Shine

precious-stones

My daughters are rock hounds.  They come home from outdoor outings pockets heavy with their treasures: sparkly mica, smooth pebbles, rocks shaped like hearts, mama!  One afternoon last fall I took them to a gem shop I'd discovered and their jaws dropped at the sight of a room full of polished stones of every colour.
 
They are not terribly discerning in their selections, though, to my eye.  Pale, dull, ordinary granite is as precious as glittering quartz and magical tigereye.
 
Which is how a chunk of concrete that somehow became detached from our front porch - no one knows how, mama! - came to decorate our bathroom shelf alongside an amethyst I purchased for a pretty penny.  "Really?" I asked my daughter when she brought it to me, delighted at her find, before I swiftly shut myself up.  She thinks it's beautiful - all the small stones bound together in shades of steel and mouse and storm - and that's all that matters.
 
Like I have with so many other works of young art and scavenging, I put the concrete on display to appease her.  I don't have a home, to my mind.  Rather, I have the pleasure of living in the home that belongs to my daughters.  This home is the scene of their childhood, in significant part, and I aim to make it warm and safe and a reflection of them and our love.  I'll have plenty of time to have a home of my own - with things 'just so' - when they grow up and leave me, a day that is coming far too quickly (sob).  Until then, our home is their nest and they can weave it with whatever shiny things catch their crow eyes, whichever bits of concrete they pry loose, as far as I'm concerned.
 
But I've found, over these last few months, that my appeasement has slowly given way to appreciation, my eyes seeing beauty through hers.  The stones are both precious - one by birth and one by my child's holy anointing - and they have come to serve as a reminder to look for the beauty in the everyday, to try to see the world as a child does, which is just as it is in all its splendour: wonderful and gorgeous without even trying.  Worth a second glance.
 
The stones have also proven to have healing properties.
 
When the unusual pairing catches my eye, this Lauryn Hill lyric almost always floats to the surface of my mind:
 
 "Don't be a hard rock when you really are a gem."
 

I've been a hard rock, lately.  I've been closed off and shut down by circumstances both within and without.  Depression blew down my door with the cold wind of winter, not as ferocious as in years past but still biting and ambivalent to my corner-cowering.  My foundation has also been rattled by some upsetting interactions - one very personal, one professional, and one with a complete stranger - which all share the common thread of my words being taken by others not as they were intended, or with the benefit of the doubt, but instead, in twisted ways that formed spike strips, busting my tires and the self-belief they were inflated with.
 
Truth, or at least my best attempt to reach it, is the reason I write because it's the reason we're here.  I wear my share of masks and utter pretty cover-ups, too, but the good stuff is always the raw, honest truth underneath what we manufacture. Life is about mining for that truth - for what is honest, for real connection - and vulnerability is truth's necessary companion; it's the rope down that chasm.  It's slippery and knotted at uneven lengths or not at all for a stretch.  It's a long way down and vulnerability is the only way to the bottom where the good stuff is waiting.  But it comes with risk.  The rewards are worth it, but the slip-footed fumbles make me question the expedition, sometimes.
 
Do I keep writing? I've asked myself.  Do I keep telling my truth?  Do I keep entrusting it to ears that may ring with judgments and malformed translations?
 
Do I turn bitter and angry?  Do I turn away from those who have hurt me?  Do I board up my heart?
 
I've been holed up these last few months, quiet with my questions and doubts.  I've been hardening beneath their weight.  The truths I want to tell - which are simple and concomitantly complex -  have compressed smaller and smaller into a thin layer of exhausted meekness formerly known as ferocity.
 
Then, one recent morning, the stones caught my attention and the refrain again belted through my brain: "Don't be a hard rock when you really are a gem."   This time, however, the soloist kept repeating: You're a gem, you're a gem, you're a gem, you're a gem, you're a gem.
 
You're a gem.  And you need to shine.
 
The tectonic plates under my life shifted in that moment and there was a buckling in me.  A new mountain range.  These events are never really as sudden as they seem - they are the culmination of millions of moments - but the feeling that overcame me felt that way.  I felt suddenly done.  Done with ears that don't listen.  Done with thoughtless broken telephone games that lead from careless ears to mistaken judgments on lips.  Done with being a hard rock.
 
I'm going to shine.
 
I'm going to keep dangling on vulnerabilities.  I'm going to load my pockets with the truths I find down the chasm, and I'm going to climb back up and shout, "Hey, guys! Come see what I found!" and speak those truths loud and clear.
 
I'm going to thaw my heart and forgive and give others the benefit of the doubt even when I feel they haven't done the same for me.  I will meet callousness and carelessness with kindness.  I will keep striving for connection.
 
The stones will remain on our bathroom shelf, lining our nest, a priceless art installation on the themes of beauty and strength.  And when my eyes alight upon them, I will hear that familiar refrain and be reminded to shine.

I will feel beautiful in my shades of steel and mouse and storm.  And on days when others see me as concrete, I will anoint myself as precious.

The Girl in the Body

self-harm.jpg

I was interested in volunteering, so we met to talk about the help I could offer.  "I feel strongly about the work that you do," I explained to the volunteer coordinator, who welcomed me kindly and spoke excitedly about opportunities for me to be involved.  I had already completed most of the volunteer training but had missed an important session, the content of which she wished to review with me.

She gave me some handouts.  The organization serves a vulnerable population, many of whom battle depression and suicidal thoughts.  Some of their clients self-harm, she explained, as she indicated a list of ways that people self-harm.

I read through the list and stopped at a word.  One word can change everything, including you.

I sort of knew.  Not at the time, I don't think, but with hindsight I sort of knew that what I'd done probably fit the definition.  It was a thought I'd kept submerged but here it was, now, staring at me.  Confirmation.   

I took a deep breath.  

"I know a little about self-harm," I explained to her, quietly.  "I used to do it." 

Until today, until this post, she is the only person I have ever told. 

***** 

Hitting. 

It was right there on the list, after cutting and burning.   

Seventeen years ago, when I was in the depths of my worst depression, I would sometimes hit myself.

I think it started in a moment of anguish.  I think, in a moment of absolute despair and rage at the lot I'd been cast and the never-ending pain, I hit myself hard on the thigh without thinking about it, a lashing out to release some of my pent-up frustration.  

It worked.  I felt a little better.  In fact, I felt a lot better, at least for a few minutes.  So I kept doing it. Not all the time but often when those moments came up, I'd hit myself hard on the thigh.  Sometimes repeatedly.

To someone who has no experience with self-harm, I imagine it is difficult to understand why anyone would do such a thing to themselves.  I'll do my best to explain what self-harm was for me.  I hasten to add that I can only speak for myself; this may not reflect what self-harm is for others.

Hitting myself made me feel better because it distracted me.  For a few moments, maybe a few minutes, I could focus on physical pain rather than the horrendous emotional pain that was torturing me.  Importantly, the physical pain was a pain that would go away.  It was a pain I could handle.  My emotional pain, I was convinced, would never leave me.

I suppose, in some subconscious way, it also served a secondary purpose: It was a way to punish myself.  I expect that on some level I wanted to hurt myself because I believed I deserved to be hurt.  But the truth is, I don't remember thinking that.  I only remember wanting the escape, however temporary.  Punishment was a bonus.

There were no scars for you to see.  There was no blood.  There were no scratches on my skin.  There were no wounds that needed healing except the ones within me.   The skin on my thigh would blaze red and then, within a few minutes, the redness would fade away as if nothing had ever happened.  My body kept its secrets well.

As I got help for my depression - began therapy, started taking medication - I hit myself less and less often until it was no longer the tool I reached for.  I had collected other tools, healthier coping mechanisms that had me run straight at the emotional pain and tackle it head-on. 

I'm not altogether in the clear.  I have a self-harm souvenir that has stayed with me: Sometimes, when I'm having those moments again, my illness conjures up the image of someone hitting me, pushing me into a wall, violently beating me, throwing me down stairs.  This image flashes through my sick brain unsummoned and however much I reject it and however horrific I know this would be if it actually happened, this image comes to me and I feel...soothed.  Even just thinking about it now, I can feel my body relax.  Even though I have built new, healthy circuits, this faulty wiring remains like a vestigial tail.

Some people believe that self-harm is a pre-cursor to suicide.  Some believe it's a way to get attention.  But self-harm often happens in secret - in fact, I'd say that's a key part of its modus operandi - and although self-harm and suicidal thoughts sometimes stalk in pairs, they are not the same.  I wasn't trying to hit myself to death.  Again, I can't speak for everyone, but I don't believe that people who harm themselves are trying to die.  On the contrary: They are trying to live.  I was trying so hard to live.  Self-harm was a way to keep living when it felt like there was no other way.

 *****

This is illness, like any other, although the invisibility of mental illness makes it particularly brutal and cowardly.  This is the body fighting itself.  But we're not our bodies.  We're the ones within.  The girl in the body is there.  The boy in the body is strong.  The father.  The mother.  The child.  The friend.  The one you love is there inside that battlefield body, whole and fighting.

I no longer hit myself, or harm myself in any way.  My hands are peaceful allies.  My thighs are only red these days from the weight of children on my lap.  I no longer need to keep my body's secrets.

I no longer need to fight pain with pain, fire with fire.  Now, the girl in the body blazes bright.

Our Magic

My youngest daughter commands the ocean to do her bidding (Nova Scotia, July 2016)

My youngest daughter commands the ocean to do her bidding
(Nova Scotia, July 2016)

A few months ago, we celebrated my daughter's 9th birthday with a Harry Potter party.  She's a big Harry Potter fan and I'm a big fan of getting crafty for my kids' birthdays.  I'm no Martha Stewart, by any means, but I like to add a few creative touches and Pinterest is packed with great "Harry Potter party" ideas.  I printed Hogwarts house crests and word searches, crafted Quidditch cake toppers, and made games like Pin-the-Scar-on-Harry, Find the Golden Snitch, and Free Dobby, the latter of which is my own creation and involves throwing as many socks as you can into a laundry basket (loads of fun, pun intended).  I also made each guest a booklet of spells and a magic wand out of a wooden knitting needle.

