Sunday, December 29, 2013

Like An Old Pair Of Shoes

It's a Christmas holiday tradition.... Dutch Blitz battle with the Loewen's.

We've got our long-standing teams figured out.
Team Terry (aka Team Delusional).   (Terry and Zach)
Team Good Looking.  (Mike and Ellie)
Team Shazel.  (Caleb and Hannah)
Team Barla.  (Brynne and Carla)
Team Peener. (aka Team Awesome).  (Me and Sasha)

Some things are always the same.  The trash talking, the laughing at the same jokes and ridiculous antics, the "shushing" when things get crazy because the twins are trying to sleep, the battle between Team Terry and Team Peener...

Sometimes we add something new, like this year.  To make up for Team Terry's arm-length deficiency we incorporated a clockwise rotation in the seating plan every round.  Sad to say, it worked in their favor.

Some things are meant to be the same.

We've been friends since before any kids entered our lives.  That seems like a lifetime ago.  Way back then, we were both newly married and forged our friendship on nights of playing cribbage in our pajamas.  I don't think any of us would have guessed that in 17 years there would be 8 kids between the 4 of us.

It got loud tonight.
But things often do when you fall into step and find reasons to laugh because it just fits so well.

Comfortable and worn-in.  
Like an old pair of shoes.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Remember Syria

Six years ago I was haunted by the horrific situation happening in Darfur, Sudan.    I was overwhelmed with feeling like there was little I could do to make a difference.  The problem felt huge, and any effort on my part felt like the tiniest drop in the most enormous bucket.  When Christmas came, I really felt compelled to do something tangible, so our family learned as much as we could about the refugee crisis in Darfur, and what had erupted politically to create the situation in the first place.  Sasha was wee then.  Hannah was only 7, and Ellie 4.  One thing I've learned over the years, is that you can tell the story of a place and a people so that even the youngest ones can understand the basics.    We learned what we could, and we made "reminders" for our tree to honor those in refugee camps in Darfur who it seemed the rest of the world had forgotten about.

The following year we focused on Darfur again.  Not much had changed.  (Isn't that the way it is all too often?)  The following year we concentrated on refugees in other countries around the world.  The next year it was the housing crisis in Attawapiskat that called out for our attention.  Then last year it was the plight of girls in countries around the world whose lives are less than simply because of their gender.  

This year we focused on Syria.  

We have a small tree upstairs that serves as the place to hang the words, facts, and stories of the place or cause we're focusing on.  It's amazing what you can find to help you communicate the story of a place or a crisis to kids.  Syria's situation is not simple.  But there are simple concepts about dictatorships, democracy, freedom, power, and the fall-out that kids sometimes understand more than we do.

Last week I read the paper and listened to the radio as the current situation in South Sudan was discussed.  Things aren't better than they were six years ago when we started to learn more.  In fact, in lots of ways, they're worse.  That realization hit me.  There are parts of this that feel hopeless.  Will anything change in Syria?  Will there still be a need for refugee camps for Syrians at this time next year?   Sadly, there will probably be a need for more.

Hanging these reminders on a tree isn't going to change anything in Syria.  But knowledge is power, and taking hold of that power means we won't forget.  We won't forget Darfur... or Syria.  Christmas Eve seems as fitting a night as any to hope that you won't forget it either.

To learn more about Syria's refugee crisis:
Click Here for a video that explains the basics to kids.
Click Here for answers to questions about how the conflict in Syria began.
Click Here for information on the refugee crisis specifically.

To help:
Click here for the UN site for giving.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Early Christmas Gift

It was the end of the day.
The last day of school before Christmas break.

It had been a full day of singing and snacking and parties and presents.  A loud day.

He has only been their teacher for a month - taken on the grade five class of ruffians when their teacher left to have a beautiful baby.  He is their first male classroom teacher, so they are all learning together.

I came up to the classroom to find Ellie and to say goodbye - to wish him a Merry Christmas.

He was standing at the door, wishing his charges well as they left for their two week vacation.  This is when I got my window into beauty.  As we were chatting, one of the taller boys in the class came up to him, wrapped his arms tight around his waist and hugged him.  The gift was returned as his arms wrapped around his student.  It was a momentary embrace, but his student lingered awhile, with his head sideways on his chest, savouring the feeling of the tight strong arms around him.  It was solid and soft at the same time, full of kindness and nurture.

I don't know the student who came for his goodbye.  Maybe he doesn't get hugs from a dad at home, or maybe he gets them all of the time.  Maybe there is a dad living in his four walls, or maybe he only seems him sometimes.

What I do know is that when an eleven year old boy comes for a hug, and his male teacher hugs him back good and proper - in that moment - something breaks open.

It did for me.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Mix

Years ago I took the process of decorating our house for Christmas very seriously.  I had separate bins for different areas of the house and each contained things reserved just for that spot.    It wasn't work to me - I loved it.  It wasn't just the finished product I liked, either.  I loved the whole process... the transformation.  These last few years I take the bins out of the storage room and I open them and look at what they contain and feel exhausted.  I remember the places the garland and the berries and the bows hung and I have good memories of it all, but I just can't conjure up the energy it would take to maneuver what's in the bins to its place in the house.  I am learning to be ok with that.  To look around at the little, subtle bits of Christmas and not feel guilty about how sparse it is, or how simple it has become.  Finding peace in bins that remain closed and contained is important.

Our big Christmas tree is a mish-mash of lots of different kinds of ornaments from places and times in our life as a family.  It tells our story, in a way.  Lots of people have perfectly matching ornaments and a perfect color scheme on their trees, but we're not that family.  Lately, when our girls have been coming home from their friend's houses they marvel at the fact that their friends have trees that look "perfect".  Hannah, especially, laughs about our tree, and wonders what those friends would think if they saw it.  She feigns embarrassment at our family tree, but if I'm right, I think she's endeared to it and  loves the stories it holds.  

There is one ornament, in particular, that makes us all laugh.  It's a plastic spoon with a gold bow tied around it, a face drawn on it, and a halo added on top.  I suppose you could call it  a "primitive angel".   The name "Sasha" is scrawled on the back, and there is no ornament on that tree I love more.

Hannah has laughed and said, "Who hangs a plastic SPOON on their Christmas tree?"  
We do.
And I know she wouldn't have it any other way.


