50 Years and counting …

 

Photo on 2017-08-25 at 11.08 AM

 

It’s my birthday and I’m annoyed.

 

Annoyed not because I’m another year older but because there is so much emphasis on this being a “FANTASTIC” day!

 

It’s like most holidays or celebrations we mark, the pressure is on for it to be incredible!

 

Make it great! Make it super fantabulous, over-the-top and totally awesome!

 

Really?

 

I am not a super fantabulous, over-the-top, totally awesome kinda’ girl.

 

I prefer the slow burn, the ease’ myself into the day with coffee, the paper and silence, the I prefer my decrepit slippers, the ancient Crocs with the sheepskin inside ones and comfy clothes that stretch and bag and keep me warm, to high heels and high fashion that binds and hurts and makes me look different than the me I am.

 

I have had my share of tumult and excitement in this life and my perfect day begins and ends with quiet and serenity and involves just my husband Angus and I, wandering gardens or antique fairs or galleries, sipping a nice warm Cab Sauv or a chill Sauvignon Blanc and turning off the world for a little bit.

 

The only surprise in this world I would enjoy, literally, figuratively and if there was any doubt in your mind, even minutely find amusing or pleasurable, would be to have my girls walk through my door unannounced because they are both so far away and I miss them dearly. That’s it. Nothing else.

 

I love my friends and family and would love to have them come visit me but not unannounced. I need time to fly around and clean like a mad harpy, stock my fridge with expensive stuff I don’t normally buy, Google recipes I can’t really handle and don’t know how to prepare, until I revert to throwing stuff in a pot and hoping I don’t kill anyone and yelling at Angus to stop hiding outside and help me get ready god damn it! Then yelling don’t walk on the floors as he slinks in for good measure. Now you know my secret, I’m actually not the together gal you thought I was …

 

So today, on the occasion of my 50th birthday, I’m in a funk. I was booking tickets last night on-line for tonight, at my new favourite spot, a movie theatre with reclining chairs, when Angus stopped me. “Uhmm, we’re having dinner at your Moms’ tomorrow so we can’t do that”, he mumbled. I have explained to him and everyone else who would listen that I want nothing for this birthday except a day for me. Butchart gardens, early dinner at Pagliaccis and then The Glass Castle to follow. I glowered at him over the glow of my keyboard and said, “ No, I told you I’m having a me day, no fuss, no people. We can go to Moms’ this weekend.”

 

 

Since I’m hitting this ½ century point people seem more intent than ever that it must be “marked” as a special day. Everyone but me seems to share this sentiment. I don’t get it. It’s not that I have any issue with getting older, really. Bring it on I say. Thank you universe for giving me time some of my dearest friends never got. I’m truly ok with aging. As my oldest friend forever emailed me this morning “ beats the alternative.”

She knows, she faced death squarely in the face and won not too long ago.

 

It’s just this insistence we as a society have on marking days and events instead of just appreciating every day and trying to find joy, even on Mondays, drives me crazy. Holidays and birthdays hold special joy for children because they are developing their minds; their imaginations and they adore the magic of it all. I was the most exuberant of all for holidays, ask my kids because I knew it was so very real and wondrous for them

 

Sadly, most adults with exception of the ones, let’s be honest, we label as slightly off their rockers or schizophrenic, know that real life is hard and most of that magic does not really exist. My youngest exclaimed, one Christmas morning, “ I know Santa is real because you and Daddy could never afford all this.” Sigh … such is the reality and belief of a young child and I protected that as long as I could, until the reality of the world crept’ in. We create it, we buy it, we engineer it. So on holidays and birthdays now I look for real, unfiltered beauty and joy in simplicity not over-the-top, fantabulous days.

 

I do believe in the adage that with age comes wisdom, or perhaps it’s just a better balance. I am not fussed, as my daughter firmly planted in Melbourne for three years now likes to say, about very much anymore. I choose my battles with more care, I limit my exposure to stuff I know will stress me out. I give of myself to the things in my community I think will help bring positivity and I am weary of those who pretend there is nothing they can do and expect others to always champion what’s right. If I see injustice, bigotry or hate I will not hesitate to call someone on it, I care less than ever about being popular or on the “ A list “ if it means compromising my principals. But on this day, I really just wanted to be a little narcissistic, a little reclusive and a little apart from this world.

 

Back to Angus and his complete inability to lie to me without the side of his mouth scrunching up just the same way both of his daughters do.

 

Apparently my mother is having a surprise gathering tonight – sorry AnneMarie and others, your cover is blown. I feel like I’m 12 years old. I’m stamping my foot and saying no, all the while understanding that I have no choice really but to show up. I have pretty much hated my birthday since I was 11 and my parents chose that day to put my elderly best friend Chinook, a Collie- Australian Shepherd cross down. Apparently work schedules conflicted with scheduling the vet …what? Clearly 39 years later I haven’t gotten over it. Then there was the sweet 16th night that involved a belly dancer, a shotgun and sleeping on the floor – not a night I could ever forget and certainly one that fueled my birthday curse theory.

Maybe the 21st birthday night that I spent watching someone dear to our family take her last breath in hospital, after a long and horrid battle with breast cancer solidified it. Basically I really don’t like my birthday, any year, any age.

 

So my friends and family who warmly offered your birthday wishes in cards or fb or email today. Thank You, I love you and lets just get one thing straight for the next 50 years. I really will try to have a nice day. I will try to have a nice day everyday of my life that remains. It probably won’t be fantabulous, over-the-top or totally awesome. I will go to the damn party tonight because my Mom wants me there and I will probably have a great time with my friends, reluctantly and with caution. That’s who I am, where I’ve come from,how I’m built and will most likely always be. No pressure, it’s not New Years …, which by the way, is matched for unrequited awesomeness and fantastical proportions.

 

In closing here’s my favourite excerpt of all time because it reminds me of me.

 

 

 

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
― Margery Williams BiancoThe Velveteen Rabbit

 

 

 

 

We are all in this together

If my fans want to do something for me when that time comes, I say, don’t waste your money on me. Help the homeless. Help the needy… people who don’t have no food… Instead of some big funeral, where they come from here and there and all over. Save it.

B. B. King

 

Two things I’ve encountered recently have made me consider more than usual the tragic things that plague our society, like homelessness and addiction.

 

One of them was a reflective piece written by my daughter, Cate, which I’d like to share momentarily. The other came when someone I was having a conversation with recently said, in an apologetic way, “ Oh my family is totally messed up. It would be hard for you to imagine.”

 

I almost laughed out loud, not that it was a funny topic or that I felt their discomfort amusing but that my immediate thought was, “ Oh Honey, you don’t know the half of it.”

 

Funny, that on more occasions than I can probably count, someone has said or inferred that their collective history in this messed up world is so complicated that no one else can begin to comprehend it and yet it seems, we all imagine ours to be the worst.

 

We are all flawed humans, messed up family histories and members we’d rather leave in locked closets, we have all had our heartaches and challenges and moments in time that have shaped us. We all had parents, or at least “biological donors” who have influenced who we are. Nature and nurture then play their competitive roles in our development, our relationships, and our worldview. This is not exactly rocket science; I just know this to be true. Love them or hate them, whoever brought us in to this world and whoever cared for us until we reached independence, we cannot turn back time or rewrite history.

 

Certainly my family, like everyone else’s I know, has dark secrets and a not so stellar history of dealing with that darkness. I am not really focusing on the particulars of my own background though, just the collective feeling we all have, the shame I suppose, that we have such trouble divulging and which we carry with us.

 

Why, I wonder, is it human nature to be controlled by something over which you had no control in the first place? Why do some of us struggle to keep ourselves above this collective hurt and why do some of us grow stronger?

 

Homelessness and addiction, at least drug addiction, are not topics I confess I am very familiar with. Alcoholism has plagued some people to whom I am very close, so I feel like in that am at least entitled to have some opinions. I am, I confess, loath to confront the issues of drug addiction and homelessness head-on because it feels so overwhelming to me. I am actually a psych major and should be better equipped to deal with such things but find words and action escape me. My daughters’ words and my discussions with her recently are making my self-imposed ignorance harder to preserve, it is making me look at the issue, however ugly, with a fresh perspective.

