Tag Archives: Challenges

Interviewing Anger during a Pandemic

Anger what are you doing here? It’s not your turn. Fear was supposed to be next.

 

I skipped the line. 

 

Again?

 

Yes. Again! What are you going to do about it?!

 

Well I’m not sure it’s the time for you.

 

You’re wrong KA. It is the time for me. Now is the only time for me. If you wait it will be too late.

 

Sigh. You know what Anger? You really drive me up a wall sometimes. Let me check in with everyone else. Hang here a sec. 

 

Ok. For once they all agree, it is time for you. Let’s do it then. You’re up.

 

Actually, when I think about it it’s very predictable that you would cut the line. 

 

Ya. I’m like that. You never know where I’m going to pop up or when.

 

Tell me about it.

 

But Anger, I’d honestly argue that about any of you. Joy, Fear, Sadness – they are all around any corner – when we least expect them. But you certainly are the loudest vocally, I’ll give you that!

 

So. How are you doing today?

 

I’m mad! I’m mad I’m mad I’m mad.  No. Strike that. I’m pissed!

 

But Anger, be honest.  Don’t you kind of feel that’s your default? I mean really. You’re always mad about something.

 

Well sure – you have a point – but KA I really have something to say here.

 

Ok. And what is that Anger?

 

Well people don’t like to leave any space for me. They leave space for everyone else, but never me. A lot of people say I’m supposed to stay bottled up inside.

 

Well, I know it’s not healthy to stay bottled up, but a lot of the time you come out in unmitigated and unproductive ways that can be very hurtful.  That’s what happens when you explode all over everyone all the time.  And there are keys to that sentence anger – unmitigated, unproductive and all the time.  

 

What do you mean?

 

Well, I personally agree with you Anger, that much of the time people don’t leave any space for you.  You are a very polarizing and scary emotion.  But I also feel that much change in the world has come from a place of anger. Anger is a very strong emotion and sometimes a strong emotion is needed in order to make change. Anger can actually be a very intense motivator for change.

 

 

We would never be where we are with AIDS treatments had a small group of men not gotten a little bit angry and insisted their voices be heard. And this turned into a large group of many and changed everything.

 

A small group of workers became angry about their treatment and unions were born.

 

A small group of women became angry and a movement was born. 

 

A small group of educators voiced their anger at the system and education became better for it.

 

All of these things happened because people saw something happening in the world, got angry about it and change happened.  They weren’t afraid to express it and give voice to it and ensure they were heard.  BUT they also didn’t make it their default.  They used that anger to be heard and then moved forward with 100 other emotions built into their arsenal.  

 

Yes, yes, yes!  That’s what I’m trying to say!

 

I do know that Anger, but with you, to be honest, often it is the only emotion we see from you.  If you are nothing but angry all of the time how does anyone know when to sit up and really listen to you? It’s like the boy that cried wolf.

 

Huh?

 

Well.  Let me give you an example that happened to me recently. I felt very strongly about something. Something that made me angry.  And I decided to express that anger publicly.  But the thing is – I feel people stood up and took notice from me when I did it, (more than from you), because it is a rare emotion for me to show. So, the decision to do it was based in something very strongly that I felt rather than a default emotion.

 

And how did that work for you? 

 

Well.  First, I would say that as a woman I’ve been conditioned not to be angry. Certainly not to express it or give it a voice.  People don’t like it when I show anger. When WE show anger. I really can’t emphasize this enough. It’s a conversation for another time but let me tell you it’s a big one.

 

And secondly, for me personally, people are used to me generally expressing one of two emotions. Gratitude or Joy. Karrie-Ann usually fits pretty neatly into a box people are very comfortable with and generally like.  

 

But this wasn’t something I was willing to keep in a box. I felt it was too important. I FEEL it’s too important. Over the course of two weeks I’ve chosen to have a voice in a conversation. Having a voice isn’t easy. Those voices I’ve shared publicly have had a wide range from empathy, humour, caring, gratitude, wisdom in experience and yes anger. I’m very ok with that. I have not been one thing and I am not one thing. I have felt that this is too important for one emotion. And it’s too big to not speak what I believe – and yes that sometimes means I speak with anger. And I know that makes many very uncomfortable. Most of the time its all the other emotions, but yes, I’m also ok with anger sometimes.

 

Whoa.  That’s a lot KA

 

I know right?  This whole thing is a lot.  It’s a lot of emotions to process and it can be really easy to push others aside. But we need all of you to get through this – we all have to work together and talk to each other.  And that includes you too Anger.

 

It does?

 

It does.

 

But ….

 

But?

 

But if I see you are nothing but Angry all the time and not leaving space for everyone else … well … to be honest I won’t be listening to you very much.

 

Even if its always about anger towards Trump?

 

Even then Anger. Even then.

😉

I’m Sorry Boys, It’s Not On.

An open letter to every adolescent with a Y chromosome who is in, or even on the periphery of my son’s life … and of course my son himself.

