Charlottetown

Mr. 761 and I are in lovely Charlottetown PEI to visit our future Chef, Erica. I brought her here last week and moved her in to residence; Mr. 761 wanted to come visit and check it all out. I’m never averse to a visit to PEI…. It is quickly becoming one of my favorite places.

Mark bought himself an iPod Touch, for the camera, he says. I think it’s for the Angry Birds.

Off to brunch with Erica, Mr. 761, and some Ch’town friends!

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Box 761: Fear and (self)Loathing Edition

I think I look angry a lot of the time.  It’s not really anger, though.

It’s fear.

I’m afraid most of the day, it turns out. I worry about my kids, about my husband in Kandahar, about losing control of the tiny bit of peace I’ve managed to carve out for myself. It’s all very precarious, this. Every time I feel a tiny burgeoning equilibrium, something happens and I’m thrown again – thrown into a panic that I’ll never get it back. Every time it happens, the panic digs in deeper.

This is called Post Traumatic Stress.

I have spent years in the war zone they call “disability”, and more (though with generous leaves) in the theatre of “divorce wars”.  I was on the front lines of the “alcoholic parents” campaign, and have battled my own addiction issues.

Wah, right? So what. What do I have to complain about?  I have a funny, smart, and handsome  husband who returns my never-ending love. I have time, and money, to help my children with their lives. I am not starving, nor am I unhealthy – except for self-inflicted stuff like eating too much sugar and not exercising as regularly as I should.

I’m not making excuses, I’m just establishing provenance, really. All of those things led to my having the type of personality that allowed me to over-do. Feeling like I have nothing to complain about is part of the issue, isn’t it? I over-did to the point where I’m actually pretty much depleted. I have no more, and though I keep trying to live in the world and respond the way I always did, I really don’t have any more, and can’t.

This flashes in my head. A lot. Sometimes there are also sirens.

Sometimes I appear “normal” but right underneath I’m on red alert. Because of my particular circumstances, sometimes I need to be on high alert. That makes this harder. How can I relax if when I do someone puts my daughter in harm’s way? How can I be unafraid if I can’t trust those people I put in charge of one most precious to me?

I’m hyper-vigilant, and anxious. I respond to most things as if they are a threat to me or to my family; I’m irritable and jumpy and often leak tears without being able to really stop them.

I really hate it.

I was talking with a friend the other day and probably, you know,  over-sharing. I told her that I felt broken. And I do, but didn’t realize it until I said it out loud. And it’s not just sometimes – like, I can turn it on and off. It’s all on a continuum of broken.

I’m trying to work on it, but it’s very hard. I have trouble figuring out how to fix it. My doctor gave me anti-depressant/anti-anxiety drugs, and they were great but masked things. I didn’t feel quite real (but it was nice not to cry, you know?). I’m weaning off them now and they’ve thrown me into a tizzy that’s lasted several weeks now. I’m more agitated, and have been acting badly – over-reacting, and alienating and going from 0 to 100 so fast my head hurts.

It’s a process, right? The reason I’m trying to wean off these pills is because I don’t want medicated health. I want health. That the withdrawal is so taxing and so very very prolonged says to me I don’t want that stuff in my system. I was on what they call a “sub-therapeutic” dose, apparently, so it’s pretty frightening… I mean, during this withdrawal period, I’ve acted worse than I did when I was prescribed the drug! She gave me Ativan to deal with the withdrawal, but I’m starting to think that pharmaceuticals aren’t the answer for me.

Exercise helps. Eating right helps. Laughing helps.

There are days, you know, when I think that I’m hurting now because I’m maybe just not strong enough, or didn’t try hard enough… maybe it’s lack of character? Maybe I’m just toxic and everyone should shun me.

But I’m not, and they shouldn’t.

What’s toxic is the feeling that I’m out of control of my feelings. The feeling that I have to rely on others and can’t always trust them. Toxic is trying to pretend I’m not hanging on, some days, by my fingernails.

Parents of  children with chronic conditions often get chronic conditions themselves. We did everything we could for our kids – and that was not inconsiderable. We had smarts, energy, passion, and money. We were wily and hopeful and educated. We had many gifts. What we didn’t have was enough support. Now that she’s no longer in school and is over 19, we have a lot more support than we ever did. Maybe that’s why this is hitting me so hard now… I took a breath, and had a moment to think.

It’s still not ideal, but it’s getting there. To give them credit where it’s due, the VON has been doing a pretty darn good job lately, no missed visits for a couple of weeks now. They’re consistently showing up, and I’m starting to think I don’t have to wait for that particular other shoe to drop. I’m hopeful, I really am.

I’m not writing this blog to get sympathy, or to get a free pass on bad behaviour. I’m not writing it  because I love to hear myself talk (though, really? I do. Who doesn’t?).

I don’t even think that this is particularly original, you know?

I think, though, that it’s important to get it out there. It makes me feel better to write this. It seems more real when I write it, when I see it there. I wonder whether or not it would have helped me to see something like this – a few years ago, maybe? Maybe I wouldn’t have tried so hard to do it all on my own. Maybe I would’ve entered therapy earlier, or wouldn’t have let myself get so burned out that there was nothing to fall back on. I remember wanting to go to a workshop about caregiver burnout, but didn’t  have – you guessed it – a caregiver for my daughter. Besides, I wasn’t burnt out. That was for other people.