 

 

Cate is in third year Med and is currently on her Clinical Rotation with a GP. I should note that she is not in Canada, where there is Universal healthcare (at least that’s what we’re led to believe despite the regional differences in access); she is in a country with public and private health care systems. I had imagined this would be a few months of vaccinations, childhood illness, maybe mild depression and normal disease processes. I thought it would be comparatively one of her less stressful rotations. I was very wrong and naïve in that assumption. She has been working with an extraordinaire GP in a rather extraordinaire clinical setting. The clients are overwhelmingly those hat most of society ignores, avoids, even fears. These are the homeless, the mentally ill, people on probation recently released from prison, people from violent backgrounds and poverty. Refugees from places where children are bought and sold, violence is normal and families are broken. There are also people who do not fit into this lost segment of society, people who somehow manage to maintain jobs and homes and “ normalcy” but harbor secret addictions. It is a methadone clinic and here is a segment of what Cate has experienced.

 

 

 

 

 

“Honestly, doc, I would rather be back in prison than be where I’m at right now.” This is a phrase I’ve heard so many times now it has started to feel if not reasonable, then at least not absurd. I have begun recording some of the quotes from patients at the methadone clinic I’m training at, because I never want to forget how their words make me feel – the first time I heard a patient express the desire to be picked up for jail, I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. I grew up in a household where there was never enough money for many ‘flashy extras’, but my parents worked very hard to ensure my sister and I were well-fed, educated and happy. By the time I was born my parents had ceased smoking and drinking alcohol, and I had never considered jail as anything other than a nightmare, a worst-case scenario. Becoming homeless, I have learned, opens a door to a dark world of desperate choices, hopelessness – and eventually despair. Whether people are homeless because of drug use, or because they have been forced from their homes due to family violence or lack of finances, or pre-existing mental instability or (oftentimes) a mix of these factors, it is hard to judge people for breaking the law to gain access to jail. Once on the inside, they have a stable routine, room and board, the possibility for training and other education – and most importantly, they become incorporated into a rigorous social system that cuts them off from the street drugs they use to manage the sometimes-lethal indifference of the world on the outside.

 

All of the patients I see are not homeless; and many of the homeless people I do see do not use drugs. That said, the two seem to be highly affiliated, and one patient sticks in my mind when I think of this: 29-year-old Mr. CH. Born in 1988 to alcoholic parents, he lost his mother early in life and like most of his first and second-degree relatives, began using drugs before he reached high school. He ended up in prison, and on release he went straight back to the heroin that had caused his arrest (and allowed him to dissociate from the memories of abuse in his early childhood) in the first place. A tall, athletic young man prior to developing his habit, he retains a handsome face but it now has sunken cheekbones and sad eyes, and his clothing has the frayed, cigarette-smoke sweatshirt esthetic common to many heroin users. He apologized for his appearance to me on entering the room, murmuring “Sorry Miss, I usually take care to look nice when I’m clean.” The ‘Miss’ was my first hint at his background – many ex-inmates employ these otherwise outdated formalities when opening conversation. He was brought into clinic by a relative after two unsuccessful suicide attempts in the past week, and this is where the shocking part of inequality in healthcare provision truly stood out to me – he was discharged from the emergency department of a major  hospital without so much as a referral for psychiatric follow-up care.

 

The man who brought him in to see my supervising doctor is a patient of hers as well, and he provided much of the background and revealed it was only on his insistence that his cousin had agreed to come for this appointment. A former heroin addict himself; the cousin had been successfully recovering from his addiction on the ‘Program’ with my supervisor for several years. How, he wondered angrily, could the psychiatrists at the hospital have possibly thought his cousin was fit for discharge after two intentional overdoses in less than a week? He was obviously the one motivated to have Mr. CH start on the suboxone program, for when questioned by my supervisor Mr. CH muttered that “Life seems pretty much pointless now,” and when questioned further on his goals for treatment, he expressed his desire for the aforementioned prison sentence.

I am an empathetic person by nature, and while sitting there for some reason I could not stand the sadness I saw in his eyes. While the doctor had her back to the patient writing notes I blurted out the only thing I could think of, “Did you see that dog out in the waiting room?!” Another patient had come in with a dog, and I thought maybe talking about animals would make him feel better in the same way it does for me. He smiled and replied that yes, he had seen the dog, and would one day like to adopt one like it (a ‘staffy’) from the RSPCA. “But it has to, you know, be abandoned and a bit messed up. Some dog other people would pass over. Like me.” Again, an unremarkable statement from the outset, but heartbreaking when you analyze it a bit further.

 

This man had attempted to take his life twice in the past week, and he had been ‘kicked out’ of the hospital without so much as an opioid treatment plan. His cousin, a similarly troubled and formerly homeless recovering heroin addict, had been forced to take matters into his own hands and take the day off work to bring Mr. CH to our clinic and convince my supervisor to add him to the Program. This in itself even proved to be more difficult than usual, as we had to call three pharmacies before we could find one to take him. I have nothing but praise and appreciation for the pharmacists in this city who agree to open their doors to the high-risk population of former addicts needing methadone and suboxone to survive their days.

 

The lenses of social inequality, gender and culture all feature in Mr. CH’s life and treatment to date. He is a young male from a relatively poor socioeconomic background, who throughout his life has suppressed his emotions and dealt with stress the only way he was taught – by shooting up into his arms. He was arrested, recovered while in jail, and then relapsed as soon as he was ejected back into the comparatively stressful, uncaring and even cruel world that  society can be when it comes to ‘homeless people.’ He is on the ‘dole’, but the money from the government presumably goes largely straight towards feeding his habit. This is inarguably a poor choice on his part, but addiction is a disease. A disease which at its worst is punishable by homelessness, jail and death. Somehow, his two attempts at suicide didn’t raise enough red flags for him to be ‘sectioned’ under the mental healthcare act. As a student , I have good reason to suspect that similar attempts at suicide would raise more intervention and ongoing help if he had been under treatment by a  psychiatrist at a private hospital. There is nothing my GP could do for him further, though, except to refer Mr. CH to the social worker affiliated with her practice, and arrange follow-up appointment and urine drug screens as well as standard bloodwork for Hep C and other common illnesses of the addicted.

 

In the future, I have learned enough from my time here to know there is no magic ‘fix’ for addiction and homelessness. Sadly, often people relapse or are lost to follow-up, and the GPs willing to own and operate methadone clinics are severely overworked and underfinanced, so there is never enough time to spend with people. I only hope that I can actively listen to future patients, continue to empathize with people like Mr. CH, and hopefully find ways to work together to find some reason to want to stay alive (a future staffy?) in what can be a very cruel and inequitable world.

 

 

So it is with a different lens I now see the complexities of the issues around addictions, mental health and homelessness. There are no simple solutions and there are surely not enough resources directed towards this. I think there is a need to focus on the early years of development and to creating family supports to help bring entire families healing and understanding of the issues that lead them to trouble. I think we need to better prepare people who have been incarcerated for their re-entry into society and offer them better supports. We need better housing opportunities for people with low incomes so that they may create their own safe havens and find purpose and optimism for a better future. We need to remove the stigma around mental health issues and support people who battle depression or anxiety the same way we might support someone with cancer or MS. Mostly I guess we need to remember to see people, of all races, ages, genders, affiliations and socio-economic situations as people who need our compassion, our help and our attention. Cate has told me she will never give a homeless person money again because it may end up in their veins. She says she will feed them; offer them a hot coffee or a sweater and a kind word whenever she can. I will try to do the same.

 

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Moments and Chasing an Invisible Ghost

 

My youngest daughter, Aidan is days away from finishing her Masters of Accounting Degree. Her Undergrad was a double degree in Math and Accounting. Her father and I are so very proud and amazed at what she has accomplished in her short life thus far. She is after all, just 21 years old.

 

She has an incredible work ethic and incredible smarts which have carried her to this day and it makes me reflect, as I am known to do, on days not so far away when her brilliant future was not so clear.

 

Both of my children have incredible drive and have already done so many wonderful things. Their Dad and I pale by comparison I think most days, and are awed by their strength, determination and beauty. Today, as she is finishing one Chapter and moving on to the next, I am thinking of Aidan, all that she has done and had to overcome.

 

I’m thinking of people in general who have faced difficult illnesses or adversity and who may have lingering effects of that, battle scars that may or may not be visible. Aidan has debilitating headaches for instance, that plague her now and probably forever as a result of what she endured as a child. It is part of who she is and it means sometimes her plans must change. I forget to tell her sometimes how brave I think she is to deal with that and continue on in spite of them.

 

Following is a narrative I guess that I wrote about 13 years ago. I found it today when I was looking for something else and those words felt as raw and real to me as they were when I wrote them. I didn’t edit and apologize for fragmented sentences and run-ons …

 

Today feels less like a funny reminiscence kind of day, although I have lots of those, and more a need to put it out there to the Universe and hope it reflects back with positivity on someone who needs to know that we’re all in this together.