I've been stuffing and addressing envelopes this week.  Just like the ornaments on our tree, the names on the Christmas card envelopes tell stories about where we've been and who we are.  My "master list" holds the key to different doors of our lives.  Friends from elementary school and childhood.   Friends from University years who I still hold dear.  Lots of friends from our two years in BC.  Those envelopes are the hardest to address.  I can usually go about most days and weeks without missing our life in Vancouver too much.  Of course, when the temperature plummets and everything is coated in snow and ice, it's hard not to let your mind drift back to how lush and green and fresh everything remains on the coast.  But when I write out the names and the familiar addresses, the sadness for the beautiful relationships we left behind becomes real and painful again.  I wonder how many more years I will address envelopes for those friends.  Will I be able to keep up and stay connected?  Will we be forgotten?  Will we forget?

But for now we know we haven't forgotten.  And with every swoop of the pen to write another name of a family we love and miss, I take a moment to feel the sadness and the gratitude and remember.


Hannah went to a Christmas party last weekend.  It was a party comprised of six girls from her grade who have become really close friends.  The mom of the girl who hosted the party showed me a picture on her phone this week that she took of six thirteen year old girls in bathing suits and toques, dancing and singing and about to go jump into the outdoor hot-tub.   I loved the juxtaposition that the picture showed - bathing suits and toques - two  things that rarely go together.   I loved the gigantic smiles I saw and the freedom that was evident in order to  prance around in your bathing suit and dance your face off.

At an age that can entail so much body shaming, and body loathing, the picture of these girls with their heads thrown back with smiles from ear to ear painted a different picture. Adolescence doesn't have to be that way.  

And I was grateful.


Last Saturday night we had my classmate and friend Mary, and her partner Jennifer here for supper.  After we were finished eating, Jennifer, (who is an incredibly gifted pianist) began to play Christmas songs, and Mike grabbed his violin and played along.  They played old standards and some sacred melodies, and we sat on the couch and sang along, while Ellie danced and we all laughed.  It sounded amazing, and we joked that they could take their show on the road.  It was a beautiful moment, and I couldn't help but think how amazing the world is when your husband is playing violin with an American pianist from Egypt, while her Egyptian partner sits beside you and sings her heart out while your kids laugh.  Who dreams up these combinations?  How did these beautiful souls end up in my corner of the world?  The mystery of connection and relationships astounds me.  Definitely one of the best memories of this Christmas.


One of the songs Jennifer and Mike played together was "O Holy Night".  There is a line in that carol that gets me every time.  I sing it, and then I can't stop thinking about it:

"Truly He taught us to love one another.
 His law is love,
 And his gospel is peace."

His law is LOVE?  Amazing.
When the word law makes us think of rules and punishment and enforcement and rigidity, God turns it upside down and says His law is love.

That is the kind of God I can get behind.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Party Like You're 13 (Instead of 39)

I got to go to a party tonight.  Just me.

Everyone else was busy and they weren't really invited anyway.  

Here's the funny part: 
The birthday boy is in grade 8 and is a friend of Hannah's.  
I'm a mom and I'm old.  
AND I got invited!

I sometimes wonder if people who don't know me (and some who do) think it's creepy that I enjoy good relationships with kids Hannah's age.  Maybe it does look strange.  I like fist-bumping and high fiving in the hallway at school.   Sometimes I even have a little entourage of boys come looking for me at the end of the day to have a little chat and share a laugh.  That makes me happy.

It makes me happy because I want to share positive relationship with my kid's friends.  I want them to know they have lots of cheerleaders and safe places in the adults around them.  I want them to believe that they are worth talking to, even if they're "only kids".   I want them to tell me funny stories, and I'm tickled that they might want to listen to some of mine.   I want to know them because I want to know more of Hannah, and they share more of her life with her than I do.   I want them to know they are valuable and significant and LIKEABLE - (even by old moms like me).

I got to celebrate a great kid's birthday tonight.  
He makes people laugh and his eyes sparkle as he draws them in.
My eyes sparkled when I got invited.
I'm glad we're friends.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ghost of Christmas Concert Past

Tonight is the early year's Christmas concert.

Every year, this day serves as a sober reminder for me.  Like an anniversary of sorts.

It was the year that Hannah was in grade two.  Ellie was four and Sasha, two.   If you'd look at a picture from our family from that night, we'd be smiling.   We'd look together and happy - like a perfect family.

If you'd take a look deeper, and rewind the film to the hours before the concert, you'd see something different.  It was cold outside, much like today.  Mike was still at work, hoping to rush through the door  in just enough time to load the girls into the van and make it to the school on time.  I was running on empty.  The chaos of life with a toddler and preschooler, and endless drives back and forth to school to pick up their older sister was beginning to take its toll.  Meds had been started, but dosage was far from perfect.   Layer that reality on top of a mind that had this soundtrack playing on "repeat":

You're terrible at mothering.    
You fail everyday.  
You are ruining these kids.  
Why did you ever want this?

If you'd look a little closer, you'd see my hands shaking a little as I held the curling iron and had Hannah sitting on top of the kitchen table, all decked out in her Christmas finery.   She was going to look perfect.  Beautiful dress, curled hair, sparkling clips, shiny shoes.  If I couldn't mother the right way, at least I could have a daughter who looked like I could.   She had an idea in her mind of what she wanted to look like that night too.  Only I couldn't see it, and the soundtrack in my mind was playing too loudly for me to hear it.  And so with Ellie and Sasha running around at my feet,  I began to curl Hannah's hair and create the image of the daughter I needed her to be.

My voice was harsh with a prominent edge.
"Sit still.  Turn your head this way.  We're almost done."
When she was done, I was done.
Exhausted, lost, and teetering on the ledge of the last shred of control I had.

Then she looked in the mirror, with her taffeta dress and her shining cheeks and began to cry.
"I hate it!  I didn't want it like this!  Everyone will laugh at me!  I don't want to go like this!"

Cue the sound of the guttural yell and words that only moms at the end of themselves say.
Cue the tears and the exasperation and the overwhelming desire to curl up in a corner and give up.
Cue the phone call to Mike telling him to HURRY HOME because I was falling apart.
Cue the volume of the soundtrack being turned up louder, this time adding a few new phrases:

You should be ashamed of yourself.  Who yells at their 7 year old like that over hair? 
I told you you're terrible at this.
You shouldn't have kids.
What would people think if they saw you like this?

When shame comes, it usually makes itself comfortable and takes up residence for awhile.  And so it did.  I fixed the hair the best I could and went about the feeding of the girls and the dressing of the little sisters with robotic-like movement.   Lipstick went on, eyes were dried, deep breath taken, and the show went on.  Off to the school to shake hands and smile, wishing "Merry Christmas" with perfect tone and eyes as bright as I could muster.

We got through that night.  I conjured up every single ounce of joy and optimism I had for that hour.  I had to.  Hugs were given and "great job!" was offered.  When we got home and the three perfect little bodies were tucked into bed, I was done.  Again.

I remember sitting on the couch beside Mike by the Christmas tree.
"I can't do it tomorrow by myself", I said.
"I'm not strong enough to do it."

