Tuesday, December 6, 2011


According to my 6 year old child, I am the worst mother EVER....You see, I made her take snowpants to school today, AND I expect her to wear them.  And worse than that, they are navy blue snowpants, and don't confuse her with the fact that her snowsuit is navy blue and pink...navy blue are boy pants, apparently. So not only am I FORCING her to wear snowpants in the snow to keep her dry and warm, I'm dressing her in a boy colour, in something that makes her legs look fat. Serious mom fail.

On a certain level, I understand where she's coming from, because I remember. In particular, I remember a week-long school ski trip to Belle Neige resort when I was in grade 6 in Quebec. My mom really didn't know from skiing or ski wear, but she was positive that you only wore tights under snowpants, so she went ahead and packed all my jeans for the trip, a fact I didn't discover until it was time to leave. I had to wear tights with snowpants on the bus, and then pretend that I had to go use the bathroom as soon as we got to the room, so the rest of the girls didn't know that I was a dork who didn't know enough to wear jeans under the snow pants. I had to sneak a pair of jeans from the suitcase and smuggle it to the bathroom so I could get out of the snowpants. I still remember the embarassment and humiliation. I understand the snowpants aversion.

My kid's been having problems with another little boy in the class. There have been contributions from both sides equally, but from what I understand, my daughter has stopped, but the little boy has continued, occasionally enlisting the aid of some followers in the class. They have made fun of my daughter's lunch, her clothes, her drawing...and now, her snowpants. She's sensitive and has anxiety issues. I sent her to school with bright pink snowpants yesterday that are still a bit big, but they were PINK. They came home suspiciously clean for the state of the schoolyard, and she admitted this morning that she didn't wear them because she thought they would be too big. When I hauled the navy ones out instead this morning, she pitched a fit for the pink ones, and the fit then continued all the way into school.

School is tough for kids, and something like getting picked on for snowpants isn't a big deal in hindsight, but it sure is a big deal when you're 6. I guess I'll have to find some girly-girl snowpants if I have any hope of keeping her warm and dry this winter. I'm still drying the boots and the socks from yesterday.

And since I walk her to school when I'm able,. I have snowpants. They're navy. They just might be boy ones. They DO make my legs look fat. But I'm warm and dry, and I've learned that warm and dry and frumpy trumps styling and freezing every time.

I sent my daughter to school with snowpants today. She thinks I'm the worst mother in the world. I can own that...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Lessons from the Cancer Centre

Since mid-October, I've spent every weekday morning sitting in the regional cancer centre while my mom has radiation for squamous cell carcinoma that didn't take the hint and go away surgically. While it can be a tough place to hang out, because reality tends to stare you in the face, it's also a good place for basic reminders on the importance of little things in our lives. Here's what I learned:

  • We are stronger together. When you hang out in the cancer centre, there aren't alot of secrets. Either you are fighting cancer yourself, or you are supporting someone who is fighting cancer. You don't have to make excuses why you are there, or go into detailed explanations. Cancer is the great equalizer, and there's something strangely comforting about the solidarity that builds as you start to recognize the same faces every day. Race, creed, belief, age, gender and sex don't matter. Cancer attacks everyone equally.
  • Do unto others. The second day of mom's treatment, two of the gentlemen, and I use that in the truest sense of the word, shared information about the designated parking area and a monthly parking pass. Having this small piece of information took away two big stressors in my mom's daily journey. I have since passed the information on to others. None of us heard it from hospital administration (although hopefully that will change after my battle with the bureacracy over a parking permit)-it came from fellow patients. 
  • Small things matter.  Small things can make a big difference when you're facing a nasty adversary. Patients receive a printout of all their appointments on the first day, so you can see the journey ahead, and you know what you are doing and when. Changing an appointment is not a hassle. There are lockers with keys that patients can use if they need to change into hospital gowns. The main waiting area for radiation has coffee and tea and comfortable chairs. Volunteers restock the magazines on a regular basis. 
  • You have a name. Once you get into the treatment areas, you are not a chart. You are a person with a name, and people remember you and ask about you. They remember if you have a family, or grandchildren, they compliment you on a scarf or an outfit, and they treat you with respect. Efficiency does not have to be rude.
  • Courage wears many faces. I interviewed Dr Craig McFadyen, surgeon and Regional VP of the Grand River Regional Cancer Centre a few months ago for an article about the Cancer Centre that unfortunately died  when Waterloo Openfile.ca was tanked. He said that he was always humbled and inspired by the courage of the patients fighting cancer. “Every day you see extraordinary examples of courage in the Centre. Cancer is a tough enemy and we use things that can hurt you to cure you. The perseverance that people have to continue on and keep fighting inspires me every day.” 
God bless the patients, the caregivers and the families. Together we are stronger.

The Silo Mentality

I've just spent the last few days running through bureaucratic hurdles to get a piece of paper that is now sitting on the dashboard of my car. What should have been a simple process turned into a 3 day, blood pressure increasing, stress inducing nightmare because too many people were caught into a "not my job" mentality.

In a nutshell, here's what happened. Since the middle of October, I have spent every weekday morning at the Grand River Regional Cancer Centre with my mom as she has radiation for recurrent sqamous cell carcinoma. It's a particularly nasty and rapid growing skin cancer that has a habit of spreading elsewhere if you don't deal with it. Since it's been surgically evicted 4 times and came back, this time the surgeon suggested frying it instead.

Parking at the hospital is tricky and expensive. On the second day of treatment, two of the patients in the radiation centre told us about the designated parking area for outpatient oncology, and about a monthly parking pass which worked out much cheaper than paying by the day. My mom can't walk very far, and since the radiation has progressed, some days she's holding on to my arm for dear life. Having a designated area and the parking pass took one less stress away on what has been a tough grind. We have 6 appointments to go, and I still have to convince her 3 days out of 5 to tough it out and finish.

Everything went along smoothly until last Thursday. We were running a bit late and arrived in the designated parking area, only to encounter a security guard who was issuing tickets right, left and centre. I pulled out mom's schedule to show that she had daily radiation, only to be informed that I needed a permit to park in the area, and if I remained, he would ticket me $25. It was the first I'd heard of a permit. All of the spots in the area were designated for outpatient renal and oncology patients. Most of the spots required permits, but not all of them did, and I was always careful to park in ones that were not permit designated. When I told him if I moved my car, my mother would be late, he pointed out that it wasn't his problem we were running late, but I couldn't stay there. I asked him where to get one of these permits, because it was the first I'd heard of it, and he told me to go wherever she was having treatment, but "he didn't work in that area and it wasn't his problem." I sent mom ahead, praying she got there without tripping (she almost did.) and moved my car.

I asked at one desk and was told I needed to go to a different desk. I asked at THAT desk and was told to go back to the first desk. I asked about the parking permit and was told that the permits were only for patients who drove themselves, so my mother wouldn't qualify. I could either "drop her at the door" or she would have to walk from wherever in the parking lot. When I questioned the policy, and I'll state for the record that I was a tad irate and angry at this point, the person I was talking to refused to talk to me any further, and another person helpfully waved a piece of paper with the policy on it under my nose. I was so angry I was incoherent and shaking, my mom was stressed, and so we left.

I then fired off a complaint letter. When it wasn't answered, I contacted someone that I had dealt with when I wrote a story about the centre for the now dead OpenFile Waterloo Region. Five minutes after I contacted THAT person,I got a phone call, followed by another phone call. After I outlined what had happened, including the lack of communication and the disconnects, I received the permit, which is all I was trying to get in the first place. Turns out, the policy had been misinterpreted somewhere down the line.

Policies and rules are in place for a reason. However, there are larger rules that trump any piece of paper, and those are "do unto others..." and "use common sense."  Common sense seems to be sorely lacking these days. I remember having conversations with a lifelong friend of mine when she was going through the Customs College at Rigaud, QC, on her way to be a border guard. I told her that there was no substitute for common sense on the line. For example, back when I worked at Passenger Ops at Toronto's Pearson Airport, we would often have a flight from Florida arrive around the same time as a flight from a drug-source country. According to the letter of the law, anyone who had bought more than they were supposed to were legally required to pay duties and taxes. So you could tie up the customs hall charging people $20-$30 extra dollars because they bought the bag of oranges and the mouse ears, or you could concentrate your efforts on the high risk flight.It's all about choices, and sometimes common sense trumps legislation.