The party was a hit, in large part because we followed what I believe to be the golden rule of a successful children's birthday party:  Invite very few children.  Three of my daughter's friends joined us and the kids had a great time playing the games and casting spells.  After cake and present time, while the kids were happily playing, I retreated to my bedroom to give them some space and privacy, because no one wants their mom hanging around, as super cool as she may be.

I listened to them running about casting spells upon each other with their wands.  "Expelliarmus!" one would shout, as the others frantically flipped through their booklets to find a counter-spell.  They helped each other decipher pronunciations and definitions.  Then, I overheard this exchange about the "Reparo" spell:

"What does that mean?" my daughter's friend asked her. 

 "It's like to repair something," my daughter explained.  She continued:  "Like repairing split ends."

Her comment gave me pause.  It made my stomach churn a little to realize that her only, or at least immediate, connection to the concept of "repair" has to do with split ends, of all superficial things, as if that is all we repair as women. 

It was a small comment.  It was not heavy with women-as-slaves-to-beauty ideals and it doesn't represent the sum total of her perception of women and who we are in this world.  Of course it doesn't.  But I still want her to know that as women, we repair so much more than split ends. 

We repair ripped jeans and faulty wires and kindergarten crafts gone terribly wrong.

We repair broken dishes and transport trucks and businesses and communities.

We repair little broken hearts with open arms and soft words.  We repair big broken hearts the same way.

We repair families and friendships.  We repair relationships.  And when we can't, we repair ourselves.

We repair ourselves over and over and over again. 

I want my daughters to know that our magic is not in our beauty, although our beauty can be spellbinding.  Our magic is in our compassion.  It's in our curiosity.  It's in our tenacity.  

Our magic can be seen climbing mountains and corporate ladders.  It can be seen standing on stages and standing on guard and standing up for the voiceless and vulnerable.

Our magic can be seen pacing hallways at 2 am soothing babies back to sleep on our shoulders, and it can be seen proudly marching on our streets.

We stupefy with our astounding acts of courage and kindness.  We disarm with our smiles, yes, but also with our measured words and gentle touch.  We conjure up ideas that make history.

 "It's leviOsa, not levioSA," my daughter quotes from the movie, giggling with her coven, as yet unaware that she is a powerful sorceress without her knitting needle wand.  

The "Wingardium Leviosa" spell allows the user to make an object levitate.  But our magic moves more than objects. 

We lighten the room and raise the world.

RAWR 2017 RAWR!

WANTED: More of this

WANTED: More of this

It's a brand new year!  I love this time of year because it feels like the slate is clean and there are endless possibilities for new and amazing things to come.  Importantly, rather than waiting on those amazing things to arrive on their own volition, it's a time for kicking yourself up the backside to go out and get what you want and make positive change happen.  Woo!  Yeah!  Let's do this!  How long can we keep up this enthusiasm!!! I'm so tired!!!

I've spent the last month or so reflecting on 2016, settling into my new job and routine, and thinking about what's next.  I've been hustling for such a long time - trying to figure out life post-divorce, thinking about my career path, looking for a job - and now that things have settled a little on those fronts, I find myself excitedly considering what else I want to improve and achieve in my life.  Self-improvement is a daily goal and it will be a life-long project, but I welcome the opportunity of a new year to set some specific goals for this next spin around the sun.  

I've made some resolutions for 2017 in a number of areas of my life (ones that I believe are attainable even for a tired person such as myself) and I will be posting about them in the coming weeks, but to start, I'll share with you the number one thing I want to do in 2017 above all others:

RELAX AND HAVE FUN!

The fact is, I'm pretty good at the serious stuff overall and one of my biggest issues is that I can be TOO serious.  I'm not very good at relaxing; in fact, I'm quite terrible at it.  I'm always thinking about what else I "should" be doing, or just thinking in general.  My therapist's number one adjective for me is "cerebral", which is intended as a compliment (I think) but comes up regularly in our conversations because I live far too much in my head.  Basically, I want to settle my brain and possibly even dumb down a little, in the hopes that some ignorance may just lead to some bliss.  And although I think I'm a pretty fun person, my life could benefit from more frequent injections of fun and silliness.  Since relaxing and having fun are two different things (although they pair beautifully), I'll highlight a few of the steps I'm planning to take to achieve each goal:

This guy's my favourite.  He's just so happy to be here.

This guy's my favourite.  He's just so happy to be here.

Relax, Don't Do It

I am officially declaring that Sunday is a day of rest!  (I think someone may have come up with this concept before me.) I want to get better at finding pockets of time to relax (and actually doing so) all of the days of the week, but I think that devoting one day a week solely to rest and relaxation is a way-overdue prescription for the anxiety and stress in my life.  My intention is to set aside Sunday as a day to spend time with my loved ones, or on my own, to read and play and pursue hobbies and enjoy nature.  On my weekends with my daughters, Sunday will be a no- (or at least low-) tech day because I want us to spend quality time together, going for hikes and playing games and making blanket forts and such.  Because I rarely watch TV or movies through the week, this kind of tech WILL be allowed on the Sundays I have to myself (I feel like this might help with the dumbing down part), but I will be limiting my internet usage otherwise.  I want lounging in my bed until noon with a good book and a cup of tea!  I want Sunday afternoon Netflix bingeing!  I want to practice my ukulele and learn how to knit and get crafty!  The time to do these things isn't going to make itself so I need to make it.

Ask me how well this went this past Sunday!  Not so well!  To be fair, this is an oddball week because two bedrooms are being painted and all of the carpets are being replaced, so it was necessary for us to spend yesterday clearing things out.  But I'm optimistic that I'll be able to set aside Sunday as a rest day most weeks (I have big plans for a solo movie marathon this coming Sunday and I could nearly cry with my excitement about it). 

This will, as a by-product, make it necessary for me to accomplish ALL OF THE OTHER THINGS the other six days of the week, but this leads me to the second way I plan to relax: I want to relax the standards I set for myself and what I "should" accomplish.  I set impossibly high standards for myself, only to end up disappointed and frustrated, and I often let the great become the enemy of the good, as the saying goes.  I don't have to get everything done.  The house doesn't have to be sparkling clean and organized at all times.  Or at any time.  My writing doesn't have to be perfectly worded and ruminated over, or posted here on certain days of the week, or accompanied by the ideal photo.  Nobody cares about these things as much I do and it is GOOD to care and it is GOOD to have goals and want to improve but striving for perfection is a foolish, exhausting task that can never be checked off.  So, in the words of the great Princess Elsa, I'm going to let it go.  

Or at least try my very best.  The truth is, I think I've forgotten how to relax.  I've been treading rough waters for so long that I don't know what it feels like to relax and float and ride the current instead of fight it.  But I'll get there with practice.

In addition to these steps, I'm also working on getting into a new daily routine that includes time before bed to write in my journal and read.  So far, the new routine is going well and I'm already noticing that those 30 to 45 minutes every night are making a big difference to my sense of well-being as well as helping me to get a better night's sleep, which is another part of my relaxation resolution.  

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

Well, I can't speak for all girls but THIS ONE sure does and I know two little ones who are also big fans of the fun.  So more of it, I say!  Life over the last few years has involved some necessary seriousness and buckling down, and it probably always will, but what's the point of all that hard work if not to make time to play and be silly and laugh?  To actually live a joyful life?  I'll continue to work hard and hustle and be serious, but I'm resolved to make time for the silly (note: In a beautiful Freudian slip, that sentence first came out as "make time for the willy."  Yes, that kind of fun would be welcome, too.)

Duuuuuuuude

Duuuuuuuude

But I digress. SILLINESS.  My daughters and I are already connoisseurs of silly.  In fact, I'm not sure that there's anything that defines us more as a family than our love of all things goofy and ridiculous.  One of my goals for 2017 is to continue and expand upon a number of our silly traditions and antics.  Dinovember, for example, was a huge hit in our household this past November.  The dinosaurs took over the house and got themselves into all sorts of giggle-inducing mischief, giving dreary November the shot of silliness it needed.  When I decided to celebrate Dinovember (an idea I gathered here), my goal was simply to make the girls smile.  I found along the way, however, that the process of thinking up new scenarios for the dinosaurs, and setting them up after the girls were in bed, went a long way to lifting my spirits, too, and reconnecting me to a kind of joy that I hadn't felt in awhile.  I plan to continue this tradition and others, including:

  • Silly dinners, which involve dressing in a ridiculous fashion, eating dessert first, and using bizarre kitchen implements to eat rather than regular utensils (ladles, tongs, etc.), usually with something suitably sloppy for extra silliness
  • Morning dance parties.  What it says on the box!
  • Impromptu lipsynch contests and living life as a musical by bursting into song for no reason 
  • Funny lunchbox notes and scavenger hunts and sticky-note messages in weird places
  • Very Merry Un-Birthdays
  • And other holiday silliness including St. Patrick's Day leprechaun trapping and April Fool's Day pranks! 

(And I have lots more up my sleeve.)

In my single, adult life, the kind of fun I'm (mostly) thinking about simply involves more time doing fun things with friends and introducing more spontaneity into my life.  Less planning, more doing!  It would be a little counterproductive, then, to plan goals to this end, but I'm foreseeing more last-minute road trips and nights out and trying new things.  I want to challenge my introversion a bit and shake things up.

As 2017 rolls on, I'll be reporting on my progress toward these and other resolutions here on the site, but if you'd like to follow along in closer-to-real-time, join me on Facebook and Instagram, too, where I will be posting more regular check-ins.  I'd also love to hear about the goals you've set for yourself in 2017, in the comments below.  

Bring it on, 2017!  We got this!  RAWR! 

Sometimes, I Even Dance

Goofball in full effect

Goofball in full effect

Four years ago on New Year’s Eve, I moved into my new home.  My ex-husband and I had separated five months before but had continued to live in the same house up until then as I looked for work and we tried to figure out how to do this whole thing (yep, lived in the same house as my ex for five months…good times).  I found a place on Kijiji – a three bedroom house, the main floor of one side of a duplex – and as soon as I saw the ad, I knew it was the right place for the girls and I.  I got the keys and began moving my things in on December 31st, 2012.

It was a difficult night but a good one.  An important one, and it was so appropriate that I was beginning my new life with a new year.  I took my wedding ring off at exactly midnight because I’m dramatic like that sometimes (Drama?  I have a degree in it!).  I vowed to myself that I would move forward and find my way and be strong.

