Friday, October 24, 2014

Always Learning

I've been at my new job for nearly two months now.  It came after a traumatic end to my last job, followed by a few months of recovery, and a few months of searching for something new.  I had almost given up when this one came around.  I was tired, frustrated, and beginning to doubt my skill-set and my abilities.  I always pictured myself working with children, teens, or young people.  And now I go to work and sit across from people with grey and white hair who are older than my parents.  I love how life ends up being what you don't expect and how those surprises are often what give you the most joy and satisfaction.

I'm working at a non-profit independent living seniors residence.  My official job title is "Resident Care Coordinator", but in actuality I'm a family counsellor.  I get to spend my days with clients who have a myriad of issues and struggles - most of who just want someone to talk to.  I get to work with clients in their 60's, all the way up to their late 90's.  I get to problem-solve and work together with their families, and consult and case-manage with health care professionals.   My clients all have sharp cognition, most are busy, active, and living really full lives.  Some are on the cusp of a move to more supportive housing and need extra support to get to the next step.  I see it all, and I'm always learning.

In just the past two months....

I've learned that sometimes what people come to talk to you about has nothing to do with what they really want to talk to you about.  You can have three sessions about doctor's appointments and the hum-drum of life and then ask the right question and know you've hit gold.  Regrets, disappointments, and shame will rise to the surface and then the work begins.

I've learned that it's never too late to begin.  You can be in your late 80's and know the time is right to do personal work to make your life better or easier, or make your load lighter.

I've learned that shame is so prevalent.

I've learned that you can keep secrets for a very long time.  I've sat with clients who tell me things they've never spoken out loud in over 70 years.  There are times I sit feeling like I'm sitting on the most sacred ground as things are uncovered, spoken, and brought to light.  Sometimes it's like I can see the heavy burden lifting.

I've learned that older people are just like you and me.

I've learned that you can pretend your whole life, but it will all catch up with you eventually.

I've learned to sometimes speak really really loudly and enunciate my words very very clearly.  I've also learned that there are times when my voice needs to be soft and soothing, just above a whisper.

I've learned that 95 year olds still like to read romantic fiction and that if you drive a scooter and get a flat tire, CAA will come to the rescue.

I've learned to not expect certain ideas, opinions or lines of thinking from people just because they're old.  Age means nothing.

I've learned that in some ways, age means everything... especially when you think your memory is failing, or judgement is going, and you're scared you're losing yourself.

I've learned that you're never too old to fall in love.

I've learned to trust myself and go with my hunches.

I've learned to remind people that it's OK to need someone to help, especially when those people have lived their entire lives proving to everyone that they are self-sufficient and don't need anyone.

I've learned that you can be young in age but very very old in disposition, or old in age and as youthful as they come.

I've learned that people usually reap what they sow.  If you're alone and isolated, there is almost always a reason.

I've learned to value stories more than I did before.

I've learned that I love working with seniors.
I am reminded every single day at work that my job is a gift and the conversations I have are sacred.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Personal is Political

Tomorrow marks the end of an era for my family.  It's the first time in 32 years that my dad's name has not been on a ballot for the municipal election in the community I'm from.

32 years isn't just a season, or a good run.  It truly is an era.

When I was 8 years old my dad took his first stab at local politics, putting his hat in the race to become a school board trustee.   It's interesting to me that he was younger then, than I am now, when he got his start.  He won his position handily that year and continued to sit as a member of the Garden Valley School Division Board of Trustees for 10 years.  Looking back, I love the poetic irony of it all.  Here was a man who hadn't graduated from high school himself sitting in a seat working to make the decision and policies for the schools in the community he loved.  No one that voted for him cared that he had never graduated.  They cared that he said what he believed and he didn't waiver.  He cared about the school system because it represented the future of his town, and it was educating his own two kids.  10 years later his youngest child had graduated from high school and it was time to move on a new battle.

22 years ago my dad continued his political adventure and ran for what was then the position of town counsellor for what is now the city of Winkler.   His connections, friendships, and passion won him that election, and every one since.  In every way and in every opportunity he made his mark on council.    My dad's never been known as someone to sit idly by when something is happening that he doesn't agree with or believe in.  If he's passionate about something, you'll know about it.  If he thinks something is happening that is underhanded or not in the best interest of the community, you'll know about that too.  If he disagrees with you, you'll most definitely know about it.  He made his positions crystal clear during his time on council, sometimes offending, usually challenging, often stirring-the-pot, but always promoting the community he loves.

My dad has never backed down from a battle or a fight he believes in, even if it wasn't the  politically astute thing to do.  He has championed the underdog and the forgotten, never agreeing to something just for political gain.   His mantra has always been that "I'm not a politician".  He's fashioned himself as a blue-collar, "every man's man" who remembers the ones that many have forgotten about.  He's taken his lumps in the media and on the street, but he's never stepped back when his integrity is on the line.

I get my passion for politics and my willingness to engage in battle from my dad.  It's not an easy row to hoe, but if it's how you're built, you can't help yourself.   Much to his chagrin, my political stripes are vastly different than his in many ways.  We disagree on many issues on many fronts... religion, politics, world events, ideology, just to name a few.  We can spar and verbally banter until the heat is on, and our tempers are flaring.  And then we agree to disagree, shake hands, and wait for our next chance to do do battle.  He taught me well.

This past year I was engaged in a situation where my integrity and beliefs resulted in me loosing a job I really cared about.  I knew that lots of people would question my decisions, my motives, and my actions,  but I never wondered if my dad would support me.  I knew he would, because standing up for what he has believed in is how he's done politics his whole life.   It's how he started, and tonight - after 32 years in municipal politics,  it's how he's ending.

Well done, dad.  You did your community, and yourself, proud.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Home is Wherever You (and They) Are

Something funny happens when your kids grow up.  They grow bigger.  And they also have more stuff.  In the past year our house has felt like the walls have been closing in on us a bit.  Our house is relatively small for a family of 5 by typical North American standards.  It's a 1065 square foot bungalow with no garage.  When we  bought it 13 1/2 years ago it felt really big to us.  We only had wee Hannah and there were a few rooms to fill.  Now we fill them up and are usually overflowing.

It was the "overflowing" part (as well as the lack of garage) that prompted us to start looking for a different house last Spring.  We had really specific parameters, as well as a really specific geographic location that we'd consider.  This was a move that was supposed to make our lives simpler and less cluttered with more room to breathe and less ice to chip off of the windshield.  We said we wouldn't move unless it was the "perfect house in the perfect location" (something that probably doesn't really exist), because there was too much good about where we were.

We've spent the past several months weeding through listings and seeing houses.  I'd say we've seen about 15 houses in since April, with the last one, for the second time just this afternoon.  Until this afternoon we were pretty sure we would be putting in an offer on this one.  Some things seemed perfect.  It had 4 bedrooms upstairs, it had lots of room in the living room, dining room, and family room for people.  We knew just how we'd gut the kitchen and start it all over again, and the yard and gazebo were beautiful.  The extra-wide double garage was big enough for our vehicles and our bikes.  It wasn't in the area we really wanted to live in, but we thought we could over-look that to get the other stuff.

