Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Dear well-intentioned relatives/friends/strangers--You are killing Christmas

A letter from Santa Claus

I'm not going to beat around the bush here...when you're a kid, Christmas is all about the presents. The tree, the food and the long-lost relatives are all background noise to that main event when they wake up on Christmas morning and, with the sleep dust still in their eyes, run out to find the shiny wrapped present I left for them. And I doubt I have to tell you that this Christmas moment is 'magic' at it's absolute finest. So this is why, with the utmost respect, I have to tell you gift-giving, treat-toting, Christmas-fanatic lunatics that YOU ARE KILLING CHRISTMAS.

Yeah, I'm talking to you, Mrs. Jones. On the last day of school before gluttony season, do they really need a brown paper bag overflowing with peanut-free chocolate bells and candy canes?

And don't pretend this doesn't apply to you, Auntie Dorothy-- You and your two months worth of pre-Christmas junk food and multiple tree-decorating parties. Do you know what makes decorating a tree special? Doing it ONCE A YEAR, not four times.

And YOU at the grocery store checkout, I don't even know your name, but NO THANKS to your bucket of crap plastic toys two weeks before the main event.

As for you Imposter-Santa at the office party, that remote control car you just gave little Johnny? Well, he's been asking for that since July, and I've taken a lot of care to find JUST the one he wanted, but I guess I'll go find a toothbrush and put that under the tree. Thanks for that.

And YOU, Eddie the Shit-elf (Shelf elf? Selfie-elfie? whatever), you're thinking, 'If Christmas is so magical, why not make the 24 days before it magical too?' Well, Eddie, what I'm seeing is that the 25% of people who can be bothered with your gimmick burn out that 'magic' 6 days into December, and the 75% of people who can't have kids wondering what they did that was so AWFUL that they don't have their own whimsical elf gallivanting around their house at night.

And yes, kindly neighbor, I did shovel your sidewalk that one time, but don't you think it's a bit OTT to buy the kids $90 lego sets? Just sayin.'

No, Grandma, you are not exempt, when you bring over their fifth advent calendar, a few Christmas treats (yay, more candy canes), just a few craft supplies, new Christmas pajamas, several stuffed reindeer AND 9 wrapped items, Santa is starting to get a little pissed off. You are stepping toes here.

ALL of you need to realize that your kindly gestures and shit-storm of Christmas crap make it such that when December 25 finally arrives, the kids are kinda done with it, and that 'magic' that might have been opening that ONE special gift from me (the one who, let's be honest, puts in the real grunt work ALL YEAR LONG) is lost or, at the very least, pretty blinking diluted. So, please, if you really MUST share your festive spirit with my kids, please do so with your time. Come on over and do a puzzle with them. Have a hot chocolate with us. I'm sure they'd love to come over to watch the Grinch while I drink some eggnog. As the old adage goes, less is more. Keep that in mind for dear old Santa Claus, would you?

Merry Christmas from the Big Guy

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Dear Tardy-Pants Friend,

You're my friend, and I love you. I plan to spend many years enjoying your company, and I think you share the same sentiment. So bear that in mind as you prepare yourself for a little rollicking.

Put yourself in my shoes for a minute here...

I get a call at quarter to 12 from my husband saying he'll be home for lunch.
Me: Cool. Great. Will you be home by 12:15 so I can take G back to school? (without packing up other 3 children)
Him: Yes. 12:15. Sure.
My intuition: No, you won't.
Myself: Shut up and carry on.

The phone rings at 12:14 (No Lie!) and surprise, surprise...

Him: I'll be home in 10 minutes, Dear.
Me: So we'll be late for school then.
Him: No, can't you just pack up all the kids and go?
Myself: Dear, if I had an invention that got 4 kids dressed, seat belted, and free of minor last-minute emergencies in a van during a snow storm in the span on 1 minute, I would be retired.

So my daughter and a frazzled me arrive at school LATE. BUT I WAS NOT LATE. HE WAS LATE.

Not being a person of habitual lateness, maybe you can appreciate that situations like this drive me CRAZY. Now, I'm not a total psycho—I don't get all that excited about the occasional blip—we are all late sometimes, shit happens, we move on. What I am talking about is the sort of people who can NEVER be on time for anything, the people who think 4 o'clock means 5:30, the ones who roll into work at ten past on a good day, the people who run so late that they don't even show up, or if they do, they do so just as you're about to turn the lights out, the ones who arrive frazzled with excuses that they had to do this or that at the last minute or, worse, people who arrive hours late with no apology or explanation as to why the rules of punctuality don't apply to them. Sound familiar? If this is you, at this point maybe you're thinking one of two things:

1. I know. I know. I need to get my sh*t together and be on time. To which I have to reply—Yes. Please do that. Or...

2. What is the big deal if I'm a little late? Well, let me tell you...What is the most valuable currency known to the human race? No, not the Swiss franc. It is TIME. Dispute that, tardy-pans! And when we've set a time to do such-and-such and you are late, you are wasting MINE. My most valuable currency! And I have to say that it is not appreciated.

Now, I have to believe that you are not malicious—my own best friend and husband are part of this peculiar club of yours--so I'm going to go on two assumptions that:
a) it is your strapping (albeit misguided) sense of optimism as to how much you think you're going to accomplish before we've agreed to meet at 1:30, or that
b) you've simply lost track of time

But, you know what?? Neither of those things is OK!! because
a) I am amazed, AMAZED, in the WORST possible way, how one can nearly everyday for 10 years incorrectly forecast their ETA by a factor of 50%. When this has happened for 780th time, do you not rethink your optimism or the time it will take to complete a, b, and c? I have said this, but I will say it again, if you are a laggard lass/lad (and in my experience, people generally know this about themselves), please, PLEASE calculate your ETA and add 50%. Just DO it, because when you say you're going to be home in time to see the kids off the bus, that event happens at 3:30. So from that point on, I will begin arranging daily tasks (THOUSANDS of em!) with that time in mind and, more importantly, budgeting my patience to expire at precisely 3:30. So, when you stroll through the door at 5:15, YOU, not me, have made for a very unpleasant 105 minutes.

b) You lost track of TIME? You LOST track of TIME? YOU LOST TRACK OF TIME? How does that even happen? But, you know what? You do that, you lose track of time. On some level I am jealous of your ability to do that. You sleep in. Do nothing on weekends. Don't make plans. Eat lunch at 2pm. I don't care, but don't you dare lose track of MY time. When we've made a time-arrangement of whatever variety, I have made my most valuable currency available for you. I have showered at such and such a time, I've gotten my groceries earlier, I've arranged childcare, I've inconvenienced my loved ones, and, perhaps more poignantly have arranged NOT to do 1000 other pressing things in order that I might make time for you.

This may not be what you intend, in fact I'm pretty sure it isn't, but when the situation of me waiting on your sorry-ass arises time and time again, it is to me a suggestion that somehow you think your life/time/issues are more pressing or important than mine. We've all got deadlines, we're all busy, we've all got places to be, unexpected things come up, I get it! I get it because my life is no different than yours, so when you're asking for yet another extension on that project deadline, what else am I to assume? Because, miracly in my life I have NEVER required an extended deadline for anything, yet for you with tardy tendencies, you can rarely meet one. Is this because your lives are infinitely more pressed for time or that unexpected calamity befalls you at every deadline? Probably not. Or is it because you just didn't get your sh*t together?

So because, as I said in the beginning, I love you and wish to spend many years enjoying your company, can I give some suggestions that will help us relate more peacefully?

1. If you can't seem to meet a set time, don't set a time! Give me a ballpark. 'We will be there after 5', 'We'll come over when we're finished grocery shopping,' and for my benefit, if you are not here before such-and-such, I'm going to feel free to start without you.

2. If you know you're going to be late, LET ME KNOW. Give me a call, send a text, whatever. Because if I know that I have 20 minutes or 2 hours, I will do something else. Something productive! Something that is NOT waiting for you.

