14 November 2010

Things That Are True - The Sunday Morning Shower

It's possible that no 15 minute increment of time all week is as jealously protected and keenly anticipated as the Sunday morning shower.

Our morning rituals are pretty much the same every week. Monday to Friday is a free for all, just trying to get everyone ready and out the door is some sort of cohesive fashion. Saturday morning, HWSNBN gets to relax while I'm on point. But Sundays, ah Sundays. Sundays are mine.

Shower, Oswego Hotel, Victoria, a few minutes ago

It's the one morning a week that I get time to myself, time to be something other than a producer of food, perpetrator of discipline, seeker of teachable moments, reader of stories, and personal jungle gym to The Imp. The one morning that HWSNBN is around, awake, and on Imp Patrol so I can have as long a shower as I want, uninterrupted.

Of such small gifts to each other are great marriages made.

11 November 2010

Things That Matter - Lest We Forget

Cenotaph, Victory Square, Vancouver

This is where I'll be this morning, to watch Vancouver's Remembrance Day ceremony. I go every year. I'm descended, on my father's side, from a long line of pacifists. Some of them, while objecting to the motivations and machinations of war, still served as stretcher bearers, contributing what they felt, morally, that they could. Men on my mother's side of the family served their country in World War II. One of my cousins served as a peacekeeper in some really hellish places. HWSNBN's father and grandfather both answered the call.

Victory Square, Vancouver

I go to honour them. To honour their commitment to duty, to what they thought was right. I go to remember those who didn't come back. I go to honour those who serve in war-torn places all over the world today.

Statue honouring the war dead of Canadian Pacific Railways, Waterfront Station, Vancouver

And I go in gratitude that because of them, my son is growing up in a peaceful nation, with the freedom to be who he is. May he never need to know anything different.

But I'll teach him to honour, and to be grateful.

08 November 2010

Things That Are Almost True - Girls Have...

LEGO Minifig Anatomy
LEGO Minifig Anatomy, from the flickr stream of Tim Norris, who credits Jason Freeny

There has been much discussion of body parts lately in the SNBN household.

Specifically, penises. There has been little else that has captivated The Imp's imagination quite as much as the Ineffable Mystery of the Penis.

A frequent topic of conversation over our breakfast toast and smoothie, it goes something like this:

The Imp: Mommy, where's your penis?
Me: I don't have a penis. I'm a woman, and women and girls don't have penises. Girls have vaginas.

I believe in using real words for real things. There are no wee-wees or pee-pees in our house.

The Imp: Mommy don't have a penis?
Me: That's right. Mommies don't have penises. Boys have penises.
The Imp: I have a penis.
Me: Yes, you do.
The Imp: Daddy has a penis?
Me: Yes, Daddy has a penis.
The Imp: Uncle David has a penis?
Me: (cringing, a bit) Yes, Uncle David has a penis.
The Imp: Grandpa has a penis?
Me: (cringing, a lot) Yes honey, Grandpa has a penis.

As we nibble on our toast and peanut butter, The Imp lists every member of our circle of friends and extended family - basically everyone he's ever met - clarifying just who does, and who does not, in fact have a penis.

Once we've discussed the landlord, the letter carrier, the teachers at daycare, the man in the elevator yesterday, and the cashier at the grocery store, The Imp thinks about things. Ponders. Mulls.

And then says:

The Imp: But Mommy, where's your penis?

Second verse; same as the first! Everybody now!!


These conversations have been going on for some time, but have ramped up in frequency and intensity recently as we've introduced concepts of potty training and big boy underwear. Now, in addition to penises, we have to discuss who does and does not have underwear. This is a little easier, since everyone who's not in diapers wears underwear. (Or so I would have The Imp believe. There are things he can find out on his own, in the fullness of time, while I plug my ears and cover my eyes and sing la-la-la-la-la at the top of my lungs.)

Last Saturday after my morning shower, The Imp walked into the bathroom as I was toweling off.* The first question he asked, of course, was:

The Imp: Where's your penis, Mommy?
Me: (for the one millionth time) I don't have a penis, honey, I'm a girl.