We took the girls, and Mike's long-suffering kitchen-designing sister Corina, to see it yesterday.  We spent an hour pouring through the house, taking some measurements, imagining where we'd put things and who would get which room.   We came home and made lists and crunched numbers and anticipated what different repairs and upgrades would cost us.   Although there were things about the house the girls liked, they made it very clear to us that they really didn't want to move.  We've heard this loop on repeat since last Spring.  Anytime a move seems closer or a house seems better, their refrain gets louder.  They don't care if their bedrooms are minuscule or if they almost tumble down the basement stairs when there is more than one person getting their shoes on at the same time, they tell us. They like where we are and they don't want to leave.  We spent some time yesterday reassuring them that we will always try our very best to make decisions for our family that are for the best for everyone, and if we went ahead and bought this house, they would have to trust us to know it was a good decision for all of us.

Then this afternoon Mike and I went back alone to the Open House to take one last look.  We went expecting to be more convinced than ever that it was perfect.  Only when we got there, that wasn't the feeling we got.  We noticed the work that would need to be done, and not the space.  Our eyes found the cracks and the curling shingles instead of place our couch would go.  But it wasn't just that.  It was the packing and the planning, and the fixing things here to get ready to sell this house.  It was the boxes and the expense, the tightened budget, the inability to take big family vacations and sign our kids up for extra saxophone lessons if they want them.  As that mountain of things accumulated, all of the good things about the house got smaller and smaller.  By the time we got into our car, we both agreed that we don't have it in us right now and that sometimes, maybe our girls are smarter than we are.

Somehow we always think bigger is better, and sometimes it really is.  There is nothing wrong with bigger.  But there is something good and satisfying about keeping things simple and manageable and consistent.  (Remind me that I said this when I'm chipping a few inches of ice off the van in January when we're already late for school.)  For now, our girls crave familiarity.  They don't care if their room is tiny, or if we have to leave the house in shifts.  They aren't unsatisfied.  They need memories and holidays and things to remember and laugh about.  We'd have those in the new house too, but they would likely be interspersed with more talk about budgets and dread of anything breaking down or falling apart.

For now, this is where we're staying.  It's small and squishy, but we're all together.  We have places to visit and things to do.  We have neighbors we love and friend's houses that we can bike to.  We have people to car-pool with, and relieved kids.  For now, that's all we need.  In a year it might look different.  But for now, this is enough.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Forty Things

I'm forty today.  Interestingly, it's a day I've been looking forward to.   My twenties weren't great.  My thirties had some rough patches, but they were better.  If the pattern holds, I know that the forties will be even sweeter.  In honor of my forty years, here are forty random thoughts about life as I know it, who I am now, how I've changed, and other somewhat useless drivel.

1.  I got asked in my MFT class last night which of the roles that I play I am most proud of.  I didn't have to hesitate for a second.  Being a mom.  No question.  It's been the hardest job in the world, but the one that makes me most grateful.  I'm not great at it.  I mess up a lot.  I make people cry sometimes.  But I know that they know I love them.  I'm also pretty good at saying "I'm sorry".    If you can do those two things, you're probably doing OK.

2.  I'm more content with mess than I've ever been.  Some people might think that's not a good thing!

3.  I'm getting better at saying "no" without explanation.

4.  I swear like a sailor.  I'm not proud of it, but neither am I ashamed of it.  It's just more of me I've come to say "yes" to.

5.  I will never belong to a church or organization that values me less than others because I am female.

6.  I like staying home a lot.  I used to want to spend my evenings and weekends out and about.  Now I just want to be home.

7.  When I turned 30 I was pregnant with Sasha.  I'm glad I'm not pregnant with anyone today.  I like our trio just the way it is.

8.  I've grown comfortable with having a raw and  disheveled appearance in public.  Make up is often over-rated.  I don't necessarily want to run into everyone I know while raw and disheveled and out in public, but I'll happily pick up my kids at school.

9.  I wasn't remotely sporty as a kid, but I love watching my girls play sports.  I stand up and scream and yell and may even be considered obnoxious at times.  I didn't see that coming.

10.  Don't expect what's not realistic.  Half of the hard days in my life are because I didn't follow this mantra.

11.  I fall asleep almost the second my head hits the pillow at night.  There is almost nothing I love more than a glorious nap in the middle of the day.  Sleep is beautiful.  There have been times in my life I've used sleep as a way to cope or escape.  I still fall back into that sometimes.

12.  I didn't think I'd be forty and part of an Anglican church.

13.  A few years ago I never thought I'd be part of any church again.

14.  I am most relaxed and at peace when no one has expectations of me.

15.  I know I've mentioned this a million times, but my life's favorite book is Anne Lamott's Travelling Mercies.  I go back to it all the time.  That book kept me afloat when little else could have.

16.  I wouldn't go back to my twenties for a million dollars.  I finally have a lot of compassion for my twenty year old self.

17.  My two favorite gelato flavours are pistachio and coconut.  Having them together is a match made in heaven.

18.  Getting rid of things energizes me.  When I fill a bag up to donate and can lift it out of my car, I feel 20 pounds lighter.

19.  I miss living in Vancouver.  I miss our friends.  I miss the abundance of spectacular beauty.  I miss the simple life we were able to lead.  I don't get to talk to those friends often, but I hold them so close.

20.  My closest friends from elementary and high school are still close to me.  I think this is a great and miraculous treasure.  In fact, to celebrate our fortieth birthdays,  I'm meeting 3 of them in Las Vegas for a wild weekend in October.  I've been dreaming of this trip for years and I could care less where we're going, as long as we're together.

21.  I still don't really feel like an adult.  I waste a lot of time on frivolous things and don't often keep up with the "work" real adults do.

22.  One of my favorite things to do in the morning is go into Sasha and Ellie's bedroom to wake them up.  I always go in ten minutes before the have to get up for the day and I crawl under the covers with Sasha on the bottom bunk.  I snuggle right into her and breath in the smell of her neck and savour the warmth and slow breaths of her body.

23.  I  secretly wish just one of the Dugger children would rebel.

24.  Does number 23 "out me" as someone who occasionally watches "19 Kids and Counting"?  Damn.

25.  I see the sacred all around me in ways I never used to.

26.  I'm glad I married someone who cries during episodes of Little House on the Prairie and Derek.

27.  I say weekly that if Mike ever dies while our girls are still in school, they're screwed.  I can't even help Ellie with grade 6 Math.

28.  The older I get, the less time and tolerance I have for people who aren't interested in anything but their own stories.

29.  There are very few people who know me well enough,  to stop my  unending questions and make me talk about me.  There are then even fewer people who I trust enough to tell the gritty parts of my story.

30.  I like lemon more than chocolate.

31.  I can't believe some of our friend's kids are grown ups.

32.  I hope our girls chase their dreams instead of being hung up on what's practical.

33.  I hope I have the sense to help them do that.

34.  I will never be an e-book reader.  I love holding real books in my hands.  I think books are a little bit like trophies.  Part of what I like about going to other people's houses is seeing the type of books they have out and about in their home.  It tells me a lot about them.  I'm probably definitely a bit of a book snob.

35.  I spent my 40th birthday evening with my family doing  what we always do, and what I love best... eating pizza and watching a movie.  I love tradition.

36.  Mike should be grateful I'm so low-maintenance.

37.  I think forty sounds a lot younger than it did when I was a kid.

38.  I'm getting better at being mindful and compartmentalizing what I'm feeling.

39.  I base my prayers on Anne Lamott's book Help, Thanks, Wow.  Really, what more is there to say?

40.  I'd really like a "pause" button, because this is a pretty sweet spot in life.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Drowning In White Privilege

It hit me again today, as I read the morning paper, how surrounded I am.