3. Get your sh*t together. This is your deal. Get a clock, an alarm, a reminder, start getting ready earlier, allocate more realistic time frames, whatever you need to do. There's probably an app out there ready to fix this for you. Get up at 6 AM if you need to, but, this part I have to leave for you figure out. I'd mind my own business, but my time IS my business.

Now don't get all like scared of me or forever-after hold me to some ridiculous high standard of on-timeness. There's bound be bumps on the road to punctuality for all of us, but, as I said, I value our relationship and wouldn't want to let this little annoyance fester in my back pocket and eat away that. It is not beyond me to take our time-arrangements with a grain of salt, and I have certainly learned to do that over the years, but, as a return favor, could you punch up the punctuality just a notch? Just sayin...

Love from your Punctual-Pants friend

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Left is the New Right--Election behaviour and misbehaviour??

       Disclaimer:  There is a big fat post on the political fence with my name on it where I sit comfortably during election   time waiting to be pushed off in one direction or another.  The following is meant to encourage fair and productive voter behaviour whatever your affiliation.

Self-righteous, shaming, finger-pointing, backward-thinking--some fine qualities historically associated with the political right.  Did I say 'historically associated' as if that was past tense?  Wait a minute...Did I say 'political right'?  Because these are a few of the things I've seen this week...


What does that even mean?

 Well, there's my vote swayed.

No comment on this one.

And on my way to grocery store this morning...on a STOP sign, someone graffitied the word HARPER.  Yawn.

This is only a sampling of what I have seen this week, and, my sense of humour was generally in tact about it all until I came across a comment that summed up what I see as an emerging pattern in voter behaviour (or more accurately misbehaviour) over the past ten years or so, and that is this... "Is anyone out there a non-closeted Harper voter?"  This is not the first time I have heard the expression 'closeted' in relation to conservative votership, and I think I am right in assuming that the inference/suggestion here is that holding right wing political views is something one should be ashamed of or hide akin to the shame/hiding of one's homosexuality in years past.  I take great offense to this for a few reasons: One is that this is very insulting to the 40 odd percent of people that voted for a (ahem) conservative MAJORITY in the last election.  That's a LOT of people, and probably not many fit the archaic profile of a right-wing voter wearing a cowboy cat, carrying a gun, and driving a gas-guzzling SUV, though I will clarify that the last time I checked those are all totally legal and acceptable activities in this country. My guess is that plenty of these so-called 'closeted conservatives' are intelligent, contributing, even compassionate individuals with NOTHING to be ashamed of.  Two is that throwing around expressions like 'closeted conservative' is sadly to me a a sign that political left is simply taking over the self-righteousness and shaming that they have used to stereotype the right for so long, and I don't see that as desirable.  And worse than anything, I think there is some truth to this whole notion of 'closeted conservative'.  I think the outspoken self-righteous left have succeeded in marginalizing right wing voters to the point where they don't feel free express their opinions without fear of being cast as some awful environment-hating, capitalist, don't-care-about-the-poor-people asshole. And do you know how I know this?  Because I pride myself on always considering and representing both sides to a story... So this is the part where I'd like to post some less-than-desirable mud-slinging campaign material from the right, but you know what? I can't do that. Because I haven't seen any.  So either there are NO conservative voters out there (doubtful) or they have been silenced, and that is not cool and wholly undemocratic.

So the advice from my perch on the fence:

To the left: BE AN INTELLIGENT VOTER.  Get to know the candidates and the platforms.  And if you're taking part in this type of misbehaviour...Cool it with the shaming and the Harper-is-the-devil antics and the like.  Your opinion is WELCOME, but so is everyone else's.

To the right: BE AN INTELLIGENT VOTER. Get to know the candidates and the platforms.  And if you're so inclined, 'come out of the closet' with your conservative views. You are a valued citizen and your opinions are relevant and WELCOME.

I have often thought it a shame that political views be described as 'left' or 'right' as if opposites, but this a simply nomenclatural blunder that we get caught up in far too often. The reality is that most Canadians hold the same core values and goals dear--we want to look after our loved ones, we value health and education, we want to care for those less-fortunate at home and abroad, we value freedom and equality--I could go on and on.  The 'left' or the 'right' views we hold are simply a view as to the best way of achieving those goals.  They do not need to be as divisive as some would have you believe during the lead up to an election.  So, please, whatever your affiliation or lack therof, let that common ground guide your election behaviour into that which is intelligent, fair, and democratic.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

How to be Beautiful

If you know me well, you will know that two and half years ago I stopped exercising. Stopped. Nada. Cold turkey. And if you know me really well, you will know that this is one of the difficult personal challenges I have ever faced. I still tear up every time a runner goes by. You see, for me, exercise was not a passing craze. I ALWAYS did it in some form or another. More than being a just a hobby, exercise was the thing that made me feel strong, made me feel energized, and more than anything, it was the thing that made me feel beautiful. So you can imagine the slough of challenges that surfaced as I accepted that this wasn't just a passing phase in my life. I can admit that in the absence of this thing that made me feel beautiful, there were many days when I felt just the opposite—weak, lethargic, and ugly. And I can I also admit that I treaded (and still continue somewhat) in these feelings for some time, but, like so many things, I realized that stagnating in these feelings was a choice. I could continue to wallow in a place of weakness and dis-beauty, because on some level that is a reality, or I could move on and seek beauty in other ways. Now, I wish I could say this was a simple choice where I woke up one day and was all like, “Hey, today I decided I am beautiful again,” But it wasn't, and it isn't. As much as beauty is a choice, it is also a process that takes time—a feeling that is rediscovered. But, I'm happy to say that I am at least on the way back to that feeling, and along the way, a few things have surfaced that have helped in that rediscovery process. the event that you ever find yourself in a similar place, I'd like to share this with you...

How to Be Beautiful

Take a long, hard look at the next infant you see – This is not hard. What do you see? No matter what shape, size, and regardless of features, and, assuming that you are not an evil troll, that baby is beautiful. Perfect, even. And what more are you than a grown piece of that perfection and beauty? For me, this strikes home time and time again as I watch my two little girls grow. Many times people have commented, “Oh, Genevieve has your legs,” or “Melea's eyes are just like yours!” And do you know what? They are absolutely right. Genevieve does have my legs, and Melea's sweet eyes are just like mine! And do you know what else? Those little legs and those sweet eyes are complete perfection, and, what's more, they are growing everyday! And they are no less beautiful for it. So what different are my legs or my eyes 30 years on than an extension of that same beauty? On this point, I make an effort to be conscious of the joy I feel when I behold the beauty of my little girls and extend some of that same joy into how I regard my own self, and on the flip side, I try to monitor my own negative self-talk about my body regarding this bump or that lump, and realize that that negativity is easily reflected onto my children's feelings of beauty. I find this to be a powerful deterrent.

Visualize your body as an entity separate from yourself – Consider all the things about that entity. Consider all the things that body has accomplished or endured. For me, I can look at my body which, just in past six years, bore, nursed, and raised three children, endured two and half years of illness, allowed me to experience all manners of pleasure and pain, and facilitated the countless functional acts that enable me to be a participant in this world. That's pretty awesome!! Maybe your body has taken you to faraway places, made great career accomplishments, accomplished great physical feats, nurtured others, or endured trauma or injury-- whatever the case, it has been there, for better or worse, every step of the way...Now consider how you would talk to that separate entity... Because, I see this happening and do it myself all the time...Would you call your body disgusting, ugly, or lazy? Would you call that entity fat or scrutinize its individual parts? Or would choose to be more supportive, and say something like, “Hey, Good job! Keep going!” or “That was tough, but tomorrow's another day. Hang in there.” When I look back objectively, this sort of negative self-talk has been a constant in my psyche for as long as I can remember, and do you know what? It's gotten me nowhere and certainly never to a place where I was satisfied enough with my body to change that self-talk to anything positive. So why not give this a try?

Try something new. Find a new beautiful – Of course beauty is multi-faceted, certainly not limited to physicality, and it can be found in places you've never been. So if you ever find yourself in a place where you are not finding that beautiful feeling where you are, try somewhere new. Make a commitment to try something that you've always wanted to try, or dig deep and nurture those gifts that you know you have but have left half-open. Discover your inner yogi, artist, lover, reader, writer, gardener, chef, whatever...The opportunities here are endless, but with a little concerted effort, hopefully you will find 'beautiful feeling' in a most powerful way--that is by something you do. And finally...