"Not my job" and "not my department" seems to be common responses these days, and nothing can escalate a situation faster than being shuffled around from place to place. While it may be true that the situation is not in the job description, taking a couple of minutes to help out another human being is in our life job description. How different would life be if we didn't need a "random act of kindness" day because we were all just looking out for each other. 

Hopefully, my battle with bureacracy will help some other cancer patient or family member down the line. We're all in this life together.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Across the Rainbow Bridge

In 1992, I made the acquaintance of a six-month old brown spotted tabby, who was peering hopefully at me from a cage at the humane society. His previous owners had moved, and they put him up for adoption with all his papers.  He stuck a paw out and suckered me in, and I took him home. His name at the time was Jesse, which I thought was a dumb name for a cat, but what to call the handsome fellow? When I tried to clip his claws that evening, everytime I thought he was going to settle down and accept things, he came back with another round of growls, teeth and claws...so I named him Rocky. Yesterday, I had to make the heart rendering decision to help him across the Rainbow Bridge. At the age of 20, he was still determined to snoop around, living up to one of his nicknames "Inspector 12."

My previous Tortie had been named Tisha, but we called her Tickey. My mom kept calling Rocky Tickey at the beginning, so he quickly became known as "BooBoo cat" after the cat in Laverne and Shirley. Because he was a prim and proper cat, he was usually referred to as Mr. Boo.

I took him back to my apartment the first day. He stepped out of the cage, looked around, spotted the food and the water and settled in. The very first night he curled up on the bottom of my bed, and there he stayed for the next 20 years. When I married Dave, he and Boo had a battle of wits. Dave had decreed no cats in the bedroom. For the first 3 months after we were married, he banished Boo at bedtime, and Boo spent the rest of the night yowling outside the door, or scratching at the  carpet. After 3 months, he had the carpet down to backing in the area by the door. I convinced Dave to try a cat bed. Boo would start the night in the cat bed, and then once Dave was asleep, he would sneak onto my side of the bed and hunker down. The jig was up the night Dave woke up and looked at the bottom of the bed and realized the mound of blankets had ears and eyes shining back at him. For the next 2 weeks, Dave would spring upright several times a night, jack-in-the-box fashion to try to catch Boo on the bed. One night I was going to bed with a migraine, and I pointed and Boo and told him to lie down., and then I pointed at Dave and told HIM to lie down, and the battle was over. Boo stayed on the bed. In later years, he slept between us, often curling into the curve of Dave's legs.

Boo was a protective cat, and if he slept on your head, there was trouble a foot. Invariably, something befell the person he protected. My mom fell and broke her hip the day after Boo had slept on her head. I was in a bad car accident, and Dave fell going out the steps and sprained his ankle. Each time, Boo had slept on our heads. I learned to pay attention at my peril.

For all he was protective, Mr. Boo was also prim and proper. He had a very strong idea about how a cat should behave. He was always impeccably groomed, and he would never have sit completely on our laps-he would sit near us or beside us, but never on us. If he was feeling particularly friendly, he would sit on the arm of the chair and put 2 paws on my lap. Only 2 paws, mind you, boundaries had to be maintained. Max didn't have much dignity, and Boo was appalled by his antics. Max once jumped to the top of the bedroom door, and managed to get himself straddling the door-right paws on one side, left paws on the other. Boo was on the bed, and he stood up, executed a 180 degree turn and turned with his back to Max. He wanted nothing to do with THAT-Max was on his own! I suspect Boo was a British Colonel in India in a previous life.

Boo never got too upset about things. He outlived 2 other cats, and survived the arrival of our daughter. She was a bit bouncy for his taste when she was small, but he got quite fond of her when she was old enough to give him chin rubs.  He stayed upstairs most of the time in the last years of his life, so she never formed an attachment. When the house got quiet when she was finally in bed, he would emerge and hop up beside me in my chair for a visit.  He liked the gas fireplace, and he was very fond of the air conditioning in our bedroom. IF the air wasn't on this summer, he stayed on the floor on Dave's side of the bed. As soon as the air came on, he would be back on his spot on my side of the bed, although he always moved to Dave's side in the evening, just so that Dave would understand that he had shared my bed long before Dave did!

He seemed to get old overnight, and the last few days have been tough. I didn't want my dear old friend to suffer, and it seemed on Saturday that he was asking for my help to cross the Rainbow Bridge. I know that sounds flakey, but it was true. He was ready to move on.  He deserved to die with the same dignity that he lived his life, and he couldn't groom himself any longer.

So here's to my dear old friend. You made me laugh, you protected me, you kept me company and you sailed through all the chaotic times calmly and serenely. You never once scratched or bit when the kid was small and a bit too enthusiastic with petting you. You accepted  (grudgingly) other animals into the house and you still enjoyed chasing your old mousey right to the end.

Be at peace Mr. Boo. I hope there's lots of new places to explore. I'll miss you terribly.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tipping the Balance

I am a coper. I am the person you want in a crisis, because I can calmly deal with things. I go into efficiency mode, and deal with what needs to be dealt with. Now granted, I usually fall apart about 2 weeks later, but in the moment, I'm the person you want by your side. I have sung at the funerals of 2 of my aunts, some of my friends' parents and managed to get through things professionally. I am a coper.

Sometimes, though, it's the little things that can throw you. Mornings in my house can be a challenge. ADHD/OCD and Anxiety in a 6 year old fashionista do not make for calm and easy mornings. If I had a dollar for every "just a second" in my day, I could pay off our mortgage. Getting her up, dressed, fed and out the door to school on time takes more military precision than D-Day, plus alot of cajoling, reminding and the occasional threat. I have walked out of the room, gone upstairs, closed the bathroom door and let loose a primal scream on more than one occasion. It's better to scream at the shower curtain than my daughter, especially about something she can't help, but I am a trained soprano, so the scream is kinda loud, ya know?

My mom has had several recurrences of squamous cell carcinoma-aka skin cancer. It's ugly, it's invasive and it's fast growing. And if nothing else convinces you of the need for sun block, watching one of these things get cut out of your mom's head will do it. Watching 4 of them being cut out, and telling her to catch the blood drip after will do it for sure. After the last stint of surgery, the surgeon recommended radiation to fry the remaining cancer cells and convince them to go away. Since last week, every weekday mom and I trek to the cancer centre near our home so she can get zapped. It takes us longer to walk from the parking lot than it takes for her to have the actual treatment, but for 6 weeks, we'll make the daily round trip.

My mom is 85, and I know my time with her is finite. I've known it since we buried my dad 22 years ago. There's something about seeing the name of the other parent on the tombstone, with a blank space for the date that makes that clear. She's had a rough few months with health. While we've talked about her funeral and her wishes, I try not to think about that eventuality. Sometimes, though, I hit a tipping point.

Last week was school picture day. My kid is a blue eyed brunette who looks fabulous against a blue background, so I chose the blue background for her picture. The problem is, my child is currently fixated on all things black. She only wants to wear black clothing, she wants to paint her room black, I made her a winter hat that was black with sequins because the likelihood is much better that she will actually wear the thing. The flip side to this current favorite colour, of course, is that the previous favorite colour is so last season...and that happened to be blue. When she found out that I had chosen blue, she pitched a fit that may have triggered the earthquake in Turkey (no disrespect or mockery intended, may God protect them). According to her, "none of her clothes will look good against blue" (although she was planning on wearing a red and black top) and she didn't like blue and she wasn't going to smile and that was it, and then I couldn't understand what she said because she was caterwauling and screaming at the top of her lungs.

And I burst into tears. It suddenly occurred to me that this might be the last school picture my mom gets to see, and I wanted it to look nice. I don't know that my mom won't be here next year. But when you hang out in the cancer centre daily, reality stares you in the face. Some of these people won't make it through. My mother in law didn't. My friend Andrea didn't. My cousin-by-marriage Joe didn't. My aunt Betty didn't. My friend Ellen didn't. My friend's mom Edelgarde didn't. Cancer sucks.

