Tuesday, November 30, 2010

People Pleasing

Just when I think I am getting somewhere with my people pleasing tendencies, they pop up when I least expect them. It's like walking along on your merry way and suddenly having an ice cold bucket of water thrown in your face. My first inclination is always to satisfy what is being asked of me. And even when I'm not asked, if I perceive a need, I jump in there to try and help the best that I can.

When I type those words, it sounds like a good thing that is commendable, but the problem is that it's a short fall from helping others to having a capital "S" for Sucker carved into your forehead. I don't take kindly to being bullied, but it usually goes on for a little while before I realize what's happening and put a stop to it. The downside of trying to make everyone happy is being walked on and taken advantage of, and eventually a line appears that no one should cross, and when it is breached, change has to occur.

It's so much easier when relationships are smooth sailing. But because we are all people with individual needs and stresses, the easy times don't last very long. Conflict comes, and how we handle it says a lot about ourselves. I can't control what others say and do, to me or around me, but I can control my response. I can pause before I say yes or no, and really think about it. I can be more aware of when I feel pressured and not respond to someone else's force.

I have to deal with my own anxieties about letting people down. I can't make everyone happy at my own expense. That only works for so long, and then I burn out and become resentful. I don't want to hold grudges and be angry. The goal is to let the little things go, but change how I react going forward so that a more positive end result is achieved.

People pleasing is a two-edged sword. I want to continue to help others and be reliable, but there are times to say yes and times to say no, and the way we are asked makes a huge difference to each situation. There are limits to what we can do, and recognizing those boundaries and learning to live within them is an important puzzle piece for our mental and physical health. If that piece is not handled carefully, it tears apart the fabric of our well being and relationships, so our own limits must be respected.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Want To

This month, I've discovered something that I call "the want to". I stopped beating myself up over what I wasn't accomplishing, and made the decision to put my writing on hold for a few weeks, even though it was going well, to focus on the kids and my Christmas preparation and make leisure a higher priority. While Jason was out of town it was extremely helpful to change my frantic mindset and recognize the truth that accomplishing a reasonable amount of things in a day and then relaxing was soothing to my soul and made me a happier mother and person.

Taking a short break from writing my novel, screenplay and memoir has fueled the creative fires in a fresh way. I have ideas sparking again, and I feel a desire to create instead of an obligation to a harsh and unbending taskmaster (i.e. myself). There is a sense of "wanting to" instead of "having to". It's a subtle difference, but for creative pursuits, it can mean the difference between a well written story with no passion and one that captures imagination in others because it is alive and vibrant for the person writing it.

So much of life is like this. We all have obligations we must carry out, and we don't necessarily have the "want to" for each of them. Often we push ourselves to fulfill our commitments and we find we enjoy ourselves, but just as often the reverse is true. It's hard to find the line between doing what we have committed to and being personally satisfied, and that line is always moving.

I know that this month has opened my eyes to the value of leisure and taking better care of myself. My health and overall outlook on life is tied into how I feel, and if I don't make that a priority as I get older I will be shortchanging myself and my family. I can't allow that to happen. An unexpected byproduct of this revelation has been this re-awakening of my creative drive, and I'm grateful.

Life has so many unexpected twists and turns, but just as many surprising moments of beauty and inspiration. When we are open to finding those gifts, they come to us when we are not expecting them, and they can provide us with a new set of "want to's" for what we love to do. I'm looking forward to being more open to these gifts as I walk into my future. There are many ways to arrive at our goals, and finding that detours can be refreshing along the journey is a wonderful surprise.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tangled: Finding a New Dream

We took the kids to see Tangled yesterday, on a somewhat spur-of-the-moment plan to celebrate Jason's insane month of non-stop travel and meetings being a thing of the past. Jason's parents sent the kids movie passes for Halloween and we were waiting for a kid's movie with good reviews in order to spend the ridiculous amount of money required for a family of four to see a movie that lasts an hour and forty minutes (without the passes, we calculated it would have cost us $68 for the four of us to watch the 3D movie and share a medium popcorn and a medium pop - ridiculous is the only word that comes to mind).

The movie was released on Friday to strong reviews, so we expected big crowds, but going to the mall a month before Christmas on a Saturday afternoon wasn't the brightest idea we've ever had. Jason dropped Ava and I off in front of the theatre to get tickets, popcorn and seats, and we were all settled in munching happily twenty minutes later, and he was still circling the immense parking lot trying to find a spot. He eventually found one, on the opposite side of the mall, and ran with William on his shoulders to make it moments before the movie began.

The lights dimmed and excitement was in the air as nearly every seat was filled and you could feel a palpable energy in the room. I felt William's weight on my knee and glanced at Ava in the seat next to me, her eyes behind her black 3D glasses glued to the screen. Jason and I smiled at each other over Ava's head, and I felt a surge of gratitude for our family. It's been a hard month where we've been disconnected more than connected, but at that moment, we were all together in one place, sharing an experience that would become a good memory stitched into the fabric of our family history.

The movie began, and it didn't take long for me to feel swept up in its current. I respond to themes in movies and literature, and this Rapunzel story was about two things that are near and dear to my heart: dreams and identity. It was about following your dreams no matter what, and knowing who you really are and not hiding that from the world. I felt as though I could've written it myself with what I've learned so far in my thirty-seven years, and anytime we identify powerfully with something it creates a deep imprint on us.

There is a scene in the middle of the movie which I found astonishing. Rapunzel and Flynn are in a boat, waiting for something to happen which she has been dreaming about her entire life. Moments before the event occurs, she begins to worry that maybe it will be disappointing and not live up to her expectations. Flynn says gently, "When this is over, you'll find a new dream."

That line struck me as powerful and true, for I don't want to ever stop dreaming. There is always another dream to pursue when one is accomplished. We look forward to something, and when it happens we don't have to be disappointed, because there is going to be another event to anticipate. As a kid, I felt blue after big events like birthdays or Christmases, but as an adult, I understand that the sky is the limit when it comes to dreams. We can always aim higher. As long as our reach exceeds our grasp, we have more to hope for and work toward.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Communication Styles

Not long ago, I was having a conversation with someone, and with a few simple words, she helped me understand something about myself which I really didn't know before. She said, "You need more communication than the average person. It's important for you to be in touch with people regularly, and that's why Facebook and e-mail are so great for you. Other people can go for weeks without talking and assume the relationship is fine."

This was a revelation to me. It helped me to think differently about my need for regular communication, and recognize that not everyone has the same needs as I do. Jason, like most men, is at the opposite end of the communication spectrum from me. He agrees with Homer Simpson, who says, "The problem with marriage is communication. Too much communication."

Over twelve years of marriage, I've learned that my need to talk about everything and his need not to talk about everything has to work toward a middle ground. When he was away in LA earlier this month and relatively unresponsive to my calls, e-mails and Facebook messages due to his busy class schedule, I felt inordinately stressed and separate from him. Then I pull away because I feel hurt, and any chance to talk at all becomes soured by my bad attitude.

We worked through this when he returned home, and he has made the commitment to up the communication when he is away, and I've come to terms with my crazy headspace and finding other ways to talk myself off the ledge when I feel cut off from him. With my friends and family it's also tricky, because I seem to be unusual in my obsessive need for connection with the people in my life.

Understanding anything is the first step to positive change, and what seemed like an innocent comment in a regular conversation radically altered my perspective on how I communicate. I realized that Facebook is a lifeline to me, particularly when Jason is away and I'm looking for some kind of connection with other people, and that I may use it more than others and that's perfectly fine, as long as I don't expect others to match my frequency. It's not a communication competition, but I don't think I fully understood that before. I somehow equated communication with affection, and I am figuring out that it doesn't work that way for everyone.

Taking the time to look at how we communicate and what we expect from others is an important exercise. It helps us to understand our own limitations and strengths, and to extend grace and mercy when others don't live up to what we want from them. I'm learning slowly not to panic when people fall out of touch with me. Life is busy and complicated and (gasp!) I'm not the centre of everyone's universe. I am sitting back and waiting now instead of rushing in to fix a problem that might only exist on my end. We all communicate differently, and living within those differences takes some practice and grace, but we can manage it as long as we are aware of what is actually going on under the surface.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Christmas Decorations

Today is the appointed day that we are decorating the house for Christmas. Jason grew up in a family where they decorated a week or so before Christmas, and I grew up in a house where my birthday was supposed to be over before my mom hauled the Christmas stuff out. My birthday is December 8th and that was far too late for me. I wanted to start Christmas decorating in October, and I'm only partially joking.

When I grew up, moved out and lived on my own, I set my tree up November 15th. I felt that was a reasonable amount of time to enjoy my decorations before Christmas was over. Other people felt differently, and were usually very vocal in their disagreement. What is it about the timing of Christmas trees and lights that creates so much dissension among people?

It isn't actually about the decorations at all. It's about people's families, as most things are, and it goes all the way back to our earliest memories, so for good or evil, we lean towards pessimism or optimism when it comes to the holiday season. As a kid I detested having my birthday fall in December. I mean Loathed with a capital L. My friends and my siblings would often try to get away with saying, "I combined your birthday and Christmas present this year" and then my gift at Christmas would be exactly the same as everyone else's. I never bought that excuse, and always felt ripped off.