 

Our stories may differ, but we all have one.

 

 

Moments

 

 

There are moments woven into our personal histories that change us, disassemble our certainties and forever re-arrange our planned being.

 

 

“Are there any muscle group disorders in your family?” says the woman on the other end of the line.

 

These words, I immediately understand, are going to change our lives.

 

I think I’m going to throw-up, instantly fear and nausea overwhelms me.

 

She has introduced herself as a Language Pathologist for the School Board. She has assessed Aidan today. She has “ concerns…”

 

A swell of water has suddenly rushed into my head. I try to focus, sound intelligent, understand what she is saying but I am drowning already in fear. I decide to breathe, to smile because the girls are watching me, little ears on alert, always curious. I will do as she advises, I will call the Dr. as soon as we finish our conversation and I send the girls outside to play just as soon as I “gather myself.”

 

I used to think that was a funny expression, before I understood that life is about moments.

 

The phone rings three days later, it is 7 am. Angus is already off to work, keeping the school buses on the road. I feel my breathing slow when I look at the caller ID. It is the Dr. and he is calling at 7 am. Nobody calls at 7 am, especially Dr’s…

 

Thank God the girls are still asleep I think as I say “hello.” I am calm, remarkably so, as he explains the CT results. There is a mass, looks like a fluid-filled sac, which remarkably is good thing, in her brain?

 

“What? Her brain? No. She is eight years old. She is happy. She is brilliant. She is funny and sweet. Why is that good?”

 

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I’m filling up with water again. I’m having trouble focusing. “Please slow down, stop talking while I breathe, I need to breathe “…

 

 

Four years before we had a moment where everything changed.

 

Catey was six, it was Easter weekend and she ate a lot of chocolate and the next night, she wet the bed. I knew, in that instant, that something was very wrong. Angus laughed when I called the Dr. for an opening that morning. He went to work; blissfully unaware that life was about to change. He was thinking, I know, that his wife had enough to worry about without creating drama in her head.

 

I went to the Dr and insisted he check her urine and I was so miserably, pathetically, resoundingly correct. My first born, my love had Diabetes. He was astounded that I was already there.

 

I knew, in that moment, we would never be the same.

 

Three days in hospital immersion in diabetes then. They came at us, over and over and over, no mercy, and no capacity it seemed to understand.

 

“ This is our child, we are her parents,” I screamed in my head.

 

“ My heart is broken, do you understand, our hearts are broken, we are terrified.”

 

Still, unrelenting they came at us. Nurses, Dr’s, therapists, nutritionists…

 

“Understand now,” they demanded. “Listen to us, watch this, inject your kid.”

 

“Make her hurt willfully, are you crazy? How can I do this?”

 

“ Learn, hurry and get this, then you can go home,” they smiled.

 

“ Go home and what?” I thought then. “ I’m terrified I’ll kill her, overdose her with insulin. How will I do this? Who’s going to help me?”

 

We had adapted, survived, changed. One income now, no career in my future but she was safe and happy and we were ok. We had a plan, a strategy, we could do this. We could live with diabetes.

 

But this now? This unknown, in her sisters’ brain?

 

How do you fight an invisible ghost?

 

More Dr’s and tests and hospitalizations and theories and possibilities and potentialities and educated guesses. This was not the same, this was worse.

 

I had no control. Nothing to learn or change or do but wait for the best option scenarios. Endless moments of worry, what if’s and why’s.

 

Another call, “this is a strange number”, I muse. “Telemarketer?”

 

For once my antennae s not working. I am caught off guard.

 

“ Please hold while I put the Dr on the line”, and my knees buckle.

 

I sit on the floor, back to the kitchen cupboards and wait. This is the new Dr., the Supernova that all the others look to; he is the one who chooses my moments now. He talks, I listen. I nod, alone in my kitchen, planning as I digest his words. I think,” Ok, breathe, we will survive this, and we will be Ok. Get up now, quickly pack.”

 

I quell the weeping teachers fears as I pull her from class, breathe, smile, and no fear for Aidan. “This is an adventure” I say and calm Catey. “Daddy will be here soon and then Aidan and I will go.”

 

“ Time is not ours,” they said at the Dr’s conference somewhere in the US from where he called after presenting her case.

 

Drive to the hospital, we must hurry. I hate this pace, this rush, no time to think, to ponder, to question. Catey at home with Angus and insulin and fear; me alone with Aidan and forms and papers and decisions now. It is a blur. I need to breathe, I need a moment …

 

Hold her hand and smile as they wheel her away. “ She looks so little,” I think.

 

“I’ve braided her hair, will it all be gone” I wonder?

 

I cannot weep, yet. I will fold up into a little ball and cry when I am alone.

Now I must be calm, erect, in control. Angus is weary: he is not accustomed to our unit being broken and of fear that goes on and on.

 

I have signed consent for them to fix her or kill her or leave her blind or unable to remember moments, mute? There is no definitive plan. There is hope it will go well and no guarantees.

 

Four hours they said.

It is nearing ten. Ten hours in surgery. Ten hours working on her brain.

“How is Catey”, I wonder? I worry but cannot be there now. How many directions can one heart be pulled in?

 

I want to peel off my skin, tear out my hair, scream. Anything to break this vigil. I want to know, this minute. Where is my girl? Have we lost her?

 

I look around the room, the waiting room. I see faces like mine, in agony, in fear. Moments taking an eternity we all must endure. The silence is heavy and consuming. I forget my grief for a moment and consider theirs. We are all parents and all working to stay clam, positive, in control. I smile for Angus, squeeze his hand, struggling with the weight of this fear. He has no words for this. It is too painful to discuss and so we sit, quiet and still.

 

Finally he steps into the room, the Magnus Opus of Dr’s, our hero. He opens his arms to me and smiles and suddenly I can breathe. This moment is good, it is hopeful. It is done and we will have her back, whole and safe. She is still ours, she will be Ok and we will be Ok.

 

He leads us to her now. Her head is blue and battered, swollen and almost unrecognizable. Beautiful. She looks at us and smiles, a new moment to cherish, to hold on to.

 

“Ten seconds, ten minutes, ten hours, ten years,” they say

 

Measure these moments, the impact they hold, the destination they plot, the struggles they cause and the joy they will bring.

 

We have struggled before and we will again. I know this with certainty. These moments will return in different form, in sometimes painful measure and sometimes joyous release and I will continue to breathe.

 

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Getting Older and the Three Faces of Eve

 

 

“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age. “  

 

Sophia Loren

 

 

 

 

 

Aging “gracefully” is kind of an ironic statement.

 

I prefer to think of it as a quest in essence.

 

More like an epic journey in which we must survive the vagaries of life.

 

By that I mean the joys and sorrows, the challenges and the rewards we reap along the way in the act of living that life.

 

A lifetime of education or lack thereof, good jobs and bad jobs, kids, relationships, family commitments, finances, glass – ceilings and pecking orders, not so presidential presidents, irritating bureaucrats, foggy crystal balls, fame and fortune or best laid plans too flawed to ever succeed, mediocrity, trial and error, environmental catastrophes and essentially world chaos.

 

Sounds terrifying and kind of overwhelming?

 

Some days it really is.

 

All this as our bodies eventually begin to wear out, in incremental degrees that remind us we are growing ever older.

 

As I approach my half a century mark in the very near future, I think more about this each day, and as an observer of people, I am intrigued by the way we all approach this inevitability, certainly not as a collective but in very different fashion.

 

I spent the day recently with my Mother, who is in her early seventies. She is an active person, a young senior I would say, in fact she is very often mistaken for my sister (which is actually as irritating as hell because it’s been happening most of my life). She’s got nice friends, lives in a nice house with lovely massive gardens she looks after herself, would happily canoe and portage 200 km if someone would go with her, invites her neighbours for tea and would be described as kind by any who know her.

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However, I’ve discovered of late, and most particularly on a recent day spent shopping together – she has a crazy and somewhat dark side, exacerbated by age, dimming vision and perhaps the lessening of ones inhibitions as you move into that self-actualized state of : “ I don’t really give a shit what anyone thinks of me” time of your life.

I think going forward I’ll refer to Mom as Joanne, as in Joanne Woodward, Academy award-winning Hollywood star, because. The similarities in her most famous role are awesome. You know, pretty but villainous, nice but terrifying on occasion …Have you ever seen the Three faces Of Eve? Really quite an extraordinary movie and kind of reminiscent of my own Mommy Dearest (of course that was Joan Crawford but if the shoe fits?)