The world has gotten a lot bigger for you all in the past six months. A lot bigger physically in new schools that span from one end of the Valley to the other – but also a lot bigger online. There are more of you. More people you are getting to know, and more people you may not really know, but sure pretend to know through social media. You are all trying to find your way. I can feel it everywhere I turn. And I can see it no where more clearly than online.

And I’m sorry boys, some of this behaviour that I’m seeing … it’s not on.

It’s simply not.

I know I will earn no respect saying it or revealing it, but I’m not here for your adoration. I’m here to raise a young man. And I’m here to care about other young men who are in his life, or even on the outside circle as classmates, teammates neighbours or old friends.

I understand you are all growing up in a world of social media. I understand you are “digital pioneers”, and that we have to raise you to learn to manage living in this new world.

I understand you have all heard, ad nauseum, about the dangers and pitfalls of the ‘evil online world’ of people looking to prey on you, of bullying, pornography and safety.

But today we are not talking about any of that. We are talking about the young men you want to be in this world.

I feel as of late, somewhere, somehow, an incredibly pathetic low bar is being set in your personal online world. And whether you admit it or not each of you are playing a role in keeping it there. Each of you.

The group chats that happen in the guise of team bonding, the snap chats that come and go so quickly you are lulled into complacency, the memes – some specific memes – that some of you think are hilarious because they only step “one” foot over the line in your opinion but not “two” … and the others that are clearly well over any line.

So here are some things I want to make perfectly clear:

Saying “But it’s not pornography” doesn’t cut it.

Do not set the bar that low for yourself or for your friends. Expect better of them. Or get better friends. Choose respect. Expect respect. Accept nothing less.

Saying “But I’m not participating in the chat” doesn’t cut it.

Even if you never post anything derogatory yourself … ever … just being a part of demeaning conversations normalizes them. The undertones are all too often sexist, homophobic, or at the very least elitist. It creates a sense of normalcy that is false and against the values you should aspire to. Just because you aren’t the ones saying the words or posting the posts, you are still choosing to view the conversation. And I know it’s because you are part of a team or a certain group at school. And I understand “staying” comes from a fear of speaking up and being ostracized. I do.

But remember – you become like the five people you spend the most time with. Online, at school, on the sports team. Remember that. REMEMBER THAT.

Saying “I didn’t understand what that meant” doesn’t cut it.

I get it. There are things out there that “I” don’t even understand online! But ask if you’re unsure about something. Ask an adult in your life. Be grown up enough to find out from people you can trust. We are your safe place. They are your safe place.

Saying “He’s not really like that in real life” doesn’t cut it.

This is real life. It’s ALL real life. And choosing who you are online is choosing who you are in the world. If he’s like that online, he’s like that period.

Saying “I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble” doesn’t cut it.

I adore loyalty in my son and his friends. But if you feel that you have to keep covering for people, or if you think our families expectations are too high, maybe you need to reevaluate some things.

I completely understand you all will make mistakes. I completely understand that in the most literal sense your brains are not fully developed yet and you will have an imegdula-hijack from time to time.

I understand. I do. There are no expectations of perfect. But everyone still has to be responsible for their actions. Both on a screen and in person.

To those of you who I have seen with my own eyes post degrading photos and memes about women … who swear in a way that is not expressive but degrading … who make jokes about being gay … who think you are so much better than people who may be struggling academically or those who may not be good at sports … some of you really caught me off guard. I am ashamed and disappointed in you. I am. And guess what – maybe we need to say that more often. Maybe someone needs to be disappointed in you. I’ll be that person if you don’t have one in your life or if their heads are in the sand.

And once again, to those who don’t post these things but are seeing them and not saying something … who are not standing up … I do know it’s hard … I do know that … I do know decisions to remove yourself from conversations and stand up will affect you for years at school. I do know it may mean not sitting at the cool table.

But make the hard decision.

CHOOSE the young man you want to be.

To those who care so very very VERY much about the numbers of followers you have and who don’t know everyone following you (but only know “of” them …) please be careful not to get caught up in that … you are better than that.

Popularity does not equal kindness. As a matter a fact it requires a sneaky exclusivity and disrespect toward others that is most often the opposite of kind.

Popularity is a slippery slope and you can find yourself at the bottom feeling alone all too quickly. Or you can hurt feelings and relationships that become irreparable. You are not better than anyone. Let me say that again. You are not better than anyone. Even if friends and even parents and teachers and coaches and all kinds of peers and even adults are silently telling you you are. You aren’t.

CHOOSE to be the respected young man – not the popular one.

And finally – I know many of you are revered in the sporting circles. I know you think you are on top of the pack ~ or want to be.

But ask yourself “what pack?”

Are the actions you portray on the court matching your actions on social media? At your round tables at lunchtime? Or in the locker room?

Really ask yourself this.

Are they?

I can tell you they are often not. I’m so disappointed in some of you. I truly am.

I’m sorry boys. I’m sorry Mark. I’m sorry parents, coaches and teachers, who may or may not have knowledge of this specific behaviour. I’m sorry world.