Weak people.

I want to stress here, especially because Vicky reads this blog, that it’s not her. It’s not her disability that’s put me where I am today. It’s a whole perfect storm of stuff that has made me how I am today. The mixture is pretty banal, actually – emotionally damaged parents, role-models who taught me to swallow anger and then spit it out ten-fold mixed with a personality that makes me want to please and help and to not admit when I need help. Add to that years of chronic sleeplessness, years of feeling one mistake away from failure; years of chaos and drama and yes, real emergencies…. well, I just sort of finally caved under it all.

It’s not pretty, and I’m sure that I’ve alienated  people and that some people think I’m a jerk. I have to live with that, I guess. I hope that the people I love know that I’m a work in progress. I hope they know that I feel broken much of the time but that I can see a time when I will be repaired.

There are days that are better than others, and there are days when I sit here and think that there’s nothing wrong with me that a swift kick in the pants wouldn’t cure. There are days when I respond to everything like it’s a threat to my life and limb.

Yesterday we had a crisis. The weird thing was that after all those days of responding to not-crises as if they were, a real bona fide crisis merely made me calm. Not sure what mechanism is going on there, but because I asked for help and was so graciously supported by some of my friends, it was not the end of the world. Fear was bested by my asking for help, and by acknowledging that I can’t do it all alone. Very simply, that feels like the right path for me to have taken.

Some days, like today, I feel oddly (because so rare) calm. Today I feel like I slid a few ticks along that continuum and that there’s a clear shot at mental health in my future. Life is good, today. In fact, I’m pretty sure life is always pretty good; it’s my ability to see that fact that changes.

PTS and PTSD Info:

FYI:

Symptoms of PTSD: Increased anxiety and emotional arousal

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hypervigilance (on constant “red alert”)
  • Feeling jumpy and easily startled

Some common symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Anger and irritability
  • Guilt, shame, or self-blame
  • Substance abuse
  • Feelings of mistrust and betrayal
  • Depression and hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts and feelings
  • Feeling alienated and alone
  • Physical aches and pains

PTSD isn’t only for the military. Here are a few good sites to look at if you need information:

Sometimes I am the water

My last post felt pretty personal, and I liked it. I feel like I took a little part of me, washed it clean, and put it back in place – just a bit more shiny, a wee bit lighter.

And that, there, is what I’m seeking these days – a bit of lightness.

The funny thing is that it’s there, but I forgot to notice it. I’ve gotten into the habit of lurching from one drama to another, to stewing in chaos and tripping over obstacles that jump out into my way, without warning. What I’m learning, though, is that this is really just a viewpoint. It’s not how things “really” are. It’s all linked to how I’m looking at it. This isn’t a “turn that frown upside down” blog post – don’t get me wrong. It’s never as easy as just pretending things are good.

What I’m talking about is my habit of seeing the worst, of waiting for another shoe to drop (and lots of times? It does drop – that’s what makes it so difficult – there’s no way to anticipate). This is about my temperamental and situational predilection for trying to harden myself up, to be prepared for anything that will jump out of the shadows at us. I’m talking about my high-strung-cortisol-pumping nervous system reacting to the world in a way that has made me clench my teeth in my sleep, use sugar as  a mood enhancing drug, has carved worry lines in my face, and made me sort of unpleasant to be around sometimes.

You know what lowers cortisol levels? Laughter. Tears.  Both work, so it seems to me that I can choose which one I want to use, right? I’m going to choose laughter a lot more from now on.

Now that I’ve let the disability cat out of the bag, while I promise that not everything I write will be about it, I have to tell you that my daughter’s disability touches almost all parts of our life. That’s the thing about it – you can’t just shut it off for a day, right? She can’t say “hm, I don’t feel like needing a lot of care today“.  It can be maddening, and scary, sometimes, having this person rely on me for everything.

Like her, I can’t take a day off – no parent can, really – not unless we have someone reliable to take over. See Vicky’s amazing blog post of the other day to see her side of this.

All of that said, while I worry and fret and clench my teeth and have little melt down tantrums, I forget. I forget that it’s not all about waiting for that emergency. Sometimes I feel like the lifeguard, unseen in the photo above – standing, literally guarding life. And yes, sometimes I am.

Sometimes, though? I am the oars of that boat.

Sometimes, I am the boat.

Sometimes I am the water, buoying it all up.

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Don’t you love the photos, above? My very talented friend Patty Maher took that photo. Go to her site and look at the amazing photos and read her wise and elegant, spare prose. It’s well worth your time. Today, her photos reminded me that it’s sometimes all about reframing something, making a choice in how to look at things. Thanks Patty!

Since it is World Photography Day (how serendipitous!) I’ve made her the official photographer of Box 761 today. Here are a few of my favorites of her photos:

   

          

Box 761: Special Needs Edition

One of three most precious to me, and the centre of my biggest silence

More interesting than what people write about, sometimes, is what they don’t write about. All sorts of things can inhabit those silences.There have been whole months when I’ve written nothing, and there’s usually a reason for that. And when I do write, there are some things that I don’t mention.

The yawning silences in Box 761 have been largely constructed to obscure disability: my (step)daughter’s disability and how we all work together to accommodate it, and our reactions to a world that doesn’t always accommodate itself to her needs….