Tonight, my plans got cancelled and I find myself home alone again on New Year’s Eve.  But this time, it feels different.  Four years ago, I was lonely.  Tonight, I’m just alone, and happily so.  Four years ago, I was terrified.  Now, I have my fears but I am brave.  I have made it this far and I’m still standing and sometimes, I even dance.  Four years ago, I didn’t know who I was and I felt I couldn’t be whole on my own.  Tonight, I am in the company of someone I love to be with, someone I have come to know and finally care for: Myself. 

I know now that I am a good person.  I know that I am stronger and more capable than I ever expected and than was probably ever expected of me.  I know that I am a goofball and any man who doesn’t find me funny is not the man for me.  I know that I am my favourite and truest self when my sister is home with me and we are laughing.  I know I will beat you at Scrabble unless you’re my mother.  I know my daughters think I hung the moon and I know that I am deserving of that love and honour.

I know that I can be alone on New Year’s Eve in my bed with my wine and my early 90s hip hop and my comfy leggings and I can be perfectly happy.

My counsellor often says to me, “And do you give yourself credit for that?”  I have a tendency to view progress in my life as an act of fate, as the result of some good fortune and not, in fact, as a result of the hard work I have put into enacting the changes that have made that progress possible.  I look back at these last four years and it could be said that not much has changed.  I am in the same rented home.  I have fewer dollars in my bank account and am in fact making less money than I was then.  I am still single.  But these are not failures.  I have made a home for my children where they are warm and loved, a place I am always happy to come home to.  And if my furnace breaks down, someone comes to fix it with no cost to me.  That’s not too shabby.  I left the job that paid well but was costing me my mental health, and I’m now in a job that doesn’t give me a lot in my bank account, but gives me confidence and a feeling that I’m doing something important.  I’d still like to find love, but I no longer need to.  There’s enough love in this home to last me a lifetime and alone is not lonely.  Alone is dancing in your favourite dress lip synching to Montell Jordan’s “This is How We Do It” and no man can make me feel better than that.

Four years, and sometimes the pain of it all is a breath away and sometimes the memories are like the scenes of a movie I saw once and can barely remember.  The fact is that a lot has changed.  I’m not the same person I was then.  I am the woman excavated from her.  Under all that fear and doubt was this woman who I am proud to be.  Flawed and at times still flailing.  Imperfect and at times beautifully impolite.  But fierce and loving and talented and busting her ass to make this short life a good one.

2017.  We’re properly in the 21st century now, kids.  It’s the 21st century so let’s live like we understand how amazing that is.  This is the future.  We’ve made it.  And we can make this year whatever we want it to be.

Four years from now, I hope I am as happy as I am tonight, whatever happiness is to me then. Whether I’m full to the brim after a year of incredible experiences with my daughters, or because of a job I love, or because I’ve written something that feels like the gorgeous truth, or because I’m in a relationship that celebrates the best of who we are together and alone.  Or simply because I have a pretty dress to wear and Montell Jordan to play on my iPhone.

I wish you and yours this kind of happiness, too.  Turn up the music and dance and celebrate how far you’ve come and the amazing things awaiting you.  Happy New Year, dear friends.  Here's to a great one.

Fight or Flight

We gather up our things.

We gather up our things.

My nine-year-old daughter had a tough question for me yesterday morning.

The night before, we had talked a little about the U.S. election in progress.  I had shared with her my opinion of the candidates.  Without wanting to scare her, I explained that Donald Trump is not someone who will take care of the American people.  I said that he must have some good in his heart deep down, but his actions and his words are full of hate.

She was fascinated watching the first numbers start to roll in as polls closed.  As I tucked her into bed, I was optimistic that we'd see a Hillary Clinton victory.  I thought I'd wake my daughters up in the morning to tell them that a girl like us was going to be the next President.  I turned out the lights.  My daughter asked me to let her know if the numbers changed.  When a sudden burst in votes for Hillary came in around 9:30, I peeked in on my daughter to tell her the news but she was sound asleep, blissfully so.

I went to bed myself nearly four hours later, feeling nauseous and terrified. 

 "Who won?" she asked, the next morning.

I broke the news that Donald Trump had won.  I told her that I felt sad and worried for the American people.  For people of colour.  For the LGBTQ community.  For immigrants.  For Muslims.  For women like us.   I didn't want to share with her that I felt scared for us, too, for her and her sister, for her grandmothers and aunts, for myself.  I tried to reassure her that we are safe here in Canada, but I know full well that hatred knows no borders and we have our fair share of ugliness here, too.

I didn't know how to explain how a man such as this was elected, how he could possibly have the support of (nearly) half that country.  As I sat there in the morning light trying to find the right words, I realized that, among other things, I was going to have to explain misogyny.  Raising girls, I knew that it was a conversation (an ongoing series of conversations) that we were going to have to have at some point, but it now seemed an urgent task.  My voice broke as I said the word because I didn't know how I was going to explain that there are people in the world who hate her simply because she is a girl.  That some people believe that our bodies don't belong to us and that our ideas and feelings don't matter.  That we don't matter.  

I cried as I told her that there are people in the world who believe that some people are worth less than others, who hate people because of their skin colour, or their gender, or because of who they love.  I reminded her about the conversation we'd had after the Orlando nightclub shooting, about how love is love is love and I told her once again that she is free to love whoever she wants or to love no one at all.  I told her that she and I, we know better.  We know that skin colour doesn't matter and women are every bit as good and worthy as men.  

I stopped crying as I felt some of the fear give way to determination.  I said to her, "But we are strong women, aren't we?" She gave me a big, smiling yes.  We are smart, we agreed.  We are capable.  We are worthy.  We are going to do great things.

This won't be the last conversation we have about this and these won't be the last words I write on this subject but right now I'm still feeling at a loss for words.  I don't know how to keep my daughters safe.  I don't know how to keep myself safe.  I don't know how to choose between fight or flight because I want to do both.  I want to scream and protest and fight this thing but god, I also want to take my girls into the woods and leave this scary world behind.  

I don't know how to raise daughters in a world like this.  How do I teach my daughters to raise one fist in solidarity (or perhaps one finger) while at the same time wrapping their other hand around their keys in such a way that one key is pointed out, so it can be used as a weapon?  How do I teach them that there are many, many good men in the world but you should take your drink with you to the washroom until you're sure he is one?  How do I teach my girls to hold their heads up high and stand strong but also scope out where the exits are and who is nearby in case you need help?  How do we fight this and stand up for ourselves but also stay safe?

Who won?  I'm not sure anyone did.   

My daughter had stayed home from school that morning feeling sick and, sick as I had been feeling about the election results, I hadn't been too sorry to have some quiet time with her and some time to reflect.  But after our conversation, she seemed to be doing better and I was too, so I asked her if she felt well enough to go to school.  She hesitated and I could tell that she was feeling better but was reluctant to end our time together.  I was too, but I explained to her that getting an education is the first step to doing those great things.  We got ourselves ready to go.  

And maybe that's just what we do now.  Maybe it's not a matter of fight or flight.  Maybe we just get ourselves ready to go.  We gather up our things - our mittens and our backbones and our steel-toed boots and our tenacity - and we go out into the world and fight and we flee home to our loved ones and we gather up our things and we go out again and again until we get this right.  Until victory is ours.  

Hush

It's always darkest before the dawn

It's always darkest before the dawn

At nearly eight months pregnant with my second daughter, over six years ago now, we decided to go on a camping trip.  Not too far away - just an hour's drive from home and maybe a half hour to the nearest hospital, in case she decided to join us early.  My then-husband created the shangri-la of cots for me and my gigantic belly (in a tent made to sleep six) and shared a separate tent with our two-year-old, so that I would be comfortable.  As comfortable as one can be at eight months pregnant and camping.

The thing about being that pregnant is that you have to pee pretty well every 20 minutes, day and night.  So out I waddled several times through the night to the outhouse and back, flashlight guiding my way, on guard for predators and prepared to go full mama bear on any creature that crossed my path, except for maybe an actual mama bear.  But the forest was still and happy to have me.  Destination reached, mission accomplished, I trekked back through the warm, June woods to roll myself into my Camping Cot 3000 for another short doze before it was time to roll back out.

Near the break of dawn, I was on my way back from yet another outhouse excursion when I decided to veer slightly off course and settle myself by the still lake to watch the sun rise.  The sun was just approaching the horizon, warming the sky with the most vivid oranges and pinks on its ascent.  

All was quiet.  It was so beautifully quiet.  I felt like the only one on Earth.  Except, of course, I was two.  I held my hand to my belly and whispered to the little life growing inside me, nearly ready to come see for herself what this gorgeous world was all about.  I don't remember my exact words, but I know I wished her a big, happy life.

I sat in the silence as the sun rose above the treeline.  I watched as the wilderness took shape as it shed the darkness.  The outlines of the trees, the branches, the leaves.  The soft ripples on the water.   The stones lining the shore.  They slipped out of their nightgowns and dressed in details.

I stayed until the sun was in her full glory before returning to my cot, peaceful. 

 

The last few months of my life have been a little like that morning by the lake.  Not so much the circumstance as the hush.  A pregnant pause of a different kind.  I have wanted to sit in the silence.  I've been waiting for day to break.  

I believe with all my heart that true connection comes from vulnerability, which is why I write about my life with very few holds barred and why I continue to take risks - putting myself out there and wearing my heart on my sleeve - even though I may get hurt.  Even though I often do.  I've come to understand that this is what life is.  It's getting back up.  And it's helping others to do so, too.  

Vulnerability is a choice and a difficult one when there are so many reasons to pull up the drawbridge, but I came to a place, a few months ago, when I needed to do just that.  Sharing myself here, putting myself out into the world...it's exhausting.  I was tired of feeling all of the feelings and thinking so deeply about them in the service of this kind of writing I do - that I want to do - this writing about the world and life from the only perspective I have: my own.  I didn't want to mine my thoughts and feelings anymore in search of a universal truth and a pretty analogy.  And I was tired of being rejected.  My life had become such a series of rejections - from romantic relationships, friendships, jobs - that I had the (somewhat uplifting) thought that this might be really great fodder for a sitcom.  One with a lot of pratfalls.  You can only put yourself out there for so long before it becomes too much.  It became too much.

