Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Living the dream...

The one thing about getting what you want in life is that working to achieve it is a grind, and when you finally make it the place you've worked so hard to be, it's not always going to be good.

Some days achieving your dream sucks, and that's ok. It's normal. Even the greatest things in life get tiresome sometimes.

But, other days it feels like you're exactly where you're meant to be. All that hard work paid off. You've made it, kid.

I remember clawing my way through college. working at my security job while trying to keep my head above water in my studies. Most days I felt like I was barely surviving. I was at least eight to ten years older than most of my classmates. A "mature student." While they lived at home with their parents, I lived in a dumpy three story walk-up with my cat.

I was the old lady of the program at 30, but those kids embraced me, and I kind of got a second shot of early adulthood. That part was invigorating.

Those were some of the best years of my life. I didn't have the gumption or self awareness to realize that at the time. But, hindsight is 20/20 and a beautiful memory for me.

I realize now, how the challenging times were just as important, if not more important than the good times. The hard nights, when it seemed impossible, are the nights that made it all worthwhile.

On the nights that were hard, there were lifelines all around me. People who cared, and people who shared experiences like mine. Even though I sometimes felt it, I was never really alone.

I remember calling my little sister one evening, I was weeping about how I didn't have it in me to continue. Being a full-time mature student while working and trying to keep a roof over my head and pay bills was taking its toll. I was at my breaking point.

"I quit," I told her. "This dream is bullshit."

A student of law, she agreed. She'd had many nights like mine; exhausted and crying over being stuck in the middle of trying to make your life better, and it seeming so hopeless.

"Nobody tells you that you need to claw your way to your dreams. It's a fight. It's always a fight."

We took turns breaking down, comparing our moments of frailty while lifting each other up. Seeing that we weren't alone in our struggles made it easier. She understood my tears. I understood hers.

There were many nights like this.

Tears. frustration. Reflection, and appreciation.

The cycle never ends. When I achieved my dream of graduating college, there was another dream waiting for me, and after that another... and so on and so on.

I've realized now that the experience of working towards my goals and dreams is actually far more impactful than achieving them. That's where the life is; in the journey. The accomplishment is simply the reward, before moving on to live another part of your life.

It's so important to have dreams to chase. It's just as important to savour the chase.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

That Carrie Bradshaw Dream...

Life has been busy, and for a lot of years I stopped writing.

Well, for the most part I stopped.

There were a few exceptions.

Like right after my daughter was born. I was so overcome with hormones and emotion that I felt as though I would explode if I didn't express myself. I felt like Simba's father in the opening scene of the Lion King, when he raises his cub up for the world to see. That was me, only my cliff was a blog that like five people read. Still, I was unable to contain myself, because I wanted to share my happiness with anyone and everyone who would look at it.

Paradoxically, when my grandma died I furiously typed out my sorrow in a couple of blog posts that reflected my broken heart, my soul and of my relationship with her. My vast emotions needed an outlet. My tears needed a place to be cemented.

Unless I was completely moved and damn near possessed to write, I didn't do it.

Just before I got pregnant I had a brief stint as a columnist for the Winnipeg Sun. It felt like my Carrie Bradshaw moment-- I was getting to test my chops at writing about relationships and whatever else in print for an audience. It was my dream come true.

I felt as though I had made it and I took this opportunity and myself pretty seriously. Too seriously, which isn't a good thing, because I lead this passage with my ego. I know I can be a good writer, especially when I write from the heart and the depths of my soul. I also know that in order to be a good writer, one must lay it out there, be vulnerable. Not give a fuck about the people who will hate you, because no matter how big your stage is, some people are going to hate you.

I wasn't ready for that part of it.

I wanted people to like me. I wanted to be that darling in the Sunday paper that was witty, and funny and had heaps of wisdom to share. I wanted people to read what I had to say and to enjoy reading my words as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Essentially, I wanted all the good things about this opportunity without any of the bad. And while there were people who did like me, they were accompanied by others who didn't.

There's nothing like accomplishing your dreams and putting yourself out there in a very public and vulnerable way to knock you down a few pegs.

It hurts, but sometimes (probably most of the time) it's necessary.