Beauty is not something you get back to, it is something you move forward to – Because I just happen to be at this stage in my life, so often I hear friends talk about getting back their pre-baby body or pre-baby interests, whatever they may be. Maybe this speaks to a time when they feel they were sexier, smaller, free-er, more independent, firmer, or had more interests, probably all of those things and more. And there is probably some truth to that. But I can tell you from personal experience, if you seek beauty in things past, you may as well be chasing unicorns. It strikes me still that when I FINALLY get the chance to go out on the town in the evening like the good old days, how I find that I miss Alistair and being part of our cozy bedtime routine or how when I have actually managed to fit back into those pre-pregnancy jeans, there is some feeling of small victory perhaps but definitely not beauty. Those jeans may physically fit, but in any other way that counts, they do not 'fit' the person I am today. Having said that, I am exceedingly grateful for moments like these in my life. They are the push that helps me to discover beauty in my present self—a mother, a lover, a friend, a writer. So wherever you are in life, if it is that you are no longer getting that 'beautiful buzz' you once did when you were a high school soccer superstar or if you find you're looking at old photos and wistfully remembering how things used to be, whatever you do, DO NOT consider this your cue to hang up your 'beautiful' hat! Just the opposite...enjoy the memories and continue forward in pursuit of new ways of finding that feeling.

The older I get, the more the old adage rings true...'Life is a journey, not a destination,' and this matter is no different. The way I see it, there won't be a time when I magically 'achieve beauty' and then have it forever-after. It will always be elusive, coming and going, and maybe that's the point. The loss of exercise, while still devastating to me, has challenged me to find beauty and strength beyond physicality, taken me places—good places—that I may have never gone otherwise, and ultimately fostered healthy growth. Wondering where I would be or what I would be doing otherwise had this trial not befallen me is a path I go down more often than I care to admit, but, I am where I am, and there is beauty to be found here just as much as anywhere else.

            For Carla and Courtney for your inspiration and for Rebecca because you asked.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The Myth of "Quality Time"

Tell me nothing like this has ever happened to you...You have a couple of hours on a Sunday (Father's Day Sunday), and you're determined to have a nice family time. You pack a picnic and get the kids all kitted out. You get the picnic blanket, pack up the car, and set out. So and so needs to go pee 30 seconds down the road so you come back, take care of business, and set out again. Kid 2 and Kid 3 declare World War III in the back, and Kid 1, who didn't want to miss soccer for this occasion, has decided today is NOT his day and is making sure everyone knows this by declaring his general distaste for picnics, little sisters, sandwiches, his 'stupid booster seat', little chicks, babies and everything else in between in that perfectly grating tone. On the way, you stop at three grocery stores before you find one that has ice, all the while enjoying the growing cacophony in the back of your vehicle. You arrive at the picnic destination and discover the juice, which has spilled in the cooler, has been sopped up by the sandwiches, but you lay out the blanket anyway, determined to press on...And just as you're threatening that if Kid 1 doesn't CUT OUT HIS WHINING or he will have to sit in the van, you notice Kid 3 green-faced and puking on the slide... ABORT PLAN... Stuff Grumpy, Puky, and Screamy in the van along with soggy sandwiches and return home. HAPPY blinking FATHER'S DAY!

The next day, you wake up exhausted and decide you're too lazy to do anything. You put on the tv, clean out the cooler, and go out to do some yard work. The kids migrate out in their jammies, and, by some act of God, decide that today is the day they will get along. And then all the stars align, and the two hours that follow unfold like one of those dream sequences from the Wonder Years. A jolly game of backyard dodgeball erupts minus the over-zealous (but NOT-ON-PURPOSE, MOM!) balls to the face. This evolves into a game of tag which somehow comes to include water, and the end result is a family water fight culminating in the full five of you rolling in hysterics on the grass before chowing down on ice cream sandwiches and telling knock-knock jokes while soaking up the sun in lawn chairs. And the whole thing reminds you why you did this whole family thing in the first place... MAGIC!

In this day and age of busy-ness where everyone, including the dog, is scheduled to the nines, pulled in 100 different directions and consequently too exhausted to do much else, I hear a lot of talk of 'quality time,' and it goes without saying that some choices are better than others in terms of making the best of one's time. For example, one might choose to go for a family bike ride over, say, watching the Simpson's, but there are no guarantees as to how that bike ride will unfold, and I can definitely attest that there has even been some 'quality' Simpson's times in my past, which leads me to this... It has always been my thought that 'quality' is something you simply cannot force. And do you want to know why you can't force 'quality?' It is because, as I've attempted to illustrate in the previous anecdotes--Quality time is magic. There's no two ways about, and magic doesn't always happen when you want it to or when you plan for it to, it just happens. However, like all sensible things, magic does respond simple mathematical rules, and as I will attempt to prove forthwith, the more powerful factor we need to be focusing on is, in fact, QUANTITY TIME. So if you're willing to bear with some seriously loony-toons logic, here goes...

The (mathematical) Laws of Magic

1. The occurrence of magic/quality time is random. It happens in its own time and space, and cannot be squeezed involuntarily into places of your choosing – Just as you can't squeeze 4 halves into a whole, magic or 'quality time' cannot be squeezed into say, a two hour window on Sundays. I was once out for supper with friends, and at the table next to us sat a father and teenage son. To me, the whole situation reeked of an every-second-weekend custody arrangement, and, as a bystander/spying diner, this social event was as cringe-worthy as watching Keanu Reeves in “A Walk in the Clouds”. The Dad was trying in vain to converse with the boy who awkwardly looked sideways, mumbled one word answers, and incessantly checked his phone. I secretly prayed that they would have the impetus to forgo dessert and put themselves out of their misery, but NO, and by this time it was total silence as they scarfed down their brownies. Painful. But I really did feel very badly for both of them. What I saw was a guy making an effort to do something nice with his son specifically involving conversation, and, in this instance, the attempt at quality time appeared to be failing miserably. But, it was what it was, and 'magic' simply did not surface at this juncture. There has actually been a number of studies done on this particular topic in fact showing a strong negative correlation between father-son outings to BP's and the appearance of 'magic'/quality time, but the reason for this remains unclear... BUT, MAKE NO MISTAKE...

2. Magic WILL happen – Just as two non parallel lines, both in the same plane, are destined to intersect, so is it inevitable that magic WILL occur. This is a good thing. 'Magic'/quality time has long been known to increase the frequency of smiling and laughing as well as decrease the occurrence of heart attacks and feelings of discontentment. It would seem that appearance of magic is a universal law, much like Pythagorean Theorem, and to date, there are no documented discrepancies in its existence/frequency regardless of geographical location, social circumstance, cultural affiliation or any other factor.

3. Magic will surface with the most frequency in the things you spend the most time doing—Hello!?! The law of averages??? If magic is random and inevitable, it only serves to reason that it will surface most often in the activities you spend the most time (ahem, QUANTITY TIME) doing. This is good news insomuch as it is the part of this mathematical equation that you can manipulate. This is where one might find it useful to call to mind your own unique values in terms of which areas of your life you would ideally like 'magic'/quality time to surface. If it is desirable for you to have 'quality time' with your kids, then perhaps consider how this will factor into the 'quantity' investment of your time this weekend. If you are looking for that 'magical' golf swing, consider booking a few tee times. If the magic in your career is lack-lustre, put in a few extra hours. It really is quite simple.

There you go! You can't argue with Math. Choose wisely how you spend your QT (quantity time), and all that's left is so sit back, relax, and allow magic to happen.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Parenting--Embrace the inconvenience!