The hush settled over me like a blanket.  I didn't resist it at all.  I was sorry that I was leaving this place in silence without explanation, that I was not returning texts and phone calls in any sort of timely manner, but I needed to be quiet for awhile.  I needed to just listen for awhile, and wait for the day to break.

I'm still waiting, but there's a touch of pink in the sky.  The details are still blurry, but things are starting to take shape.  I'm still feeling rejected, but I'm steadying myself so that I can get back up.  I still prefer the quiet, but I'm whispering.

There's a life growing inside me but this time it's my own.  

Sisu

image.jpg

If you hang around Finnish people long enough (five minutes or so), you're bound to hear them talk about SisuSisu is a Finn term that is central to who we Finns are and what we're about, but it's challenging to define.  Here is Wikipedia's best attempt: "stoic determination, grit, bravery, guts, resilience, perseverance and hardiness."  The thing is, it's even more than that.  It's about taking action in the face of adversity.  It's about rising up and moving forward and keeping at it despite setbacks.  As noted later in that article, it's "a consistent, courageous approach toward challenges which at first seem to exceed our capacities."

Unfortunately, Sisu isn't sold in stores unless you count the multivitamins by that name, which I suspect, while helpful, don't really do the job.  Rather, Sisu is that inner strength that you tap into, or try to, when shit gets real.  I would argue that it's something you're born with, Finn or otherwise, although it sometimes feels elusive.  

To my mind, there are some important things that Sisu is not. 

Sisu is not infallibility. It doesn't mean that every move you make is the right one.  It means that you see setbacks as an opportunity for a running start to your relaunch.

Sisu is also not unflappability.  It is not about steeling yourself, grinning and bearing it, nor is it about denying the struggle and all the bad feelings and experiences that struggle brings.  It's about carrying on in spite of them.

Sisu is not a limited resource.  It is your full potential and the source of all you are capable of accomplishing and overcoming, which is more than you think.  It is always there.  Sometimes you have to dig deep, but it is there. 

As an imperfectly translated concept, the quality of Sisu is the topic of pretty animated discussion amongst academics and, I imagine, Finns who like their vodka.  I belong to the school of thought that Sisu is something that you can cultivate: that there are ways you can strengthen the pathway to this wellspring of grit and determination to improve ease of access for when you need it the most.  I've been thinking about how to do just that and these are a few of the techniques I'm trying:

  • Be still.  I think Sisu is what's left when all else falls away.  It's that quiet voice that whispers "You got this" and sometimes you need to be still for awhile, away from distractions, so you can listen for it. 
     
  • Sit with it.  Once you've sensed the Sisu within you, sit with it awhile.  Get familiar with how it feels to be strong and capable, so you'll recognize that feeling within you when you most need to, even when the signal is weak.
     
  • Trace the story of the Sisu within you.  This is really more of that cognitive behavioural therapy technique I've talked about before that involves examining the evidence.  Think about the times when you've thought you couldn't go on...and then you did.  Once you get to thinking about it, you'll likely find that there have been a lot of times in your life when your Sisu has carried you through.  And if it was there for you then, it is here for you now.
     
  • Find inspiration in others.   Sisu is what my great-grandmother surely drew upon when she travelled across the ocean with two young children (one of whom was sick) to follow her husband to Canada, a new home she knew nothing of, knowing she would likely never again see the family and friends she left behind.  When I feel like I can't keep going, I think of her and I remind myself that her blood flows through my veins, that her Sisu is my own.
     
  • Strengthen your Sisu.  Think about other sources of strength in your life.   These could be family or friends you love, motivational quotes or stories that inspire you, leaders or mentors who you look up to, or articulated goals that you're working toward that keep you focused.  Consider keeping physical reminders of these sources of strength close at hand (i.e. photos of your loved ones, post-it note quotes, an illustration or magazine clipping that reminds you of your goal).  For me, the two greatest sources of strength in my life are my daughters; they are the reasons I dig deep to call up my inner strength and keep going. It is appropriate, then, that my daughter wrote the word Sisu for me to include on my inspiration wall (above).  Every time I look at it, I'm reminded that I possess a fiery Sisu of my own, and my little one and her big sister fan that flame.

(You know when you've said or written a word so many times that it begins to sound weird?  I think we're there.  Sisusisusisusisu.)

Ultimately, Sisu is not about being so strong that you never fall down but, rather, about getting back up when you do.  Chumbawumba really knew what they were talking about.  

As do the Finns, so you should really listen to me/them.  And you know what else will probably happen if you hang around Finnish people?  You'll be fed Finnish pancakes the size of your FACE.  

Hold up - Sisu may just be the power of pancakes.  Disregard all of the above.

Little Love: Sidewalk Style

Yep, you.

Yep, you.

Those of you who have been following along on Facebook will know that I've been having a tough time of it the past week or so.  As the adage goes, when it rains it pours, and boy has it been pouring lately. Life sure does know how to kick you when you're down.  Fortunately, I think I've come through the worst of the downpour and some of the fog has lifted.

It's hard to want to do the things that help you out of the downpour when you're smack in the middle of it.  I haven't felt like writing.  I haven't felt like talking to anyone.  I haven't felt like leaving my house.  But I've been trying to do these things anyway.  

Over the last few days, I've been thinking about a lyric from one of my favourite songs, Take A Minute by K'Naan:  "And every time I felt the hurting I felt the giving getting me up off the wall."  For me, the lyric is a reminder that the best way up and out of pain is often by making an effort to help others.  

Not feeling quite up for building orphanages or doing a charity climb up Kilimanjaro, I've been thinking more about this concept of "Little Love", small ways we can make a difference in each other's lives.  Awhile back I had the idea that I wanted to get out in the neighbourhood and scrawl bright, positive messages on the sidewalks as a way to spread a little cheer.  To give credit where credit is due, this idea was inspired by author and illustrator Dallas Clayton who often ventures out and leaves pops of positivity around town.  The combination of a fresh box of sidewalk chalk and bored children set this plan in motion today in a rather impromptu fashion and before long, we had made ourselves a decent little gallery on one corner of our block.

I don't know, of course, if our messages will make any sort of difference to the joggers and dog walkers on our street (hopefully they will take heed of my daughter's warning of danger), but I like to think that simply the act of putting that positivity out there into the world generates some good vibes.  At the very least, it helped to get me off the wall and it put some smiles on our faces.

For a few minutes anyway.  In the interest of full disclosure, the project came to a quick end when my six year old became frustrated with a drawing gone wrong and flipped the flip out and I had to carry her to her room for a timeout, during which she loudly declared that I am the meanest mom in the world.  

Sigh.  I might have to go read the sidewalk for awhile. 

Little Love is a series on JTTG about small ways to give love and kindness.

Everyday Exhibits: Project Recap

At the beginning of June, I gave myself an assignment: To take a photo of an "everyday exhibit" - an object or set of objects that I see and that I find beautiful - every day during the month of June.  The resulting photos can be seen on Instagram and below.

A few notes and observations about the project:

  • First off, there are 29 photos instead of 30 because I missed one day (last Saturday, June 25th) when I was busy spending time with good friends.  I'm cool with that.  Not every goal is accomplished every day.  Spending time with the people I love is a big priority in my life, and I'm happy that my day was full of just that.
     
  • There were some days when I struggled to find something that I found beautiful.  For example, on the day I took the photo of the ice in my glass, I was not feeling particularly inspired.  I searched and searched and then noticed that the way the light was shining through the ice was kind of pretty, more so than was captured in the shot.  But it was a stretch.  I just wasn't feeling it.  That's okay, too.  Some days are for looking in instead of for looking out.
     
  • On other days, beauty was abundant.  The phone booth by the table and the arched window: beauty was all around me that night.  I spotted that vignette from down the street and took the time to walk over, eyes up and looking all around.  I expect I was in the right mood for taking it all in.  I was open to experiencing that moment.
     
  • My favourite moments by far, though, were those when I was searching for something beautiful and was vastly rewarded by the effort by discovering a treasure that I otherwise wouldn't have found.  The gemstones on my daughter's windowsill, for example.  I've passed by them and given them no more than a glance a hundred times but on that day, when I was consciously looking for beauty, I finally saw those stones and their beauty in the sunlight.  The rows of shoes by the door.  The colourful dials on the fire truck.  I wouldn't have appreciated these everyday exhibits without this assignment.
     
  • I love that as I look at this collection of photos, each one calls up memories of what was happening that day.  Some of these memories are good, some not so good.  Finding the dinosaur family on the bathtub.  Sending peace to those lost in Orlando as I stopped beside each of 49 chalk hearts.  Photography is such a beautiful way of telling a story and I love how these 29 photos tell a story of this time in my life.
     
  • This assignment reminded me how much I love photography and want to make time for it in my life, and gave me a much needed boost to my creativity in general.  I've been writing more and ideas are sparking for all kinds of new endeavours.  What's more, most days, taking the time to look for beauty felt like a little bit of me time, a form of self-care.  I gave myself permission to take at least a few moments just for beauty's sake, just to please myself.  It was lovely and needed and it has left me wanting to do more.

I plan to keep up the project, posting photos of everyday exhibits and other images that I find joyful and inspiring, if not daily then often.  I want to keep my head up, and I want to take my time to search for the beautiful on days when it does not feel so available.  I want to keep proving to myself that it is there, and getting photographic evidence for the days when I fear it is not. 

Because look.  It's all around us.

How to Fall

monkey.jpg

Over the weekend, the girls and I took a trip to the playground, where an amazing thing happened: My little one, the firecracker, finally got the swing of the monkey bars.  

She made it two rungs, then fell.  She got back up.  She made it four rungs, then fell.  She got back up.  She fell straight away.  She got back up.  A few short minutes later and she had managed eight rungs in a row before falling, and she was beaming with excitement.  But she wasn't a big fan of the falling part.  

I found myself coaching her on how to fall.  I explained to her that, just like with learning how to do the monkey bars, falling takes practice.  "You've got to practice falling so you can learn how to fall without getting hurt." 

There are a few keys to falling safely, you see.

  • You have to remain calm.  You can't do the things you need to do to protect yourself from harm if you panic and flail about. 
     