One reason I didn’t write about it was that it didn’t really feel like my story to tell — it’s hers, right? And I kind of wanted to make “Box 761” a place where that particular issue wasn’t always at the forefront – a place where my story lived.  So, when I started writing here I was just coming off a long period of working in the disability community, volunteering in the disability community, and mothering in the disability community of Box 761, and I wanted to write about all the other things that are me.

Disability has a way of taking over if you let it.

I  was also uneasy – worried about falling into a “mommy blog” pigeon-hole. Or into the even smaller, deeper “special needs mommy blog” hole. It was important I carve out a spot for myself, somehow.

I forgot, though, that mothering has become who I am, not only what I do. It’s not all of me of course, but it’s a big lovely rewarding frustrating boring challenging awe-inspiring part of what I do every day. It’s a privilege to do, especially since these gorgeous women who I mother aren’t my biological children, but are instead a gift given to me first by Mr. 761 and second by those amazing children themselves.

Jeez. add the husband in Kandahar and you’ve got a Lifetime Movie of the Week!

(Daughter Number Two will warrant her own post later — she’s leaving us to go away to school soon and no doubt I’ll be in a teary empty-nest mood one day and write a sappy love post to embarrass and secretly please her. Plus, we need to discuss how much of her I can, you know, discuss.)

Here’s the thing, though. Being a (step)mother has completely altered my life. Vicky’s disability has completely altered my life, altered how I see the world, how the world sees me. So it is also my story,  and I guess it’s time to talk about it a bit.

Vicky and I talked about it the other day, and she told me that she didn’t care what I wrote about, and that she’s fine with it all. She just started her own blog, too, so if you’re interested click here to meet my fine (step)daughter in person…. Today she wrote an especially fabulous, funny poignant and strong blog. It made me run back here to this  draft and start working again. I’ve started this more than once, and it’s tough slogging for some reason.

When I read specialneedsmommyblogs I tend to think they fall into a few different categories: the ones that make mommy seem like a Saint (and while my halo is a bit shiny, I’m definitely no Saint, lemme tell ya); the ones that are all about how Inspirational and Special their child is; the ones that have an overt religious message (like, “Billy’s being born with his eyes turned inward and flippers instead of knees is a Gift from God”… um, yeah, some gift, Thanks a lot God. Did you keep the receipt?). There’s also AngryBlog (with a lot of “why’s?” and not enough “how’s), the SappyBlog, the CheeryBlog….

You get my point. I know I’m not being entirely fair here, and I think that what I mean is that none of those felt to me like blogshoes I could fit into. I’m just not sure how to be authentic, how to fit all of these different sides into one blog space. I  knew that writing was therapeutic for me, and wanted to explore that first. What’s funny is that writing about her is probably the best therapy in many ways. Wonder what took me so long to get to that point?

So, as much as I may not want to be a “mommy blogger” (whatever that is – and many  heartfelt apologies to all those women out there who want the label), there are days when I want to write about this very important part of my life. It is important, and it is worth talking about. And let me tell you – “stepmother” is not always an easy role. And while I’ve been  so utterly fortunate in that – there was a hole to fill, and I stepped  right into it, into their arms – there’s a whole book in that, I can assure you.

All that said, “Special-needs-step-mommy-blogger” seemed just a little too unwieldy, yeah?

some days, it's just there - it is what it is and it's part of the normal routine.

Vicky’s disability is both straightforward and very very complicated.  She was born with cerebral palsy, which is a sort of catch-all phrase for “we’ve ruled out everything else but see motor skills issues, etc.”. Her CP affects all four of her limbs, so they call her a “quadriplegic”. That does not mean she can’t move or feel — she’s not paralysed. It’s just that the messages she tries to send her muscles are often slow to get there, or get crossed somehow. She cannot walk, nor can she hold a pen or get herself in or out of her wheelchair without help.  There’s a whole long list of stuff that she can’t do.

There’s also a long list of what she can do of course, but in our culture, we often really focus on what people can’t do. We do this for a variety of reasons – in V’s world, doctors, teachers, waitresses, passersby… all of them tend to focus on what she can’t do. This is a convenient way to pigeon-hole her, to classify her. Certainly I do it myself sometimes – there are shortcut terms that we use when talking to doctors or nurse managers or social workers – she  “needs help with almost all of her ADL’s” we’ll say. (That’s “Activities of Daily Living” to you uninitiated.)

She also has a pretty severe learning disorder – called non-verbal learning disorder (NLD). I find this the most challenging part of her disability, largely because it means that her brain isn’t wired to “read” non-verbal communication. She is very literal

image courtesy of ClipartOf.comsometimes, and social/cultural idiom can be difficult for her to understand. She has had to learn her world in a way that would be challenging to anyone. Luckily, she was born with a really big brain and a sense of humour. I have learned to try harder to say what I mean, to rely less on lazy language, and to keep an eye out for potentially confusing situations that we’ll need to discuss later. These are useful tools for anyone, so yeah, it’s not all bad.

Vicky would, though, prefer very much not to have NLD, if given the choice. Navigating the world in that chair is hard enough, without not understanding all the signs along the way while she’s at it.

Some days, it's ALL there is.