It's 5 o'clock. Your 3 kids (specifically 2 and a baby) are shuffling about at the door getting ready to go outside. You are in the kitchen over a chopping board with bloodied pork fingers knowing, the way a mom does, that it's T minus 2 minutes to meltdown. Kid 1 and Kid 2 are getting their shoes and jackets on and have asked to go out front to ride bikes. Kid 3 (baby) is rearranging shoes and repeating “O'side. O'side!” waiting for the moment where one of the big kids opens the door so she can make a break for it. You hear the door open and inwardly cringe hoping against hope that Kid 1 and Kid 2 will manage to get out without Kid 3 and without Kid 3 getting her fingers pinched in the door. Mercifully, this transpires, but, as predicted Kid 3 responds with her best blood-curdling-how-dare-they screaming protest. You abandon the pork, wash your hands, scoop up Kid 3 who swats at you and paws to get “O'side!!! O'SIDE!!” You give her a poorly received cuddle and spend some time getting her settled into a stacking toy activity, and resume pork-chopping. But. WAIT!! You hear the door open...Kid 2 has forgotten her helmet which she quickly grabs before running back out, slamming the door behind her, this time narrowly missing those pursuing little fingers by a hair, and...
The Process starts all over again...WAAAA! O'SIDE!! abandon chopping, wash hands, scoop up baby, and on and on and on...

Sometime later my husband returns home from work to a less-than-contented baby, a couple scraped knees, a frazzled me, and a still-not-cooking supper, and, as happen all too often lately, I launch into a speech about how 'frustrated' I am, how I 'just can't get anything done', and 'how would he like it if he was trying to do X and was interrupted 7000 times to stop a fight, answer a question, change a diaper, repeat an instruction, tend to a crier, repeat an instruction, get a drink, perform reconstructive surgery on today's crafted minion, get a drink, reach this, repeat instruction yet again, and rescue Child 3 from dangerous climbing destination AGAIN', and on and on and on... It's enough to do your head in sometimes, well, most of the time.

And then my mind goes down the road where I think if I could just chop the f&#king pork in one session, without having to stop to wash my hands three times, I would have more time to do all the other things and more time to read and cuddle Kid 3, and a little more patience when tending to homework with Kid 1 and Kid 2, and more time to collect my thoughts before the next on and on and on...
And then my husband says “Well, actually, do you know how many times my phone rang while I was trying to do X today? To which I respond...”Well, THAT is your job, or a least part of it, and it is not my fault if you can't multi-task, and do you know what would happen to this house if I couldn't do my job WHILE talking on the phone...” And on and on and on...

but, seriously, STOP!!! STOP this crazy cycle. You know what? Somewhere in this domestic play-by-play is the answer.

THAT is my job!!! All that inconvenience? Well it's not inconvenience at all. It's not an interruption to the job, it IS the job. And, until I accept that, I will continue right on feeling this frustration. My solution??? EMBRACE THE INCONVENIENCE!

Because, let's face it, without all of those 'inconveniences', I wouldn't have this job at all. I'm pretty certain that I wouldn't have chosen staffing a tranquil house, making oatmeal cookies, chopping pork, and making dinosaur dioramas as my career path if it weren't for the 3 delightful inconveniencers that I have accrued over the last 6 six years. Besides, where is the challenge in, say, making a pizza for supper? I could probably have done that when I was 12. But, making a pizza with a screaming baby, a toddler on the table with a bucket of flour and a measuring cup, wielding a knife with 30 unpredictable fingers, while talking on the phone...??? Now THAT'S a challenge!! And you know what? I love my job! I love that no two days are the same, I love the people I work with, I am my own boss (I think?), the rewards are second-to-none, and on and on and on...

Now I am going to put this pen down one final time (I'll venture a guess that it was abandoned no less that 30 times during the writing of this article), but when I do, and life (31) resumes its pattern of task, interruption, interruption (32), task, inconvenience, inconvenience, task, I vow to proceed with that equation turned on its head...Isn't it inconvenient that I have to make supper AGAIN instead of playing peekaboo with Kid 3? Or, Damn this sweeping thing, cutting into my minion repair surgery! (33), “Pile of laundry over there? You will just have to stop your whining and WAIT until Kid 1 has his scrape tended to.” And maybe, with a little luck, it will be a slightly cheerier me carrying on and on and on.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Life--The Investment Theory

I've done some searching around, and, though I will own the exact wording of this quote, I fear taking credit for the sentiment would border on plagiarism.  It has definitely been around in various forms over time, but, nonetheless, it is with this in mind that I write the following...

One could argue that not all things/people are created equal. Some of us are born into money, some of us aren't. Some of us overflow with musical talent, others..not so much. Some excel in physical pursuits, others in the arts. Some of us are great listeners or great thinkers, and some assholes are just generally good at everything. And that is all fine, and, for heaven's sake, don't waste time measuring or trying to place value on what God gave you, but if you're looking for the great equalizing factor, the one thing that no one person has over no other, don't look too hard. Find the nearest clock, and watch sixty seconds tick by. Now pick a person, ANY person, rich or poor, friend or foe, famous or humble—I'm going to pick Bill Gates—and now picture that person engaged in the same exercise—Bill Gates, sitting still watching one minute tick by. 60 seconds is 60 seconds is 60 seconds no matter who are, where you've been, who your friends are, how much money you have, what your talents are or aren't, or what letters you have behind your name. TIME—the great equalizing factor, a currency bestowed in equal measure throughout all humanity.

To me, it is self-evident that how you spend this currency is the greatest predictor of the future outcomes of any of those other things I talked about. If you spend time being educated, you will be educated. If you spend time playing the flute, you will be a flautist. If you spend time with your family, you will have a rich family life. If you spend your time doing nothing, you will not do much. The exceptions to this rule are surprisingly few and far between. When put this way, it seems so obvious, but if you're like me, knowing this and actually living it are two different things.

The example I'm going choose to illustrate this point is neither here nor there and, by no means, am I suggesting that you have to agree with me on this particular subject, but I do encourage you to critically examine how you are spending that most valuable time currency in your own life and if it aligns with the goals you have in mind for yourself or your family.

So I believe in 'play'--free, largely unstructured, outdoor, physical play. Looking back on my childhood, this is something I was blessed to have in great quantity. I am exceedingly grateful for this and credit a solid foundation of 'play' for many things I have enjoyed in my adult life—namely, an innate desire to move/exercise, a love of the outdoors, an outlet for stress, a creative mind, strong intrinsic motivation, among other things. And, in all honesty, I desire that exact same thing for my kids, kinda like 'free range children.' But you know what I did yesterday? I spent the better part of two hours on hold with the City of Saskatoon registering the kids for their swim lessons which are at some god-awful inconvenient time and location and which will inevitably involve our entire family spending the next 10 Sunday mornings packing bags, driving around, and doing swim laundry all for the gain of a half hour swim lesson of which they will spend at least 15 minutes waiting for their turn. Now, you'll remember that I didn't promise you'd agree with me on this particular issue, but, when I look at this from a 'time-investment' perspective, I am not overly wowed by the return. Now obviously, free play is not the only goal I have in mind for my family, and I realize that my children are not going to learn to swim in my own backyard, and that the whole packing bags/driving/laundry process is a necessary evil, but there's a nagging voice in me saying, 'wouldn't it be easier, wouldn't they engage/learn more if we all just went swimming for a few hours?' But swimming lessons—here we come!
Now I'm not one to toot my own horn, but I am actually not an epic failure at this whole 'free play' thing. My kids and I spend lots of time 'playing' and, as a result, they are great 'play-ers,' and I hope that they'll reap the benefits of that over time. And I have the odd moment of clarity, like when I see them run out the door and hop on their bikes at the first sight of spring, where I feel pretty good about this particular time investment! And that is encouraging!

But going into parenthood, I also had this notion that 'music' was going to be a big part of our lives. But here we are, 6 years in, and my kids' greatest musical accomplishments consist of naming the Top 5 Shazam songs in Canada and being able to croon out the lyrics to 'Animals' (I know, scary) with freakish accuracy. But, as the old adage go, we reap what we sow...should I expect anything other when my children's musical exposure consists almost entirely of listening to pop radio in the van as we drive hither to tither? It's not like we've been regularly frequenting the symphony or jamming in the basement. Poor kids. Perhaps it may sound as though I'm making light of it, but this situation, for me, serves as a reminder that how we invest our time, even inadvertently, becomes our reality. Never mind the haunting feeling I have that that same time investment is responsible for the development (or lack thereof) of any talents or gifts they might have—it's all well and good to have a talent for such and such, but that talent will amount to nothing without a corresponding time investment.