My mom was usually tapped out and tired by my birthday, which I understand as an adult but not so much as a kid. My birthday fell just a few days after hers, and my dad was not winning any prizes for fabulous gifts, parties or cakes in my mom's honour, so I think the emotions were running high around both of our birthdays. As an adult, I Love having my birthday in the Christmas season (with a capital L). What a difference a few years makes in your perspective from a child to a grown up.

I always loved Christmas, but as a parent, I've been able to take it up a notch, and I make every effort to create a special environment and mood for my kids. I love how the excitement builds with each day, and we try to wring every last experience and emotion from the anticipation and beauty inherent in the season. Jason needs a little gentle encouragement in this area, as his Christmas spirit kicks into high gear around December 18th, when he remembers it starting as a child, but a week is not nearly enough for me. I've been making Christmas cards and listening to Christmas music since early September, which gives you some idea how nutty in love with Christmas I really am.

I don't mind that other people have different ideas about when you should decorate. I'm not marching into your house and putting a tree up for you against your will. I just ask that you don't rain on my proverbial Christmas parade (or snow on it, which is probably a better choice of words for this time of year). We all celebrate differently, and even if my early way is slightly better than yours, it's polite not to point that out. I dream of a world where the early decorators and the late ones find some kind of middle ground, where everyone is happy and no one is irritated with each other.

This season is about giving and peace and the kind of joy and wonder that only shows up on a child's face at Christmas time. It's not about overspending and giving kids 150 elaborate gifts and fighting mall crowds for ten stressful hours. It's about loved ones, both friends and family, sipping frothy and festive Starbucks drinks and creating the kind of memories that will last us through the next year, until Christmas comes again sometime in mid to late November.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I don't like learning new things because the process itself is frightening. You tend to flounder around, out of your depth, wondering if you should just forget it and go back to the way you used to be. I was so afraid of change when I was younger that I tried to avoid it at all costs. I rarely tried anything new because I didn't want to look stupid, but as I slowly increased my confidence in myself I dug deep and accessed the courage to step out and do new things. Without that variety, life becomes dull.

I'm learning a lot about myself right now. It's hard to fully understand what is happening when you are in the middle of it, but I'm still going to try. I know I pushed myself way too hard when Jason was in LA earlier this month for a week, and by the time I got myself and the kids to Canmore for a long weekend away with friends, I was burnt out. Fried. At the end of my rope. Thank God for some friends who were able to help me as I let down my defenses and confessed the fragile space I was in. They both offered me permission to fail, and to change, and helped me connect the dots between my behaviour and the old family chaos it was rooted in.

Something happened for me that weekend. I came to terms with my own inadequacies and fears in a way that I hadn't been able to before. Dismantling our own defense system once in a while is a good exercise. It helps us rebuild it and make it stronger and more capable. I am weary of reacting on an unconscious level to what happens to me. I want to be more aware, and I feel like I am laying the groundwork for that in the future.

I'm being more intentional about my feelings. When I feel sad, I don't blaze through it like I used to, thinking that tears proved I was weak in some way. When I feel anxious, I try to stare out the window and think a little on what might be really bothering me (for those of you with small children, the day will come when you can actually stare out the window and think, for at least a few moments at a time, without being interrupted. I promise you that day is coming). Our emotions are a flag to what is happening in our internal operating system. They are always trying to tell us something, and taking time to listen is a key to mental and emotional health.

In the middle of my National Novel Writing Month challenge, I stopped reaching my word count. I don't think I can adequately describe how great it felt to meet my word count goal for each day, posting it to the website, and feeling a certain warm satisfaction that I was managing my life and still writing 2000 words per day. And they were pretty decent words. But then Jason went away for a week, and I could no longer manage it all, and everything fell apart.

Giving myself permission to abandon that word count goal for my own peace of mind and heart was a wonderful thing, but painful too, because it started me on this path of learning how important leisure is. I now have more energy to give to my kids, and less need for apologies. After a ten day break from working on my novel each day, new ideas are starting to spark in my brain, and I find myself longing to get back into my screenplay and my memoir again as well. There is a huge difference between duty and passion. There is a place to do what we have to do, but when the burn-out begins, stepping back and resting ourselves becomes critical, and much to my joy, I'm finding the slow burn of passion again for what I am doing.

For today, it's enough to take care of myself. To read and unwind, and recognize that when Jason is out of town as much as he's been this month, I am both mother and father to our kids, and they deserve the best of me. When I give more to them, a curious thing happens: they are happier. And so am I. I want to keep listening to myself from this point forward, trusting in my emotions to flag me when there is a problem, and to be brave enough to find a workable solution even if the personal change required terrifies me.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Feeling Judged is My Problem

Sometimes people judge us with an obvious word or a look, and there is no mistake about what they are saying. In those cases I think it's a good idea to stand up for ourselves and defend our reasons for doing what we are doing which the other person clearly disagrees with. But most of the time it's much more subtle than that, and right now I'm learning to stop rushing in with my fists held high, and try to let it all go.

It's very hard. My instinct is to fight and draw blood; to argue or even to apologize. Anything but to ignore. This blogging process has taught me so much about speaking my ideas without fear of reprisal, particularly when I know it will upset people, and the process of coming out from under the long shadows of others has been liberating and refreshing, as well as painful and frightening.

Developing a thicker skin with people has been excellent for my writing, but it has exacted a price on my relationships. It's not challenging to protect yourself from things that don't really bother you anyway. It's the areas you are ultra sensitive about that cause you to feel the knife go in and twist.

To others, I'm sure it's no big deal to stay home and hibernate for a day when it's minus 41 outside. To me it was huge. I've never done that before. Ava could have gone to school and so could've William. The fact that I kept them home was intentional, and brazen for me who follows the rules to the letter. I listened to that still, small voice, which never steers me wrong if I will only be brave enough to listen, and recognized that we needed a day to unwind, relax and regroup.

It was glorious. Like an unexpected vacation from responsibilities that you had no intention of taking, but you recognize in the middle of it how good it is for your soul. Puttering and resting and staying in PJ's all day when you are supposed to be at other things felt great on one hand, and off-puttingly strange on the other. When it got to bedtime for the kids and I had to teach a writing class in my home, I felt light and happy and rested. It was a foreign feeling.

When everyone left, it hit me that I had flaked out for the day, and I was instantly terrified of what others would think of me. I'm so desperate for support from other people for my decisions, and I must stop looking to others to define how I should feel. That is the way that insanity lies. I am in control of how I feel, not other people. Everyone will have an opinion on what I do, but my opinion is the one that counts for myself, and I must find ways to become stronger in this area.

I will judge others, and they will judge me, and I am ultimately responsible for how I feel. When I'm supported, I feel great. When I perceive I'm being judged, I'm tired of feeling lousy and stressed. I can't read into comments and non-comments and Facebook statuses any more. It's my problem when I search between the lines and find criticisms of me, that may or may not be there. If they are there, I must ignore them, and continue to feel good about following that still, small voice, and if they aren't there, I don't need to waste my time worrying about nothing.

The whole world is not about me, and my confidence level should not be attached to what others think and say. The good news is that I am in charge of my own feelings, and I must take better care at managing how judged I can feel. Confidence comes from inside of me, and not any outside source.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bend and Not Break

Yesterday was not a good day. I started with a hopeful attitude, recognizing the truth that my outlook helps set the stage for my kids when they are forced into something that they must do but don't want to do (dental cleanings) and I desperately wanted my good attitude to carry us through. It did not. Sometimes cruddy things happen to us, and there is no rhyme or reason to it, and we have to roll with the punches that come swinging for us.

Emotionally I feel like I've been walking uphill both ways in the blowing snow for a number of months now. I'm tired and I want to go back to feeling good and happy and normal again. I don't want to strain so hard against myself. Sometimes things are easy, and sometimes they are not, and I want the circle of life to bring me back to the simpler side of the equation.

William's dental appointment went sideways about three minutes in when he had an x-ray taken. The thing he bit on hurt his cheek and he burst into tears. After that came the whimpering of, "I'm scared" before the hygienist even began cleaning his teeth, and then the outright sobbing complaint, "I don't like that taste!" before the dentist even came to check his teeth. I went weak in the knees with relief when it was done, and he had no cavities.

Then it was Ava's turn. She makes me so proud as she never complains about anything, but she's had the worst luck when it comes to her dental health. We didn't floss her teeth when she was a toddler, and she loved fruit gummies and we bought them in huge boxes at Costco and gave them to her regularly, and the result was a number of cavities between her teeth as a three and four year old. We took her to the pediatric dentist when she ran into a crabby and tense hygienist at our family dentist who didn't want me to come into the room with her for a filling, and that was the only time in her life that she has cried hysterically and they weren't able to do the work that she needed.

The pediatric dentist worked gently with her to get her over her fears, using nitrous gas and terms like "sleepy juice" instead of "needle" and now she is like a rock star in the dentist chair. It is just bad luck that she had a tooth growing in at a wicked angle and needed to have it pulled and then an appliance built to hold the space in her mouth until the adult tooth grows in. She handled all of it very well, much better than her mother, who was a quivering emotional mess during all of the dental work.