  • You have to expect to hit the ground.  Maybe there's someone to catch you and if so, that's wonderful.  Safety nets and loving arms are fantastic for falling into.  But they're not always there.  Recognize that you are capable of controlling the fall and landing on your own two feet, when things slip out of your grasp.
     
  • You have to fall with those two feet beneath you, so that when you land, you can hold yourself up.  If you can get your two feet beneath you, if you can do whatever is in your power to help yourself, you can steady yourself and rise back up to standing.
     
  • You have to bend your knees when you land, so you can handle the weight of the fall.  You have to stay flexible so you can adapt to the new ground you're standing on and find your balance.
     
  • You have to go easy on yourself when a fall doesn't go as planned, when all the things you've tried to do to protect to yourself have failed and you hit rock bottom and fall flat on your face.  Not everything goes to plan and you did your best.  Falling takes practice.

My daughter thinks that the idea of practicing falling is pretty hilarious.  That's okay.  She already understands the most important thing about falling:  You have to get back up.

Orlando

vigil.jpg

“What is this?"

Sometimes, kids ask difficult questions.  For example: A couple of years ago, on a regular Tuesday afternoon, I had picked the kids up from school and we were driving home when my daughter casually asked, “How are babies made?”

Whoa.  Hands at 10 and 2, Mama. Deep breath.  Buckle up.

That’s what we’re here for, as the adults.  We’re the ones to ask the difficult questions.  We’re the ones who are supposed to have the answers.  But sometimes, the answers aren't easy.

“What is this?” my eight-year-old daughter asked me, yesterday morning.  She was holding up a candle, a simple white candle pushed through the bottom of a white paper cup. 

I was given the candle at a vigil I attended Monday evening for the 49 people killed in the Orlando nightclub shooting.  The vigil was sad but beautiful.  Hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, crying eyes to shoulder, we filled our city’s market square.  Nearly a thousand of us, someone has estimated.  We signed our names in a book of condolences.  We sang John Lennon's Imagine.  We observed a minute of silence.  Small acts of solidarity, but important ones.  

love-is-love.jpg

A young girl handed out little hearts her mom had crocheted.  She had given away over a hundred of them, her mom told me.  

Chalk hearts on the pavement, 49 of them, encircled the names of those lost.  I walked the path alongside them, read the names and ages, repeated them quietly in my head.  Anthony Luis Laureanodisla.  25 years old.  Javier Jorge-Reyes.  40 years old.  Akyra Monet Murray.  18 years old.  Far too many hearts, far too young.  I wished them peace.

“What is this?”  How do you answer a question like that?

I tried my best to explain the inexplicable. 

That 49 people had been killed at a dance party.  49 people who had family and friends and dreams for their lives.

That there are people in the world who think that men shouldn't love men and women shouldn't love women.  That those people who think that are wrong.  Love is love. 

That even though we didn't know those 49 people personally, there are many of us around the world who are grieving and gathering together.  That you don't need to know someone to love them.

I hesitated to tell them where this happened because although we need to say the word, we need to shout it, us grown ups who have to find the answers, to my little girls "Orlando" is the home of Disney World, the pinnacle of all things joyful.  I want them to know about what happened but I don't want them to be afraid.  Of that place, of anything.

"I like you, Mama," my five-year-old daughter said.  "Are you going to be killed?" 

Deep breath. 

"No, baby."   I assured her that we are safe, hoping this would be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

for-akyra.jpg

A few words before the school bus came.  A few insufficient words, but the conversation has begun.  It will continue, as long as it has to.  Which I hope is not long.  I hope that soon there is no need for conversations like this one.

These white candles come in packages that say they are for emergency use. They’re meant for times when the unexpected happens and the lights go out. This time we’ve come to now, this qualifies. This is an emergency. The lights have gone out and we must now sound the alarms and set things right, and shine the light.

“Can we keep it?”  My children know by now that their mother’s default position is to recycle, donate and otherwise get rid of anything not chained down around here.  

Yes, we will keep the vigil candle.  But only as a memento, I hope.  I hope that we never face this kind of emergency again.  I hope this candle gathers dust.  

I hope that one day my grandchildren pull this bizarre contraption - this antique, this relic - out of a box of their grandmother's strange keepsakes and ask, confused:

 “What is this?”

*****

Please view Anderson Cooper's tribute to the 49 beautiful people we lost too soon.  I will list their names here, but as he says, "They are more than a list of names. They are people who loved and who were loved."

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old

Amanda Alvear, 25 years old

Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old

Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old

Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old

Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old

Cory James Connell, 21 years old

Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old

Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old

Frank Hernandez, 27 years old

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old

Kimberly Morris, 37 years old

Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old

Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old

Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old

Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old

Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old

Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old

(Source: City of Orlando website)

BYOB

Thanks, me.  You're the best!

Thanks, me.  You're the best!

How do you love to be loved? 

I think that we each have a unique answer to this question, and likely a long one.  There are a lot of different ways we love and show our love for one another.  We tell someone the lovely things we think about them.  We surprise our loved one with a special treat.  We give our partner a back rub at the end of a long day.  We listen - to stories, to rants, to the unsaid words in the silence.  

But, what if you don't have someone in your life to love you in those unique ways that you love to be loved?  

Well, I propose that you Be Your Own Boyfriend.  Or Girlfriend.  Or Best Friend.  The title is not important.  Be the person you need.  This is about self-care.   This is about loving yourself in the ways you love to be loved.  There's no need to go without or to wait until someone comes along who can love you in those ways.  Love can be a DIY project.  

What follows are some of the ways that I have learned to be my own boyfriend, my own loved one.  These are, then, the unique ways that I love to be loved and they may not be yours, but perhaps these ideas will spark you to consider that question - How do I love to be loved? - and then put into action some simple ways to show yourself some of that love.  (Oh hey, future boyfriend!  I sent you the link to this post and strongly implied that it would be in your best interest to read it, didn't I?  Yeah, sounds like something I'd do.  Listen up.)

  • Buy yourself flowers.  Once a month-ish, I buy myself a bouquet of flowers from the farmers market, or scavenge for them in the countryside.  For me, flowers are one of the cheapest sources of joy.
     
  • Set your phone to send you sweet-nothings throughout the day.  I'm not ashamed to tell you that I wake up every morning to a message on my phone that reads, "Good morning, beautiful."  It's surprisingly heartwarming.  As soon as there's an app that will make me breakfast, I think my iPhone and I will make it official.  (Side note: I've also set my phone to buzz and pop up the message "Take your meds, lady!" at 8 am everyday.  Whenever my kids hear that alarm go off, they shout at me "Take your meds, lady!" as a sort of conditioned response. It's one of my favourite things.)
     
  • Run yourself a bath.  Get out the fancy bubbles and bath oils.  Pour yourself a glass of wine.  Put on your favourite tunes or set up your iPad in some sort of waterproof cocoon so you can watch Friday Night Lights (guys, I know I'm late to this party, but OMG so good).  Or screw all that and just splash around to your heart's content.  I mean, it's you that's going to have to clean it up, remember, but what better way to clean the bathroom floor?
     
  • Sit with yourself - not simply by yourself but with yourself - and listen for the words unsaid, as you would with a dear friend.  Greet those words with kindness and an open heart.  
      
  • Celebrate your birthday.  Don't wait on someone to plan a party or sing the song.  Sing it yourself.  Buy yourself cake.  You'll be guaranteed to get the kind you want.  If you can, spend the day doing something you really love.  
     
  • Cook your favourite meal, just for you.  Take the time to pick out the right ingredients and to prepare the meal slowly and with love.  If you are so inclined, light a candle and use fancy plates and sit at an actual table that is not a coffee table or a couch cushion.  Or take yourself out for dinner.  Trust me, you can do that.  It may feel uncomfortable sitting at a table for one but in all honesty, nobody cares and listen to this: you don't have to share your dessert with anyone.  
     
  • Netflix and chill.  By yourself.  You heard me.  Either literally or metaphorically.  (Oh jeepers, now I'm going to have to explain this to my mother.  Sex, ma, it means sex.)
     
  • Rant out loud to yourself (perhaps in the privacy of your own home?) or get it out on paper.  Is it as satisfying as ranting to someone else who will nod and mm-hmm and give you all the visual cues that they believe you are totally justified in your ranting?  No, frankly it's not.  But it still feels good.
     
  • Get a massage.  For my part, I recently bought a gym membership and the level of membership I purchased includes the use of hydromassage beds.  When signing up for the membership, I thought I'd just give the massage thing a whirl but I didn't expect much.  I assumed I'd decide I could do without.  But then I tried one and HERE HAVE ALL MY MONEY.  My kingdom for a hydromassage.  Seven minutes of heaven that I really don't think a boyfriend could replicate.  If you're keeping track, the robots are winning.
     
  • Check in with yourself about how you're feeling.  Loved ones, boyfriends, girlfriends...they check in to see if you're comfortable, if you're happy, if you're feeling safe.  Are you warm enough?  Are you having a good time?  Do you want something to eat?  Do you like where you are - this restaurant, this neighbourhood, this career, this life?  Make a point of checking in with yourself and asking those questions. 

These are just a few ideas and, as I said, they are my own and they may not float your particular boat.  The point is to consider how you can meet your needs instead of waiting for others to meet them for you.  This is about empowering yourself to create the love you want and the life you want instead of relying on destiny or luck to bring you what your heart desires.

But you know what?  I believe if you do this, if you learn how to show yourself the love you need, if/when someone does come around who wants to show you some love too, you'll know what you want, you'll know what your favourite kind of love feels like, and they'll have a shining example of how to love you in just the right way.  I believe this Dr. Phil-ism to be true: You teach people how to treat you. 

Show 'em how it's done. 

 

Everyday Exhibits: An Assignment

Lucky you

Lucky you

Last week, a story made the rounds about some visitors to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art who had been tricked into believing that a pair of glasses on the floor was an art exhibit.  Noticing the glasses on the floor, visitors approached them at a respectful distance, taking photos and attempting to interpret the art's meaning.  It was later revealed that the glasses had been left there as a prank, to see if anyone would be so foolish as to believe that such an ordinary object could be a piece of art.

It would be easy to think of the visitors as fools for believing such a thing, and indeed, some of the media coverage seems to paint them in this light.  But I think that those visitors got it right, and the ones who are fools are those who are unable to see the beauty in the everyday.  Those visitors took the time to consider that a simple object like a pair of glasses could be a work of art, that it could be beautiful and tell a story.  What a wonderful thing, and how much happier would we all be if we took some time to appreciate the art all around us?

