Where My Gratitude and Optimism Fail Me

My daughter Megan started her first real job this past Spring. You know – the kind where she has paperwork to fill out and the Canadian Government is aware of her pennies earned.

She was hired as a Swimming Teacher and Lifeguard for a local University, and as I dropped her off for this new stage in her life, like so many moments lately it seems, I thought to myself “How did we get here?”

But I didn’t lament this to her, instead I smiled, waved goodbye and headed back home.

She taught for five and a half hours and every minute that went by I thought about how she was doing. I couldn’t wait to hear all about it (note the artful use of “I” in that sentence. “I, I, I, me, me, me. Sigh …..)

The hours crept by and soon it was time to pick her up. There I sat in the Acadia parking lot waiting with eager anticipation.

Now keep in mind this isn’t my first time to the rodeo. Meg is 16 years old, quiet in many ways, and like many teenagers is used to being somewhat guarded with her feelings around her Mother (who only in the last year or so has started to gain some credibility as a real human being in her mind!)

And hey – I’m a 44 year old educated professional – I know all the ins and outs of effective communication – ask open ended questions – don’t assume – probe -but only gently.

Yup. I had it going on. One skilled communicator. Check.

Until I opened my mouth.

And the following sentence came out:

“So how was it?”

Now I know. I know what you are thinking. 

It’s a pretty damn good sentence. 

Honestly. It is.

Short, unassuming, conscience and open ended.

Sure it is.

On paper.

But it’s me. Have you MET me?

Those four words in print are an entirely different beast when spoken out loud by Mamma Wilkie. Because they are, in my world, spoken with a vocal enthusiasm, optimism, assumption and gratitude that is unparalleled.

Always.

And let me tell you – it’s not always helpful.

So there I am with my high-pitched sing-song eager voice spouting those four words. 

So how was it?

Cue the completely unintended (but none the less present) expectation that the correct answer is “incredible!”

If dancing unicorns wearing rose coloured glasses could have flown out of my mouth they would have.

Oh my. OH MY!!!

I truly don’t mean to do this. And I so much don’t want it to be how I come across. But I have realized I often do. I have also realized that somewhere, somehow, the following happens:

Instantly the air is filled with an unspoken expectation. The bar is set. And we as a family are going to clear it. We are going to be the most thankful, optimistic, positive family this world has ever seen. Because we have been given everything. Everything. E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

We get to be the lucky ones. And so we give back 100 fold. We are grateful 1000 fold. We have perspective. We know what the most important things are in life. Period.

Wow. 

Hold on there Miss Karrie-Ann. 

That’s a bit of an unreasonable bar there isn’t it? Let’s take a minute.

It IS a pretty tall bar – and written all over that bar says: We are over privelaged people who are so lucky to live, work and play in this incredible life. It says positive energy attracts positive energy. If you smile the world smiles with you. The more thankful you are the more you have to be thankful for.

Yup.

That’s me.

Blah. Blah blah blah blah

As we would have said in the late 1980’s “gag me with a spoon”.

But you see … the truth is … my unbridled raw truth is this … i believe in it whole heartedly … almost as a religion. That positive thought, gratitude and energy. It’s real for me – not trite or disingenuous. It’s not trendy or “just a quote”. 

It’s me.

But the other truth is this:

It’s not fair. 

It’s not fair to my family – especially those teenage ones filled with a myriad of emotions so close to the surface.

We all need to be allowed to feel what we feel when we feel it. We are all allowed really bad days. We are all allowed to not be brimming with gratitude every moment of the day.

So I’m learning. I’m learning and I’m admitting to my biases.

I’m learning that even if I’m thoughtful about what words I say or what questions I ask – I also need to be thoughtful about my tone, my eagerness, my anticipation and my unconscious expectations.

Because while gratitude, positive energy and optimism are among my closest companions, they can’t possibly serve me or my family in every situation all the time.  

Otherwise I’m little more than a cartoon character named Joy in a certain Disney movie. (A movie which by the way, gets 5 stars in my books … she says with no irony what so ever.)