 

Angus and I are experimenting with a one-car household, in the interest of the environment and fiscal responsibility, which is normally not a problem but did mean that on this particular shopping trip Mom, who we will refer to as ‘Joanne’ going forward, had to drive. She worked as a sales representative for many years and drove all over a vast territory, sometimes for weeks at a time, without any trouble and so it’s never been an issue. What I hadn’t realized because usually I drive I guess, is that some kind of Mario Andretti/Jekyll and Hyde persona has begun to occupy her body once seated behind the wheel.

 

 

I now understand why the little leather straps above the passenger seat are sometimes referred to as the Jesus Handles. I’m pretty sure they’re not really there to help you get out of the car, they’re to calm your desire to jump out the window at 90 km an hour in an effort to save yourself. I considered this revelation whilst’ grabbing said handle with more haste than my already buggered rotator cuff could bare and screaming “ Jesus H. Christ Mother, slow down “ on more than one occasion. Twice, she glanced over curiously while my white knuckled hand sprung from its’ vise grip on my seat to the ceiling, as the tires on the right side of the car threatened to leave the black top. She might have noticed my distress or might not have, who knows really, as she tore down the roadway and hollered obscenities at drivers in her path, CBC Classical music blaring almost as fiercely as the air conditioning set to subzero to temper her permanent hot flashes. I’m not sure which made my teeth chatter more, the arctic air in the cabin or fear of my immanent demise.

 

Joanne was told by one Optometrist 5 years ago that she had cataracts that would need attending to within a few years. In defiance and denial, let’s be clear, mostly denial, she immediately decided that the Dr was a “quack” and didn’t know what they were talking about and waited three years to find herself another Optometrist. I imagine that her evil alter ego stepped out in the preliminary exam phase and assured/ threatened through barred teeth the new recruit that she would “NOT find cataracts OR ELSE”, and so the subject was not mentioned and Joanne determined that she had no cataracts. As of the moment I embarked on and survived our latest field trip, I am 999% sure the offending cataracts are here and as ‘thick as thieves’ so to say. This would in part be attributed to sweet little Joanne, roaring down the highway and screaming things like  “ Nice signal Dick Wad! “ at the little blue Mazda who moved into the lane ahead of her. In fact the offender had signalled well in advance of his very nice and legal lane change but Joanne, who has apparently lost her depth and colour perception, had absolutely no clue and lambasted him rightly! This was repeated on more than one occasion. I might have spoken up but by then my throat muscled had constricted with the rest of me and I was essentially immobilized, hand still holding on to dear life with my Jesus handle.

 

Joanne is not as familiar with where things are having not lived here that long and so I was tasked with giving directions. As we approached a left turn with two turning lanes and with still time to comfortably change lanes I suggested she stay in the right lane, as we would next be turning right. “ Tons of time” was her quick response as she stayed in the left lane. After the turn she panicked when she saw how soon we would need to merge right and zoomed in front of a gravel truck. “ Good thing he wasn’t loaded” she chuckled. This was quickly followed with the loud expletive “ God damn now look! I’m stuck behind a fuckin’ Hun-Day! I hate Hun-Day drivers, they all suck. You watch, this fuckin’ guy will do something stupid, just watch”

 

Mercifully the “Hun-Day” driver, moved to the next lane while I hunkered down in my seat, head to chest and knees up cause I vaguely remembered that as being a crash position, and most likely saved himself.

We now found ourselves behind a teensy’ little convertible. “ Now that’s a car, don’t you think?’ she queried but not actually waiting for my response, so enthusiastic was she. “ I want one of those cars, a little British sports car. That would be so groovy I think”, she slammed her hands on the steering wheel for emphasis, a big grin on her face. “ I really want one, like a Fiat or a MG but every time I tell Don we need one, he changes the subject. Damn that’d be fun to drive.”

 

Don incidentally is my Step-Dad who, having driven with her more than I have, has undoubtedly decided a Sherman Tank might be the safest option. I remained tight-lipped on the topic, having lost the ability to do much more than gasp for air at that point. Interesting though that she wants a racecar instead of a Buick I silently mused…

 

So as she ages, my Moms’ driving is becoming a concern and the rather voracious potty mouth, well, she’s always enjoyed a colourful vocabulary shall we say. She’s getting older and as soon as I come to grips with that I guess we’ll have to re-visit the cataract discussion. In the meantime, I’ll drive.

 

My very longtime friend was here with her Mom last week for a visit. Her mom is probably about the same age as ‘Joanne” and she also is very lovely and vibrant woman who looks and acts much younger than one would assume. Of course I know nothing about what aches and pains she might suffer when she wakes up each day but I did spend some time with her as she revisited a time and place in her life where she was a teenager. Photos did wonders in bringing names of friends and recollections back to mind for her and I think she enjoyed that time to reminisce about a year in her life so many years ago and looks ahead with great enthusiasm to all the years ahead.

 

It made me think about how I will look back on my life, how moments that seemed big in the past become so small and some that seemed insignificant can become so big. It made mepause and try to remeber to spend more time with my Mom, her trucker mouth and Indy Circuit Driving. It made want to take more pictures and write more things down so if I can’t see someday in the future at least someone can read me my stories and remind of what was.

 

Aging is not always graceful and not always fun but it is a privilege we do not all enjoy. I have lost and almost lost friends and family far too young and I have celebrated each birthday of those that I love and care about as a result with a different perspective.

 

Gifts and parties mean little to me, it is the living I love and for each day I am grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

“If it seems as though things are under control, you’re not going fast enough.”

 

Mario Andretti

 

 

 

And off she goes …

I am a mother.

 

If you want to know me, know that first. There are, of course, many layers to “me, myself and I” but this is what defines me with the greatest accuracy.

 

I have two children, had whispers of more and they bring my greatest joy and sometimes my greatest sorrow. I will focus on just one of them today but know also that they hold absolute equality in my heart and soul.

 

My eldest daughter, Cate, was the calmest baby I have ever known. She watched the world move around her in quiet contentment. Of course, having imagined motherhood for years and then finding it so much more emotional than I could have dreamt, I catered to her every whim and would have held her 24 hrs. a day. She demanded two things; to be held almost constantly and to nurse for hours on end and later have her bottle, ‘ba ba” as she named it, with her always. She came into this world slowly, at her own pace and time and emerged finally, a beautiful healthy baby, stealing our hearts for ever after. She walked early, spoke early and had an extensive vocabulary at age two. We once snuck a newly decorated play kitchen into her room while she napped and on waking she smiled, a big delicious toddler grin, pointed almost immediately at the kitchen and said “ my gracious Mommy, look how pretty it is.”

 

Her nighttime ritual as she grew older was to ensure that her multitude of stuffed toys, probably 20 or more, be properly situated in her bed before we could read stories. Every one of them had to be accounted, retrieved from hiding places all over the house and yard, for and tears would occur if we did not place them all just so. This was not because she was frightened or stalling, it was because she didn’t want anyone feeling left out or alone. These inanimate creatures were as real to her as her friends at school and deserved the same respect and care.

 

We couldn’t walk to school without saving worms on the sidewalk, we couldn’t leave baby birds out of their nests and the questions about why’s and what’s and where’s never ceased each day. She excelled academically but sometimes struggled with her peers because she didn’t understand, even then, how some of them just laughed and giggled. She asked me in Kindergarten “ Mommy why do some kids don’t know how to think”? People described her as an “old Soul” as “mature beyond her years” and this was before, at the age of six, she was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic.

 

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It is not something one who has not had a child diagnosed with a chronic illness can really understand. The pain of seeing your child in pain is not a tangible number on a scale that exists. It breaks your heart; it leaves you feeling guilty and helpless. Imagine that serious little old lady of six the first time we said you need a needle, six needles, everyday and always. And we will need to prick your finger, on purpose, until it bleeds, at least six times a day and lots of times when you are asleep, everyday and always. Therein lies the sorrow that having children brings. Their pain is yours, magnified because your own life brings understanding that your children cannot yet have.

 

My Cate faced this dread disease and continues to face it each and everyday head on. No, it is never “ under control”. Illness, hormones, stress, food, not enough food, mechanical issues with pumps and syringes, bruised injection sites, flawed test strips, physical activity, mental fatigue – life as we know it makes each day different and affects control. In the face of this she grew into an even more serious child, introspective and determined. It shaped her; it shaped us – our family, her sister, dad and myself. We learned that to survive we needed to have faith that all would be well, that there are no guarantees and that sometimes life makes it hard to breathe.