And I cried.

I cried, and he stayed home.
A sick day, I think.
Because someone was sick and just could not do it.

Sitting here today, I'm sad when I think of that concert.
I'm sad that the soundtrack was so loud and the other little voices were  so small.
I'm thinking about the moms with little ones who can feel their hearts pound of their chests the weight of the world crashing in around them.
I'm wishing I could go and do it over again.
I'm grateful I'm stronger.
I'm frustrated because I'm still fighting with the volume control that  controls the volume that plays in my head every day.
I'm thankful that each year is better than the last.
I'm aware that I'm still not strong enough to do it alone.

Having that realization every day is part of what makes me stronger.


This is the door that I walked through with 9 other people every Wednesday afternoon.

That door opened a lot.  It held open the space for the "right of passage" class for everyone in the Masters of Marriage and Family Therapy program.

The door opens to a room that is usually just a regular classroom, but in this case, so much more.

On the last day of class, I snapped a picture of the door because it had grown significant to me.  It  had come to represent more than the threshold to an open space.

In order to be approved to begin clinical practicum in the MMFT program at U of W, you have to complete a component of the program called "Self in the Family Laboratory".  "Self", as it's regularly called by students and faculty, is a gigantic massive hoop that you have to jump through.  Only you don't just jump through it.  You put your feet into the hoop and stay awhile.   For four hours every week you stand in that hoop and muddle around with 7 other souls who are doing the same thing you're doing.  Standing around the hoop are 2 faculty members who are guiding you along, protecting your space, and sometimes shaking things up to see authenticity rise to the surface.

Describing "Self" to people who aren't in the MMFT program is difficult.  To many people, it sounds a bit like torture.    Entering a lab with 7 fellow students that you haven't chosen and in some cases, don't know, and then proceeding to engage in some of the most in-depth and vulnerable research and work you have ever done, doesn't necessarily sound like a good time.   It doesn't sound or look much like what someone traditionally thinks of when they consider what a Master's program is like.  The goal of "Self" is to examine your own family of origin and the stories, secrets, and patterns it holds, and makes sense of your role within it.  This examination involves talking.  Lots of talking.  Calling up family members, sitting across tables from them, pouring over record books and genealogies and becoming just a little like an investigator.  But more than the talking is the listening.  Your ears are primed to uncover repeated patterns, core issues, and keys to unlocking parts of your family's story that you may not have ever considered.

There were 7 other students in the lab, and we were all women.  We came from incredibly diverse ethnic backgrounds.   We ranged in age from mid 20's to mid 50's.  There had been a lot of living in those years.  We got to hear each other's stories of the living (and often times, the dying) in that classroom.  There were tales of confessions, disappointments, heartbreak, and great pain.  There were stories that made us laugh out loud.  There were memories  that hadn't been recalled or contemplated for decades.  Yet, there they were... on display for the bodies in that classroom to hold and consider.

When it's your turn to present your self within your family of origin to the class, the last part of the session is holding therapy for your "family".  You choose classmates to play family members who they feel somewhat acquainted with from the writing and presenting you've done.    Every time I was chosen to play a role, the weight of it felt heavy.  It was a great responsibility to find my place in another's family.  Playing this role meant engulfing myself into the story and emotion, and responses that I imagined them to have had.  Every time, I felt it was sacred, and like I was holding a gift or valuable artifact in my hand that I had to protect and watch over.  To treat it well so as to honor its worth.

When our class met for the very last time a few weeks ago, we sat around a beautiful dining room table sharing a meal.  Our instructor held up his glass and toasted us all to bring ending and conclusion to something that words can't adequately describe.  We joined the toast and clinked glasses with each other to mark the end, and to celebrate the beginning.    We had finished "Self", and we were grateful.

Now when I look at the picture of that door, I feel brave.  I feel rich, too, for my body and memory hold the sacred stories of the 7 who walked alongside me.

They hold mine, too but  I don't mind.
My load feels a little bit lighter now.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Random Round-up (The Calm Before the Storm (AKA Advent) Edition)

I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year.  I love the excitement it creates in my kids.  I love the way it brings people together who haven't been together in a long while.  I hate the way it ushers in frenzy and very full calendar squares.  Full calendar squares make me anxious.

This is the first weekend I haven't had something to read or write for school, in a very long time.  I love the feeling of having a weekend to do what I want to do, when I want to do it.   It's liberating.

We always put up our tree on the first Sunday of Advent.  It's our tradition.  I like tradition.  While we put up the tree we crack open the first box of the first of the Christmas indulgences.  The first Christmas CD that is played must be "Barenaked for the Holidays".  EVERY year the girls remark how funny it is that the first CD we play at Christmas is half filled with Hanukkah songs.  We then all talk about how much we like that.  (See. I told you I like tradition!)  I like getting the tree out of the storage room and opening the lids of all of our Christmas bins.  I HATE stringing the lights on.  Another tradition is me stringing up the lights and complaining about it while Mike sits on the couch eating oranges and peanuts and pointing to spots I missed.

I'm gearing up to make Papanate (Peppernuts) this week, for my third straight year.  It's an all day affair for me, but well worth it.  It also serves as a good upper arm work-out.

It would be my dream to go away for Christmas and miss the whole thing.  My kids don't share this dream.

I do nearly all of the Christmas shopping in this house.  Mike is just as surprised as the girls when they open their presents on Christmas morning.  More bang for my buck, I suppose.

I've never really liked "Christmas oranges" much.  Does anyone else call them "Christmas oranges" instead of mandarins?   I'm always reluctant to buy the boxes of them because you're bound to get some duds.  I get creeped out just peering into the box of green-paper wrapped fruit.  My hand shakes as I grab each one, because I KNOW that one of them is going to be a moldy, squishy, soggy blob of disgusting, rotting orange.  Needless to say, I usually opt to buy them in bulk.

Our faith community, St. Benedict's Table, has great Advent resources you might like to check out as your calendar squares fill up.   You can find information about the Podcasts, readings, music, and a book by clicking on the St. Ben's site here.  I am thankful to be in community with thoughtful, questioning, passionate,  brave people, who don't see doubt as something to fear.

Online Christmas shopping makes me very, very happy.

Ellie and Sasha have spent the past weekend playing non-stop with their Maplelea dolls.  I love that Ellie still wants to play with dolls.   This doesn't happen very often, but when it does, it's a feast.  The "game" they've been playing is stressful on me and Mike though.  They come up with a theme like "Elegant Dinner Party" and then dress their dolls and do their hair to match the theme.  Then they come up and Mike and I have to vote on which of their dolls best matched the theme.   When we had a tie, Mike made their dolls do speeches on a topic he assigned.  Intensity was at an all-time high.  The stress was killing me.

