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.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Not Strong--Still Beautiful

There has been a lot of hype on social media and like recently regarding a “Strong is the new skinny” campaign (if one can call it that). I'm not sure where this started and I'm not actually going to bother researching that bit of information, but it's definitely out there. I'm going to extrapolate a little and say that what I think is being inferred here is that where once 'skinny' was seen as the standard of beauty, now 'strong' is that standard. Perhaps this doesn't sound like such a bad thing. After all, isn't it time we stopped associating beauty with a singular attribute such as size and started associating it with something more useful and complex? Well, yes and no. I have a few problems with this. (Gosh, it's SO easy to be the critic!)

Well, for starters, when you make a statement declaring that X-attribute is beautiful, there is at least some (perhaps unintended) inference that the opposite is not. That is an unnecessarily confusing way of saying that, for example, during all those years where 'skinny was beautiful', there was an undercurrent that being larger was not. I'm really into analogies lately, so the way I visualize this is that when someone makes a bold statement like “Strong is the new skinny”, they create a bus...Let's call it the “Strong-is-Beautiful bus”...And this bus is decorated with banners with that slogan on it, and there are beautiful people hanging out the window, in this case, flexing their biceps, flashing their abs, taking selfies, and posting their workout schedules to facebook. As you can imagine, this is a pretty cool bus and lots of people want to get on, but there is this angry bus driver/bouncer dude taking %body fat and quadricep measurements at the door deciding who can get on and who can't. And dude just turned me down because at present, with a going chronic illness that prevents me from working out, I just didn't make the cut. Tell me, is the most prudent thing for me to do at this point to walk away with my tail between my legs and catch the first 'ugly bus' that will let me on???

Well, Strong is a state of mind as much as a state of body, you say? Well have a look at this...

F&*K! She doesn't even have a head. Assuming that the mind is located in the head, that is not what these images would suggest. And if you think that this headless image endorsing this mantra is an anomaly, you would be wrong... Have a google sometime or just take my word for it.

Going back to the “Beautiful bus”, don't think for a second that because I am on this rant that I am suggesting that I am/have been above trying to squeeze my ass on that thing in times past. I am not, and dude may even have let me ride occasionally, but the point I want to make is that the older I get, the more I realize that beauty is a feeling that has nothing to do with riding that bus or any bus. I wish I could follow this by saying that I have come to not care about the definition of beauty and instead pursue the that which makes me feel beautiful, but that is only exactly 44% true. I absolutely do try to focus on pursuing those things that make me 'feel beautiful', some of them superficial (wearing clothes that make me feel awesome) and some of them not (blogging and spending time with my husband and besties, etc.). The other 6% of the time I am trying jump on the #skinnyjeansbeautiful bus or some such nonsense. The other 50% recognizes that how beauty is defined in the media has real consequence because those buses driving by with their beautiful people and flashy signs are very much affecting each of my three children's feelings of beauty. And that matters VERY much to me.

What I would say to them about this when they are ready? Two things:

One. When you do manage to catch that bus, whatever the banner says, have a look will probably notice that it is the same people that were on a different flashy/beautiful bus with a different flashy slogan a few weeks ago, and those people are no more or no less beautiful for being on that or any bus.

Two. Don't get too comfortable, because as long as you're jumping onto a bus where someone else chose the slogan and hung the banners, dude can ask you to get off at anytime.

Of course, we know that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and is most certainly NOT limited to physicality, but my point is that campaigns (or whatever you want to call them) like these are dangerous. Young people especially who are looking for identity, belonging and beauty (as we all do) really buy into this stuff with their wallets and their persons. However well-meaning or even well-chosen the trait, beauty just cannot be summed up in any single adjective. As my kids grow, and god-willing become aware of traffic (when does this actually happen?), no doubt these buses will still be passing by. They have been for all of time. My hope is just that they will have the courage to pull out a can of spray paint and decorate that bus themselves.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

From Whence we Came--Your guide to surviving this summer's family reunion

Let's get a few things straight...I am no historian, I hate family reunions, and I have no clever tips on how to survive one. Ha! Joke's on you...That was just a ploy to get you to read this, but hear me out. I LOVE my family. You couldn't assemble 244 (in the case of this reunion) finer people anywhere on the planet. But this impending gigantic get-together had me feeling a little reluctant, and when I expressed this dread of attending to a cousin who is generous enough to have planned the event, she said, “Well, it's important to Dad, and that's good enough for me.” Point well made. At this juncture, that is also good enough for me... I will be going.

At any rate, since deciding to go, something struck me. Recently, a female friend traveled to Morocco for work. I should preface this by saying that this friend is extremely successful in her career, has her masters, and is a stellar mother and friend. So after months of planning and preparation for this work-related trip, I got a text from her, to paraphrase, it read something like this, “The crew wants very little to do with me, meaning the men, they're having difficulty with me in charge. Just another day.” Now, I realize there is no harrowing tale of oppressive woe here, but those words hit home with me, and the best way I can think to describe the sentiment is this (which I happened to read on a sign today) “When we get too comfortable, we forget other people.” My earlier description of this friend was not to convince you that she was exceptionally worthy because of the letters behind her name or her career success, but merely to point out that these opportunities are not a given in this world. I am very lucky that I get to forget that sometimes. Have I been living in the comforts of this largely non-oppressive country for so long that I have forgotten from whence I came?

An abridged version of my family history for those of you not related to me... My German ancestors, who had been living in Russia for well over a century as farmers, fled as the unrest that would eventually lead to the Russian Revolution was building in the early 1900's. They traversed the Atlantic three times (not in the comforts of a passenger jet) and attempted settlement on two other continents before finally settling near modern day Macklin, Saskatchewan. Honestly, I've heard stories that some spent the first year sleeping in the side of a hill on the prairie. Now, I have lived in Saskatchewan for the better part of 35 years, and that is not something I would want to attempt. Please consider this carefully, these people we call 'ancestors'--they are not characters in a book. They are real people, like you, like me. They are the people that gave birth to the people who gave birth to the people who gave birth to you. In the same breath, please consider the people of Morocco, Russia, the Ukraine, etc. with the same sentiment—real people, like you and me, for whom oppression and violence, whatever the form, are a way of life.

And with that in mind, I am filled with gratitude and awe at the courage and vision it took our forefathers and foremothers to execute this change in our fortune. I highlight courage here because a change of that magnitude is never easy or guaranteed, and I highlight vision because what strikes me more than anything is that I am the beneficiary of this courage. Me... the daughter of the daughter of the woman who made this move, took these risks. She lived a hard life so I wouldn't have to. Going back to my friend who traveled to Morocco just weeks ago and was treated as a sub-standard person, well that could have been my hardship, and perhaps it would've been me fleeing with my babies (MY BABIES!) on my back, leaving everything familiar, any wealth I had accrued, behind for a life of toil and uncertainty.

Toil and uncertainty, yes, but also hope. And it is my hope that these people who gave birth to the people who gave birth to the people who gave birth to me will be there in spirit this weekend in July to reap the harvest of the seeds of hope they planted all those years ago.

So, yea, no particular clever tips on surviving your family reunion this summer... Sorry! But this is Canada, land of immigrants, chances are your story is not so different from mine. If nothing else, while you eat and laugh and catch up with old-cousin Murray, raise a glass to the people who brought you here in the first place.