Tag Archives: life lessons

That Was Easy.

In the olden days, before PVR and Netflix, we used to watch television commercials. We didn’t like it, but the only other options were mute and dragging my lazy butt to the kitchen for a snack. So we endured. If a marketing department had done their job well, then a piece of those commercials would stick with you for days, even years. A jingle, a logo, an image… haunting you in the most annoying way possible.

Staples Business Depot had one of those mental burrs – the easy button. The ad goes like this: a harried office worker runs into a problem, is utterly overwhelmed and in desperation presses a large red button with the word ‘easy’ printed across it. POOF! – the issue is resolved through the magic of superior business supply mojo. Meanwhile, the narrator declares, “That was easy!” The ad campaign  became so popular that they actually began to sell the large plastic buttons in their stores. We had one kicking around the office I worked in. Most do.

I never really got the joke. At least, I assume it’s supposed to be joke. The directions on the package instruct you to identity a difficult issue. Push the button. Listen to the message (a tinny voice declares, “that was easy”). Smile. And move on with your day.

I spend a lot of time wishing for an easy button in my life. I’m pretty sure a lot of my worst habits can be traced to this desire. I’m pretty sure a lot of our first world problems can too.

My daughter was in hospital again this week.

We’d been passing a head cold around the family for days (proving it’s not always good to share). But she seemed to be on the mend, just in time for spring break and, best of all, music camp. We decided to take advantage of our in-house babysitters and go on a date, before the teens left on their camping trip. On the way to the restaurant, Big Sister called to let us know that B was acting sicker than before and her temperature was climbing. By the time we raced home she had spiked a real fever, then coughed until she threw up. Cue the familiar and frantic dance of cancer families in an emergency.

Things can go very wrong, very quickly these days. We’ve been spoiled with several uneventful months cancer-wise, and I hadn’t even realized how much the terror and exhaustion was fading. I sat by her bed for hours and felt sorry for myself (I do that a lot these days).

Even with modern medicine on our side, something I am so deeply, deeply grateful for, there aren’t many shortcuts or quick fixes for our girl. The options range from uncomfortable to grueling, and even then there’s no guarantees. While there are times when it’s a blessing that she lives entirely in-the-moment, there are other times when it’s so frustrating being unable to reason her through the procedures she most hates, especially when she’s feeling rotten. Even though it’s necessary, I am heartily sick of holding her down while she screams and thrashes and cries in betrayal.

Pneumonia has, thus far, been one of our easier emergencies. We’re now home in our own beds, and every morning we drive back to the hospital for a few hours. I found myself telling a friend how everything pales in comparison to the heaviest chemos. Which is the most horrible thing to celebrate.

I think about that stupid easy button a lot. Imagining a world where it actually existed. Not just for cancer, but for all the things that make my life hard. POOF! Problems solved. Sickness cured. Anxiety gone. Disabilities erased. Relationships restored. Everyone agrees with me. Happy. Happy. Happy.

Why can’t life just be easy?

I don’t actually have an answer. There will probably come a time when I can wax eloquent about the beauty of struggle or the lessons we learn through the fire or some sentimental drivel like that. But right now I’m tired and frustrated. And I’m in no mood to ice over the shit and call it cake.

Life is hard. It just is. It’s unfair and it hurts. One of the things that seems more clear to me now than ever, is that we waste an enormous amount of time and energy distancing ourselves from sitting in this reality.

If not engaged in outright avoidance, we prefer to channel our experience of suffering through some pre-determined narrative to make it more palatable. You know the stories. The ones with a villainous other who we can blame for all our troubles – because anger feels so much more powerful than pain. Or the one where I am an overcomer, harnessing the power of <insert religious or self help or political or whatever story line> – where any feeling or experience that exists outside the lines must be brutally repressed.

There may be some truth in these interpretations of events – either an injustice to fight against or a power which transcends my suffering. I’ve certainly experienced both. But there’s more to every story than that.

