Thursday, September 30, 2010


Last night I was bustling around getting ready for a Christmas card class when the phone rang. It was a friend who sounded distraught, so immediately I knew she was going to tell me bad news, but you are never prepared for the shock of death. My boss from the newspaper I worked at last year, had been found dead in her house. I wanted to know answers ("Why? How? I just talked to her a few days ago!") and of course she didn't know anything else and was just as shocked as I was.

This kind of news rattles you somewhere inside your core. I gave myself thirty seconds to marshall my scattered thoughts and emotions, then went downstairs to join my guests and stamp for the evening. We have to put our game face on, even when we are surprised and upset. When the class was over, I was able to sit down and think about the boss and friend that was so suddenly absent in this world, and grieve for her and for her devastated husband.

Life is fragile. We all know this, but don't always behave as though we know it. Death is a check and balance system for everyone. It brings up how we feel about living. It made me pause and adjust my priorities once again. If I was to die suddenly, how would people feel when they received the kind of phone call I got last night? Would it leave a hole in their lives? Am I giving of myself on a daily basis to the people in my world?

I try to avoid thinking about death whenever possible, because I only understand what it's like to be alive. To breathe in and out, all day and all night, and to be anchored to something concrete, no matter how painful or difficult it is at times. It's what I know and can relate to. I'm terribly afraid of the unknown. I wish I had more faith in what comes next after this life, but I must admit that I would prefer to stay living forever.

I'm slowly coming to terms with aspects of mystery in my faith, and I pray that acceptance and peace in death is at the end of that road and that I will find it eventually if I keep on walking in the direction I am heading. I wish I felt calmer about dying someday. I understand death logically in my mind, but I shy away from its cold reality in my soul and my spirit.

I must accept my limitations in this area. At thirty-seven, I'm not ready to die, but I acknowledge that I'm not in charge of when or how that event will happen. I still have so much more to say and to do in this lifetime. I'm not guaranteed anything, but I have today: to love my kids and my family and my friends. To make my time count, and be grateful for all that I have been given, and hope that more time on earth will help me reconcile my fear for the unknown.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Self Confidence

Why do we as women struggle so deeply with our own self confidence? Lately I seem to have an attuned awareness to the level of crippling self esteem issues that many of the beautiful and intelligent women in my life are facing. To look at these women, they have the world on a string: they are healthy, with husbands and children, nice houses, friends, and many other blessings, but they seem to shrink within themselves and fight daily to feel worthy of their place in this world.

This kind of low self confidence is heartbreaking to me. I remember what it feels like, and the freedom you experience when you break free of it is deeply exhilarating. It's not something you can fake. You have to work hard on yourself in order to move past the lies that are in your own head, whispering things that aren't true and trying to undermine your confidence in yourself.

I am tremendously grateful for my college suitemate in my first year of university, who dragged me, very much against my better judgement, to a group counseling session for kids with divorced parents. With all of the wisdom that comes from being eighteen, I swore up one side and down the other that the divorce of my parents when I was fifteen had zero effect on me. I was wrong. I sat with my arms folded across my chest for the first four or five sessions, refusing to participate, and only attending for the sake of my suitemate.

Eventually, the counselor gently wore me down, until I began to talk about my own experience with my parents. It was like turning a key to unlock the door to a room that was overflowing with garbage. Week by week, I took out a bag, until the smell slowly began to clear and I could function better in the world without the stench and the weight of my past dragging me down.

From there, I went on to do a year of weekly appointments with a Master's counseling student for $25 a session. I talked through everything; virtually every single aspect of my upbringing and my fears and my control issues, until there was nothing left to say and we were both staring at each other. I'll never forget the day the counselor said to me, "I think we are done here." It was one of the best moments of my life. I had faced the worst and scariest parts of my life and my personality, and come out stronger and better than ever before.

I credit those two separate counseling experiences with the rise of my self confidence. I had a lot of baggage to work through, as we all do, and sometimes we need to invest in ourselves above and beyond what our friends can do for us. Making powerful connections between how we feel and how we act is life changing. When you slowly become healthier in your emotions, you see things clearly about yourself and others, and you don't ever want to go back to the trapped way you felt before.

It's not a magic cure. It's hard work, and the willingness to look deep inside of yourself and not flinch. We are all broken and damaged, but every one of us has the possibility of redemption living within us. We just need the courage to clean out the garbage, bag by bag, until we are lighter and more organized inside. It's not an easy thing to do, but by far the most rewarding process of my life to this point.

Van Transmissions

Stress doesn't back off simply because you are already under stress. Often it keeps coming, relentlessly picking at you, until you are worn down and discouraged. We piled into our van on Sunday morning for church and immediately noticed the "check engine" light burning on the dash. It felt sluggish, even going 30 km around town, and was having trouble changing gears. We went home to get Jason's car and carried on into Calgary, but the worry began to eat away at both of us.

We just put winter tires on the van, hoping it would get us through to the spring and then we planned to replace it. It's an 02, but other than basic maintenance, we've put no money into it in the four years we've owned it. You always know this day is coming, but you are never prepared for the phone call from the mechanic, who is also a friend, saying that the transmission is toast and needs to be completely rebuilt.

Making decisions when you feel panicked about money and overall life busyness is a bad situation. Jason and I both took time that we didn't have in our day yesterday to research a new vehicle for me to drive, all the while feeling sick that we invested in Jason's work car last fall and we hadn't researched or planned for another vehicle purchase this quickly.

I felt very overwhelmed looking for something else, because I didn't know exactly what I was looking for, and anything halfway decent was insanely expensive. Finally I calmed down a little, quieted my soul for the fifteen minutes I had before it was time to get Ava from school and take her to voice lessons in Airdrie (Jason came home early to work from home so I had a car) and realized that I wasn't prepared to buy a vehicle right now.

Making room for that still, small voice to speak can change everything in an instant. Before I listened for it, the idea of plunging thousands of dollars into an old van seemed downright silly, but after I heard it, I realized that it was the best option for us at this moment. It felt right, where the frantic shopping and spending money we hadn't planned for felt wrong. So I picked up the phone, called Jason, discovered he felt the same, and let our mechanic know that we wanted to fix the transmission and squeeze a little more life out of the van.

These inconveniences of life are frustrating, but in the long run they don't mean anything. The sting of spending this money and the time juggling one car for our family will fade into nothingness. It's not our health or our relationships. Money is significantly less important than those things. Making room for the still, small voice is the critical thing.

We all have to make decisions that we can live with, and recognize that blown transmissions are a part of life as a human being on planet earth. I want to embrace the opportunity to believe that it will all work out as it should. I have a chance for my faith to increase; to believe that God will look after us as he always has, and that often beauty comes from stress and frustration if we will open our eyes to it, and be open to the form it may arrive in.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Kindness Revolution

This week I've been inspired by all of the little ways we can improve life for each other. With very little time and energy, we can begin a kindness revolution that will keep going. It's a "pay it forward" concept, but it doesn't require that someone do something for you in order to play your own role.

It's about opening your eyes to the people in your circle, and looking for small ways to encourage them. A kind word here, a card there, a chocolate bar when a person is feeling low and needs a pick-me-up. In our busy, self-centred culture, days become months and then years and we hide behind being busy or stressed, and opportunities to notice and appreciate someone are lost forever.

I realized that this was happening to me, and I wanted to change it without uprooting my life or freaking people out. The solution I came up with is paying closer attention to the needs that are around me and responding where it makes sense to do so. It might take five minutes to pull cookies out of my freezer and drive it to my friend's house, the friend who has been up all night with a fussing baby and is feeling discouraged. To me, the gesture is so small it almost doesn't count, but to her it offers a chance to be noticed, and cared for, and affirmed in the job she is doing as a mom.

I don't want to be so focused on myself anymore. I want to be open to that still, small voice that whispers and nudges me toward someone, and be aware of the ideas that may pop into my head at any given moment. It doesn't mean radically changing my life and giving away huge sums of money, but instead demonstrating a willingness to notice who is hurting and who could use a few words of encouragement.

A friend and I have been practicing this with each other. Simply saying, "You are a good mom/daughter/friend" to someone carries a real uplifting power. I've been coming to terms with the fact that the kind of validation I'm looking for is missing from the parents in my life, so I'm searching for other places to build it in.