For months we've had a sense of dental calm. Her cleaning was fine and she had no cavities (thank you, children's flossers!) but as the hygienist was finishing up she noticed a sore on Ava's gum above a tooth that she had a cavity fill on years ago, and when the dentist came back to investigate, it was determined that the tooth was abscessed and draining from the sore, and would need to be pulled.

My heart dropped. Another extraction that I would have to help her through, to dig deep and find strength that I don't feel I possess right now. But as a parent you don't get a choice. Our kids are looking to us to get them through these scary and difficult things, and we must rise to the challenge. Feeling like it doesn't really factor in. The fact that I feel frail and vulnerable right now doesn't change anything for her. She still has to have the tooth pulled, and I'll have to be strong for her.

Parenting is rough. I think I feel this abscessed tooth so personally not because of guilt, but because it seems unfair. Ava always complies and it's not hard to get her to do anything, but I'm tired of putting her through pain and discomfort. I'm ready to look at false teeth for her, but apparently the dentist doesn't consider that when they are seven years old. I know in my head I need to suck it up and move on, that these things happen, and of course she could have a much bigger health problem. My mind is not the issue here. It's always the emotions that trip us up.

I read recently that it's better to bend than break. I am in the midst of a huge series of personal changes, and learning to bend takes some practice. I'm grateful that I'm not brittle and hard anymore, and that my risk of breaking is less real now that I am more pliable and soft. The downside is that everything hurts more because of that vulnerability, but I still believe I'm on the right path, and don't want to go back to how I used to be.

Today, the kids and I are taking a mental health day. It's minus 41 with the windchill, and by tomorrow the weather is supposed to turn warmer. For today, I want to stay warm and safe, pamper myself and the kids a little, and not push myself too hard.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Opportunity to Practice

Today I have an opportunity to practice what I am learning about focusing on joy and peace instead of giving in to panic and worry. I'm tired of being pessimistic and expecting bad behaviour from William in any given situation. I'm changing in so many of my prejudices and ideas; why can't William change in his behaviour choices? I've seen him change in the last three months with my own eyes, but sometimes old habits die hard, and we revert back to what we've seen and experienced before.

This morning both kids have dental cleanings and check-ups at their pediatric dentist. When I booked this appointment nine months ago, I breathed the hugest sigh of relief (a close comparison would be the sighs I uttered after giving birth both times) and November 22nd seemed like forever away on the calendar when it was booked. Well, today has arrived, as these things do, and it's time to go.

It's time to encourage William that it will all be fine, and that the "special toothpaste" they use for whitening and protection at the end will taste better than it did last time, and that nothing will hurt. I'll push the optimism ball uphill as we get dressed, drive to Calgary, wait in the waiting room and then are ushered into the treatment rooms. I'll smile and laugh and pretend it's more fun than it actually is, all the while praying fervently that he won't break down sobbing or refuse to open his mouth and participate (both of which he's done on several occasions in that chair before).

When my stomach began cramping up and hurting around dinner time last night, I felt a rush of relief as I contemplated coming down with a stomach flu and would therefore have a legitimate reason to cancel the appointments. After I put the kids to bed, I realized I was actually stressed about the dentist, and decided firmly to put my new positive outlook into action.

I am different now, and so is William. Perhaps the entire dynamic of the dentist visit will shift as we work together as a team. I am also more aware of the embarrassment and frustration I used to feel when he would refuse to comply, and I hope and pray I won't be as deeply affected by that as I have been in the past. He's a four year old kid, as fiercely stubborn as his mother is, and it is my job to help him through these difficult situations without forcing him violently and crushing his sensitive spirit. I have absolutely no idea how to do this well, but I can try to the best of my ability.

I can be aware, and that awareness is a gift, as it provides the opportunity to practice, and the grace to fail. If I fail to support William when he needs me, and he panics at the dentist, I can try again another time. I can refuse to feel judged by anyone for what may occur. I can't control the outcome today, but I can control my response to it. I don't think I ever understood that before as clearly as I do right now, at this moment. I'm grateful for this insight. It is going to help all of us today.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Line

Where is the line between giving to someone when you don't feel like giving any more, and removing yourself from a difficult and costly emotional situation because it might be the best thing to do? It's hard to make these kinds of decisions as we can't look at things honestly and fairly; there is simply too much resentment and frustration in the way of clear thinking.

I know from talking to my friends that this is a common issue in family relationships, likely because they go all the way back to birth, and there is often a sense of forced togetherness. When the conflict isn't worked through in any real way, it begins simmering on a low heat, deep below the surface, and interferes with any kind of relationship progression. At a certain point, the hard questions have to be asked, and I don't know any of the answers.

I do know that there is a line that I won't cross, but knowing where it is, and how much more of the high road could be walked, becomes a tricky process. We are often forced to feel our way in the dark, terrified of being lost or falling and breaking a bone. I don't like feeling uncertain, but in relationships, we are not in control of everything, only our own side of the interaction.

I don't want to hang on to anger when I need to let it go. But there is a place to let go of anger, to forgive, and still to hang back. I'm not very good at living in that place. I want to kiss and make up, but sometimes the cost is too high, and you've seen it go bad too many times in the past, and you don't want to keep living through the same nightmare. So you step back, to protect yourself and stop being a fool, but then you wonder if you are being too harsh, and the questions come again.

I thought when I was in my twenties that relationships would get easier as I got older. I'm finding they are more complicated now than ever - thorny and challenging in every direction, and it makes me sad that we can't all just get along and be kind to each other. I suppose I can be patient with myself, and accept that I don't have all the answers, and not expect anyone to be kind to me if I am not loving to them.

My goal is to push aside the years that have gone before and try to start fresh, in my own attitude and outlook, and see if that helps anything. It's not a simple process, as the past informs the present in a real way, but I don't want to keep lugging around the emotional baggage from everything that has happened in the past.

I'd prefer to create new and lighter luggage, but I have no idea how to do it. Thinking about it helps, and not putting pressure on myself one way or the other. I can only do the best that I can to heal these relationships, but I am only one side of the issue. I must be as gentle and kind as I can to myself and to the other party, while I get closer to figuring out where the line is, and whether or not I should cross it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Rhythms of Relationships

Relationships have rhythms which are a mystery to me. Sometimes you are in sync with people around you, and other times you are not on the same page, and it makes you feel disconnected and vulnerable. And it can change on a dime. We are creatures of habit, and tend to prefer things running smoothly and easily.

I think our expectations have a lot to do with how smooth or conflicted our relationship paths become. I almost always expect too much of the people around me. I recently understood in a completely new way how desperate I am to connect with my loved ones in a meaningful way, assuming that when the connection is temporarily broken or downsized for external reasons, it signals a huge problem in the relationship.

I slowly began to understand that the huge problem was on my end, and not residing with the other person. The other party was carrying along their merry way, thinking nothing was wrong, while I was stewing in my own hurt and fear, certain our relationship was on the rocks. It was a revelation to me to realize how different expectations and perceptions can affect the same relationship.

I was looking forward to Jason coming home a little bit early last night, and making his famously delicious pizza, and we were going to enjoy our usual tradition of family movie night which had been interrupted the last few Fridays. Our rhythms as a family have been disturbed for weeks now, between Jason's work travel and council commitments. We knew by looking at the calendar that November was going to be a bad month for him, which has a trickle-down effect for me and the kids.

I'm grateful that I had this flash of insight while we were in Canmore about my set of demands on my relationships, and how hyper-sensitive I can be to the smallest change in communication frequencies, because it helped me dial down my expectations on others. Sometimes I can't have what I want, and I can learn to fill that obsessive need with something healthier and better. That new set of eyes really helped me this week when Jason was not home for any evenings, and I could find ways to talk myself down from the ledge of panic and anxiety.

Last night began with that fuzzy glow that you would expect from a Hallmark commercial. We were watching The Empire Strikes Back, cuddled on the couch together munching on pizza, and a few times Jason and I shared a smile over the heads of our kids when they made a funny comment on the movie. I felt happy and settled, peaceful in the knowledge that we were all together, and it was alright.

William has an infection and is on strong antibiotics, so after dinner I poured his medicine and brought it down to him on the couch. He asked for chocolate milk to wash it down with. I knew as I poured the milk into a regular glass and carried it to the couch that three people in a small space with a glass of milk was likely a terrible idea. I proceeded anyway, pushing my reservations aside, and a chain of events occurred which ended up with a flying elbow knocking chocolate milk all over the couch and the wall.

There were tears (William), yelling about being more careful (me), and loud exclamations of innocence (Jason). I ran for a soapy cloth and began scrubbing, muttering under my breath about how milk stains and stinks and a host of other irritations, and the Hallmark mood was effectively ruined.

Our relationship rhythms can change in an instant, from happy to miserable and then back again. We can't prevent conflict. It comes, again and again, no matter what stage of the relationship cycle we are in. We have to adjust our expectations and our ideals, and be gentle with our loved ones and with ourselves, for none of us is perfect. It's so easy to lay blame, and so hard to extend grace and mercy.