 

It was at this point in our lives that our first of many dogs joined our family. We had resisted until then, not wanting the “inconvenience” a pet brought to the table. How silly that seems in retrospect, they have brought us so very much more than we could ever have imagined. Pixie was the first, delivered by my sister the day before we came home from the hospital and a bribe, to be clear, to my poor girl to learn to inject herself in case one of us could not be with her in an emergency. The little white Bichon was the salve we all needed to mend our broken hearts and she became a cherished companion. Cate began to write, long sagas of adventure, poetry, things that were deep and inspiring and way beyond her years. Her Principal at school, who became my boss and friend, said to me one day “ Catey will not find her place until she’s in her twenties. She’s just got too much happening in that little head of hers.”

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And as happens all to fast, she grew. As she got older her restless spirit emerged. She was curious about everything, researched subjects at school because she had to know why, felt like no one her age had a “clue” and sought out new adventures. France in Grade 8, Nataushish, Italy, Europe again – always on a trip with other students or solo, she was determined to do everything everyone else could and more, diabetes be damned. All the while I held my breath and then reminded myself to breathe. I worried and worried more. Parenting is hard at every stage but perhaps the worst when you have to start letting them go. Sleepless nights with babes in arms is one thing, but sleepless nights when you can no longer protect them is quite another. I have this constant running dialogue with myself about not being selfish, not holding them so close that I smother them with my love and trust me when I say, it is so very hard to do. Cate has tested this time after time.

 

Catey and her sister are intertwined in a way that her father and I cannot even begin to comprehend. They love one another unconditionally but can go weeks without talking and can fight like stray cats in a dark alley – verbally, never with fists. The barbs they zing at each other can be impossibly cruel and cut to the heart of each other but their defense of each other is just as acutely powerful. They always know exactly what the other is thinking and feeling and they frequently remind me that with things like “mother, you actually don’t have a clue.” Here, as case in point, is an excerpt from an old fb group chat I was included in regarding Disney movie soundtracks.

 

Aidan: This is on my CD 🙂 Pocahontas and Mulan have the best songs

 

Cate: Definitely! 🙂 Breaking gender stereotypes and preaching environmental conservation through the lens of an interracial relationship.. Frozen is honestly not that big of a deal

Aidan: LOL best songs Catey, not best morals (although they have those too). And Frozen broke gender stereotypes in its own right… you’re just mad because it reflects us so well (i.e. you cause the problems, I fix them)

 

Cate: If you’re saying I’m more like Elsa I wholeheartedly agree : p

 

 

 

 

 

 

She had a teacher in high school who knew then that she wanted to pursue medicine. He wanted her to write, as did I. He pleaded with me to convince her to choose a different path.

He said, “ she’s an introvert and an Empath, a true one. It will consume her, I know this…”

He scared me when he spoke this truth because I knew then that what I saw in her was becoming clear to others. I could only say to him, “ telling her to stop is liking asking her to stop breathing”.

 

This excerpt is so much like Cate in some ways it is as if it were written by someone who knows her. An exception to this is that she is not “open”, rather more introverted in terms of expressing her own true feelings and would never be characterized as ignorant but more likely assumed to be “stand-offish”.

 

 

TRAITS OF AN EMPATH

Empaths are often quiet and can take a while to handle a compliment for they’re more inclined to point out another’s positive attributes. They are highly expressive in all areas of emotional connection, and talk openly, and, at times, quite frankly in respect to themselves. They may have few problems talking about their feelings.

However, they can be the exact opposite: reclusive and apparently unresponsive at the best of times. They may even appear ignorant. Some are very good at blocking out others and that’s not always a bad thing, at least for the learning empath struggling with a barrage of emotions from others, as well as their own feelings.

Empaths have a tendency to openly feel what is outside of them more so than what is inside of them. This can cause empaths to ignore their own needs. In general an empath is non-violent, non-aggressive and leans more towards being the peacemaker. Any area filled with disharmony creates an uncomfortable feeling in an empath. If they find themselves in the middle of a confrontation, they will endeavour to settle the situation as quickly as possible, if not avoid it all together. If any harsh words are expressed in defending themselves, they will likely resent their lack of self-control, and have a preference to peacefully resolve the problem quickly.

Empaths are sensitive to TV, videos, movies, news and broadcasts. Violence or emotional dramas depicting shocking scenes of physical or emotional pain inflicted on adults, children or animals can bring an empath easily to tears. At times, they may feel physically ill or choke back the tears. Some empaths will struggle to comprehend any such cruelty, and will have grave difficulty in expressing themselves in the face of another’s ignorance, closed-mindedness and obvious lack of compassion. They simply cannot justify the suffering they feel and see.

People of all walks of life and animals are attracted to the warmth and genuine compassion of empaths. Regardless of whether others are aware of one being empathic, people are drawn to them as a metal object is to a magnet! They are like beacons of light.

Even complete strangers find it easy to talk to empaths about the most personal things, and before they know it, they have poured out their hearts and souls without intending to do so consciously. It is as though on a sub-conscious level that person knows instinctively that empaths would listen with compassionate understanding.

Here are the listeners of life. Empaths are often problem solvers, thinkers, and studiers of many things. As far as empaths are concerned, where a problem is, so too is the answer. They often will search until they find one–if only for peace of mind.

Written by Christel Broederlow Copyright (c) 2002 Christel Broederlow Shortened Version from The Empath Report 101

 

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Cate went to Haiti, not once but twice, to work with a medical mission. While this was an organized group with much experience and a committed team, it was not without risk to health and safety, Haiti is a country in crisis and has much human suffering and pain. The first time she suggested she might go I adamantly, vehemently opposed such a thing and was laughingly ignored with a perfunctory back rub and a “ you worry too much” as she started filling out forms and introducing me to words like Dengue Fever and Sawyer filters. The second time I just shrugged my shoulders, sighed heavily and asked if her vaccines were up to date.

 

She boarded yet another plane with a little wave and swift spin away from her Dad and I three years ago, abrupt in her manner of departure because she could not bare to see her weeping mother. I weep every time I go to the airport and every time I promise myself I won’t and fail. That time she was headed to Med school and the other side of the world and pieces of my heart flew away with her. Fear for her was an understatement, alone in a place I’d never seen on the other side of the world but somehow I found the strength to let her go.

 

This morning, before my first coffee I might add, she sent another Tsunami of emotion flowing my way. Her GP rotation has in fact turned into a semester in a Methadone clinic. She has been threatened, assaulted by patients, seen all manner of addictions and the devastation they bring to these people lives. Many have mental health issues, were raised in violence and are now violent, suffer depression and suicidal urges, the list is long and dark and sad beyond sadness. She is not thinking as most of us might that she need only survive this place for the allotted time that her Medical School dictates but in fact this may be a path she might continue to follow. I am verklempt’, afraid and fearful of course. I argue with her “ she’s a female and personal safety is paramount, she’s too young, she’s a diabetic, her heart will be broken a million times over, her sorrow will grow too big for herself and pull her under too, it’s the system that needs fixing and she can’t fix every one, she should work with children and social services and save the next generation …”

 

To all of this I basically get told that “this is interesting, it’s about people who are broken and forgotten and still people who need help.”

 

“Really Mother,” she says, “ you should volunteer more…”

 

So I go on with each day, my heart in my hands, my fear ‘kept at bay with frequent face time chats and texts and emails. Heck, I even have snap chat so I can see her face and her Australian adventures when she chooses to share them with me (she’s my only contact).

 

A woman I know who has no children (or at least I hope she doesn’t have any) recently said to me at a gathering; “ don’t you find children to be such a waste, like they turn into adults after they’ve wrecked your body and consumed your life and they just leave and they’re never thankful. They just seem to suck the life out of everyone I know with kids.”

 

I was so taken by surprise that I didn’t know how to respond. And I didn’t say anything. I have thought about that more than once since then. I know now, given time to reflect, what I should have said.

“Poor you, who has not enough love in your soul to understand that a child brings joy, in a multitude of moments and dimensions that you cannot begin to fathom. Poor you that you feel entitled enough to diminish the love a parent has for their children with your selfish and critical appraisal of the bond that exists between a parent and a child. I do have childless friends who are that way by choice or by fate and I would not presume to understand how they feel or how they perceive their situation, how dare you presume to understand mine?”

 

To anyone contemplating children or forging their way through the uncharted terrain that each child brings, I salute you and I wish you well.

 

To my daughter Cate, the intrepid adventurer with the fragile heart and fierce soul, please take care and never lose your convictions but once in a while, go easy on your poor old mother. You grew up way too fast …

 

 

Me and my Guy

“A stunning first impression was not the same thing as love at first sight.