I find I walk a little taller, breathe a little deeper, and feel lighter and happier inside when I've been affirmed in this way. I want to bring that to other people, and the process of saying it to someone doesn't cost a thing, and it can make all of the difference in our relationships.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Emotional Process

Emotion is hard work. Walking through it is a bit like making your way through a bog, with mud in your boots while wearing a soaking wet jacket. It's exhausting, but there is no way around it, only through it. I find myself wanting to process things quickly, moving on to the next item on my agenda, but sometimes emotion has a way of working us over slowly, teaching us a variety of lessons if we are willing to actually learn them.

Pain is an exceptional instructor. It hurts us in order to change us; remaking us in a new mold, and this process is never easy. I have a feeling that this season in my life is going to yield great rewards in time, if I will be patient, and as I learn new and better ways of functioning in this world, I hope my writing is a beneficiary.

I long to be honest about everything. This tends to be uncomfortable for some people, and causes friction in my relationships. I'm learning slowly to move past these worries and fears. My writing is of no use to anyone if it's not based on truth and vulnerability. I've read writing that talks down to me and preaches at me, and I'm not interested in reading that or writing in that mold. I want to search for what rings true, experience it to the best of my ability, and then describe it in the hopes that someone else can find themselves and be encouraged.

I think it will take me a bit of time to really work through what is being planted in my soul right now. This is the broken part, where it looks like shambles, but out of the dust and devastation, something beautiful and true will arise. I've seen it before and I look forward to it happening again. I have to trust that the words will be there when I need them, because right now it's a bit too raw, and I need to walk a little further down this road to develop my confidence in myself before tackling these thorny subjects.

Progress in any form is encouraging to me. I feel bruised and scraped, but I can sense the beginning of the healing process, and I believe it's all going to work itself out. For now, I'll use my "Keep Calm and Carry On" mug that was a present from a lovely friend who reads my blog, and I will follow that advice, for that's all any of us can do when we've been knocked around a little and are struggling to find our way back home.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Heart Changes

We are not responsible for anyone except ourselves. Sometimes we need a reminder of this truth, and yesterday I felt whacked upside of my head with it. I've had an emotional week, on the heels of a difficult and draining month, and when one more apple comes into your already overflowing cart, the whole thing can tip, and you have an emotional mess flowing everywhere.

I'm so grateful for a couple of good friends who managed to be there during this volcanic eruption, and who demonstrated the fine art of compassion and support when I was in dire need of both. Being validated by other people is an act of healing in itself. They said, "We see you hurting, and this is what we observe, and we'll pray for you to look at the situation with new eyes."

There were hugs and "I love you's", and something deep down inside that was sore and festering got some air, and I think I turned a corner that has been very hard for me to navigate. My internal GPS was malfunctioning when it came to this personal situation, and my friends gently steered me on a better course.

This kind of thing is why we need friends. They assured me that I wasn't responsible for the person I was concerned about, and it felt a little like that pivotal scene in Good Will Hunting where Robin Williams as the therapist repeats to Matt Damon's damaged genius, over and over, "It's not your fault, it's not your fault" until he really gets it in his soul. "You are not responsible" was what I needed to hear, and after a number of times, it began to bloom in the hard soil of my heart, and I think it will all be easier for me now.

There is something powerful about caring for each other, and really taking the time to speak into each other's lives. I've been making an effort this week to do that for people around me, to take a few minutes to tell them I see them, I feel for them, and provide encouragement that they are good moms/friends/husbands/kids. Last night I got a dose of what I've been trying to give out, and the power of that encouragement and support cannot be measured. Its effects are far reaching, and healing, and quite possibly could change the world.

Friday, September 24, 2010


I had an emotional experience at my Mom's group yesterday. We watched a DVD by Christian comedian and author Julie Barnhill called She's Going to Blow. It was about anger in mothers and ideas for managing our own rage with our children. It was hilarious in spots, but cut me quite literally to the core when she talked about her difficult relationship with her son.

She said she wanted to fix him, from the time he was born, believing firmly that something was wrong with him because he was so difficult. She went to a seminar when her son was two and a half years old, specifically choosing a session on children's temperaments, with the intention of diagnosing his problems and solving them to make him easier to get along with.

In the seminar, she ticked off all of the boxes that described her own temperament, and then went on to do her son's. She was astonished to discover that the columns were virtually identical. She experienced that "aha!" moment where she recognized that nothing was wrong with her son, except that his personality was basically the same as his mother's.

I had a similar moment this summer, where I finally found the courage to take a hard look at myself and confront the reality of what I was doing to my innocent son. I was withholding a very big part of myself from him, with the best intentions in the world, but logical explanations don't mean much to a small child.

I was deathly afraid of William's need for me, and I wanted to toughen him up so he wouldn't move into adulthood like so many boys who never quite outgrow a clingy relationship with their mother. I wanted him to stand strong, apart from me, but I was quite literally pushing him away from me since he was born, and refusing to take responsibility for my own actions and fears.

When someone asked me this summer, "What would happen if you gave him what he wants from you?" it was like sunlight streaming into a dark and lonely place. Immediately I could breathe a little deeper, and look at it from another angle. What I was doing wasn't working - I was creating a more fearful child and not doing my base job as a mother, to make my children feel loved, safe and secure.

Once I changed, William changed, and the black and white landscape between us took on hues of vibrant colour. We still have setbacks, and will continue to have them as long as we are both alive, but I learned that I can face my fears, take ownership of them, and change the steps to the dysfunctional dance we had established.

It was one of the biggest changes of my life, and watching the DVD brought it back to me, with tears right at the surface, and I couldn't wait to flee when it was over and have a good cry. Guilt over what we can't change is a useless exercise. All we can do is embrace the changes as they come, and forgive ourselves for our own brokenness and pain. I would love to go back to the day I first held him in my arms and do it all differently, but that option isn't open to me. All I can do is tell him, "I'm sorry," forgive myself for my own frailties and mistakes, and do better from this point forward.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


The nominations have been announced for mayor and town council in our fair town, and there is a genuine race on our hands. It means we have kicked our campaign into high gear, since both of us tend to jump into these things with both feet and do our best to win the race we find ourselves in.

My initial plans for this week didn't include creating a brochure and ordering signs, but that's what my week has turned into. I am consistently amazed at how much we can actually accomplish when we feel motivated and inspired. If it doesn't feel like drudgery, it becomes almost fun, and I feel good going to sleep at night knowing I have put in a solid effort and actually produced something measurable, which I can hold in my hand.

To accomplish something specific in my day is very satisfying to me. I know that putting time into my kids is an investment that bears fruit in due time, but some days I also need the immediate gratification of production - crossing items off of my list and knowing that I am moving forward to turn ideas into reality.

I expect that the political climate in our town might quickly turn personal, but we are warding that off as long as possible. We haven't changed, simply because Jason wanted to run for town council. We are the same people with the same values and friends. I want to continue being ourselves, and not place expectations on anyone around us for any reason.

It's a battle we all face on a regular basis. To be fully who we are in the world and remain respectful of those who differ from us. I don't want anyone to feel pressure on our relationship because of this new venture for Jason. We are trying to hold loosely to the entire process - putting ourselves forward in the community, but offering every person the freedom to make the political choice which makes the most sense for them, with no strings attached for us.

I'm glad that we both heard that still, small voice of God before we began this journey toward town council. It feels like the right time to step forward and take this risk. I thought it would drive Jason and I further apart because of the extra time commitment for him, but in fact it has brought us closer together and revitalized us.

I'm so grateful for our town, and all that it has given to us as a family. I never dreamed that the kind of community we have found here even existed in the world. Now we want to give something back, because we have been given so much.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Rat on a Wheel

Our lives are anchored in the mundane routine of chores and tiny tasks which add up to a lot, but seem inconsequential and maddeningly frustrating when taken individually. And when I say "our lives" I think I really mean "women's lives." Most men who have wives don't manage anywhere near the same number of mind-numbing tasks that are required to keep a family humming along.