Surrounded by something most right wing commentators would deny even exists.

My oldest daughter is nearly fifteen.
She is on holidays, so she sleeps in late in a bed with clean sheets.
She doesn't lock her bedroom door at night because she knows she is safe inside and outside.
She pins quotes from academics and literary giants on her boards, together with color palettes and ideas for a new bedroom.
She has friends who tell her she is beautiful and worthy.
She gets told every day that she is loved, sometimes more than once.
She wears clothes that make her feel good in her body.
She has parents who set boundaries and limits and walk with her through all of her choices so she doesn't feel alone.

She's never run away from home.
Never been in legitimate fear for her life.
She's never been placed in care because her circumstances weren't safe.
She's never had to look for a decent place to crash for the night because she had no where else to go.
She's never had her face on the cover of the Winnipeg Free Press.

She's safe and sound.
White and privileged.
Middle class.
Indulged and encouraged.

And she wasn't found wrapped in a tarp floating in the Red River this week like 15 year old Tina Fontaine.

When I looked at Hannah this morning I was overwhelmed by how different her one shot at life was, compared to the one Tina got.
I was overwhelmed with the way I had everything in my arsenal as a mom to give her everything she's needed for her chance to be.
Money, safety, doctors appointments, school, support....
....but I'm white, you see.  She is too.  So is her dad.

Tina wasn't.
She was a 15 year old First Nations child, disposed of in a dirty, filthy river.

May I never  drown so much in my white privilege that I can't come up for air long and often enough to see those fighting to stay afloat around me.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

ABC's, 123's, and Mental Health Education

So much has been written and published today about mental illness and suicide since the news of Robin William's tragic death broke yesterday.  In times like this I find myself "peering in" as the words appear.  I read them gingerly and cautiously with fear close behind.

I am afraid, in these days, that those who mean well and wish to offer their form of healing to those who are in despair will lead them further to the cliff's edge.  I've seen this, even today.  Perhaps you have too.  There are the posts and articles about the steps that only the Bible can offer for healing  mental illness.  They read as if to say, "If only Robin Williams had known God, this wouldn't have happened."

I don't know how to address all of this.  I do know that for many years now, I think I have had a pretty good idea of what will make a difference in combating the pain and isolation of mental illness.  It can happen by bringing the dark dogs of depression and other disorders out from the dark and dusty corners, wiping the cobwebs off of them, and placing them into the light.   Naming them.  Holding them up.  Looking at them from all corners and from all angles.  But the key to this exposure is being sure it happens early and often.

When I was a young girl, I spent hours thwarted by bouts of anxiety.  I didn't have a name for it.  All I knew is that when the weather got bad in the winter months I'd spend chunks of my school day looking out the classroom window consumed with fear.  Fear of blizzards, of icy roads, of drifting snow and bad driving conditions.  My dad worked on the road and I wanted him to make it home.  When the snowflakes started my stomach would get tight and my mind consumed.  The fear took up so much space in my heart and mind there wasn't any room left for anything else.  If I tried to turn off the fear and worry I felt I was being disloyal and betraying my role as the keeper of fear.  If I worried, and it consumed me, I was doing my "job" to make sure my dad would make it home at the end of the day.  Seeing other kids excited about the snow or enjoying the coming of a blizzard irritated me.  I felt isolated and old.  I had a job to do, and that job was to worry.  There was no time for fun or games.  If I left my post, who knew what the outcome would be?

When I think of that young girl now, I feel sadness and compassion.  If only I'd had a name for what I was living through then.  If only I could have had someone take that anxiety and put it up on a shelf and studied it with me - helped me to see that my only real job as a child was to "be"... not to worry, not to ensure the safety of others, not to stop the weather if only I prayed or wished or hoped hard enough...

When I spend time in school now, as a parent volunteering or as a substitute teacher, I see the dark dogs lapping at the feet of children nearly every time.  They are nipping at heels and tugging on leashes, and so many of the children I see are powerless to stop and silence them.  No one has given them names for what they're feeling.  No one has illuminated the dark space around them so that they can see their reality for what it is.  No one has said, "This isn't who you are and you don't need to live like this.  Let me support you in helping to find a better way."  I can't think of a more fitting place to do this than in the elementary school classroom.

If mental illness was part of every child's elementary school education, we would be shocked at the reduction of stigma in our communities.   We'd be able to give those things that are held in secret a name.  They wouldn't look as scary and wouldn't need to be as hidden and covered if we knew their names and could call them out.  We'd give children the gift of having a vocabulary to explore their feelings and challenges.  Things aren't as intimidating when you know their name.

If I'd had a name for what I experienced as a child, I'd have had power to control it.  To call it out.  I'd have been able to tell fear and worry and anxiety they were not who I was and were definitely not my job.  I'd have been able to shine a light on the dark places.  I'd have been lighter and laughed more.  I'd have spent more time making snow angels and less time begging God to stop the blizzard.

The Province of Ontario is on the right track with this.  They've started implementing mental health education in all schools and are working to develop mental health literacy among all students in the province.  This is a step in the right direction - one that Manitoba's department of education could learn from.   But there needs to be more.

I want to see more mental health professionals working within the early years, middle years, and senior years of all schools.  This is particularly important in the early years - before stigma has a chance to solidify and settle on young hearts and minds.  I want to see more accessibility to counselling services within schools in the early and middle years.  Having counsellors available one or two days a cycle, or not accessible at all isn't enough.  I want to see Guidance Counsellors having actual legitimate training in techniques and interventions to help students cope.  I want to see classroom teachers incorporating mental health literacy into their classrooms and giving their students the names and terms they need to describe what is nipping at their heels.

I want to see every child who is dogged with depression, anxiety, or another form of mental illness have the voice and the words to point to it and to say, "This isn't me.  This doesn't define me.  I am bigger and stronger, and with support, I will be OK."  Imagine how the world would change if children understood this.  Imagine how the shame and need to conceal would melt away.  Imagine those children as adults, having years of practice, skills, and language at their disposal to fight whatever they struggled with.

Let's work to end the power of mental illness by empowering our children to believe and know that with support, there is hope.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Monday With Lucie

A million years ago I used to be a teenager who loved to babysit.  There were two little girls who were on my "favorites" list.  The older of the sisters had ginger hair and freckles, while her little sister had dark hair and brown eyes.  Until they moved away, I got to watch those two little girls grow up, and I loved it.

Now I have a teenager of my own who babysits.  That older sister that I used to look after?  She has two girls of her own and just happens to live not too far from me.  Now my daughter babysits for her.  

Hannah fell in love with little Lucie the moment she met her.  She met her when she was drinking a bottle and was just learning to sit up.  Now she's two and she is precocious, adorable, observant, and full of silliness and chatter!  She also has a new baby sister at home, so the girls and I thought it would be fun to give her mom a break and have a day with Lucie.

We played...

...and built things.

We met some tiny new friends...

... and we snoozed away the afternoon with a soother and a stuffy under each arm.

And we danced.  We swung our arms from side to side and did the toddler shuffle while bouncing up and down.  We still remember how it's done.

I was the lucky one who got to lay down beside Lucie at nap time.  We chatted quietly until her eyes got heavy and breathing got slow.  I loved listening to her breathe and suck her pink soother.  I watched  her chubby hands gripping the necks of her stuffies and her little chest go up and down with each deep breath.

