Sentient Beings

What do you get when you cross sex trafficking with an octopus? Wait – hear me out, this is not a terrible joke; this is an honest look at the world around me and the decisions that go into writing about it.  A local article posted to Facebook from Toronto Life about sex trafficking in our region caught my eye – would a line from the piece resonate with me?  Would I find myself writing about this topic?  Before the article took me by surprise, I was intent on sharing my recent interest in a book I’m reading about The Octopus, The Sea, and The Deep Origins of Consciousness called Other Minds, by Peter Godfrey-Smith.

Life is a tapestry, a smorgasbord of content, and my pen is my needle and with each colourful thread I weave into sentences my ideas are brought into being.

Additional topics floating through my mind:  the weather, the absolute dull greyness of the season; the February blahs and a need to escape, or maybe that was less of an idea and more of a feeling.  Winter weighs heavily on my mind.  One minute (last week) you’re up; the next, the sky is grey and meaningless, a piece of your life’s work gets rejected, your husband abandons you for work (insert melodramatic violin playing here) and you’re looking after your parents’ dog who gives you this look of constant disappointment.  You can’t measure up.  You receive that rejection and think ha! this next piece is going to sell.  That next piece, which you feel like it has taken you five years to get to this place of pitching it; you achieve the impossible and pare down your thoughts into one simplified beautiful email.  You take your time on the email pitch, spend the best hour of the morning on it then send it to its intended destination with bated breath.  You receive the universe’s reply before lunch, “I’m going to pass.”  Hopes dashed right out of the gate, before noon.  But there’s more hope!  They’ve passed your piece onto a colleague!  “They’re going to pass, too.”  Alas, you sigh deeply, failure.

Life is just like that!  Write it down.

I’m waiting to hear about a big project, a story I want to write, but waiting, waiting is so painful.  I’m not a very patient person or perhaps (refer to last week’s post) my type A personality leanings mean I have a hard time relinquishing control.  But you know what helps?  To bide my time, I read.  Whenever I’m in a bit of a rut, I turn to books.  I create a new world around me.  Books hardly ever fail me, and when they do, I put that one away and pick up another.  There are loads of lives to choose from when our own lacks luster.  I keep stacks of books at my bedside and ready to go on my phone.  On the brain and in my ear.  I listen to books when I work out:  on the bike, on the treadmill, out for a run on dry earth and icy sidewalks.  I listen to books when my husband’s away and I need fifteen minutes to do the dishes and clean up.

“Go play,” I tell the kids, and in go my earplugs as the tap whooshes on and now Jessica Simpson is telling me about her latest tummy tuck (yes, I listened to Open Book – don’t judge me – I fully intend to offset said trashy Hollywood star drama memoir by next reading Les Misérables in French, a 19th century hefty literary classic, to give my brain a stretch.  Also, I’m going to stick up for Jessica and say I have to hand it to her for putting herself out there, whether she did really write most of that book like she says she did or not. Though spoiler, I think she skipped over some of the juicy bits, to tell you the truth).

Stories are fodder for the fire that burns within me.  Here’s where sex trafficking comes in:  I see an article where a person is telling their story in a format referred to as memoir or narrative nonfiction – the kind of writing that I write.  From there, I think of selling one of my stories to that same media outlet.  A new pitch is born.  This is the act of paying attention, salvaging what is useful.  A website.  The name of a magazine.  A particular detail.  Illegal sex trade, you name it.  The writer in me also seeks out how does this woman go about telling her story?  I’m curious.  I’m leaning in and I’m learning.

And my connection to octopuses, you ask? Why did I even mention that book in the first paragraph of this blog post?  Well, because there’s a story there.  I feel like I could write a whole essay about octopuses, and maybe I will, but for the time being I’ll imprint upon you a few contrasting images from real-life.

I met with a woman who told me her baby was born with their intestines outside of their body.  This happened to her, twice.  Once with her first child; they told her it would never happen again.  Then again, with her second child.  The first time she laid eyes on her baby’s intestines strung up in a pile overtop of her baby’s body in a clear plastic bag, she thought, well those intestines look like an octopus.  That’s one of those lines and images that stays with you.  After my meeting with this woman, I walked through the library and there was a book with an octopus on the cover and I had to feel it in my hands, take a closer look.  There was something drawing me to the octopus; I couldn’t tear my eyes away.  Life is like that – unpredictable, seemingly random – and so are the connections we make.  But they mean something.

Our youngest daughter, Penelope, is obsessed with octopuses since our around-the-world trip.  While traveling, we visited three different aquariums (two in Japan, one in Portugal), and saw many octopuses, and then she began to ask for one.  A real one.  We aren’t in the habit of picking up gifts for the kids, especially live creatures, like cephalopods; nor do we treat Valentine’s day as a gilded affair, but I walked into Chapters and there was the most perfect plush pink giant octopus with life-like tentacles that a girl could ever want, and so I bought it for Penelope under the guise of a Valentine’s day gift.  Now picture a three-year-old decked out in her favourite magenta dress with sequined stars, and a magnificent mop of golden-brown curls on top, squeezing her beloved new plucky pink octopus stuffy tight in an embrace of pure adoration.  “I love you, octa-pus!” she declares, then proceeds to introduce him to the other stuffies in town.  “This is bunny…”. In ten years, when she’s thirteen, twenty-three, thirty-three, can I hold onto this memory?  Of a girl and her octa-pus.

I signed out the octopus book, Other Minds, on a hunch and took it home with me.  I should note I am not averse to signing books out and taking them right back (you’ve been warned, crappy books).  I make it a habit to swing by the library – a great free location to write, undisturbed, and a great place to stumble across random books about octopuses.  The octopus book opens with a narrative, which is immediately more interesting than just biological or psychological or philosophical babble, which is hopefully not where the rest of the book is headed.

The opening scene takes place off the coast of Australia; a diver descends into the depths of the ocean and comes across an unusual scene:  a large group of octopuses hanging out on a pile of thousands of empty scallop shells with a handful of baby sharks.  What hooked me though, was the diver’s encounter with an octopus.

Octopuses don’t shy away from human touch; they are highly tactile.  The diver explains, “If you sit in front of their den and reach out a hand, they’ll often send out an arm or two, first to explore you, and then – absurdly – to try to haul you into their lair.”  The octopus does this initially for gastronomic purposes, but realizing it can’t eat you, out of curiosity, an octopus will still pull you in for a closer look, if you let it.  In case you were worried for the diver’s safety, the octopus he’s referring to is about the size of a cat.  We aren’t the only ones searching for meaning.

From the time she was born, we have jokingly referred to Penelope as our Genius Baby.  Imagine my surprise at the end of the first chapter of the octopus book when I find this paragraph:

“Cephalopods are an island of mental complexity in the sea of invertebrate animals.  Because our most recent common ancestor was so simple and lies so far back, cephalopods are an independent experiment in the evolution of large brains and complex behaviour.  If we can make contact with cephalopods as sentient beings, it is not because of a shared history, not because of kinship, but because evolution built minds twice over.  This is probably the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien.”

I had to laugh then, that Penelope, our Genius Baby, latched onto the octopus, the “intelligent alien” of the ocean as her invertebrate of choice and object of affection.

Interesting cephalopod fact: the eyes of an octopus work like ours.  They zoom in and out like a camera, and it was these eyes that developed through evolution, in addition to more complex brains, to help protect us from predation that similarly evolved over time.  Jelly fish never used to have poisonous barbs.