Like Carrie Bradshaw, I am insufferable and unlikeable sometimes. I've made a lot of mistakes and bad decisions in my life, some that have been at the expense of others. Reckoning with that part of myself is hard. Nobody likes to look at the toxic parts of themselves. But that confrontation is necessary if you want to change and grow to be better.

We can always change and we can always be better than we used to be.

In the years since, I've became more cautioned of sharing myself in my writing until I just stopped.

Life got busy, my priorities changed, and time was tenuous.

There's more at stake now too, as my life isn't just mine anymore. I share it with my partner and kids whom I respect deeply and I would never want to to embarass. Also, as I've said, my time is sparse. Anything that takes me away from my family has to be worth it.

For me, writing is worth it.

I've always loved writing. I've always enjoyed wandering through life, looking for the next story, whether it's mine or someone else's. I've missed that part a lot.

Aside from all that, I am older now. I'm also maybe a little wiser, and my ego, though still fragile at times, is a bit stronger. I also have a lot less fucks to give than I used to. Not everyone is going to like me. Not everyone is going to like what I have to say or the stories I have to tell, and that's cool.

Life is short, and I have a lot of stories I want to tell.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Just another body at the beach...

The other day I tweeted "I wish I hadn’t spent the first 35 or so years of my life thinking I was too fat to enjoy the beach. What a waste. Luckily I’m making up for it now. Life’s too short man."

I've written about this before. It's a paradigm in my life.

A little context into this tweet...

It was Saturday afternoon. It was one of those hot Manitoba summer days-- The kind of day where you literally feel like you might melt. The air is hot and a little bit suffocating, your skin is damp and sweaty and it feels like it's burning to the touch. It's both uncomfortable and satisfying. You don't dare complain because this weather is the antithesis of the frigid winters that we are known for.

I was at the beach with my daughter, her dad and my sister. We were taking shifts cooling ourselves, enjoying the water and each other's company. At the moment I tweeted, I was sitting on our beach blanket a few feet from the shoreline, watching my little girl play and splash around in her pink armband life vest with her dad and her aunt.

It felt like I was living in a memory, like I needed to soak it all in. The sound of people splashing and laughing in the water; that smell of beach and sunscreen mixed with hot air; the sweltering sun.

I stared at my daughter, memorizing the way she looked as she threw her head back and laughed while she rubbed wet sand on her dad and her aunt, yelling "sand lotion!"

I just knew, this was moment that I never wanted to forget.

A moment that I would save for a rainy day.

Surrounded by bodies of different shapes and sizes, taking in the heatwave like we were, I suddenly realized how I'd robbed myself of so many moments like this in the past. It was only in the last five or so years that I started going to the beach in the summer. My visits became more frequent after my daughter was born and I became a stepmom.

It's only been the last two years that I've fully embraced myself as a just another body at the beach. No cover-ups or shrouds hiding my meaty thighs, or stomach and back rolls. No crouching away in a corner somewhere, praying that I don't run into someone I know. No oversized tee-shirts sheltering my insecurities while making parachutes around me in the water.

Just all of me in one of my many bathing suits, exposed in a large crowd of strangers. What's more is that I actually feel good (and liberated) bumming around the beach in a one-piece that accentuates every fat lump of my body.

This wasn't always the case though.

I spent so many years struggling with body image and disordered eating. I wore cardigan sweaters on sweltering summer days, because I believed that they hid my fat rolls better than just a tee-shirt or a tank top. I avoided the beach, pools, and even daytime because of how I felt about my body. My stature. My fat.

In my mind, my fat body was not worthy of being at the beach. I despised myself for not trying harder to lose weight, vowing that by the next year I would be worthy of summer.

When I did find myself at someone's pool or at the beach, I wore entire outfits over top of my bathing suit in the water in an effort to hide myself. If I didn't try to hide I felt like I was proving the point that every person who ever called me fat in my life was trying to make.

It was exhausting.

And yet, settling into middle age and motherhood, here I was surrounded by a crowd of people doing their best to social distance in a heat wave, embracing my body and myself at the beach.