When she woke up the chatter began in earnest.  There was so much to say and so much to see!  I think those conversations used to exhaust me, but now they gave me life.   As I was making supper, my own three girls were playing and chatting with sweet Lucie.   I got to stand at my stove and just listen.  It sounded beautiful.  I could really hear what she was saying and take the time to savour the sound of her voice and her belly laughs.  And for a moment, Lucie faded into the background and the questions in my head became louder...

Did I laugh loud and often enough when my girls laughed?
Did I spend too much time getting them to play on their own when they only wanted a companion?
Did I stop and savour their words, their blossoming vocabulary, and the sound of their footsteps following me from one room to another?

I hope so.
Oh, I hope so.

I wish I could do it again... just for a day...

A Monday with two year old Hannah.  We'd sit and read book after book after book because she'd never tire of them.  Then we'd do it all over again.

A Monday with two year old Ellie.  We'd walk to the playground and I'd push her on the swing and hold her hand as she goes up the big big slide.

A Monday with two year old Sasha.  We'd color deliberately and carefully, just the way she likes to.  Page after page.

There'd be no hurry and I'd savour it all.

For now, I've got my days with fourteen year old Hannah and eleven year old Ellie and nine year old Sasha.  We do the things that need to be done and go for bike-rides and sit side by side on the porch, each with our own book.

My Monday with Lucie reminded me that the good stuff happens on any given Monday, of any given week.

I hope I see it and hear it - all of it - more fully.  Even the slamming doors and eye-rolls and exasperated frustration.  That is the good stuff too.

It tells a story of its own.
I don't want to be in too big a hurry to turn the pages too quickly.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (Or Perhaps They Haven't Found Me?)

I've often heard it said that "looking for work is a job in and of itself".  I think there are parts of that statement that ring true.  It takes effort, it takes diligence, and it's not a lot of fun.

I feel like I've spent the last year looking for work.  Last year at about this time I began my quest in earnest.  I wanted to venture out from teaching and look for a job that more closely matched my current area of study.  I perused job search engines, networked, and applied for a lot of jobs.  It was kind of fun at the beginning.  The world was my oyster and the sky was the limit.  I was sure there was going to be something that matched my skill-set and would give me great experience to combine with my master's studies.

It took a long time.

Finally, this past January I found what I hoped would be the perfect job.  It was half time, it provided me with clinical experience, and I believed in the work I'd be doing.   I breathed a huge sigh of relief that my job of searching for a job was over.  I quit checking my job matches on the search engines, I stopped checking the "Careers" section of the Free Press, and I was grateful my hunt for work was over.

Just over three months later, that search began again, in earnest.   It came along with disillusionment, sadness, cynicism, and heaviness.

I've been at it again for nearly three months.  It's no more fun this time around than it was the last time.

Anyone who has looked for work for a significant amount of time can probably relate to the varying emotions you go through when you think you've found yet another "perfect job".  After awhile, it doesn't even have to that close to perfect to fit the bill.   First there's the excitement of seeing something that piques your interest that you know you can do.  You're sure the job is meant just for you!  Anticipation builds as you picture yourself in the job.  You find out as much as you can about it, search your friends list for possible connections that can get your foot in the door, and begin the process of fine-tuning your letter and cv to fit the position.  After you spend hours perfecting both and securing references, you submit it feeling optimistic and confident, sure you'll get an interview.

You wait.  And wait.
And you don't.

It doesn't take long for rejection to hit like a  good old knock upside the head.  This is only amplified by the fact that you may have told people close to you about the great job you're SURE you're going to get an interview for, and out of kindness and curiosity they check in to see what the status is on the job.  Then you get to tell them you've been rejected.  Again.

It's a cycle that keeps repeating itself over and over.

Two weeks ago as I was about to hit "send" on my application to another one of those perfect jobs, I told Mike I didn't think I could keep doing this.  If this one doesn't come through, I don't think I can do this again.  

It didn't come through.
But this last week I did it again... because I have to.

After enough rejections you begin to look at that finely polished cv and the letter that highlights all of your strengths and you begin to doubt it all.  It almost reads like something you've made up, after awhile.  If it was true, you'd get the interview, you tell yourself.  You start to re-read it with a healthy dose of scepticism.   You talk yourself into it and write that next letter with a somewhat forced hand - as if you're trying to convince not only the potential employer but yourself that what you've written is true.

All I need is the interview, you think.  And so you do it again and again.

Maybe this next one will be "the one".
One of them just has to be.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Unconventional Wine Review

We were in church last Sunday evening.  It had been a few weeks since we had sat in the hard, upright wooden pew.  (Doesn't that sound inviting?  It's the truth though, our faith community meets in a very old, very beautiful Anglican church with the most upright backs on the pews.  There is no slouching, as slouching is not even possible!)

We sang and we sat and we stood and we passed the peace.  When we got up to take our place in the circle for communion, the familiar words rang out.  "Behold who you are.  Become what you receive."  They get me every single time.

Mike was playing violin, so the girls and I stood in our circle together, facing other parts of our community and took the piece of sweet spelt bread, then the pottery goblet in our hands and drank the (real) red wine.  It was just as it is any other Sunday night.

As soon as we got back to our hard, upright pew, Sasha leaned over to me and whispered in my ear, "I loved that.  It was SO good."  I squeezed her shoulder and agreed, yes, it was so good.

She was talking about the wine, you see.  We're hoping she won't become a lush, as our 9 year old really loves the taste of the communion wine at st. ben's.  To be fair, it is good.  It's sweet and rich and lingers long after you've swallowed.  Quite honestly, it's delicious.  And obviously, Sasha agrees.

That's how I want "it" to be and to remain for her.  Delicious.

"It" being shared faith experience.  Communion.  The body of Christ.

I want it to be free of expectation and hoop-jumping.
Void of regulation and exclusion.
Not about what she can't do and who she can't be.

I want it to be full of flavour.
Flavour on her tongue, yes, but flavours in her circle.
Heavy with differing expressions and the freedom to chase and pursue them.
Beautiful in variation and always delicious.
(It's the delicious part that will draw her back.)

I can't imagine better words to hear than "I loved that.  It was SO good."
May the wine draw her back again and again.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Just a Crack...

I have not been writing as much as I used to.  The word slow-down started when I began my job in January.  Suddenly, it seemed, there was no time for words.  I used to have space in my day and in my mind where words would take hold.   I didn't even have to try.  After I started working more, the spaces in my days and in my mind were taken over with "to do" lists and my client's stories.  So many stories.  It was almost impossible for me to write because the words of their stories took center stage.  

I missed the space for my words to find their place.

At the end of April it seemed there would be lots of time for words again.  My job was gone.  Suddenly the stories stopped.  Someone had pressed "stop" and "eject" without my permission.  Things came to a drastic, painful, all-consuming end, and I wasn't ready.  There were words in my mind and on my screen then.  Seventeen pages of words that described my experience with toxicity and confusion, and stories of others living in fear and repression.  I shared those stories and I waited.

Suddenly, I had lots of time again.

Sometimes the thing you need to do most is the very thing you oppose and push away with every morsel of your being.  It's often like this for me.  When I feel the most alone and am filled with sadness, I have an overwhelming desire to shut the blinds, lock the doors, and burrow myself into my bed, only coming out when I must.  When I have the most words to write, are the times I often feel paralysed to even open my computer.  The more I obey the feelings that isolate me, the more impossible it is to move forward.