Well, that's the question.  To try to answer it, I've set myself an assignment over on my brand spanking new Instagram account (look at me being all social media-y).  Every day during the month of June, I will take and post a photo of an "everyday exhibit", an object or set of objects that I see and that I find beautiful.  I've set myself a few ground rules:

  • The photo must be taken of the object(s) as found - I cannot touch or move the object, or add other objects or arrange the object in any way to try to create a more pleasing composition.  The idea is that I shouldn't have to!  The only adjustment I will allow myself is to change the lighting, such as to open a curtain in order to get more sunlight on the object so I can take a clear photo.
     
  • For this assignment, the central subject of the photo must be a man-made object (although it can be in a natural setting).  It is pretty easy to see the beauty in nature.  I'm interested in capturing the beauty in the things we surround ourselves with.
     
  • I will use no filters or photo manipulation of any kind.  That would kind of defeat the purpose.
     
  • I must give my photo a title fit for an art exhibit!

At the end of the month, I will post all the photos here with a report on my findings, and you can follow along on Instagram as I go.  Better yet, participate yourself (using the hashtag #everydayexhibit)!  I'd love to see the artwork you find in your part of the world and at the end of the month, it would be amazing if you'd let me know about any discoveries you made along the way. 

Let's get foolish!
 

Pssst...you can now also find Joy to the Girl on Facebook.  I know!  What the hell is happening around here?

Jump for Joy: Write a "Ta Da!" List

You're not the boss of me. 

You're not the boss of me. 

You might think that, as a writer, I'd be naturally inclined toward participating in a daily journalling practice and that, without effort, I'd be able to stick to a regular routine, greeting any opportunity to write with abundant enthusiasm!  The truth is that I'm a haphazard, inconsistent journaller, at best.  I'll get in a good groove of writing every night for weeks on end and then suddenly I'll fall off the cliff of responsibilities, descending into the abyss of tasks, emerging many, many weeks later with only a foggy memory of this little book here.  So although I've kept diaries and journals for most of my life, it is not uncommon for me to start entries with "The last three months of my life have been busy.  To recap..."

I've been trying, TRYING, to get back into the habit because I have found that when I stick to it, the practice of taking a few minutes every evening to write about what's going on (AND ALL THE FEELINGS) has an immensely positive impact on my life.  My journal becomes a place to let things out - the good, the bad and the ugly - that I otherwise tend to keep in, and the practice of writing about how I feel about things, and the choices I'm considering making in my life along with their pros and cons, helps me to process what's going on inside my often far-too-busy brain.  When I write in my journal before bed, I sleep better, and wake up with a healthier, more positive outlook on my life and any challenges I'm facing.

When I manage to write in my journal, I make it a point to end my entries with a list of three things I'm grateful for that day.  This is not a revolutionary idea, by any means, and it is backed by scientific research that strongly supports "an association between gratitude and an individual’s well-being."  In my experience, I've found that this exercise alone allows me to gain some perspective and set aside my troubles, at least for the moment.

Recently, though, I've added another exercise to my journalling routine, an exercise that I've come to think of as writing my "Ta Da!" List.  Following my list of the three things I'm grateful for, I write a list of three things I did well that day (Get it?  "I did this!  Ta Da!"  Corny? Yes.  Clever?  If you say so).  My far-too-busy brain is exceptional at drafting long To Do lists but not so great at celebrating the things I actually do and this exercise helps me to do just that.  These accomplishments don't have to be of the climbed-Kilimanjaro variety.  They can be simple, simple things and in fact, I have found that acknowledging the seemingly simplest of my day's accomplishments is the fastest route to a sense of satisfaction and success.

Some examples from my journal of the things I did well: 

  • "I washed my face"
  • "Laughed and had fun with the girls" 
  • "Ate healthy things"
  • "Stayed calm with my daughter when she was trying my patience" 
  • "Didn't beat myself up" 
  • "Went to the park even though I was tired" 
  • "(Mostly) had a positive attitude!"  TA DA!  You're welcome, family!

Several years ago, I came across what I consider to be one of my favourite things on the Internet.  In a forum about "things you like to tell or remind yourself about when you have 'woe is me' moments to steer yourself out of self-pity/moments of weakness and back into awesomeness", contributor Zozo offers this gem:

 "I start going down a list of my accomplishments. If my mood is particularly crappy, I'll do a lot of "oh, well, that doesn't really count," but I can eventually wear myself down by sheer volume, even if it means counting "remembered to buy cat food" and "emptied the dishwasher" as accomplishments. 'Cause you know what? I emptied the fuck out of that dishwasher."

I heart this 4eva.

This is what the "Ta Da!" List is all about.  It's about emphatically celebrating your successes, no matter how insignificant they may seem, because the thing is they are NOT insignificant.  These successes are important because, on the whole, our days are not made up of Kilimanjaro moments.  They are made up of washing our face, and staying calm with trying toddlers, and emptying the dishwasher moments.

So go ahead and give yourself the credit you're due, and consider making it a daily practice to do so, whether in writing or not.  

What have you accomplished today? 

You gave the dog his medication.  TA DA!

You didn't eat the entire bag of chips.  TA DA!

You emptied the fuck out of the dishwasher. 

TA fucking DA! 

 

Jump for Joy is a series on JTTG about small, simple ways to boost the joy in your life.  

Leap Year

pier2

I'm pretty straight-laced.  A rule follower.  A good girl.  If you were to ask around about me, I imagine that you would hear that I'm pretty quiet and by the book and I tend to stay in line.  

I generally do what is expected of me.  Except for when I don't.   

I'm pretty content being the good girl most of the time, but I have a strong-willed, rebellious side that likes to shake things up.  I've always, even at my most straight-laced, had the capacity to say Yes to things that scare me, to listen to my gut and go against the grain, if need be, to take leaps of faith.  It's one of the things I like best about myself. 

This is the side of me that ran for student council in grade 9, which required that I stand up in front of the entire grade 9 class and risk social suicide, in the armour of my Northern Reflections t-shirt, promises of commitment and change on my Bonne Bell-glossed lips.  I lost.  I was mildly annoyed to have received fewer votes than the girl whose speech amounted to "Hey, what's up, guys?" but psssshh.  Whatever.  I had stood up there.  Don't you know you're supposed to keep your head down?

This is the side of me that takes chances on connections and relationships that, from the outside looking in, seem absolutely crazy-town.  It's the side of me that got married when I was 20.  Don't you know that you're supposed to finish school and build your career and date for years before you get married? Don't you know you're supposed to follow the script?

This is the side of me that doesn't know how to make it to point B but gets in the car and drives anyway and assumes I'll be able to figure it out along the way.   This is the side of me that trusts I am capable and that, if nothing else, I'll at least learn something in the process.  

Don't you know you might get lost?  Don't you know you might end up right back where you started?  

This is the side of me that, a year ago, chose to leave a job, with a pension and benefits and at least a semblance of security, to be an unemployed single mother.  At least, that's one way of looking at it.  Another version of that story is that a year ago, I chose to leave a job that took away more than it gave to focus on what matters most to me.   

It was one of the best decisions of my life. 

I left my job to focus on three things: my daughters, my writing and my health.   

I was home with my kids last summer.  Some of the time anyway.  The rest of the time, we were off having adventures.  Exploring museums, building sandcastles, wandering the farmers market, and testing out the city's playgrounds, before returning back home to living room sleepovers and library book readathons and quiet cuddles in the big bed.  I have, for this past year, met my kids off the school bus every day at 4:00, greeted most often by "I'm hungry" rather than "Hi Mama", mind you, but they're there and I'm there with them.  This year of focused family time has immeasurably strengthened the bond that I share with my girls and I wouldn't take back a second of it.

I'm a writer.  I can say that now with confidence.  A year ago, I would have said that I wanted to be a writer, and I'd downplay my efforts.  Over the course of this past year, I completed my first picture book manuscript and sent it off to publishers, and as soon as it was in the mail, I got started on the next.  I'm currently working on two manuscripts and I have generated dozens of other ideas that are waiting in the wings.  Since leaving my job, I've written over 20 essays for this website, writing that I'm very proud of.  And my writing has become better, my instincts more sharply refined.  I used to be afraid to write, hesitant to use up an idea in case another one wasn't forthcoming, and unwilling to cut or change anything too much lest I lose my way.  Now, I slash and banish my precious words like a heartless dictator, and I use the good china - pulling every idea out of the cupboard - knowing, trusting, that the cupboard will never be bare.  

I wrote last year about my rheumatoid arthritis, about wanting to use my able body while I have it, in case the day when I no longer can comes sooner than expected.  In this past year, I've only had one major flare-up (and that was because I had foolishly taken my medication two days late).  This is a vast improvement from the previous year.  Turns out, unemployment has some benefits of its own.  And I have put my healthy body to use playing with the kids and hiking and traveling to amazing places.  I'm not, as yet, as strong and toned and healthy as I would like to be but I am getting there. 

The truth though is that when I was talking about wanting to take time off to care for my health, I wasn't really referring to a desire to do more aerobics classes and squats.  The truth is that a year ago, I knew that if I didn't take some time off and get some help, I would likely kill myself in the next month or two.

That's a hard thing to read and, believe me, a hard thing to write.  But that's the truth.  When I wrote about "a feeling that whispered quietly at first but recently it has been singing in every cell in my body", I was writing about the growing feeling that I was edging closer to the brink, and that my decision was really one between life and death.  (The inevitable question comes: "Why didn't you take a medical leave?"  Let's just say that as open as I am about my depression, the stigma against mental illness is powerful and that time, it won.)

Since leaving my job, I've been asked many times if I have any regrets.  Not a single one.  Not for a moment.  Because I'm here where I maybe wouldn't have been.  And, while I still have a long way to go and my depression still dogs me - as I'm sure it will the rest of my life - I'm a stronger, happier person than I have ever been.

Despite the many uncertainties I still face, I've never regretted my decision to leave my job.  I've never regretted any of my leaps of faith.  Because with each leap, I was following my intuition and my heart, and each leap brought me closer to my true self and the life I want. Going with your gut and taking a leap:  it's setting out without a map but with the world before you, trusting that your inner compass will guide you in the right direction.   

