Tag Archives: Life

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.)

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.

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. 

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.

Why I Still Write that Obnoxious Christmas Letter

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

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

I wanted to crawl under the table.

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

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

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

Oh wait.

I still am.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our story. 

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

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

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

She Called Me Back

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

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

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

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

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

I broke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the hell was THIS?!!??

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

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

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

I made a total of four phone calls.

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

So I hung up the phone with nothing said.

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

The second phone call resulted in another girlfriends answering machine.

I left no message.

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

Call number three was a chance.

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

So I called anyway.

She was home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring.

No answer.

That was it.

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

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

And then – the phone rings. 

It’s her.

And I pick it up.

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

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

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

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

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

Her saying: “I’m so glad you called”.

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

The One We Never Expected

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

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

And then HE came through the door. 

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

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

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

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

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

  
And so he quickly grew on me.

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

No. Not really.

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

Consistency 

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

Levity, not just Laughter

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

No Expectations 

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

Positive Anticipation 

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

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

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

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

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

He was … the one we never expected.

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