Finally, this week, I heard stories again.  I saw people.  I heard phrases and expressions that gave way to my imagination.  The beginnings of blog posts appeared in my mind as my head lay on my pillow at night.  My consumption with the abrupt ending to the job I loved was shifting into the background.  It's still in the picture.  I can still see it in every view and every scene.  But it's no longer always in the foreground.

And so, I'll begin again.

I'll begin because it's good for me.
Because I have things to say.
Because I feel more alive when I do.
Because there are voices and stories all around me that need to be told.
Because I must.

This is my attempt at cracking the blinds open a little and letting some light in.
Perhaps,  I may even have a little light to let out.
I know there is darkness to let out;  I'll have to be ok with exposing that too.

I do know one thing.
You can't move forward unless you begin.  Again.

Sunday, June 1, 2014


Today was a beautiful day for Pride.  The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and according to local media, there were record numbers of people out to show their support and celebrate the LGBTQ community in Manitoba.

The first Pride parade in Winnipeg was held in 1987.  There were 250 people in attendance.  Today, over 10,000 people came out.  What a story numbers can sometimes tell.

After last year's fight for anti-bullying legistlation which included the provision for each publically funded educational institution to have the right to have a Gay-Straight Alliance, it was rewarding to see the numbers of high school students proudly walking behind their banners.

I love the fact that the Pride parade brings out the best in people.   People are free to express themselves exactly as they want to.  They are free to express their affection for their partners and their friends in the way that they choose.  There is music and dancing, and young and old.

I was thrilled to see faith represented in a few different expressions in this year's parade.  There were several denominations marching proudly behind banners...

.... including my Alma matter - the Mennonites.  It was a proud moment!

This might have been my favorite slogan of the parade.

There was a large contingent of CBC staff out in the parade, including a big crew from DNTO.

People sometimes ask me why this is important to me.  Why we'd bring our girls out to an event like this.  Ellie and Sasha would tell you they go because it's fun.  I'd tell you that it's because there are still countries in the world in which being gay can result in a jail sentence, a beating, or death.  It's because in Canada, over half of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, and likely found themselves in that position because they were afraid, conflicted, and unaccepted.  It's because my own personal research this year led me to discover that suicide rates among those in the church who identify as LGBTQ are substantially higher than those who do not.

I'd tell you that I support people to love who they choose, and I value them exactly as they are.
For the record, I think God does too.

Today was a great reason to celebrate.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


I grew up in a small prairie town.  I was surrounded by familiarity, Mennonites, and tradition.  Each year of school began with most of the same people I finished with the year before.  The same faces and names, with most of the those faces and names having a similar story to my own.

So imagine the buzz in my grade three class when a new student was to join us who was from a place very far away.  His name was Peter, and his family had just settled into town from South Africa!  Imagine!  My curiosity was brewing, and my mind wandering, at just the thought of meeting someone from someplace so exotic.   Soon we met.  In walked a small in stature, beautiful (to my mind now) boy who spoke with the most amazing South African accent.  He seemed to be from another world, and was full of stories of a life that seemed like a dream.  Although I was intrigued by him then, I can't say I was all that fond of him.  He seemed to steal the show.  He was very bright.  He gave me a run for my money, and he even tripped me on my way to the chalkboard one morning which resulted in a nasty bump on my head.

Soon, the whole town knew of the Hargraves family.  They had arrived with three girls and Peter in tow, and were settling down in the middle of the prairies to begin again.  Their arrival brought questions and queries.  Their accent made their words sound like poetry, and their family always looked  and seemed as though they knew what adventure really was.

Their family stayed.  When they settled in that prairie town they made it their own.  As the years went on, the girls and Peter began to lose their accents and became, what appeared to be, regular prairie kids.  They played sports, made music, and were part of the fabric of the community.  Peter truly became my friend.  He still is.

Today we gathered in a church in that same prairie town to say goodbye to Peter's dad, David.  The afternoon was full of stories of his courage, his brave pioneering spirit, and his unwavering convictions.   I always knew Mr. Hargraves as Pete's dad.  Today I saw him as something else all together.  Maybe it's because I'm a parent now, and my girls aren't that different in age as his four children when he and his faithful companion Judy left their beloved South Africa to begin again.  They had to leave.  It was not longer safe, and his couldn't raise his children in a country where apartheid existed.   There have been times, over the years, when I wondered what it must have been like for them.  Today I tasted just a morsel of it.  I saw that young family in their train car leaving their home and was filled with incredible awe at the journey this family took.

I like to think a life is well-lived if there is something another person can take from it to make themself better. I took many things with me today.  I heard of how David adored his beloved wife Judy, and never let a chance go in conversation to remind his company of how amazing a woman she was.  When I see the strong, capable, creative, compassionate women his daughters have become, it is so clear that he held women in high regard and expected the very best.  When I see the way Pete operates in partnership with his wife and parents his own three daughters, I see that same thread running through another generation.

There were stories of his faith, his adventures, and his passions.  But what struck me most today was the way he could not tolerate injustice.  He simply couldn't bear it.  When he knew something was wrong, he spoke up and out, even when it cost him his home, and meant leaving his family and the only life he'd known.

I felt like I feasted today;  on stories, words, music, and memories of a life well-lived.  I get to continually feast on my friendship with Pete that was made possible for me, way back in grade three, by a brave man who started over with his family in a little prairie town.

There is so much goodness in lives filled with story.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Bring Back Our Girls

Nearly three weeks ago, 300 school girls were abducted at gun point from a boarding school dorm in Nigeria.  Amazingly, it has taken the media weeks to make this a lead story and for the world to get interested enough to make something happen. 

The Nigerian community knows what this kind of abduction can cost them.  They know that if you take a group of  educated girls, the size of a village, and force them to disappear, the consequences go on forever.  This crime isn't just about those 250 girls still missing.  It's about the chain of events down the line, and the culture of fear it will breed.  It's about sending a message to young Nigerian women that getting an education is a "crime" worthy of abduction at gun-point, being sold into marriage, and possibly never being returned to your family and home again.  

We still live in a world where there are people who think educating women is dangerous enough to warrant this kind of punishment.   

Today we gathered with the Winnipeg Nigerian community to stand with them and show our support and commitment to bringing "our" girls home.  They really are our girls, aren't they?  Unless we believe that, it won't matter enough for us to do something.

There was so much color and vibrancy at the Legislature this afternoon.  We gathered and sang and were rallied on the steps...

... then began a walk around the grounds to mark the start of the call for action.

There was a sea of red.  You almost felt as though you were crashing a family gathering of a family that wasn't yours - only this family invited you in and gave you a seat at the table.

Our girls were recruited to carry some letter signs and stand together with a host of other kids to spell out #Bring Back Our Girls.

The rally began with two prayers - one from the Nigerian Christian community and one from the Nigerian Muslin community.  Two men stood side by side and prayed to God and Allah for the country they love and the safe return of the girls.  They want the same things.  

Side by side is a powerful place to be.

There were impassioned words from leaders of the Winnipeg Nigerian community.  Most powerful were the words spoken by the women.  Women who know first-hand what education means to a young woman in Nigeria.  And when the passion took over, the resounding cry from those who were gathered echoed through the crowd.