And so, while I've been coping and managing, a meltdown over a blue background sent me over the edge. Because sometimes, it's the little things that tip the balance. I cried the tears I had been pretending didn't need to be cried and I let the scared kid come out for a minute before the competent adult took over again. And it was okay.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Business Rule 101-Thou shalt not piss off a Social Media Savvy Writer

This post is inspired (or maybe provoked is a better word) by an experience I had with Staples Canada customer service earlier today.

I have been in the market for a new computer desk. The desk I have is a lovely hardwood desk, but it's the wrong height to be a computer desk and it's not wide enough. I've had it since I was in high school, but I don't think I ever used it as a desk.

There are space limitations in the room it's destined for, and I finally found the perfect desk at Staples and ordered it online. It stated next day delivery, so I've been sitting twiddling my thumbs all morning. Staples will only tell you that the item will be delivered "sometime between 9am and 5pm". Okay, that's not helpful in today's day and age but anyway...

I finally pulled up the confirmation email and  I called the customer service number to see approximately when in the 9-5 window I could expect to see my new computer desk, which I would still have to assemble.

That's when the problems began. Now let me preface this by saying that I have been both a customer service representative, and a manager of a customer call centre. I know from customer service call centres and shoddy customer service is not acceptable to me. I won't accept crappy customer service.

I got the customer service person on the line,  gave my order number and asked for a status update.

I was mistaken on the delivery date-mainly because I never know what the date is unless it's a date I have to remember-like deadlines and birthdays. The shipment was due to be delivered tomorrow, not today. Okay, my bad. I can own that. However, I won't be around tomorrow and there isn't anyone I can ask to be here-especially all day. I asked the customer service rep if we could reschedule.

I was told in no uncertain terms that it was not possible to reschedule. It would be delivered tomorrow, and if I wasn't there, too bad. They would try again another day. I asked if the shipment had left the warehouse yet. Nope, still in the warehouse. Well then why can't it be rescheduled to Wednesday? Nope, can't do that. Why not? Not our policy...Why not? We just can't reschedule...The CSR couldn't explain WHY it couldn't be rescheduled, only that they would make 3 delivery attempts and send it back to the warehouse. If I didn't like it, I could cancel the order. Take it or leave it.

I went around the mulberry bush for a few minutes, and then told the customer service rep that the policy was not acceptable, it made no sense, and I wanted to talk to her manager. She put me on hold for a minute, and then came back on the line with the same old lines. I interrupted her, because to be honest I was pretty annoyed at this point, and told her that I wanted to talk to her manager. She told me the manager didn't want to escalate the call, I could take the delivery schedule or cancel the order. I cancelled the order.

I then took to Twitter to tweet about the poor experience, AND I called Staples Head Office for good measure and complained to someone there. Hell hath no fury like a writer with a sense of efficacy, CSR experience and a social media presence.

The person on the end of the Staples twitter account reacted immediately and asked for details. The person at head office was not pleased with how things had been handled and was going to advise someone somewhere about it. I'm still not happy, so here I am in the blogsphere as well.

So here's what I do know. Having a delivery window of "sometime between 9am and 5pm" is ludicrous in today's day and age of text and electronic communications. People are busy, and the days of the housewife being home all day to wait for a delivery are long gone. If you tell me that it will delivered between 9-11am, I can plan accordingly. 9-5pm is a bit ridiculous...

In today's day and age of email communications and computer d-bases, it should be a simple matter to change the delivery date, especially since the boxes are still sitting in the warehouse. One keystroke could have saved a great deal of grief, aggravation and ill-will.

Social media means that good and bad experiences are instantly communicated. The first thing I did when I got off the phone was find out if Staples had a Twitter account, and tweeted my bad experience. I had a response in minutes.  I then googled their head office and spoke to someone there. I'd always had good dealings with Staples, and our local store staff are great. However, this experience has tainted my impression of the store, although the quick response to the tweet was impressive.

It's common lore that people tell 5 people about a positive experience, and 10 people about a negative one. The advent of social media can multiply that reach 10 fold. Companies need to be aware of that.

In the mean time, I'm out one computer desk and the room upstairs is a mess. Guess I'll be staying at the kitchen table a bit longer than I planned.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Little Things

This post was inspired by Laura Wright's new Blog  The ODD Mom. Laura has just started blogging, and she's on my must-read list. Go check her out.

My daughter has ADHD, OCD and Anxiety. Surprisingly, she can handle the big things pretty well-took my mother in law's death very well, and when my mother fell when she was there, she helped grandma bandage her hand (and injury that required 28 stitches to sew that skin back on-peeled it off the back of her hand) and then tried to clean up the blood for Grandma.  Big things don't seem to phase her.

Her OCD and Anxiety means that little things, on the other hand, can throw her right into a tailspin. We had a meltdown in a store last week because she was in a panic about whether her stuffed bunny was in the car or had been forgotten. She bolted from me one time, and I caught her a nano-second before she ran into 4 lanes of busy rush-hour traffic because Bunny had been forgotten on a table at summer camp across the road.  Barbies must be naked before they are put away for the night. They must go in a certain order into the box, and clothes must be below the dolls. She can't cope if it isn't done that way. Her hair is brushed before she brushes her teeth and she once locked herself in the bathroom for 20 minutes because I tried to hurry things along and brushed her hair while she was brushing her teeth. Her clothes go on in a certain order. She needs a clean spoon if she eats more than one thing requiring a spoon.

Her anxiety can be extreme. "But what if" enters into many conversations. She should go work for the Pentagon or CSIS-she can dream up scenarios that wouldn't occur to other people. Some of them are funny ("but what if someone breaks into the car and steals Bunny?" "Honey, if someone breaks into the car, Bunny is the last thing they'll be looking for." ) and some of them break my heart.  We were going to a fall fair last weekend and she was having a meltdown because she only wanted one of us to go with her, and the other one had to stay home.  She didn't care which one, but someone had to stay. We eventually found out that it was because she wanted someone to stay in the house to protect Bunny. Problem solved-Bunny came along in a zippered carryall bag. It took over an hour of her pleading with us before we found out. "Why do you want one of us to stay." "Because"  "Because why" "I can't tell you." "Well then I can't stay home." "Please...." "Tell us why" "Because" "Because is a preposition not an answer-tell us why we need to understand" "I can't" and so it went...

I drove to Welland, Ontario and back yesterday (2 hours each way) for my friend's mom's funeral. I dropped the kid at school and left, and had arranged for one of her friend's moms to pick her up after school for a playdate until I could get home. Vampira left her hairband ("her most favorite one in the whole world") at her friend's house and she was starting to panic. I called, talked to the little girl's dad and asked if they could bring it to school in the morning. No problem, I'm putting it in the backpack now. Crisis averted, kid went to sleep.

Fast forward to this morning and kid was trotting to school so she could get her hairband back. The little friend goes in a different door, so we waited by the door she goes in. When the bell rang, the little girl hadn't shown up yet, and Vampira was in a panic. She has a test today that we have worked all week to get ready for. When we left the house this morning, she was good to go. She knew the words, she could spell the words, she could write the words, she could recognize the words if I spelt the words...and I'm afraid it's all gone to pot because a hairband. Her brain may be stuck in the hairband loop all day.

She will have to learn to recognize and manage her OCD. People with older OCD kids say that it is possible and it will come. My little girl is 6 (okay 6 1/2) and she doesn't have the cognitive ability to recognize and interrupt the pattern. All she knows is that her hairband was supposed to be at school and it wasn't. Hopefully, the little friend was just late and all was well at recess, hairband returned to its rightful owner, or I will be heading to the accessories store after school.

Part of my job as her mom is to minimize her stressors. Sometimes that means sending 3 spoons in her lunch because she has soup, pudding and applesauce and can't use the same spoon. Sometimes it means walking her back to the car to show her her stuffed bunny is sitting waiting for her. And sometimes, it means buying a new hairband.  Someone who was supposed to have training in children's mental health issues thought I was enabling her compulsion by packing different spoons which told me she didn't understand OCD. While it may be enabling to an extent, it's also making sure that Vampira will eat her lunch. She won't use the same spoon, and it doesn't matter if you wash it in between. I have bigger mountains to die on, so I pack three spoons.