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Posing the Questions

It’s been a week full of sadness in so many ways. A week of sudden loss, of impending unfathomable news, of waiting to see if there is plan to fight, and yet another relapse.

I came home from a road trip with my family and saw all of these separate events in a matter of 24 hours on Facebook. I don’t check Facebook when I’m away, and now I’m left numb with much so much sadness and reality.

As I’ve written about in previous posts, I don’t always function well with Social Media. And I guess today is one of those days.

Is my world better for knowing this news and being able to respond to my friends? Of course. Is it better for them to be able to post such news once instead repeating it 100 times? I believe it is.

But what does a world look like where you are processing a terminal diagnosis alongside a family’s fun day at the beach, alongside a relapse, alongside what someone ate for supper, along side a suicide, alongside a dancing cat? 



All with the quick scroll of a thumb. 



How can we process this as human beings without becoming somehow detached?

How does this medium we all are using ~ all of the time ~ affect how we place value, on what we place value, and how we react?

How are our brains functioning – I mean physically functioning – discovering all these things – all at once – in the same space – on the inside of a few moments?

I don’t have the answer. Not for me. Not for my kids. I don’t. 

But I’m posing the question. I’m posing the question because it worries me that we don’t seem to ever sit back and reflect on this and take any action.

So for now I’m taking a break. 

This summer – and consciously moving forward – I’m choosing how – and if – social media will be a part of my life. Not how I will be a part of its life. 

I’ll be back – probably soon – but I know myself well enough that every once in awhile I need to step away. I need to step away and pose the question about this social media phenomenon ~ even if no one understands why I do.

And even if I never have the answer.

Sometimes Self Care is Hiding the Last Bagel

I woke up this morning at 5:15 am. Some of you may be thinking “if this post is about self-care this is not a good start”.  

But as a morning person, this actually is one of the best things I do for myself. And it’s nothing I really “do” it’s more who I am – how my internal clock is just built into me.

I’m usually always awake by 5:30 am. In good weather I come downstairs and cuddle up in my Papasan Chair on the deck and read or take photos. It’s alone time. 

But don’t get “alone time” confused with self care. It’s true there is sometimes about half an hour of self care in there – but the rest is this: my mind running non stop with the list of to dos and schedules for the day for all the people in my life (of which I am last on the list).

Today I had a busy day ahead of me – like most of us do ofcourse. It’s June – and in my house that bookends September with a ferociousness that spans the kids, their school, their activities, my work, Craig’s work, and nearly each and every aspect of our life. Time is a precious commodity at the best of times – but it’s a different beast in June and September.

It just is.

So the notion of self care kind of makes me laugh. Like out-loud laugh.

Especially the way our society “sells” the notion of self care. Our culture screams at us from every magazine cover and talk show and best selling book that self care is of utmost importance. But at the same time it is also saying “and THIS is what self care must look like”:

It’s adventures to find yourself – to places none of us can afford (unless you are the author of the book these adventures are written about and just sold 1 million copies).

It’s massages and pedicures and mountain top retreats. 

It’s going to the funky little shop where you can “be seen” buying the “right” candles or oils which are over priced because they are the flavour of the month.

It’s running half marathons and making leisurely suppers from the organic vegetable you have tended to in your own vegetable garden that you take time to weed daily as you practice the simplicity of life.

And finally it’s taking the perfect picture of the perfect simplistic day with our lululemon yoga pants on while drinking our Starbucks Coffee. 

(Please follow the instructions above in order to meet the expectations our culture has around self care.)

Isn’t there enough expectations out there in the world we are bombarded with every day?

Ugh.

Ok ok. I get it.

Taking care of yourself is good.

I believe in it. 

But my self care doesn’t come close to these visions that are planted in our society.

My self care mostly looks mostly like this:

Phone a friend at 7:30 am – the worst possible time when both sets of our kids are getting ready for school and we are getting ready for work. But need to connect if only for a few minutes. Talk about “nothing really” but “everything real” … time allotted – 4 minutes.

At lunch grab a friend or go for a walk on my own. No jogging, no taking pics and posting them. Just walking. Pretty much the same place every time. 20 minutes. Race back to work.