Another interesting fact.  Never turn your back on an octopus in captivity, as that is when they will make their escape and you’ll turn around to find your octopus, once neatly contained in a bucket, is now crawling along the floor (think Hank from Finding Dory); and even when you are observing them, watch out for their spray.  Octopuses can and will selectively shoot water out at people they don’t like.  What fascinating creatures, right?  I know.  This book was a great find.

The world at large and the world of books are equally as fascinating to me.  If we stay attuned, we learn and grow from both making our way through the world and skimming our finger across the page.  A writer’s job is to then translate that knowledge onto their own page, weave the tapestry, in the form of an interesting story. Make every stitch count.

Do octopuses hold a special meaning for me, now that I’ve given them a narrative in my life, even in relation to others?  Of course.  I will never look at an octopus similarly again.  But whether I imagine a baby’s intestines dangling in a plastic bag, or a friendly cephalopod handshake with a pull, or my three-year-old daughter squeezing her stuffy tight, will depend on the day and the story I want to tell.  The meaning I want to make.

The life of a writer is just like that.

 

The Rise and The Fall

Our lives move in waves.  People come swimming in and out of them.  Projects ebb and flow.  Relationships crest and crash, smooth out and can eventually flatten completely if we let them, while life continues until the next dip, the following rise, the next encounter with the sway of the currents.

My life has taken some pretty interesting rises and falls, let me tell you.

I recently read a beautiful essay about how most stories are like sine waves – whether the telling begins in the dip or the crest, the end on a high or a low, and what happens in between those curves is up to the storyteller – but the basic form of our collective narrative is the rise and the fall.  Again and again.  Throughout history.  We rise and we fall, and we get back up and do it again.

I’m telling you this because I sat on a friend’s couch today.  I sat and I listened as she told me a part of her story.  I sat with a notebook on my lap and as she described a sliver of the events in her life, a pattern began to emerge and a sine wave took shape in my mind, which translated into my pen moving in waves along the page.  A story snake.  I saw clearly the rise and fall, the rise and the fall, her rise and her fall.  Over and over, again.  This woman is resilient beyond belief.  She struck me as heroic and she is brave, but I bet she wouldn’t want me to tell you that.  Because she is also every woman.  She is you and she is me.  Hers is a story I badly want to tell.  And the thing is, the thing is, her story has become part of my story.  Our stories are intertwining as we strive to build a relationship, a partnership, ride the waves together.  Our sine waves overlapping, our story snakes becoming friends, acquainting themselves with one another.  She wants me to be the teller of her story.  What happens next will either be the rise, or the fall.  This is the pattern, on repeat, of our lives.

And I couldn’t help but reflect on my own life, on my own story snake, as I drove away from her house and made my way to the library to get to work.  My life has similarly had its troughs and peaks, its highs and its lows, and I realized that at this moment, right now, TODAY, this is a high point.  And in reflecting, I see there are really only two truths to reaching that high, to loving your life and being happy and fulfilled.  If I had to simplify, yes, I’d say there are only two.  I know you know what they are in your heart but humour me.

  1. Do what you love.  2. Persevere.  That is it.

Life is hard, incredibly hard.  And UNFAIR.  So unfair.  You’ll never get what you deserve.  Unless you work for it.  And I’m not talking about I’m going to work on this thing I want for a day or two.  If you want something, and I mean really want something, you have to be in it for the long haul.  I’m not talking about I’m going to hope this happens.  A friend of mine posted this quotation from Antoine de Saint-Exupery the other day, and oh how it resonated within me,

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

I would add, a goal without a plan and the perseverance to see that plan through is just a wish.  Hold onto hope and faith.  They have their place.  But believe, most of all, believe in yourself.  Believe in your goals.  And make a plan.  Then push through it.  Ignore the naysayers, there will be plenty.  Ignore the naysayers in your own head.

I met with a friend the other day who once was a competitive swimmer and knew about my former life as a competitive gymnast.  “You must have body issues from being in gymnastics,” she surmised.  Au contraire.  My coaches never talked negatively about our young bodies, instead they marvelled and praised us for what our amazing bodies could do once we earned it.

I almost quit gymnastics at age nine – the year I became a competitive athlete.  This was a major low point for me.  I had to learn to do a back handspring (popularly referred to as a backflip).  If I didn’t do it, there would be no moving forward.  Go backwards to move forward, I see the irony.  I was terrified.  My mom took me out for lunch one school day after mysterious stomach aches had materialized.  She was rightfully worried about me.  She asked me frankly what I wanted to do about gymnastics, if I would continue.  There was no judgement, only love and support in her voice.  I made the decision then to push on.  This was a conscious decision and it was mine to make.

By the time I was twelve, I could do a roundoff back handspring with a layout full twist in the air.  Floor became my strongest event and I loved it.  That year my floor routine, with all its back (and front) flips, placed second in the province for my age and level.  Was it because I had been given the choice, didn’t give up, and then succeeded that I loved tumbling all-the-more?  Maybe.  Couldn’t hurt.

I didn’t learn to loath my body through gymnastics, I learned to respect it.  My body sent me soaring through the air, flipping around a bar high above the ground, turning backwards on a balance beam and dismounting off the side in a back tuck with a perfectly stuck landing.  My body felt strong and well and could do amazing things and I’ve never forgotten that feeling.  My stint as a competitive gymnast brought me confidence that I have carried with me throughout my entire life.

Gymnastics practices were grueling, and they were long.  I learned how to be tough.  How to survive five-hour training sessions that ended with runs outside on the burning gravel in the summer heat.  How to fall on my head and get back up and try again.  How to turn my body into one huge muscle, then how to make those muscles ache; the balance between strength and graceful beauty.  Gymnastics gave me grit.  I learned how to handle pain and stick it out, when it is worth it.  You don’t put yourself through hell for things that aren’t worth it.  Children, worth it.  Athletic pursuits, worth it.  Family and friends, worth it.  Writing a book, worth it.  Building a career, worth it.  Passion projects, worth it.

Some things that aren’t worth it: toxic friendships, money for the wrong reasons, a bad marriage, situations that invoke guilt, doing things out of shame or a feeling that you ‘have to’, letting others take advantage of you, crutches or quick-fixes, abusive partners…the list goes on.  Not all of these things I’ve experienced first-hand, but certainly I’ve been duped into my fair share of bad ideas.  I’ve lead myself down some not-so-good roads, to some not-so-good places.  But today’s my day.

Life is too short not to ride the high of the waves, and lately, I feel like I’ve been surfing.  Literally, I have been surfing, and that’s part of it, but there’s more.

There was a time I had a handful of blog posts and one measly article to my name.  The piece was the story of my daughter Elyse and my love for her.  The piece was about what people with Down syndrome can do if we believe they are capable.  I’m still telling that same story, my message has not changed, but my platform has grown, and so have I.  Elyse is set to be on the cover of a national magazine, with my article as the feature piece.  I did not see that coming, I did not prepare for that high, but maybe I did.  I have a book ready for publication, another on the way.  I’m set to start my MFA in creative writing this spring.  Everything I have done up to this point has brought me here.  Not one thing goes to waste, even those times I was duped, those perceived failures.  Those not-so-good roads to go down; I learned from them.