Conflict sweeps through us like a sudden storm, disquieting and upsetting while it rages, and then calm and peaceful again when it's over. Resolving the conflict respectfully is the key to keeping our relationship waters smooth most of the time. Acknowledging where we screwed up, and meeting in the middle after an argument. We did that last night, and I know we'll have many more chances to practice our conflict resolution skills. It's good for us to talk about it as a family, and model how it's done, so our kids will have an example to follow for their own relationship conflicts.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Relief Valve

I'm behind on my TV watching because I was out of town last weekend, and Jason has been away, but I finally caught up on Grey's Anatomy from last Thursday, and Meredith Grey had a line that hit home for me right now. She was talking in her voice-over about the pressure that surgeons feel, and she said, "Every pressurized system needs a relief valve."

The line jumped out at me because I'm learning this exact lesson right now, this week, and it was satisfying to recognize that I have found a relief valve for myself in an entirely new way. When Jason was in LA last week, I rushed around like a crazy person, trying to cram a month's worth of activity and writing and packing and cleaning and Christmas preparation into a six day period.

By the time we got to Canmore, I was exhausted and stressed and an absolute bear to be around. I had tainted a get-away I had planned and looked forward to for months because I shot myself in the foot, yet again, and didn't take the time to figure out what was going on under the surface and contributing to my stress level. Getting to Canmore, staring at the majestic view, having leisure in the form of swim time forced on me by my kids, was exactly what I needed to stop racing around and start listening to what that still, small voice was trying to say.

I learned a lot that weekend. Talking and praying with a couple of friends was most helpful, as was simply slowing down, and facing the fact that I'm tired of living out the same pattern of self-imposed stress and anxiety. We got home and for one reason and another, Jason was out of the house or out of town every night this past week, but I was different.

I read more. I stayed home because it was dumping snow, and I played some games with William. I made hot chocolate in the middle of the afternoon and called friends to chat, so I didn't feel so lonely. I puttered around, writing a little when I could, but the relief valve was cracked enough to let some steam out, and I discovered that my shoulders were back to where they belong instead of being bunched under my ears.

I've been telling myself that I have time for everything I want to accomplish in life, because it doesn't have to be done today. Writing novels, memoirs and screenplays is a slow process when you are the mom of a preschooler, and I must accept that fact. I will have more time in the future, but I won't ever get this time with William back. I missed a lot of his early babyhood because I was so driven to succeed in my stamping business, and I have this time to make that up to him.

A curious thing happened each evening this week: I wasn't so tired and crabby and desperate for my kids to go to bed. I could feel the relaxation in my body and my mind, and I guarantee that my kids have noticed this change in me. It's much better, all around. My word count may be down, but my life satisfaction and overall health are up, and those are qualities that affect everything else, and must be prioritized higher as life moves on from here.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

You Can Do This

Yesterday morning, all was peaceful and calm until about 8 am. Jason left early for a busy day of work meetings, followed by a flight to Winnipeg in the late afternoon, and I was sipping my coffee and enjoying the sight of the mountains of snow outside while reveling in the fact that I didn't have to drive anywhere other than to take Ava to and from school in town. Then William went to the bathroom, and began screaming the kind of high pitched cry that all mothers recognize and run for.

Something was really wrong. He was in pain and couldn't finish going pee. I immediately went to a bladder infection in my mind, or possible irritation from the chlorine after all of the swimming we did on the weekend, but this pain was not normal pain. I phoned a friend who is a nurse, and she has saved my bacon more times than I can count when it comes to medical questions both large and small.

I explained the problem, and listened to her ideas about what I should check and do. Since the area of concern is of a delicately private nature, I won't go into too much detail here, but suffice it to say that when I began to look into some of the possible causes, the problem instantly became more serious. In short, I panicked, utterly and completely, and visualized emergency surgery far away at the Children's Hospital on a snowy and freezing cold day when I had hoped to stay in my warm house.

The mind does curious things when it is stressed. It reminds me of an untrained and hyper dog, straining at the leash, while the rest of the body and soul are dragged along violently for the ride. I hate all mysteries; generally anything that is not cut and dried is an enemy to me. I want to be sure and not unsure. I'm learning to let go of this need in the area of faith and ideas, but when it comes to the health of my children I would prefer no grey areas.

I got Ava to school and phoned my friend back with my desperation and fear reaching new levels. She was like the counselor on the other end of the crisis hotline: reassuring and certain where I was floundering and anxious. She said, "You are a good mom. You have everything you need in order to take care of this problem. You can do this."

That calm sense of assurance was like a balm on my wounded soul. Words are like sutures which can close a gaping wound. The pain is still there, but the acute ache from the air hitting the cut is removed, and you can see your way clearly once again. Our words are powerful if we will use them to help each other instead of destroy one another. She gave me a few minutes of advice and strategy when I was blinded by my own fear and failure to do the right thing as a mother, and then she gave me confidence in myself, which is a gift much better than anything else.

When I hung up, I had a plan, and it most certainly changed the shape of my day, but by lunch time I had hard answers to my questions, antibiotics in hand, and a restored faith that I was competent to actually fix the problem on my own. My friend was calm where I was not, and it made all of the difference in the world. Now I want to do that for someone else because it's simple and easy, and I know from experience that it works.

We can all do it, every day, and in most every situation, but we lose confidence when the obstacles get too big or the negative emotions begin to take over. Sometimes we need reason, and calm, and certainty to see us through. If we can't find it on our own, we can look for it, from those who love us and will support us. Those relationships are like diamonds among zirconias, and I treasure some of them just a little bit more after yesterday.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


When we talk to other people and we express vulnerability to them, a powerful transaction happens when they identify with us and reciprocate. When we feel heard and understood, it opens up the relationship in a beautiful way, offering a deeper foothold to the people in it.

Life is short. I get tired of the surface chatter. I know there is a place for it in our day to day lives, and that it's not reasonable to have a heart to heart at every moment of the day, but I'm discovering that when you offer a little piece of yourself to someone in the course of your day, and they reciprocate, it makes everything brighter and better. You know you are not alone. You can feel the relationship getting stronger and more meaningful on all sides.

I had this happen twice yesterday, with two different people. Very simple conversations instantly turned deeper when I brought up something personal about myself. The people I spoke to were gentle with the information and vulnerability I offered them, and they instantly found a point of relation and shared something about themselves, which changed the level of the discussion.

There was a peace that came when I realized how similar we all can be. I try so hard to have it all together, but when I admit that I don't, and confess to an area of pain and difficulty and it is received as graciously as it was yesterday, there is a freedom in that place. A connection, a point of togetherness, and a depth is found that is not regularly present in day to day interactions.

I would like more of that, but I have to be willing to start this ball rolling. I have to break down my own walls, the ones that keep me isolated from others, and be more intentional about the areas that I struggle with. What are we all doing on this earth together if we can't provide a little support and help to each other where our lives intersect? I don't want to be cavalier and flippant about these moments of connection with the people in my life. We can all do a little more for each other, with minimal extra effort, if we will share a deeper level of ourselves and find reciprocation for what we have shared.

Perhaps winter is a good time for this experiment. Freezing temperatures and falling snow make me want to hole up in my house, but that doesn't mean I can't still offer more of myself to my friends and family. I want to go a little deeper, within myself and in my relationships. And when that depth is reciprocated, find comfort in the fact that we are more alike than we are different, and that we are all in this thing together.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Winter Storm

As I type this, warm and cozy in my pj's and sipping my morning coffee, Jason is outside in full winter gear, shoveling what appears to be fifty feet of snow that fell sometime between 9 pm and 7 am last night. Yesterday was warm and sunny, and I preferred to laugh at the dire winter storm warnings the meteorologists were offering, because really, how often are they right?

They were right. Last night I laid in bed and listened to the wind howl, and I tried to embrace what I love about winter. Snow makes me anticipate Christmas, and can provide a happy, fuzzy glow of contentment and joy when you look out the window. It can also stir up intense panic and fear about driving on bad roads, poor visibility with blowing snow, the huge pain of bundling small children in layers of clothing, mitts and hats, and worry that the next 5-10 cm of snow forecast on a night when Jason is out of town means I have to spend thirty minutes shoveling like he is doing now.

I like snow, but not storms. I'm sure this is a universal feeling. I like driving on snow that is packed and not slick, so I don't worry I'll end up in the ditch with my kids in the van. I like the sensation of hunkering down and being cozy in the cold winter months; it's just the worry about the storms that becomes the problem, for I don't like to stop my life due to the weather.

God is working with me on many of my fears and issues right now. Last night I thought about how I like to move three steps ahead of any given possibility and consider it from all angles, but that becomes exhausting and stressful. I am not great at allowing situations to develop and dealing with them as they arise, but sometimes winter weather is a good reminder to do the best I can, and nothing more.

I expect so much from myself all of the time, so it becomes a relief to surrender to the unknown. While I lay in bed at 2:30 am listening to the wind howl, it's a useless exercise to worry about the domino effect of not driving William to preschool and wondering if that will effectively cancel my hair appointment when I'm desperate for a cut and colour. I simply can't know at 2:30 am what the roads and the wind will be doing at 8:40 am, when I need to make the decision.