I don't think that my husband really understands how much busywork goes into my days and my evenings. I am beyond grateful to stay home with my kids, and I understand that he works very hard at his job, but sometimes I become aware of a simmering rage doing all that I do because most of it isn't noticed by anyone.

It's all of the little things that only other moms really understand. Once in awhile we forget why we are working so hard for so little recognition, and then we remind ourselves that our work is important. I think we need to affirm each other, because as a society we don't hear much in the way of positive feedback. In the workplace, both men and women face a lot of stress and difficult people, but you also get fairly regular feedback on how you are doing.

As a mom and as a woman who has chosen to stay home with my young kids, I find positive regard from outside sources to be in very short supply. I know that when I have a good day with my kids, like I wrote about yesterday, I realize that the proof of what I am working for lies in them, and often it is enough for me. Then there are the other days, when our behind the scenes work is overlooked at best and semi-scorned at worst and we have to painstakingly rebuild our confidence in ourselves.

What I am building is designed to last a lifetime. Putting time and energy into my kids is not wasted time. It's intentional. Every day that I get them safely from waking up in the morning to going to bed in the evening, and they know that they are loved and valued, is a day that I have spent investing in them as the next generation.

As a mom, I'm going to look for more ways to encourage other moms that our work is valuable, even when it feels like we are a rat on a wheel in a tiny cage in a pet store, repeating the same monotonous tasks over and over again. We are in fact much more than the sum of our little but important tasks. My kids won't remember all of the meals I made, the baths I supervised, the stories I read or the conversations I had with them, but they will remember that I was the one doing those things for them, and for one reason only: love.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Parenting Pride

Yesterday was a good day for me as a mom. It started out a bit rocky, with William saying it wasn't fair that Ava got to go to singing lessons and get a new fish to replace the one she got in March for her birthday that was found belly up in late June. I realized he was right, particularly about the voice lessons, so I did some research and found a local gymnastics program perfect for his age.

I hadn't considered any form of paid, organized activity for him earlier because of his clingy nature and fear of any new experience. Ava had been in gymnastics since she was a baby, and she had tried soccer and t-ball before she was four years old, but she was always game for anything, and William is built with a totally different makeup.

He has come so far in a three week period that it makes my head spin. We saw the psychologist, tried a variety of her ideas, got him fully immersed in his new preschool environment, and suddenly he is demonstrating confidence that I never dreamed I'd see from him. It's incredibly encouraging.

I called the gymnastics place and asked if he could come and try it out. He cried all the way there, clung to my leg in the gym and sobbed some more while the other happy kids clustered around the coaches and made it look easy. After ten minutes, I said with obvious frustration, "Let's just go if you don't want to try this. I guess you aren't ready for gymnastics." He agreed wholeheartedly and wanted to leave, but the coach urged me to come and sit on the mat with him and the other kids, so I swallowed my pride and did so. Within five minutes, he was off and running and having the time of his life, and I was able to go and join the other moms and marvel at how much fun he was having.

Why am I so slow to learn that it's not about me in these situations? I didn't want to sit with him and ease him into the new environment because I thought that would be a crutch he would always need, but it turns out he only needed it for five minutes. He had such a great time, and said he wanted to return, so I signed him up for eight weeks of classes, and we both walked out of there feeling great.

After school, we picked up Ava and took her to her second voice lesson, and I literally watched her stand a little taller and sparkle around the edges during the thirty minutes she sang scales, learned to read a few basic notes, and sang her first song with her teacher. My daughter loves to sing and perform, and I was really proud as I watched her charm her voice coach, and heard the genuine praise that came Ava's way.

To celebrate, I took the kids out for dinner to Smitty's, one of their favourite eateries, as Jason had a work dinner. We ate and chatted and laughed, and I basked in the glow of that rare parenting moment: a pride that sneaks up on you when you least expect it and whispers, "These little people are fantastic. Good job."

It makes the really bad days bearable when you have these memories to summon and enjoy. We came home and played a few hands of Go Fish and Crazy Eights, and went into a peaceful bedtime of stories and songs. I started my own time in the evening with a peace in my spirit. All days won't be like this, but for right now, I'm feeling proud and grateful and aware of many of the good qualities in my children.

Monday, September 20, 2010


We watched Batman Begins again over the weekend, and one line jumped out at me and provided something new to think about. During his training period, Liam Neeson's character tells Batman, "What you really fear is inside you." We've all heard variations on this theme, but put so succinctly, it provided me with a certain comfort, because I am in control of what is inside of me.

I have always viewed fear as an external thing; a shadowy presence outside of me which has the power to strike when I least expect it, paralyzing me from moving forward. The point of the scene in the movie was that everything we fear resides in us, and we must face those fears in order to conquer them.

I suppose for some people, the idea of looking inward is terrifying, but I have the opposite view. I want to be in control of my own life, and not give up that control to outside influences. My greatest fears are likely similar to other people's: sickness, infirmity, death, poverty, violence, and airplane turbulence. Looking at them one by one, it becomes possible to isolate the root causes of each of them, and understand that I want to maintain control and not be surprised by anything.

No one wants to die, or at least the vast majority of the human population is afraid of the concept, but yet it's not a surprise to any of us. We are all going to die, but we have no idea when or how, and that element of surprise is therefore present in our every day lives. Many of my friends are thrill seekers and have learned to tame this fear in a way that I have yet to conquer, but some of those same people likely succumb to societal pressure in a way that I'm learning to untangle myself from.

In a very real way, we are all working on aspects of ourselves all of the time, and nothing is done in a moment. It takes years, or even our entire lifetime, to face our fears and find ways to master them. In a movie like Batman Begins, he is afraid of bats, so he forces himself into a cave where bats can fly all around him, and just like that, he's cured. It's not quite the same in real life. We come up against the same fears, over and over, and eventually find ways around some of our biggest issues.

Patience is required. I'm going to try to take the long range view of these things. I won't expect a miracle when I look inward to face my fears. I will give myself time to heal from what has hurt me and understand that growth is a very slow process, but the most rewarding thing we have as human beings. We are all in this life together, facing the same major terrors, and maybe we can encourage each other through the darkest of the valleys we encounter. If we know that we aren't the only ones with these fears, there is a chance we can fight them together, for there is safety and bravery in numbers.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Saying No

Saying no is a powerful thing. We live in a world where we are often pressured to do things we really don't want to do, and one benefit of being more comfortable in my own skin is using my right to say no. There are hard choices to make, every single day, on how I will spend my time, money and energy, and I love experimenting with my newfound freedom to prioritize my nuclear family above some of my obligations.

Every time I consider a request and say no, I feel more confident in myself. Sometimes it becomes very hard, and you must fight guilt and fear of being punished for your decision, but part of being an adult is standing up to that kind of forceful expectation, and living with the fall-out. Mostly I have to manage my own anxiety when I feel pressured and I say no anyway. Usually the intensity of the situation fades in good time, and if I feel I did what was right for me at the time, I have to learn to accept that not everyone is going to agree with me, and that's okay.

Saying yes to one thing means you say no to something else. It's not meant to be taken personally. Everyone has to decide based on what works best for their own needs. There is a time to give, when you don't feel like giving, but there is also a time to stand up for yourself and your family, and say no to things that don't bring you life or joy.

I'm learning that it's okay to invite people to things, as long as I'm comfortable with their answer, be it yes or no, and not punish them for it. This takes some practice in the kind of world we live in, and particularly in a small town, where every person is invited to a million and a half things every week. My evenings with my family are precious to me. When I was younger, I longed to flee my house and escape in the evenings, but now I want to hole up and relax after my busy days and be snug as a bug in a rug (I'm not saying we have bugs, or even rugs for that matter, but I'm sure you know what I mean).

We all have to find the line that we are comfortable walking. Saying yes to everything because you feel pressured to do so is not the way to go, because eventually you'll burn out and hit a big brick wall. Saying no to everything is also a tough stance because soon you won't be invited to anything. Finding the balance that works, and not being fearful of the consequences of saying no, seems to work well for me.