Nobody else cared about my bulk, or how I fill out my swimsuit. There was no spotlight on me, or group of bullies pointing and laughing at my very existence or calling me fat. The only people that even noticed me where the ones who I was with, who were happy to spend the day with me, enjoying the beach and making memories.

My daughter certainly doesn't care that my body looks the way it does. She loves my body, it is her comfort. It's all she's ever known.

She cares about me being the mom who will go in the water and play with her. She cares about me being the mom who laughs and enjoys a hot day at the beach, making sand castles and eating chips with her on our blanket overlooking the water. She cares about having fun.

She doesn't care about my cellulite and fat rolls. In fact, when I've tried to cover myself at the beach she tells me to take off my shirt or my shorts in the water, like her.

Summer is fleeting. My daughter's childhood is fleeting. Life is fleeting. The older I get, the more I realize that every day is valuable.

My time is valuable.

I am valuable.

Life is valuable. Too valuable to waste.

Sooner than you know the leaves will start to turn brown and yellow and the air will slowly start to cool until it bites. The days will turn into weeks, then to months and then years, and those days at the beach, playing in the water with your kids will be some of your fondest memories. I promise.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The old lady who collected lucky pennies...

My Grandma used to pick up pennies and other loose change that she would find, whether it be on the sidewalk, the street, in a shopping centre, or someone's house. She would pick it up, proclaim her good luck and then sock the coin away in a special spot in her change purse until she got home.

Then, when she got home, she would transfer her lucky pennies (or nickels, dimes and quarters) to a jar that she had on her shelf. She would save her findings for a whole year before donating them to her church.

I always saw this as kind of odd. A penny has very little value when you find it alone on the pavement. If I ever bothered to pick up a lucky penny I never treated it with the attention and care that she did. I would throw in the in the bottom of my purse where it would get lost forever, while she picked up her lucky pennies and transferred them to a special spot
with the intention to make the world a bit of a nicer place for someone else.

She did this for as long as I can remember, until her dementia got bad and she began to fade away.

Another thing she used to do was write down novelty license plate numbers and letters in a little book. I don't know why she did this. Perhaps the editor in her thought it was clever, or funny. Perhaps there was no real reason, and she just did it as a game for herself, to pass time when she was making her way from point A to point B in her little silver K-Car.

It was just one of the interesting things that she did.

I remember when I was a kid, if I would see a license plate that I thought she would like I would call her and let her know about it. She always rendered excitement, saying "Ohhhh! Let me get my book so I can write that down!"

Sometimes I wish I asked her why she did these things. Not so much to question her intentions, but rather to learn more about her.

She used to tell me when I was bored that I should open the newspaper and edit it.

"Look for the mistakes and circle them," she would tell me and sometimes show me her marked up paper. "Or find words that you don't know and look them up in the dictionary!"

She always had an idea of something we could do to squash boredom that would force us to pay attention and use our brains.

Of course she did the daily crossword, and she read Reader's Digest. She took up sculpting as a hobby later in life, and when she was able she would spent time at a shared rented studio on Clifton Street. She always had time to meet for lunch, or go shopping at The Bay, or to accept visitors into her apartment on Sargent Avenue.

There was always a tin of homemade cookies in the fridge, and canned fruit and Vegetable Thins crackers in the cupboard. Her place was always immaculate, and her outfit was always on point; tied together with a scarf, fashion jewelry, a blazer and makeup.

In hindsight, now that all I have left of her are some random things and faded memories, I wish I had bothered to ask her more about herself. I wish I had asked why she felt compelled to donate her lucky pennies, or how she ever came up with the idea to collect novelty license plate numbers in a book. I wish I knew if she actually liked editing the newspaper, or if it was just a way for her to pass time.

I can surmise that a lot it stemmed from being lonely, but that's just a best guess.

Monday, July 20, 2020

New York, New York...

Have you ever gone somewhere and the whole time you're there it's the newest, most familiar place you've ever been to?

That's New York. 

I remember the first moment I stepped up from the 7th Avenue Subway Station. It was raining, but that didn't matter, a place like New York doesn't stop or even slow down when it's raining. The raindrops made that first experience that much more exceptional. It was like poetry.