The Imp: (thinking) Boys have penises.
Me: That's right, honey, boys have penises. And I'm not a boy.

The Imp: (beaming, because he's finally got it figured out) Boys have penises! (shouting) Boys have penises, and girls have... PYJAMAS!!

Me: (trying to keep a straight face and failing utterly) That's right, honey. Girls have pyjamas.

(Or so I would have The Imp believe. Again, there are things he can find out on his own, in the fullness of time, while I plug my ears and cover my eyes and sing la-la-la-la-la at the top of my lungs.)

*We have no locks on the bathroom doors; The Imp locked himself into, and us out of, the bathroom one too many times, so we had the landlord remove the locks. The Imp's not slowed down much by a closed door.

05 November 2010

Things That Are True - Fit by Forty: The Reckoning

I turned forty in August. I didn't write about it at the time, I was too busy doing it. It was a fabulous week, I received unexpected gifts from unexpected places, I got to connect with a bunch of friends I don't get to see often enough, and I reached my Fit by Forty goal.

Let me backtrack a bit. Back in March, I set myself a goal: it was time to stop procrastinating, to stop pretending (as we approached The Imp's 2nd birthday) that the expanding flab around my middle was just baby weight, to get it together to eat better and be more active. I set an arbitrary goal of losing a pound a week, which seemed rational. Realistic.

I wrote about it, both here and on twitter. I had some success, and learned a whole lot about what it takes to make me feel healthy.

I said I reached my Fit By Forty goal. That's not, strictly speaking, true. I lost 19 pounds, not 24. I started out at 149 pounds, and when I weighed myself the morning of my fortieth birthday, I was 130. So I didn't quite reach my goal.

Except I did.

The goal was Fit by Forty, not One Hundred and Twenty-Four Pounds by Forty. And I woke up on my fortieth birthday feeling healthier than I had in years. I was fitting into old clothing I hadn't been able to wear even before I got pregnant. I fit back into these jeans. And hills where I used to have to walk my bike were no longer even enough of a challenge for me to change gears. I could run across the playground with The Imp without hacking up half a lung or falling on my face. My fitness had improved by every measurable standard. And dammit, I lost 19 pounds. That's not nothing.

I don't have a before picture, but here's an after.

The last little while has involved a lot of emotional upheaval and weeks of physical illness and bad sleep. There's been a whole lot of comfort food eating going on. And as the weather has turned colder and rainier, I haven't been out on my bicycle at all. (Not so much the weather as the hacking cough that prevented exercise.) So I've gained 4 pounds in the last six weeks. I need to get back to the discipline and healthy eating I did all summer so that I can be not just Fit by Forty, but Fit at Forty. And beyond.

What do you do to keep fit when the weather makes you want to curl up with a good book and drink hot cocoa?

04 November 2010

Things I'm Learning - Living Fearlessly

I have always hugely admired and deeply envied those who live fearlessly. Or appear to live fearlessly - perception, after all, is everything. I've often looked at friends who just jump in to new experiences as if they were exhibits in a science museum; an interesting diorama on the life cycle and thought processes of a new species, a rare specimen to be dissected and understood. (Metaphorically speaking, of course. I've never actually cut any of my friends open to check out their spleens or anything. Hey, where are you going? It's just a little scalpel, it won't hurt a bit!)

Without realizing it, I have sought these people out, The Fearless Ones who take chances, strivers who reach higher, and artists who aren't stifled by the opinions of others. I've surrounded myself with them as if their courage might rub off on me, as if I might be accepted as an apprentice, as a member of the tribe. And I've always felt like a bit of an imposter.

A few years ago, I was telling HWSNBN about a friend of mine, who after working in her chosen field for years, chucked it all and started over again, doing something completely different. She threw herself into her new pursuit with abandon, and was quickly quite successful. I mentioned how envious I was of that kind of daring, how I yearned for that, how I wished I possessed it myself.