There were the most beautiful sights and colors.  
Profound images that demonstrated strength and resilience.

 The colors, the drumming, the music, the words drifting over the crowd calling everyone to care about our girls coming home...
...that's what I want my three girls to remember and take with them.

My three girls who have the right to be educated with no fear.
My three girls who truly can choose to become as smart and informed as they want to be.
My three girls who know that the sky is the limit to see through their passions and dreams.

They are not "their" girls.
They are our girls.

Bring them back.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Catching Up. Always Catching Up

What I want to do:

-answer the phone when it rings
-return emails in good stead with thoughtful responses
-invite people I love over for good food and long visits
-remember important things and honor the changes that are happening in the lives of people I love
-spend time with my girls one-on-one and engage them in weighty conversations and belly laughs
-always be up on the girl's homework, school projects, and correspondence
-meet people I love for long and rambling dialogue, tears, and laughter over hot tea, or good gin
-offer to look after the toddlers of my friends so that they can have a break
-plan and shop for healthy and delicious meals for my family
-read to my hearts content
-write a blog post for every time I am stopped in my tracks by something that hurts or delights me

What I actually do:

-never answer the phone
-occasionally return emails, rarely with the immediacy their senders deserve
-think of people I want to spend time cooking for and sharing a meal with
-feel guilty about not inviting them over
-wallow in a bit of shame for not being able to
-forget milestones, events and changes my friends are experiencing
-become frozen at responding to my failures because I feel I've let them down
-lay awake in my bed at night thinking of all of the things I want to talk to my girls about
-forget piano lessons, deadlines, and forms
-lament how much I miss the most significant people in my life
-wish I could give my friends in the toddler trenches a break, but know I have no break to give
-fly by the seat of my pants and spread peanut butter and jam on bread more often than I used to
-stare at the stack of amazing books on my bedside table and dream of longer days to read them
-say the words I'd write about what hurts or delights me, in my head at night - in lieu of the page

What I need to do:

-become more organized and intentional about guarding the things that are most important
-get up earlier to make more of my day
-say "no" without guilt or excuses

What I want to do:

-forgive myself for not measuring up
-create a way to press "pause" on life and catch up, once and for all

Sunday, March 16, 2014


We sit in a circle, listening to stories, singing songs, and reciting the words of the liturgy.  It's the last gathering of our weekend at the spring retreat for our church community.

At my feet and to my right sits a young man with eyes that sparkle and a half-smile on his face.  At his feet lays a black lab named Charlie, who brings a calming and soothing presence to his companion who happens to be profoundly autistic.

His hands are busy, brushing over and over his i-pad; zooming in and out and changing color.  Deliberate motions and changes that are done with intention and purpose.  He is leaning back on his mom's legs.  Every so often she leans down to reassuringly rub his shoulders or kiss the top of his head.  He is over 6 feet, but he needs his mom to be close.   Every so often, his low voice, sounding more and more like that of a man, repeats the same word, over  and over, while using his fingers to tap his chest in tandem....

"Breathe.  Breathe.   Breathe."

He looks up at his mom and she says, "yes, breathe", and so he does.

In a few minutes, he repeats the word and the tapping again, and then again.  On it goes as the morning goes, and his voice saying the word, together with the sound of his fingers tapping his chest take up residence in my memory.  I can hear him now, as I sit at my keyboard, in the quiet of a house that sleeps.

When the bread comes around, I break off a piece and place it in his hands, and he takes it.
"The body of Christ, broken for you."

The wine comes next, and I help tip it back for him as he takes a generous gulp.
"The blood of Christ, shed for you."

His eyes hardly leave his i-pad as his images zoom in and out, and the tap tap tap of his fingers on his chest begin again as he repeats the word.   "Breathe.  Breathe.   Breathe."

It's like a soundtrack that doesn't stop, and as it's repeated over and over again, most people don't even hear it.

And in the midst of all of the words of the weekend, spoken, shared, and sung, it's that one word from his mouth that stays with me.  I can't shake it, because it has gone to my core.


When his anxiety rises, he tells himself to breathe.  He taps his chest to remind him, to make a physical action to connect the dots and get his body to fall into step with the word his voice knows so well.

When my anxiety rises,  I don't usually breathe.  My fists clench, my shoulders rise, my chest tightens.  How much better would it be to just breathe?  To connect with the rising tension, inhale, and exhale the tightness and discomfort that wants to take up space where it doesn't belong...

So this week I will remember the word, and the voice that spoke it.
The tap, tap tap of fingers on a chest that has learned to breathe.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Who Ellie Is, Now That She's Eleven

She is getting longer and taller with legs that seem to go on forever.
She still has scrumptious squishy cheeks that she lets me sink my whole face into when I kiss her goodnight.
She still wants to sit on my lap and lets me wrap my arms all around her and squeeze her tight.
She actually craves moments like that.
The space around her is never quiet.
She is always singing.  Her mantra seems to be, "If you're going to sing, sing so the whole world can hear you".
She still doesn't really like reading very much... except books that involve people dying.  I don't get it, but as long as a book is open on her lap, I don't ask too many questions.
She dances three times a week and loves every minute of it.
Her heart is still so very soft.  A word with even a hint of harshness will disolve her.
She does amazing accents.  She spent 2 straight hours on Sunday working with Mike on her Science Fair project, talking like a southern belle.  She's convincing too.
There are moments I catch a glimpse of teenager in her and I want to hold it back.
She loves guacamole, samosas with tamarind sauce, and pad thai.
Most days, she'd rather stay home than go to school.  She's been this way since Kindergarten.
There is nothing she likes more than a Saturday morning snuggled up with Sasha watching bad TV.
I wish she could see how captivating she is.
She is the comic relief in a household full of high-strung and somewhat tightly tightly wound females.
She really wanted a onesie for her birthday.
When she put on the fleece one she got, and I hugged her, she felt like a great big stuffie.
She is learning how she fits in between two sisters who are so different from her.
She fills a space in our family that was made just for her.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


She's nine today, that baby of mine.

Sasha loves to hear the story of when she came to be.  How we were only at the hospital for a very short time when she arrived - all pink and beautiful,  with a perfectly round face and lips like tiny rosebuds.

Sasha is the baby and she always will be.  She is growing up with her older sisters going ahead of her to navigate some of the twists and turns to make things a little easier for her.  But so much of her life is far from what her sisters have choosen for themselves.   While they have loved dance and a little bit of bling, Sasha throws a mean spiral and loves her Jets jersey.  They have wanted long hair to braid and curl and Sasha wants hers short to stay out of her way when she's on the basketball court.  They don't tend to enjoy "constructive criticism" while Sasha spends hours taking guidance from Mike and perfecting her throw or her shot, without even a hint of frustration.

She might be a mean competitor on the court or the field, but there is nothing she likes more than a warm arm around her snuggled right around her body as she falls asleep.  After we've chatted and prayed, and the last kiss is planted, she almost always says, "stay with me a little longer", and I almost always do, because requests like that don't last forever.

She is serious and deliberate.
Disciplined and stubborn.
Always the baby.

And today she is nine.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Tale of Two Teams

Two teams met on a basketball court on Saturday.  They converged to play at a suburban private school which looked more like a convention centre with an upscale coffee shop.