Life is not easy, and neither is it simple.

That should be a depressing thought, but I find it liberating. No more tilting at windmills. No more sticking to a script. Instead I can just be.

After all, easy is a modern invention. Fast food and instant everything grooms us to expect POOF! Humans have been living hard lives, even harder than mine, for thousands of years.

Can I trust life, and God, and my own humanity enough to face reality head on… to dig into it and let it unfold? Unedited. Unpolished. Unrushed.

Life is hard and life is complicated. Important things usually are.

So here’s me, just as tired and frustrated as ever, but feeling a little less sorry for myself.

 

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A Good Cancer Day

Today is my birthday.

Today my little girl started a new chemotherapy drug.

Today we cut her hair off, because it is going to start falling out soon.

This doesn’t seem like the recipe for a good birthday. Or a good day. Or even a tolerable one. I was fully prepared to let this whole ‘celebration’ concept slide. Not really feeling it. My smiles are pasted on, replicas of the real thing; polite reflexes to communicate my real appreciation for the ridiculous amount of support pouring our way.

There’s nothing like cancer to awaken the selfless impulses. Not the saintly ones forged in empathy, discipline and hard-won maturity. The parenting ones that roar to life in fear and desperation. I barely blinked when we cancelled our Christmas trip to Disneyland, and our 20th anniversary getaway to Mexico, and postponed my writing projects and school aspirations. I happily camp on a mat on the floor beside her bed. I hardly remember to eat or wash or go to the bathroom. Life and death is in play, and the world has narrowed drastically.

But this is no short term crisis. Life doesn’t begin after cancer. Life is right now. Two long years stretch ahead of us. And they will be different, hard, with all sorts of frustrations and heartaches. But if we’re going to make it through, we’ve got to live.

Today had it’s hard parts. Kissing my son goodbye with the vague promise to see him “sometime this weekend.” Holding my daughters arms and legs down so the nurse could hook the IV up to the tubes in her chest. Catching a glimpse of her cropped hair, looking shorn and strange.

But it was still a good day. Today I took a break. I woke up in my own bed, snuggled my son, talked to my big girls, ate a casserole for breakfast (so much better than granola bars and pilfered hospital food). Today I enjoyed a visit with a friend who just happens to specialize in cool haircuts, ate ice cream for lunch and hugged my husband. Today she felt good, her counts were up, the nurse hep-locked her IV and we got to explore the far reaches of the hospital, including a huge empty stairwell. Today I howled like a dog and laughed and sang and listened to the echoes without ever checking the clock, or worrying about the next thing to do, or feeling silly for acting like a child. Today I lay beside my daughter and listened to her breathe until she fell asleep. I can’t remember when I was more acutely aware of how precious each moment we have together is.

I suspect cancer, for all the many ways I abhor and despise it, will also make life sweeter. As long as I remember to live it.

So here’s us, on the brink of death, like every other human being on the planet. We just notice it more.

 

 

 


The WORST Best Lesson in Life

It’s a game we play, and replay, a lot at our house.

“But it isn’t FAAAIIIIR!” they whine.

I act Alarmed. Affronted. Confused. “Who told you life was fair? How dare they!”

It’s not entirely an act. I happen to think that teaching our kids they are entitled to a life of ease and comfort is irresponsible, possibly cruel. Someday the real world will come calling. If they haven’t had an opportunity to build important coping skills, they will likely to fall to pieces. The small, everyday disappointments of life are an important curriculum.

stuff happensYou won’t be able to watch that movie tonight, because Dad is watching his team lose the Stanley Cup.

There’s a hole in your favourite hoodie (the only thing worse than this is my suggestion of sewing on a patch, apparently).

Your sister has a sleepover tonight and you don’t. You’ll have to hang out with your mom instead.

I’m sorry, but your sister ate your homework (true story).