In the mornings give my husband a peck on the cheek before we leave for work – try to spend the rest of the day trying to remember which Province he is working in that day, and if he can help out with “kid pick ups” later that evening.

And then there are times when my self care takes a deceitful but hilarious turn like this morning. This morning as I got up, came downstairs to the quiet kitchen and saw that there was only one bagel left – in a household of 4 people.

It was 5:30 am. I wasn’t hungry for the bagel yet. Everyone was asleep. But I knew in two hours I would be. And I also knew that by then that round beautiful bagel would be gobbled up by someone in my loving little family.

So this morning my self care looked something like this: I went over to my kitchen Island, I picked up that last bagel, and I deftly hid it from my children and husband so I could defiantly enjoy having it later in the day. 

Yup. I hid the bagel. What am I? Four years old?

But really, that’s it. Self care a la Karrie-Ann. Not fancy. Not trendy. Not expensive. Sometimes deceitful. 

Whatever works I say!

I guess my point is this: Don’t get caught up in what you think self care is supposed to look like. 

Find the moments. Even if they are fleeting and imperfect and nothing you would ever take a photograph of. Even if they are things you may be embarrassed about! 

Self care isn’t about what others are doing. We do enough comparing don’t we?

It’s about what you are doing – in a way that works for you – when you can do it. 

And yes – maybe sometimes it is the perfect mornings on my verandah taking sunrise photos that I post on Facebook as I get ready to read that self help book I’ve been waiting to dive into.

That’s not wrong. I did that just a few weeks ago.

But it’s also really important to acknowledge that sometimes … sometimes … it’s simply hiding the last bagel. 

And that’s ok too.

I Don’t Know How to do This Anymore

I don’t know how to do this anymore.

I don’t know how to wake up in the morning and find that Kinley passed away through the night. That this bright, beautiful seventeen year old isn’t walking the earth anymore.

I don’t know how to watch the sunrise on my verandah while Megan and Mark get to sleep upstairs in their beds.

I don’t know how to live with my gratitude that extends to – who – just a few of us?

I don’t know how to live anymore with the dichotomy of fear and calm. Of gratitude and anger. 

I don’t know how to count my blessings or be thankful anymore.

I no longer know how to have perspective. What does that look like?

I don’t know how to honour all of these amazing children. These children of my Mommas. These children who have been stolen from their families. 

And also these children who have relapsed and whose families have pressed this insane repeat button. Too many of us this past year. Weren’t we all just there? In Texas? Taking on the world? How is this happening? 

I don’t know where, or how, to find the words I need. To help. To give strength. 

I don’t know how to keep being as selfish as I am with what I get to have.

I don’t know why I get the privilege of asking these questions as they scream and grieve and cry and ask other questions I can’t even begin to fathom.

I don’t know how to keep doing this. To be the lucky one of the unlucky ones. For now.

I don’t know how.

I don’t know how anymore.

But it doesn’t matter if I don’t know how.

Because none of what I don’t know matters. 

What I do know is that each of these Mommas – my Mommas who I stood shoulder to shoulder with only four years ago – would give their lives to be asking the same questions I get the opportunity of asking this morning. 

And that is all there is.

But I still don’t know how it can be. 

Unsigned Cards

In my bedroom, tucked up under the mirror of my dresser, you will find faded greeting cards. Perhaps a little sentimental but not particularly unusual. I bet there are millions of people around the world tucking cards that mean something to them up on their mirror. Cards that someone gave them. From loved ones.

It’s only when you take mine down and open mine up that you see where the anomaly comes into play. Because when you do, you would find no handwriting, no messages from friends or family, no signatures scrawled across the bottom. Just unsigned cards that look like they could still be sitting on a store shelf – except for the faded colours and curling corners.

Many years ago when Mark was sick, I found it hard to leave his bedside. But every once in awhile I would venture out for short periods. And during that time, all too often I found myself in the most unlikely of places.

A card store.