At the exact same time, I was going through a career change myself. I was leaving the film industry after 12 years, after working really hard to be one of the best Second Assistant Directors in the city. I was going to work for a property development and management company - a field I had precisely zero experience in and knew next to nothing about.

HWSNBN looked at me like I was really not-clever. "Um. Why do you think she's brave and you're not?" he asked. "You're doing the exact same thing."


The courage to be myself. Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, 2000

Perception really is everything. If I look at my life objectively, I've taken lots of chances. I've leapt in, figured things out on the fly, and gotten things done. My high school English teacher, who I adored then and still adore now, (and hi, just figured out is on twitter) told me she used to read my letters to her students, to prove that you could aim higher, that you could dream big, no matter if you're from a small town in the remote north. I, me, I was held up as an example of fearlessness to others.

In the last three years, I've run a tech startup (another industry I knew nothing about until I jumped in to the job), become a parent (and anyone who is a parent will attest that you know nothing about that job until you're thrust into it) and started my own business (again in an industry I love but in which I have no educational background or practical experience.)

So there's some fearlessness there. Right? Why do I need other people to point it out to me? Why can't I see it in myself, and celebrate it? Why do I discount my own accomplishments while envying those of others?

Here's what I've learned so far: everyone deals with fear at least some of the time. Those who appear fearless are usually struggling with the same obstacles as everyone else. They just have more practice, or a better game face, or have somehow managed to shut the voice in their head up long enough to actually get things done.

I don't have all the answers yet. I probably never will, and that's okay. But I'm determined to keep working on it.

And more importantly, I'm determined to pass on whatever I learn to The Imp.

03 November 2010

Things That Are True - Lost Children

People who know me know I'm an alcoholic. It's not something I've ever tried to hide; it's not something I'm ashamed of. I had a problem, I took action: no shame. Last August, I celebrated seventeen years of sobriety.

Seventeen years. I need to think about that for a second.

In my entire life, there is nothing else I have done (except breathe) for seventeen straight years.

I was 22, and I could drink anyone I met under the table. I started most days with a glass of scotch. Good scotch - let it not be said that I was a cheap drunk. I thought I was all that and a bag of chips.

A Good Glass of Scotch
A Good Glass of Scotch by Ray Toth - from flickr

One day I took a good look around. I saw that the crowd I was hanging around with were all considerably older than me. I saw that while I was having a good time - a great time, to be honest - I wasn't really moving forward with my life, wasn't really accomplishing anything I could be proud of long-term. And I knew that alcohol was a factor - the factor - that was holding me back.

And I knew, without thinking about it too much, that I would not be able to simply cut down on the amount I was drinking. In love, in friendships, in life, I have always been all or nothing. Why would drinking be any different? I looked around, and I saw the future, and it was Not Good.

So one fine August day in 1992, I didn't have a glass of scotch for breakfast. After ten months of not drinking, I went to my first AA meeting, between sets at a Grateful Dead show in Seattle. (True story.) About a year after that, I went to my last AA meeting, unless you count the time a couple of years later that I talked an addict/alcoholic on the street in the downtown eastside out of attacking me by commiserating with him about how hard it is to stay sober. (Another true story. I was scared shitless but made a snap decision to treat him with dignity instead of fear, and the story had a happy ending.) (For me, anyway.)

I don't know what makes me a person who can't have just one drink and makes you a person who can. I've been sober much, much longer than I was ever drunk; so long that I don't even think about it anymore, it's just my life. And now I have a lot more money for shoes.

Ah, bonjour Monsieur Louboutin! Comment allez-vous?

So why am I thinking about it now?

I work from home, and the factory here in Vancouver that makes Chill Monkeys clothing is on the other side of the most tragic neighbourhood in the country. I've had to drive through it a few times this week. Not the first time, far from it, but it really affects me differently now that I'm a parent.

I see The Imp, and all his energy, and his optimism, his excitement about learning and trying new things, and all the electricity of potential that his little body is almost bursting with every minute.