All valuable lessons, if handled correctly. Somewhere between “Vlad the Insensitive, Destroyer of Dreams” and “Schmoopy the Rescuer, Enabler of Dysfunction” lies good parenting.

My parents certainly didn’t subscribe to the “protect-at-all-costs” parenting philosophy. In their mind, suffering builds character, even for kids. They didn’t push us down the stairs or pinch us when we smiled too wide. But they didn’t apologize for the reasonable disappointments life brought our way – doing more chores than any of my friends, wearing second-hand clothes, bypassing the candy aisle, bringing lunch instead of buying… a whole lot of making do with what we had, without complaining.

This wasn’t easy to swallow as a child. And if I’m being honest, it’s still a struggle. Although I wasn’t raised to believe my life SHOULD be easy, I still feel somewhat surprised and ripped off when it isn’t. “But God, it’s not FAAAAIIIIR!”

Because it’s really not. Life isn’t fair.

Lessons I’ve learned from Disappointment:

Perspective: As I write this, on my personal laptop, in a warm house, dressed in a new (second-hand, but still newly bought) shirt, after eating a filling lunch, while my healthy son naps and my well supported children attend a well equipped school nearby, I realize that whining about life being unfair is pretty, well, unfair, to the billions of people who could only dream about a life as good as mine. Nevertheless, my small disappointments gave me a taste of suffering and dose of reality. Life is like this. Bad stuff happens (the slightly less poetic, but much more child-friendly truism). There’s not always someone to blame. No one is entitled to a trouble-free existence.

Health: How many of the worst patterns/habits/addictions we hold are attempts to escape or numb the pain life brings our way? I can personally attest to the tranquilizing effects of too much food, which I begin to crave whenever things start going wrong. One of my children asked if it’s true that ice cream is medicine? Ummm… A healthy person is learning to accept this discomfort and process it in a healthy way. Cry. Pray. Laugh. Create. Throw socks at the wall (really, it works).

Selflessness: Selflessness is learned in the hard places. After we process the disappointment, we have a choice. Where will my focus be? Will I wallow in my misery? Or will I think beyond me and what I want? Without a doubt, the instruction most often handed out, but not always followed by myself is: “It’s okay to be upset, but it’s not okay to make everyone around you miserable just because you are.”

Gratitude: What comes easy is often taken for granted. When I’m familiar with disappointment, then getting what I want/need/hope for is a gift and I will truly appreciate it. Our daughter B was born the year after we buried her brother Simon. Although her diagnosis with Down Syndrome threw us somewhat for a loop, it paled in comparison to the glorious fact that she was ALIVE and healthy.

Compassion: Disappointment is very real to the person feeling it. Whether anyone else understands or not, there it is. Someone who has faced their own disappointments may not be any better equipped to understand a unique sorrow, but we are open to the experience. Where it would be more convenient and comfortable to stuff our own pain beyond conscious reach and whitewash over the pain of others, the student of disappointment is not afraid to go there.

How to Grieve: My small disappointments have prepared me for the devastations in life. Not entirely. Nothing can. But it’s a start: the basic skill to face the hurt, work through it, find the joy in the midst of it and reach out to others regardless.

Disappointment isn’t lethal.

Disappointment is a natural part of life.

Disappointment is a good teacher.

I believe it and I want to live it… but doling it out as a parent is a lot harder than I expected. Perhaps it is my generation. Perhaps I’m just a pathetic softie. It’s hard to say no. It’s hard to watch those sad little faces. It’s hard not to jump in and make everything fair and smooth out the rough edges and bribe them back to happy.

So, I’m thankful for the times we really can’t afford it. Or there isn’t enough time. Or enough energy. Or it just really grosses me out (see: pet snake argument).

There is nothing wrong with WANTING to give your children everything. There IS something wrong with actually giving it to them. Unless you’re hoping to raise spoiled, greedy, miserable brats. If so, then by all means, appease and rescue and avoid disappointment at all costs. You’re on the right track.