I'm meeting with her teacher after school today just to introduce myself, introduce the kid's challenges and commit to working together. One of her other teachers commented a couple of days ago that a little thing like where she was going to sit really got her stressed. I'm glad the school community is starting to see it. If they can't I'll educate them and we'll work together.

I just hope the bloody hairband showed up...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Grade 1

My little girl started Grade 1 today. She wore her sparkly new shoes, her sparkly top, her jeans with sequins on them and her sparkly belt. She had her Hannah Montana backpack and lunch bag and was more than a little terrified.

My daughter suffers from Anxiety disorder, OCD and ADHD. She may or may not be FASD as well, but we have to wait until next March to have that confirmed. The labels explain the why she is, but not the whose she is. They are part of her, but I'm not going to let them define her.

School is tough on my kid. She's a worrier. She is a perfectionist and she'd rather say she doesn't know than to get an answer wrong. Her OCD means that things have to be done a certain way every time, and if things change unexpectedly she can be thrown off for the day. IF something has been promised, then it must happen as promised or she can't cope. Life is full of unexpected changes, so I've tried to mitigate that as much as possible. If there is only a possibility of something happening, I don't mention it until it becomes a certainty. 

My little girl is very intuitive. She knows when someone likes her, and she knows when someone doesn't. She wants everyone to like her. That's going to be hard on her-in fact, it already has been. One of the challenges with OCD is sometimes she fixates, and sometimes it's on a person. (If I never hear another word about Hannah Montana I'll be a happy person) If the person is someone that she has decided is her new BFF, and it's news to the other person, we have a problem. I have to let the fixation run its course, but I have a sad little girl in the meantime when her adoration is not returned.

We had a couple of really bad days this weekend, because school was weighing on my little girl's mind. She thought she had to know everything for Grade 1 the first day of Grade 1. Since I'm her mom, and I know nothing, I solved the problem by hauling out the Grade 1 and Kindergarten curriculum books I'd already purchased. We started with Kindergarten, and worked through some pages so she could see how much she had learned. Then I asked her whether she had learned things in Junior Kindergarten or Senior Kindergarten. She's a bright kid, and figured out the pattern quickly-that learning builds from stuff you already know. Then I grabbed the Grade 1 book and we flipped through some pages. She quickly discovered that she already knows a bunch of Grade 1 stuff too. Problem solved, at least for now.

I'm worried about test anxiety. I'm worried that the school will use the labels to define her, rather than to help her be her best. I'm worried that my kid will be stressed and anxious. She had a rough year last year, but over the summer, I got my sunny bunny back. I don't want to lose that kid again.

The school, teachers and principal will just have to get used to this face because they are going to see it alot. A good friend of mine, whose son has Downs Syndrome, tells teachers that "my child can't rise to low expectations." I like that. Yes, my kid has some challenges, but that is all they are. She's a kind, sweet, smart, loving, funny little fashionista with strong opinions. She will do great things, with a bit of help, a lot of support and love in abundance (and maybe the occasional trip by a stuffed bunny in a backpack.)

My little girl started Grade 1 today, and I couldn't be more proud.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Choice, Priorities and Acceptance

I don't know how to start this post. Or rather, I don't know how to diplomatically start this post, so I guess I'll just start. I've never been a fan of sweeping generalizations that encompass a whole sector of people and judge them by the actions of a few. After 9-11, people blamed the followers of Islam as a whole for the actions of a few, which makes as much sense as blaming me for the Troubles in Northern Ireland because I have some Irish in my blood.  If we learned nothing else from the life of Jack Layton, it is that we need to see the individual.

I used to be quick to judge other parents when their children were pitching a fit in the grocery store. They must be bad or indulgent parents-why can't they discipline their children? Well, karma is a bitch and the universe has a sense of humour, and on more than one occasion, my child has been the one flat out on the floor pitching a fit. She gets easily overstimulated, and sometimes the only way she can let us know that she's had enough and can't cope anymore is to pitch a fit. Now I'm the parent other people are judging, yet they don't know the reason. All they see is the behaviour.

I juggle the multiple priorities of self-employed business person, wife, mother, daughter, friend and singer. Often I can keep all the balls in the air, but other times, I have to make tough choices. For example, a year ago, I lost my cousin, brother of my heart, and a memorial was planned for Labour Day weekend 2010 in Field, BC, which is about 3 hours from Calgary.  He was my mother's favorite nephew, no disrespect to the other cousins, but then 84 year old my mother was not able to make the trip to Calgary, and then to Field. She took Murray's death hard, and I didn't think I could leave her alone. In addition, my daughter was going back to school, my mother in law was fighting a losing battle with cancer, and my husband had all he could cope with. Even had I had the means to go to the memorial, it was not the time for me to be away from my family, and so I had to miss saying goodbye in person. It still haunts me, and I suspect that some of my family members think I should have found a way to be there, and don't confuse them with the facts, thank you.

My best friend is here from Australia, and is heading back home soon. Her mother had a massive stroke before Christmas, and my friend has been staying close to home during her visit. We've gone down to see her a couple of times, and hope to squeeze in one more visit if we can swing it. She called hoping to meet me for lunch on Monday halfway between our locations. I had already booked two interviews for a story that has to be completed tomorrow, and I can't manage to complete the interviews and get there in time for lunch. I have to work when the work is there, because my work can be sporadic. I have a lot of work, and tight deadlines, and as much as I want to see my friend again before she leaves, I have to meet my deadlines. I know that once her mom passes away, she probably won't return to Canada as often, if at all. It was a tough choice to have to pass on lunch.

My child is starting Grade 1 at a time when most of my friends my age are sending their children off to university or attending their weddings. My daughter has challenges, not the least of which is anxiety, and she needs routine and consistency to feel safe. She worked herself into a state this afternoon at the grocery store, for example, because she couldn't remember if her stuffed bunny was in the car or had been forgotten, and was almost hysterical by the time we went back to the car over the possibility that her stuffy had been lost. Bunny was fine and my daughter eventually calmed down. It might not seem like something to get into a state about, but to my daughter, it was.

I have responsibilities and I juggle choices and priorities. I take my commitments seriously, and sometimes those commitments clash with what I'd like to do. As much as I wanted to have lunch with my friend, if I don't make my deadlines, I won't have more work. As much as I wanted to go to my cousin's memorial, my husband, my mother and daughter needed me more. And as much as  I would have like to personally attend Jack Layton's funeral in Toronto, I had committed to be at 5pm mass, and I have articles due on Monday. It was not for a lack of desire that I attended via television rather than in person, (And wrote an article at the same time) and I don't think my tears and grief have any less validity because they were shed in my basement instead of Roy Thomson Hall.  It had nothing to do with being from Ontario, which apparently to some, means I don't understand the concept of social democracy (and for the record, I'm from Quebec. I live in Ontario). It had nothing to do with lack of desire, motivation or a sense of malaise-I had other stuff going on that meant I couldn't go. And for the record, it sucked.

The message of inclusion that Jack Layton lived was more than words. He believed it, he demonstrated it and he truly believed that it was possible. Homeless people stood shoulder to shoulder with Bay Street business people as the hearse took its final journey. People from all across Canada, from every race, colour, creed, ethnicity, sexual orientation and demographic category shed tears of sadness and disbelief when the news broke that Layton had died. Politics didn't matter, because people recognized that Jack Layton was that rarity-a genuine person committed to making a difference. I think it was Peter Mansbridge (possibly Brian Mulroney) who said that Layton didn't go to Ottawa to be someone, he went to Ottawa to do something. Layton stayed away from personal attacks, and focused on his vision of Canada. His passionate support and concern for ordinary people resonated across the nation, whether you voted for him or not. (and for the record, I did.)