One team had moms and dads and little brothers or sisters lining the court in soft cushy chairs.    Their entourage fueled them up with good food, handed them their freshly washed uniforms, and drove them to the game on time.  They cheered wildly for them when their team scored, and shouted out, "good try" when the other team did.  One team was comprised of mostly blond ponytails, and wearing brand-name basketball shoes.  Their coaches cheer them on.  One even sits with them during breaks in the tournament and chats about all of the things that matter.  When they're hungry, they grab the ziplock bags stuffed with cash that their moms gave them at the start, and wander over to the canteen to go and pick whatever they want.  They are kind, polite, and respectful.  They play hard, and want to win.

The other team walks in alone.  There are no parents cheering from the sidelines for them.  Many of their parents don't even know where they are.  They piled into a few vans to make the trek to the part of the city most of them have never been to before.  There is so much empty space here, so unlike their neighborhood.   No one has blond hair on their team.  Some of them wear tight braids, one of them, a hijab.  They've got one coach who threw their team together.  When they walk through the school that the tournament is in they shake their heads.   "This is a school?", they wonder.   Their tummies grumble in between but they just keep playing.  They're used to fending for themselves.  No one is gushing over their play or making sure they are ready for the next game.  They are tough, independent, jaded, and have seen it all.  More than kids should.  They play hard and want to win.

Both teams arrive at the game ready to play.  It starts well with basketball as the focus.  Soon things unravel.  The other team starts scratching and pushing.  There are gasps from the one team's parents and looks to the refs.  Not much is done.  Then it escalates.  There is shoving, arms around necks, and tugs to the ground.  It's disconcerting to the one team.  They aren't used to this.  They fight for the ball the way they were taught because it's the way they were taught.  That's how you do it - the way you were taught, or so it seems.  The one team beats the other team, and the lines are made to file by and shake hands.  Some on the other team refuse.  One of them punches a member of one team in the stomach as she walks by.  There is anger from losing, and maybe anger for more.

At lunch, I talk to the girls from the one team as they stop to try to make sense of the aggressive and vicious play they experienced.  I try to put things into context.  "These girls are from a different world.  They live in the inner-city.  They are from worn-torn countries and have seen more than you can imagine.  They are used to fighting and battling, and clawing away to get everything they have.  It's what they have to do.  It's the way they were taught.  It's their survival instinct."

I wonder, later, how the other team felt walking through the wide spacious hallways and lobby of the big suburban private school.  How they makes sense of the blond pony-tails and the sidelines full of parents cheering and supporting while they play for no one but themselves.  How much of that makes them want to push and shove and hit and scratch the ones around them who appear to have everything?

Sometimes basketball is more than just playing a game.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

It's Off to Work I Go

Today was my first day of work at my new job.

It was a strange feeling getting up this morning to get ready for work (and make lunches and pack bags, and drive kids to school... cause that's what us momma's do!).  I didn't feel nervous, I felt excited.  I felt like I was about to walk in to what I'd been waiting for.  I packed my own lunch, grabbed my things and drove off to an actual workplace to which I was expected.  It felt good.  It felt like it was my time.

Let me tell you about my job.  My official title is Child and Youth Counsellor.  I get to have this awesome role to play at Alpha House, which is an amazing project that provides transitional second-stage housing for women and their kids who have left abusive situations.  This means I get to spend twenty hours a week counselling kids and teenagers who are in the midst of transition and are recovering from the trauma of leaving an abuser and are learning skills and new ways of being and relating in healthy relationships.  Not only that, I get to meet with each of their moms one on one every week to talk about parenting, being a positive force in their kid's lives, and all of the other things that come along with the experience of leaving an abusive partner and starting again.

I am so grateful for this chance to practice the therapeutic skill set I've been developing.  I am so thankful to get to do it in a place that allows me the freedom and space to try new things and do it "my way".  I am in awe of the fact that I get to work with some of the strongest and bravest women who want to do better for their kids.  I am overwhelmed with the amazing reality that I get to help let some light in to the dark places in kid's hearts and minds every single day that I go to work.

Mike asked me at the end of the day how it all went.  I said, "it was good".  But if he asked me now I'd say it was "good and exciting, and scary, and overwhelming and hard, and inspiring and interesting, and challenging, and captivating".  (Plus a lot more things that I can't put into words tonight.)

In the midst of all the excitement of a first day, there was a wrench in the plan, as there so often is.  Ellie had to be taken to see a pediatric orthopedic specialist today to cast her broken wrist.  Usually that's my job to do.  I take the girls to every appointment and every check-up and make sure it all gets done.  But today was Mike's day.  He took Ellie to work with him, then to her appointment and off to school.  I was the one getting the texts from the Dr's office and he was the one holding her hand.  It felt so different to be the one who wasn't there.  Part of me felt that it wasn't right.  But the other part knew that today was a great gift.  I had to be at work, but Mike got to be the one right by Ellie's side.  They have their own chapter of the story from today, and it's just theirs.   They got to tell me all about it when I got home, and it was good.

Tomorrow I get to do it all over again.  I get to run a parenting support group right off the hop, first thing in the morning.  I am looking forward to walking through the doors and knowing the women's stories, feeling connected with their kids, and comfortable in my space.  That will take awhile, but I'm looking forward to getting there.  And that feels pretty great.

Sunday, January 19, 2014


Ten minutes and fourteen years ago, Hannah Elizabeth came into the world and made me a mom for the first time.     Way back then, fourteen years seemed like a lifetime away, and now it's today.  

Hannah is the guinea-pig.  We practice and hone all of our parenting skills on her first before we get to try them out on her younger sisters.  She's had to endure a lot on our journey around the learning-curve, and most times it feels as though we're in this together, figuring it all out as we go.

The greatest reward of parenting is seeing your child from afar and genuinely liking who they are.  It's watching from a distance and thinking that you'd gravitate to them if you were a stranger.  It's wondering what's in their head and how much you'd like to know more.  It's the wonder and the mystery of anticipating who they'll become, but savouring the little glimpses you get to unfold as they grow.

That's not to say that we don't have our share of slamming doors or moments of impasse with a healthy dose of exasperation.   We do.  We have lots.  But I still really like her and I'm pretty sure that most of the time she likes me.   

Her feet are bigger than mine now, and she's officially taller.  

I catch myself, increasingly more frequently, aware that there are many areas in life in which she is smarter and more aware than I am.  She laps up knowledge and stores it away in her encyclopedia-like brain ready to pull out at a moment's notice.  Just this morning as I was making her crepes for her birthday brunch, she remarked on the number of countries that England hasn't invaded.   She doesn't just know the fact, she knows the context, and why it's important.  I can't believe I scored a kid who wants to know the big picture of this crazy world, and approaches it all with curiosity and openness.

She likes Sharpies and sketch books and is often on her tummy on her bed making magic on blank white pages that point to who she is.

She has surrounded herself with good people.  Friends who make her believe she is good and valuable, and I can see that she does the same.  Friends who make me laugh out loud, and stop to think as they tell me some of their secrets and I get a glimpse into the fourteen year old heart and mind.

She still reads as though her life depends on it, and nothing makes me more full than having her bound towards me and shove a book into my hands and insist that I read it.  Those words are game-changers for her, and she wants me to know why and experience for myself.  She may not tell me everything that goes on in her heart and her head, but she sets her book in my hands and opens the pages for me so I can uncover some of the mystery for myself.

She listens to good music, scrawling out the words to the lyrics of Canadian Indie bands, and acquiring a collection of thoughtful and dense music.  She doesn't care what everyone else is listening to, she knows what she likes, and she makes it her own.