Was it my teenage years of being a competitive gymnast that gave me the strength and determination to write and keep on writing the past eight years until I would arrive at a book and a new career? Until my writing would appear in newspapers and magazines and that my message would be heard?  You tell me.

“You’re Type A,” my husband says, meaning it as a compliment, in that I am driven, competitive, ambitious, highly-organized and aware of time management (but as psychology is one of my majors, I need to point out Type As are also widely known as being impatient, aggressive, more stressed and a slew of other not-so-nice words, like psychopaths – all of which I reject completely).   But I’m not so sure that’s it.  I don’t think my life has arrived within me innately.  I’m a person who’s always had to work her ass off to get what she wants, and where she wants to go.  I have trained myself hard to ride those waves, and I have no doubt it was the training that got me to where I am today, and the many, many, many, many, MANY times my face has slammed down hard against the waves as I fell off my board.  But I’m in training for the long haul, and I’m not going to quit.  As far as I have come with my writing and my story, there are so many places left to go, pages to fill.  I want to make waves around the world.

My husband, who pokes fun at my psychology degree – but exclusively reads books about psychology – calls this attitude of mine a “growth mindset.”  His eyes get wet when he says it, like the psychological term holds great reverence, and I suppose it does.  There is something to be said for believing that with determination and hard work you’ll get there, no matter your innate abilities.

Whatever comes next, the rise or the fall, and historically speaking, I may be headed for the fall, I’m going to hold on tight and ride my board while this wave of good feelings and good fortune lasts.

Rise and fall.  Rise and fall.  Our chests heave.  In and out, like breath.  Our very lifeforce.  Breathe.

And when the swell returns; I’ll be ready to catch that next wave.

Stay Humble

I’ve been at the pool three days a week lately, triathlon training, and I developed this sort of confidence that maybe I was getting to be a pretty good swimmer.  Despite my affinity for water, up until recently, I considered myself a not-so-good swimmer.  I hit the pool regularly for a whole year leading up to the two sprint triathlons I completed last summer, and I still felt as though I was half drowning on race day (partly because I was).  Regardless, I got through the 700-meter swim portion of the race – twice.  But you can’t ‘get through’ a two-kilometer swim, the half ironman distance I’m now training for; or rather, you can, but it’s not advisable.  I want to feel like a mermaid in the water, otherwise I’m not going to be able to ‘get through’ the ninety-kilometer bike ride and half marathon to finish the ironman.

With a coach, I now have so much of a better idea of how to prepare in the water – of course I do!  I used to jump in a lane and swim for distance, completely ignoring technique, interval training, and speed work.  It’s swimming!  I’ve been doing it since I was a kid!  What’s there to know?  As it turns out, a lot.  The mermaid bit, those aren’t my words.  Let me explain.

So I’m hitting the pool about three days a week, as per my coach’s plan, and feeling pretty good about myself.  If you ever want to feel good about yourself, this is how you go about doing it: look the part.  Get properly outfitted, in other words.  I bought myself two snazzy new suits that actually fit me correctly and goggles that were made for my face.  I also snagged a cap that has extra room for hair pulled back in a bun – genius design!  About the suits, bathing suits should fit you like a second skin.  I had no idea.  I was wearing a bathing suit that was about four sizes too big for me before, I kid you not.  The bathing suits I squeeze myself into now feel like they were made for my kids’ dolls, but the kind woman at the swimwear speciality store assures me they are the correct fit.  I can tell you without a doubt that tighter is better when it comes to swimwear, especially after a friend recently shared her swim story with me.  On her first day back to the lane swim in years, she got eyeballed for choosing the ‘medium speed’ lane (there are complicated pool politics) and rudely asked, “are you sure you’re fast enough to swim in this lane?”  As if that wasn’t bad enough, poor woman, determined to prove the bugger wrong (in yesteryears she was a competitive swimmer) she took off down the medium lane, determined to make a good pace.  On the way back, in the middle of her exertions, both of her breasts popped out.  I’m sorry, there is no redemption in this story – my friend hasn’t gone back – but we will honour the incident as a cautionary tale, the moral being to wear a suit that fits snug in the chest.

One of my weekly swim training sessions is part of a Masters swim class.  The beauty of these classes is there is a coach on hand, and we are presented with a set amount of drills.  There’s a camaraderie with the other swimmers and best of all, you usually have a lane to yourself or with only one other person.  At the onset of the Masters swim class I was feeling good about myself because a) I looked the part, with my skin-tight suit and shiny new goggles, and b) I was finding Masters relatively easy, while some of my peers seemed to find it hard.  To give you a sense, the harder workouts my triathlon coach provided including almost an extra kilometer of swim work in the same amount of time as the one-hour Masters class.  On top of that, at Masters we are allowed to wear fins.  If you aren’t familiar with the awesome power of fins let me tell you this: they give you turbo power in the water.  It’s like going from a rowboat to a yacht.  I flew through the first few weeks of Masters swim and didn’t I feel so high and mighty.  Then it happened.

On the third week of Masters swim class we got a new coach.  At the end of class, he suggested the workout he was assigned to give us seemed too easy for some of us and that he would be stepping it up a notch the following week.  I clearly thought he was talking to me.  I approached him when the other swimmers went to get changed and told him I was training for an Ironman and he said he’d help me get there.  Surprisingly, he made no comment about what an outstanding swimmer I was.

Fast forward to the next week.  The new coach gives me a few pointers about my stroke.  I’m not getting it.  I’m not lifting my elbows high enough out of the water, but my arm is going too high.  This is really tricky to try and fix when you’re trying to keep up with a pack of swimmers and the pace of the workout, but I did my best.  I couldn’t help but notice for the first time that whenever we did a drill holding a flutter board and using only our legs, I was generally the first one across by quite a few seconds (yay running legs!), but when we threw arms into the equation, many swimmers were finishing close to the same time as me and some before me.  Some who weren’t wearing fins like I was.

Here it comes.  “Hang back a minute,” the new coach said, as he sent the others on their way.  “I want you to watch her technique over there, do you see how her arms and hands barely skim the surface of the water?  You are lifting your arms up way too high.”  I stood there and I watched, and I learned from someone who was doing the work better than I was.

“I am going to record you so you can see what you’re doing,” new coach told me.

Oh. My. God.  So that’s what I look like?

I was grateful for the new coach’s honesty.  He was so kind about it too, not making me feel bad in the slightest in front of the others.  Clearly, he doesn’t want me to drown in the two-kilometer portion of the race, either.

I walked up to the woman afterwards who was oblivious at having been my good example of how to swim, and I told her in a friendly tone, “he told me to watch you.”  I was pleasantly surprised when she explained that I will know that what I am doing in the water is right because I’ll feel like a mermaid.  I want to feel that way.  I’m working toward that ease and delight.  I told her my frustrations with my arms, and she explained that when she gets tired, she tells herself, “think eleven and one, arms at eleven and one” that is where she aims in front of her.  I found that to be a helpful piece of advice.  I regularly find it helpful to defer and inquire of those who possess more skill than I do.  In other words, it’s beneficial, as a learner, to stay humble.  Keep yourself in check.

After giving a talk about Down syndrome in a school with my friend Emily, where hundreds of kids screamed, clapped and cheered for us, I hit up the pool.  Nearing the completion of the hour-long lane swim, I was one of the only ones still out there, if not the only one.  An older gentleman who has been kind to me in the past sat there watching me, and as I took my ten second break between sets, he called out, “I don’t know how you do it!” which made me laugh.  I felt like ducking my head under the water.  “She’s a wonder woman!” he called out to no one in particular, as I blasted off away from him, propelling myself through the water to the other side of the pool.  On my way back, he called out one last sentiment, “You deserve a gold medal!” And with that, he left, leaving me to figure out the mechanics of my stroke.