I felt that still, small voice whisper to my stressed mind, and I felt instantly calmer. I cannot work out all possibilities, and I don't need to. I can simply take it as it comes, and trust my intuition to guide me. It sounds so simple to type it here, but it is life changing if I can actually follow this advice to myself.

On the way home from her voice lesson last night, Ava said, "Mom, it's okay if you aren't the best at something, as long as you have fun, right?" I agreed with her, as I've likely told her that at some point in her life so far, but it struck me that I really want to dig deep and live this in front of my kids, instead of simply paying lip service to it. Maybe the beginning of our winter storms can show me the way. I don't need to have it all figured out; I just need to have a little fun.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Stories are Gifts

I left Canmore early yesterday morning to head to church on my own in order to rehearse with the kids for the upcoming Christmas concert. I had Christmas music to listen to in Jason's car, but I savoured the one hour drive to Calgary in silence, enjoying the view of the mountains in my rear view mirror and the prairies spreading out in front of me. My mind wandered wherever it wanted to go, slowly working out issues with the Christmas play, and my novel, and even thinking up my dinner menus for the upcoming week.

When I arrived at church I was in such a relaxed state. I wish I always felt that serene and calm, but then again, usually we are rushing the kids out the door, and listening to their chatter all the way there and the space for the kind of mental openness I had yesterday is simply not available to me. I treasured it while I had it, storing mental quiet away as a squirrel would hoard nuts for the winter.

After church, I went to a nearby mall to have lunch, read my book and finish off my Christmas shopping. I picked an older mall because I don't like malls in November, and it was a ghost town, which added to my sense of peace and joy. Only moms of young children can fully understand how enjoyable it can be to wander aimlessly up and down store aisles with no children whining or complaining that they are bored and want to go home.

I finished my shopping and went through the Starbucks drive thru on the way home for my first peppermint mocha of the season. I prefer Tim Hortons to Starbucks for eleven months of the year, but leading up to Christmas, no one beats Starbucks for holiday drinks and a sense of festive cheer. I felt a surge of happiness as I placed my order, only to be told by the girl on the other end of the tinny speaker, "I'm sorry, we are out of peppermint mocha right now."

Pardon me? In Banff we tried to go to Starbucks and couldn't even get in the door, so ended up with festive drinks from Second Cup instead, but I love peppermint mochas and had been thinking of one on and off all day. I come to Starbucks a handful of times per year, and now, after all of my anticipation, they were out? My disappointment was not proportionate to the situation. It was huge. It was limitless.

I sat there, quietly stunned, aware that there were many cars behind me and I had to say something to the girl. I glanced at the pictures of the holiday drinks and quickly ordered an eggnog latte, a drink I should love because eggnog is like mother's milk to me, but I've had it before and was always disappointed in the strong, syrupy taste. I pulled up to the window and paid with a mournful feeling.

She handed me the cup, I thanked her, and as I drove away, I saw the cardboard holder around the well-marketed red and white Christmas cup. It said, "Stories are gifts - share." Immediately my spirits lifted as I thought about the simplicity of that statement, no doubt hatched up by a brain trust of people at Starbucks' corporate office, but true nonetheless.

Our stories are gifts, and you don't have to be a writer to share them. Everyone has something to say that can lift the hearts of other people, connecting us together, if we will only value ourselves and others enough to share together. It gave me a moment of inspiration to restore my light heart, at exactly the moment I needed it. And then, I took my first sip of the eggnog latte, and discovered that it was absolutely delicious. It wasn't what I wanted, but it was a pleasant surprise, and so much of life works that way if we stay open to the possibilities.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Rest & Rejuvenation

What is it about the human condition that soaks up rest like a dry plant drinks water? We all need to change our pace once in awhile in order to find our centers again. It's easier for some personality types to relax than for others. For me, I have to give myself permission to unwind and enjoy myself, and I'm learning how important it is to do this on a regular basis, so that I'm not accomplishing things but grouchy and exhausted all of the time.

I'm almost halfway through my novel challenge, and I'm seriously behind. When I was posting decent word counts to the website and the work was flowing well at the beginning of the month, I felt fantastic, like I was accomplishing my goal. Then some of my regular life intervened and I began to fall behind. I had a feeling this was going to happen, and I'm happy to say that I feel more relaxed about it than I thought I would.

It's been challenging to juggle everything and try to find the right balance. When I get it right, it feels deeply satisfying, and when I don't, I become anxious and stressed. I'm constantly looking for peace and joy in each situation I'm in. I'm tired of worrying about all that I can't control. I can't do everything well. I can do some things well, but on a daily basis I must choose what to focus on, and what to let go of. I'd like to think that this balance gets easier, but it doesn't seem to.

All I can do is adjust my priorities on a day by day basis. This weekend away in Canmore has highlighted again the need for leisure in my life. It's not wasting time to make my mental and physical health a priority. I can enjoy everything more if I relax sometimes and recharge my batteries. Some personality types understand this better than my Type A does, but I can learn from others.

Today is the second rehearsal for the Christmas play with the kids at our church. I am working hard at being relaxed and keeping my expectations low for how it will unfold. For too long I've expended a lot of energy trying to see around every corner and plan for every contingency, and I'm learning that it's simply not possible to know what is coming all of the time. I'm trying to keep peace and joy at the centre of my priority list. As much as possible, I'm striving for these two things in each situation that I'm in.

Unless I am intentional about it, the negative tends to take over, and the positive becomes trodden underfoot. Peace and joy add so much more to my outlook and my experience than complaining and whining. There is always a positive side if we will look for it and be part of the solution instead of the problem.

Resting offers the chance to see things differently. The stress goes down, and the contentment goes up. I think that's why I stopped worrying about my novel challenge word count on this long weekend away. I looked at the mountains, played with my kids, and had fun for hours in the pool and hot tub with my family and friends.

I paid attention to what was going on inside of me, and that took precedence over an external goal I set for myself. I'm almost 10,000 words further into my novel than I was at the beginning of November, and I'll focus on that instead of how far I am from the goal of 50,000 words by the end of the month. I can do only what I can do in any given time frame, and I must learn to live within my constraints, and celebrate what I am doing.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Interior Determines the Exterior

A new friend recently suggested that I write philosophy. This concept was very surprising to me. I was flattered at the idea, as philosophy seems lofty and intelligent, but the more I thought about it, I wondered if that was a good label, because I want to write about practical things that are useful, not only to others but also to myself.

I suppose it depends how the word is defined. Philosophy essentially means thinking and pondering, and I do find that is a big part of my writing. I love noticing the small things in life and recognizing that the little things add up to mean the big ones, if we stop to pay closer attention.

Kids have this down in a way that adults can't easily replicate. They play, fully immersed in their activity, and don't bother to worry about what is coming next or consider that they could be doing something else instead. They simply are themselves, in each moment, and that is something I wish I was better at.

Life is truly the sum of its parts. Moments and days and weeks add up to inform our character. Who we are is what we do, and I want to focus more on who I really am and less on my actions, for one flows from the other, and I desperately desire to be genuine and have my actions match up to my intentions. Faking who you are doesn't get you very far, and I know this from experience. There is a base underneath of your actions which eventually reveals your biases, opinions, judgements and thought patterns. I want to build up that base so it drives my actions, and not the other way around.

The interior determines the exterior. This lesson has been huge for me in the last year. Sitting and staring out the window is working on myself, because I'm able to slow down and pay attention to what is happening inside of me. When I change, my ideas change with me, and I want to constantly become softer and kinder, instead of more rigid and unbending. I've been inflexible for most of my life, and now I want to be pliable and moveable in my personality and ideas.

It's harder than I thought to really change myself. There are moments where I panic, but those are offset by the most incredible feeling of joy, as though I am hang gliding at sunrise in the mountains, and everything seems inspired and beautiful. It's important to keep walking, especially when we are unsure, and develop the confidence to know we will find our way eventually.

Paying attention to what is going on inside is a deeply valuable practice. Our emotions signal to us all of the time, but if we are too busy to listen to what our feelings are telling us, we miss out on opportunities to grow and change. Intuition is an important part of our lives, but we must sit up and take notice when it is talking to us. Respecting and listening to what that still, small voice is saying has been extremely beneficial to me in recent months.

The process of change is long, and hard, and frightening as often as it is rewarding. But it is always worth it, and when something has begun inside of us we are best to see it through to its end point, and while we are alive there should be no finish line for personal growth. If the line is always moving, then we are constantly changing and growing and improving ourselves. I want to keep building my interior, and out of those changes, my exterior life will get better and better.

Friday, November 12, 2010


Marriage is all about connection, like all relationships. When we feel disconnected, we are adrift from those we love, and the feeling is similar to being lost at sea. In my case, there are circumstances beyond my control that have engineered this disconnect, but it doesn't change the sense of being lost and alone.

Jason has been away in Los Angeles for an entire week. It's been a while since he has been gone for that length of time. It's hard on the kids, who seem off-kilter and a little nervous when we are not together as a family, and I feel burnt out from rushing around from one thing to the next and having very little adult conversation in the course of my day and evening. I tend to work around the clock when I'm on my own, and without anyone reminding me to sit down and relax, I simply don't do it, and by the end of the week I feel the effects.