This was the first weekend since September in which I didn't have reading or writing school looming over me.  I am used to living my life with the thought of what I really should be doing never far from my mind.  As much as I LOVE not having to work on school stuff at home, I miss my friends from my classes when a term comes to an end.  When you get used to spending many hours with people every week, it leaves a big hole in your life when it ends.  Come January, I'll be taking the most classes I've ever attempted at once.  Finding balance should be very interesting.

I have an idea for creating a job that I think could actually work.  I think I'd be really good at it.  I'd just have to convince other people of the same thing.

I thought I'd have a different job by now.

Rainbow Loom.  If you have kids you know exactly what it is.  Here's the thing - I don't get it.  I'm baffled at what becomes the "it" toy or "it" activity each year.  I don't understand why kids would be drawn to it.  I do know from subbing in elementary school, that it's very cool to have an arm full of rainbow loom bracelets on your arm.  I also know from subbing, that it's very irritating to have kids playing with said bracelets constantly.

I have read so many amazing books in the last few months it will be virtually impossible to pick favorites for our annual "best of" round-up that we do every Christmas.

We hardly watch any TV anymore.  If we have time to watch something, it's on Netflix.  Makes me wonder if people will be watching TV at all in ten years time.

Jian Ghomeshi announced this year's CBC Canada Reads finalists last week, as well as the celebrities who will be endorsing them.  It's going to be a very good battle.  My money is on Joseph Boyden's The Orenda.  Boyden is one of my favorite writers of fiction.  I received The Orenda for my birthday in September, but I'm putting off reading it because I don't want it to be over.  I'm thinking this way before I even begin!  That's how much faith I have in Boyden's work.  To top it off, one man I have a great deal of respect for, Wab Kinew, is touting Boyden's book.   Put some of Joseph Boyden's books on your Christmas list while there's still time!

I want to blog more often now that school is less intense.  By "more", I mean more than once a month as I've gotten into the shameful habit of doing.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Feast For The Senses

When we walk in the old wooden doors, Sasha says, "I like the way this place smells".
And so do I.
It smells old, and lived in.  "Lived in" makes me feel safe.
It reminds me that people have gone before.
Sang the songs, said the prayers, sat in the straight-backed wooden pews....
I've always liked the old smells.
It's as though the years unfold the story through the smell.
Life has happened here.  
I breath in the scent and it's as though I'm turning a page.
Uncovering another chapter in the continuing story.


As we walk to our spot the creaking of the floor boards begin and that is the start of the music.
The bells ring and I can be still.
Permission to stop.  Listen.  Breath.  Wait.  Hear.
Ancient liturgy - spoken one million times.
My voice joined with their voices.
Say the words enough times and you start to believe them again.


"If I'm bored during the homily, I just look around", she says.
There is so much to look at in this old, ancient space.
Small crosses and windows with vibrant color.
Flickering flames dancing on the tops of the candles.
Art and images - each with a history.
The truth is, if I'm bored, I look around too.

"Peace of Christ"
The familiar refrain.
It is passed over and over complete with a firm handshake.
Hands that are wrinkled and worn or new and cold.
No forced conversation.
No pressure to perform.
No awkward silence.
No expectations.
Only peace.
Finally here.

"Behold who you are, become who you receive..."
And the so the circle begins.
Faces all around you with stories each their own.
But still they stand in the circle.
When the bread comes around you receive it and the echo begins -
"The body of Christ..
       The body of Christ...
               The body of Christ..."
Over and over, again and again.
You look around at the circle and find yourself within it, no matter how you are different.
There is no gatekeeper here.


The bread is sweet with molasses.
It tastes the same every time.  Chewy and dense.
It feels good for it to be the same.  Once that familiar taste hits your tongue peace settles in.
It's like going home for your favorite meal.
"I like the wine, is it OK that I had a really big gulp?", she asks.
Like the bread, it's always the same.  An acquired taste for an eight year old.
She is part of the circle too, offered the same cup.
We laugh later about her big gulp, but I'm glad she likes it.


When the circles are through, he takes the cups - tips his head back and polishes them off.
One by one until the last drops are consumed.
The drops are savoured and enjoyed, each one.
Just as they should be.
Placed empty on the table, waiting for another feast, another day.


Monday, September 30, 2013

Where I'm From

I'm from fields of gold and purple, gravel roads and three mile corners.
Bikes on sidewalks, peddle to the metal so you're not late for school.
Home for lunch then back again.
Workbooks and recess bells.
This is where it all began.

I'm from bun dough rising under checkered tea-towels.
Baked fresh in the morning - pull them apart and watch the hot steam rise.
Chokecherry jam and rollkuchen.
Watermelon juice running down your chin.
Spitting seeds, pop open your button.
There's always more where that came from.

I'm from freedom and space - bike where you want to, it's all safe here.
(Or so we thought).
Meeting at the park, making eyes, holding hands, giggling and laughing.
Endless summer nights.
Stories that go on and on.

I'm from number 606 in the Mennonite Hymnal.
Thunderous harmonies, accapella,  rich with history.
Hard pews, heavy eyes, stomach growling.
Is it over yet?  I've heard this one before.
But something draws you back.

I'm from hard work and well made plans.
Dream your dream, but first be sure it's practical.
Drive away, the bright lights call.
This is what you waited for.
Golden fields in rear-view mirror.
You came from here.
No matter where you end up.

(Prompted by Sarah Bessey's In which I'm from second-hand-skates)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day**

Back in August my friend Joyce and I were sitting on a stone ledge at The Forks.  We had set up for the vigil for Lisa Gibson and were waiting for people to arrive.   From looking at the microphone and amp, and from the news vans and reporters hovering nearby, it was clear to people that there was going to be an event taking place.

Within a few minutes a group of three thirtysomethings sauntered over and asked what was going to be happening.  We asked if they had heard about Lisa Gibson's tragic story and told them about the vigil.  We told them that we were holding the vigil to honor Lisa's role as a wife and mother and woman, to remember her beautiful children,  and to raise awareness and reduce stigma about post-partum depression and mental illness in general.

They looked surprised.  "How could she have done that?" one of them asked.

I don't remember exactly what happened or what was said next, but within seconds, Joyce and I were both engaged in conversations about mental illness, depression, and medication.  The mis-information and naivite' was shocking for me to hear.  These were thirty year old Canadians.  They were under the impression that people who were diagnosed with a mental illness were completely and obviously crazy, and that the people around them would be able to see it.  "Medication for mental illness make you a zombie, right?  If you take medication for mental illness you turn into a different person - like a numb person who doesn't feel anything.  You'd be totally out of it."  Those were their words and their perceptions.  All of them said they didn't know anyone who had a mental illness.