Rage & Rising Up

I am debating with myself whether I am really going to go from a post about my dog dying to seething rage.  I’m going to do it.  Angry Adelle says fuck it.

Angry Adelle is a real person, a part of me, though only a select few have met her.  My husband, my children, my parents, my brother, and likely my in-laws have caught the cusp of her.  In her element, at full appearance, she is a beast to behold.

I felt a storm brewing this morning, that old combination of not enough time, too much to do and take care of, too little support.  This may be the war cry of women everywhere.  Angry Adelle’s appearance this morning was in relation to wanting to work and be free of childcare responsibilities in direct contrast with my current reality.  Whoa, whoa, whoa, let’s back up a minute and dissect what I just said.

I want to work.  I want the time and luxury that my husband has in his career to immerse myself in my art, in my passions, in my writing so I can build a career.  I should be clear that I have some of this already; I likely have more of this than a lot of people, but Angry Adelle doesn’t give a fig about other people – emotionally extreme versions of ourselves are selfish like that.  My husband is totally supportive in regard to my building a career as a writer, but truthfully our society isn’t.  People who love me, friends and family, struggle with the idea that I need time to write.  When it comes to what we value as a society, money talks.  If I were a gainfully employed, full-time hours, read: paid creative writer, there would be no question that I should, for example, receive moral support in finding childcare when school is not an option.  That I should not have to squeeze my work day into a six hour frame on the days when I do have support.  But, to become a paid and published author, and more important still, a better writer, imagine that I need to practice.  Daily.  Imagine this required time, which it most certainly does.  Ten thousand hours plus to become an expert, to be exact – where is society’s support then?  The idea of supporting oneself through one’s art alone is ludicrous to the point of being a farce in Canada.  The top one percent of writers will potentially do this, but even their roadway is not paved in gold.  Many award-winning Canadian authors hold down regular paying jobs to support their art, and here’s the catch-22 for the emerging writer: to qualify for any grants or bursaries in Canada, you need to have at least one book published.  My first book took me over three years to write, and I’m still seeking publication with response times from publishers that can be obscenely long, a process that is pushing four years, soon to be five.  That’s a long time to go without a paycheck.

The struggle to become an established writer is real and alike for men and women writers, but there is the added stigma that women should be managing their families and their homes, an added responsibility that takes time away from their writing.  This is what’s grating at me lately.  The obligations of my sex.  Men at large seem to be released from this particular association of women and house.

Now I’m not trying to play the victim.  You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.  I built this life I’m living and I am an active participant in the choices that have gotten me where I am, master of the house and all.  I mean, ladies, could we really leave it up to the men?  Come on.  Yes! Yes we can.  And we should!  I do when I can.  You should!  If you ever want any time to yourself to get some work done.  I love my kids, but there has to be a balance.  Now let’s get into this building a new career and having kids thing.

I am starting anew, and building a career in writing after having three girls.  Let’s dissect having three girls.  First of all, I chose my life with my girls.  I loved being home with them – mostly.  The ability to stay home was a gift for which I can thank my husband’s career.  Not to sell myself short, before there was his career, there was my career that carried us into our first home.  For me to stay on at home with each of our babies, there would not have been another way without my husband’s salary.  He thanks me in return, for the time I have invested in our family.  Eight years have come and gone.  I nursed each of those babies to completion.  I fed them, walked them, watered them.  They grew tall, strong and narrow toward the light.  I have guided them to the best of my abilities and sacrificed myself many times to do so.  And I’m done.  I don’t want to be the one to do all the sacrificing anymore.  And this is where Angry Adelle and the rage comes in.  I think this is a collective rage of women of old, of days gone by.  Felt by women since there was a man to look down on her and keep her in the home.  Felt by the Austens and the Brontes and the Woolfs.  None of these women writers had children though I’d take my freedoms over theirs any day.  Two hundred years ago women needed permission and an escort to leave the hearth.  And there was no time to write and what decent woman would?  Women could write letters, say in their idle time, if they were attending to an ailing father’s bedside, but Writing was a man’s domain.  Sadly the only writing about women from that time is by men.

The rage that bubbled forth inside of me was not directed at my children, for they are innocent; or for my absent husband who’s earning a living for our family.  The rage that boiled forth was a resentment of circumstance; circumstances that make it hard for me to write.  Maybe this post is about not getting in my way, not getting in the way of any female who knows what she wants and is ready to earn it.  Maybe it’s about acknowledging the brunt of the work women have taken on for centuries, millennia even, that goes unpaid and therefore unvalued and unappreciated, or maybe it’s about a writer struggling to find her way and make a living in exchange for creativity.  Do we still care about passion and creativity?  Do we value artists who make art in its various forms as a society?  Do we value the unpaid work of (mostly) women?  I think we can do better.  Maybe this post is about all those things combined, the underlying seething rage, the entrapment of domestic life and the monotony of the daily grind.  Maybe this is a way for me to push back, as a woman and a mother, and say, “hey!  I’m still here.”  Maybe I’m just taking a hard look at myself and not liking everything I see.

But here’s what I do know.  Angry Adelle comes and goes.  She was here before lunch, I fed her well and was joined by good company, a fellow female creative, and regular Adelle, also known as me, Adelle, is back now and in good cheer.  Kinship and companionship have a way of doing that, lightening and elevating the mood.  Fellow creatives unite!  That soothes the soul, too.  So does doing a good deed.

On my way to lunch, working through my snit, a man stood waiting for me as I parked my car.  What did this asshole want? He better not try and mess with me.  Grrr…Angry Adelle.

Turns out he needed a boost for his wife’s car, which he was quick to point out was a bit of a junker and he could hardly squeeze himself into it.  I saw the car right across the street and immediately agreed to help him, texted my friend to say I’d be a few minutes late, and left with a different perspective than the one I came out with.

“You sure have a nice car,” he said, “really good motor too.”  My shiny red van happens to be brand new.  I am not a starving artist.  My husband supports me.  When he called his car a junker, I told him we had a junker, too.  The car my husband drives used to be mine when I bought it fifteen years ago for work.  That car could go and at any moment it might.  My husband makes sacrifices for our family too; I think most modern, forward-thinking men do.  These men are invested in raising their families and raising up their wives.  I’m incredibly fortunate to be married to such a wonderful man.  Also, I know when our car breaks down, we have the financial security to replace it.

With his car hooked up to mine, the gentleman’s car started right away (notice how he’s a gentleman now?  That’s the power of a change in perspective)

“That’s it? I asked.  His needs were simple.

“That’s it, thank you so much!”  and he repaid me with a kind smile.

This man did not look down on me one bit.  Ironic how good helping can feel when it’s not forced or ritual or expected.  When it’s just a person helping a person in need.

My rage subsided; it usually does.  But there’s a history there.  Back to work.

 

Love Liberates

I like to tuck tiny words into the pockets of my soul.  You never know when you’re going to need them. 