Usually we talk in the evenings when he is away, but in this case he has been in classes and seminars, with short breaks throughout the day, and has had evening dinners and events to attend. He calls when he's rushing to another class, and we talk for five minutes, and in mid-sentence, it's time to hang up. It leaves me feeling bereft and scared, as though I don't even know him.

Intimacy in marriage is directly related to the commitment both sides are willing to put into the relationship. I understand in my mind that these kinds of weeks are rare and that we will get back on track when we are together again later today. My mind is not the problem here. The heart, where the emotions reside, is the tougher sell. So many of our fears and problems come from our feelings, and when women don't feel close to their men, it becomes a daunting divide to cross.

We have closed these gaps before, and will again, but there is something in my nature that wants to stay plugged in and connected all of the time. I find the disconnect to be frightening because I've seen how quickly small relationship fractures can become huge, if they are not traversed and mended. Where I'm damaged as a child of divorced parents throws a little more fuel onto this fire of possibility, and I have to rein in my overarching imagination.

The novel I am writing for the National Novel Writing Month challenge is about this issue. It focuses on a good marriage with a fracture that begins to widen, and I'm glad for the chance to work out some of my fears in a fiction setting. Anxiety over relationship problems is a normal part of any marriage, but I want to own my side of the disconnect, and find ways to improve it. I am responsible for my own fears and worries, and must work at managing them so they don't bleed into my marriage in a way that creates new problems which don't need to exist.

I am grateful that Jason is coming to join us in Canmore today, where we are spending this long weekend with some friends at our timeshare. I know we can talk about these things, and find those points of connection again that we are currently missing. We can take the time we need to find our way back to each other, where we both prefer to be, and put this week behind us. For the sake of our relationship and our family, we have always made this a priority, and when it's hard we need to put in the extra effort so that we can reap the benefits.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Today we remember the sacrifices that were made so that we could live in freedom and peace. My throat closes up and begins to ache when I take time to consider how many soldiers laid down their lives, bravely marching to certain death in some situations, in order to ensure that I can wake up and go to sleep in a nation which stands for choice and security.

William and I went to Ava's school ceremony yesterday. I knew for a fact that I would cry when I heard In Flanders Fields, as I always have and likely always will. The words are so haunting and beautiful, especially when spoken aloud by a variety of grade five voices. This passage in particular always chokes me up in gratitude and wonder, "We are the dead. Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, loved and were loved, and now we lie in Flanders Fields."

During the last post, played alone by a band student on a horn of some variety, I felt the tears well up again, falling down my cheeks during the two minutes of silence. I held William's hand beside me, and saw Ava up at the front of the high school gymnasium sitting quietly with her classmates, and I thanked God for the freedom and safety of my children. I prayed that they would only know peace during their lifetime, and never live through the atrocities of war. Then of course my mind turned to the many children and adults in war-torn countries right now, at this moment in time, and I prayed for them too.

Our freedom was bought at a great price. It's so good for our kids to be reminded of this, over and over again, and for me to be reminded as well. Being free is not a right that we are guaranteed to own, but a privilege gained by blood, mud, tears and loss. Mothers grieved for sons, wives for husbands, siblings and friends for each other, in losses unimaginable to comprehend, so that I could stand in that gymnasium yesterday and enjoy my freedom. I read once that men didn't fight for a cause or because a General was issuing orders, but for the friend who stood next to them in battle, to keep each other alive to the best of their ability.

This year, freedom means more to me than ever before as I experience it in a new way in my life. Freedom to think and express myself without fear of the consequences offers a different perspective on what it means to be truly free. That right was hard won for me as well, and I'm not completely free of fear in this area, but I'm moving toward being responsible for myself and not for others. I've never felt better and more grateful for this kind of personal liberty.

Living in Canada is a blessing I've never fully understood. Why was I born here, in this country of plenty, to live in safety when so many others are scrabbling for their daily meal, hiding in bomb shelters or living in abject terror and uncertainty? These kinds of inequities have always pricked at my conscience.

I don't understand why the world has to be at war. Have we learned so little from the wars that have gone before? I can't fix all of that and I can't even come close to answering those questions. But I can be grateful for what has been given to me because others didn't back down from defending my right to be free and live in safety. My gratitude is limitless. Today I say, "Thank you," and I remember.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Turn the Titanic Around

Amy Grant has a song with a line, "It takes a little time to turn the Titanic around." The song is all about the process of change, and how patience and time are two big components of any change we make in our lives. I woke up this morning with that line running around in my head, and it brought me a measure of peace.

Change is hard. There is always a temptation to go back to how we used to be, because what we used to be is familiar and safe, even if it didn't work that well for us. Then there is the fear of other people not liking what we are changing into, and some people have no problem vocalizing their dislike to us. It requires a thick skin, and confidence that we are on the right path.

I've been slowly developing a thicker skin over the last year. It's not easy to write my innermost thoughts in a public forum and have them scrutinized, especially when I am in the delicate process of forming new ideas and patterns of behaviour that are different from how I used to be. It's great when I hear from people who are supportive, and not so great when I am criticized openly.

We all face this kind of thing when we share our opinions, no matter what the forum is. Not everyone will agree with us, and that's okay. It becomes painful when those we love and care about are diametrically opposed to some of our new ideas, and it begins to feel personal. I'm not going to change back to how I used to be. I love the new road I am walking, and feel more alive and truly myself in a way I have never experienced up until this point.

Those rewards are worth any price I have to pay, but it doesn't make it any easier at the time. Turning the Titanic around takes a lot of will power, strength and courage. It requires whistling in the dark to bolster our bravery, especially when we feel terrified and lost. It helps to find like-minded people who will love us and encourage us when we are unsure. I value being able to admit that I'm unsure, and know that I will eventually find my way, and that God will never leave me on my own.

Change brings new growth, and I want to keep growing. I want to feel alive instead of stagnant. It's important to take risks, regardless of my fear level. Criticism can only hurt me if I allow it to. It's a fine line to walk between sensitivity of spirit and a thick shell so the hurt doesn't get to us. I'm trying to find that balance, and it's not always easy to recognize what the ratios should be.

All we can do is keep walking. If the road we are on isn't leading us where we want to go, we can look for a signpost and find a new road. As long as we are alive we can change and grow, and re-make ourselves again and again, until we more closely resemble what we want to be like. I love that freedom. The Titanic may be heavy and overwhelmingly large, but when you see icebergs ahead, the best thing to do is get that thing turned around, and into safer waters.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Calendar

I find the never-ending nature of the calendar distressing. Whether I look forward to an upcoming event or I dread it, time rolls on in a relentless march that wears me down after a while. I must be continually doing this to myself by booking in too many appointments, commitments and events, but that is part of the world we live in.

Or is it? I am in control of my life and the schedule of my family. There is a balance to being busy and allowing time to mellow out and not rush, and if I could bottle that balance I would be very rich indeed. It's like a tower that we build on each and every day until it becomes too top-heavy and falls, spilling everywhere and creating a huge emotional and physical mess. And then we rebuild the blocks again.

I like to think that I am designing better structures as I get older and wiser, but I'm not certain that is the case. I still fall prey to signing up for something a long way into the future, and imagining that I will want to do it when the time rolls around. When that date appears on the calendar, I'm just as busy and stressed and wish I could relax and watch a movie instead of racing around for something I've committed to.

If I cut everything out of my life my kids would participate in no activities, I would see no friends, and I would give nothing back in time and energy to my community. I don't want to be that person. Perhaps the answer lies in valuing my leisure time higher on my calendar. Penciling it in first, and making sure I don't have three days and evenings in a row where I'm rushing around from one thing to the next until I want to scream. Making downtime a larger priority, for my health and for the good of our family life.

I feel a little better about that because it's manageable. I don't want to start quitting things left and right, but I'm also slowly understanding that when my calendar is too full and it begins to feel relentless and exhausting, I need to say no more in that time period. Overloading is the beginning of the end of mental health and optimism. I'd rather do a few things well than a ton of things with a matching stress level.

Sometimes I still buy into the lie that is the supermom phenomenon. Sure, I can volunteer in Ava's class. Sure, I can take William to gymnastics. Sure, I can clean my house from top to bottom. Sure, I can hit my word count for the day for my novel challenge. Sure, I can take the kids to the library, the dry cleaners, Wal-mart, Ava's music lessons, the Taco Time drive thru and not get home until 7 and still find energy to do bedtime and put all of the groceries away before getting organized for the next school day. Yes, that was my day yesterday. And Jason is out of town this week so my energy has to carry us all through.

I'm not sure why I feel the need to prove something to myself and to my kids, because all that I really proved is that I took on too much and was grouchier than I wanted to be by the time they went to bed. Our energy level as women and moms must be factored in to everything we plan and do, or our kids and husbands are the ones who pay the price when we are overloaded.

I wish I was further along on the road of learning this important lesson, but I can try to improve from this point forward, just like everything else in life. The calendar is under my control, and I must keep that idea front and center when I begin penciling items in.