Far beyond being a simple investment with a return, time (or, more specifically, how we spend it) defines us. Recently, someone called me a 'blogger,' and it was like a slap in the face...well, that's a bit dramatic, but my thought was, 'Whoa. Back the truck up. Like, yes, I may engage in some blogging activity from time to time, but that does not make me a 'blogger.' But the fact of the matter is that when you start the engage in any “thing” on a regular basis, you, by proxy, become a “thing-er”. Like if you invest your time into teaching, people will probably call you a “teacher,” or if you spend enough time singing, eventually you'll have to accept the title of “singer.” How you spend your time, outside of what is strictly functional (few have ever bragged that they are a “toothbrusher”), becomes who you are, how you will be remembered, how people will describe you, and ultimately how you will describe yourself. And there is some heavy weight in that.

So I've decided that I dislike any theory without any practical application, so here's where I've decided to go with this...Next time you have a moment like one of those I've described, where you find yourself wondering 'why am I wasting my time registering/doing such-and-such?' or 'I really should start putting some effort into my musical pursuits,'--consider that your 'DING-DING reminder that it is time for an investment review (I know, groan, but you'll be glad you did it once it's done). And here's how I propose you do it...

Pick a few “thing-er”-type descriptors as your time investment goals for yourself or your family. I'm going to pick three for myself:
1. Listener
2. Musician-er
3. Blogger
And then start to consider how you will invest/reinvest your time to become those things. Maybe, it will be a small change to your personal behaviour, maybe you will want to register for a class or sign up for a league, maybe it will be designating Monday nights as X-night, or maybe even just bringing these goals up to a more conscious level will be enough. That's up to you. And if you're like me and find that you simply don't have time to spare for investment, consider the flip side of the coin. Pick a few descriptors that you'd rather not have surface in your eulogy and steal a bit of time from those areas. Now if you'll just control your inner Jenny-Judgie, I will pick:
1. Candy-crusher
2. Reality tv-watcher

Now, maybe your time investment portfolio is more-than-satisfactory to you, but that begs the question? What are you doing reading this article? Just kidding. But my feeling is that if you can get to a place where you are satisfied with your time investments, there is no reason that you can't be as 'rich' as Bill Gates himself.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Moderation--Thou Shalt Have a Filter

I remember many years ago flipping through the channels, back in the day when one used to do that, and pausing for a minute on Oprah. It was a close-up of her holding some book and proclaiming something like, “I'm telling you. This is it. This is the answer.” Now, I actually have a lot of respect for Oprah, but on this occasion I continued right on channel surfing. Even all the those years ago, I was sick of it, and I am sicker of it today... I am sick of the apparent lack of filter that too often seems to accompany people on their journey to enlightenment. That is, when exploring a new idea, world philosophy, hobby, trend, or latest bandwagon, too often it seems people come out all guns blazing and lose all sense of moderation and the ability to filter information. Is it too much to remember that there are pros and cons to everything? That what works for you or this situation might not apply me or this other situation? There is no one book, no one trend, no one bandwagon, no one anything that has all the answers. And what is the answer for Oprah is not the answer for me. Historically, I am not a ranter, but on this rare occasion, I'm going to let her rip...

Tell me you don't know someone like this...PersonA is in a slump. And they declare this, “I am in a slump.” And then PersonA decides and announces, “I am going to start running and lose 50 pounds.” And kudos to PersonA, they actually do this. And you know they do it because you hear about every micro-step in the process. First, you hear about the hours of research they put into running shoes and how they ended up paying $300 and special ordering ones from Sweden that are made of lightweight sea kelp with customized long distance orthotics. Next you are graced with a kilometre by kilometre play-by-play on facebook complete with photo montage of PersonA in decreasing-sized lulu lemons. Your conversations with PersonA of late inevitably include at least one, “You should really try running. I've never felt better,” comment as well as a 5 minute snippet where you are required to ooo and aaah over their latest running gadget, app, fit bit, nipple tape, etc. before they launch into the details of their achilles injury and the physio exercises that will get them 'up and running in no time!' And this all continues until PersonA has lost the 50 pounds plus 6 more and culminates in a snapshot of a tearful PersonA finishing the London Marathon in an impressive 3 hours and 11 minutes....
You don't hear from PersonA for a few months, and when you finally reconnect, PersonA, now 30 pounds heavier (their doctor told them they had to stop running), is now touting (well, flogging) the benefits of a positive body image and preparing to star in an upcoming Dove commercial.

It's exhausting.

Now don't go accusing me of dissing physical exercise or being anti-positive body image. That is not my point. Nor am I discouraging goals or growth or implying that I dislike hearing about these things as they apply to my friends. Nope. Those things are ALL great. EVERYTHING is GREAT, actually. In blinking moderation. This is not news. I'm just endorsing the having of a filter, and if PersonA were to ever ask for my feedback (they won't), this is the advice I would give them...

The 6 Commandments of Having a Filter

1. Thou shalt not throw all things 'past' under the bus – We all know someone, maybe it's PersonA, who's gotten into 'natural health remedies,' and suddenly modern medicine is a TOTAL FARCE and pharmaceutical companies are conspiring to create drug-addicted zombie people, especially children, in order to finance their 'real agenda' of buying up sections of the Brazilian rainforest to build chemical super-labs and mansions for their personal use. That may or may not be a direct quote, but beware of this mentality just the same. Some methods and ideas are just good and effective--not to say they can't be adapted or improved--but there's no sense reinventing the wheel and/or rejecting sound practice at every juncture. Exhausting. And on this point, because one has found success using a new method, that does not mean that there is no room in world philosophy for 'past' and 'new' methods to co-exist peacefully. 

2. Thou shalt not string others along thy journey to enlightenment assuming that thy new found wisdom applies to everybody else – Recently, I was enlightened, and I'd like to share this with you...Cloth diapers are a lot of f&*king work, and sometimes they make your house smell like sh!t. 3 babies and 6 years into parenting, I have seen the light. Disposable diapers are AMAZING! And if you, like me, are stupid enough to have ever invested in any diapering implement that cannot be used to pad the landfill for the next 5000 years, you should ceremoniously burn those suckers and perform the ancient dance of convenience around their foul-smelling ashes. WOO!

Now, no doubt, someone else's journey to enlightenment has led them to find that cloth diapers have been the cure to some curious and painful skin condition that has plagued their baby since birth, but we'll just sweep that bit of information under the carpet.

3. Thou shalt not be taken in by the AllThingsGood vs. AllThingsBad configuration -- Because you see this politics all the time...Consider the following chart:

New Democratic Party vs. Conservative Party

New Democratic Party
* Pro-environment
* Pro-woman
* Pro-social programs
* Pro-endangered nesting waterfowl
* Supports the arts

Conservative Party
* Anti-poor people
* Anti-small business
* Anti-environment
* Redneck, gay-bashing, women-haters
* Leader personally seen defacing art at children's exhibit

I dare you to take this as any reflection of my political affiliations because I can generate the opposite chart in about 5 seconds. Maybe this all seems small bones to you, but I see this ALL THE TIME. And I'm telling you, this is dangerous territory. Consider the same configuration for a chart with title Jews vs. Non-Jews. This unnecessary and ridiculous polarization is the stuff wars are made of. If you identify someone trying to sell you an idea this way...Run. And tell all your friends to run too.

4. Thou shalt not have philosophies that strictly adhere to any one school of political, religious, or otherwise thought – To me, there is no greater demonstration of lack of filter than perfect coherence to one doctrine. I have news for you. It is possible to be Catholic and Pro-gay. I know that first-hand. It is also possible to be pro-military and pro-social program. You are actually allowed to do yoga and hate meditation. You can do and think whatever you like. Oh, you're a hunting vegetarian, you say? You just made my day.