So here’s me, hoping we’re all disappointed just enough to build strong character and no more.


Getting Stuck on The Road Less Travelled

roadI started this post over a week ago, shortly after The Embarrassing Incident (or EI, as it shall be known henceforth). I turned this tale inside and out, carefully rearranging the details to spin the story and cast myself as the hero. Or at the very least, the protagonist.

Who doesn’t want to be the power player in their own story? Except some days it doesn’t work like that. Some days you find yourself stranded in the snowy armpit of Where-The-Hell-Am-I, with no one to blame but yourself.

Or so I’ve heard.

This isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve become somewhat of an expert at the whole lock-your-keys-in-the-car/run-out-of-gas/get-hopelessly-lost/breakdown/vehicle-catches-on-fire (twice!)/stuck-in-the-snow/mud/ditch phenomenon. I probably shouldn’t be allowed out unsupervised.

On the day of The EI, I had undertaken a solo road trip to meet up with one of my oldest, dearest friends. We had decided to meet up in the mountains halfway between our two cities. What better way to catch up than a brisk winter hike?

Long story short: iMaps, unmaintained logging road, panic, snow, ice, nowhere to turn around, more panic, “All Season” tires, flaky city driver (me), deeper snow… even my friend’s 4-wheel-drive SUV was having trouble – my little red car didn’t stand a chance. Shannon seemed unphased and shrugged knowingly. She’s been around long enough to be completely unsurprised by my misadventures. Not exactly the years-in-the-making, once-in-a-blue-moon reunion I had pictured.

But here’s me, solidly stuck in the middle of nowhere. Nothing we did helped. Not the ice scrapers, digging, car mats, wheel turning, feats of car-pushing strength… Stuck.

I haven’t prayed so urgently in a long time. Before each new attempt… “Please Lord, rescue me. Don’t let this day be ruined. Save me from the tow bill and the humiliation and having to call Glen with yet another guess-what-I-did-now story…”

After an hour, we gave up. We began making our way back down the mountain (WITHOUT the little red car). There goes the day.

Until salvation came bombing up the road wearing coveralls astride two large, noisy ATVs. In less than 10 minutes, these hearty locals had me out of the rut and on my way back down the mountain. Like it was nothing.

Once again, I was rescued. I always am. Somehow God provides. And people step up – kinder and more helpful than I expect. It shouldn’t surprise me so much each time.

I much prefer being the rescu-er, than the rescu-ed. “Here I come to save the day!” tastes so much better than “Help!” And that’s a problem.

It’s good to give, no doubt, but it’s important to receive also. Either side without the other is unhealthy. Without a balance we aren’t truly participating… in family. In community. In church. In humanity.

A facade of independence and competence and keeping-it-all-together-all-the-time keeps people at arm’s length. My friendship with Shannon has survived (and flourished) over two decades, not because of proximity or circumstance or chemistry, but for all the times we’ve waded into the deep to rescue each other.

All my intimate relationships have grown in the messy, needy, bumpy parts of life. As we reach out to rescue or be rescued, we may not get a quick fix or any kind of solution at all. Sometimes our rescue comes in the form of a safe person to talk to. Or tell us when we’re wrong. Or take the kids during a crisis. Or cry with and for each other. Or spend a precious kid-free day driving for hours and pushing a stupid red car out of the stupid snow.

So here’s me, grateful to the Cameron family for rescuing me, to Shannon for grown up conversation, to Glen for going to the DoodleBops concert so I could have the day… and especially to all of you who keep rescuing this damsel in distress. I hope I can return the favour from time to time.

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Our Very Own Field of Dreams

The boy leads the way. His little legs motoring down the grassy hill, a controlled tumble to the bottom. With a shriek he flaps his arms and lifts his face to the rapidly setting sun. Daddy scoops him up and spins him around. He seems to be tasting the moment with a wide-mouthed, toothy grin. Enthusiasm personified.