Monday, November 8, 2010

An Elephant in Every Room

There is a lot of mystery in human relationships. I grew up experiencing tension in my house on a regular basis, so as an adult I like to have everything cut and dried when it comes to my relationships. I don't like secrets and mysteries and loaded conversations where an engine is churning underneath the words and I'm working to figure out what is really going on.

Not everyone likes clear and honest communication. I find safety in it, where others find panic and too much vulnerability. I must respect the preferences of others, as they must respect mine, and in that middle place is where the mystery resides. I hate guessing with my friendships - wondering what the other person is thinking and feeling because it isn't clear to me, and I don't feel I can ask as that will make the person uncomfortable and defensive.

I don't know how to work these grey areas out. I know what I want, but I don't know what the other person wants, and asking them seems to go badly. Very slowly I'm learning something about myself as I work through these roadblocks. I'm discovering what I can give up and what I cannot. There is a time to pretend not to notice what's under the surface, and a place to back off so I have space to recover, be myself and find those I can be real with.

Lowering our expectations is a never ending battle. We think we have done the job, and then something else comes at us and we must re-evaluate and see where we have taken a detour and expected too much from someone who isn't able to give what we need. These things take time, and patience, and layers of grace to work our way through them. I'm relieved to know that I can look to other people for the needs I have for friendship, authority figures, mentoring and support. We can build a community of people, over a long period of time, who can meet some of our needs and heal what is broken from our childhoods.

We can also improve ourselves so that our children have less to work through when they become adults. I love that my kids are growing up in a home which is free of the kind of unresolved tension I lived with. Jason and I have many disagreements and arguments, but we talk them through, compromise and find a resolution that brokers peace in our home.

I am more afraid of unresolved conflict than I am of the fight, as I know firsthand how unsettling ongoing tension is for a child. I don't want an elephant standing in the corner of every room of my house. In this way, I am creating a better experience for my kids to grow up in.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

I Need a Silent Night

This morning we begin rehearsals at church for a play I wrote around an Amy Grant song for the kids to perform. The last play I wrote and directed was about ten years ago for kids at my last church in BC, and it was a bit of a bomb. I wrote too much dialogue, which ended up being forgotten when the kids were on stage, staring out at their adoring parents, and the microphones didn't work as I hoped so no one could even hear the dialogue that the kids were messing up.

It was not a success, but I was so much harder on myself in those days. I demanded perfection and nothing less. Having my own children has thankfully cured me of many of those demanding perfectionistic tendencies. I've had to learn to embrace the mess and chaos that children bring, and find a certain beauty in not expecting to have it all together.

I'm actually looking forward to the experience of directing this play. I wrote it with maximum simplicity of performance in mind. Most of the dialogue is off-stage, where a narrator can read the lines into a microphone while the action is dramatized on stage. This allows lots of room for teens and older kids to improvise and make it funnier/more interesting than I could have created on the written page.

I love the song because it talks about how commercial and stressful the Christmas season has become, and how in the midst of "shopping and buying and spending forever in line" we all need to find Christmas peace instead of trying to buy it. The chorus says, "I need a silent night, a holy night, to hear an angel voice, through the chaos and the noise. I need a midnight clear, a little peace right here, to end this crazy day with a silent night."

I first heard this song last Christmas, and it revolutionized the season for me. I've always been an early shopper and card-maker, and try to have most of the work of Christmas done by December 1st so I can relax and truly enjoy the buoyant feeling that the season brings. I'm hoping this play will do the same thing for the kids in it, and the parents and friends watching it.

Our society is trying to get us to buy into something that Christmas is diametrically opposed to. It's not about spending money. It's about giving of ourselves. It's not about outdoing our neighbours in the decorating department. It's about enjoying a cup of eggnog with friends and feeling peaceful as we gaze at a lit Christmas tree. I want more peace and joy, less stress and debt. I don't want to buy into the lie that I need to buy more and more each year. I want experiences that become memories which last forever, not more plastic destined for the landfill.

I'm sad to miss out on our wonderful pastor's musings at church over the next six weeks while we rehearse and then perform this play. But I'm glad for another chance to work with kids and have a completely different set of expectations this time around. I want to relax into it and have fun, which is the message of the play in the first place. It's not about nailing lines and marks. It's about the joy of the season, and celebrating the experience without demanding anything in return.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Count Your Blessings

My life is pretty damn good. Often I forget this fact and I need to stop and remind myself. I love the old song, "Count Your Blessings" where it instructs you to fall asleep counting your blessings instead of sheep (I'm not a huge fan of sheep so this advice works for me). After a hard season of life, my awareness of how good I feel right now is a big blessing in itself.

If my goal is to be supportive and loving to the people in my life, I understand now that I need to be included in that list. Not being so hard on myself is a huge gift, and its worth cannot be measured. I feel less constrained when I don't place such lofty expectations on what I should be doing. I'm recognizing the importance of the little things I do, and how those add up to make a big difference.

A friend popped by my house yesterday afternoon to give me a gift. It was a journal with my new favourite saying on it, "Keep Calm and Carry On". She saw me writing quotes or moments of inspiration on the back of my chequebook as I didn't have any other paper with me, and thought this journal would be perfect for my purse to record those ideas.

I was moved to tears at her thoughtfulness and kindness. That kind of love goes deep into a person, validating and recognizing you in a meaningful way. For my friend it was a small gesture, and for me it was huge. So much of life is like that. I'm through with not doing something for someone because it seems too insignificant. I used to want the big production or event, and backed off because it was too much work or seemed too overwhelming. Now I know that little things mean a lot, and because they are little, I can do more of them. We all can.

When I count my blessings, I come away with a softness in my spirit; a sense of quiet gratitude and peace. I become more aware of everything around me. My kids don't seem so rowdy and mannerless. My husband appears more considerate and loving. I don't feel like I'm failing, but instead doing just fine in all of the many moving pieces of my life. Right now, it seems like the gears are lined up and everything is running smoothly again, after months of being off-kilter and struggling to keep up.

We can't change the seasons in our lives. They come and they go, with the ebb of the tides, and we have to adjust to what comes at us. I'm going to enjoy feeling lighter and more hopeful right now, because I don't know how long this stage will last, but while I'm in it, I can enjoy the sweetness I am feeling.

I have been blessed. Noticing it and teaching my kids to notice what is wonderful all around them is a helpful exercise. It gives me a positive outlook which combats fear and anxiety over all that I cannot control. For today, I am counting my blessings, and noticing all of the little things.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Exactly As You Are

Recently, I started something new with William and Ava. Instead of simply saying, "I love you", as I try to do multiple times a day and certainly at bedtime, I say, "I love you exactly as you are." Something subtle seems to change in my kids, particularly William, and he feels accepted in a way that he didn't before.

I have to admit that it is often challenging to say that phrase truthfully. I've written a lot here about my up and down relationship with my son, and we have made great strides in the last few months, but that doesn't mean that I don't still become irritated by many things he says and does. I struggle with my own fear that some of his quirks reflect badly on me somehow. Unconditional love is a tall mountain to climb, and I'm pretty sure it takes a lifetime to get near the top. When I phrase my acceptance in this way to my son, he stands a little taller within our relationship, and I look a bit closer to find the qualities that I do respect and admire within him.

For so long I was focused on the negative, trying to raise him to be something else that I found more acceptable than the personality qualities he was showing to me, and now I understand clearly that my negative approach was hurting both of us. It's so much healthier to approach people from a positive standpoint. It makes me feel more hopeful, and helps the other party grow into who they really are in a fresh, new way.

We did a self confidence morning at our mom's group this week, and part of our table discussion was focused on supporting other moms instead of judging. It's easy to judge and much harder to support, especially when another person is different from us. We brainstormed a few of the areas that divide us (physical attractiveness, pre-conceived ideas, religion, money, parenting/childbirth) and the list went on and on. These areas divide us for one reason only: we allow them to.

In thinking about this after, I realized that I separate myself from my kids in much the same way. I pull away because there is something about them that I don't like, and then I wonder why they are not changing to suit my demands. I could bully them into change, by punishing them in some way or withholding my love from them, but I don't want to do it that way. I want them to feel supported and loved, and explore the world from that position of strength and confidence. I don't have to like every behaviour, but if I like their character, I can believe in them to make the right choices going forward in their lives.

I want to extend that positive belief and support to everyone in my life, from family to friends. It's hard when it's not reciprocated. I'm tired of playing games that involve giving up something I want or some part of myself in order to be accepted and loved. I don't find life or growth in those kinds of relationships. Now I know that there is a new way to approach my relationships, and I won't go back to the old habits when there is still so much ground to cover in terms of positive forward motion.

The only way I know to change is by small, incremental steps. It doesn't happen overnight. Changing the phrasing for how I express love to my kids is a very small thing, but in time I pray it will pay big dividends in their self confidence, and in the way I learn to love them without as many strings attached. Every single time I say, "I love you exactly as you are", I stop and think about all that I do love about each one of them, and it helps me move ever so slowly closer to the kind of love I want to genuinely express to those in my life.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

National Novel Writing Month

This post may appear to be in direct conflict with yesterday's, about my genuine moment of revelatory freedom where I realized that I'm doing okay, balancing everything in my life and still managing to relax and not feel guilty, but that was yesterday, and now it's a new day. On the weekend, an incident occurred between Jason and I, and I realized that the issue we argued about is not isolated to our marriage alone, and that it would make an interesting topic for a novel.