5. Thou shalt not heed the message of PersonA for the sole reason that his voice is the loudest—Come on, you've seen 'em...the finger-pointers, the impassioned celebrities, the vocal critics, the morally superior, the toastmasters, the dynamic leaders, and we've all been taken in by their messages at one time or another. And, to clarify, I am not suggesting that these people don't have something worth hearing, I am just gently reminding you to approach their messages with your filter in place. Neither the strength of one's convictions nor the enthusiasm by which they are presented are a reflection of goodness or truth (ahem Hitler). And there is also the small business of potentially missing out the amazing message of those of lesser decibalage. Just something to keep in mind next time you're being led down the garden path by the likes of Jenny McCarthy.

6. Thou shalt have filter in place when embarking upon new bandwagon, and therewith tread respectfully and with courtesy for other passengers—Say you're going along in life and you decide you're going to make some effort to better the environment. By all means, jump on that “Go Green” bandwagon. Do your recycling, campaigning, upcycling, whatever you need to do. And please tell me all about your new lasagna composting method. I'd love to hear about it. Just spare me the part where you get up on that bandwagon and be all like waving your banners, and preaching like you own the place, and wearing your seventeenth 'Green in the new black' T-shirt and sporting your latest reusable bag while running for the Green Party. Or whatever, pick three of those things, but don't do all the other ones because a. It's obnoxious. b. The next time you want to jump on a bandwagon, don't be surprised if everyone else tries to avert their eyes and pass you by because... c. It's obnoxious, and d. Somewhere along the line if you persist in this type of approach, you start to lose credibility. A good rule of thumb is to avoid the situation whereby your arrival on the bandwagon launches other passengers off the other end. If you notice this happening, you might want to scale it back just a bit.

At this point, I just wanted to draw your attention back to Old Aristotle's words of wisdom... I think if he were alive today, he would say that “Indeed it is mark a rational mind to able to achieve personal enlightenment without losing one's filter.” Please...try hot yoga, drink rooibos, grow a succulent garden, try your hand a buddhism, re-examine your personal body image philosophy, TRY SOMETHING NEW and ditch it if it doesn't suit. Great! And tell me all about it. There's nothing I'd love to do more than converse with you about these types of things. There are lots of great things worthy of your time to discover out there, lots of things that will foster growth. Believe it or not, I say that all without any hint of sarcasm. Just keep that filter squarely in place.  And as a wise friend told me about this particular blog entry, perhaps it is not the best strategy to 'fight extremism with extremism', and she is probably right. But if there is one cause on which I stand on the extreme end of a spectrum, it's moderation.

extremism                                                                         me        moderation

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Life-the Snapshot Theory

A few months ago, someone warned about the of perils of a webcam. Apparently, if I don't shut down my computer, people can watch me in my own home! OOOooooo. I challenge anyone to do this and stay conscious for a full ten minutes, because even if my webcam had legs and could follow me around, this is what you would see...
Adele washes a plate, puts it in the second sink. She dries her hands and hangs the towel. O! O! She is going outside! Adele places the sprinkler in the backyard, picks a wedgie, and rounds the side of the house to turn on the hose. She returns to the backyard and runs in to reposition the sprinkler (AKA the I'll-get-you-before-you-get-me-dance). She goes back to the side of the house and increases the pressure. She checks the backyard one last time and, seemingly satisfied, goes inside. Adele takes off her sunglasses and sets the stove timer. Adele takes out a mug, and fills the kettle...Shall I go on?

Can I ask? Am I missing something? Is everyone else engaging in compelling, oscar-worthy (possibly illegal?), activity in their homes on a regular basis in view of their webcam? Because, if so, I want in!

To be clear, if you are really struggling with the inability to not only stop performing lecherous acts in your own home, but also the propensity to (accidentally) publicly broadcast them, I am not making light of this. You should probably get that figured out. BUT the reason I bring this up is that I think there is something much more prevalent and comparatively dangerous than being able to see life in real time on a webcam. And that is this...

In this day and age of social media and, with all the gadgets that make this possible, we are constantly bombarded with 'snapshots' of people's lives—people we know well, people we 'keep in touch with', celebrities, even people we don't know. And these 'snapshots' come from all the corners of life—pictures of weddings, selfies with Machu Pichu in the background, our kids heavily made-up and dressed up as a frog for the dance recital, pictures of people finishing triathlons, happy faces at a family get-together, even pictures of healthful and amazingly aesthetic culinary creations. Though these types of images are not necessarily unique to the digital age (except maybe the ones of food, I doubt there are many polaroids of fish tacos), the accessibility to these snapshots is vastly increased. Now, maybe this all seems harmless to you, but if you were to pit these 'snaphot' images against the comparable webcam footage, I think you will find an interesting pattern.
Here are a few examples...

SNAPSHOT: The perfect baby face sleeping peacefully against a mother's chest held snuggly there by a trendy print fabric baby wrap (organic cotton sourced locally from a single mom refugee who donates 50% of her profits to endangered pandas—I know because the status told me as much).

Webcam Footage: 20 minute close-up of my perplexed face watching “How-to wrap your baby” videos on YouTube, followed by another 20 minutes of an increasingly sweaty me trying to wrap the god-forsaken thing around a screaming baby, all the while fearing I am going to break his head off, only to later succeed (I think?) and find the baby is still definitely NOT peaceful. He eventually passes out from exhaustion long enough for us to get a decent shot of him being perfect and me looking competent. (SWISH)

SNAPSHOT: Selfie of a 20 something cheek to cheek with a young Kenyan child proudly displaying a newly purchased wooden giraffe with colourful and obviously foreign market backdrop.

Webcam Footage: 20 something arrives at Nairobi market on air-conditioned tour bus browses the market just long make said purchase and take picture, finds a McDonalds for lunch and returns to comfortable gated hotel paid for on gifted VISA from Mom and Dad.
***WebCam footage of child labourer not available***

SNAPSHOT: Picture of Suzie's well-dressed kids smiling at the table with homemade heart-shaped Valentine's theme sandwich (organic, whole-grain, homemade bread, of course) with a side of garden cucumbers on displayed on colourful plate.

Webcam Footage: Suzie spends her entire morning juggling the making of the organic wholegrain bread with the meeting of demands of the (often screaming) children, threatening to take away tv time if they don't “GET DRESSED ALREADY!”, occasionally running to tend to her garden (fingers-crossed that no one is seriously maimed in her absence), +/- 7000 other small interruptions to her ultimately getting the Pinterest-worthy sandwich on the plate. All for the grand moment where she is able to snap that perfect picture before they tell her they 'hate this kind of bread' and stash the cucumbers on the floor which she will later sweep up whilst scarfing down the scraps of her sandwich cut-outs. Fast-forward 5 hours and it's hotdogs for supper! “YAY!! THANKS MOM!”

If I have not made it painfully obvious, I'm hoping that you are seeing that the pattern emerging here is just how VERY small a part of the bigger picture that 'snapshot' actually is. But, the real problem I see arising from this phenomenon in modern times is a generation of people in hot pursuit of just that—a snapshot—where life has become about the proverbial 'destination' rather than the 'journey.' I'm going to coin this the “Snapshot Effect.” It seems that with increasing frequency, we live in a world where actually living life takes a backseat to getting (and sharing) that perfect snapshot. I once went out with this woman who spent the ENTIRE evening taking selfies and group shots and posting them in real time to Facebook and completely missing the social event unfolding right in front of her. I'm guessing you have a story or two of the like. And I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the 'Snapshot Effect' transcends far beyond the social domain. For instance, I remember the feeling of disillusionment that clouded my early years as a mother, wondering why the hell my parenting reality didn't seem to resemble what I was seeing in the pictures or reading about in people's statuses. Now, I won't be so bold as to point the finger at social media for all of the hiccups I might have experienced as a new parent, but I can't help but wonder how I would have felt differently if my vision of parenting had been created entirely from actual real time contact with other parents minus the bombardment of cutesy snapshots. As another example, I read recently that some crazy percentage (over 50%) of women report feeling “Pinterest-stress” (I know, get a real problem...) but, apparently, just encountering images of attractive crafts, foods, activity ideas causes people to feel like they are falling short, like they should be doing more. And one can't help but wonder why, since the early 2000's, spending on home renovations has increased every single year. People just can't seem to help but pursue what they are seeing in those fancy snapshots, whatever the cost.