I know there are hurt feelings along the way, and people have to manage how they feel when their request is respectfully declined. I can't take on that responsibility or I'll go crazy with guilt, and live my life to please other people, and I've discovered after many years of trying, that's a dead-end road leading nowhere.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

20 Year Reunion

I'm heading to my high school today to meet up with a few of my classmates for our 20 year reunion. When I was young, I used to loathe it when people exclaimed, "Where did the time go?" and "I can't believe twenty years have gone by!" but this is truly a case of youth being wasted on the young, because people say those things for one reason only: they are true. Perspective is everything, and at seventeen or eighteen years of age, you feel you have the world by a string, and that time is stretching out endlessly in front of you.

And then one day you wake up and go to your 20 year reunion, and you realize that almost half of your life is behind you, and you make those banal exclamations, remembering all the while how much you hated them when you were young. There is a certain satisfaction in looking back and seeing how far you've come, because if I was offered the choice to go back to my high school self, in all its vacuous glory, I would probably say no.

Or would I? It's always tempting to want to go back and fix the mistakes you made, but I would want to go back with the wisdom I have at 37 years of age, and I know that's not possible. I was an idiot, in the nicest sense of the word, at seventeen, but I was blissfully unaware of this fact, and felt I was one of the brightest people on the planet. Youth brings with it a bravado and a confidence which isn't based on any form of reality, but it doesn't really matter because you are so young and vibrant and can fake your way through anything.

I love the wisdom and maturity that I've attained simply by living another twenty years, and I wouldn't trade my husband and kids for anything on earth, but there is something ridiculously appealing about going back to my seventeen year old self, even for a few hours this afternoon. I wish more of our graduating class was able to attend, as I'm looking forward to catching up with people I haven't seen since I was so young, and so hopeful about everything the future was going to bring to me.

We capture some of that hope and enthusiasm again by parenting our kids through the same stages. We see their mistakes, and their frailties, and hopefully tap into that fierce energy, and remember what we were like at that age, when anything and everything seemed both possible and probable. We become cynical and jaded along the way, and I would like to connect with that hopeful seventeen year old version of myself today when I walk the halls of my old school and stroll down memory lane with my classmates. That time is long gone, but it's become a part of the fabric of who I am, so in a very real way it remains alive.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Miles Ahead

If there is one thing I have hammered into Ava's mind and soul, it is to pick a good husband when the time comes. Every few months I make her repeat the number one quality she should look for in a man. She rolls her eyes a little and recites, "He has to be kind, and hopefully make me laugh, and be my best friend. Oh, and I have to listen to what you and Daddy think about who I fall in love with."

Kindness is the key. My parents had a less-than-stellar marriage, and I was terrified of making a bad marriage choice on a subconscious level. I polled everyone, friends and family, about Jason when we first met. I was impressed by him, but was I falling prey to the blurry vision of all people in love and being snowed under by my feelings? Could others see that he was a stand-up guy who would be loyal and kind and true to his word in the tough times?

Thankfully, everyone in my life gave Jason a unanimous thumbs-up when it came time to commit my life to him. They could see what I long suspected - he was the real thing, and when someone that good comes along and actually falls in love with you, there is a gratitude that flows between you and back out to the world, and taking the plunge into marriage becomes the only half-way reasonable course of action.

It's been twelve years now, and I continue to see sides of Jason which inspire and move me. This week has been very stressful for him at work, with a lot of important customer meetings and presentations and travel, and he's trying to campaign for a town councilor position at the same time, and yet he makes our family his highest priority. He came home a little early one night this week, ate dinner with us, played Wii with the kids, supervised bath time, headed off to a town meeting, and when he returned at 9 pm, tired and fighting a cold, he heard Ava talking to herself in her room, still awake, and went in to cuddle and whisper with her for a few minutes.

I stopped what I was doing and heard them talking and laughing about her day. He listened while she recited the plot of her latest Pony Pal book from the library, and told stories from recess at school, and how excited she is for Santa to bring her an American Girl doll this Christmas. He kissed her and hugged her and left absolutely no doubt in her mind that she is loved and treasured above all else.

Once again, I thanked God for bringing Jason to me all of those years ago, and giving me the courage to step into marriage with the right person, someone who had the ability to fix parts of me that had been broken in my childhood. I watch the close relationship between Ava and Jason, and I vicariously live through it, offering bits of healing to my own soul, and applying band-aids where there were once gaping wounds. We will do other sorts of unintentional damage to our beloved children, but in this case, Jason and Ava are miles ahead of where I was with my dad as a child, and simply saying, "Thank you" doesn't seem to be enough to express how deep my gratitude runs.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Be Gentle With Yourself

I am comfortable with ambition and motivation, but when my energy flags, I begin to panic. I think I have always struggled with this concept of relaxation which has not been earned. If I work like a dog until I'm bone weary, and cross at least half of the things off my lengthy list, I feel like I can unwind and relax with no guilt. If I have a long list and I'm not conquering it, I worry that somehow I've lost my edge and it's all over.

I have always had this fear lurking at the edge of my subconscious, waiting to pounce and defeat me. Instead of panicking, today I gave myself the kind of advice I would likely give to a friend who had the kind of month I have just come out of, one rife with conflicts, difficulties and emotional upheaval: be gentle with yourself. Even just typing the words brings me to tears because I have been quick to offer this solution to my friends, and so bloody slow to accept it for myself.

No matter how far I have traveled along the road to separate my personal value from my accomplishments, I discover in these moments that I am not as far as I thought I was. I am not what I do. They are two separate things. I have intrinsic value as an individual, as a wife and mother, as a friend, a daughter, and all of the other roles I fill on a regular basis. If I am simply myself, to the best of my ability, it is enough.

I don't have to prove anything with my accomplishments in order to be acceptable and lovable to those in my life. Perhaps if I state it over and over, I will actually believe it. I wish this concept wasn't so hard for me to understand on a soul level. Perhaps in my childhood the two things (value and effort) were so intertwined that I had no real way of separating them, so in times of stress, I fall back on my fears that if I'm not producing something impressive, I am worthless.

It's garbage of the highest order, and I've spent years convincing my mind of this truth, but my spirit is the harder sell. I have prioritized this issue for my kids, being careful not to say, "Good girl" or "Good boy" when they accomplish something, but instead I say, "Good job". I wanted them to start out in life at a point that took me many years to reach - knowing that all of their value exists in who they are, and what they do flows out of that. Our efforts don't define us; they reveal us.

I have lots of inspiration right now, I'm just lacking motivation to get the words on paper or the legwork done for upcoming classes, but I have confidence that my motivation will return. Sometimes being gentle with ourselves is the way to healing. Being busy often masks the emotions that we need to feel in order to move on and not remain mired where we are.

I've had a lot happening in the last four weeks, and now that it's all settling down, the emotional fall-out must be managed before I can resume business as usual. Taking time for myself is not wasted time. Recognizing this is the first step to getting better. Gentleness and kindness are good for the soul; they create space for beauty and growth and lead the way for motivation and accomplishment when the time is right.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Mind

We all dwell inside of our own minds, in a private world that no one can understand or access unless we choose to let people in through our words and emotions. Often I look at people and wonder what is going on in their minds. When my kids are talking to me, and I am nodding and "mmm-hmm-ing", I'm becoming aware of how deeply embedded I am in my own mind at those times.

I have to be careful not to disengage too much from the moments I find myself in, but since I've begun regularly writing again, I escape as often as I can into the recesses of my own mind and creativity. Yesterday was my dad's birthday, and I didn't give it a single thought until I dropped Ava off at school and passed a man in a car who resembled my dad, and it popped into my head that he would have been 66 years old if he hadn't died in 2002. I like being open to those kinds of thoughts, and not being afraid of any emotion that might come attached to these recollections.

Our minds are curious things. They give us information all of the time, random and fleeting thoughts that accumulate into a whole to direct our ideas onto a recognizable path. If we pause to listen to our thoughts and marshal them into some semblance of order, we find that there is a pattern working all of the time. Our subconscious informs our mind, and there is a sense of scattered order to all of it.

I'm learning to accept the chaos of my own experience, and embrace what it is trying to teach me. Things happen to us for a reason, and if we are willing to accept what is going on around us, and in us, there is usually a point to it. I wish I spent more time noticing the little things in my younger years. I was so busy rushing around that I didn't stop to process how I felt and learn the lessons that life was trying to teach me. One of the best benefits of aging is slowing down and being more in touch with my experiences and emotions.