We need to heed Layton's message. We need to look beyond the superficial and try to see the reasons behind it. We need to make less snap judgements and take more time to see the real reasons behind a behavior. We need to make less sweeping generalizations and look more to the individual rather than the demographic, socio-economic, or geo-political entity. We can disagree about a policy or a strategy, but respect the person voicing the other opinion. We can disagree with an idea without denigrating the person. It's the best way to honour Jack's memory.

Monday, August 22, 2011

RIP Jack Layton, and this business of grief

Jack Layton, NDP leader and leader of the official opposition in Canada died of cancer this morning. He stepped down as leader a month ago to focus on his cancer battle, but anyone who has watched someone fight cancer were shocked and scared for him. Cancer sucks. I know as  writer that's not particularly eloquent or profound, but it sums it up. Cancer sucks.

I never met the man. I wish I had. He always struck me as a man of integrity, honesty and moral righteousness, but in a good way. Friends of mine who did know him attest to those qualities. He cared passionately for people who did not have a voice. He cared passionately for the homeless, the poverty stricken and people other people forgot about or didn't care about. I was comforted by the fact that ordinary Canadians would have a fierce fighter in the House of Commons to represent our interests. The mere fact that Mr. Layton chose to write a letter to Canadians, in effect to say goodbye, shows me the measure of the man. I also think he would have been a grand person to have a conversation with.

 I think this is hitting me particularly hard today because I'm already very emotional. One year ago today, I was sitting waiting for the news that my brother of my heart, Murray, had lost his battle with Hep C. Like Mr. Layton, Murray chose to put others ahead of his health, in his case, taking care of his darling boy Allie. By the time Murray sought medical attention, it was too late.

Grieving has no time frame.  Just when you think you've bested it, something will happen-you find a picture, or hear a song or return to a special place, and grief rushes in full force and overwhelms. There is no right or wrong. There is only grief, and how ever long it takes. Today is a day I feel sad and fragile. It's okay. It shows I care, I loved and was loved.

RIP Mr. Layton. Thank you for your service, your dedication and your example. Murray, I miss you. I keep expecting to hear your gravelly voice on the phone and I still can't believe that won't happen again even though it's been a year. Be at peace.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Pink Ribbon Sorority

I was interviewing Dr. Craig McFadyen today for an article for Waterloo Region Openfile.ca about the Grand River  Regional Cancer Centre. I have personal experience with the Breast Cancer Diagnostic Centre, so I post this blog in honour of the women of the Pink Ribbon Sorority, and all the patients I saw at the centre today. God give you strength and courage.
The Pink Ribbon Sorority 

As I combed out my hair after the shower that morning, I contemplated the fact that if I needed chemotherapy and my hair fell out, that my hair was going to grow back gray instead of my “natural” brown, and that was really going to suck. Given the fact that I was facing a potentially life-changing event, it seemed an odd thing to cross my mind, but there it was. You see, in 2006 I became a member of a unique sorority. Membership is automatic when certain conditions are met. It is not optional, but it may or may not be a lifetime membership. In 2006,  I joined the Pink Ribbon Sorority when I discovered a lump in my breast.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with “the Girls”. They developed early, and like a pretty friend who’s had too much to drink at a party, commanded all the attention. I lost count of the number of times that people conducted whole conversations with “the Girls.” People assumed an inverse relationship between my cup size and my intellect; I am a smart woman-it annoyed me.After years of groping and constant back pain, I had a breast reduction.

I didn’t want to deal with the lump at first.I ignored pain in my nipples for a couple of weeks, even though I’d had no sensation in my nipples since the breast reduction. When the lump became visible in the mirror, I had it checked. I went to see the nurse practitioner at the doctor’s office, who sent me for an ultrasound, which located the lump and called it a “fibroadenoma”. The nurse practitioner advised that they were usually benign, but the radiologist had suggested further investigation was warranted. While the breast reduction had alleviated some of the unwanted attention, it had left me with scar tissue which made a definitive diagnosis of the lump difficult. I was referred to the Waterloo-Wellington Breast Screening Centre for a detailed examination. This Centre was a kind of “one stop shop” where a woman could receive an ultrasound, a mammogram, have the results read by the radiologist and see the surgeon the same day. It was designed to streamline the diagnostic process, and the associated stress and uncertainty. 

            I decided at the outset that I wasn’t going to say anything to anyone until there was something to say. My family members are all world-class worriers. If my mother, for example, didn’t have anything to worry about in the present, she would go back and re-worry the past. My husband tended to go immediately to worst case scenario and I didn’t want him spending the insurance money prematurely. My family would worry themselves sick until I had a diagnosis, and I didn’t feel that I could carry them, too. My close friends were dealing with their own share of problems (including two friends whose mothers were fighting breast cancer) and I didn’t want to burden them with something that might or might not be a problem. I’ve always supported everyone else and shouldered my own burdens- it’s just my way.

            Random thoughts flitted through my brain periodically as I waited for a definitive diagnosis. Was it cancer? Who would take care of my family if I needed treatment? Could I sew well enough to alter my clothes if I needed a mastectomy? Would God really give me my daughter only to take me from her? And then there was the gray hair bit-bald I could handle; gray not so much. There wasn’t any logic to my musings; I’ve always tended towards the morbid and the dramatic.

            After my referral to the breast screening clinic, I told my husband, my mother and my in-laws. I told them out of necessity since they were watching my toddler while I went to the various appointments. They handled it better than I expected, but reacted much as I anticipated. It added to my stress but had to be done.  Chocolate and wine helped.

            The morning of my appointment at the clinic was harried. My daughter slept in and my husband decided at the last moment to drive me, as I was walking out the door to the appointment. Since we still had to shoe my toddler and wrestle her into the car seat, I arrived at the clinic 10 minutes late and frazzled. As I stood at the reception, health card and ultrasound films in hand, another woman stood quietly waiting to talk with the receptionist. As the  receptionist hung up the phone, the woman leaned forward and said “it was okay. It was fine!” The receptionist’s face lit up and she thanked the woman for sharing the news. She was obviously well known to the staff-I wondered if her results had always been “it was fine.” Somehow, I didn’t think so.  That small exchange broke the dam on the nerves that I’d been keeping at bay-now I was scared.

            There were two waiting areas. One had coffee, a television and a few chairs. It was right beside the reception and was designed for short stays. A couple of men and a few women sat there. This was the area for the routine screenings and for companions.

            I was ushered to the other area. No explanation was needed when I walked in; this was the area for women who had Found Something. We were all there to find out what the Something was. Four or five women sat in pink flowered hospital gowns, idly flipping through the usual assortment of magazines, or making small talk. I donned my gown and joined them. The gown was designed to provide access and privacy at the same time…and there were pictures inside the dressing room explaining how to put it on properly. It was perky and flowery and I hated it on sight. Periodically, the efficient and cheerful staff summoned one of us for an ultrasound or a mammogram, and then we returned to wait for the surgeon. As the wait for the surgeon lengthened, we contemplated sparking a fashion revolt or possibly a new fashion trend by leading a parade to the cafeteria in our pink-flowered hospital gowns, but thought better of it.

            My turn came for the mammogram. I’d never had a mammogram before, and I was dreading it. I’d heard all the horror stories and was really not looking forward to squashing “the Girls” like a panini. Even though I’d had a breast reduction, “the Girls” are formidable, and they only compress so far.  Deirdre, the friendly, professional woman who shepherded me through the day, was also efficient. She explained that pain was not acceptable with the new digital mammograms-if it hurt there was a problem. She also explained everything every step of the way. By the time I had worked up a stress, the mammogram was finished, and I was sent back to wait with the others.

            For the most part, we were alone. One woman sat with her daughter, one brave man sat hand in hand with his wife in a sea of women. The rest of us were unaccompanied. As the hours dragged on and we waited for the surgeon, the room grew quiet and introspective. A cheery voice heralded the arrival of the surgeon, and the atmosphere changed. The tension was palpable.

            One of the nurses directed us one by one into the exam rooms. The woman who had been waiting with her daughter was the first to finish. As she left, she smiled at all of us and said “good luck.” Her face was unreadable; her daughter’s was relieved. Suddenly, it was my turn.