New York might even be more romantic in the rain.

I was gulped up by the biggest buildings I'd ever seen in my life, while the reflection of the streetlights radiated on the wet pavement beneath my feet. I couldn't even see the top of some of the skyscrapers because there was this ceiling of fog that seemed to rest among the middle floors of the buildings. I had never seen such monstrous cement wonders like that in my life. Lined in uneven rows. Even the small buildings were grand.

Everything looked like it was important, yet throngs of people hustled across streets and down sidewalks unimpressed or oblivious to the absolute wonder that I was taking in. Everyone in New York is coming or going somewhere. The city is far too big and far too busy to saunter through. 

The streets seemed like they were going to burst from the bumper-to-bumper traffic. Horns blared as cars inched their way through intersections. They honked at each other, people trapped in their steel cages on wheels in gridlock, not at the pedestrians hustling through the city.

We stopped at a bodega to buy two umbrellas. We were exhausted, but I was high from finally setting foot in the place of my dreams and Chris was high from my reaction. His hard work and end of year bonus paid for my dream, and he got to watch it and feel it come to life. While I obviously got the better deal, we were both very happy.

Being there, so far away from the empty prairie sky and from the appreciated, but ordinary life we lead, was exciting. We had three days to capture and experience as much of New York as we could. A modest timeframe, given all the city has to offer. We didn't bother to plan for much, because all I wanted to do was see everything. So, while the attractions where everywhere and accessible for a price, our feet and eyes and access to unlimited Metro Cards were what was the most valuable to us.

We made our way down the streets, holding our carry-ons in one hand and our cheap bodega umbrellas in the other. We walked by famous monuments, like Carnegie Hall and the Russian Tea Room, and almost didn't even notice them. In New York it seems like you are almost always close to some kind of monument or landmark. Everything looks like you've seen it somewhere before, and maybe you have because the city is renowned.

We ducked into Angelo's Pizza because we were hungry and tired of carrying our bags. Immediately we were sheltered from the noise and the rain and the from the bustle of the city. It was just a normal restaurant, only there were faded pictures of celebrities like David Letterman and Madonna in cheap frames on the walls. A proclamation of greatness because rich and famous people either ate there or mentioned that they had. 

Our pizza was more famous than we would ever be.

After we filled our bellies, we continued our adventure. The rain had let up, and we hauled our tired selves and carry-ons through Central Park. It was endless. Full of pigeons, park benches, people, and roasted nuts. It was so strange to be around so many people doing so many different things in one place. New York is a different experience for everyone, even if they are in the same space.

It's hard to explain. It's hard to articulate why I love this place so much, or why even if I went back a million times it wouldn't be enough-- This post captures my first hour in the big city. I could go on and on probably write a novel about my New York weekend. It was magical. 

A Friend once explained it to me like this; she said "In New York it feels like, no matter what you are doing, you are in the exact place that you're supposed to be, doing exactly what you are doing."

She was right. 

I love New York. 

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Can we create a new normal?

I have been out of work for months and I don't know when I will get to call back to return.

I know this isn't uncommon during the pandemic. There are so many people who are in the same situation.

It's a bit of a conversation piece, this uncertainty. We're all steeped in it to various degrees, wading through this quandary, trying to live our lives in the most normal way possible.

At first it all seemed so terrifying and dire.

Not work? What?

I've traded a lot of my identity for my job title and profession-- more than I'd actually thought before all this started. It was hard to back away from. I always felt like my job was something in my life that was mine. I had this weird protective ownership over it. A silly notion, given that it's not so much mine as it is something I do.

When I stopped working, I felt a little bit lost. The absence of work felt weird and sort of empty. It took me a little while to get over the feeling that I should be doing something, or checking in with someone. Even though there is always something to do around my house, I spent the first couple of days dumbfounded and wondering "What now?"

Having time suddenly felt overwhelming. I felt guilty and lazy for not feeling overrun.

I've spent four and a half years on autopilot, multitasking full-time work with trying to manage my home life and being a parent. For the last half decade it seemed like every shred of time was accounted for or claimed by something or someone, because as cliche as it sounds, there were never enough hours in the day. Becoming a working mom, meant becoming a very mediocre version of supermom.