We aren't privy to the inner workings of another person's process, and if they won't share with us, we are left to guess and assume when dialogue and actions don't match up. This process usually leads to hurt feelings and misunderstandings. Clear communication can fix some of these problems, but people don't always communicate clearly because of fear or pressure or a million other reasons that often remain a mystery.

I love the idea that we all have a private sanctuary inside of our own minds, a place we can retreat to in safety that no one else can infiltrate, but occasionally I dream of a world where we are honest with ourselves, and by extension, with others. I love the redemption that comes when you can be really transparent with another person, be it your spouse, your family members or your friends. That is the best freedom I have found in any relationship thus far: the right to be myself, without censoring my thoughts or emotions, and be accepted and loved as I am, not as I would like to be or am expected to be.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Grace Under Pressure

I long to exhibit grace under pressure, but still remain true to who I am, without putting on any kind of act. It's a fine line that I have yet to learn to navigate. I spent too many years of my life being fake, working hard to be accepted by others, and that is the way madness lies, and I will never walk that road again. But the flip side of being authentically myself at all times, is that I end up spazzing out sometimes in a public way, and generally at my kids.

Part of me feels that this true side of me might be inspiring to others, because it offers other parents the chance to stop pretending and be okay with the fact that we all lose our tempers sometimes. And then fear creeps in, and I begin to worry that people think I'm mean and crabby with my children, and maybe they are right.

No one is patient with their kids all of the time. We are all human, and prone to tiredness and frustration, often when we least expect it. We hosted a variety of friends in our home on the weekend to discuss the upcoming municipal election, and I jumped up and down many times over the course of the afternoon to refill the snack plate, solve spats among the kids for toys, and keep babies from falling down our steep stairs into the basement.

I had good energy and patience for the bulk of the afternoon, and all the way through dinner with some friends, and only reached my breaking point when we had two separate juice incidents. William spilled iced tea on the living room carpet right before we put our ham dinner on the table (the rule is no juice anywhere but the kitchen table) and I was irritated, but cleaned it up and maintained that accidents happen, and it's not a big deal. We enjoyed dinner and dessert, and just as the evening was winding to a pleasant close, Ava poured iced tea into a cup on the island and shook the juice jug, dislodging the lid and flooding the kitchen with sticky, syrupy juice.

I would love to report that I smiled tensely and began cleaning it up, but that would be a falsehood of the highest order. I flipped out, yelling about the mess and how I just washed the floor on Saturday (my most hated household chore) and why couldn't she just pour juice without spilling it everywhere? She was already crying and upset the instant the lid flew off; it wasn't like I needed to hammer the point home for her sake. I simply saw a huge mess that had to be cleaned up before I could sit down and relax, and I knew at that moment that once again, I had crammed too much into a twelve hour period.

Our friends grabbed their kids and hustled out of the house, and I hated having the evening end on such a dour note, but life with kids is filled with messes and mistakes and rage where you would prefer to feel love and mercy. Jason got the kids in their PJ's and teeth brushed while I sopped up the mess, opening the island drawers to find more juice all over dishes and cutlery, and feeling very hard done by indeed.

By the time it was clean, and I had calmed down and tried to put it all in perspective, I was able to go to Ava and apologize for my outburst, and remind her that no one is perfect all of the time. Not her, as she tried to pour juice and experienced imperfection, and certainly not me, as I overloaded my own personal applecart and took out my exhaustion on my seven year old child. We both cried and hugged and said we were sorry.

I'm grateful for our friends who didn't judge me for my meltdown. I'm also glad that I'm willing to say sorry to my child, and that she feels the freedom to apologize in return. We can forgive each other, reminding ourselves that we aren't perfect and it's okay to make mistakes, and our relationship can be restored. I can work on my character so the next time I'm under pressure and there is a juice explosion (or something similar), perhaps I'll demonstrate a little grace mixed in with my anger.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Remember Your First Love

It was so good to get back to church yesterday. We were away for most of the summer, and missed regular contact with our church family. We got the kids settled in to their kids program (thankfully preschool is helping William here as he went without crying which is cause for celebration in itself) and sat down for a dose of inspiration from our fine pastor, and once again he did not disappoint.

He spoke on Revelation 2 which reminds us, "Remember your first love. Remember the heights from which you have fallen." We were encouraged to remember how we felt when we first met Jesus. To recall the peace, joy and love we experienced initially, before adding layer upon layer of theology and regulations to our first love.

What inspired me the most was not the message, but the honest and transparent way it was delivered. Our pastor is always willing to look inside of his own heart first, and examine how far he has personally strayed from his first love, and try to figure out how to get back to the height from which he has fallen.

It is all so simple, and yet the church as a collective whole has made it so complicated. It's about Jesus, making a way for us to reach God, and through Jesus we have been offered forgiveness, grace, mercy and love without condemnation or judgement. The rules of religion bring arguments, and division, and fear that you don't have all of the answers, when at the base it's about peace and joy and love.

Getting back to that simplicity, for most people who love Jesus, is a long process of stripping away all that we have been taught, and getting back to the basics. Love God, love others. That's been my focus for years, but I still have a distance to travel to really remember my first love, and connect to it without all of the excess baggage. I don't need to be right anymore. I don't want to waste time arguing the fine points of theology because it has ceased to matter to me. I want to follow Jesus, wherever he leads me, and I want to love others, and make it as simple as possible.

I love that my pastor is willing to walk this road in front of his congregation, and be honest about what he finds buried inside of his own heart. That kind of bravery is hard to find in this cynical world, and it lights the way like a candle in a very dark space. I'm drawn to it, and I believe that it has the power to transform the entire world, if we will allow it to first change our own heart, and help us get back to our first love.


Hospitality seems to be dying away in our busy culture. We love to host people in our home, but it tends to go in spurts. When we go a long time without having friends over for dinner, or coffee, or an open house or theme party, we can easily find excuses why we can't: we are too busy, the house is too messy, or we can't afford it.

I don't like to get out of the habit of having people over, for hospitality greases the wheels of friendship and breaks down barriers in our relationships. Meeting for a movie or dinner at a restaurant is lots of fun, and has its place, but more and more friendships are developing outside of people's homes, and I think an element of warmth and intimacy is missing when you meet at an external location.

I want my friends and family to know me as I really am, and part of that openness is tied into being in my home environment. When I clean my house for my guests, I am serving them in a very practical way. Not to show off or put on airs, but simply because I like to live in a neat and orderly place, and I want to share that part of myself with my friends.

Preparing food for guests has a certain pleasure to it as well, because in putting effort into a meal and the presentation of the table, we are saying that our friendships are valuable to us. It is a tactile way of telling people how much we care about them, and sharing food is a great way to create lasting memories with people in our circle of friends.

My heart was warmed the other day when Ava and William had a group of neighbour kids over to play. They were on the back deck with an array of barbies and dinosaurs, when Ava came in and began pulling cups out of the cupboard and filling them with water. I asked her what she was doing, and she replied, "I asked my friends if they wanted water, and so I'm getting it for them." A little while later, she asked if she could offer them a snack of animal crackers which she found in the pantry, and I said yes.

Somewhere along the line she has picked up hospitality from us, and I couldn't be prouder of that quality developing in her. I never want to be so busy or stressed that I give up hosting friends for meals in my home. It doesn't matter whether or not it's reciprocated, because hospitality isn't about ticks in a column on a scorecard. It's about giving of ourselves, and sharing our lives on a real level with people we care about, and I hope we always value it near the top of our priority list.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Jason has been interested in politics for as long as I've known him, and probably much earlier than that. He longs to make a difference; to take a risk and be invested in his community. When we moved to our town almost four years ago, an election was taking place, but we were so green and new that we didn't get involved at all. Now, a few years later, we are thoroughly invested in our small town, and over the summer Jason began to make noises about running for town council.

At first I ignored these rumblings. He is deeply committed to his job, traveling when it's required, and already serving on a variety of charity boards. I guard his family time with great jealousy, wanting to keep him for us as much as possible, but I also recognize that we have similar personality types, and keeping busy and one step ahead of our ambition is a priority.