But I’m not raising the popular kid, or a kid to “just get through four years of high school”. I want to raise a confident, strong, empathetic, caring young man and I want him to be surrounded by other confident, strong, empathetic, caring young men. Young men who can be proud of themselves and who consciously choose who to be in the world … and that includes the online world people! There is no distinction or definition there.

Please. Please. CHOOSE the men you want to be. And not just in the easy circumstances and not just around the popular kids.

And adults, it isn’t enough to just let these things pass by or not be aware of them because they are online and you may not see them because they are on Snapchat or have been deleted from Instagram or you aren’t looking.

Boys will NOT be boys.

I’m raising a young man.

It’s not on.

And I’m actually not the least bit sorry.


Post Script:

I wrote this about a year ago. Instead of posting it I used it as a jumping point to begin conversations with my son about behaviour I was seeing start to plant itself in and around his grade. They weren’t easy conversations to have and they happened over time. But I am so glad I started them.

Some won’t agree that I choose to randomly look at my children’s phones. Some won’t agree with this post overall. And that’s ok.

Within myself I am personally so happy with the conversations we have had that came from these actions. It opened my eyes. It stopped me from thinking “this person or that person would never do that”. Including my own kids. It reminded me of so many things I knew but needed reminding of.

Even more so I am incredibly proud of my son and the choices he has chosen to make over the last year. They were not easy choices sometimes. But I believe this kid had dug deep into choosing who he wants to be, which has sometimes meant stepping away from some old friends, some new friends, teammates or classmates and deciding what was more important.

I’m incredibly proud of him this past year. I tell him all the time. (And each time he rolls his eyes at me).

Finally, I wrote this as if I was talking to Mark and his peers. In retrospect I would like to add a note to each adult that touches these boys lives. And it’s this:

Popularity, privilege and being overly adored by adults and peers (including parents, teachers, coaches, mentors etc) is all too often where behaviour and thought patterns begin, that can later end in appalling behaviours (such as those by some Dalhousie Dentistry males a number of years ago.) Don’t have your head in the sand or be fooled by outwardly polite behaviour on the surface.

Remember not to equate popularity with positive behaviour.

It begins here. It begins now. And it begins not with “other kids”. But with our own.

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.

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.

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.

Raised Up the Roof

I adore the band Blue Rodeo. They represent everything I love about music. They are real; they write about things that matter to me; and they have true chops. When you go see them live they sound exactly like they do in your living room on that CD you’ve played over and over. Needless to say I have been listening to them for decades. 

One of their songs, “It Could Happen to You” starts off with six lines, that from the moment I heard them, spoke to my heart. It was like they wrote those six lines about my parents, and about the house they consciously chose to make into their home. (And by process of a little DNA and a whole lot of love, my home as well).

This past February, without warning, that house, that home, was traumatically taken from them in a fire that engulfed nearly every corner of its two thousand square feet. Nothing was salvageable.

But my parents are very clear about what is important in life. They are beyond grateful that no one was hurt, and that no one was even home when the blaze began.

They understand how lucky they were and they feel very blessed to be unharmed and here on this earth with their family and friends.

At the same time however, in amongst the “You’re so lucky”s; “Thank God”s; and the “It could have been so much worse”s; there is still enormous loss and unspoken grief. A loss I think few of us, certainly perhaps almost none of us from my generation, and few from even their generation, can truly understand. 

Today in 2016, we buy a house or hire someone to build one. We certainly do none of the manual labour ourselves and there are dozens of people behind the scenes who make the purchase, or the build, all easily come together so we can walk in to a pre existing house – and boom – call it a home. Although there is an argument to be made that we work hard for the money that buys that house, we do precious little physical work.

Those of us who do put some sweat into our abode, usually do so in an aesthetic, supplemental way. Finishing a basement here, building a closet there, laying down our own flooring, or slopping a coat of paint or two on the walls. Doing “small renovations” ourselves sometimes, but really in the grand scheme of things, not much actual physical work ever goes into the house we call home.

Instead we hand over some money, and purchase a nice little pre-packaged, matchy-matchy house that does a pretty good job of keeping up with some family called the Jones’.

Not my parents. They did nothing BUT physical work. And make no mistake they didn’t ‘renovate’ a house. They ‘rebuilt’ a house. They ‘created’ a home.

When my parents moved to Nicholsville in 1972 they were far from wealthy. Heck, they were even far from middle class. But then when I think about it, everyone was “far from” I guess … so maybe the lines of “class” we’re blurrier back then. Or maybe just no one cared. 

So forty-three years ago they scraped together enough money to purchase an old farm house on Harmony Road. When I say old, I mean old. Not heritage, not well-maintained, not just a-little-dusty. Old. Although structurally sound, it was, for all intensive purposes, abandoned, and hadn’t been cared for in a very very long time.  

My mother’s family questioned her sanity but she would hear nothing of it. My parents had a vision. No money. Few resources. But they had a dream.