After conversing with them for a few more minutes, they were shocked and filled with disbelief when both Joyce and I identified as people with mental health struggles who take daily medication to manage our illnesses.  The conversation was beautiful, actually.  They were completely open to knowing more and being proven wrong.  They wanted to know how it felt to be medicated and how it made a difference for us.  They couldn't believe that anyone being medicated for a mental illness could be a coherent, articulate, seemingly "normal" contributing member of society.  We continued to talk for a few minutes, exchanging stories and experiences.  When they left they thanked us for telling our stories.  "I've never known anyone who talked about this.  I can't believe that you just said it.  I "get it" now."

It's been just over a month since that exchange and I still think about it often.    I think about the stereotypes they had been fed and then believed.  I think of the stigma that continues to exist which serves to  keep people  with mental illness ashamed, hiding, and silently suffering.  I think about the difference one conversation may have made to change their perceptions about the mentally ill and medication.

A friend sent me an email this week asking questions about medication for mental illness.  She hasn't been coping well and her doctor thinks an anti-depressant and an anti-anxiety med may alleviate some of her suffering.  She voiced doubt about whether that course of action was right for her.... "I don't think I'm depressed", she said.  But the other words in her email told another story.

Depression often isn't what you think it is.  It isn't always overwhelming sadness, lack of interest and energy, low moods, and lifelessness.  I think that's one of the greatest misconceptions in society.  To be depressed, you have to look like someone lying in the fetal position on a bed, not wanting to get up.  Sometimes that is what it looks like - it's true.  But that's only the thinnest slice of what many people experience.

In responding to me friend, I related the story of how I managed life before I finally sought help.  In a word, I was angry.  Most days I was filled with rage, irritability, edginess, and enormous anger.  Imagine parenting a one, three, and five year old and feeling like nearly everything they did would engulf you in rage.   I'd yell, scream and have no patience.  My actions and emotions didn't match the circumstances around me or the way I genuinely felt about my daughters.   After a day filled with impatient and angry responses and reactions I'd lie in bed nearly every night and sob myself to sleep, overcome with tremendous sorrow, shame, and guilt.  I'd look at their peaceful and innocent beautiful faces lying asleep in their beds and I'd wonder how I could be such a monster.  I'd plead with myself to do better the next day - to not let anger get the best of me.  But the next day never got better.

It took my friend Dianna to broach the subject of depression, anxiety, and mental illness for me to get up the courage to go and see my family doctor and ask for help.  I sat in her tiny office and cried my eyes out as I related how I felt about life, myself, and my ability to cope.  She was quick to reassure and responded with no judgement.  She told me I wouldn't believe how many moms come into her office and tell her a slightly different version of the same story.  After being medicated, they all came in and asked the same question.... why did I wait so long to get help?

I've been on Effexor for seven years now.  I may always be on it, and I'm more than ok with that.  As far as I can tell, I'm not a walking zombie or a heartless and un-feeling person with a void stare.  I am, however, better able to cope with my life and whatever that entails.  I can weather storms that before would have forced me into a rage and then shame-filled regret.  I still have bad seasons and know that there is still lots of work to do.  But I can parent and navigate life without a pack of dark dogs nipping at my heels.  I may have night sweats and headaches when I miss a pill.  I may hate feeling like a slave to that little bottle on my counter.  I may still hate checking off the little box and filling in the word, "Effexor" on every form that asks if I take any medication.  But I can go to sleep at night with a sigh of relief instead of gut-wrenching sobs of sorrow.  If that means I take Effexor until I'm 100, it's a small price to pay.

That's what my crazy looks like.  It's mostly contained, treated, and in the light.  But it's there.   I want my story of crazy to change the way society tells hers.  Tell the story, erase the shame.  There is hope for the crazy on the most ordinary of days.
**  The title of this post is borrowed from the novel of the same name, written by Pearl Cleage.
      It just so happens to be an excellent read!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Things I Know At 39

You know that quote that is often recited to moms with young kids?  The one that goes like this: "The days are long, but the years are short."  It's true.

The best conversations with my kids happens at night and while driving.  Brings new perspective to spending half of my life in our van.

I don't know everything.

I will never be like everyone else.

Deciding to simplify your life and having your daughter stop taking violin lessons won't end in death or catastrophe.  For the short term, it will likely end in  more time and greater happiness.  I'll take that for now.

I would much rather be 39 than 29.  I like myself better now.

I don't like sushi.  I don't care if you judge me for it.

It's ok to lick peanut butter off the knife and then stick the knife back into the peanut butter.  No one has ever died when their mom has done this.

I am happier when I am more organized.

Transitions are hard.

Libraries are the greatest public service ever invented.

I like myself a good gin and tonic with an extra wedge of lime.

It doesn't kill your kids or make them hate you if they have jobs to do around the house.

Moving your body actually does make you feel better about life.

When you take a stand or speak your mind about something you believe passionately in, the repercussions are always worth it.

I don't like hype.

The more I read, the smarter I get.

Safety is found in unexpected places and with unexpected people.

I wish someone else would finish the laundry.

Feeling the sun on my face is like therapy.

Freckles are beautiful.

Naps are my guilty pleasure.

It's ok to cry.

It's ok not to cry.

Nothing stays the same.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

It's The FIrst Day All Over Again

The first day of school never gets old for me.  

It's a loaded day....  
   There is nervous energy 
   and curiosity 
   and anxiety 
   and excitement 
   and anticipation 
   and trepidation 
   and fear 
   and joy 
   and sadness 
   and reluctance 
   and the jittery hope of new possibilities 
   all rolled into one.

I loved the first day of school as a kid, 
but I really loved the first day of school as a teacher.
There was nothing like the shiny floors of a freshly scrubbed classroom, complete with clean desks inside and out.  The perfectly put-together bulletin boards were offset by the tidy teacher's desk with neat piles of papers and little containers of paper-clips and stickers with not one out of place.  And then there was the smell - that fresh clean smell of a classroom before any actual humans or rotting lunch remnants entered the room to defile it and make it less than perfect.  I savoured the perfection of that place before the first student entered.

And then they came through the door.

And soon the perfect room became the lived-in room complete with dust and sticky spots, crumpled paper and wet lone socks.  
It wasn't perfect anymore but it contained life.  
And that's the part that I loved.