To writers and non-writers alike, there’s a practice I’ve been doing off and on since the time I could write that has served me well.  When you’re reading, if there’s a line or a poem in a book that speaks to you, jot it down in a journal (include the source).  If I’m lying in bed and too tired to hunt down my journal or a pen, I set a reminder on my phone with the page number and brief description for the next day.  Your journal can be a spiral notebook or whatever you wish.  I’ve come to favour five-sectioned spiral notebooks for their ability to section off writing projects.  They cost a fraction of what fancy notebooks do, have substantially more room, and provide a better writing surface.  Use the words, phrases, song lyrics, lines or poems that you collect as inspiration in life, in your work, and most definitely, in the case of the writer, in what you create.

In reading local author Jeff Sutherland’s memoir Still Life, I came across two beautiful words by Dr. Maya Angelou.  Love Liberates.  Love liberates.  Dr. Sutherland’s memoir relays his story of receiving a diagnosis of ALS (a disease that attacks the motor neurons of voluntary muscles) while in his forties as a flourishing family physician, followed by the subsequent loss of his eldest son in a freak water accident.  When Dr. Sutherland lost his son, he also lost his son’s girlfriend who had become like family.  The young couple had been kayaking in behind the family’s home on a serene, sunny day.  Just months before the accident, his son’s girlfriend had the words ‘love liberates’ tattooed on her arm and so did her mother.  Love liberates.  What did it mean?

Certain lines trigger my writer senses and I knew this was one of them I had to explore further.  A quick google search revealed a video of Dr. Maya Angelou talking about how love liberates, using story as only she can.  You can watch the amazing video here.

Love Liberates

“I am grateful to have been loved and to be loved now and to be able to love because that liberates.  Love liberates.  It doesn’t just hold – that’s ego.  Love liberates.  It doesn’t bind.  Love says, ‘I love you.  I love you if you’re in China.  I love you if you’re across town.  I love you if you’re in Harlem.  I love you.  I would like to be near you.  I’d like to have your arms around me.  I’d like to hear your voice in my ear.  But that’s not possible now, so I love you.  Go.’”

~Dr. Maya Angelou

Dr. Angelou’s poem applies to loved ones who have moved on, as in the case of Dr. Sutherland’s son and his son’s girlfriend, and it applies to those whose love we might take for granted in our daily lives.  Our husbands.  Our wives.  Our parents.  Our children.  Upon hearing her words, I immediately thought of my husband.  I instantly knew what ‘love liberates’ meant.  I remembered how in 2014, when we had two little kids and I told him I wanted to travel to India for ten days on my own for the World Down Syndrome Congress, he said go.  And how when that same Congress came to Scotland four years later, and we now had three babies, and I proposed another ten days away, he said again, to go.

In both cases, he knew he couldn’t be with me, but he sent me anyway.  He would have liked to have his arms around me.  We like to be near each other.  We spent forty-five days travelling the world as a family. We are close. He told me, I love you, go.

Before we had kids, almost fifteen years ago, I wanted to go on a trip abroad with friends.  He supported my leaving, though he would have rather I stuck around so he could hear my voice in his ear.  We had been dating four months.  We talked nonstop during our dog walks those months.  “Go,” he said.  But my exam schedule conflicted with my friends’ travel date, and so, dejected, I resigned myself to staying.  When I told him the news, my husband smiled and pulled me close, “Good, now I get to go with you.”  And he did.  I didn’t know I could do something like that, just plan a trip and up and leave.  We travelled to Cuba, the first of many adventures to come.

I want to write a book, I want to speak in schools, I want to travel the world, I want to go back to school to do my Master’s, I want to train for an Ironman.  “I love you.  Go.” he says every time.  Love does not hold.  Love does not bind.  Love liberates.

And my life is infinitely richer with him – and the words to express what he means to me – in it.  Pull your loved ones close, and when they ask of you to love them, let them go.

New Year’s Intentions: Filling The Box

The date is January 1st, 2020. What could be more promising than that? The start of a new year. A fresh day and calendar, like the first page of a crisp journal says the writer trembling in anticipation. A blank page in front of us. An open space to mould and shape into whatever we will it to be.

I’ve been giving quite a bit of thought to the upcoming year. My youngest will start Kindergarten in September and then I will be officially kid-free. This was our master plan, Dan and I, that he would work to earn an income for our family, and I would leave my career behind and stay home to raise our children until they reached Kindergarten age and went off to school. Check and check. Wave a magic wand and the time has disappeared. Penelope’s infancy and toddlerhood, gone, in a heartbeat. At the blink of an eye. I think I’m prepared for this, but I am not. I’m bracing myself eight months out. Eight years. Eight years of being home with my three children. Three lifetimes. Along the way of being a mother, I became a writer, or rather, I came into myself as a writer. I shed other skins behind. Now, an important task lies ahead of me, that of building a career and filling the box.

Here’s my problem. First of all, my box is already full. I have a healthy portion of life already spread out on my plate, thank you very much. You didn’t think I’d stay home and twiddle my thumbs with my kids, did you? I did my time settling into motherhood. In the beginning, I made a plan to try and get out once a day for a walk and to have a shower and be fed and feed my children. In the beginning, those were lofty goals. Never more than one outing per day. I was exhausted. By the time Penelope, number three, came around the game had changed; I had changed. We jogged and hiked everywhere together; I found time to write a book, my memoir, during her naps, with the support of my husband and, let’s be real here, some paid daycare. I’m into triathlons now, I write mostly for pleasure and keep our family’s schedule and life in balance. I plan our trips and schedule appointments. Sign the kids up for extracurricular activities and get them there. I make sure meals and lunches are organized and made, that we have groceries all with the help of my amazing husband, to be sure. None of these tasks are going to earn me Woman of the Year, but my point being, they take up my time, and if my time is spent doing other things, like say, paid employment, then something’s got to give.

I’m staring into the theoretical empty box for the year ahead and the problem is that I want my life to fit neatly into that box, like picking the right sized container for leftovers. But life doesn’t work that way. I’m building as I go; the box is of an inestimable size. I want the box to be big, but too big for its contents and I’m going to feel inadequate. Too small a box, and my life will fall apart, unsupported. As Shonda Rhimes says in her memoir, Year of Yes, I’m laying track for the story of my life, every day I’m putting down the rails, but time is speeding ahead, and I’m scrambling to cobble together a career and get myself together. I have a vision for the future, a place I want to go, but the specifics are hazy.

If I take on too much, how will that affect my family life, my personal time to exercise that I so covet? But if I don’t take on enough, the risk is much greater, the bitter taste of regret. What could I have done, if only…I never want to utter those words. I’m finally ready to dive headlong into a career in writing, but what that looks like is…laying track. Lots of it. Picking up pieces here and there and paving the way. There is no pre-set ‘Adelle’s writing career, this way’ sign pointing up ahead. Just a whole lot of track to lay and the hard work of building a path worth traveling.

There is the fear of failure. Not only am I hesitant to pick the size of the box when it comes to my career, but I’m afraid to fill it. What if all I need is a tiny box? Can I handle a mediocre life?

Mediocracy is like boredom. The bored are often boring. Mediocracy by definition is the middling, commonplace. Ordinary. Logic dictates that most of us fall into the middle. We average out. As long as that middle place involves book deals, I’m good. Though I find it highly unlikely I will ever be content to sit in one place for long. I’ve grown accustom to a certain insatiability, to biggering the box. I think we should all aspire to bigger our boxes, no matter the parameters. Mediocracy is for the mediocre.