They lived in one room at a time working every second they had free to make the rest of the house liveable. In the walls that they tore down they found wooden knitting needles and butter prints. In old attics they found spinning wheels and wooden washboards. They uncovered fireplaces and bake ovens. They levelled, straightened, sawed, cut, hammered, tore down and built up.

They converted old kitchens into woodsheds. They moved doors and windows. Mom would literally pound nails out of old boards, so Dad could re-use those same nails in other parts of the house. They painted. The sewed curtains. They put in wood. They shingled. They poured cement. All by themselves. They worked side by side. Day and night. And when my brother and I came along they just kept working. 

There are endless stories of what they did to the house. What they did to make it liveable. What they did to make it a home. Every story they used to tell me was told with a pride that I now see comes from working hard – for yourself and for your family. For your dream.

And that dream came true for them – because they made it come true.

So when we (including me) try to put things in perspective after the fire, and think well-meaning things, like “it was just a house” … I don’t know if we can truly understand the enormity of what went into that house to make it a home. How they reclaimed it. I don’t know if we can put ourselves in their shoes, because they literally brought four walls back to life. And the fact is – no one does that anymore. No one really has to. The concept is somewhat foreign to us.  

But I do know – if I had to work for something that hard – if I put that much blood, sweat, tears and love into something – it would ‘matter’. Those four walls certainly wouldn’t be “everything”. But they would matter.

And while I do know in my head it was “just a house” – I think only my Mom and Dad may really know the truth – that maybe ‘that house’ was just a little bit more.

——

Here are the first six lines of that Blue Rodeo Song. To me, every single word always felt like it was written for them.

“They broke off the locks and they opened the doors. Pushed out the windows and painted the floors. Grew a little garden outside in the western sand.

Raised up the roof till it touched the sky. Picked up the pieces that were left to die. Brought this building back with healing hands.”

Hmmmmmmm …

Wow.

Raised up the Roof ‘Til it Touched the Sky.  

Yup. 

They sure as hell did.

Beyond Safety. Some Not-So-Random-Thoughts for my Daughter on Social Media.

I’m so proud of you, kid. I see you managing all of this social media and digital world better than I ever could have at your age. Better than I do sometimes at my age! Keep it up. You are doing great! 

But because you got stuck sharing my DNA, I wanted to share a few not-so-random thoughts with you on the subject. Thoughts that go beyond the long safety-orientated talks you have suffered through the past years.

I know, I know. Just bear with me for five minutes. Here goes.

You are growing up in a world where you are being taught that ‘sharing everything’ makes your experiences better. It doesn’t. At least not how ‘sharing’ is now defined. What makes things better is being present in the moment. Not always sharing ‘each and every’ moment.

Having a connection with people has nothing to do with being connected. I know we have heard that many times before, but I don’t think we as a society are listening. I don’t think we are walking the talk. So I think it warrants saying again. The greatest connections you will find are when you are unplugged. Don’t let people convince you otherwise. I think this may be the hardest thing for your generation to realize. It’s even hard for my generation as we look around and we all have phones stuck to our hands. And when we do realize it … the difference between connecting and being connected … it is even harder to put that phone down and put that knowledge into action. 

Hiding behind a screen is easy. It’s easy in the middle of school when your friends haven’t arrived at your table yet and you are alone for those two minutes that can seem like two hours. It’s easy when you are in a place where you are uncomfortable. It’s easy when you are bored. And it’s ok to hide sometimes. It’s ok to use your screen to seem busy sometimes or to get through that awkward moment. It’s ok. SOME TIMES. But make those times few and far between kid. Choose those times. Choose them infrequently. Have the confidence in yourself to be alone sometimes. Learn to be alone. You happen to be great company!

The number of likes you have has nothing to do with your worth. That goes for when you have a lot or a little. The ego can be just as funny a thing as self esteem. Don’t let things go to your head either way. I know you know this. I just have to say it. 

I am so proud you don’t have a tonne more ‘followers’ than people you are following. This shows me you are kind and inclusive and don’t see yourself as better than others. It can be rare.

Take selfies. Post them. Have fun! But please don’t post them every day all the time. Don’t ever be that self important or self centred. 

Thank you for not asking for a phone or social media while you were still in single digits. Thank you even more for waiting until you were a teenager. It just made my life as a Mom much easier.

You know the people who make you laugh? Keep them. And I don’t mean the people who put smiley faces on your account. The people who you find yourself laughing outward with. In real life. In real time. Keep THEM.

Always opt for quality over quantity. Your world is not set up for this anymore. But remember that this social media platform isn’t always the real world. One real true friend outweighs the 200 on your social media account. I know that’s sometimes hard to remember. But I know it to be true from personal experience.

You know how everyone uses the acronym ‘ilysm’? You know the little hearts and ‘baes’ and I love yous that float around every day on your Instagram and Snapchat? That’s great! You have so many wonderful friends. And as a Mom I’d rather see these acronyms than insults any day. But when you step back, please know and remember that real love is much rarer than that. Even between friends. Deep down you know the friends who really care for you. Real love is felt … not typed.