And then the pandemic hit, and I got laid off and all of a sudden I felt like I could take a breath.

This lockdown, though uncertain and terrifying in it's own way also felt like a bit of  a lifeline amidst the chaos. For the first time in a long time-- probably since returning to work after my mat-leave, I don't feel like I am drowning in my life.

That sounds unreal. It took a pandemic to stop feeling like I am drowning in my life.

But it's true. Right now there are no anxiety-riddled mornings, hauling ass trying to get three kids to two different schools across the city from one another before O'Canada starts. I'm not hastily grocery shopping for a few things on my lunch break, or racing to get a kid before the daycare 'closes.' We get to spend more than the three hours before bedtime together every day, and we have found time to do some of the things that we've always wanted to try, like camping, or fishing on the creek by our house.

Of course it's not always rosy or Instagram-worthy. Our time is also sometimes met with boredom and the need for a break from one another. The kids still watch loads of TV and I still struggle with what to make for dinner every night. When we had to homeschool, I struggled immensely. It was hard for all of us. We miss some of the aspects of our pre-COVID existence and are always in a constant battle with the uncertainty of it all. I'm still super busy, but well rested.

Chris is still working, though his office is our dining room table for now.

I never expected to have this much time in my life again. Not while my kids were young anyway.

This isn't meant to disparage or undervalue my job by any means; in fact it has nothing to do with my actual job. This is more of an observation of the entire five day 40-hour workweek structure as a whole and how hard, or perhaps impossible is it to try and raise kids and maintain a sense of self and balance within that structure.

Prior to this pandemic unemployment, there wasn't really a balance. Our pre-COVID life was so fast paced and rushed. From the moment I opened my eyes every morning it was like "GO!" Every single second of the day was like a long haul relay race, where I was the leader and my team did their best but wasn't always the most coordinated.

I want to go back to work, or go back to working. I want to be able to spend time with my kids and have time for myself, and I don't think it's unreasonable to want it or have it all. I think under the current version of a normal 40-hour work week system it is impossible, because (again with the cliche) there aren't enough hours in the day. But, if there is a takeaway from this extraordinary situation that we find ourselves in, it's we have the opportunity to reinvent normal.

There are other advantages for a shorter workweek that are beneficial for the planet, people and the markets, not just for tired moms like me.

I know that big shifts and changes like the one I am speaking about don't come quickly or easily, but considering that the 40-hour work-week is rooted in industrialism and was started at a time before people had the tools and the types of jobs to work anywhere at any time, and before dual incomes were the norm in partnered households, changing the standard to meet our changing lives seems obvious.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Pandemic babies

The other day I was thinking about the people who have just had babies. Pandemic babies, hunkered down in their homes, while anxious family members wait to meet their newest. I remember having my daughter, and wanting to present her to the world by holding her up the way Mufasa did to Simba in the Lion King. It was a long running joke between Chris and I, because it seemed so over the top, but that's how I felt. I was beaming. I was proud, and I wanted to present my greatest love and accomplishment to the entire world.

I'm sorry for anyone who longs for the same, but can't. Somewhere inside of this all, there is a good lesson or experience. I think.

But, that silver lining or whatever it's called doesn't take away from the fact that it's hard and it sucks.

Exhausted new parents are having to navigate a whole new way of life without hands-on help. The village is virtual, and none of them even fathomed that a physically empty, virtual only village was an option when they found out they were going to be parents. How could they have?

This pandemic rewrote the plan.

Becoming new parents can already be a super insulating experience. Afterall, not only is a baby born, but a mother and father are born too. It's hard. It's gritty, and it's something that you can't quit, even when it's unforgiving or you just feel like it. Sometimes it's not easy to see through the fog of it all. Even though there is a nearly year-long wait to welcome a baby, it's nearly impossible to prepare for being a first time parent.

If you have any new mom and dad friends, check in on them.

Perhaps I am equating too much of my own feelings into this. Maybe there are other new parents out there who relish in the fact that they don't have to share their new baby with the world just yet. Maybe the isolation has some merit. I hope that's the case, and I hope more people are feeling like that., than feeling abandoned.