His sister runs after him, arms akimbo. Not the most graceful gait, a half prance/half sprint, but joyful… elated to be free. The crunch of the frosty grass beneath her feet competes with her breathless giggles.

A game of tag ensues, although she is much more interested in the “getting” than the “being gotten.” Perpetually “It.” We are her willing quarry.

We’ve abandoned our stroller at the sleek, state-of-the-art play-park long ago. Wilder pursuits beckon. Wide open spaces begging us to stretch our legs.

The little people notice their oversized shadows. Tall gangly silhouettes do silly dances on the sun-kissed grass. The world is a buttery yellow.

baseballWe wander onto the baseball diamond, stirring up clouds of red dust. Daddy demonstrates the Right Way to fake a pitch. The girl “catches.” The boy cheers with gusto. We run the bases. Then again for good measure.

I try to capture a few images on my phone. But they are pale reflections of our unexpected adventure. It’s too precious to hold in my hands.

This.

Here.

Now.

It’s what we were meant for. Somehow a simple walk to the park, as much like worship as any sacred tradition. In the thrill of everyday beauty, I feel God’s pleasure.

So here’s us, where play belongs to all ages.


One Word to Rule 2013

It must exist. That magical combination of sounds and symbols which will inspire and motivate the new me.

The healthier, skinnier, more organized, kinder, wiser…resolutions list

not to mention hospitable, well-read, well-groomed, attentive…

DAILY: meditating on God’s Word, giving my husband massages, writing my blog and/or novel, doing speech therapy exercises, inspiring good behaviour in pre-teens, reading to and with littles, quizzing spelling words…

cavorting with unicorns, catching a leprechaun, giving up sugar…

the too-good-to-be-real 2013 me.

I was determined that this year’s One Word project would surpass last year. I combed through the words on other blogs and even cracked open the dictionary. I perused the many lists and goals and plans of attack I’d put together in years past. I kicked around words like: “Better” and “Higher” and “More.”

Glen laughed at my ideas of course. “That’s so YOU,” he says, and suggests I might as well pick “Should” or “Guilt” while I’m at it.

By the end of Day 1, I was deeply tired and discouraged. And I hadn’t even started yet!

I used to ride that wave of unrealistic New Year optimism for days, sometimes weeks. This is the time of year I buy my pants two sizes smaller. I stock up on baskets/organizers/folders and hum contentedly at the thought that soon my life will be streamlined and clutter-free. I prepare my answers for the “your kids are so well-behaved… what’s your secret?” conversations that will inevitably follow our newest strategies. I float through January on a cloud of beautiful, beautiful expectations.

But this year the cold, hard grip of reality refuses to let me go.

Stupid reality.

The vast majority of my best intentions come to nothing in the end. I get overwhelmed juggling the needs of others, the tasks of basic survival and my self-improvement projects. Soon I am crushed under a mountain of my own expectations. I focus on me, me, me. I am angry that God doesn’t just swoop in and fix my life already. I am disillusioned.

I reread the purpose of One Word: “One word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live.”

ow468-look2

I do want to be better, to aim higher, to do more… but the harder I try, the worse I do. And I don’t have enough energy left to try even harder still. And I can’t fool myself any longer that the right plan or strategy or WORD will make all the difference. And I could so easily throw my hands in the air and give up: eat my weight in Christmas candy, scream at my kids until they shut up and stay in bed for the rest of the year.

God help me.

Then it came to me. I don’t need to conquer a lifetime of bad habits or wrestle a year’s worth of problems into submission; I only have to deal with TODAY.

I will live in the precious moments of TODAY. No wasting the now on what-should-be; instead I will live, enjoy, savour. No fighting the flow of turbulent, wonderful, imperfect reality. TODAY is enough.

I will handle the worries of TODAY. No beating myself up about yesterday’s faults and failures; TODAY is a new day. No fretting about tomorrow’s what-ifs and could-bes; I will trust God with my tomorrows. TODAY is enough.