Go look up the words friend and like and hangout and chat and share in the dictionary. The old fashioned Webster Dictionary. These terms are being used in a different context now. They really are. Find out where their roots come from.

Take some pictures you don’t post. Take some for the memories you will want to cherish later. Not for the showing off aspect of today. 

Once you hit the send button it’s gone. Learn to type, then pause and count to ten first when you are feeling emotional about something before sending it.

Thank you for not fighting our family’s screen boundaries too much. Thank you for bringing your phone downstairs every night so it is not the first thing you reach for in the morning. Thank you for keeping the door open when you Facetime with a boy. Thank you for paying half of your own phone bill and never complaining about it. I know rules like these aren’t always the norm with your friends and I know it does affect you. I know it’s not always easy being a part of our family and our beliefs that accompany that. I do know that, and I appreciate your respect of that more than you know.

‘Be bigger than the fear of missing out’. Ok. I stole that one. But it’s important. It’s one that I’m still working on even at 43 years old in this social media world. Don’t worry about missing out on things because you aren’t on line 24/7. Be bigger than that feeling. Be stronger. 

Turn off the screen. Close your eyes. Be still. Use your mind and imagination independent of the online world sometimes.

Be thankful for what this digital world offers you. It offers a lot of opportunity and potential for growth. Especially for a bright kid like you. Use it. Explore. Discover. Have fun. 

Everything you type or post is public domain. Forever. Period. I know we’ve talked ad nausium about that one but it warrants a reminder. 

Keep reading real books with real pages. I love that you still do this. Never stop. I love that you adore your Kobo too, but the feel of a real book in your hand – the way it opens the first time you hesitate to crease its spine – the way a bookmark lays in it – there is an appreciation there for the written word that you can’t replace on a screen. I sense you feel this too. Don’t ever lose that feeling.

Thank you thank you thank you for not having two separate social media accounts for everything. One for your ‘friends’ and another for your ‘real’ friends. I think this is awful and elitist and mean and I am proud you are not that kid. I know you are probably shocked I even know about this practice and you would probably defend them and their reasoning … but you drew the short straw in the ‘Mom with strong opinions’ department. Sorry kid.

And finally, above all, very simply, just ‘check in’ with yourself every once in a while. You are a wise, thoughtful knowledgeable kid. You know if your life is balanced in a real way. You know in your heart what is real, what matters, and what is just distraction. Listen to yourself. And then have the courage to put away the white noise for a little while until you can feel balanced again.  

So that’s it kid. Thanks for listening to your old Mom.

I do happen to think you rock … in every aspect of this teenage thing! You are already living so much of this and the balance you choose to have in every part of your life makes me burst with pride. 

I also recognize you have so much more insight into this online world than I do. But you know me …. I just can’t help sharing an opinion or two with my favourite girl.

xoxo Ilysm … 😘 😍😀😛Bahahahaha!!

Mom

A Boy in a Cape

My friends husband posted on Facebook this morning “New Years Resolutions. What are yours?”

I don’t make New Years Resolutions. I don’t really remember if I ever have. Maybe I did once upon a time. Either way I know it’s been a long time since I have.

I do however have a ritual of writing something down each year of what I want to come true. It’s nothing within my control, but I still physically write it down every year. I have a pretty strong belief that the universe listens more intently if you are in fact purposeful AND active. And for me there is no way to be more purposeful and active than putting pen to paper. Yes. Actual pen. No typing this one. So I physically pick up a pen. Blue ink of course. And I write the same sentence every year in the same Family Journal. It’s not pretty or artful or eloquent. It’s just one sentence, randomly placed on any page. But it happens in January of each year.

So no. I do not make yearly resolutions. I guess you would say I make a wish.

But his question DID get me thinking. What have I wanted to be more purposeful about this year? For me that’s always been the question in life.

One of the things I have been thinking a long time about is how important it is to put our intent into action.

Too long I have had the following sentence rattling around my brain. “I Wonder if You Know?”

Each year, each season, each month, and I hazard to guess each day, we encounter people who make a difference in our lives. Sometimes it’s a really big life changing difference. More often than not its a small, seemingly inconsequential, difference. But even if it’s the latter, it’s those small differences that build us up. Build our confidence. Build our character. Help us become the people we were meant to be in the world.

But here is the thing.

I don’t think we always do a very good job at telling those people the difference they make. Sometimes it’s because we are busy and don’t take the time. Sometimes it because it seemed so small at the time, and then later on it seems too late. Whatever the reason, I want to be better at it. Because from the moment I started whispering thank you those many years ago, I learned that you need to give gratitude a voice. It doesn’t have to be loud or pompous or all encompassing. But it needs to have a voice. Even if it’s just a whisper.

So this year, 2016, I want to start being better at telling people in my world the difference they have made, or are making, in my life. I don’t like to set myself up, so I won’t commit to a certain number of posts a week or a month or even the year. But if you want to read a few feel-good-true stories, I’m going to create a category here in Whispering Thank You called “I Wonder if You Know?”