            The surgeon breezed in and asked me about my family medical history.  I don’t have a family medical history-at least not one that I have access to.  I was adopted in an era when records were sealed-I have no idea what’s swimming in my gene pool. After flipping through a couple of pages, he advised me that nothing had been found that required further investigation and I was free to go. He would send a letter to my doctor. He was out the door and on to the next patient before I had a chance to ask any questions.

            In the space of a few minutes my ordeal was over.  “It was okay, I was fine.” I was not to become a full-fledged member of the Pink Ribbon Sorority this time-I could keep my family, my health, my life…my hair and my “natural” brown colour. Odds were, for at least one woman in pink today, her ordeal was just beginning.  Cancer is the great equalizer. It doesn’t care who you are or what you do. Fame does not shield you; wealth affords you no protection. It will touch all of us one way or the other.

            I donned my clothes and hurried out the waiting area. All of the seats were now occupied on the Found Something side and the people had spilled over to the other side. As I left, I caught the eye of a woman in the telltale pink flowered gown sitting holding hands with her husband. Her face told the tale. I mouthed “good luck” to her, and she smiled, but it didn’t quite make it all the way to her eyes. Her husband nodded at me, and seemed grateful for the acknowledgement. As I waited for my husband and daughter to rescue me and take me home to my life and my future, I said a prayer for the Pink Ribbon Sorority. Sometimes, all we have to offer is prayer.  

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The view from Working from Home

This post is inspired by the post by Heather Rigby over at Babble.com.http://www.babble.com/toddler/toddler-development/questions-for-parents-from-SAHM/

I thought I'd contribute a few of my own:

You know you work from home  as a writer if:

  1. You know to the nano-second the broadcast length of every DVD in your child's collection, but have no idea what most of them are about because you haven't actually watched them. You also know what DVD is required to meet the required word count for an article. For example, a 1500 word article may require the "Phineas and Ferb Christmas" plus the "Suite Life on Deck with Hannah Montana." A 500 word article might be doable in a "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" or "Enchanted."
  2. If your child will be in residence when you are planning on conducting a phone interview, you warn all of your interview subjects in advance that your child is at home, and apologize in advance for any interrruptions that may occur.
  3. You have continued a phone interview with a subject, in your best engaging and interested professional voice while: A-taking the back off a sticker. B-changing the DVD (see item 1 above) C-pouring a glass of milk D-cleaning up a puddle of milk after small child was tired of waiting and tried to accomplish (c) by him/herself
  4. Made threatening "mommy faces" to small child to chase them back to the living room while continuing interview in best professional voice (and taking notes).
  5. Live in fear of a Skype two-person interview becoming a three-person interview when the small person peers into the webcam and announces "who dat? Who dat in your compooter mommy? Can we go to the park now?"
  6. Often START your work day at 7pm when your partner has returned from work and can take a turn wrestling the kid(s) to bed while you make a large pot of coffee and work into the wee small hours.
  7. Try to schedule as many interviews by email as possible to avoid items 1-5 above.
  8. Have perfected the art of writing 1000 words in the 2 hour window that you have between start and finish of summer camp.
  9. You have taken a child to a last-minute interview with a bribe of Build-a-Bear or junk food  if they behave. You also charged up the iPod in advance and let them play any level of Angry Birds, even the ones you already had 3 stars on.
  10. Have a spouse who has grown accustomed to the look of panic when s/he arrives home and you discover that it's dinner time and nothing is planned.

These are just a few of my random thoughts. Have I missed any?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Back in the Day

Brace yourselves, gentle readers, I have a confession to make...I used to watch Pro-wrestling. I even attended the occasional live event.

I worked in Customs at Pearson Airport in Toronto in the 1980s. Wrestling had made a remarkable resurgence, and I got to know the wrestlers on a first (real) name basis. Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, Big Boss Man, Andre the Giant, Hillbilly Jim, the Bushwhackers, George the Animal Steele, Miss Elizabeth, One Man Gang, Brett "the Hitman" Hart, Jim "the Anvil" Niehart, Brutus "the Barber" Beefcake (sigh, in acid wash double sigh)...I cleared them all at one time or another. This post is in honour of Randy "Macho Man" Savage, who passed away in a car accident today.

Sunday afternoons around 1630 hrs they'd start arriving. (That's 4:30pm for non-24 hour clock people) As soon as their afternoon match in Dayton, Ohio or Detroit, Michigan or Columbus in  was over, the wrestlers would pile on the puddlejumper commuter planes and hopscotch across Lake Ontario to Toronto for the 1930 hrs show at Maple Leaf Gardens. When mountains with feet starting arriving in the Customs Hall, you knew the wrestlers had shown up. Half the time, they weren't sure where they were, or who they were fighting. Often, their combatant for the evening's match was standing behind them in line.I remember the British Bulldogs running into the customs hall at 1900 hrs (7pm) because of weather delays. They were scheduled to fight in the 1930 hrs card, but luckily, they were part of the Royal Rumble that night and had some time to meet the handler with the bulldog who was standing in for Matilda before they made their grand entrance. (after he was alleged to have set his snake loose in the customs hall, Jake the Snake Roberts was banned from bringing his own snake in, and had to borrow one for his Toronto matches.)

The wrestlers were a funny bunch. If the fans recognized them, they would go into their wrestling personae and put on a small show. The Customs officers quickly learned that things went more smoothly for everyone if "yes, you knew who they were, and no, you didn't really care." For the most part, with very few exceptions, the wrestlers were respectful and friendly, and tried their best to sign autographs and pose for pictures with their fans. It got a little tense when the "good guys and the bad guys" were in the hall at the same time sometimes, especially when they had travelled together.

We got to know them on another level, because we saw them coming and going so often. For many of us, the wrestlers knew us by name. For example, Brett Hart noticed and commented once when I cut my shoulder-length hair to a much shorter cut. Andre the Giant and One Man Gang, both of whom had to duck to exit the customs hall were quiet gentlemen who never failed to say please and thank you. Hillbilly Jim would often come through customs in his overalls, while Iron Mike Sharpe was always in a suit. George the Animal Steele and Miss Elizabeth travelled virtually incognito.

Working the midnight shifts on Sunday nights sometimes had unexpected bonuses. For example, in the height of the Hulk Hogan-Macho Man battle, we knew weeks ahead who has going to win when-we'd seen the script, but were sworn to secrecy. They often travelled together, sitting side by side in the deserted departure lounge at midnight.

We could occasionally turn the tables on the wrestlers, much to their amusement. The Ultimate Warrior was my friend Janie's favorite wrestler of the time, next to Hulk Hogan. He was entering  the customs hall one evening, and Janie grabbed the rope by her desk and did a fair imitation of his "shaking the ropes" move, just as the deputy chief of the airport arrived to greet a VIP. The Ultimate Warrior cracked up, and Janie just shrugged and processed the VIP. He was a fan, and ended up with an autograph from the Ultimate Warrior.

One of my best memories of those times, though, occurred about 1am one morning. We had a lull before the next drug flight (jargon for a flight from a drug source country that required special handling, and there was a drug lookout on the flight so the RCMP were in the hall) and a few of us were going up to the cafeteria for a break before the next round of mayhem. As we walked along the empty departures area, we noticed the Bushwhackers walking towards us, on their way to catch the red-eye to the next night's fun. Approximately 6 uniformed customs officers and 2-3 RCMP officers paused,  and then we all started to do the "bushwhacker stomp" in perfect unison towards the gob-smacked wrestlers. They paused a minute, and then bent double, laughing so hard they were gasping.  As we drew even with them, they joined us for a couple of steps, and with a "good fun, that" they went to catch their flight and we went to grab our coffee.

I changed jobs and moved from the terminals. Wrestling became more and more about T and A and extreme stunts, and less about the professionals.Owen Hart died.While it holds a special place in my heart and was a big part of my life working in Customs, I haven't watching it in years.  .

So RIP Macho Man. You will always be part of my Customs memories. Thanks for being a good entertainer, a great person to your fans, and a friendly and polite person to clear through customs. Nobody could rock pink leggings, sunglasses and headbands like you. "Ooooh, Ya."