Now, I didn't write this to discourage you from relishing and sharing those 'destination' moments—whether that be a photo of the moment you first held your child, or when that diploma is finally placed in your hand, or a picture of your perennials in full bloom if that's your thing—You should celebrate those things. REALLY. YOU SHOULD. And conversely, I am not suggesting that you start sharing 'journey' photos of yourself on the crapper or doing dishes or some such nonsense. Not at all. I am just reminding you, reminding me to be present on our own journey. Maybe this means consciously taking space from social media sites or HGTV, or maybe it means mentally reminding yourself that those snapshots are representative of a moment not a complete reality, I don't know.  But if you, like me, occasionally find yourself falling victim to the Snapshot Effect, I encourage you to make a change of some sort. Most importantly, just remember to also relish and celebrate the everyday stuff, however humble, un-photogenic, or tedious it may seem. Because all of those less-than-picture-perfect moments are not just filler, they are the bulk of our lives and personhood. Somewhere in those hours and hours of webcam footage you became the person you are in those snapshots—a mother, a professional, a traveler, a gardener, a friend. And that is worth more than any one moment you will ever be able to capture.  

Monday, 25 May 2015

House Rules

Say you're working in your kitchen, and you hear something... Screaming! You look out your window to see the following scene erupt on your lawn. Two people, one male and one female, are engaged in a tussle. The smaller male is sitting on the slightly larger female pinning her to the ground while she screams. She throws him off to the side, and, while he is splayed on the ground, she kicks him again and again and again. He grabs her foot and pulls, toppling her to the ground. She screams and he taunts her. The tussle continues and occasionally you see the flash of a small item—possibly a weapon. What would you do? Intervene physically? Try to reason with the sparring pair? Call the police? ...What if this isn't the first time you've seen this? What if this is an event you've witnessed in varying degrees time and time again? A pattern. What would you do?

Well, I'll tell you what I did...I turned my back and did the dishes. Shocking? Negligent? ...What if I told you the male and female in question were siblings?

Now, I am not an expert on anything, never claimed to be, but I can promise you this, at least—I have more siblings than you. Probably A LOT more, and I do have vast personal experience when it comes to the subject of sibling relations. And one thing is clear to me, when the universe set out to create the laws which govern man and nature, it created a completely unique (at times, baffling) set of rules for sibling interaction that, if applied in any other facet, would result in chaos, psychological damage, and ultimately incarceration. And I'm going share three of those House Rules with you today...

1. Siblings, despite all activity to the contrary, rarely hurt each other—I'm going to clear the air right away before you report me to Child Protective Services. The “weapon” that I observed in the above story was a plastic golf club that my 6 and 4 year-old happened to be fighting over that day, and, if you have siblings or children of your own, I'm sure you can picture the type of “kicking” that was going on...Maybe a better term would be 'foot-shoving.' But here's the thing, based on extensive participation and observation of this type of sibling activity, RARELY does any party come out scathed in any significant way. Just this week, talking to a friend, we discovered our two sets of children had engaged in the exact same interaction--essentially a one-sided staring contest in which the other party repeatedly screams, “STOP LOOKING AT ME!” Now, there has been a lot of studies done on this particular subject, and the evidence is pretty compelling that no person has ever been seriously harmed during a one-sided staring contest. Of course you have a story or two to the contrary, but, I'll plead that, in this case, the exception just proves the rule.

2. Siblings want to fight—At times, one wants to fight more than the other, but therein lies the fun. But the truth remains—siblings do want to fight, and I think that is why stopping this pattern is so difficult. To illustrate this point, I've provided a transcript of a conversation (if that's what one calls a verbal ruckus of that decibalage) that occurred in my van a number of years ago as we were driving through a part of town called 'Stonebridge.'

Child 1 (Age 4): best menacing tone GEM, THIS IS STONEBRIDGE.
Child 2 (Age 2, limited vocabulary and has no idea what 'Stonebridge' is): NO, OLIVER. THIS IS NOT STONEBRIDGE.
Child 1: upping the menacing tone YES, THIS IS STONEBRIDGE.
Child 2: approaching screaming NO OLI. NO STONEBRIDGE.
Child 1: with mirth and menace MOM, THIS IS STONEBRIDGE, RIGHT?
Child 2: embracing screaming NO!! NO!! STONEBRIDGE, NO. MOMMY!!!

I don't think this requires much in the way of explanation. You can see that, even from these very tender ages, my perfectly beautiful and sweet children clearly wanted to engage in this heated (albeit pointless and confusing) argument. So as painful as the next 5 minutes were to endure in a small vehicle, I just let this heat fizzle itself out. Really, what valuable input did I have at this juncture?

3. Fighting = Bonding—I reiterate that these rules were designed exclusively to govern sibling relationships, and any attempt to employ them elsewhere WILL result in relationship disaster and/or incarceration. But this afternoon, as I sit here calmly drinking my coffee to the din of 'oof's and aaahhh's and maybe even the occasional eye-raising smashing sound, I sip peacefully in the knowledge that right now (OOOO!!), right this VERY second (EEEE!!), I am fostering an authentic and loving familial bond that will endure long after I'm gone. In all seriousness though, day after day, they persist with these antics, but as the day wears on, I inevitably find them in a close huddle on our more-than-roomy sofa with their blankets watching a show together, and you can't imagine the devastation if one has to sleep in the bunkbed without the other. It's really quite lovely actually. Even amongst my own siblings, I can confirm that that sister that once threw a steak-knife at me (See House Rule 1), yea, now we're besties.♥ And those brothers that encouraged me to 'hang a moon' on our father as a three year old...Well, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without them. Perhaps, this phenomena is like the hashtag thing...better left to mystery.

I considered attempting to conclude this article with some dribble about the richness of the learning experience when one is able to 'safely' experience the polar extremes of social interaction in the unique sibling establishment. But, hey, I've got a fight to break up, and the phone is ringing...Probably Charlotte, to catch up and arrange a breakfast date on Saturday!

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Life--The Measuring Stick Theory

I'm obsessed with the whole notion of 'dating in your 30's.' Obsessed. My friends can confirm this. Like if you're willing to oblige with gory details, I want to know...What are the dating rules? Are you more decisive? Are you more picky? Are the pickings slim? Do you still play the same mind games I did as a twenty-something? Do things heat up faster? Slower? Do your past experiences help or hinder the process? Seriously, I could go on and on and on. This might seem a strange topic to pique one's interest, but the reason for this obsession is quite simple. I WILL NEVER DATE IN MY 30's (god-willing)! I married the love of my life when I was 25 and spent my 30's doing the whole 3 kids thing. And, for any reason that matters, I am over the moon about that, but that doesn't make this topic any less curious for me. Anyway, that topic is of no particular consequence, but I can't help but wonder if other people grapple with these sorts of questions. To me it seems a universal sentiment, if not human nature, to constantly question our own decisions and measure them up against others.