My first post is about something that happened a little over six years ago. But I didn’t realize what an impact it had on my son until about six months ago. It’s not an earth shattering story. It’s not extremely long. But it mattered to one of the most important people in my life, and I’ve been ‘meaning to’ share it … because I wonder if Meaghan H. knows what a difference she made?

I wonder if she knows that six years ago she had a pretty big impact on my son Mark’s life? I bet she doesn’t. Because until last March I had no idea she did either.

At the end of Marks three year chemotherapy regime we held a Celebration for him. A party to celebrate the end of a long arduous time.

We invited only our closest family and friends. That of course consisted of my Fab Five Girlfriends from NB and their kiddos. We moved to NS just before Mark was diagnosed, so even though four years had gone by between the move and the celebration, these were still some of the people in our life we depended on the most – regardless of what Province they lived in.

I insisted that no gifts were to be brought to the celebration, and my friends and family knew well enough not to mess with that request, and they respected it whole heartedly. They did however bring cards, some purchased and some home made. And one of my friends daughters, Meaghan, brought a drawing with her. It was a portrayal of Mark in a cape. The title of it was “Super Mark”.

It was done in colour pencil and had inspiring words like “Way to go Mark” at the bottom in bubbles. It was very well done I thought for a girl the age of twelve (which I believe is what age she would have been at the time). Very well done. But at the same time, and boy I hope she takes this the right way, she wasn’t going to be giving Picasso a run for his money. Haha! Maybe she is now at the age of 18, but at 12 it was very simply a wonderful gesture and I remember thinking about how much time she must of taken, thinking about Mark as she completed it … and how much that meant to me … even if Mark at age six wouldn’t necessarily make that correlation of time and effort put into such a drawing. It meant even more because of the age difference between them and the fact that although they had certainly been in each other’s lives the past six years, but they were not particularly close per se.

She had put the drawing in a frame. I don’t remember there being any grand gesture of giving it to him. She did not need to be the centre of any attention. It was, very simply, a generous act of love. Something she felt she could do for a young boy to make him feel strong and brave.

There were many moments during the course of that day that would touch my son. Some of them big. (He loved animals and we had the local Zoo give him the opportunity to name a baby animal). Some of them encompassing (we collected fun band aids for kids in the hospitals and we counted them all that day). Some of them small. (We all went on the water slide at the hotel afterward … he talked about that forever.). Meaghan’s beautiful gesture seemed like “just” one of many wonderful gestures that happened that day, mixed in among an emotional day, it seemed to be, within perspective, very simply, one of many.

It wasn’t.

Fast forward six years.

Mark is on the verge of becoming a teenager. 12 years old, nearing 13, and he wants his room re-done to reflect the growing, young, active, vibrant sports orientated/animal loving kid he is.

His room is well overdue for a reno. And so we go at it. New paint. New furniture. New curtains. As I take down spiderman and toddler items I am throughly embarrassed at how long it has taken us to take on this project.

Everything comes off the walls and off the bookshelves. We make four piles. (1) Garbage. (2) Give Away. (3) Put Away in the Attic’ as a Treasure. (4) Put Back Up in his Room.

As I take everything down I make him put it in one of the four piles. There are things here I don’t even remember seeing before. Where did he GET all this STUFF? We grab old books and trinkets and photos and he makes quick and sure decisions. He is already much better at this purging thing than his mother is!

I reach up on the bookshelf, the second shelf from the bottom, the one that is best at his eye view at his height, and I grab a framed drawing.

It’s a boy in a cape.

I pause for a moment and think of Meaghan and that day. She is 18 now. That was six years ago. Where does the time go?

I hand it to Mark hoping he chooses by himself to put it in the “Attic Treasure” pile and not the “Garbage” pile. He is, after all, a twelve year old boy, and as I hand it to him I wonder if he even really remembers where it came from or if it just became “something that never came down” from a time long ago.

I think to myself “if he does put it in the garbage pile I will salvage it to the attic and tell him all about it when he is older.”

But as I hand it to him my hope of him putting it in the Treasure pile is not realized. It’s his choice. Not mine. And the thing is, that’s ok.

It’s actually more than ok.

Because you know what that kid did? He looked at the drawing and without blinking or pausing said “that goes back in the same spot Mom. Right where it was.” And he handed it back to me.

And so I put it back on the shelf. “Right where it was”.

And that was that.

I look at that drawing through new eyes now. I look at it through Marks eyes. I look at it as he has ALWAYS looked at it but how I never KNEW he looked at it. As something that made him feel strong and brave and courageous. As something that mattered deeply to him. And as something that so obviously STILL matters deeply to him.

I look at it on his shelf. In his room. Still to this day. Put there with conscious decision on his part.

And I think of that young girl, who is now a woman, who drew that for him. And I wonder if she knows what an impact she had on his life, as my boy laid there in bed every night, seeing that drawing, and thinking that someone in the world, other than his family (who is of course is ‘supposed’ to tell him he is amazing) thought he was brave and courageous and a super hero for the battle he fought.

I wonder if she did know what a difference she made?

So often we don’t.