That thought rolled around in my mind for a few days, and I jotted a couple of notes, figuring I'd get to it some year when my screenplay and memoir are completely finished (is any piece of writing ever completely done?). Then I received an e-mail from a friend at our wonderful local library, informing me about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), a non-profit international writing event which has been occurring for the past eleven years in various forms, but always encouraging writers to pen the first draft of a novel from start to finish in thirty days time.

I looked up the website at and loved the idea of an international community of writers posting their page counts daily, receiving mass pep talks, and all trying to get to the goal of 50000 words by November 30th. My internal dialogue went something like this, "Yup, this is a great idea, I wish I had known about it earlier, or had planned for it. Maybe some November I'll have more time to try a novel. Right now I've got to finish my memoir and the latest draft of my script and try to do something with those in the marketplace."

I went about my business with this internal dialogue happening, and eventually I was flat-out arguing with myself. "Yes, I know I just had this spark of an idea that would make a great novel, but I'm trying to take on less, not more, and the idea will keep." In the end, the concept behind NaNoWriMo simply wouldn't leave me alone, and I realized that I could accept the challenge with myself, jump start my writing again, and not beat myself up if I can't manage to write 50000 pages in the next 26 days.

So I went on the website, created a profile and a description for the novel that is currently in my head, and got up early yesterday morning to start in. I had the first line and nothing more, but after that first line, the usual miracle of writing took over, and I was off to the races, with the ideas coming faster than my fingers could type them.

I had coffee with a friend in the morning, played a bit with William, ate lunch with him, and while he watched his afternoon movie (Stuart Little from the library), I wrote some more, and ended up with a total of 2000 words before we walked to get Ava from school at 3 pm. 2000 words is a long way from the end goal of 50000, but 2000 is better than zero, which is where I would've been before the NaNoWriMo challenge found me.

I feel hopeful about this because I heard the still, small voice, and followed it in spite of my valid misgivings. I have that feeling that it's the right time to try a novel, even if it's not convenient at all. Life is rarely convenient. It's always getting in the way of what we most want to accomplish. But sometimes we need to risk in spite of it all; to try something that seems crazy, even to ourselves, but feels right somehow.

I can only do my best to meet this goal, and not ignore my kids, my husband or my friends in order to complete it. The daily prioritizing of tasks and people doesn't change. I still need to get better at it, but taking something like this on and having it feel fun instead of like a burden is the first sign that I was supposed to try it. I love that I feel different enough inside to know that I'm going to do my best, and no more, and not waste time feeling guilty for what I'm unable to give.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Just Managing

Some days I feel like I'm hanging on by the skin of my teeth. I do the basics, and no more. The kids are dressed and fed and make it safely through the day and into bed at night. The kitchen is reasonably clean and three square meals plus snacks are served up by yours truly. The toilets are clean-ish. Phone calls, e-mails and Facebook messages are returned in a somewhat timely manner. I'm on top of it, but not doing any more than that.

I had a small revelation yesterday as I drove to get William from preschool: just managing is actually succeeding. It's not failing. It may not be above and beyond, and I may not be doing all of the writing that I have in my head and that fact might be insanely frustrating to me, like an endless itch that I am unable to scratch, but I'm managing the best I can for right now.

When William is in preschool two mornings a week, I'm supposed to be writing. That's the plan that I laid out for myself in the summer. And it works, once in awhile. Then there are the rest of the Tuesdays and Thursdays where I have other pressing things to accomplish, or meetings that crop up for me to attend, or a million other busywork items that command my attention instead.

It hit me yesterday, after a particularly productive morning of work which didn't include the personal writing I wanted to accomplish but still knocked about ten things from my to-do list, that next year when William is in kindergarten, every morning will feel like Tuesday and Thursday to me this year. I will have blocks of time, in my rapidly approaching future, which are going to be mine to spend how I would like.

Right now I am sharing this time with William, and I don't get it back. It's now or never to enjoy his daily company, and to view coffee dates with friends as a necessity and not an impediment. I have to rein in my own unbridled ambition, and offer up this sacrifice so that my preschooler gets the best of me in his last full year at home before he begins his school career. I am making him a priority, and not simply skipping out on my commitment to write.

My heart soared a little bit as I drove in the sunshine to pick him up, thinking that everything I manage adds up to be a big contribution to my family, my kids, my friends and my community. Just because I'm not doing everything I want to be doing, doesn't mean I'm not doing anything. It's all in how you look at it. Striking a reasonable balance of leisure and activity is a delicate thing, and when I'm making it work, recognizing that accomplishment is good for my self confidence.

I don't want to become so focused on the now that I forget what is coming in the future, and the reverse is also true. I only have these days with William at home for eight more months, and then he will be five and we will both be in a brand new stage of life. The preschool years will be gone forever. It's all important, and precious, and goes by in the blink of an eye. The last thing I want to do is miss it. For right now, just managing is enough for me.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Experience is Everything

Recently I read a quote by Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach which said, "The simplest and commonest truth seems new and wonderful when we experience it the first time in our own life." Those words held the ring of truth for me, as nothing means anything until we experience it ourselves.

Motherhood is a prime example. When you are pregnant with your first child, you get every manner of advice from every possible source. You tend to smile and nod, filing some of it away and outright ignoring most of it, but always politely assuming that you'll end up doing it your own way. I had a crystal clear idea of what it would be like to be a mom, but of course the actual experience was radically different from what I expected.

All of life is like this. Until you walk the road, you have no understanding of the terrain, and the view, and the unique challenges and fears you will face. The older I get, the more I realize that instructing someone about something they haven't experienced is a useless exercise. Of course, we all share our lives with each other, and we aren't all going to do the same things, but experiencing something for ourselves is always more meaningful than being told about it or reading about it.

My faith has certainly brought this point home in a fresh way over the past few years. I see truth in a completely different way now, and it seems so simple and profound, and I can't believe I didn't know it before. Until we experience it, no amount of explaining or convincing is going to mean as much as simply tasting the water with our own lips.

I'm slowly understanding that it's not up to me to convince anyone of anything. There is nothing more powerful in human relationships than to share our experiences respectfully with each other, and be heard and understood. When a friend is ready to walk through something new, I can be there to commiserate or celebrate, and I don't have to do anything except simply be present to validate what is happening for them. These are the kinds of relationships that mean the most to me; where nothing is forced, but experiences are truly shared with each other and judgement is withheld.

This is freedom. To experience truth in a new way, to be changed by it and to share it freely with those we love without expecting anything in return. I am no longer afraid to believe new things, to experiment with new concepts, and to try out some fresh ideas. New thinking leads to new experiences, which eventually improves my character. I am becoming gentler and kinder as I understand in experience what I couldn't even see or imagine before, and I'm open to others experiencing new things as well. It's a beautiful thing, and I love that I have a lot of years left to live in this inspiring new way.

Monday, November 1, 2010


I don't want to be in a competitive marriage or friendship. I want to be in a supportive one, but I'm realizing that competition comes more naturally to most people, including myself, than encouragement and support. Is our society to blame for this? Or deep down are we so insecure within ourselves that we feel we must compete to see who is the winner and who is the loser?

This type of competition in relationships breeds anger and frustration. It also escalates quickly, with a sort of jostling for the top of the heap in many different areas. And it never seems to end. If one person makes more money or has more qualifications than the other person, the division becomes magnified when it's referred to, even in a joking manner, and festering resentment is often the result.

I don't know how to stop competing with people. Well, I suppose if I'm being honest, I could easily stop comparing and fighting for position, as that is within my control, but then I worry I'll be walked on or left behind in someone's dust. The only way to stop being competitive is to stop competing. When I state it like that, even to myself, it sounds simple and obvious.

It's just much harder in practice. I don't want to be the person who has something to prove all of the time. I can spot chips on other people's shoulders, and I'm mortified when I recognize that I have one too. I really thought that Jason and I weren't competing with each other, and for awhile all has been calm in this area, but when it suddenly rears its ugly head, we have to deal with the fallout.

Carving out your own niche in any relationship and feeling supported and valued for your contribution is the highest goal that any two healthy people can strive for. It's not enough simply to love each other. We have to also be kind, and supportive, and sign a theoretical non-compete agreement with each other. At my worst, I am ultra competitive. I choose to fight instead of acquiesce, virtually all of the time.

This is my task: to learn when it's healthy to compete, and when it isn't. Just because someone wants to compete with me doesn't mean I have to rise to the challenge. If I feel secure in myself, in my own sense of value and self worth, then I can decline to compete and still feel good about who I am and what I do. The other person in the relationship might need time to come to the realization that endless competition is not going to improve the dynamic. If anything, it just makes everything more stressful and challenging.

In my moms group, we recently began a program of pairing moms up who wanted to support and encourage each other. The entire relationship is based on that. In some ways, it's a very simple thing, and in other ways, it's entirely radical and counter-culture. I want to bring that spirit of support and partnership into my other relationships and watch them flourish and grow in an entirely new way, and leave the competitive nature behind me.