been so appreciated.

Plus … you know … soccer season is just a month away …. (wink).