Lately we’ve had trouble with the people who are contracted to do her care. She and I have been talking about this frustrating situation, and this morning she wrote about it (see above link). She understands very clearly, the primal link between herself and me, her caregiver. Probably in a way that I don’t always even register, she’s twigged to the concept that her very survival depends on there being someone around who will – reliably and safely – be able to do those things for her that she needs to do.

I’m just a nice lady whose kid has a disability. I’m trying as hard as I can to help her and the world naturalize this disability. I want her to leave my house and be a full citizen. I want her to be unafraid of saying “this care is not adequate”. Hell, there’s a LOT of things I want for her, same as I want for my other daughter — I want them to be citizens of the world, with all the rights and obligations that entails. I want them both to be pain free, as much as can be arranged. I want them to have safe places to live. I want them to have friends and secrets from their parents (not big ones, though, okay guys?). I want them to live in a world that is free of their feeling guilt or panic because they want to, say, get out of bed in the morning. Or, I dunno, not sit in their own filth because their care is unreliable.

See? Simple.

But I digress. I do that often when Vicky’s care is concerned. It’s pretty complicated. And it’s not just her, you know? It’s stories like this in today’s paper. It’s worrying about everyone else on that missing Aide’s roster — who went without food? Who slept in their chair that night? Who couldn’t get in touch with their emergency contact? Who didn’t want to complain for fear of reprisal of some sort?

This is the kind of stuff that literally keeps me up at night. Every time I start to bitch about something in Vicky’s life I start to think about other people less fortunate than Vicky, people who don’t have enough money or any family support. I’ve basically made her quality of life my full time job at present and I still can’t guarantee she’ll have it. It’s enough to make one weep. It’s what makes me keep doing this grinding, frustrating, agonizingly angry-making daily struggle to make the world see.

It’s why I was on anti-depressants for a while and felt like I wasn’t good enough. It’s why I often felt guilt that brought me to my knees – I wasn’t doing enough, doing it well enough, doing it nicely or politely or in a way that wouldn’t make me crazy. I’ve become a kind of weirdly earnest,  annoying zealot. Did you read what I wrote earlier? “I’m just a nice lady whose kid has a disability. I’m trying as hard as I can to help her and the world naturalize this disability.

Who the hell write that they just want to help the world naturalize disability? hee hee. Only the parent of a child with a disabilty could write that with a straight face. Why don’t I just try to cure world hunger and bring about world peace while I’m at it, eh?

I’m working on that.

How? Well, this blog today, for one thing. There were days when I wanted to write – felt positively itchy with the need to write something, but didn’t. I didn’t write because I was afraid: afraid that I couldn’t concentrate on the task at hand because I was dealing with day-to-day life for Vicky; afraid that writing about it would seem whiny, or that it would make me angrier, or weepier, or make her feel bad.

How is it that I live in a world where my daughter feels bad because of a condition that none of us had any control over creating?

So. Everybody has that something that is their cross to bear, you know? What writing and reading about this does is put it all in perspective. All those blogs I mentioned earlier? They may not be “me” but you can bet that I read as many as I can find. I may not always agree with them, but they sure as hell made me realize that I’m not alone in this ridiculously complicated world of parenting a child with special needs.  Writing one adds my  voice to the mix.

Vicky is empowered by the internet and is finding her voice, there and out in the “real world”. I’m trying to do the same, and the only way I can do that comfortably is to turn up the volume a bit, make those silences disappear. What I can tell you is that the daily work of making the world see and hear my daughter is more accessible all of a sudden. And I’m not alone in it, because I’m following her lead now.

Portland, where my sole now resides

lifted from the interweb, I didn't take this

 

Portland Maine is so pretty, and I really didn’t expect it. I don’t know what I did expect, but not this pretty jewel of a town with gorgeous shops, superb restaurants, and world-class service.

We stumbled upon this, really. We got sick of driving (it’s no fun once the sun goes down) and made Portland our destination. We were kind of tired, and a bit sick from the junk food we ate in the car (Coke? Pepperoni? Hickory sticks? Really? What were we thinking?). Ugh. I shudder to recall it, but somehow the food one eats on a road trip, in the car, doesn’t count, right?

We drove up to the second hotel we saw (the first was full, the valet told us) and ended up

nice, but ours was blue

at the Portland Harbor Hotel. Pretty rooms, working wifi, a fabulous bathroom with a deep soaking tub and gorgeous marble, shower, and great service. A good hotel makes me very happy, as does a toothbrush holder on the counter – a germ-fighting nicety that not all hotels think of, but a detail that will actually entice me back when I find myself in Portland again.

Silly? Perhaps, but the devil is in those details.

We literally stumbled upon our restaurant last night as well. Those cobbles are quaint, but not great for two relatively clumsy people…. We dined at Street and Co., and they gave us the best meal we’ve had in ages.

I wrote about it last night on Facebook, still in the thrall of that buttery perfect sole:

http://www.streetandcompany.net/home
Started with salad of frisee with house cured bacon, poached egg and mustard sauce. Oysters, the moist delicious ever, and a simple but divine sole francaise. I dragged it out as long as possible, but eventually there was no sole left. It was so good I mourned it pre-emptively, halfway through dinner. Vanilla bean panna cotta with currants for dessert. Chardonnay to start and a black sambucca to finish.