The way I see this is that when we come to evaluate a life's decision, past or present, we pull out our own personal gigantic tub of measuring sticks. And these measuring sticks have all sorts of 'units'—career, life partner, family, kids, finances, hobbies, vehicles, education, accomplishments and on and on. So, for instance, when I look back on 20's, which in large part I spent chasing a certain handsome man around the world, I can pull out the 'travel stick' and feel pretty good about myself, or I can pull out the 'life partner stick' and feel like I am 10 feet tall. But if I were to choose the 'finance stick', I would measure up somewhere near the height of my one-year old. Now, this isn't an entirely fruitless exercise--it is healthy to reflect on our past decisions and be mindful of our present ones. It can be useful when, for example, you are 35 with 3 kids under 6 and you pull out your 'hobbies stick' and find that perhaps this is an area of your life that you'd like to rejuvenate a little, or you realize that those finances you neglected in your 20's really need a little building up going forward.


and this is a 'big but! If you look closely at the bucket, if you are like me, you will notice that those measuring sticks are more plentiful than you realize. (When I was digging in mine recently, I found a measuring stick entirely for footwear???) And, what's worse, there are measuring sticks attached very specifically to people in your life—people you love. Though I am proud of this, I use these sticks all the time, and my guess is that I am not in poor company in doing this. For me, this is where the usefulness of the measuring process ends. Because, for one, I inevitably choose sticks that make me feel the size of a chihuahua, and, for two, there is NO END to this process, and, for three, the measurement is entirely inaccurate—The expression 'comparing apples to oranges' comes to mind. Growth/success/good decisions are entirely unique to each individual. So, when I am pulling out 'my bestie-Jane stick' and sizing up my financial success, the measurement does even begin to reflect our financial starting points, what our financial goals are or have been, what we have invested into 'the wealth of experience' vs. 'material wealth', and so on. Actually, when I think about it, this measurement reflects absolutely nothing, and bears no relevance in evaluating past decisions or the guiding future ones. (Mental note: Toss that stick into the recycling) Or going back to the whole 'dating in your 30's' thing...When I reflect back on my choice to marry younger, I am confident that this choice has been positive and fruitful for me, but in no way does this mean that universally 'marry in 20's = good'. Because, someone somewhere else is reflecting on that same decision and thinking that they wouldn't have minded having a little more experience before committing their life to one person. And that is okay too.

Here is the point where I encourage you to join me in the challenge of taking that entire bucket of sticks and tossing the entire thing into the recycling! Do it! It's getting you nowhere.

It turns out that there is only one stick you need...The next time you find yourself in a mindset to do some measuring of your life's decisions, try this...Take some time to conjure up an image of your former self, last month, last year, 5 years ago, you pick. Dig up an old photo if it helps. Reflect honestly on this person, their position in life, their insecurities, their goals, and hold that up to the person you are today. No doubt you will have grown. Maybe those same insecurities still haunt you, or maybe the very thought of them will make you laugh. You might find that you easily accomplished those goals or that you haven't and would still like to, or that the goals have entirely changed. Feel free to look at any those 'units' mentioned earlier, but, above all else, consider your journey and your growth. Whatever you discover, you can be sure that this measurement is relevant and accurate, and that, when it comes time to reflect or make a decision, you won't need anything else.

Happy sunny Sunday

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome--7 Things I am Tired of

I am a sufferer of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, one of over 400 000 Canadians, yet in this day and age of awareness, many of us suffer in silence, disbelief, or confusion. To be quite honest, I am 'tired' of that. I am tired of a lot of things actually. Take the name, for example--Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Systemic Exertional Intolerance Disease--I am already 'tired' of writing that. Hereafter, it will be referred to as the BEAST. So today, being International ME/CFS & FM awareness day, I thought I'd drop a #May12BlogBomb and take some time to let you know a little about what it's like to live with this condition. And the best way I can think to do that is this list...

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome--7 Things I am 'tired' of...

1. I'm tired of lying-- Do you/Have you had a debilitating, chronic, medical or otherwise condition that you lie about? I do, and I'm tired of that. Of course this is my own choice, and these are almost entirely lies of omission in that I simply choose not to share the details/existence of my condition with people, but read on!! Perhaps you will understand why...

2. I'm tired of the lack of medical and personal support--Medical support. Pfft (farting noise).... that's all I have to say about that. As for personal support, there is no shortage of wonderful and supportive people around me, some who know, some who don't, but there's this...To look at me, you would never know there was a damn thing wrong with me. People who suffer from this condition are often at the mercy of 'good days' and 'bad days', and our physical appearance generally won't belie what today is, so the only way to let our support people to know how we are feeling is to complain. Isn't that awesome? But, I say this humbly, I am not doing this to be whiny, I do this because, on the 'bad days', I need a lot of understanding and sometimes a little help, the same way anyone else with a chronic illness would. There are a number of people in my life who on random occasions ask how I am doing, and I am SO thankful for the special occasion where I am just answering a question rather than complaining.

3. I'm tired of people saying, “Everybody is tired”--OOOOOooo, this gets me more than anything. I was a mom for four years before I got this illness... I knew tired. But this is not that. Try this. Find the heaviest comforter in your house, douse it with a fire hose until it soaks up every possible drop, drape it over your head taking care to obscure your vision somewhat, and carry on. If you're feeling particularly ambitious, take three kids swimming. Then sleep 12 hours and repeat, and then sleep another 10 hours and repeat again, then take 4 naps and do it again and again and again and again.

4. I'm tired of people suggesting that I am depressed, anxious, etc--I am not a person who lives in the dark ages of not acknowledging the existence of mental illness. I am well acquainted with it actually. Mainly this annoys me because if it were one of these things, I would happily pursue treatment, and, though illnesses such as these may overlap with the BEAST, they are not one in the same. Spare me this suggestion, and the next time you tell me you have lung cancer, I promise I will not tell you that you have bronchitis and should treat it with antibiotics.

5. I'm tired of the lack of scientific evidence/research--Google anything. Google ANYTHING. And you will get a world of answers, and, in the case of medical conditions, the top 5 reputable sites will all tell you similar things. Google this condition? Your head will spin. From diagnostics to symptomology to treatment to its very existence, the cohesiveness of information is shocking. Also, good luck in your search because they can't even agree on name for the BEAST, and that is just the beginning of what 'they' can't agree on. So if they can't agree on it, it must be all in my head right?? WRONG.

A little rant on this point...I don't exactly know what it is about the BEAST that so confounds scientific/medical communities. Is it the broad range of experience from sufferer to sufferer? Because surely no two cases of breast cancer or MS are same. Is it the lack of response to conventional (and unconventional) treatment? Because this is not the first untreatable illness. Is it the lack of known cause? Because there is no known cause for the continued success of Maroon 5. Still real. But I digress...

6. I'm tired of being tired--'Nuf said.

7. I'm tired of negotiating with the BEAST--When you have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, you are in a CONSTANT game of negotiation with your illness. And this illness/opponent is merciless. There is a universal component of the BEAST known as 'post-exertional malaise.' Basically, this means if you engage in any rigorous physical or mental activity today, you feel like all kinds of a$$ tomorrow. So if you think you are going to have a late night out (just one), or maybe run around with your kids at the park, or do some snow-shovelling, go for a run (HAHAHA! Yeah, right), or binge watch Downton Abbey until the wee hours, stay up for a New Year's kiss, or have any hobby that involves participation after 7pm, think again. And those are the small things. Consider for a moment the narrowing of your career options when a 'good day' of functioning is 10 hours, with no physical exertion, frequent rest breaks, naps, and the running of a household and family of 5. Keep in mind that I said 'good day.' Here I go complaining again...

The good news is that I am NOT dying and that this illness can be managed much like a snowball. If you start rolling your snowball in nice fresh clean snow (i.e. resting, maintaining a consistent and plentiful sleep schedule, CAREFULLY managing exertion, etc.), symptoms can get improve and improve to the point where you can even build a pretty decent snowman. No Olaf/Frosty spectacular snowman, but a snowman nonetheless. On the other hand, if you start rolling that ball in the wrong direction (staying out late, not resting during the day, overdoing exertion, etc.), watch out... The malaise/tired symptoms will build and build until you have don't have a snowman at all, but a $hitman that looks like Meatloaf on a bad day. That is the nature of the BEAST I'm afraid. Will it go away, you ask? Will it improve over time? Your guess is as good as mine.

There it is folks...No more lying! Now, I find chronic illnesses in general to be rather dull and depressing myself, so I figured if I could include a snowman metaphor and a few chuckles, it would make up for the barrage of complaints and painful education you just endured. We're even?? For real though, THANK YOU for taking the time to 'aware-ify' with me today. One thing sharing this illness has taught me is that everyone has their own struggle and a little bit of awareness and understanding goes a LONG way.