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Politics, Elections and Why I will be voting

Politics is in my DNA (next to the Montreal Canadiens). I am a third generation political junkie, I have 2 degrees in Political Science with a specialty in Canadian government and spent much of my academic career trying to understand Quebec separatism since I was an anglo in Quebec during the FLQ. I am a happy camper during election campaigns. This one scares me.

My mother likes to remind me of my first political involvement. We were living in Vancouver, and Trudeau-mania was sweeping the nation. A mob of teens was standing on a corner near our house shouting "North, South, East, West, Trudeau, Trudeau he's the best!" I stood on my front lawn and sang along. I was 5.

I remember winning a school-wide quiz in grade 4 or 5, because I was the only kid in the school to correctly identify a picture Mayor Jean Drapeau. We had moved back to Quebec by then. My parents had been talking a great deal at dinner about the fallout from the FLQ and Expo 67. If I wanted to say anything at dinner, I had to follow politics, because it's what we talked about.

My family are hard-core Liberal supporters. In what was no doubt a rebellion, by high school, fuelled in large part by Joe Clark's Red Tory views, I had become a Progressive Conservative. My grade 12 History teacher, Mr. De la Frenier, treated his students like adults and let us debate him if you could substantiate your point. He was Liberal. I was Conservative. We had many spirited debates. I was 17 when the Clark government fell and I was devastated that I couldn't vote.I still have the letter I received in response to the impassioned missile filled with youthful optimism that I had sent to Joe Clark to encourage him. I met him when I was in university and still have the autograph. I cleared him through customs a couple of times. To this day, I don't believe he got the respect he deserved, and considering what followed, his policies were more sound than he's ever been given credit for. Truth be told, though, I've always championed the underdog.

Through high school and university I was a passionate member of the Progressive Conservatives. I served on the executive of the campus association, I worked on election campaigns at municipal, provincial and federal levels, and I was on two Grossman leadership campaigns. I have a photo circa 1984, taken by a professional photographer from the floor of the first leadership campaign when Larry Grossman was defeated by Frank Miller. I am decked out head to toe in Grossman garb, I have a six-foot fishing rod sticking out of my pocket because I was the "flag point" for rallying the supporters on the floor, and I have a walkie-talkie stuck to my ear. The photographer caught me as the vote tally came in leaving Larry on the final ballot, and my smile is radiant.

I have worked at the staff level and the riding level on a number of campaigns, and learned some things about strategy and dirty tricks along the way from the likes of John Laschinger and Hugh Segal. I still have a handwritten thank you note from Laschinger-and since I used to run Grossman's autopen, I can tell the difference. I also learned some things about the workings of the Conservative party, and after a series of deceitful events, I cut up all my membership cards, including my PC Canada card, and haven't been a card carrying member of any party since the late 1980s.

I believe that the Government of Canada has a responsibility to protect the members of society least able to do that. I believe that our First Nations people, our seniors, our mentally or physically challenged, our children and our poor deserve respect and assistance. I believe that affordable health care should not be tied to income level. I believe that an education shouldn't put you into thousands of dollars in debt. I believe that professionals who immigrate to Canada should be able to practice their profession without having to start over and deliver pizza to feed their family. I believe foreign-trained doctors should be expedited, not forced to jump hurdles.  I believe that there are ways to be fiscally responsible without cutting social programs. I believe that Canada needs to return to a role of mediator and peacekeeper on the world stage.  I believe that corporations need to be better corporate citizens and I believe the Government has a fiduciary responsibility to make policies that protect citizens from excessive profit at the expense of common sense.We have only to look to the US and the Fanny May and Freddie Mac mess to see the wisdom in THAT.  And I believe in the tradition and institution of Parliament. It may not be perfect, but it's what we have.

As much as I disagreed with much that Pierre Trudeau did, his "government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation." resonated with me. As much as I disagreed with Jean Chretien, his stance on the Iraq war against George Bush Senior was the right thing to do in my mind. Considering what Mike Harris did to Ontario after Bob Rae, "Rae days" did not seem like such a bad idea.

We currently have a leader of the Conservative Party who is seeking a majority in the House of Commons. Stephen Harper's government has been found in contempt of Parliament for the first time in history, his supporters and inner circle have been charged with elections violations and document tampering, and who prorogued Parliament twice to avoid non-confidence votes. While I don't particularly like Michael Ignatieff, his comment in the English debate to Stephen Harper that Harper shuts down anything he can't control resonates with me. Under Harper, creative artists, writers and musicians have seen changes to copyright legislation that would change fair use guidelines to cut into our increasingly small copyright royalties. He has cut arts funding and ensured that literary magazines strangle. Most creative people in Canada do not support the Conservatives. This is a leader who wants the press to call the government the Harper government rather than the Canadian government. This is a man who stated that "ordinary people don't support arts funding", painting the whole creative community as elites who drink champagne at black tie galas. I don't know many of my colleagues who go to black tie galas-we couldn't afford the babysitter if we did and many of us couldn't afford the ticket to go in the first place.

Under Harper, Ontario and BC now have HST. And despite his campaign ad to the contrary, cutting the GST had no impact on my family and my business. Adopting HST did because my fee for services increased by 8%, because I now have to charge HST on my business services. In this electronic age, I cost more than my colleague with similar qualifications in another province. It could make a difference in my getting a job.  Under Harper, a national daycare plan was scrapped in favour of $100 a month, which only lasts until a nanosecond after your child turns 6. You tell me where I can pay $100 a month for daycare, and I will move my family there.

If Harper has made these policies with a minority government, God help Canada if he gets a majority. While he takes credit for the economic recovery, much of what saved Canada was the stringent financial regulations that were put in place by the Liberal governments which preceded him. 

I am very torn in this election. I know I will not vote Conservative. What I don't know yet is how I will vote.  I like Jack Layton and I normally vote NDP, but our local candidate isn't very strong. I don't like Michael Ignatieff, but we have a strong Liberal candidate. I like Elizabeth May, but there are huge parts of the Green Party platform that I am not comfortable with. I will vote, but I may be standing in the ballot box before I know how. Right now, it's a battle between my head and my heart.

What I do know, is that there is a lot of truth in the saying "absolute power corrupts absolutely." I hope we don't find out just how much truth there is. 

Friday, March 4, 2011


It's a funny thing, this business of grieving. There is no timeline, no right or wrong way, and no warning when a wave of grief will hit you.

I've been catching up on overdue filing and purging old paperwork because "Hoarders" is starting to look a little too much like my basement and spare room. As I sorted through a pile of papers, I found the last birthday card my Mother-in-law sent to me. She always dated her cards. I also found last year's St. Patrick's Day card. She was the only person I know who sent St. Patrick's Day cards. I'll miss that, and so will Dave.

I also found the copy of the eulogy that my cousin Glenn gave for his brother, Murray on Labour Day weekend, 2010. For various reasons, I was not able to attend the service in Field, BC, and I have yet to forgive myself, although I did give a valiant attempt to find a way to do it before giving up as reality and obligations trumped my need to say goodbye in person.  While I blinked back tears at the St. Patricks Day card, Glenn's comments about Murr opened the floodgates and picked the scab off the grief that had diminished.

We all grieve in our own way. There is no timeline, no "proper" way. There is only loss and pain and finding our way through to the other side. The only way to get through it is to go through it, and the journey is personal.

Tears remind us of the loss, but also of the love. Tears remind us that, even though finite, we loved and were loved by a special person.  Tears remind us that sometimes now is all we have. Grief and loss never goes away; over time it diminishes to a sad acknowledgement rather than a raw open wound. And the time it takes is whatever it takes for whoever is grieving.

I need to remember that sometimes.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Building a snowman

Sometimes the universe throws you a bone. I've been preoccupied and stressed lately, trying to build a marketing strategy for myself, while dealing with my husband's continued grief over losing his mother and the new challenges we are facing with our daughter. My throat goes into spasm when I'm really stressed, and I've been trying to ignore it, although it's painful and makes eating a challenge.

Mother Nature is playing a game of "now you see it, now you don't" with Southern Ontario. The last couple of days have been positively balmy, with temperatures well above 0 Celsius. When I picked my daughter up from school on Wednesday, she grabbed a mittful of snow and asked:

"Mommy, is this good snowman snow?"