In any event, whatever the case, for what it's worth, to all of the new parents who are navigating your new life during this panmenic, I see you and your struggles mom and dad. It's hard and you are doing better than you think you are.

Long after this is over and the world resumes into some kind of normalcy, whatever that looks like, your babies will be the pandemic babies. They'll regale people with stories about how they were born in the middle of a world-wide lockdown. They will tell their kids, and their grandkids and it will sound almost unbelievable, like a myth.

It's a weird time for everyone, but especially for those who are navigating through a whole new way of life.

Perhaps this new isolated reality and my current unemployment will allow me to breathe new life into motherhood, myself. Maybe, in the midst of all this I can find some rays of light and nuggets of gold. I've only ever had a year of being a mom that didn't feel like it was completely bursting at the seams. Maybe more time with my kids is my silver lining.

Who knows. I suppose perspective is key.

New parents, you are doing amazing. Better than you think.

Check in on your friends. More than anything right now, we need one another.

**PHOTO/Sunny S-H Photography, April 2015

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Village Throws the Best 5th Birthday Party Of All!

My daughter's fifth birthday was last Saturday.

We had been planning for, and looking forward to this big day for so long. This year was a milestone. she turned five-years-old. A whole hand! It seemed like a big deal, and we intended to treat it as such.

The plan, initially, was to throw a "real" birthday party with her preschool friends. We rented out the community centre by our house and planned to have a "queen puppy" themed shindig with a disco ball, rock 'n' roll music and a piƱata. We talked about it often, and she was so excited. 

And then COVID hit and the world started to lock down.

In the midst of a global pandemic, a five-year-old's birthday party is relatively unimportant. There are bigger things to be concerned with, like trying to stay healthy by staying home and practicing social distancing, especially when uncertainty and sickness are looming. But, in the same breath, it is important. It was important to her, and important to us, no matter how miniscule it is in the grand scheme of things. It mattered, and I felt so bad that I had talked up her party, only to take it all back and completely change the celebration.

Kids are resilient though. My mom guilt outlasted her disappointment. 

Her dad I explained to her that we would have a special birthday with just our immediate family in our house. We would have cake, and her favourite macaroni. We'd rent the new Trolls movie, and she could even help picking an extra special gift online-- A duty that thrilled her.

It wasn't the birthday we'd planned for. I was scared that it wouldn't be enough, and then the most amazing thing started happening... 

People started showing up for her.

Both of my sisters, my nieces, our friend Marie and my parents all showed up outside our house at different times of the day to bring gifts and birthday greetings from the step. They arrived with their signs, sparklers, balloons and gifts.

Grandma Facetimed from BC, and patiently watched Riel eat her lunch and talk about her giant LOL Surprise doll gift. Our friend Michelle sent specially picked gifts through the mail, and my stepkids' mom Donna dropped the kids off for our pandemic-style family party, even though it was her day to have them.

Ace Burpee made a short birthday video for Riel. My friend Melanie, made birthday cutouts to stick on the window. My friend Barbara dropped off a beautifully painted Louis Riel rock, and one of the mom's from two of Riel's preschool friends reached out and asked if we'd like to FaceTime. The director of Riel's daycare reached out over email to wish her a happy birthday, and share a picture of her own daughter who shared the same birthday.

Numerous people, many of whom who have never even met my kid, sent her birthday wishes over social media. 

The day was sprinkled, like confetti, with all of these small but super meaningful and thoughtful gestures. 

Then our family-- my parents, sisters, nieces, and my Aunt Rose, along with Chris's mom and her partner John gathered together over a video chat to sing a very out of tune rendition of Happy Birthday and watch Riel blow out her candle.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and our village came through in a big way on this day. People went out of their way to make sure Riel's fifth birthday was special, and to show her that even if we couldn't all be together, they would be there for her. They did their hardest to make sure that she knew she was loved and important, and they helped give her one of the best birthdays -- maybe the best birthday -- she has had to date.

Thanks to everyone who showed up. That was the greatest gift of all.