I will do what I can get done TODAY. No pressure to be perfect; I will do my best, no more and no less. No expectation to be anything but what I am. TODAY I am enough.

Thank you to Melanie at onlyabreath.com for the graphic!

Thank you to Melanie at onlyabreath.com for the cool graphic!

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now,

and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.

God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

Matthew 6:34 (MSG)

So here’s me, one day at a time.

Enough about me… what’s your word/resolution for 2013?


Unstoppable?

I’m awfully fond of breathing.

Usually my lungs and I are on the same page about this one, but today we are at odds. My “lingering cough” has taken a turn for the worse. When the hacking gets so bad I’m sleeping on the couch each night and I have to hang up the phone mid-conversation because I’m unable to get a word out, even I have to admit it’s more than “just a cold.”

There’s never much time for Mom to see the doctor. It falls down the list along with “pull out the refrigerator and dust the coils” and “back up computer files.” Something that really does need doing, but isn’t causing immediate problems and can just as easily be done another day. Or the one after that. Or never.

Except when it starts causing immediate problems. The kind where I have to cancel plans.

Like taking the ferry to Vancouver Island last weekend to hang out with my cousin (and longtime bff), her 5 kids and 11 newborn piglets. I was SO excited to show off my new son and enjoy a day of big-city-cousins-run-wild-on-the-farm.

Or our plans today to meet the daughter our dear friends just brought home from the Philippines. We’ve been praying for her and oohing over pictures for months. I couldn’t wait to finally meet her and have a long been-there-done-that “adopting a toddler” discussion.

Or the playdate I JUST set up yesterday with the little boy we’ve chosen to be our son’s new best friend. They haven’t met, but he’s so cute and we love his parents and it’s just meant to be. I had decided I would definitely feel better by Friday, so why not?

This is a problem for me. I hate cancelling. I hate it.

Not only do I miss out on the activity, but I have to rearrange my plans and change my expectations. I hate that too. But the worst part is: I have to admit my weakness.

I can’t do it. I can’t blame the kids or the weather or the economy or the politicians or even my husband for being unreasonable (as he is wont to do when I overcommit us). I have limitations and I’ve just run smack dab into them.

I HAVE to get better at noticing those ahead of time. Apparently acute bronchitis doesn’t need to get this bad. If only I would slow down and rest. You know, BEFORE coughing up green and sticky all the way to the walk-in clinic. I’ve had pneumonia more than once and that’s where I’m headed if I don’t slow down.

There is a time for pushing through and getting things done. There is a time for rest.

There is a time for making plans. There is a time for cancelling and rescheduling and just letting things go.

There is a time for doing, making, cleaning, teaching, writing, talking, fixing, helping… There is a time for breathing.

So here’s me, *hack, hack, hack* and it’s time to rest, even if it kills me. Because in the long run, it’ll kill me not to.


37 Reasons to Celebrate

Happy Birthday to me! Happy Birthday to me!

I sound just like one of my kids (B still wishes herself a happy birthday months later). By my age, most women are less enamored with the birthday process than I. They ignore, complain, avoid or simply celebrate “29” year after year. I’ve never understood that.

I’m not gonna lie. I do feel older. And not in the gee-I’m-so mature-and-sophisticated-and-sure-of-myself way. In the I’ve-never-felt-so-tired-and-out-of-touch-and-wth-is-that-cracking-noise-my-knees-are-making way. It doesn’t help that when asked, my husband tells people we are “almost 40” and reminds me that “by his calculations, our lives are nearly half over.” Such a ball of sunshine, that man.

BUT, and this is a big but,

(if you just heard Sir-mix-a-lot singing in your head, that’s a sign you are getting old, too)

I wouldn’t trade it. Not for extra time or a younger body or even the ability to start over. Because it’s been a good life and it’s only getting better. God has blessed me with an embarrassment of riches.

He does it so I can spread it around, make the world better, but also, enjoy what I’ve been given.