That’s really all there is to say. Except that I want to reiterate my love of those oysters. I like them, but wouldn’t go out of my way for them, you know? The ones I had last night were quite possibly the best ever, and I might go out of my way for those ones.

Off to breakfast now, some rambling around the waterfront (kitchen store, anyone?) and then on to Connecticut and my Nieces 761.

Red Shoes, Connecticut, and A Lesson in Alphabetizing

I’m sitting in a Toyota dealership, waiting for my car’s regularly scheduled maintenance to be completed. I came armed with all of my tools – Sony e-reader, iPad, Blackberry. In the past half hour since I got here, I’ve used all of them, but find the iPad the most beguiling.

Right now I’m people watching…. Such a motherload of characters here, in this little dealership today. My current fave is the woman with red patent leather high heels. She also has dangly earrings like cherries (I am not making this up!), an ankle bracelet, a full length pleather coat, and a fake Louis Vuitton bag. She is both over- and under-dressed. She has been swanning around the showroom, clickety-clacking her heels and stroking her chinny-chin-chin and looking very important.

I thought she wanted to buy a car, but now I’m not sure. She was tippy-tapping around the SUV (the shiny red one, to match her shoes) but now she is sitting with the rest of us in the waiting room. She is one of those people who lick their fingers when they want to turn the page of their magazine. That used to seem glamorous to me; those sassy dames in 40’s movies licked their fingers when they read. Now it just makes me think about germs.

Her heels are open toed and she has coral toenail polish. I really want to take her out for a coffee. I have imagined a whole life story for her, and wish I could compare notes with her to see if I’m close.

One reason I’m here, aside from it being the regular time for this car check up, is that Mr. 761 and I are going on a road trip to Connecticut, and it’s always nice to have car checked out first. My brother lives there, with his wife and two adorable girls, and since it’s an easy drive we thought we’d go. Grandma & Grandpa 761 will also be there, and it seemed like a nice way to make a quick week’s jaunt  into something extra nice. The last time I chatted with Grandpa 761 he didn’t sound great, but I talked to him this afternoon and he sounded much better. I’m happy about that.

I like that Mr. 761’s job gives us this freedom…. For so many years we lived minute-to-minute, working at raising the kids, working at our jobs, and making ends meet. Anywhere we wanted to go had to be accessible, which ruled out a lot – even family. Now, the kids are grown, or almost-grown, and we have these month-long leaves that allow us to go places. Connecticut is only 14 hours away by car – one long day, or two lovely relaxed days – but we have never driven there together. This is our time. I’m hungry to spend this time with him, to show him places and people dear to me – places and people we were too busy/broke/tired to see until now. It really is a gift, in a lot of ways (the whole work-in-Kandahar part of it bites, as does the not having him here all the time, but we’re managing, and trying to really appreciate the perks).

So. We leave tomorrow, and I may blog, but may not. Depends.

You have not yet read a single thing on this blog today about CBC Canada Reads 2011. The reason for that is that I have had nothing much to say about it lately. I have voted already, and I’m awaiting the results of the vote next week. I’m now trolling the blogs to see what people out there are saying, and I’m starting an alphabetical read of all 40 — what the hell, right? I’ve read about half of them, but will re-read those as well, so I’m going to have some very pleasant times ahead.

One reason I’m doing it alphabetically by author is that the bright lights at CBC Canada Reads decided to alphabetize it by book title, counting THE as a word. My sense of order was so offended by this that I had to re-order it. I could not leave it the way it was. Maybe I’m too picky (I did create my own early version of the dewey decimal system for my books as a 10-year old geek girl), but you just can’t organize book titles and count THE as part of it. Holy Mother of all things Lexicographical, what school did Erin go to?

So, two Atwoods and an Abdou – the Bone Cage (which was listed waaaay down in the “T’s” instead of the freaking “A’s” where it belongs…. yikes. I’ll be reading Abdou’s book first, since it’s alphabetically FIRST (unless you do it by title, and count THE as part of it, which would just be silly).

Below, I have placed the alphabetized list of the Top 40 the way I would do it if I were my job to, I dunno,  alphabetize a frigging list of books. I’ve left the links to the reviews from Q&Q that the CBC crew put in there, but please just read the books. Or look around for more than one review (more than 140 characters would be useful).

1.      Abdou  The Bone Cage

2.      Atwood Oryx and Crake

3.      Atwood The Year of the Flood

4.      Benjamin Drive-by Saviours

5.      Boyden Three Day Road

6.      Boyden Through Black Spruce

7.      Buchanan The Day the Falls Stood Still

8.      Conlin Heave

9.      Crummey Galore

10.  Dixon The Girls Who Saw Everything

11.  Donoghue Room

12.  Fallis The Best Laid Plans

13.  Finucan The Fallen

14.  Gibb Sweetness in the Belly

15.  Gibson Pattern Recognition

16.  Glover Elle

17.  Grant Come, Thou Tortoise

18.  Harvey Inside

19.  Hay Late Nights on Air

20.  Hill The Book of Negroes

21.  Lawson Crow Lake

22.  Lemire Essex County

23.  MacDonald The Way the Crow Flies

24.  MacIntyre The Bishop’s Man

25.  Martel Life of Pi

26.  McKay The Birth House

27.  McKay Jr. Twenty-Six

28.  Moore February

29.  Novik Conceit

30.  O’Neill Lullabies for Little Criminals

31.  Pick Far to Go

32.  Redekop Shelf Monkey

33.  Robertson Moody Food

34.  Shields Unless

35.  Tamaki Skim

36.  Toews A Complicated Kindness

37.  Urquhart The Stone Carvers

38.  Vanderhaeghe The Last Crossing

39.  Whittall Bottle Rocket Hearts

40.  Wright Clara Callan

Charmed, I’m Sure….