I recently joined the library board in our town, and I've been on the steering team for our local mothers group for three years now, and I think Jason feels it's his turn to step up and make his voice heard. He wants to serve our town, and I had to struggle to move my own selfishness out of the way, and listen to that still, small voice of God, directing us in the way we should go.

If it is functioning well, marriage is a compromise, on all sides and at all times. Jason provides financially for our family, and I have been afforded the wonderful opportunity to stay home with my preschool aged children and work into my dream job of writing professionally. In order to do this, he has worked long hours and advanced further in his career than I ever thought possible for his age. I am immensely proud of what he has given to us as his family. Now perhaps the time has come to share his gentle logic and problem-solving skills with our town.

It's going to be an interesting process. Politics is a touchy area, where people have strong opinions, and any good you are able to do is generally not enough to satisfy the public. But someone has to try, and if he feels called to serve, I am not about to stand in his way. I've worked through my reservations, to this point, and I'm able to honestly stand behind him and be supportive. It's a new road to walk, filled with challenges, and sometimes we need to step out and take a risk, whether we are completely ready or not. Now is the time, and with enthusiasm we will try together, and see where it leads us.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Creative Process

I am fascinated by how the creative process functions. A few months ago, a friend from church asked if I would consider writing a short play for the kids to perform at Christmas. In the past, they have scoured the internet for something suitable for each age group, and created a presentation from that, but since I'm writing regularly now, they came to me.

I had no ideas at all for this endeavour. None. In fact, I completely forgot about it until last night, when I was on my way into Calgary for a meeting with other Sunday School teachers. In an effort to lift my low spirits, I grabbed a Christmas CD to listen to on my thirty minute drive.

I popped it into the CD player, and felt immediately happier thinking of the upcoming Christmas season and all of the joys it brings to me. I was listening to Amy Grant, and when the song 'I Need a Silent Night' came on, inspiration struck. As I drove, I could visualize a stage, and the settings I would need to dramatize the song and focus on the theme of slowing down and finding true peace in the season.

I listened to the song over and over, allowing my mind to wander where it wanted to go, and by the time I arrived for the meeting I had the whole thing designed and planned in my head. I was itching to skip the policy discussions and the many forms to fill out, so I could concentrate on capturing on paper what was crystal clear in my mind. I wanted to list the characters, and describe the set pieces, and give each person dialogue to speak which would convey the feeling I had when I listened to the song.

The further I get in the writing process, the more I relax into understanding that the ideas come when they are ready, and not before. I can't force it. And when they come, if I give them the space to let my mind draw the pictures, then I can hang onto the spirit of the piece until I can sit down and capture it. I don't panic so much about "getting it all down". I know the biggest thing is to let the ideas germinate and develop at their own pace, and then be available to record them.

Now I have to figure out permission to use that song, and get a list of the kids who will be in the play, and then I can get it on paper. It's been many years since I've attempted to write a play, but when you get an idea, you want to carry it through and do your very best to do it justice. I love being open to the fact that inspiration is all around me, every day, if I will simply take notice, and trust the creative process to work.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


I don't respond well to bullies. In this respect, I identify very closely with my stubborn son, because if I feel forced into anything that is against my will, I immediately rebel. I prefer respectful communication: a request is presented, and I have the choice to respond with what works for me, without undue pressure or stress.

This is the utopia I long for, but which seems hard to find in this world. Many people move through life bullying people to do what they want them to do. This bullying can be overt or subtle, but the result is the same - do what I want, or you will suffer the consequences. One huge benefit to getting older is that I can spot this manipulation a mile away, and run in the other direction.

I am disappointed on a regular basis that people don't want to do what I want them to do, and I have to learn to accept that and not hold it against people. Others have to do the same for me. We all have one shot at this life, and we must choose to spend our time how we wish. Of course we have to give to others and sometimes do things we would rather not do out of kindness, but not because we are being forced into it.

I don't want to bully others. Ever, for any reason. If I can't get what I want, I must come to terms with that, and I don't want to get my own way at the expense of the other person's dignity, where they feel forced into my way of thinking. That isn't the way life should work. It's better not to get my own way and be respectful in the process, than to push someone to my side by force.

I find conversation sub-text to be exhausting. I want to have a conversation and know that the words match what the non-verbal cues are saying. When they don't line up, I become instantly wary of what is really being said underneath the dialogue, and that's where the bullying usually comes in.

I know that I don't have to do what I feel pressured to do. I can stand up and say no, and I frequently do that very thing, but usually it brings up conflict which is unpleasant to deal with. Bullying at any age is unacceptable to me, and I want to stop it in its tracks. There has to be a better way to communicate, with more respect and dignity all around, and even if the other person doesn't want to engage in that, I have no choice but to walk that road and do the best I can to be true to myself.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Yesterday was a big day for us as a family. Those who haven't had the joy of an overly dependent child don't understand how hard it is to reach necessary milestones, and encourage your timid kid to stay somewhere without you. People kept telling me, "He'll be fine once you leave, don't worry, he has to learn to do things on his own."

Before I had William, I would've happily doled out the same advice. It's meant to comfort, but when a child is so anxious you can see it in their face, and their body betrays their worry with red eyes and an upset tummy, it's not so easy to gloss over it. Other parents probably thought I made a mountain out of a molehill, and it's possible I did, but pushing William to do something he's afraid of is a very big task indeed, and it usually goes horribly wrong somewhere, and I feel embarrassed and frustrated by his dependency and fear.

Seeing the psychologist made all of the difference for me. I had to admit that I needed some help, that I was flailing on my own, and that William came first instead of my own needs as his parent. That appointment was the turning point. In a fifty minute session, she gave me practical solutions to this problem, and the pinprick of light I saw at the end of the tunnel widened to become something I could follow to get us out of the dark and into a new way of relating to each other.

The next day we put her suggestions into practice, and suddenly there was breathing space all around. I spent a lot of time talking to William honestly about what he was afraid of, naming each thing, and somehow this open discussion took the venom out of most of his anxiety. Instead of my usual approach, which was to say, "Don't be silly, you'll be fine, don't worry about everything", I followed the psychologist's lead and said, "I know it's scary to go away from me. It's okay to be scared. When I'm scared, I take a deep breath and remind myself that I'll be alright."

Having permission to own our feelings and not have to hide them is deeply freeing. It gives us space to accept ourselves as we are, not as we would prefer to be, and allows us to grow and change where we were once stuck in our own fears. I saw this transformation, not only in William but also in myself over the last week. The payoff came at his new preschool door, where he cried silently but didn't wail or cling, and before Jason was in his car, William had calmed down and started to participate with his teachers and his friends.

When I picked him up after lunch, he was beaming from ear to ear, with the biggest grin I've ever seen on his face. He had faced his fear, and found out he was stronger than he thought. We gave him some strategies to manage his anxiety, and allowed him to acknowledge his fear, and accepted him for who he is and not who we wanted him to be. We all learned a lot, and as a family we could rejoice in the reward of how successful his first morning was. Parenting is hard work, and sometimes, when it all clicks into place and works, you feel like you are soaring.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


We went to Calaway Park yesterday, a popular kid's amusement park outside of Calgary, because we wanted to do something fun as a family. I had been depressed all week, owing to a mix of the kids going back to school and an intense period of conflict with several people. I realized over the long weekend that it is devastating for my people-pleasing nature to have people actively disliking me, for a variety of reasons, and I had to look this sadness full in the face, and figure out a way to deal with it.

I added up everything in my mind, what I had said and what the other parties had said, and I grieved for the open conflict that festered like a wound because we weren't able to achieve a common resolution to the problems. I wanted to raise an issue, have it be discussed respectfully and honestly on all sides, and then resolve it with genuine apologies and new action plans. The other people involved were not able or willing to give me what I was looking for, and I had to come to terms with that.

On Sunday night, I stared out my front window at the night sky, and decided to lay these burdens down by the side of the road and walk away from them. I had to forgive the people who had hurt me, and ask again for forgiveness for where I had failed and made mistakes and inflicted pain on other people. I had to accept that it doesn't always work out the way I want it to, but I can't carry the responsibility for the whole process. I can do my part, and then I must wait, and I have to accept that not everyone is happy with me all of the time.