So Happy Birthday to me!

At the beginnning of the year I chose One Word to represent this year: DREAM. And though I chafed at the cheesiness of the word itself and the project, it’s forced me to see how powerful they can be. I have so many great dreams. And even though I may not achieve every one (especially all my travel dreams), each one is a reason to celebrate and look forward. It’s not the years under my belt that matter, it’s the ones still to come.

37 DREAMS for the years to come:

  1. Catch a fish.
  2. Try scuba diving.
  3. Write a Novel.
  4. Watch the Hobbit and all 3 LOTR in one sitting.
  5. Tour Europe.
  6. Publish a book.
  7. Watch the Anne of Green Gables play in Prince Edward Island.
  8. Go hang gliding.
  9. Snorkle on the Great Barrier Reef.
  10. Get a blog post on “Freshly Pressed.”
  11. See Les Miserables.
  12. Go on an African Safari.
  13. Finish my Psychology degree.
  14. Spend a weekend in New York City.
  15. Kayak with the whales.
  16. Walk the Cinque Terre (Italy).
  17. Attend a blogging conference.
  18. Visit my sister in Boston.
  19. Speak to a large audience about something I’m passionate about.
  20. Road trip with each of my children (one-on-one).
  21. Learn to crochet.
  22. Celebrate our 20th anniversary in Mexico.
  23. Eat chocolate cake for breakfast
  24. Ride a gondola under the Bridge of Sighs (Venice).
  25. Spend a weekend by myself, in silence.
  26. Take a painting class.
  27. Make my own salsa.
  28. Take the boy to Disneyland.
  29. Tour Israel.
  30. Lead the cheering section each time one of my children graduates/gets married/performs/gives a speech/wins an award/cures cancer…
  31. Go to Comic-Con.
  32. Go on an overnight white water rafting/camping trip.
  33. Reach my ideal weight (and stay there).
  34. Get a PhD.
  35. Become a Grandma.
  36. Ride a motorcycle.
  37. Celebrate our 50th anniversary with all our family.

So here’s me, tooting my own horn. Kind of obnoxious, but it’s my party so I’ll write what I wanna.

What about you? What dreams are on your bucket list? As soon as I cross a few of these off, I’ll need to add some more…


Little Boxes

Little boxes on the hillside,

little boxes made of ticky tacky,

little boxes on the hillside,

little boxes all the same…

And the people in the houses

went to the university

where they were put in boxes

and they came out all the same…

My life is filled with boxes. Boxes of toys and clothes and diapers and household products from Costco. Boxes of time in Microsoft Outlook, colour coded for each child with overlapping commitments. Boxes to check for another damn assessment.

The boxes keep us together. They bring order out of chaos. They are manageable. They are safe.

There are some boxes, not constructed with cardboard or computer code or even pencil strokes, which order our life as well. Boxes full of 8-year-olds who sit in their desk all day and listen to their teacher and keep their hands to themselves. Boxes of children who climb stairs one foot at a time and ride bikes and jump rope. Boxes of car keys and university applications and grandchildren.

It is everything we expect from life.

Then it happens. A child who simply won’t fit into our comfortable boxes. She is fun and interesting and determined and charming and challenging and not at all box-friendly.

So we try to construct new boxes for her. New expectations. We read books and go to workshops and join support groups. Special boxes, diagnostic boxes, supportive boxes, therapeutic boxes… all very good boxes.

It’s hard work tracking down, even building from scratch, so many different boxes. While the rest of the world takes their pre-fabricated, standard boxes for granted.

Then it happens again. And again. And again. She refuses to stay in the box. She is unpredictable and sweet and moody and unique and not at all box-friendly.

In a world full of boxes, she stands out.

And the world can’t help but take notice and smile.

Boxes are kind of boring after all.

So here’s me, celebrating all the Outside-the-Box beauty Down Syndrome brings to my life. This week is National Down Syndrome Awareness Week (Nov 1-7).