Don't you know you might get lost?  Don't you know you might end up right back where you started? 

Yes, I know that.  So what?

Searching for Spring

image.jpg

In my part of the world, winter can be a beast.  It tends to arrive fierce and furious some time around November (sometimes earlier) and doesn't let up until...well, it's anyone's guess, really.  There's a saying that March is "in like a lion, out like a lamb" but these past few years it has been more like "in like a lion, ooh yay it's a lamb, nope sorry, out like an even angrier lion, suckers!"  Case in point: last week, the kids were outside in shorts and t-shirts.  Yesterday, it snowed.  Our front porch is home to both the snow shovel and the scooters, at the moment, prepared as we are for all possibilities.

Many people find winter a challenge.  The shovelling, the scraping, the icy roads, the snowpants-and-mitts-and-scarves-and-hats-and-coats-and-losing-of-one's-mind, the freezing off of faces and exposed limbs - it's a little much.  And for those who have depression or are otherwise facing a trying time in their lives, the darkness and the somewhat forced isolation, as we settle in for our yearly hibernation, can be particularly difficult.  We pray for warm weather.  We beg for it.  We count down the days and search for signs of spring.  Anything.  Any sign at all to keep us going.

A funny thing happens in this part of the world as March comes along and we near the date of the "official start of spring" (a laughable concept, of course - as if Mother Nature checks the calendar! - but sometimes it's the only bit of hope we can cling to).  We search for signs of spring, and divide into camps.  

I've heard tell of those who mourn the loss of the bitter winds and the short days, real "winter lovers" which seems to me to be an oxymoron.  I try not to associate with such people myself because WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT but apparently they exist.  And they're not all skiers and snowboarders and other winter sport nut bars. It seems some people just like winter (I blame the parents).  And I guess as the days grow longer and the beautiful warm sunshine reappears they shriek and shield their eyes and melt with the frost.  I don't really know.  

And then there are those who will take any little bit of hope they can get their hands on.  "It's a balmy -15C, guys!  My skin didn't immediately go numb with frostbite!  Let's head to the beach!"  These are the people dodging sleet in their sneakers and Bermuda shorts.  You've seen them.  They are another brand of nut bar but you've got to hand it to them: they are working with what they've got and making the best of it.  

A slightly more reasonable version of these optimistic freaks are those who quite simply REACH THEIR LIMIT.  At a certain point, despite the forecast, they decide that enough is enough and they banish their winter gear to the darkest recesses of their closets where they will remain untouched, dammit, for at least seven months no matter what happens because YOU WILL NOT CONTROL ME, WEATHER!  They know the risk they're taking because as soon as they have taken their bold stand and traded their down coats for jean jackets OF COURSE Jack Frost will return.  And be a total dick.  But they just can't take one more minute.  

In the final camp are those who remain cocooned in their crocheted infinity scarves long after winter's last dying breath.  It's full-on flip-flop season and they're layered up and have brought along a fleece pullover "just in case".  Because you never know.  That's how winter gets you.  You think it's all done and then BOOM.  July.  Snowstorm.  You'll be wishing you packed your parka, then!  

It seems to me that these attitudes reflect how we feel about hope.

For some, there's either no need for hope - they revel in the darkness - or hope is simply absent.  There's no point in wishing for spring, because it feels as though spring will never come.  There's no such thing as better days ahead.

For others, hope is abundant and reasons to keep going are easily found.  The buds on the trees.  The smile of a passing stranger.  They're the tulip fighting its way through the soil on the promise of that one speck of light above.

Others take matters into their own hands.  They don't wait for signs of spring.  They decide that they will live as if it is spring, creating hope as they go, despite the flurries in the forecast.  

And then there are those who let the fear and darkness block out the blinding light.  Sunshine and opportunity can abound and they worry that at any moment it will all be lost.  They remain frozen in their vigilance.

There are some who live their lives forever camped in one of these places but I think for most of us, we move between them.  This is certainly the case for me, and I think that all of these perspectives can be right, at least for a time.  It is natural to feel hopeless sometimes.  It is okay to be in that darkness.  And it makes sense to be scared.  Do freak July snowstorms happen?  They sure do.  But I'd like to suggest that the supplies you need are close at hand and you've been through this before.  You can trust that you will dig your way out with the shovels of tenacity and loving support and your own strength.  You can let your guard down because this arsenal remains at the ready whenever you need it.

I've been searching for spring these past few months and for my part, today I'm going to put the snow shovel away.  Enough is enough.  I know that means I'm courting disaster.  But I have faith that I'll make it through if it comes.   

Today, I will put away the fears that have held me frozen.

Today, I will banish the doubts that hold me back.  

Today, I will shed the layers that no longer keep me safe but, rather, block me from feeling the sun. 

I will be the tulip.  

I see the light. 

My Closed Door Policy

Hello from the outside

Hello from the outside

I've been thinking a lot lately about closed doors.   

We have all encountered closed doors in our lives:  those times when the chain is on, the bridge is drawn, and that thing that we really want is on the other side, out of reach.  Relationships we hoped to have.  Promotions we worked hard for.  Groups we longed to be a part of.  Jobs we thought would be perfect.  For my part, I've tried to pick the locks on a seemingly endless supply of closed doors these past few years, as I've pursued new career paths and relationships, with increasing frustration.  Time and time again, it seems, I get excited about a new opportunity, take a step forward, even get my foot in the door, only to have it slammed shut.

Recently, I had the experience of encountering yet another closed door.  I had been excitedly researching options for going back to school in a particular area of study that I have long thought would be a great fit for me.  I had decided that it was so obviously my path.  And yet, as I tried to find a way to make my dream a reality, I discovered that everywhere I turned I was met with closed doors.  This program is at a school that is too far away.  The one in town won't accept me because I already have a university degree.  This one looks amazing and I can complete it online and...oh, it would cost me my first-born (I'm partial to her).  As I flailed and cursed about yet another door closed in my face, I suddenly had the thought: "Maybe this door is closed for a reason."  

Huh.  I sat still for a few minutes, letting that sink in.  And then, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

I still really wanted that thing.  I was still frustrated.  I was no closer to figuring out what I was going to do next to move my career forward.  But I realized that although I may be powerless to open the closed doors, I have the power to change how I think about them and I can change my strategy for dealing with them.  

So I have devised a new approach: My Closed Door Policy.   These are the steps I plan to take the next time I'm left out in the cold.

1)  Feel the Feelings

Allow yourself to get sad, or frustrated, or angry, or all of those emotions at once.  Give yourself some time to feel whatever you feel.  It's tough when there's something you really want and you can't have it, especially when you've worked really hard to batter that door down.  Go ahead and cry and flail and curse.  Throw eggs at the closed door.  Figuratively, not literally, unless it was a relationship you wanted and he or she left you for someone younger, then by all means (although there are plenty of better doors).  It's natural to be upset.  Let it out.

2)  Stomp the Sour Grapes

Go one step further than just being upset.  Think about all the reasons why you didn't really want that thing in the first place.  It could be said that this "sour grapes" approach is not the most emotionally mature and is perhaps moderately delusional, but I think there's something to be said for thinking through all the not-so-great things that would have come along with the prize on the other side of the door, that now you don't have to deal with.  He was really funny and sweet, but now you don't have to spend every Friday night listening to him play in his terrible band.  That job paid well and might have been a good step in your career, but the hour-long commute would have been awful.  You really really liked her, but not so much spending time in her disgusting apartment.  Also, remember that you can't predict the future.  Those grapes looked delicious but I bet they were sour!  They very well could have been.  The fact is that you just don't know that what was on the other side of the door was as great as it seemed.  So this is the only time you'll hear me give this advice: assume the worst.  It would probably have been terrible.  Phew, guys.  Dodged a bullet there.

3) Conduct a Post-Mortem

Hold on a second: DID you really want that thing anyway?  Take some time to consider whether what was on the other side of the door was really the best option for you.  Sometimes it happens that we're so caught up in the pursuit, so busy knocking on a particular door, that we lose sight of the fact that there are all sorts of other doors we could be knocking on.  Think about why you wanted what you wanted, and then consider if what was behind Door #1 was really going to give you that.  The answer may very well be an emphatic YES.  "YES, I really wanted that thing and I still really want it!"  That's completely fair.  So now what?  Now, conduct a post-mortem.  What did you do to try to get it?  Why did it maybe not work? What could you do differently next time?  What other steps could you take to try to get it?  Maybe there's another way in.  But if the answer is "NO, you know what, I don't know what I was thinking, I don't really want that thing"...well advance to go and collect $200.

4) Search for the Silver Linings

Assuming you're not quite ready to advance to go, this step is when we quit our stomping about and focus on the positive.  The fact is that every missed opportunity leaves room for a better one.  So you can't have the thing you wanted?  What might you get instead?  This doesn't even have to be about creating a whole new big dream.  Keep it small: What are some of the positive things about the closed door?  I'll give you some personal examples.  I didn't get the job = I have extra time with my kids.  I didn't win the writing competition = I can work on making that piece even better before it is eventually published, which it obviously will be.  That relationship ended = I have more time to write on my website!  Even if the positive stuff doesn't make you feel all that positive at first, take some time to think about the good little things that might now come, and start to dream up the new big dreams too.  If you like the thought of destiny, maybe consider (as I did) that perhaps those doors are closed because that's not the path you're meant to be on.  Think about whether there may be another, better path for you.

A word of caution, however:  Sometimes a closed door is so difficult to cope with because we made the door THE ANSWER.  We constructed a storyline such as "Once I have this, this will happen" or "I'm supposed to have this thing to make up for the other thing I didn't get" and we overloaded the attainment of that thing on the other side with a whole lot of expectations.  Be cautious, in dreaming up the new big dreams, that you don't carry this process forward.  This step is about being optimistic, but it's important that you don't simply shift all your expectations on to the attainment of the next thing.  For example: This relationship probably didn't work out because he's not the man of my dreams and the next man totally will be and then my life will be perfect!  There are lots of ways in to the perfect life.  One door (one person, one job, one opportunity) is still just one door.  No matter how good that door looks in a three-piece suit.