In I would stroll in a fog-like state. Slowly, with seemingly an unclear purpose. Up and down the aisles I went. Not knowing exactly what I was doing there, but knowing I was looking for something. Some kind of wisdom maybe. Something that may be in the thousands of words and sentences and carefully constructed paragraphs of these folded cards. 

And soon I realized.

Sometimes I was looking for strength, because so often I had given all of mine away. To him. To her. To Craig. To everyone.

Sometimes I was looking for something to speak to me. For inspiration. For light.

Sometimes I was looking to feel less alone. For a sign that, in fact, I wasn’t the only one in the whole world who had ever felt this way, on this day, in this place.

Sometimes I looked for levity. Something that made me laugh. That made me forget. That made me smile.

And sometimes I was even looking for hope. Maybe hope was hiding here amoung the ink and cardstock and envelopes. After all, it had to be somewhere didn’t it? 

Up and down the aisles of the store I would walk. Reading card after card. Opening each of them, not knowing what I would find inside. Crouching down to the bottom racks so I wouldn’t miss “it” if it was there. Whatever “it” was that week.

And then next week I would go looking again. But for something different, because by then my heart and mind would be in a different place and would need something new.

I gravitated there time and time again. These generic commercial card stores in generic commercial malls.

And more often than not I would in fact leave with a card in hand that the cashier would tuck inside a small flat paper bag. A card that never got addressed or mailed or even written in.  

Because it was for me. From me.

Yes. There I was – buying cards for myself.

How crazy is that?!  

I never told anyone this before. Mostly for fear that it sounds a little “one flew over the cuckoos nest”.  

But I guess we all find comfort and strength in sometimes the most unlikely places. Even a card store. 

Our journey with childhood cancer was a roller coaster. How could I ever expect anyone else to know how I was feeling all of the time? To know exactly what I needed and when? Why wouldn’t I go looking for it myself sometimes? On my own. 

And if buying cards for myself sounds odd … well … somehow at the time, leaving that little folded piece of paper behind in the store – something that could sit at my hospital bedside giving me strength – well somehow the act of leaving it there in the store would have seemed craziest of all.

Finding My Balance

For years now I have struggled with my relationship to social media. That fine line of enjoying it in so many ways but sometimes feeling uneasy with its use in my life.  

I have taken those feelings to the extremes of both using it too often and “searching” for something I wasn’t even sure of, and also to the other extreme of walking away from it all completely and logging off for months at a time.

Back around November I decided to take stock again with this phenomenon I’ve allowed into my life, and do a little soul searching about how I was feeling about its place in my world. What I found was that I had surprisingly come to a place of feeling more balanced than I ever had in the past about its role.

The following are some thoughts of where I have found my own personal balance and comfort level. 

I should preface this of course by saying that this is my balance. We all have different comfort levels, and your balance will be different from mine. And mine will be different itself in one months time, or one years time. I have interestingly learned that mine is fluid and changes based on a whole slew of things in my life. 

But I do strongly feel that the world can be a better place if we are all conscious of where we are on that spectrum of use and that we are choosing to be where we are.

So for me, for now, here are some things that have helped me find my balance in what I feel is an over-connected world.  

No Data

I don’t carry data on my phone. (Insert gasp here). So unless I have wiifii I cannot connect to the broader world. I made this a conscious decision when first getting a smart phone. It simply limits my ability to connect. Plus my phone bill is $15.00 per month. Literally. So, you know, I kind of love that.

WiiFii Turned Off

When I do have access to wii fii (which let’s face it is almost everywhere now except my vehicle) I don’t leave it turned on. When I want to go search something – whether it’s Facebook, E-mail, Google or Instagram, I go into my settings, turn it on, and when I finish I turn it off. Sounds archaic right? I know!!! But I swear it’s where I have found my comfort zone. 

It makes me very purposeful about being connected and not passive. I find that instead of “reacting constantly” to beeps and notifications I instead “act when I choose to”.

Not Bedside 

This started as a rule when my kiddos became connected. We felt strongly it shouldn’t be the last thing they look at before bed and not the first thing they reach for in the morning. 