What Do You Say?

Last month I sat around a table with 1/2 a dozen sticky faced toddlers. Each one clutching a mangled dixie cup of cheerios in their hot little hands. Upon reaching the bottom of the cup they lift hopeful eyes in my direction. The more assertive personalities hold up their cup beseechingly.

“What do you say?”

Each one, in turn, squeaks out an adorable “pa-wease.” Even S rubs his tummy to sign the word.

After that, it’s smiles all around, flush with the success of snack acquisition and the effusive praise that comes with having “SUCH good manners.”

This is what we do. We teach our children what to say.

Say “Hi” to Grandma. Wave “Bye-bye.” Tell your brother “No thank you! I don’t like it when you throw sand in my eye/take my toy/hug me until I fall to the ground/bite me on the shoulder.”

We give our children words to foster relationships, stand up for themselves and express their feelings. We teach them how to treat others, and ourselves, with respect. Words are the sticks and stones brick and mortar of relationship development.

At the end of a meal our big kids are expected to clear their plate and say to whomever prepared the meal, “Excuse me, thank you for my dinner.” It’s a pretty habit we admired in the respectful, well-behaved children of other families we know. We do the same in the hopes that one day our children will morph into something similar.

I’m not so deluded as to believe it is always the honest expression of heartfelt gratitude. Some nights is sounds more like “excusemethankyouformydinner, it’s MY turn with the iPad, put it DOWN, it’s NOT FAIR, where’s MY ice cream, DON’T touch me, MOOOOOOO-OOOOOOM.”

Other nights we get the sullen, slumped shoulders version which sounds like the exact opposite of gratitude “Ex-cuuuuse me. Thanks for my ‘dinner.'” And we launch immediately into a lively post-dinner discussion about attitude and tone of voice, which is always fun. “What do you mean? That’s my normal voice. I always talk like that.” This actually does have a ring of truth, since sullen-pre-teen-cool is becoming our new normal. Sigh.

But we plug away. Every time they say the words, they go through the motions of Grateful. If nothing else, it is a reminder that meals do not magically appear on the table; they are a gift of time and effort, and hopefully (most nights) some small amount of skill.

Manners are a big deal in our house. I went toe to toe with the speech therapist who insisted that the sign for “want” was the strong verb B needed to use most in her communication. I insist on “please” when she needs something. It may seem like a small thing, but when words are few, they should be the right ones.

And hopefully attitude will follow action.

The easy part is writing all of this about my children; yet another parenting technique we subscribe to. The hard part is applying it to myself.

Glen and I had one of those rare lingering disagreements this weekend (we usually have heated/hurt feelings/cry/make up/I-can’t-really-remember-what-the-big-deal-was-anyway/quick fights). We are tired and overwhelmed and in this life stage, with head colds all around, it’s probably inevitable. But the lingering is worrisome. And unhealthy. And I haven’t been ready to let it go.

I won’t go into the details (mostly because they are pretty stupid and petty), but we both felt disrespected and devalued. Me, by his actions and he, by my words.

I’ve been absolutely certain that actions trumped words. Wasn’t that the point? Not what we said or how we said it, but what we DID. Sure, I had been a little bit wrong, but he was wrong-er.

So there.

Then this morning I dusted off this blog post that I had started weeks ago: pontificating about the importance of words. Gah. I suck.

I thank the doctor for his time. I say ‘please’ to the waiter who brings me a drink. I excuse myself from a meeting rather than abruptly walking out. I would never demand or yell or belittle someone I had just met. Doesn’t my family, and especially my husband, DESERVE respectful words even more than the strangers and acquaintances I practice my manners on all day long?

I know they do. And when I am feeling entitled and ungrateful and irritated, I can only hope that saying the right words will help adjust MY attitude too.

So here’s me, thanking my husband for all he does. He speaks to me with respect and that means a lot. I’m sorry.


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