Now that I've been a mom for awhile, I'm an old hand at this "first day of school" thing.
     Pick the clothes out the night before.
        Be sure the backpacks are packed and ready.
          Pre-pack as much of the lunches as you can.
             Wake up with ample time to ensure any snag will not result in panic.
                Leave time for the traditional picture at the front door.
                  Feel the energy mount and build as you make the drive until it feels like you might explode.
                     Send them on their way with words, squeezes, and "I love you's".
                       Breath deeply and fully.  
                          Feel alone and empty
                              Savour the quiet and the space.
                                  Begin to find your voice again.
                                      Wonder and worry a wee bit.
                                           Be hopeful that the report at the end of the day will be good.
                                                Be amazed at how little you got done.
                                                    Wait with great anticipation to hear how it all went down.

(I think I've got the routine pretty much down-pat.)

Each year I think it's important to offer some parting words to my girls to set the tone for the year and send them off "right".  Each year I say a variation of the same refrain.  It goes a little like this:

"Pick friends you want to be like.  
You become like the people you spend the most time with.

Look for people who are new or lonely and make them feel like they belong.  
You remember what it was like to be new to a school, and the difference one friend made.

Stand up for yourself.  
Know your voice and use it.

Don't keep secrets.  
When things are hard or difficult, tell your teacher and tell me.  
Things always feel better when you're not looking at the hard stuff all alone.

Keep your eyes peeled for your sisters.
If they look like they need a hug or some help be quick to offer it.
You need to be each other's cheerleaders.

Be kind.
Be compassionate.

You can do hard things.  
I believe you can, now you need to believe that you can too."

Those are all good things.  I believe them and want my girls to own them.  No matter what, I'll keep giving them the same song and dance each year as they head to school.  

But the older I get, the more I'm beginning to realize that it's not what's said in that "night before the first day" conversation that really makes the difference. 
 It's every day.  

It's the ride home from school in the van.
It's the snippets of conversation while I'm unloading the dishwasher. 
It's the dinner-time conversation (or lack their of) that tells the real story.
It's the clingy, touch-hungry daughter who shadows you around the house.
It's in seeing and listening more to the things that don't demand my attention or even make a sound.

I get that now.  I get it more than ever.
And somehow that makes me feel better.  
It's not about one, great, rallying speech on one "night before...".
And I'm glad.

Today, just before supper, I caught this moment of Sasha and Hannah recovering from their first days back at school.  

It's about this.....

... and it's not all about me.
And for that I am doubly glad.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Month That Was

In just over an hour, August will have faded away.  To say I'm not ready is an understatement.

I'm not ready.

I'm not ready for early bedtimes and earlier mornings.
I'm not ready for the paper trail that marks the beginning of another school year.
I'm not ready for calendar squares filled up, with arrows and circles marking the mayhem.
I'm not ready for the shorts and tank tops to be put away, making room for sweaters and boots.
I'm not ready for deadlines and due dates and reading lists.

Somehow, the dates on the calendar don't wait until you're ready.
But if f I could, I'd plead my case.

I'd look back on this month that was and the story it tells.

Of a tragedy and a vigil that engulfed me in grief and moved me to help create something beautiful...

On the heels of which came a trek to the west coast, full of who we were and what we left behind.

To which we tacked on a week of decisions and choices and registrations and anticipation.

All clouded in the wish for time to stand still and lend me more time.
   More time to breath.
   More time to dig my heels into the hot sand.
   More time to snuggle a warm little girl's body into mine and talk about nothing.
   More time to sip and laugh on a patio until it's much too late.
   More time to whittle down my stack of books by turning pages, uninterrupted.
   More time to hope I'm not making too many mistakes.
   More time to not be in a hurry.

I'm not ready, but September is.
Knocking at my door and waiting.
Ready or not, here it comes.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

For Lisa - Redemption's Song

This started with you.

This outpouring of support and love for people struggling everywhere.
It has your name all over it.

There are times that I can't believe that two weeks ago I didn't even know your name and I now I feel as though we'll be connected for a lifetime.

I never met you.
Never heard your voice or locked eyes with yours.
Never heard your laugh or watched you play with your babies.
But now we are joined and your name just rolls off my lips.

If it started with you, it needs to finish with you.
And so I find myself writing to you again - hoping you'll know that light has come to dark places.

When I wrote you a letter last week, I didn't know so many people would want to echo the very words I wrote.  I didn't know that thousands of women and men would read those words and want to join in the chorus of saying, "we know you loved them".

When I stood and looked out at the nearly 300 people who gathered at The Forks on Thursday night, it took my breath away.

There were lots of moms there, Lisa.  It made me smile to see toddlers running around on the grass in front of me making noise and being silly.  I thought you would have liked to have seen that kind of life spilling over and out.  There were moms holding babies close and others holding the hands of their big kids.  Some of the moms brought their teenage girls along and I was so thankful.  Those girls are so close to being moms too.  They need to hear the message you've sent.  They need to know mental illness is a battle that can find anyone.

There were dads there too.  Some of them sat alone.  Others with their arms around women who were overcome with tears and sadness.  Some of them held hands of babies and toddlers and ushered them in toward a message of hope.  I think you would have loved seeing that.

When the procession made it's way down toward the river, with arms holding white blooms and blossoms, it was impossible to not know it was sacred ground we were standing on.
I watched that line from on top,  and with each flower thrown, the white spilled into the darkness.  Beauty infiltrated sorrow.

But the real power came on the way up, Lisa.
There were so many tears.
There were arms supporting and surrounding.
And when it was all over there were stories.

There were stories that had never been told before.
It felt like I had been given the honor of being offered the richest of deposits.
Those tears brought the words,
    and the words brought the light,
       and the light pushed back the shame,
           and the absence of shame brought some healing.

I wonder what you would have thought and felt, if you had been there...
If you had been able to be a witness to those stories and those first moments of exposing secrets and shame that had been hidden for forever.
There was light in dark places on Thursday night.

Lisa, your name doesn't stand for tragic deaths -  not in my mind.
In my mind it stands for hope.
     That change is coming.
     That people are beginning to talk and ask for help.
     That where there is great light, there is great healing.

I am honored to be connected to your name.
Your fight is mine.
For Nicholas and Anna, I'll keep going.
For you, and with the 300 compassionate and generous souls who stood with me on sacred ground.
There is hope, Lisa.
That has to be redemption's song.

Be at peace.

Monday, July 29, 2013

For Lisa, Rest in Peace

Late last week I wrote a letter to Lisa Gibson as a blog post.  I had to do it.

It was the day after her children had died and she was still missing.  Her story consumed me.
It still does.

On Saturday, a female body was found in the Red River and yesterday it was identified as Lisa's.
Again, I am consumed with thoughts of her.

I experienced such relief knowing she was found.   But hand in hand with the feelings of relief, was such great and unspeakable sorrow.

I know that I am not the only one.