 

But surely it was an invitation to consider the matter”

 

Lois McMaster Bujold

 

 

In 1981 I started reading a book by Robert Ludlum called The Bourne Identity (perhaps you’ve heard of it)? I was 14 years old and loved to read murder mysteries, thrillers and desperately romantic short novellas (which sounds ever so much more exotic than the 104 or thereabouts Harlequin Romances I read one summer). They all had stories about things I did not fully understand but of course was intensely curious about. Most of my friends read Tiger Beat or Seventeen or nothing at all, so I pretty much discussed my latest book of intrigue with the dog or the cat if they’d listen. I was interrupted in the middle of Jason Bourne and his Greek satchel entering a bank vault and finding his stash of passports and money and guns, when Angus McKay knocked at our door. His best friend Pete had recently started dating my sister and he was looking for him. He was almost 5 years older than me and I knew who he was but had never spoken to before. The conversation went something like this:

 

“Who’s book are you holding kid?” said Angus, acting cool and sporting a smug smile, hair that curled and messed on top of his head like he’d not brushed it in days.

 

“ I would appreciate not being called a KID first of all and it happens to be my book but perhaps a Neanderthal such as yourself couldn’t understand such big words!” (that was me, sweet and such)

 

Throws head back and laughs. “ Well looks like somebody shit in your cornflakes this morning kid. Bourne gets killed in the end you know, have you made it to Berlin yet?”

 

Sarah, momentarily fluxed, pulls out the big zingers in her 14-year-old repertoire, stamps foot for impact. “ Well you are ridiculous, of course he won’t die. Honestly can’t believe you couldn’t even make it through ‘til the ending so you made that up. I refuse to speak to you any longer!” Stomping out of room, back straight, shoulders back.

Angus, chuckling calls out “ don’t skip to the back, just ‘cause you can’t stand it now!”

 

And that was our first meeting. Epicly underwhelming I know but it set the course for many more years of fun for Angus and me, like an old dog, never fully developing the capacity to resist reacting to his always deliberate attempts to make me stomp my foot. For him, it’s like sport.

 

For many years thereafter Angus and I hung out with a crowd of friends from our hometown. I was one of the youngest but somehow always connected with this group. We drove around in the guys ‘souped up cars, hung out in driveways and coffee shops and at night held bush parties in fields far away from our parents, car radios at maximum volume ‘til the batteries died or the sun came up. We never dated, just circled the wagons so to speak and more than once I asked him if he liked me, which he vehemently denied and then would proceed to tell me that whoever my boyfriend was at the time, he didn’t deserve me. He organized camping trips for us all on more than one occasion, booked the sites, rememebered to bring wood and an axe, reminded us to bring food and tents and beer and basically looked after us all to a degree. When my parents divorced and my living circumstances changed dramatically, he didn’t miss a beat, just showed up at the new addresses as I moved, again and again and never questioned the whys or the how comes?

 

When he graduated from College, he took me as his date, even though he insisted we were just friends. His father showed up in full Navy formal dress whites and boomed and saluted everyone, and his Mother delighted me with stories about being a girl in Montreal. There was a (not to be indelicate) “larger” girl in his class who was good friends with him, who leaped up on a table in the full swing of events at the dance and crashed to the floor in a magnificent boom and splintering of wood, much to his amusement and my horror. Later on that evening, sitting on somebodies living room floor. while Angus and his multiple Rye and Cokes snoozed in a corner, she kind of threatened my life through clenched teeth in a whispery, Cruella-de Ville kind of way and told me he would someday be hers. In reflection, I think I viewed that as a challenge.

 

And so our lives moved forward, diverged and intersected and our friendship remained strong. My Grandmother loved Angus for of course, his parents had taught him how to treat and respect their elders. She’s wink and say. “ Is that boy coming ‘round whenever she’d visit, the one with the curly hair?” I ‘d long since given up on whether or not he was interested romantically until one night when a bunch of us went to the best, or worst, depending on perspective, bar in town, across the street from my University, Wilfrid Laurier. The rules at Phil’s Grandsons Place were pretty much don’t look up, don’t look at the floor, don’t wear sandals and beware the barbers’ chair. We were all hanging out and enjoying our cheap drinks and too loud but great music when a mystery blonde sidled up to our table and started putting the moves on Angus. I was aghast and irritated by this ‘Trampenstein! “ Like seriously who does she think she is?” I fumed to my bf Michele. Michele just laughed, long and deep and then looked me in the eye and said “ Sarah my dear, I think you’re jealous.” I was so taken aback by that statement I couldn’t react immediately (well that and the shots from the barber chair). I protested “ Of course I’m not jealous, like I don’t want him, he’s too old for me and well it’s just that nobody else can have him… wait, uhmmm… Whatttt??? Arghhh…” and I stomped my foot.

 

Fast-forward a few months, literally three or four months, and we were sitting on a bench in Stratford and engaged. My friends at University were shocked, thought I was rushing things. My grandmother was over the moon and gave me away at our wedding. One of our friends (well not really friend since I’d declined his romantic gestures several years earlier) said, the night we ran into him in the beer store parking lot, “ hmphhh, I give it a year.”

 

So began our marriage, 27 years and a day later (I struggle with timelines) and a million moments all building a thread in time. Twelve houses, renovations galore, “up” sales and “down” sales, friends and neighbours all along the way. Two children born, raised and off in the world, our greatest tribute to our marriage is those girls. He held my hand through the thick and thin, always trying to understand the Venus in me with the Mars in him.

 

When my Grandmother was dying on the 6th floor, I was suffering our third miscarriage on the 4th and I told him to stay with her and say nothing. I left the recovery room and came upstairs, took a deep breath and smiled as I entered the room. She lit up when she saw me and told me how she’d been telling “the boy” about her dreams of our new baby, it would be a girl with red hair. She loved our firstborn Catey so much and was delighted we were expecting again. He was smiling with her and didn’t ever let her know, for that I am ever grateful because I am sure it was very hard for him to sit and pretend. She died dreaming of that baby and as it turns out a year later our second daughter, Aidan (Gaelic for little fire), was born.

 

When Princess Diana died and I walked around for weeks bursting into tears at random moments, he was perplexed to be sure but didn’t, for once, tease me in my grief. I still don’t understand that myself. When our girls were faced with Diabetes and brain surgery, he let me do what I needed to do, focus all of my Mom energies and he kept’ all the proverbial balls (mortgage, bills, life outside of hospitals) up in the air. We have rebuilt and restored homes, moved across the country, travelled some and dream of more. We are in sync most days, not all to be sure but always together inspirit. Sometimes in recent years our 21-year-old brains have been betrayed by our fifty + year old bodies and we laugh about it and move on anyway. Our breakfast these days involves Vitamins and Bran Buds, not quite the sexy scene one might have expected that sunny day in May, 27 years ago. Still we wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

So happy anniversary Angus McKay, love of my life and in-house everything ❤

My friend Nick and the lessons he taught me

“I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man’s reasoning powers are not above the monkey’s.” — Mark Twain in Eruption

 

There are days, not many but some, where I am rendered speechless. April 11, 2017 was one of those days. It happened when I saw the lead trending news segment on social media. My initial aphasia, i.e. loss of ability to understand or express speech caused, not by brain damage but by sheer incredulousness, was replaced with a slow simmering rage that exploded into words not suited for polite society. In essence, this is what prompted my violent reaction to an incredibly awful presentation of gross incompetence, as provided by NBC news.

 

 

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer apologized Tuesday evening after causing a firestorm for saying that Adolf Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons” against his own people like Syrian strongman Bashar Al-Assad.

 

Spicer, speaking from the White House podium at the daily press briefing, said that Hitler, whom he called “despicable,” did not use “the gas on his own people the same way Assad used them.”

 

He sought to clarify his remarks in three separate follow-up statements — which did little to help — and then provided a full-blown apology.

“To draw any kind of comparison to the Holocaust was inappropriate and insensitive,” he told NBC News.

He later continued, referring to the Jewish holiday of Passover, “I’m absolutely sorry, especially during a week like this to make a comparison that is inappropriate and inexcusable.”

But that was well after the outrage on social media was already in motion, with reporters and public figures blasting Spicer’s comments — and saying they were particularly offensive coming during Passover.