A while ago, a friend I knew in university re-connected with me on Facebook. In the course of that first flurry of emails back and forth, she commented that I seemed to have a “charmed life”.

I’ve been thinking about that ever since. I’ve started this blog post several times in draft, and I’ve ruminated on what part of it seemed to be sticking to me — was it the charmed part of it? The guilt I felt when I agreed it was charmed, my slight frisson of schadenfreude-y pleasure at the comment? Maybe it was a tiny bit of impostor-syndrome? Maybe it’s all of the above. Whatever it was, something started to niggle.

There are days when it all feels like a house of cards. Days, you know, when I fixate on the things I could do better, or on the things I haven’t done. Other days, I think I’ve actually earned this charmed and charming life I have — I have, for the most part, worked very hard to make it all what it is.

I was thinking that charms are a sort of fairy tale magical token – like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, or Bilbo Baggins’ ring, for example. Seems to me that charm isn’t something to trust — there’s always another side to it. Having a lucky charm means that the luck leaves if you lose the charm, right? It all feels very tenuous, this charm business. If someone is charming, it is something I tend to  mistrust — is it authentic? There’s definitely an appeal, but it’s something I feel almost like I have to watch out for. Certainly, that charm of Bilbo’s carried a price with it, didn’t it?

So, where does that leave me? Really, it was just a throw-away comment — it shouldn’t have stuck with me, right? Maybe I just need to stop over-thinking? 

Nah.

There’s something worth looking into here. There’s a kind of fear lurking there. But of what? Am I afraid that I’ll lose my charm? My… what, my lucky ring?

Interesting idea. This “charmed” life that we have began when we met and joined our lives together. It has been built, the hard way, with lots of work and commitment, and sacrifice. There has been a lot of crap along the way, but it passes. There have been challenges, and tears, and they pass. If there is a magic something-or-other in all of this, I guess our wedding rings are  good enough to serve, but oh, it’s such a clichéd conceit — a cheap symbol for a chicken-soup type of blog….that’s not my style.

Maybe that’s what’s bothering me too — there’s no magic in this life we have; not lucky rabbit’s foot/magic bean kind of magic, anyway. The charm isn’t in the ring(s). It’s in this life we’ve built. The charm, I suspect, is also in my obvious and joyful glee with it. I’m in love with it, most days.

I’m glad to think about this. When I started writing this today I was feeling decidedly un-charmed. It hasn’t been a great month, frankly. Lots of stuff going on; annoyances and petty frustrations and feeling unconnected. There are some potentially un-petty issues that we’re all as a family going to have to problem solve and work together on. When I started writing this, it all felt pretty hard. Too hard.

Life is hard sometimes and nobody ever told me it wasn’t supposed to be. I guess, sometimes I forget that, though. It’s not aberrant for there to be stuff to deal with…. that’s the norm! I forget, sometimes — partly because I am so blessed (charmed?) — that this is part of the whole range of life’s stuff. It’ll all pass and on the other side of it we’ll have people saying to us “wow, you have a charmed life!”

Life isn’t always suffering, no more than it’s all rainbows and unicorns. But it is hard sometimes to be human, and hard to love, and so hard to do all that we should do. There are days when it’s easier to feel like it’s all awful, like we were unfairly riddled out of our magic ring….

My charmed life may not look charmed to others, or it may look as if I have more gifts than I deserve. It all depends on the lens you use. It depends, too, on how I see it. For a while there I forgot that my special power is to see the possible, to find solutions and work toward them. For a while there, I forgot to have some fun.

Huh.

Charmed or not, I know that my life is pretty wonderful most days. Other days, well, not so much. That’s okay. Today I reclaimed a bit of myself — I took special care to look nice today, did a few healthy things for myself, got a few duties taken care of that were nagging at me, and then took my lovely daughter to lunch… none of that was magic. It was, though, a few simple acts  that I’ve lost touch with lately — I was feeling too beset, and tired. I felt like someone had riddled my charm right out of my hands and into their own pocketses, I did.

And now I don’t. Just like that.

Box 761: cheer myself up edition

I have been having trouble with Box 761. I have lots to write about, but to be honest I’m kinda too busy to do it. I’m not the kind of busy that has to do with not enough time — it’s more that I don’t have the space, emotionally, to do it.

That said, I want to do something, so I’m posting some random photos. Enjoy.

Favorite hot beverage establishment name ever:

Why indeed....?

My dog.

Love this dog....

These things make me happy. Today I kind of need that — am feeling a bit blue. If I could go to that coffee shop and sit with my dog, I’d feel way better today.

This is another good thing:

bff's since 1977, how cool is that?
bff’s since 1977, how cool is that?