I know this because after I published my letter to Lisa on this blog, the response was immediate and  overwhelming.  The letter got shared, re-posted and tweeted and made it's way around to people who I had never met, but who all seemed to stand together with great compassion, understanding, and sorrow.     In our standing together, the message seemed to be, "there is no judgement here".

As I heard of the news of Lisa's death yesterday, I knew that only words on a screen would not be enough this time.  There had to be more.  There are too many people who have been so impacted by this woman's battle against an illness that would not let her go.  There had to be a way to communicate to her friends and her family that there are people in their community who understand and offer only compassion and share their sorrow.

As I communicated all this with my dear friend Joyce late last night, an idea was birthed as a way to remember Lisa and her struggle and to and publicly communicate the message of compassion for her and her family.  A gathering of those who want to both show their support and be supported will take place on Thursday, August 1st at 7:30 p.m. at The Forks on the steps leading down to the River Walk.  If you are coming to join us in the gathering, you are welcome to bring a candle to light in memory of Lisa and her children.   Those gathering together can also bring a white flower to place into the Red River in memory of Lisa and the struggle she faced.  These organic deposits will travel down the river by the current adding light and reminders of hope and peace to the dark waters as they flow.

Please spread the word through conversations with friends or social media.

Rest in peace, Lisa.

We know you loved them.
There is no judgement here.

If you are planning to come on Thursday night and are on facebook, please respond to the event page so we have an idea of how many people to expect.  Click on this link to take you straight to the event page.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

For Lisa Gibson

I haven't been able to think of much else today, except you.  I keep coming back to the computer - checking the Winnipeg Free Press web site to see if there have been any developments and hoping that you've been found.  I want you to be found, Lisa.  You deserve that.

I don't know much about you except that you are 32 and were a momma to two.  I imagine that Anna and Nicholas were two gifts you must have hoped for your whole life.  I know you are a pharmacist at the Concordia Hospital who is on maternity leave, as Nicholas was born only three months ago.  A pharmacist.  That means you knew and understood the pharmacology that existed to help you overcome the dark dogs that were obviously lapping at your heels.  All the knowledge in the world can't help you sometimes.

I know that.
I hope you know that many people know it too.

You had a husband and other family who were helping you.  They must have tried so hard.  It must have killed you to watch them try.  In moments when the light found a way to sneak in, you must have looked over at your daughter, or your newborn son and everything in you must have wanted to extend your hand.

Only you couldn't.

I don't know what the darkness or the voices were telling you to do yesterday morning.  It must have been so convincing and so terrifying.  You must have felt like you had control for just a fleeting moment.  You took that control - the feeling that must have been absent for so long - and you acted.  I know you didn't understand what you were doing.

I know you loved your beautiful babies.

I am so sorry that the darkness that plagued you was bigger than anyone knew.  I'm sorry there wasn't enough help or understanding.  I'm sorry that you found yourself alone with your babies, even for that short while.  You must have been so afraid.

I know you loved them.

I don't know where you are today.  No one does.  I hope that you were able to find a place to truly rest yesterday, even with those dark dogs chasing you.  I hope your soul and your spirit found a way to rescue you from your tormentors.  I hope you found peace.  I hope you are at rest.

There is no blame found here, Lisa.  Not at the end of these words that I write.  I look at the pictures of you and those of your children and I know you must have loved them.

I am grieving for so much today.  For your husband, for your babies, for all who knew and loved them.  But mostly I am grieving for you.  It wasn't you, Lisa.  I hope you know that so many of us believe that.

You were educated, middle-class, supported, and surrounded, but still it wasn't enough.
It was too big for you.

I know you loved them.
I'm sorry.
Be at peace.

At the time of writing, Lisa Gibson is still missing.
Update - Lisa Gibson's body was recovered from the Red River on Saturday, July 27th.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Things to Love About Summer

The rich chocolaty brown of Ellie's skin, getting deeper and darker by each moment she spends under a sunny blue sky.

Freckles appearing, more and more, on noses and cheeks and foreheads.

Sipping gin and tonics (with extra lime) and lime margaritas on outside patios.

Powerful, loud, crashing, lightening flashing thunderstorms that only a prairie sky can produce.

Seemingly endless evenings when the dark stays away.

"Sev" walks down St. Mary's Road for Slurpees, 3 girls and me.

Dirty, filthy, stinky, deliriously happy people at the end of a week at camp.

A tub full of brown water and sweet smelling clean bodies after washing the week at camp away.

Fresh picked strawberries.

Alarm clocks on "off".

Days full of pajamas till noon and empty calendar squares.

Unfolding your patchwork beach blanket and laying it down on the sand - fresh and ready for the day of adventure.

Lunch kits put away, out of sight and out of mind.

Watermelon juice running down a chin.

Bathing suits hanging to dry on the hooks in your laundry room, recovering from another day of action.

Little curly-haired boys holding frogs and toads in one hand, with their other hand cupped over top.

Cold beer, BBQ on, and a makeshift potluck with neighbors on their deck till the mosquitoes start to bite.

Stacks of books on your bedside table that you want to read, not that you have to read.

Time for new dreams and new plans to permeate in your mind and soul.

Golden fields of canola lining your highway travels.

Anticipation of friends and visits waiting for you at the end of your long holiday journey.

Piles of flip-flops in your entrance.

Pretty dresses.

Not leaving the house without your sunglasses.

Feeling the hot sun warm you from the inside out, thawing away the harsh winter you survived.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter

Several months ago the Winnipeg Free Press had a short review of the book, Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter, that immediately made it onto my "must read" list.    Just a few weeks later I was listening to Shelagh Roger's "The Last Chapter" on CBC Radio one afternoon and heard her in conversation with the book's author, Alison Wearing and her dad discussing the book and the stories it tells.  I was taken with the warm and witty banter between Alison and her dad, but also with the immense courage it must have taken for Alison to have written the book, and even more, for her parents to have given their blessing for her to tell their story.

This week I was thrilled to discover that Alison Wearing was bringing her one-woman play (from which the book is based) to the Winnipeg Fringe Festival this year.   Mike and I were able to take in her first performance at the Winnipeg Fringe last night, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Alison takes the audience from the time her mom and dad met through to the present using family pictures, music, a simple set, and monologue.  The story weaves its way through what her life was like as a child in Peterborough Ontario pre and post her dad's coming out.  When Alison's dad did finally come out of the closet and began living as an openly gay man, Alison was twelve years old.  She makes the ironic confession that it was just as her dad had broken free of his "double life" that she felt she had to begin living hers - terrified that neighbors and friends would find out her dad was gay.