In an unconventional sense, this is the year I push to launch my career as a writer. I started laying track about eight years ago, in earnest; arguably, before that. I’m putting it all out there this year, more blog posts, more pitches and published pieces, reaching to sign and secure that elusive book deal, and beginning my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. This year, I will write the introductory chapters of my second book – are you ready for it? – I’ve already started. This year, I’m going to pick up the pace of my track-laying, fill that box, take myself to somewhere new, never forgetting to enjoy the scenery along the way and be grateful for the hard work it took to get me there.

Body Talk: The Truth Hurts

I’m seeking courage for the New Year to write my truth. Maybe that is my resolution? Write my truth. This isn’t a ‘one day you have it, one day you don’t’ goal; truth-telling is an incremental improvement type deal. Each time I set out to write, it’s an attempt to grow bolder, be braver with my pen against the page. To go against that voice in my head warning me to shut up. Who is that voice? Where does it come from?

Truth telling is painful for a writer, when the truth you’re telling is your own – but it’s the only way. Readers aren’t interested in reading that which rings false, even if it’s made up, especially if it’s made up. And if what you’re writing is a page from the script of real life, then you had better get it right, get to the emotional truth of the scene, our human-ness, our inter-connectedness and the complexity of our relationships; you had better write that truth to the bone (note for writers: read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down The Bones) But, pop culture Lizzo says it best, the truth hurts. She ain’t lying. Even the truth, sometimes, can be too much.

I’m reading Roxane Gay’s memoir, Hunger, a history of her body and eating. Women have such complicated neurosis related to their bodies, society expects as much. I grew up being taught to love and respect my body for what it can do, mostly through sports and respectable coaches, but also through a fostered self-awareness of the amazing things my body can do and being surrounded by men who did me no harm. My father is the gentlest man, my mother fierce, thankfully. They provided for me, gave me space, let me make my own decisions, accrue failures, and enabled me to grow healthily into my own body. My brother and I were valued equally.

I learned my body can do things. I can flip high in the air, score a goal. I can run a marathon, hike up a mountain, surf in the ocean. Athleticism is in my genes. I can carry to term and birth babies, then feed them with milk from my own incredible body, so on and so forth. My body is amazing, and I’m not going to let anyone tell me otherwise. As an adult talking to other women, I realize how rare my confidence is, how often women put themselves down, especially their bodies. We fault our bodies for what they are not, and for what they are. Too fat, too thin, too tall, too small, too light, too dark. You are beautiful, each and every one of you, and if you have lost that love and appreciation for your body, I hope you will find it back, love the body you have and treat it well. I don’t always treat my body well. I just stuck a second white Lindor chocolate in my mouth, but I have a soul too, and chocolate nourishes my soul. I also understand there are many reasons why women don’t like their bodies, and why bodies are abused. It’s complicated.

Are there things I don’t like about my body? Yes. But I don’t hear my husband or my brother or brother-in-law, none of the men in my life are sitting down and picking apart their physical flaws as defined by the media, so why should I? Why do this to ourselves, ladies? Let’s stop. You’re seriously beautiful and sexy and funny and smart. Flaunt what you’ve got, or don’t, you be you, shy girl – you do you – and let’s teach our sons and daughters to do the same, and place value on the whole person.

The truth is brave. Roxane Gay is courageous. She wouldn’t want me writing that, she flat out says she’s not an inspiration, or writing to share some miracle story of going from fat to thin, her now standing in one pant leg of her old pants on the front cover of her book. That’s not what happens. But her writing is courageous because she shares her truth. Hers is a story of victimhood and surviving her truth. Her truth is that at twelve years old, a boy she thought was her friend leads her into the woods to an abandoned shack where a group of his friends are waiting. They take turns raping her. I know, this is too much. This truth is too big for any one of us to hold. She put on weight to hide the truth under layers of fat. She put on weight because she believed it would make herself disgusting toward men, to keep herself safe and keep men away. She put on weight because she was ashamed that she had let that happen to herself. That is a truth right there, that we live in a world where women are ashamed for the wrongs of boys and men.

Women are ashamed of their bodies for a litany of reasons. It is complicated.

I’m reeling from Roxane Gay’s memoir, eyeing my own little girls across the room. What would I do if someone hurt them? What wouldn’t I do. We live in a world where a woman’s greatest fear is that of being harmed, of losing her life, while a man’s is that of being ridiculed. As mothers, fathers, men, women, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, how can we make this right? I’ve heard a few good places to start. Complimenting women and girls on more than just their appearance. Keeping your hands to yourself. Watching movies with strong female characters and reading books, such as the Rebel Girls Stories of Extraordinary Women series, that highlight accomplished women of various backgrounds. Paying women equal salaries and supporting both men and women in raising families. We can demand that mainstream media shows a more just representation, a broader slice of humanity, if you will, of women and support businesses that do so. We can support, instead of judging, pitying or AGREEING, with women who put themselves down by listening. What I want most as a woman is what most men take for granted: just to be listened to. Women often feel unheard. We live in a world where seen, but not heard, is still the norm for many women. These women deserve to be heard.

Women need to be told it’s okay to take up space in the world. It’s okay to take up space in the world. It’s also okay to love your body, do something you love, and be a presence. You are a gift to this world.

The truth is throughout my life my body has been a gateway to my greatest pleasure as well as my most devastating pain and I must respect it as such. My body brings me immense joy and the truth is there are men and women who would want to murder me for saying that. For talking about my body like it belonged to me at all, for using this voice my parents paid and I worked hard to educate, for living this life freely and taking up space in the world. The truth is too much, and it’s not enough to sit idly by. Thank god for the Beyonce, Malala, Roxane Gay and Gretas of this world. The truth hurts, but there are so many women, and the men and women who support them, who inspire hope.

Sign Me Up, Coach

I’ve been dabbling with triathlon, training and racing, on and off for a few years now, but today, everything changed.

It’s 4 a.m. and the sky is dark, dark, dark. Penelope awoke in the night and she is cuddled in close to me now; she’s wedged herself firmly between Dan and I and she’s breathing on the back of my neck. Every once and a while she coughs, ferociously, like a dragon is trying to come out. Needless to say, I’m awake.

Being awake isn’t the end of the world; I lie there with my eyes closed as my mind warms up with thoughts of the day ahead. Today’s a big day. I’m starting my new triathlon training schedule, and this time, I have a coach.

I rise at 5 a.m., quietly pack my bags. The game of musical beds that began during our travels continues. I leave Penelope and Oreo, our dog, sprawled out on my bed. Dan has moved to Penelope’s room. I drive through the still morning, not a soul around, make my way to the gym.

My coach uses the program Training Peaks to load my schedule for the week. She is tailoring this schedule for me, so that not one iota of my energy is wasted. I have faith in my coach; she’s an elite athlete, and a mom to three, just like me. The workout for the day is a forty-five-minute cycle divided into intervals of various effort levels, followed by a twenty-minute cardio, core and stretch regime.

It’s 5:30 a.m., no sign of any sun outside, not even one that has ever existed. Inside the gym, I walk into the spin room. Turn on the light. I’m wearing my special cycle shoes, the ones that I my feet clip into methodically, one, two. My legs are pumping, one-two-three, one-two-three, easy, easy. I find my rhythm. I’m listening to an audiobook, The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni, one hell of a book, and keeping an eye on the clock. At a certain point, about thirty-five minutes in, I feel a bead of sweat materialize in the middle of my forearm and slide its way down to my elbow. A simultaneous drop forms along my neck and snakes its way down my chest, dividing my torso in half. Still, when I finish my ride, I know I haven’t exerted myself enough. What does 75% effort on the bike look like versus 80% effort? I’m learning.