This is BFF 761. We’re going to New Orleans in February to hang out together. I think it’s important to get away with a BFF once in a while. The last time we actually did that was when I won a free trip to Barbados at a Scrabble fundraiser. I sat with Shuster, from Wayne and Shuster. He wasn’t especially pleasant, and we argued over whether or not “booger” was a word.  Regardless, I won a trip, and the above-mentioned BFF and I went on it and had a lovely time.

Yesterday we cemented our plans and booked the tickets. I’m very happy about it. Mr 761 isn’t coming, but he’s planning his own trip (Vegas, at last communication) with his bff’s.

Here’s another:

I have always loved this place. Especially the exclamation! marks!

One more thing…. someone got to my page yesterday by searching on Google for “my hot naked next door neighbour sunbathing nude”. I can’t begin to figure out why one would search on that, but really, were both “naked” and “nude” required in that search? And, well, sorry that you landed in Box 761… must have been quite a disappointment!

ha! ha!

So that’s it for my post today, dear readers. I’ve reminded myself of things that I like, and shared them with you. I’m feeling !better! already!

Grandpa 761 Edition: Surviving/Birthdays

Happy Birthday Pop!

Today is my father’s 78th Birthday. Terrorists sort of ruined the date for him, in a way — he gets much less joy out of his day now. I understand that completely. It isn’t something as silly as it being “ruined” for cake and presents; it’s about a loss of trust in the way things work in the world. I remember, on that horrific day in 2001, talking to him and hearing such loss in his voice. Loss of trust in the sanctity of our borders, and a sense that the world would never be quite the same. I hate that it happened, and hate that it’s now somehow linked with him, and his day.

I remember puttering around the house that morning, and a friend called me out of the blue — I remember saying her name cheerily, pleased that she’d called. She told me to turn on the television, and then hung up. I turned it on, and well, you know what I saw. We all saw it, watched in horror and fear and disbelief. I don’t think I turned the tv off for weeks — I couldn’t stop watching. I sat there so much I started to knit scarves — to keep my hands busy while I watched. Many family members received “9/11 Scarves” that Christmas.

Dad is from a pretty lucky generation. He was too young for WWII (and medically exempt for Korea), He was able to reap the benefits of his demographic and to avoid military action. He worked hard, and was smart and charming — he went far in business and had a very successful career. He traveled, lived overseas, and was able to provide for his family very well. He’s had two long marriages, and is Grandpa Lee to 7 kids. He’s patriotic, a Republican, and really believes in the American dream. Hell, he is the American dream. He came from humble beginnings and made good, the old-fashioned way through hard work, luck, and by harnessing the power of compound interest.

That’s maybe why it’s especially hard to have 11 September tainted, somehow. He grew up in the shadow of WWII and was no doubt partly formed by that fight — by the understanding that the USA was Protector of the World. It’s culturally encoded — the US of A was Right, and Good, and above all else, Safe.

9/11 was a violation of that safety. It was horrific and violent and unmoored us all. It changed the world, instantly, and in a long-lasting way. We’re still feeling the fallout from it now, almost a decade later.

He turned 69 that day. A good age, and one that should have been a day of celebration and family and gifts — instead he now identifies it at least partly with terrorism and unspeakable grief. Now, almost a decade later, we are at least also able to identify it with acts of great courage, and hope, and strength. The way that Americans dealt with the horror was inspiring — a million stories of everyday moments of heroism and bravery; strength in adversity, and some happy endings.

In the 9 years since that birthday, he has undergone his own baptism by fire; his own horror. A year after the event, he was feeling poorly, a year after that he was diagnosed with gastric and esophageal cancer. He went through it all like a champ — surgery and ICU, chemotherapy, radiation, a feeding tube, extreme weight loss… the whole horrible heart-breaking cycle of diagnosis through to recovery. He is now a 6-year cancer survivor — a survivor of a type of cancer that has a very low survival rate. He really is miraculous. He had a lot in his favor — they caught it early and he had tremendously talented doctors, he has a wife who was tireless in her support of him, loving family, and an extended family of friends/church group/neighbors who offered drives, food, respite and support.

Today, on his 78th birthday (wow!) I am in awe of what the past decade held for him, and so pleased that he came through it all in such fine form. He’s still too darn skinny for my liking, and he smokes way too much (please quit, Dad) but he’s strong as an ox, whip-strong, and he’s still here.

He survived it all, and came through it — not entirely unscathed, but not broken either. His mettle was tested and I am of the opinion that he is a true hero. It wasn’t a battle on the scale of 9/11, but it was his battle against a terrorist, a terrorist that violated the sanctity of his person.

And he won.

Happy Birthday to you Dad. I know you don’t much like the day any more, but maybe if you try to think about it as a reminder that you are a survivor it will help you to reshape it. This day can be a reminder to you of strength and courage, and fighting successfully in the face of great odds. I’m glad your birthday is on this day, and I’m very glad that you’re here to celebrate it.

Much love  being sent your way from Box 761 today. Happy 78th.

Box 761, Sisterly Love edition

I’ve been meaning to write about “Sister 761”, and have been sidetracked by Mr. 761’s leave from Afghanistan, and running around with him all over New England, NY, Ontario and Quebec. I’m actually a bit behind in recounting it all, and realize that I’ve been putting it off. I had made writing a daily activity, and it became almost a daily duty. I don’t want this… this, thing I call Box 761 to become a duty. It’s not some sort of dreary chore, and I don’t even think I want it to become a chronology of events (which happens, when you write it every day). I am, therefore, letting myself off the hook for writing daily, and am going to freely break the linearity I’ve been creating.

photo from last year, but a favorite of mine

It’s a beautiful day. My daughters are both home (from working away, and from university), and are actually spending time together. They’ve gone to the movies, with younger daughter driving,  and both spending their own money! I’m staying home, because I don’t want to see the movie they are going to see, and because I really wanted them to have time alone together.