I laughed a lot through out the show.  There are handfuls of funny moments, especially for those who also grew up and came of age in the 1970's and 80's.  I knew there would be emotionally charged moments and themes, but I was caught off guard by how deeply the show would impact me.  It was the ending, when Alison again takes the role of her father and begins to "conduct" the Toronto Gay Men's Choir through a recording that began my emotional response.  Alison later states, "my father could not help being gay any more than bats can help hanging upside down." Her journey through her father's story of coming out resulted in a woman with a deep and abiding love for her father, his partner, and the life he made for himself.

After the show ended, Alison turned to the audience with tears welling in her eyes, thanking us for coming to see the show.  She wasn't expecting many people in the crowd and was overwhelmed with the nearly-full room of people.  It was amazing for me to again see the power that "story" holds for people.  Even though she has written her story into a book and performed her play countless times, the telling of it and the reaction of people around her still holds power for her.  It held power for me too, as my tears began then too.

As we were leaving the room, a 30-something year old man approached Alison, held her hand and said, "I am your dad".   I could only imagine the way watching and experiencing Alison's story and discovering the beauty with which it has played out was deeply impacting for him.  After walking from her, he turned to his waiting partner who embraced him and pecked him on the cheek, and they walked out, hand in hand.   It was profound for me.

There was a short time for Alison to sell and sign her book afterward.  I walked toward her with red eyes and nose and thanked her for offering her story.

 Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter is playing at Venue 11 a the Red River College Princess Street campus  until July 27th.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Return to Folk Fest

After a two-year hiatus from Folk Fest while we lived in Vancouver, we returned to our happy place this weekend.  Yesterday was a scorcher.  We found us a little piece of heaven in Shady Grove for our first workshop of the day...

Where else, than at a Folk Fest workshop stage, would you combine a Danish brass-infused polka/folk band, a bluegrass fiddler from the States, and an old-time string band from Winnipeg?  Stranger still is that it worked.  They made beautiful music together.

After a banjo workshop at Shady Grove, our next stop was one of the new stages - Spruce Hollow.  It's a bit of a trek to get to, but there were glorious pockets of shade and an amazing fiddle mash-up.

After three great workshops, I was getting a little worried.  I still hadn't found my "one" new glorious discovery of the folk fest.  I didn't have to wait long.  We pulled up close to the stage at Spruce Hollow for the "Songs I Wish I Wrote" workshop.  It was an eclectic mix of singer-songwriters playing cover tunes written by some of their favorite writers.    They covered songs by The Talking Heads, The Clash, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Stevie Wonder, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Dire Straits, Elvis Costello and more.  It was ridiculous.  In a goose-bump inducing sort of way.

One of our discoveries was the deep deep voice of New Yorker Sean Rowe...

Mike was feeling the vibe of Bhi Bhiman.  Chill.

But the guy that stole it for us was Canadian Danny Michel.  He's like a merger of Elvis Costello and Paul Simon.  He's just released an album with the Garifuna Collective from Belize that we've been playing on "repeat" all day long.  It's reminiscent of Paul Simon's Graceland album.  We found our "one" of the festival for sure.

The new space for food vendors was up and running and we feasted!

Some people dozed.

Our girls lapped up their return...

Can you spot the teensie folkie caterpillar?

There was a glorious prairie sky for the main stage show.

... which included treks for Whale's Tails and...

.... kettle corn (which can also act as a stand in for a guitar).

It was late into the night when Dr. John started his groove on stage and the Penner dance party ensued.

Once the dirty feet were washed clean and the kettle corn kernels were brushed out of my teeth I lay in my bed with a satisfied sigh.

Music.  People.  Magic.  As close to a perfect day as you can get.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Want(ed) Ad

It wasn't until I resigned from my teaching job to be a full-time, stay at home mom,  that I realized how all encompassing the word "job" was.    Suddenly, it seemed like it was everything.  It's no wonder, really.  I think now to how often I ask the kids in my life "what do you think you would love to do when you grow up?" and it makes sense.  What you DO or what you want to do gives me a window into who you are.  Or so it seems.

In all my years as a mostly full-time stay at home mom, I came to detest the question that would arise within minutes of meeting someone.  "What do you do?".  I was always amazed at how I'd feel compelled to say, "I stay home with my girls, but I used to be a teacher"  OR "Right now I'm at home with my girls, but I'm actually a teacher" - as though being at home with three girls wasn't enough somehow and I had to qualify myself with more.  As each daughter left home and began school full-time I detested the question more.  At least there is something "noble" about being home with three little girls, but having only one at home part time while she's in kindergarten the rest of the time?  There's something inherently shameful about that.  (At least there was for me.)

This past year I was able to answer the "what do you do" question a little differently.  I could say I was a Master's student and a substitute teacher.  And all of a sudden I found my shame in my answer had decreased and my willingness to say what I did increased.  I let that settle with me during the year, and as all good therapists in training do, I muddled it over and examined and re-examined it from all the angles.

Funny thing is, I've always been the champion of "your work doesn't define who you are" or "you are more than what you do".  Yet here I was, and am, playing for the other team (in my cloudy, murky head).  That role of playing for the other team has intensified all year as I knew I couldn't sub as a long-term solution to making an income.  The more I knew this, the more I knew that I had to find something more permanent, reliable, and consistent.   When I knew this, the fear rose up because I'd have to actually find something, or in reality, make someone find me.

And so here I sit.  Midway through July, and knowing that by September, my goal is to be gainfully employed.  I read ads and job descriptions and see if I could see myself in them.  I know some would be perfect fits.  I also know that for every perfect fit there is usually a "full time" descriptor at the bottom of the ad that I know my mind and my weaker parts won't let me do.  There is the process of acceptance then.  To have to accept your limitations and jobs pass you by because you know you'd crumble beneath the expectations and time constraints that wouldn't allow you the space to breathe and find your way.

But in the midst of all of the hard parts that shine their light onto all of my weak parts, there is still a glimmer of hope.  What if I found a job that made me feel alive?  What if I could work doing what I felt I was born for?  What if I could do something that actually matched my skills and my master's studies?  And in those thoughts lies the possibility that there might just be something for me after all.  And it's then that I dare to dream a little and expect to not just be satisfied.

On the heels of dreaming, I'm creating my perfect job description.
My ideal job would:

-be half time

-allow me the chance to either bring my girls to school or pick them up at their regular time

- be relational

-build on and utilize the skills I've gained in my first year of my MMFT training

-provide me with therapeutic experience

-possibly integrate my education background with my therapeutic training (training, teaching, etc.)

-cross into areas like mental health, emotional wellness and care, sexuality education, parenting, etc.

That doesn't set the bar too high, does it?  Or does it?

It might.  But for now it's only July and I've still got time to dream a little.  I will dream as I uncover my perceptions and expectations around why the answer to "what do you do?" means as much to me as to everyone else I meet.