And I know that all children start out with that kind of potential.

And somehow, some of them get lost along the way. It breaks my heart, shatters it into more pieces than I can count. I can't not see these broken people wandering through their tombstone-eyed existence on the streets of my city. I can't not see that they were once somebody's child full of potential. I can't forget that I was heading down a similar path at one time in my life, that I could have been one of them.

And I don't know why I can't drink, or why they can't stop harming themselves, and why you can.

And I live in mind-numbing terror that The Imp, my Imp, my beautiful joyous boy, will inherit something from me and become one of the Lost Children I see gathered along East Hastings Street.

And I don't know how to make sure that doesn't happen.

And the not knowing is killing me.

02 November 2010

Things I'm Learning - In My Wake

I've had a pretty intense month or so (see yesterday's October Tried To Kill Me post). Had the Cold Virus of Doom That Would No Go Away Ever continued to affect me so strongly, I might've had to arrange to have this entry posthumously titled At My Wake, rather than In My Wake. But when you're feeling a little bruised and battered by the vagaries of life, a long-overdue conversation with a great friend can be such a tonic. I've been lucky enough to have two such conversations this morning, and am feeling refreshed and reinvigorated, and ready to tackle my endless list of things to do and knock a few items off it, as a result.

This morning's experience ties in to a post that's been nibbling at the edge of my writing brain for the last week or so, about what we as parents, as citizens, as humans do while we're here, and what we leave behind. And not the big question what-will-I-leave-behind-when-I-die (although certainly that too) but a more quotidian concern: what do we leave in our wake as we go about our daily lives? This busy-ness that fills our work, and our getting from here to there, and our parenting, and our innumerable chores, and trials, and joys. What impact do we have in our daily interactions with our surroundings and the people who populate our environments as we go about the business of living?

A shot of the wake of a BC Ferry that I took in September.

I've had reason to give it a lot of thought in the last month or so. The Imp's almost two and a half now, and very verbal, and incredibly social. He's reached the stage in his development where he interacts with other people on his own terms - he can make himself understood when he speaks, and he knows his own mind. He doesn't need me to guide or interpret anymore in his conversations with other people. I am mostly delighted by this - it's fascinating to watch him work out his own relationships with our family and friends, but like every parenting milestone, it's bittersweet. Letting him find his own way also makes it harder for me to protect him from people who, consciously or otherwise, may be teaching him things I don't agree with, or doing him harm, even if only slightly.

Parenting is one long process of letting go; I know this. But watching him interact with his grandparents, with long-standing friends of the family, with new arrivals in our social circle, I've been struck by what is left in the wake of these interactions. How even a short time with a negative person can have such a strong impact on The Imp's belief in his own abilities, and how happy and how much more extroverted, curious, and affectionate he is after just an evening with someone who approaches life in a generally positive way. I've seen it in my own communication with him - since I had that blinding insight about the anger I was experiencing and changed my parenting approach, we've had a much more peaceful and gentle relationship with each other; a lot more fun than Shouty Mommy and Naughty Corner Imp.

The Imp is a pretty happy, easygoing little dude most of the time. He's got a low threshold for joy, and a ready smile. As we go about our day, walking hand in hand along the sidewalk, popping into shops to pick up groceries, stopping in at the library, The Imp leaves a smattering of smiles in his wake. Even in a busy urban neighbourhood, people notice his grin and grin back. At the beach, total strangers join us as we kick the soccer ball around: the sixty year old Italian man, the eighteen year old Brazilian guy, me, and The Imp running around in the sand, putting on our own little neighbourhood version of the World Cup. It gives me great happiness to watch The Imp, just by being himself, adding a little joy to someone's busy day.

The Imp spreading smiles around the neighbourhood

Which makes me wonder: what do I leave behind me when I walk out of a room - any room? I've seen the impact a small change in my behaviour has had on The Imp. What ripples exist after my passing through the greater "out there"? Are people relieved to see me go? Do they feel invigorated? Called to action? Do they dread having to see me again? Do they wish they could see me more often?