I click off my cycle shoes, one, two, and slip back into my reliable runners. Running, I can do. But I’m not running today, I’m hopping. I’m hopping one hundred times, times three, in all directions, and the strange part is, in this gym of people working out, all these weirdos in here at 6 a.m., I don’t feel weird or self-conscious jumping around at all, because I know what I’m doing. I have a coach, and she told me so.

I’m the exact person who should have a coach. I’ve been told I’m very coach-able; I respond well to instruction and especially, ahem, praise. In the context of sports, I like being told what to do. The main thing that stopped me from getting a coach sooner was my own hang ups, the spiteful doubts parading through my brain, sticking out their tongues. You don’t deserve a coach. You aren’t good enough. You haven’t shown you’re committed enough. You don’t make enough money. You aren’t giving enough of yourself to others. You don’t have enough time. Enough, enough, ENOUGH. I’ve had enough of excuses, and so I let myself be myself.

My true self is an athlete. Somewhere deep inside me is a competitive gymnast and she remembers what it’s like to push herself; to improve fitness and learn new skills. She needs a challenge. She is strong and fierce. She beats boys in arm wrestles. She is the person I am, because she formed who I have become. I can’t ignore away my physical ambitions and desire to compete. I don’t want to win, in any race, I just want to make myself proud, the inner gymnast in me proud. I want to stretch the bounds of my limits a little bit more. Earn the sweat dripping from my elbows. I want to fully live as the person I truly am. An athlete.

I had a funny thought, it made me snicker. Athlete mom. I’m an athlete mom! Why does that sound so funny? It isn’t funny! There are tons of moms out there working it, working out and working at this thing called life, and I just want to give a shout out and say, hey. I’m an athlete mom, too. We’re doing it. It isn’t easy to put yourself first for that one hour of the day, but my god, if you don’t, who will? Not your husband. He means well, but it’s probably a struggle for him to get his own shit together. Not your kids; the neediest, attention suckers in the world also known as my sweet darlings whom I love very, very, very much. Not those people, and those are your people. You. You are the only one who can put yourself first.

When I arrive home at 7 a.m., my crew has come to life. My husband did get his own shit together and made time for a run on our treadmill before work while the kids played merrily by his side.* I grabbed myself breakfast on the way home.

I bite into a toasty warm egg sandwich and sip my English Breakfast tea misto. I sit and enjoy myself, taking a moment to jot down a few notes from the essay I read the night before. I shower. By 7:40 a.m., I am making lunches and cleaning up and getting the kids ready for school and I feel nothing but gratefulness and so joyful. Exercise makes you feel good, so good, and so does looking after yourself. The time away for me and the treat breakfast were equally essential to my great morning.

I think this morning was the first morning since we’ve been home from our trip that I didn’t have to lose my shit to get the kids out the door. When it was time to go, Elyse was still sitting at the table eating, saying “no”, poopoo to school. My bucket full, I didn’t bat an eye at her belligerence; I packed the lunches I prepared into their respective bags then helped load Penelope and Ariel and the backpacks into the car. When I came back inside, Elyse had her coat and boats on, ready to go. I kissed the top of her head. We jammed to our favourite tunes in the car and had pleasant chit-chat like this is how every morning goes. I got everyone where they needed to be on time. ON TIME.
Maybe the moral here is that we all need support. We need to take time for ourselves, and we need the support of others to do it. Maybe you need a team of people like I do. A husband, a coach, a teenage babysitter. That’s okay. Maybe exercise isn’t your jam, but if you like to paint, or knit or fly a kite – I don’t know – whatever your jam may be; who can help make that part of you a reality? By putting the supports in place in my life, by asking a coach to help me, I feel better able to help others and care for my children. I feel like a better mom and a happier person. Those two things need not be mutually exclusive. Nobody else could make that decision for me. I had to figure it out and make it happen.

Admittedly, we’re on day one here, folks. But every day counts when you’re training. I have a long road ahead, about six months until my actual race, my first 70.3 Ironman, and I chose this route. This route that suits me. I chose this route and today was the day I realized how happy I am not to be going it alone.

*To be fair, my husband usually has his shit together and coaches and supports me in many aspects of life. Love you babe!

Home: Every End is a New Beginning

We’re back!

Welcome home! Welcome back! Everyone says, not unkindly, though it feels particularly unkind to arrive and immediately get slammed by a snowstorm. It feels like some sort of cruel, sick joke.

There are certain realities of home. Reuniting with people we love and a community that cares about us. That’s nice. No, I mean it. That is nice. I’ve come to appreciate our outer circle even more. I’ve come to appreciate sending my kids to school. Space. Canada has so much wide-open space – one of the first things I noticed our first weekend back when I went out to run errands. O’ Canada! And on that note, running errands in Canada is easy; buying groceries, acquiring food in general is so easy here. After being away, this feels like a small miracle. Everything at home is simple, everything far away is hard. But hard was such an adventure, wasn’t it?

Nearing the end of our trip, I realized what made our travels so great was that I was enjoying myself. I had so much damn fun. It’s hard to come back down off that travel high. I really didn’t want to. I’ve become addicted and I’m in withdrawal. I’m still resistant to the pull of regular life. Everyday life feels a little bit like being dragged downstream by a current. There’s a roaring in my ears. I can fight it and struggle, but I’m going to get pulled down anyway. I keep getting sucked under, banged and scraped against rocks I forgot were there, bounced along the bottom, gasping for air.

“You must be happy to be home!” they say.

“Not really!” I want to snap back, but that’s snarky and sounds really really ungrateful, and I am grateful, I am, infinitely grateful for the incredible six-week round-the-world experience we had. In the span of our lives, six weeks isn’t much, but it’s that we made something of those six weeks, something really special. We made those six weeks unforgettable.

There are other hardships of coming home, besides the weather and withdrawal and having to acclimatize and act like a functioning adult. There’s my pup, Oreo. I think she’s dying. We’re all heading in that direction, but she seems to be knocking at the gates. She was going blind and deaf before we left, nobody contends that, and while before she seemed mildly confused, now she looks lost. You can see it in her eyes.

“How old is Oreo, mommy?” Ariel asks.

“She’s 14.”

“Then how can she have Indonesia?” my concerned eight-year-old wants to know.

I had explained to the girls that Oreo is periodically forgetting things, like where to go to the bathroom, and where she is in the house, and that’s called ‘amnesia’. I asked them to be particularly kind to her, help her maintain her dignity, a task they’ve taken to with heart. Oreo seems to be suffering from dementia. Her lucidity comes and goes, though she’s noticeably perked up after a few days back home.

Oreo’s condition upon our return could mean only one truth: my pup is deteriorating. It’s a sad thing watching your first baby grow old and senile, but it’s as much a fact of life as having to return from vacation. There is a natural order to things.