My daughter had not yet learned to build a snowman. Oh sure, she'd stacked piles of snow up and made a reasonable facsimile, but she hadn't yet learned how to roll the snow from tiny to big snowball, how to stack it properly, and lift the head without knocking off the middle piece. The sun was shining. We had swimming lessons but not for a couple of hours. I made a split second decision and told her to go in the backyard, I was going to throw the stuff in the house and I'd meet her there. She looked at me suspiciously for a second to see if I was kidding, and then sprinted for the backyard.

I didn't even bother to change into mitts, so I made a snowman in my good leather gloves. I showed her how to roll the snow, and then she went off to try her own hand at it while I finished my first snowman in about 40 years. I'm a bit out of practice, but my daughter was delighted with the finished result.

mom's snowman

Kid's first snowman
We stayed out until my daughter's snowpants were soaked through, my leather gloves were soaked through and our cheeks were rosy and our noses running. For the first time in a week, the spasm in my throat released.  After a while, I stood on the deck and watched while my daughter carved a den out of the side of the big pile of snow. She was focused and attentive to detail, and made a great job of it.
When she was satisfied with the results, we headed inside to have cookies and hot chocolate before heading out to swimming lessons.

Sometimes, you just have to forget about everything for a time and help your kid build a snowman.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Feeling like a Mamma bear

I'm feeling very Mamma Bear the last couple of days. Choices that my daughter's birth mother made have come home to roost and will have a profound and lifelong impact on my daughter.

We knew about these choices. We researched the implications. We accepted the risks, and we adopted our amazing little girl. The clinical evaluation is a far cry from the reality of the challenges my daughter will now deal with.

We started to notice behaviours over the summer. Given her genetic history, we acted immediately. The pediatrician expressed amazement that we had noticed and acted on it so early. I know my kid. I know what she does and now I know why. It is what it is, and we'll deal with it.

I'm struggling with rage right now. I know the birth mother was terrified that no one would adopt her child because of her drug use. She thanked us again and again for accepting her baby, while we thanked her again and again for giving her to us. The choice to make an adoption plan is never easy, and it's what will get me through this rage. She made bad choices, and then made a loving choice for the future of her child. I'll get back to grateful, but I need to be mad just a little longer.

My protective instincts have kicked in and I'm on Mamma Bear high alert. I will educate myself, and then I will educate others, and advocate for my kid.  She wondered a bit about the big words the doctors were using because we were talking about her. I told her all it meant was we all have different ways of coping with life. I stress eat and write. Grandpa buries himself in work. Grandma worries. And now we know what she does. It's not wrong. It's not weird. It's just her way of coping with life and we will just explain that to other people.

Nothing has changed. My wonderful child is still my wonderful child. My instincts were right and now we move forward, coping and adapting to whatever comes. But don't mess with Mamma bear.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


I took a bath this morning-an epsom salt and bubbles, grab the book and shut the door kind of bath. Instead of my usual weekday run through the shower and go, I poured a hot-as-I-could-stand, sink- in-with-a-sigh-and-figure-out-how-to-get-out-later, all-that-was-missing-was-a-glass-of-wine kind of bath...at 11am on a Wednesday morning.

This was so out of the ordinary that my old, deaf 19 year old tabby came into the bathroom to investigate and hopped up on the rim of the bathtub to keep me company. This in and of itself was extraordinary, because since the arrival of the new, frisky female cat, he's stayed in our bedroom for the most part. While she is making friendly overtures to him, he is having none of it, and has been sulking since her arrival. I suspect he was concerned that I had finally tipped over the edge and risked running into the other cat to investigate. (She is at the vet being neutered. She was in heat this weekend, and drove him crazy with unwanted affection. He was appalled.)

I've been mired in shoulds lately. Since I was a child, bubble baths and books have been a favorite escape to destress and recharge. I would fill the tub to the brim and disappear alone with a book and bubbles, and sometimes, candles and a glass of wine. Since the arrival of my small child, however, solo bubble baths have become a thing of the past. I've tried it a couple of times, and the relaxation value is greatly diminished by the addition of a non-stop talking child, a dozen bath toys and a never-ending chorus of Hannah Montana's greatest hits. Besides, she splashes and soaks the pages of my book.

I was getting ready to take my normal shower this morning. Kid was at school. Husband was at work. Cat was at the vet and I had a few precious hours of peace and quiet to work. As I reached over to turn on the shower, the plug fell into the drain. The universe gave me a sign. The old cat came in around then and meowed at me. I thought I wish I could have a bath...followed by, "Well, why the hell not."

I've been feeling anxious and stressed, my throat in spasm and my jaw has clenched so much that my teeth hurt. I grabbed book and my reading glasses, bubbles and epsom salts, and the phone, just in case. I filled the tub, sank into the bubbles and did something just for me. It was selfish, it was a waste of precious alone time when I should be working, or starting to get my taxes together, or venturing into the black hole under my daughter's bed...and instead I let the epsom salts and bubbles work some magic as I read a Debbie McComber story and relished in her way with words and characters and plot. I let the water cool to tepid, and pet the old cat who chose to share the time with me.
I forget to take care of myself sometimes. I forget to make selfish decisions to put myself first. I forget to honour the woman and person that I am.  For one small space of time, I let go the reins of control and escaped into a book.

Today, I took a bath in the middle of the day. By myself. And I don't feel the least bit guilty.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Blank Slate

I completed one of my favorite rituals this morning. It's 2011, so time for the new calendar to go up, and the old calendar to be retired.

I am a planner. I need to know what I am doing, when I am doing it and how long I am doing it for. I can be spontaneous-just tell me when and I'll mark it on the calendar. I don't do impromptu. I live by the creed "if you're coming to see us: come in. If you're coming to see the house, call 2 weeks ahead and avoid the cupboards."

My husband is not a planner, so I have assumed the social convener role for the family. I keep track of my work deadlines, my husband's appointments, my evening activities and meetings, my mother's appointments that require transport and what days of the week my daughter is in school because she's still on a variable schedule. I keep track of birthdays, anniversaries and other important (sad) dates that might recall a quick phone call or e-mail to let people know we remember and we care.

Every New Year's Day, I'm faced with a blank calendar. All those lovely, blank squares full of potential-it's enough to make a planner giddy with anticipation. I have a system. First I transfer the birthdays and anniversaries from my calendar in my purse to the wall calendar, and then to the new purse calendar, although I usually buy a 2-years-at-a-time calendar for my purse so that I'm not scribbling future dates on a piece of paper.  Then I colour code the calendar with the days that my daughter is actually in school, shaking my head at the dubious wisdom that has her in school exactly 1 Friday for the month of January. Then I add my choir schedule, the PWAC monthly meetings, and any appointments that have already been established for the new year. It doesn't take long to fill up the squares.

I always take a few minutes to flip through the outgoing calendar.In the hustle-bustle of life, it's easy to forget the year that has just exited, although for my family, 2010 will not be one we forget. My husband and brother in law lost their mother, my daughter, her grandma, my father-in- law, his wife and I lost my funny, kind, loving mother-in-law who remembered dates better than any calendar, knew and understood what 2nd cousin once removed meant and marked every trip she had ever been on by the food that she ate. She vaguely remembered the landmarks, but the pecan pie..oh the pie. She's left a big hole in our lives that won't ever be filled. I lost 2 acquaintances to cancer, and I lost my brother of my heart to Hepatitis C. A quick glance through the calendar's entries for the funerals I sang at in 2010 shows we weren't the only family struggling with a not-so-festive Christmas.

2010 is gone. 2011 is new, shiny and like the blank spaces on my calendar, gleaming with potential and anticipation. I wish you blank days to enjoy as you wish. I wish you happy occasions, parties and gatherings to fill your days with. I wish you work opportunities, prosperity and good health.I wish you an abundance of good news, leisure time, and enough money, time, friends, health and happiness to fill your lives with love, positive feelings and energy, and prosperity.

I wish you enough of whatever it is that will enrich your life. Happy 2011.