Depression is a frightening thing, because it works like a wet blanket, smothering out our enthusiasm, energy and zest for life. It makes you stagger under its weight, until the smallest obligations and efforts are utterly paralyzing and awful. You trudge uphill, and think about how you would rather be in bed, shutting the world away. Laying down those suitcases with rocks in them gave me immediate relief. I felt lighter, more capable, and less terrified.

We went out for breakfast, our holiday Monday tradition, and then carried on to Calaway Park. I still wasn't sure if I was back to myself, but I knew I was on a better path. Standing in the line for the balloon ride with William, while Ava and Jason went on a scarier ride somewhere else, I felt the wind in my face, saw the sun and the billowy white clouds, listened to my son's happy voice chattering away, and I felt the first twitches of recovery, like a very sick patient who squeezes someone's hand and you know that they are going to make it.

Life is so incremental. We move forward at a snail's pace, and sometimes take ourselves backward with increasing speed. It's all a process, and can't be rushed or manipulated to suit our own needs. It's a road, and we walk it, and hopefully learn lessons that will make the next crisis a little easier for us to bear. I want to keep walking, with one foot ahead of the other, and be as honest as I can in my relationships. All I can do is what I know how to do, each day, and be as kind as possible to those around me. Where I fail, I offer grace to myself, and get up and try again.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Let Go and Let God

September has been rocky for me so far. I feel anxious, off-kilter, and have the tell-tale signs of tension in my body: stiff neck, canker sores and zits on my chin. I'm so glad to be home, after the month of August where I wasn't even home for a full week, but a lot of conflict and change occurred at the end of the month and I think it all hit me with the force of a Mack truck when I returned home.

Then there was the tension of getting Ava settled into her Grade 2 classroom, and knowing that William's preschool start date was drawing near. I finally took a few quiet moments this weekend to think about what is really bothering me, and I realized that I'm holding too tightly to my kids.

Over the summer, when I wasn't working and home with both of them, I got into the swing of their company, and enjoyed being responsible for their safety in a way that I can't manufacture during the school year. Now I have to loosen my fingers, believe that God will hold them in his hand when I am not physically present to do so, and understand that this is an important part of parenting.

The hanging on is much easier for me than the letting go. I'm sure with all Type A's this phenomenon applies. Control is where I thrive and excel; surrender is deeply uncomfortable to me. As children grow, they need independence in small, manageable chunks, and it is my job as their parent to offer them this space and freedom to grow without any guilt or caretaking for me. I believe this deep in my soul, but it's harder to practice than I thought it would be.

"Keep Calm and Carry On" applies here, as it does in so much of life, as I learn to take deep breaths and relax into all that I cannot control. I remind myself that God is in control, and he loves me, and will take care of me in a way that I cannot replicate. My kids are not my possessions. They are people in their own right, and need space to grow and develop without me hovering over them, crying because they are growing up so quickly.

They need encouragement and freedom to be who they are meant to be. I don't want them to be laden down with the responsibility for my anxiety. I have to manage my own process and leave them to develop into the unique people they are destined to become. Recognizing that I am not the only person who will speak into their lives and shape how they grow is an important first step.

When children are at home for the first few years, we have such a deep imprint on them, and we have to hope that influence will go deep into the soil of their hearts and grow there. When they reach school age, their teachers and friends will water those seeds and everyone will see what is actually blooming in their lives. If I can embrace how exciting this process is instead of mourning what is over and cannot be again, I will be happier than I am now, and my kids will relax and be more content. It's better for all of us.

That is my new learning curve. Letting go, and letting God watch over them, and rejoicing in their growth and beauty instead of fearing what is coming. I can't go back, so I may as well go forward, and learn the lessons that this new stage is trying to teach me. I don't want to fight what is coming, but instead accept it, and understand that there will always be more changes on the horizon, and all that I can really control is my attitude toward them.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Screenplay Update

A few people have asked for an update on what is happening with my screenplay, and I'm coming to terms with the fact that it's a long process, filled with exciting moments, panic-inducing ones, and many dull days in between. I think the best part is that it is proceeding, albeit at a tortoise pace instead of with hare-like speed, but I'm trying to be okay with that.

I'm on my seventh draft, and for three months I have been trying to find an agent. Most of my e-mails hover in the stratosphere, unattached to anything concrete, and I don't ever hear back from anyone. I've sent a few letters by snail mail, to directors or producers whose work I admire, and have accepted that I probably won't hear back from them, but find a certain satisfaction in trying.

Recently, I had a friend visit from out of town, and she read my latest draft for me, after being one of my first readers for my initial draft, which was about as abysmal as anything ever put on paper. Of course, she was more than gracious in her feedback the first time around, and I'm thankful that this seventh version bears little resemblance to the drivel that she first read for me. She was significantly more enthusiastic about this last draft, and kindly offered to show it to a friend who is an actual living, breathing, functioning screenwriter in LA.

He took it, read it, and sent me back a long e-mail with many helpful suggestions. He put way more time into his feedback than I expected, and after my initial burst of disappointment that he didn't love it, ask to show it to his agent or possibly Steven Spielberg, I realized that his advice was the best I've received yet, and I was immediately flooded with ideas on how to improve it. At a certain point, you get stalled out when revising your own work, and you need new eyes, and his are the most knowledgeable yet on the language of cinema. His advice is going to end up helping me immeasurably.

Almost every day I remind myself to hold loosely to the outcome of this process. I need to focus on the writing, and not waste too much time daydreaming about the paycheque and the glory of the screenwriting career. Without a finished product that has value in the marketplace, I have no real starting point. Writing and re-writing is my job right now, and I'm so glad to have new directions for the story and the dialogue; a burst of fresh air to breathe new relevance and excitement into the script.

I'm still at the beginning of this exciting journey. Any time I try to get ahead of myself in the process, I become discouraged. In the meantime, I'm branching out and writing a memoir, and articles for magazines and other publications, and I have had several short stories published this year in online magazines and printed anthologies. There are plenty of milestones to celebrate as I put one foot ahead of the other to make my screenplay as strong and as noticeable as possible, before trying to position it in the marketplace.

While I'm extending gratitude to those who have read my script and taken the time to give me their feedback, I'll thank my blog readers, one more time, for all that you have given me. Knowing that you are reading every morning means so much to me, and lifts up my spirits when they are low, and encourages me to keep improving in what I write. As I'm hoping to attract editors and publishers who know I have a built-in audience, I'm requesting that you create a Google profile to follow my blog if you haven't done so already. If you read everyday, please take a second to become a follower, and while comments on Facebook are much appreciated and mean a lot to me, if you comment directly on my blog, then all readers can interact with what you say. Thank you again. Your support is incredibly inspiring.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Identity & Dreams

Today I'm heading to a youth retreat hosted by our church, and speaking to the teens about identity and dreams. In a moment of weakness, I volunteered to speak instead of planning a game (the initial request), as games for youth cause me to feel existential dread mixed with sweaty-palmed fear. Speaking seemed easier at the time, and I'm passionate about the topic, but this week was very busy with the back-to-school rush, and I decided with specific intent not to obsess over this, and simply speak of the cuff.

I am not a person who does much of anything spontaneously, and now that the appointed day and time is upon me, I'm wondering if I'm going to freeze up like a deer in the headlights, or if I'm going to rise to the occasion, and command the attention of a group of young people who would probably prefer to be somewhere else rather than listening to an oldie like me drone on.

I'm trying to keep it short and sweet - thirty minutes at the most - and start by asking them how they would define identity, and how they think identity is created. I hope that they answer, but if they look down and stay silent, I can always provide the answer I'm seeking, and have a discussion with myself. To me, identity is knowing who you are, and while it may be influenced by outside sources like your family, society, the media, and friends, it is ultimately controlled by you. Each person is in charge of who they are, if we can access the courage not to be pressured or overly influenced by anyone else, and trust that who we are is always enough.