 

How this man was not immediately removed from his position as Press Secretary is already a mystery to most but this transgression has crossed the line of gross incompetence to actually managing to insult an entire collective of society. The role of the Press Secretary, a very senior white house official is to serve as spokesperson for the executive branch of the United States government administration, especially with regard to the President, senior executives, and policies. What kind of virulent bigotry, ignorance and just sheer lack of anything remotely bordering on common sense and morality does this man hold, and by extension the office he serves. I am so disgusted because I see the world in a back wards slide, all levels of integrity and historical perspective seem to be slipping into the abyss of these uninformed and ill-considered backwards political figures. We cannot, no matter what our ethnicity or citizenship continue to hide behind the adage “ not my monkey, not my circus.” It is incumbent upon anyone who has a moral compass of any measurable worth to speak out against this circus and to speak loud. This arrogance or ignorance or whatever you might call it is becoming a routine thing in politics, all over the world it seems and we need to stop allowing it to happen.

When I was a little girl, maybe 7 or 8 years old, we had a little brown dog named Buffy. She was a sweet little cuddly thing that loved to spend time with me but really belonged to my Grandparents, who lived literally next door. My Grandfather was the owner of a construction company in those days and my parents had decided to move into the second house on the property, which had previously been a 4-car garage with a suite above. They were converting the whole thing into a house and my Grandfather had enlisted one of his carpenters, Nick, to do the work. Nick was a master craftsman and I think in retrospect was probably very happy to spend the months he did on that project instead of the regular industrial projects the company took on. I liked to sit and watch him work, sometimes for hours while Buffy slept in the sun somewhere nearby. Nick was a very quiet man and I guess I was a fairly quiet kid, preferring to observe more than talk, so our partnership worked. I thought he was old, too old to be working but again, I was viewing things through the lens of a child. He stooped a bit and his hands were callused and rough, the hands of a man who worked hard physically each day. He had a heavy Polish accent that made his words sing and he called me leibchen, which made me feel special and safe. I thought he was wonderful. Eventually Buffy seemed to adopt Nick too and most days could be found curled up asleep in a corner near him. Power tools were not a mainstay of a carpenters’ implement in those days, most of his tools were hand tools and he worked very carefully and with patience most would admire. Sometimes I’d have a book with me and read away while he worked and sometimes he would take the time to carefully explain what he was doing, while I pestered him with “what’s and why’s”, as only a child can do.

 

My family went away on a camping trip for a few weeks that summer and I remember being so excited to see the progress on our new kitchen and to see Nick. I ran into the house fully expecting to see him and Buffy. Instead I found Nick, sitting on a stool, arms stretched out to greet me. I ran up to him, excited to see him and looking around for Buffy as I entered. “ Where’s Buffy?” I asked, as I walked into my hug. Nick smiled softly and took my hands in his, then explained that when I was gone Buffy had been out one day on her own, my grandparents had let her out and Nick was in the house working. She must have wandered out onto the road and a gravel truck had hit her. The driver had carried her up to our house, not knowing where to go and gave her poor broken body to Nick. He had buried her near the house and used some stones to mark her grave.

 

I cried and cried and Nick sat quietly while I wept for my friend, the first of many pets I would love and someday say good-bye to. When I was calm he asked me to sit with him while he told me a story about love. He rolled up his sleeve and held out his wrist for me to see. Tattooed in ugly blue ink was a number. Nick always wore long-sleeved dress shirts, even on hot summer days and this was something I had never seen. He told me that one day when he was a young man soldiers came to his home and dragged his whole family out on the street. That when they were outside, they saw that many other families, their neighbours and friends were also being torn from their homes. He talked about how much he loved his family and how close they all were. He explained to me they were Jewish and that people who didn’t follow their faith hated them, simply because they worshipped God in different ways. My family was not religious and this was so strange to me but I knew that what he was telling me was very important, so I just let him talk. Nick told me that all of the men and boys were separated from the women and taken away. He said it was sudden and awful and the noise of the women crying and the men yelling reassurances as they were led off was something he heard in his dreams, something very sad. He was sent to a concentration camp, separated from his family and tattooed. He explained that if you were young and strong and you could work that you had a better chance of surviving in the camp but sometimes they would call out numbers at random chance and that meant the end. Despite the fact that everything and everyone had been taken from him, he wanted to live. He said that the last year in the camp, when he was no longer strong and healthy he found a way to live. He would scavenge the uniforms of the dead, which were also stamped with numbers, so that his number would not be called. He kept his sleeves down at all times to make sure the guards did not compare. One day his captors simply opened the gates and ran and somehow Nick survived. His family did not and he eventually came to Canada and started over.

 

These few words cannot touch on the agony of his life and the lives of millions who suffered the holocaust. I reflect back on that day now and imagine my seven-year old self knew more about what happened to Nick than probably anyone because he was in a time and space that day that allowed him to talk. I have never experienced grief the same way because Nick taught me that we are privileged to love someone and must appreciate our time, however long or short, because loving and being loved is a gift no one can take away. I will always remember that day, sitting with a man who had experienced such monumental grief and still had the capacity to love and to trust.

 

Shame, shame, shame … On Sean Spicer for so carelessly disrespecting the Jewish people and the Whitehouse and in fact all of our World Leaders for not holding him to account. The Holocaust is undeniable and exemplifies why one despotic leader should never hold power. We must always reflect, respect and study history so that we might never repeat it. This is not an average man, shooting off his mouth in a bar; this is the voice of the Presidential Office.

 

Our world is at a tipping point, we need to stand up and hold our politicians accountable.

 

 

 

 

Getting Lost in Living , “Ray” Days and 27 Years and counting …

Definition of “Walking into something”

 

If you walk into an unpleasant situation, you become involved in it without intending to…

 

He was fairly certain now that he was walking into a trap, and wished he’d come armed.

 

Definition of “ Imposter”

noun

a person who pretends to be someone else in order to deceive others

 

 

 

When I think of my life to this point it’s framed in a collection of moments making a whole: not a full uninterrupted, seamless and smooth playing out of time and place. Partly, I suppose it’s because I am practically half a century old and my memory fails me more frequently than in my younger years. More than that I attribute it to the fact that the moments that make a life get lost in simply living. Normal every day pressures, busy schedules, sometimes hectic and sometimes joyful days, investments in people and place and things, these all steal our capacity to keep every moment truly remembered.

 

I have known my husband Angus for more than 30 years and soon will mark our 27th anniversary. That’s a long time to be together and one would assume there are few surprises left between us. Of ‘course that assumption would be wrong. To this day he says things or does things that leave me baffled and I am sure he is equally as confused by me on occasion. He’s the kind of guy who measures twice or three times first and I’m the one who painted murals on walls and windows with reckless abandon when our kids were small, heck I even painted on the walls of the Junior Kindergarten bathrooms in the school they went to. There was not a lot of planning, just an especially creative feeling kind of day, Disney characters for inspiration and too many 4 year olds afraid of the institutional gray walls. When we lift furniture through doorways (which is often because I’m always changing my mind about where things should sit) we always twist and turn in the opposite direction to which the other assumes is logical. We have muddled our way through most of our adult lives together and we have a level of understanding between us that actually does allow the finishing of one another’s sentences sometimes. We are very different personalities and sometimes that makes both of us (ok, mostly me) nuts. Angus just lets it roll. I once called him, in a fit of exasperated anticipation of actually getting a job started and finished, a squirrel, which I’ll explain in a moment. Not because he is even remotely unstable or mentally ill but because he is a procrastinator extraordinaire when it comes to some things. He’s the kind of guy who will research a purchase of something on-line extensively. Then he will insist we go to seven different stores to comparison shop, not just price but quality. Finally, when I’m lying on the showroom floor, threatening a full-blown tantrum unless he takes me out for lunch, buys me wine – lots of it or chooses something for Gods’ sake and takes me home, almost on cue, he’ll step over my almost cold corpse, look down absentmindedly at me with an expression of “ oh, there you are” and decide we’re going to return to the first store and buy it there. When he starts a home improvement project it usually requires several hours, or days or months of staring at the space where said project is supposed to happen. I would have a hammer in hand and knock things down first and plan later but not Angus.

 

Once he has figured out what he wants to do he has to figure out how he wants to do it. Essentially that means how he can do it with the least amount of purchased material possible (regardless of the fact that repurposing may in fact add triple the hours and effort required to get the job done). This proclivity for intensely long periods of decision-making agony has led me to liken him to a squirrel.

 

I have illustrated this for him by telling him the story of the unfortunate squirrel. “You know”, say’s I “the one who runs into the centre of the road, attempting to reach the other side and suddenly stops, frozen. A car is careening on towards him, closer and closer and he doesn’t react, just remains stuck in place, considering his options. His head turns one way, then the other, then back. His tail twitches, his whiskers wriggle but still he doesn’t move until, SMACK! Too late! Poor squirrel. “

 

Angus just looked at me aghast, shocked expression on his face, furrowed brows and shaking his head, as his father has been known to do and said “ wow, somebody didn’t have her second cup of coffee today”.