But I’m glad she does now.

Thank you Meaghan H. You kind of rock.

September Can Be Hard on My Heart … and on my Conscience

It’s October 1st and as I flipped the calendar over this morning I have to be completely honest, there is a small part of me that breathed just a little easier. 

I’m not supposed to say that. I’m not. Telling the truth – my truth – is hard sometimes. And this particular truth comes with a lot of guilt this year.

I am privileged to be a part of so many wonderful communities. Communities of sport moms and neighbours and family and school and colleagues and friends. 

I also happen to be a part of this other extraordinary community. It’s a group of women whom I adore, look up to, and identify with. They are strong beyond measure and I admire them for so many things. But more than anything else I admire them for walking the talk. 

They are mothers of both angels and of childhood cancer survivors. And this post is such a hard thing for me to admit because I take my part – my role – in that community so seriously and hold it very close to my heart.

September was Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. It is a month when we in this community come together and speak with one voice. Some of us whisper, some shout, some are eloquent, some sorrowful, some raw, and some full of grace. But all of us tell our truth. Because it’s the month we step up.

But this year I didn’t step up. This year I had to step back.

By being part of this community, I have seen things that people from my other communities haven’t seen. That I still see. I have conversations they don’t have and I read stories they don’t read. 

“When Cancer is the Side effect of Cancer”. “The Chronic Illnesses of long Term Cancer Survivors”. “Childhood Cancer Survivors Face Lifelong Challenges”. 

All of these stories, conversation, articles and images culminate for me in September.

They fill my newsfeed, my twitter feed, my messenger, my newspapers, my magazines and my emails.  

They also fill my heart, my mind, and particularly this year, they fill that place of worry that never goes away.

These images of children no longer physically with us, of children relapsing, of children in treatment. Articles that echo the things we are living with and/or worry about everyday but rarely talk about. These things are all part of my world that usually I actively participate in. But they can, every once in awhile, be too heavy and I have to take a step back.  

And the guilt of that decision is difficult for me to accept. But I am trying hard to put it into perspective, because when I take a moment to pause, I realize I have done much for our cause over the years. I have done much for this community.

I have raised awareness and funds, each year trying to do something to give back. I have raised tens of thousands of dollars shaving my head, raised thousands for Children’s Wish in Exile Island, collected band aids and room stick ups for the hospitals, visited patients, doctors and nurses on Christmas day with gifts in tow, participated in the Mollie Appeal and Young and Fearless, gathered groups to donate blood, Relayed for Life, started a blog, Campaigned for Hospital Foundations, volunteered on Ethics Committees, been featured for Radiothons and lent our story to countless organizations for awareness.

I take my role in giving back very seriously, and I’m so proud of the things I have accomplished for this community.

But although I am proud of these accomplishments, it doesn’t ease the guilt that comes with taking that step back for the year, or making a conscious choice not to do as much as I have done in the past. I’m a big believer that actions are what matter in life, and our thoughts alone do little to enact any change in this world. 

However – and this is a big however – I’m also learning that being a part of a community means you are not alone.  

And that every once in awhile, if every few years or so, I need a break from ‘September’, I have to say to myself, that’s ok. It’s ok because I am doing what needs to be done to take care of ‘me’, to refuel and recharge in a world where I still have to deal with so much others don’t see. And it’s ok because I know that as I step back, others will step up. Fighting and shouting and whispering our cause. And when they are tired and they feel heavy, then that will be the year that I step up again, when I feel stronger and more able to be public once more about our journey.

I am so thankful for this community … for these Mothers. Because I know they understand my guilt, my worries, my needs, my fears, and my gratitude. And although I worry about letting them down, I know they would be the first ones to tell me to take the time I need, to not be ridiculous, and that they look forward to me standing beside them again soon. 

So for now, for this past month of September, I gave myself the permission not to step up in the ways I have in the past, but instead to applaud ‘those who can’ this time around. I attended the events ‘they’ organized, gave to the funds ‘they’ raised and were grateful for the awareness ‘they’ were able to bring.

And that’s what I did. I applauded. I showed up. I donated. Because even when we can’t do it all … we still need to do what we can. 

The F Word

When I graduated high school and moved out on my own I remember one of my favourite things was decorating my dorm room, later my little bachelorette apartment, then basement apartment, townhouse and later homes.

Somewhere along the way I acquired a small nic nac. It was from the “country style” of decorating … you know … the kind that is made of wood and tole painted with those muted dark colours. It was three hearts that were stacked on top of each other in a pyramid style fashion. One heart said Hope. One said Love. And one said Faith. Although my tastes changed over the years, this little wooden nic nac followed me around from home to home. I don’t know why really. I don’t remember anyone in particular giving it to me so it didn’t hold any sentimental value. But there it was. In Halifax, in Guelph, in Riverview and back in the Valley.

Somewhere along the way the Hope and Love stayed glued together. But the Faith came unglued and dropped off. I would constantly set it back on top but something would inevitably happen and I would find it upside down hiding behind the other two.