This is a hot button topic for me, because I didn't truly understand who I was until my late twenties, and it took me many years past that point to actually walk out who I really am, and stop apologizing to others for my own opinions and ideas. I had to stop thinking about what other people wanted, and focus on what I wanted. It was not an easy process, but easily the best and most rewarding thing I've ever done, and I would give my right arm to see the kids I speak to complete this process much earlier than I did, so they can experience their twenties as themselves, and not versions they create in a losing attempt to make others happy.

Identity and dreams are the flip sides of the same coin. If you know who you are, and have the confidence to be who you are, your dreams will flow from your identity, and you will end up doing something you love instead of something you feel pressured into. We all know people in their thirties, forties, fifties, sixties or beyond who didn't bother to carve out their own identity, and ended up in a job that made money but they hated doing, and they didn't find the spark of joy that would've set them free to really enjoy their lives. And then we all know people who currently do what they love to do, and have the freedom to change careers if they aren't satisfied, and they experience a contentment that can't be manufactured.

It's impossible to love what you do in every moment of every day. That's not the goal. But getting out of bed and having a sense of purpose that you are doing what you were created to do, and filling a need that only you can fill in this world, that is the type of joy I'm referring to, and I know for a fact that it is possible to achieve, but you must know yourself in order to find it.

I hope to inspire the youth to accept no substitutes when it comes to their identity. We all have to resist the pressure we feel on a daily basis - from our parents, our friends, our teachers and society at large - and work hard to develop our own likes and dislikes, and stand behind them when they are questioned. That is the way to character, and to purpose, and eventually to making your dreams a reality.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Imperfect is the New Perfect

I watched this video yesterday, called "Reflections of Motherhood", via a friend's Facebook page. I was thoroughly inspired by the messages we could all send to our former selves, before we had our first children. None of us were instant experts as mothers - no matter how many books we read, how many children we spent time with, or how knowledgeable we were, we all started out with zero experience, and built ourselves up from there.

I was moved by many of the concepts in this short video, but the one that stood out the most was "Imperfect is the new perfect." I have spent years embracing this as a parent, but also in my overall life, because there is so much beauty in spontaneous mess, way more than in tidy order. Embracing this truth has been one of the greatest liberations of my life, and I could never go back to perfectionism now, because it's a soul killer.

Children are wonderful at mess. They paint, eat, bathe, play and even sleep in mess, first as babies wetting their diapers and later as children twisted up in their comforters, arms flung wide, as disorganized in sleep as they are in their waking hours. Dirt and chaos do not bother kids in the slightest. They thrive in it, finding new ways to experiment within the borders they create for themselves, and don't waste time worrying about what other people might think.

Embracing all of what I've learned as a mom has set me free from the self-centred woman I was before I became pregnant. My heart aches for my friends who long to experience this transformation for themselves, but who find road blocks where they crave green lights along their road to motherhood. Sometimes I long for the time and space I had for myself before I became a mom, but I know, beyond any doubt, that I am a much improved human being because of the sacrifices I have made for my children. I would never want to go back, only forward.

If I could give myself some parenting advice, I would say, "Don't be so hard on yourself." I would also caution, "Don't judge other moms." I would have taken more of the advice on these cue cards earlier on in my mothering life, instead of waiting until I'm seven years in to realize that I must forgive myself, take time for myself, and trust my instincts. I understand those things on a deep soul level now, in a way I wasn't able to before. I've also given myself more permission to fail, to be imperfect, and to accept that I am the best person on this planet to be a mom to my two uniquely beautiful children.

Tell Me Something Real

Amy Grant has a song with a lyric which says, "Tell me something real and nothing more." This line spears me in the heart every time I hear the song, because that's the only way I want to live my life anymore. I don't want to deal strictly on the surface, with fake platitudes that have no meaning to me. Life is too short to live with that kind of waste.

The older I get, the more valuable my time becomes to me. I want to look people in the eyes and be honest with them, telling them how I really feel and not bowing to any pressure to say or do anything that doesn't feel true to me. When I look around me, I see people everywhere who are happy to stay on the surface, creating a reality that feels true to them, but doesn't seem genuine to me.

Searching for truth, and finding it, causes me to hunger for more truth. It makes the false things of life more glaringly obvious. It's like finding a real diamond in a sea of cubic zirconia and instantly recognizing its true value. I want my relationships to mean something, my discussions to lead me somewhere, and for honesty to ring out in my dealings with all people.

I'm slowly coming to terms with the fact that not everyone is comfortable with this way of life. I can't force it on others any more than they can make me shy away from my focus on deeper truth. We must all respect each other, and where I have freedom in one area, I recognize that I have limitations in another. It's all a learning process, every single day, and I have discovered that I grow when I push myself beyond what is comfortable for me, and that's the place I want to live.

I choose to surround myself with as many like-minded individuals as possible, and where my life intersects with those who struggle to "tell me something real", I will have to remember when I was younger and had a hard time being honest, and be understanding of what they can and cannot give me. I can adjust my expectations accordingly, and try to manage my disappointment, and work to get those needs for truth met elsewhere.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Darkest Before the Dawn

Yesterday was an emotional day. We walked Ava to school in the morning, settled her into her classroom, met her warm and lovely teacher, and I felt like a million bucks as a parent when I walked home with William. Ava was beaming, and excited, and I knew she was going to have a wonderful day.

William's mid-afternoon appointment with a child psychologist loomed over me like a date with the firing squad. I set it up with the best possible intentions of helping him manage his anxiety about preschool in particular, but as the time drew near I tried to talk myself out if it. "He's not as bad as I thought," I whispered to myself. "He's only 4, and he'll outgrow this clinginess. Maybe I jumped the gun."

The allotted time arrived, and we went to the appointment. The psychologist asked me to leave the kids in the waiting area and come to talk with her on my own. I was under the impression that part was only going to take a few minutes, since we had discussed the issue at length on the phone when I booked the appointment, but she wanted to spend the whole appointment just with me, offering strategies to try at home to better prepare him for his first day of preschool.

I told William and Ava that I would be right back, and followed her down the hall. We sat down and began talking, and I had that creeping feeling of dread, for I knew there was no way he was going to stay in the waiting room without me. Sure enough, five minutes in, the door opened and there he was, tears on his cheeks. He ran to me, snuggled in, and wasn't going to budge without a fight.

The psychologist asked me what would happen if I took him back to the waiting area, and I said, "He'll scream and cling and make the receptionist very uncomfortable, and we'll end up going home." I was there to find help for this exact issue, and when she asked the question, I realized how deeply judged I felt for William's behaviours, and how hard this summer has been for both of us.

We are engaged in a dance. He is afraid, and clings to me, and I feel like a bad parent, and I try to take a tough approach, and a bad situation goes quickly to its worst extreme. I told the psychologist that all summer long, family members, friends and complete strangers in stores have been giving me advice on how to handle William's attachment to me. I feel like I've tried everything I know how to do, from tough love, to giving in, and every variation in between, and I'm getting the strong message that I haven't been doing the right things.

It's hard for my personality type to fail. I prefer to succeed; to try new approaches until I find the one that works, and then hit it out of the park. I haven't had that "Aha!" moment yet with William, and I'm deeply weary of the endless advice from others who have never experienced what I'm going through, but who feel entitled to tell me how I should improve on handling it.

William stayed with me while we talked, and when I came home, I took a few minutes in my bedroom by myself, to let go of the excess shame and devastation through the wonderful outlet of tears. I thought that calling the psychologist was the end of my rope, but it turns out that facing my own limitations and embarrassment in the middle of the session was the lowest point I've had in this process. I know it will improve from here, but I needed to confront my own fears and sadness head on. I want things to be different for William, to help him build his confidence, but I recognize that I must accept him for who he is before any lasting changes can be made. Sometimes we do our best as parents and it's still not nearly enough.

After dinner, I practiced some of the psychologist's excellent suggestions with William. We role played pick up and drop off at preschool, with him playing both himself and me, and I think it was a powerful exercise for both of us. I felt his worry, and I hope he felt my capability. I nearly cried when he reassured me, "Don't worry, Weeum, I'm coming back for you after lunch."

We'll keep trying variations on her suggestions, and if I feel proactive, like I can actually do something, I don't feel so handcuffed to help my beloved boy. It's always darkest before the dawn, and if I squint and use a bit of my imagination, I can see light around the edges of this problem, just enough to let some faith in.