She may be quiet, but she is loved by kids and when their parents leave the house she comes alive with their little ones.  They want her to come back because she is kind and knows how to play.  Two of the most important skills in this life.

And so, you see that I like her.  There is lots to like.
And more to discover, all of which I am looking forward to.

These are the days of head shaking and eye-rolling, stomping away, short fuses, and academy-award caliber dramatic responses.  But within and around are these amazing moments of knowing.... and liking.

Fourteen years has come and gone in the blink of an eye.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Well Worn Path

I learned this week that it's truly possible to feel two intense emotions at the very same time about the exact same situation.  All week I had a lingering sense of sadness, which grew each day closer to today.    Peppering the sadness were feelings of gratitude and joy which made it all more bearable.  It was a week of change and transition, and a week to savour relationship.

This morning a big moving truck pulled onto our crescent onto our neighbor's driveway, and began to be filled.  After it was full, it was driven only a few minutes away to be emptied out, all into a beautiful house full of possibility.   I couldn't bear to see the truck get filled up this morning.  I stayed inside.  It was too much for me, so I sent Mike to capture the moment in time, because it tells a story.

The story goes back to early summer of 2001.  That summer our family moved on to Robertson Crescent.  We had an eighteen month old toddler and were excited about the space and the change we had found.  Just around the corner from our house, with one in between, another family moved in the same summer.  They had not one, but two daughters just a few months younger than Hannah!  We couldn't believe our fortune!

In the years that have past, there is a well-worn path that passes from the front of our house to the front door of theirs.   There have been countless trips, back and forth.  Trips for eggs, oil, yeast, ketchup, chickpeas, Parmesan cheese, sour cream, and brown sugar.    Other trips haven't collected things of the edible variety.  We've also taken propane tanks, had pictures and homework printed and collected, and picked up emergency clothing items.  There was the time I frantically delivered Hannah and Ellie in a wagon on a Saturday afternoon while I blubbered something about Mike nearly cutting off his finger with the hedge trimmer and needing to take him to the ER.  We have walked over to meet a new puppy, and they have walked here to meet a new baby or two.  We have sent girls over just to "see what Kiera and Thea are doing" when our house seemed small and moments seemed long.   There have been countless hours of playing outside, swinging on swings, celebrating first rides on two wheelers on the street, pushing babies in strollers, allowing independence in allowing the girls to venture out to the school ground alone, walks and runs, sharing beers and BBQ'd feasts,  calling over the fence, watching feet and bodies grow, telling stories and making memories.

I don't like change.  If my world were perfect, things would stay the same.  People in houses right where you want them, just as they've always been.  But change comes and people grow and families move.  

The family at the other end of the well-worn path moved today and things won't be the same.

Adrian likes to tell us that "if you walk it, we're only one kilometer away".  And he's right, that's true.  One kilometer isn't far, and my guess is that a new path will be worn in and we will find ourselves on the other end, long and often.  But one kilometer is further than 100 steps.  (And that will take some getting used to when I just need to borrow an egg.)

There is joy today too.  Expectation for beginnings for old friends who get to create something new in a beautiful space.  New space is full of possibility and room for new memories.  This is the good stuff I am thinking about - the stuff that allows the sadness to not sit as heavy or as hard.  

I wonder how long it will take for the grass on that path to grow in as full and as thick as the area around it?  How long until I remember that I can't just get what I need with one phone call and a pint-sized courier?  How long until that house is no longer "theirs" and again becomes just another house once again?

I'm glad the snow is covering up the path and hiding it.  By the time spring comes, maybe that one kilometer path will have begun to look used, and not seem so far away.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

You Only Fear What You Don't Know

I presented a paper this week on research that was done in a region in South Africa and the way care-givers have managed to cope after community members with chronic mental illness were deinstitutionalized after apartheid ended in 1996.  The paper focused a lot on the stigma that exists in South Africa surrounding mental illness.  As I read the data and the research in preparation for my presentation, I was struck by the prevalence of stigma there, but even more so, how many similarities there are right here in Canada in 2014.  Stigma doesn't only align itself with mental illness in the developing world.  It makes its home right here.

As our class was discussing the work and the research, one of my classmates honestly shared about how ill-prepared she felt in working with those with serious mental illness.   She wasn't alone.  So many people have never interacted with someone with a serious mental illness.  Or maybe they just don't know that they have.

I don't feel like that.

For most of my childhood, my mom worked as a nurses aid at the mental health centre in the small town I grew up in.  She worked a variety of shifts, which meant that sometimes I was home in the evening or on weekends without her and didn't have a whole lot to do.  Sometimes I'd ride my bike over to the Centre (aren't small towns beautiful?), hop off, and ring the big door bell at the front of the building.  The security was tight.  There were several doors to get through in the locked facility and getting in or out didn't come easily.  After a few minutes my mom or another staff member would come to the front door to see who had arrived, and I would enter through the big glass doors.

I don't ever remember being afraid.

I was little,   maybe six or seven, when I'd start coming over on my own.  The centre was an inpatient facility which provided care and community for the most chronic and severe mentally ill in the region.  I would walk down the big hallways, stopping occasionally to be introduced and stop to talk to some of the patients.    Some patients were on significant amounts of medication and were slumped in chairs and drooling.  I wasn't afraid.  Some were talking to themselves, engaged in delusions and their own reality.  I didn't feel threatened.  Others sat and cried when I'd come around.  I remember taking their hands sometimes - especially the older patients who looked so weary, so small, and so defeated.  These were women and men from all walks of life; all ages, all socio-economic levels, all levels of education, and all with their own hopes and dreams... none of which included sitting in vinyl chair in a mental hospital.

I made friends there, because my mom had.  She loved that job, and she was good at it.  She saw the value in all of them and cared enough to learn their stories.  I learned to do the same.  Over the years, some of the patients never left.  Sometimes I didn't see them when I came for a walk and a visit because they were locked up in  the secure wing because it wasn't safe for them or anyone else not to be.  I heard those stories, and I connected them with the people I knew.

And I wasn't afraid.

Quite a few years later I was a young University student living in Winnipeg for the first time.  I was invited over to share supper at my friend Jackie's apartment that she shared with her friend.  I first met Jackie when she was an inpatient at the mental health centre.  She was one who was heavily medicated, sedated, and unable to find her way out.  But now she had, and she was living on her own for the first time, making a life for herself.  She told me some of her story of what being a mental health consumer was like.  How hard she had to advocate for herself and fight for support, understanding, and adequate care.  I told her about being in school for the first time; boys I liked, friends I'd made, and courses I was taking.  Sometimes she heard voices.  Sometimes they got too loud.

But I was never afraid.

I was sitting with the girls at a restaurant last Sunday afternoon for a quick lunch.  In walked a couple who were obviously struggling with mental health issues.  I couldn't take my eyes off of them.    I got that same familiar feeling I've had all my life - this overwhelmed sense of the pain that they carried.  I kept looking at them - not because I was afraid or uncomfortable, but because I couldn't stop wondering what their story was, what their diagnosis had been, which meds they were on, how they were coping...

Stigma exists and then grows where there are assumptions, misunderstanding and fear.  I wish we could all walk into a building full of people with mental illness as six-year-olds and learn to navigate it all over again.

Then we wouldn't be afraid.