I swear this story is true. And boy what a metaphor this turned out to be in my life!

Faith … in both a traditional and non traditional sense just never came easily or natural to me. It just didn’t. I struggled greatly with it. There would be times in my life that that would bother me, and there would be times in my life that I worked relatively hard at making that better for myself. There were moments when I actively pursued a greater sense of faith and felt like I was succeeding and growing. But somehow more often than not it still felt forced to me. There were times that building my faith seemed like something that a needed to go on a to-do list. “Find Stronger Faith. Yup. Must get that one checked off the list”. But mostly I came to a comfortable acceptance that faith was not a prominent part of my life. (Insert the shock and gasps here)

I guess maybe this all seems pretty normal for many people. Questions of faith are big questions.

But fast forward to having a child diagnosed with a life threatening disease … a severe, rare, life threatening disease, where the odds are not in your favour, and all of a sudden the whole faith thing … or lack there of it … seems pretty significant, and pretty damn scary.

So many people would tell me, “You have to have faith that everything will work out”. Oh my. That is such a wrong thing to tell this Momma. Number one, I’m pretty sure Timmy’s* Mom (our roommate at the IWK) had faith in spades …. but I still went to his funeral … and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because she didn’t have enough faith. Number two, don’t tell me I “have” to have anything. (I know some of you reading this hear nothing but anger in that statement. But I also know some of you reading it instead hear in it ‘the experience of being given much unsolicited advice over a very long journey’).

So here is what I realized on my journey as a mom of a child with a very lengthy life threatening illness. I actually didn’t have to have faith. And it’s not because I didn’t think faith was important. And it’s not because I didn’t want to. I did in fact think it was important and I did in fact want to.

But I actually didn’t have to have faith because of two things:

(1) I had a tonne of other things in spades. I had the courage and the fortitude and the love and the gumption and the heart and the tenacity and the humour and the spirit and the confidence. I had all of that. I was brimming with all of “that” through this whole journey. I excelled at all of that. In a time of our lives where many would feel buried by the burden, I found myself able to bring all of “these” necessary qualities to the table. For me. For my son. For my family.

So here’s the thing, I allowed myself to not have the faith. And then I told myself that was ok. And do you know why? It’s because of the second reason.

(2) It’s because I allowed two other people to have it for me. It was just too much for me to carry. Like I said, it did not come naturally and it felt to forced for me. So I let someone else carry it for me. I was lucky enough in my life to have a Mother and a Best Friend for whom faith comes, and always has come, very naturally. So I let them carry that. I let them worry about that little faith heart that came unglued, and I let them worry about making sure that that piece of the puzzle was taken care of. Because I was already carrying everything else. I was holding everything else together and I needed help.

I remember when I came to this realization. It was scary at first. Not holding or trying for faith, and instead letting it go. Would I be judged for that? Would I be judged by others or even worse would I be judged by a higher power? And worse of all, would there be life altering repercussions for that? But that fear didn’t last long. Right wrong or indifferent it didn’t last long. Because I remember the most overwhelming feeling was how “right” and “ok” it felt to hand this important piece over to them.

Mother of children with childhood cancer don’t hand things over very well. We have a need to swoop in and give our children everything. But there I was … handing over this most important piece to two of the most important people in my life. And it felt so right. It lightened my load, and allowed me to be the person I needed to be with confidence and optimism, not someone who was constantly questioning if I had enough faith for me and for my family. It was the right decision for me and it felt real and true.

It would be my greatest hope that anyone who may be reading this and who is going through any kind of challenge in their life, that you give yourself permission to let go of something that is too big for you to carry. Give yourself permission to hand that over to someone else. Someone you love and who you trust. Someone who truly has your back and who loves you unconditionally. It will allow you to be the person you need to be on your journey. You can always pick it back up. You can always try to carry it at a later date.

I know that is hard. I got very lucky with my Mom and Best Friend. They picked up and carried that for me without ever consciously knowing it. They did it without judgement or conditions, and also without ever once trying to make me be someone I wasn’t. And that’s a tough thing to do when we are talking about faith.

I never really came out and told my Mom and Best Friend any of this. But their faith, and my confidence in it, was one of the greatest gifts I ever received. I whispered thank you for this gift so often, and still continue to be thankful for what they were able to do for me.

So somehow in my mind, when my son had cancer, I wasn’t transformed and I didn’t have some kind spiritual or religious epiphany. I know that’s difficult for some people to hear and even more difficult for some people to understand. But before diagnosis is pretty much the same place that I am now after diagnosis. On the flip side though I am not any more jaded, which I kind of think is a miracle honestly after seeing and experiencing the things I have on that floor of the hospital … but nor am I any closer to feeling like my faith or spirituality are any stronger than when we began.

So here I am … 20 plus years after I received those little tole painted hearts, and I still have that nic nac hanging around. And that third Faith heart still has not been glued back on. Instead I chose to let someone else hold it for a little while and care for it. Maybe someday I will nurture that small heart, but only if and when it feels right to me.

But I didn’t throw it away either … and I think that’s not so bad.