 

There is however, a really big however, moments when I think, “ what in the world has he walked into now? What was he thinking and what do we do about it now?” The story of Ray is one of those moments.

 

When we moved to our latest residence (there has been 12 I think at last count) we decided to give up landlines once and for all and use only cellphones. Angus uses his cell phone for almost nothing, seldom remembers to check messages and chooses to ignore any forms of social media except to occasionally connect with his daughters, who are on opposite sides of the earth. I am always near my phone, checking feeds and talking to my kids any chance I get. Most of our family and friends call me first now because they know he will likely not answer. So I was surprised when about six months ago his cellphone actually rang, with an unfamiliar number on display and he actually answered it. I should note that Angus is also, having passed the half century a few years ahead of his much younger wife (aka me), becoming a little hard of hearing. That means, when someone calls him, he puts the call on speaker so he can hear or at least ask me “ what did they say about?” after he hangs up.

 

“Hello, this is Angus “ he said when the cell rang that day.

 

“ Angus, how the hell are you buddy? It’s Ray!” said the caller on the other end. His voice sounded older, like maybe someone in his seventies but it was hard to tell. Somehow I imagined he was smiling, like he was genuinely happy to talk to his friend.

 

“ I’m great Ray, just great. What can I do for you?” said Angus.

 

“ Well you know I really enjoyed meeting you the other day and I was thinking you might want to work with me sometime. Like sometime I need help moving things for people, some heavy lifting you know. Think you might be up for that buddy?”

 

“Sure Ray”, said Angus with a smile on his face. He was holding the phone in his outstretched hand while standing, looking out at the lake and rocking back and forth on his heels while he talked, looking weirdly amused I realized. “ Give me a call sometime, no problem.” Then he looks at me and winked, like somehow I was in on the joke except I had no idea what is going on.

 

“Thanks Buddy, talk to you later” and Ray hung up.

 

“Who the heck is Ray? “ I asked. We have one car and are practically always together and I could not, for the life of me remember meeting anyone named Ray. We’re new to the Province so it’s not like we were acquainted with so many people that I couldn’t remember their names.

 

“I have no idea,” said Angus. “ But he sounded like a nice guy and you know, I’ve got time if he needs some help.”

 

“What the heck are you talking about?” I pounced. “ How the heck can you be his buddy and not know who he is? You can’t go moving stuff for someone you don’t even know. Why on earth would you not say so?”

 

Angus shrugged and looked, as always, unruffled and unfazed. “ The guy won’t really call, no worries and I didn’t want to be rude.” He smiled and resumed his perusal of the boaters on the lake. And that was that, at least for a week or so.

 

Since that call Ray has called at least 5 or 6 times. He’s always happy to talk to Angus and always asks if he’d like to help out with a move. Angus has never told Ray he has no idea who he is. He doesn’t want Ray to feel bad because Ray thinks they are buddies. Each time Angus comes up with some plausible reason about why he can’t come. One of those times he told Ray his daughter was sick and he needed to stay home. Of ‘course he neglected to mention his sick daughter was not really that sick and studying Medicine on another continent so there wasn’t much that dear old Daddy could do. But the next time Ray called he was quick to ask how his daughter was feeling. Now Angus has realized that he’s walked right into this conundrum and ought’ to fess up but every time Ray calls he caves and plays along. We even got a call from some lady named Rhonda one day who needed help moving out of her apartment and Ray had given her our number. Angus had to feign a herniated disc before she would take no for an answer.

I think the next time Ray calls I’ll have to tell him Angus died. It’ll be hard on him for a while to get over the loss of his buddy but maybe he’ll find a new mover who actually shows up.

 

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Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss

For a number of years I spent my days in a school library and working on an early literacy project with children from Junior Kindergarten to Grade Two. In later years I worked with three year olds who were identified as “at risk”: either developmentally or psycho-socially. Our focus was to help develop readiness for learning as they prepared for school. I reflect back on that time with great fondness, kick myself some days for not re-immersing myself with some new kids who need a little push and still cannot walk past a bookstore without checking out the Children’s section. My girls are long past the days of bedtime stories but it is a memory I hold very dear and I believe it helped shape them into the brilliant young women they are today.

 

There is a profound gift in the ability to read, it opens the world to you in ways you could never have imagined. The developing minds of our very young children are now, more than ever before, in over-drive for stimulation with the computer age. It is perhaps harder than ever to nurture a young reader. It is proven that there is a positive correlation between reading for pleasure and future academic achievement. It is also proven that if a person dislikes reading in their childhood, they are far less likely to engage in reading as a pleasurable leisure activity as an adult. The seeds of learning must be planted when they are very young.

 

And so it is without hesitation that I am writing today to honour the birthday of perhaps the greatest children’s author and illustrator, the beloved Dr. Seuss. His birthday was March2, 1904 and he lived a long and full life, producing 44 books for children and a tremendous amount of work in political and societal pieces designed for the adult reader. Of course the genre varied but his messages were strong in both juvenile and adult formats, powerful reflections on a great variety of social and political issues.

 

Dr. Seuss was actually named Theodor Seuss Geisel at birth. It is said that when he got into some trouble in university during Prohibition years for having alcohol in his college dorm room, he was banned from working on the school newsletters and publishing in the school paper. He switched his pen name to Seuss, his mothers’ maiden name and ‘kept on writing. At some point the Dr. was included. He had no children and perhaps that was his magic. He wrote less like a father and more like a friend, a co-conspirator and a mentor, without ever being authoritarian or condescending. His books made reading and listening to them being read fun. He travelled the world and brought his perspective to everything he wrote. His first book, “ And to think I saw it on Mulberry Street” was rejected by some accounts by more than 40 publishers. Thank goodness for his tenacity and conviction to keep submitting. His poetry and rhyme entertained and delighted children and adults a like. Simple and brilliant, just like his line in Oh the Places You’ll Go .

 

Think and Wonder.

Wonder and Think.

 

 

During the first two years of World War II, Dr. Seuss produced over 400 political cartoons. Amongst other things he heavily criticized racism at home in the USA against Jewish and Black people, disparaged the Congress, particularly the Republicans and vilified Hitler and Mussolini. He was terribly hard on the Japanese but some say he reflected greatly on this position and in later years sought to apologize for that. After the war he seemed to devote himself entirely to improving literacy in children.

 

In 1954 Life magazine published an article about illiteracy in school children. The report suggested that kids couldn’t read well because there were not books they wanted to read available, in essence, children’s literature was limited and boring.

A director of education at a publishing house named William Spaulding was concerned and forward thinking enough about this to try a new tactic. He developed a list of 348 words that he thought a child in first grade should be able to identify. He then went to Dr. Seuss and asked him to create a book with 250 words from that list and only those words. He asked that the book captivate kids enough that they would want to read it again and again. Nine months and 236 words later The Cat In The Hat was ready for beginning readers to enjoy. The drawings were captivating, the rhyming was fun, the vocabulary was understandable and recognizable to emergent readers and the story was delightful. That book still outsells many newly published children’s books today.

 

There is a message in many of Dr.Seuss ‘s books if you care to examine them more deeply. Here are just a few for consideration. The Sneetches , written in 1961 was about racial equality. Yertle the Turtle written in 1958 was about Hitler and anti-authoritarianism. Of ‘course most of us recognize that materialism and consumerism were the critical reflections in How the Grinch Stole Christmas and that was in 1957!

 

My favourite of all would have to be The Lorax. It was written in 1971 but perhaps it is more timely now than ever it has been before. Living in British Columbia where forestry is huge might make it less popular here I suppose, It is not just about those Trufulla trees however, it is about environmentalism and anti-consumerism, about the stuff that really matters most. I cannot help but see so many present day examples of the “ Once-ler” who kept “biggering his business”. If you haven’t read it, you really must… here’s a bit to hold you…

 

Now all that was left ‘neath the bad-smelling sky

was my big empty factory…

the Lorax…

and I.

The Lorax said nothing

Just gave me a glance,

just gave me a very sad, sad backward glance,

as he lifted himself by the seat of his pants.

And I’ll never forget the grim look on his face

when he hoisted himself and took leave of this place,

through a hole in the smog, without leaving a trace.

And all that the Lorax left here in this mess

was a small pile of rocks with the one word:

UNLESS.

Whatever that meant . . . well, I just couldn’t guess.