There’s nothing like a sister. I like that this weekend has been throwing that theme at me. The other day, my niece wrote on Facebook that her younger sister was spending time with her for a few days in her university apartment, and I thought back to the times I went to visit my big sister, and how much I loved being there with her. They are some of my favorite memories.

They may not know it now, but our girls are making memories they will look back on and cherish. At the very least it will help them to create that critical mass of memory labeled “Sister” that they will carry within them throughout their lives.

Our glamorous mother (center) with her sisters

I remember the day I realized that my sister and I would probably never live in the same place as one another again. It was traumatic, really. I guess I just hadn’t figured it out before then. I remember traveling on the train alone to meet her in Montreal, shopping, eating in restaurants, going to movies, talking. It was glorious, and gave me an idea of how great it was to be a “grown up”. To this day I still think St. Viateur bagels are the best, because she introduced me to them (and, well, they are). I remember going to a movie with her (I can’t even remember the movie, but it was an arty film in a rep cinema – dirty and dark and so thrilling) and the audience clapped… I was agog! They didn’t do that back in our hometown, and my sister found this place all on her own and was willing to introduce me to that world. Glorious. Even now — the last time she visited, we giggled for quite a while over the overly pretentious waiter who took us for rubes (little knowing that we were the kind of people who once were in a movie theater where they clapped. Sigh, how could he know?)… Nothing earth shattering, but small moments that we, and only we out of everyone in the entire world, share.

That’s why I remember now the times we had together with so much pleasure, and  that’s why I love that my daughters (and hers) are out together tonight. It’s not just a movie, it’s being together in a way that even bff’s from way back can’t be. To be a sister is something different – you shape one another, and share earliest memories and family. They are probably the closest thing in the world to having a twin, in some ways.

I’m the younger sister, so my role had been set since birth. When we played school I was always the student, she the teacher. Funny how we still have those roles, in some ways. She actually is a teacher, and I’ve been known to be sad in September if I’m not starting school. I am sort of jealous of my kids and their school supplies (oh! the fresh clean paper! The new pens and pencils, and don’t even get me started on geometry sets or  pencil crayons!), and I think back with fondness on every single September-new-beginning of my entire life (to add it up: kindergarten + 13 years of public/high school + BA + MA + Diploma= 21 glorious First Days of School). Much of that is with Many Thanks to my sister, who made learning fun, who let me read her books, who set a good example, and who always rewarded me if I got the answer right (okay, it was sometimes with ages-old Halloween candy, but a reward nonetheless).

I don’t know if I can actually account for the many ways that she has shaped me. Some are big, some small, some were ways that I had to tinker with it later on so it fit, but they were all important. It’s important when you have someone in your life who you know is looking out for you, and who will understand what you say, no matter what sort of language you say it in. She’ll get your jokes, remember you from before you remember yourself (!), and will always be something other than/better than a bff.

My own sister was a sort of mother-sister, those sorts of lines being blurred in my family sometimes. That made me, for many years, identify as a daughter-sister — a good thing, but always someone seeking help, rather than offering it. It took me a long time to make the jump from that — perhaps when our mother died, and then I had children of my own, that role fell away for good.

She was always more adventurous, more glamorous (that hair! So beautiful), more knowledgeable, more tender than I. She made a space for me to be feisty, and silly, and spoiled. As I grew and moved into my life, she was my cheerleader and friend. I couldn’t ask for better. I thank her for that, and hope that she feels that I’ve returned these gifts.

We live 4400 kilometers (2700 miles) away from one another, but got engaged on the same day, both to men with two daughters. We got married 3 weeks apart, and seem to have weirdly connected lives. Sort of freaky, even more great. We both just celebrated our anniversaries and although I loved my wedding (and hers!) I kind of wish we’d gone with my (only half-joking) suggestion that we have a joint wedding in Niagara Falls — as ticky-tacky as can be (can you hold a reception at the wax museum? ha ha ha!!).

We don’t always get along, and I probably drive her nuts, and our lives are hectic (and oddly parallel in many ways) and it’s harder to see one another because we’re far away. It’s harder to talk to one another, and to really connect as much as we used to. What I hope is that as time passes, and our own daughters leave us to go into the world, we will rediscover that sisterhood. I’ll have time to go there and spend time with her…. talking time, laughing time, junk shopping, novel reading, sitting on the porch time. Just, as with my own kids, being with one another.

I’m glad that her girls are building memories this weekend, and I’m glad mine are too. I do wish that she and I were also together this weekend, but writing this will have to suffice for the moment.

I think I’ll call her tomorrow.

UPDATE

This is kind of hilarious. My girls, about whom I’d so rhapsodically written this evening, just came in and told me they’d had a great time at the movie, but fought all the way  home. Ha ha ha! Nothing like reality to intrude on my waxing poetic.

Regardless, they seem to still be friends, and they’ll always be sisters no matter what.

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