5) Examine the Evidence

I'm straight up stealing this from my years of cognitive behavioural therapy (the fact that I've had years of therapy despite using this technique should not reflect poorly on the effectiveness of this technique).  SURELY this isn't the first closed door you've encountered.  What happened in the past?  Did you find another way in?  Did you find another door?  Did you cope?  If you're still standing then I'm going to assume a Yes, at least to that last one.  If you take the time to look back on the times when your way down a particular path was blocked, you may find that much of the time, in hindsight, it was really for the best.  Yes, that relationship ended.  But then you met someone new who was better for you.  No, you didn't make the team.  But then you joined that other club and made some of the best friends of your life.  Yes, a couple/dozen/hundred times the doors slammed in your face, but you pulled yourself up by your bootstraps and soldiered on.  Just like then, you can get through this now.  And there's a good chance that some day you'll look back on this closed door and thank your lucky stars you never crossed that threshold.

6) Have Faith

This could be faith in God or the Universe or some other form of spiritual power, if that brings you some comfort and helps you get through the tough times when life just isn't going your way.  I'm personally more interested, though, in the faith we place in ourselves and our ability to move forward and to enact change in our own lives.  It can be difficult to have faith.  It's one thing when we have the benefit of hindsight, when a new door is open and we can see why it was a good thing that the other was closed.  It's a lot more challenging when we are still knocking on doors and figuring out a new path.  It's hard to stay patient and optimistic.  But try to have some faith in yourself.  You've handled closed doors before and forged new ways forward. You will get through this and you will create an amazing life.  You can find the keys.  Better yet: you can create your own doorways.

As for me and my most recent closed door?  Having reached the dead-end of that career path, having had that thought that those doors may have been closed for a reason, I stepped back to reflect on what I want in my life.  I thought about other ways I could get there.  And I came across a new path with several optional doors that all seem to be open, at least a crack, a path that I feel even more excited about than the first.  There's still a long way to go and there are still plenty of other doorbells to ring that may go unanswered.  But I'm going to keep the faith, keep my new policy at hand, and keep putting one foot in front of the other, into the open door cracks.  Perhaps, this time, in steel-toed boots.

Little Love: Blueberries are Nice (and so are you)

It's true

It's true

The Internet tells me that today is Random Act of Kindness Day, which seems fitting because I have been witness to several random and maybe not so random acts of kindness over the last few days.  My part of the world was hit by a snow storm two nights ago that blanketed us with 30 cm of snow, and did a decent job of shutting down the city.  Other than a pretty hairy drive down one of our main streets when my windshield wipers suddenly froze, the girls and I have fared well.  I likely should have kept them home yesterday but I managed to navigate the snowy streets to their school, and back again when they had an early dismissal.  Today, though, our street still unplowed, there was nothing to do but declare a snow day.  Oh, and shovel.  There was also a whole lot of shovelling.

Over the last few days I've seen a lot of kindness, and have tried to do my part. Neighbours helping neighbours clear their driveways.  Drivers jumping out of their vehicles to help push cars stuck in the snow.  Pedestrians helping each other navigate snow banks.  Kindness has also come my way in the form of shovels at the ready, and neighbours helping to watch the kids.  After hours spent clearing most of my driveway, the City snow plow finally came through and pushed everything from the road back on to it (and every other driveway around the block).  As I was trying to get my weary bones in gear to go back out with the shovel once more, a neighbour who I don't know from Adam came by with his snow blower and put it all to rights.  I could have kissed him.  I may still.  

The weather was frustrating and I'm sure it wasn't all love and compassion, but on my little street, I saw a neighbourhood working together and making the best of it.  It was a rather beautiful and heartwarming thing. 

I've been thinking a lot about acts of kindness lately, random and otherwise.  As it happens, a few days ago, on Valentine's Day, the girls and I devised our own: The wee ladies made little Valentine's packages - envelopes with an inspiring message and a Hershey's kiss - which we took downtown to deliver to strangers.  They had a great time making them, and they took tremendous care when decorating the envelopes and coming up with what to write (I was told that my job was to be "the kisser", to put the chocolate kisses in the envelopes and seal them). My eldest, the girl with a heart of gold, wanted every message to be unique.  My youngest was no less enthusiastic and her messages were just as heartfelt.  One urged the recipient "Don't be a bully!".  Another highlighted the fact that "Blueberries are nice" (to which she added "You are also nice").  I took the girls out for dinner and they distributed the packages to other patrons at the restaurant, as well as to all the participants of the Kingston Drum Circle who we joined later that evening.  

Watching them give of their heart, and seeing their smiles grow as they saw how much joy they were bringing to other people...well, that was a pretty great Valentine's Day gift.  And then... 

The next day, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and came upon a post from the restaurant.  They had shared a patron's post that told the story of receiving a special package from "two sweet little girls" on Valentine's Day; the writer of the post noted that "Love is everywhere."

I may have cried, and I showed the girls the message.  We talked about the impact that their small act of kindness had on those strangers, how much their smiles and their positive messages had made a difference.  I'm not sure they fully understand how Facebook works and how we could see that message (counting that as a win) but they don't need to, and they didn't need me reiterating the good that happened.  They felt it.  Giving with a kind heart is second nature to them.  They never questioned why we should make Valentines and hand them out to strangers.  Of course that's a thing you should do. 

I like to think that the girls came by their compassion honestly, but I know that there's a lot more that I can do to share kindness and give with a loving heart, and I want to continue to encourage my children to do the same.  Which is why I'm declaring "Little Love" a new series on JTTG, as a reminder to myself to look for small ways to give and act with kindness and as a place to talk about ways we can do that.  I hope that this can be a conversation - I'd love to hear your ideas and stories of how you have either received or taken part in acts of kindness, so please share in the comments below. 

My girls don't need a reminder because kindness is simply who they are.  The thing is, though, it's who we all are.  Or at least who we all were once.  Big hearts born to be compassionate.  Let's grab our shovels and our stickers and get back there. 

Because blueberries are nice.  And so are you.

Look at the View

laundry.jpg

On Monday morning, I decided to resist the day for a few extra minutes, linger over my tea and crack open a library book.  I had just picked up A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen - because, yes please, any help I can get - and I thought I'd just read a few pages before getting on with my day.  Well, I read the whole thing.  In about 15 minutes.  It really is a short guide.  Much of it espouses the message you might expect: "Life is short.  Enjoy it, and be grateful."   Fairly cliché, I suppose, although it's a cliché because it's true, and it's a reminder that I imagine most of us could use on a regular basis.  I was finding it to be a nice, little read - a little obvious, but nice - and then I reached the final anecdote, and something in me shifted.

Over the last two short pages (spoiler alert), Quindlen shares a story about meeting a homeless man on the boardwalk at Coney Island.  As they sit by the sea, legs dangling over the side of the boardwalk, he tells her about his life: panhandling on the boulevard, hiding from the police amid the carnival rides, sleeping in a church on cold nights.  But most of the time, he explains, he spends his days sitting on the boardwalk, even in the cold.  "Why?" Quindlen asks.  Staring out at the ocean, he replies: "Look at the view, young lady.  Look at the view."

table.jpg

I sat on my couch in silence, legs dangling over the side, and looked at the view.  A view I've seen a thousand times but on that morning, it looked different.  

The laundry that needs to be folded.  Light bulbs that need changed.  My silly-eyed banister.  How lucky I am to have laundry to fold and light bulbs to change.  How lucky I am to have little people to make giggle with silly eyes.

The beautiful little table that was in our dining room growing up.  The ballot box my eldest daughter set up so we can nominate others for their good deeds and kindnesses.  Photos of my girls when they were babies.  Beauty and love to greet all who arrive.

The green couch and chair my ex-husband and I bought 15 years ago, our first real adult purchase.  I was 23 and he was 24 and we were over the moon to have just bought a house, and that couch and chair were the only real grown-up furniture in it.  I've been longing to get rid of that old couch but that morning, I thought about that exciting time in our lives, and the hours I later spent sitting on that couch nursing my babies.  I thought of the moments when they learned how to climb up on to that couch.  I'm not so eager to get rid of it anymore.  

green-chair.jpg

And the blanket over top of it, crocheted by my mom.  Hours of love knotted together. 

The paintings my daughters made the other week and more photos of their beautiful smiles. The antique wooden box with the hearts, the only thing I've ever purchased at an auction.  I outbid a fancy old lady and it was empowering.  The lantern from my grandparents' farmhouse, and the weird metal object with the balancing acrobats that was the only thing of my grandmother's that I wanted when she passed.  We used to play with it every time we went to her house as kids.  I think of her every time I see it.  Or do I?  I fear that on too many days I don't see the view and this love and beauty and these stories are just another part of the landscape, a backdrop to preoccupations. 

Over the last few days, this new mantra has stayed with me: "Look at the view."   

bookshelf.jpg

Navigating snowy streets:  Look at the view.  Look at the road, but also the view.  I have a reliable vehicle to take me home.  I can afford gas.  I move through this city alone and feel safe.  And to top it all off, I have a button in my car that operates technology the sole purpose of which is to keep my bum warm.

Waiting for a medical appointment:  Look at the view.  I'm fortunate to have medical care.  I'm fortunate that I'm not so sick that I need to be rushed in.  How grateful I should be for the good fortune to wait.

My snot-nosed daughter climbs into my bed at 3 a.m.:  Look at the view.  It's not pretty but it's beautiful.  My child reaching for me, wanting my comfort. That's better than any dream.  That is the dream.

It's sometimes hard to see the forest for the trees.  Life gets busy and a home is a place to be cleaned, the drive and the waiting room just irritating interludes between point A and point B.  And the snot-nosed kid is wiping her face on your pillow and disrupting a glorious night's sleep.  But take a moment today to look at the view.  Because my god, the forest is beautiful. 

coffee-table.jpg

From my spot on the saggy green couch, I see the coffee table that my sister and I would hide under and dance on top of as kids, a stage that now belongs to two other wee sisters.  The TV table that my father-in-law made, which has scratches on top, fossils from a plastic dinosaur party.  The cushions my girls leaned against the other week, reading stories to each other.  The stained carpet that ordinarily makes me cringe...but I have a home to live in, and money for food, and tiny grubby feet to trample it.  

And I see the sunshine.  I woke up to another day.  Another beautiful day.