I can't control what people think when I walk in or out of a room. And to think that they think anything at all is a special kind of arrogance, I suppose. Nor am I fishing for compliments, or looking for reassurance that I'm! awesome! I lead a pretty self-examined life - just look at how many of my posts are tagged with "navel gazing" - so I'm pretty confident I'm not a horrible person to be around. I wouldn't have such great luck in friends if I was. But we all have bad days, we all sometimes snap at people for no real reason; we're all guilty of being less-than-awesome-all-the-time.

I do know what I would like people to feel after spending time with me - I'd like them to feel good. I'd like shopkeepers to greet me with pleasure when I return to their store. I'd like friends to feel like we talked about things that mattered, we discovered new things about ourselves and each other, and we had a few laughs. Or tears, if that's what's appropriate. And I'd like them to look forward to doing it again.

In other words, I'd like them to feel the way I do right now.

Thank you Richard. Thank you Heather. Let's do it again soon.

01 November 2010

Things I've Learned - October Review

So October kicked my ass. It knocked me down emotionally and physically. It was a hell of a thirty-one day stretch.

I spent more time than I would've liked doing the angry cry. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. And I crossed things out and scribbled out entire lines in my notebook. And I hit the delete button on this blog a lot. But what survived the edits is, while respectful of people who might not appreciate our interactions splashed all over my little corner of the internet here, a pretty good distillation of my insights and struggles this month.

So, October then:

I learned about the power of muscle memory. Sadly not in the service of improving my tennis backhand, but in finally recognizing the backhanded way the past can mess with the present. And I learned how the power of that insight has improved my parenting, my patience, and The Imp's reactions to my reactions immeasurably.

I had the plague aka The Cold Virus of Doom That Would Not Die Or Go Away Ever. Or maybe it was just my body's physical interpretation of what was happening emotionally. The fact that neither HWSNBN nor The Imp have gotten sick despite how ridiculously ill I've been for almost three weeks makes me lean toward the latter, frankly. But what I lost in productivity this month, I've gained in quiet introspection and a silent sense of reclaiming my confidence in my decisions.

Photo by Gwendolyn Floyd taken at this year's Northern Voice conference back in May. You know you're at the start of a great friendship when you can ask someone you've met like twice to take a picture of your breasts and it's not weird at all.

I took my forty year old boobs in for a screening mammogram. They may be saggy, shrinking, and occasionally leaky, but they are not harbouring anything that will try and kill me. So that's good.

I missed Blissdom Canada, but I got to host the cookie-bearing Karen Humphrey on her way through Vancouver as she headed to what, by all accounts, was seventeen kinds of awesome. So I ate cookies and watched the Blissdom stream on twitter and tried not to die of envy.

I'm marginally more aware of what to do with pumpkins. We carved jack-o'-lanterns. We roasted pumpkin seeds. We trick-or-treated in our neighbourhood's shops, and The Imp made me proud by saying thank you every time someone dropped something in his bucket. He didn't really get the whole "trick or treat" thing, but he knew all about "thank you." Heart: swell.

I was bowled over by the generosity of my peers. I put out the call for donation items for a BC Cancer Inspiration Gala silent auction, and the call was answered and then some. The Gala was very successful, raising a record $2.69 million for lymphoma research at the BC Cancer Agency. And I'm told by someone who was there that the basket we contributed to the silent auction was a hot item and went for well over its value. I am prouder than I can express to be a part of this amazing community.

And I learned that maybe, just maybe, it would be okay if every now and then I gave myself a little bit more credit. It wasn't until I saw the comments on my blog post about the silent auction basket that it even occurred to me that I had made a valuable contribution too, by pulling it all together. Which correlates with a tendency I have in general to discount my own abilities and achievements. While I don't want to get carried away with how awesome I am, it's probably okay if I stop and recognize my own efforts once in a while.

This post is part of Amber Strocel's monthly review linkup.