At first I didn’t apply this new rule to me. My phone was right there on my night table. But after awhile I realized how important it was for me to “sit in my own thoughts before I start the day.” To be quiet with myself or to actually talk to my husband before reaching for my phone to find out what everyone else is doing. Why would I want to start MY day all about someone else? Even the news is about someone else. 

It was a bit of a struggle at first. Scratch that. It was a huge struggle. Try it for a couple of days. It isn’t easy. It had become habit, reaching for that phone in the morning. But I’m glad I did it. It’s how I want to choose to start my day.  

Craig still chooses to keep his on his nighttable. That’s his choice and I’m absolutely ok with that. My choice is the right one for me.

The Share Button

I have an entire other blog post in my head about sharing in today’s world, so I won’t go into this in depth right now. Suffice to say that I love to have fun and share lots of different things – some serious and some silly – often I’ve found with no rhyme nor reason. 

But the one thing I know for sure – sharing something does not make that experience, or my life, better. At all. And when I do share I am very conscious of who else is a part of that share – especially if it involves other people.

Using FB Messenger

I didn’t understand the FB Messenger App for a long time. Why not just use the message button on FB? It’s like right there!! But now it’s one of my favourite apps. It allows me to converse with people, and often groups of people, I want to without having to be on Facebook itself and hear and see the endless posts and notifications. With Messenger I’m making a choice about who to engage with and I don’t have to deal with the white noise. 

Addressing FOMO

This is a rough one for me. I am social by nature and enjoy being out and about in the world. But I’ve learned that having these caveats in place for myself will inevitably lead to missing out on things – since I don’t carry data my iMessage group chat is very rarely on, I don’t see general posts as quickly as others do, and I’ve realized sometimes miss them entirely. That took some getting used to, but I’ve become pretty ok with it.

Modelling 

There are so many things I do a poor job modelling with my kids. But I want screen time and social media to be one I atleast TRY to walk the talk with. It is the largest influence in their world. Period. 

When they look at me I don’t want them to see a phone in my hand all the time, or hear beeps all the time, or see my face in a screen. It’s very important to me. Because I’m asking – no – I’m insisting – the same from them. So when I come home I make sure my phone is not on me or beside me all the time. It’s important what they see (or don’t see) and it’s what I want.

One Screen at a Time

This is another rule we have with the kiddos. (Yes – we are “these parents”). Not all kiddo rules apply to parents on the Bluff Road but this one makes sense to us as well. So if I am watching TV I won’t be on my phone (or tablet or laptop). Besides, my pea size brain can only process so much stimulation! 

Talking is the Priority

I love talking on the old fashioned phone. I have a friend who rarely a week goes by when we don’t call each other. Sometimes they are long deep conversations. Often they are silly 5 minute touch-bases. She will never know how much those mean to me and how connected they make me feel. And texting. Well if I can’t have the old fashioned phone I will take texting over social media. I know texting is still a screen but it’s me engaging with someone in a purposeful way. One on one. Which brings me to …

I am Not Interchangeable.  (And I will not make you interchangeable)

There seems to be a growing trend of just putting something out there in the social media world, where your 325 friends see it on your wall, with a broad leading question attached to it, about an informal or formal social gathering. From these posts come numerous responses. It seems that we are valuing “any” interaction over interaction with people of our conscious choosing. It makes for a feeling of interchangeability. “It doesn’t really matter “who” I do that activity with … the first few random people who see my post are good enough for me.  

Addiction

I left this to the last because I think it’s the one we need to talk about most in our society right now.

Addiction is real and I do believe some people may be more prone to it than others. I also believe in this social media world that that number is growing – and growing fast. 

 
If we all made a pact to be without our phones and social media for just one day a week could we do it? I think we would all say YES!!! Yes ofcourse we could!!! What a silly question! It’s only one day! 

But let’s ask ourselves … how many times – in just ONE DAY – do we check social media? How many times? How many times do we scroll and refresh that feed? How many times are we just searching for … what? 

Really. Think of a number. Say it out loud. I think the number is scary and I think it’s why I have tried to put these caveats in place for myself ….

Because I guess the bottom line for me is this:

I’ve realized that “being on my phone” isn’t “who I want to be” in the world.

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.