Before we left for our trip, Dan and I sat down together and mapped out the summer months with our tentative plans. I know, I know, this sounds nuts, but we did. Anyway, I tucked that calendar of plans away somewhere to be safely retrieved upon our return. I had faith that calendar would be waiting for me. Except, when we got back, and we cleared our stored belongings out of the basement (we had wonderful renters), then I can’t help but notice my precious calendar has gone missing. It was a few pieces of paper stapled together, where could it have gone? At first, I’m busy, we’re literally moving back into our house. There are groceries to get and laundry to fold, so the missing calendar will have to wait.

A few days goes by, and suddenly it seems imperative that I find the calendar. My past self knew things she needs to impart to my future self, which is my current self, and I have to unlock her secrets. The calendar becomes a map to my destiny, a beacon of hope for the future and the wonderful plans we’ve made. But I can’t find it. Anywhere. Now I’m leafing through piles and files and folders, I’m crouching down to check under shelving. Maybe the calendar came loose and fluttered into some crevice? This is ludicrous. I’m tearing my hair out “where could it be!!??” I text my husband; he was there when I wrote it.

I leaf through my day planner, maybe I stuck the calendar in there, and I stop at the current month of December. Below the month bares an inscription. The words bring me instant calm.

Every end is a new beginning.

I say the words again in my mind, slowly. Every end is a new beginning. Of course I realize the words are a cliché and fairly obvious when applied to the final month of December, but I don’t care. I take them as if they appear just for me. And in response, I feel a real glimmer of hope. Our trip may be over, but that just means there’s room for something else marvellous to begin. Thank you, universe!

Dan texts me back, “Are you sure you didn’t just write the calendar in a notebook?” I thumb through the Hilroy notebook I had on the go before we left, and sure enough, there are my well laid plans for a bright future – except, you know what? They aren’t as great as I remembered them.

We can work on that.

California: The Souls of Dinosaurs

Elyse wakes up at 4:13 a.m. It’s our first morning in San Francisco and we’re staying in a hotel room Dan booked on points.

Our free hotel room consists of two separate rooms, includes a full kitchen, and that morning we enjoy a complimentary hot breakfast. We swim in the “heated” sparkling pool upon our arrival. We are pleasantly surprised.

My husband graciously slides out of bed, checks on Elyse in the bathroom. There’s the pitter-patter of feet and two more sisters out of bed. I get out of bed to help but insist on keeping the lights out to try and hold onto the night. We’re all shuffling around in the dark.

The day before, on the first day of our ‘round the world trip, we arose shortly after 4 a.m. eastern time. We woke the girls from their peaceful slumbers – what felt like a violent act – and loaded them into the minivan. We ate a rushed breakfast past airport security then were delighted to find ourselves in row eighteen of the plane, the first row past business class with extra leg room. The girls were even gifted an activity bag as they boarded the plane containing earphones for the onboard TVs, a colouring book and a small foam game of exes and oes.

The first five hours of our flight from Toronto to California were smooth sailing. The girls settled happily into their seats, ensconcing themselves in ipad land, embracing permission long denied, finally granted, to go back to their beloved screens. Around the four-hour point of our flight, Dan and I insisted Elyse forfeit her screen to use the washroom on the plane. She was belligerent about the request but didn’t cause much of a scene. When we unstrapped her from her seat she flopped onto the floor down on her bottom. She insisted on being carried to the bathroom. Dan didn’t mind obliging, but we should have taken this as a sign. When the duo returned from the bathroom a second time, Elyse climbed into Dan’s lap and tumbled into sleep. Her sleepiness was atypical, but not unusual given the circumstances. When Elyse awoke an hour later, it was time for landing. Penelope was getting giddy and worked up by this point in the five hour and forty-five-minute flight and when disconnected from her screen, Ariel had been uncharacteristically scowly and cantankerous. As the plane commenced its descent, tempers flared. Ariel and Penelope, seated to my left, went after each other. There was catty poking and swatting, eye rolling and whining. In other words, typical childish behaviour from kids who haven’t had enough sleep.

Our plane touches down seamlessly and I look over across the aisle to see Elyse slouched down in her seat like a sack of potatoes. My two quarreling girls are settling, their cat fight giving way to the novelty of the moment – t’was but a scratch – when the words you never want to hear as a parent come barrelling out of my husband’s mouth, “Are you going to be sick? Elyse, are you going to be sick?” Elyse looks placid, pale. Like she might cry. She’s dry heaving and making that gagging sound kids make when they’re trying to throw up. Passengers are disembarking all around us. Thinking fast on his feet, Dan reaches for the activity bag, containing headphones and all, and Elyse vomits into it. As it turns out, the poor kid suffers from motion sickness. And so we arrived in San Fran with a splash!

We got our rental car sorted without problem, Elyse recovered nicely and we were swimming in the hotel pool feeling nice and relaxed by early afternoon, having gained three hours heading west. On our drive to dinner, not surprisingly, Penelope fell asleep and by 8 p.m, it’s safe to say, we were all knackered. Ariel and Penelope slept together and fell asleep in the exact position they first laid down in and Elyse took the pull-out, joining them in dreamland a few minutes later, with Dan and I not far behind them.

Why then, at 4:13 a.m., when our kids woke up in San Fran, did they seem so damn fresh?

By 5:15 a.m. I’ve given up on trying to get the girls to go back to sleep. Any pretense of getting them to rest has faded away, so I turn on a light and pull out their books. Dan has clamoured back into our bed and as I flop down beside him, I feel a deep-seated exhaustion, despite having gone to bed the night before at 8:30 p.m. My legs are lead, my head all foggy clouds, like the ones we flew through high in the air and the ones down below us enshrouding California hill tops.

“Why don’t the kids feel exhausted?” I bemoan to my bedside partner.

“because they didn’t have to get themselves here.”

Elyse interrupts our sleep a few minutes later.

“I want breakfast.”

Our time in San Francisco did not disappoint. We visited the tall and majestic sequoia trees in Muir Woods National Park. We took a short boat ride to Alcatraz – “The Rock” – and took a stroll down to Pier 39 to gawk at sea lions and ride the merry-go-round. We ate clam chowder at Fisherman’s wharf and gazed out over the Pacific as the sun set in a dazzling array of purples, pinks and oranges. We crossed the Golden Gate bridge and stopped to take pictures. We experienced crime and big city problems. Homelessness. Bumper-to-bumper traffic. In the middle of the day, the car beside ours was broken into, smashed glass everywhere. There was a bomb threat nearby and several earthquakes an hour or so away. Nobody seemed perturbed. In comparison, I appreciate the relative calm and safety of our small town; the uneventfulness of small-town Ontario. Big city, big problems. Yet, San Francisco is not without its charms and character. Scooters and bikes and motorized skateboards abound. The giant sequoias and hearty palms, windswept vistas overlooking the ocean, and picturesque rows of stucco houses that go on and on in tiers packed into hillsides. Roads that disappear into the horizon. A shoreline with surfers, pelicans and sea lions; and who could forget that California sunshine. Even when it’s cold in San Fran, it isn’t really cold.

On our way into the city we came across miles and miles of white tombstones. An entire cemetery of them in the heart of the city. Ariel asked what we were seeing from the backseat. I told her it was a graveyard, and Dan added,
“That’s where soldiers are buried.”
“That’s where the souls of dinosaurs are buried!?” Ariel was incredulous.

California has class and soul. The city has grit, but its inhabitants are peppy, friendly. Sun-shiny. On one such vista overlooking the Golden Gate bridge and the endless city, Ariel and I stumbled across a blond in a leather jacket, chest heaving, one leg propped up on her Harley with her burley fiancé, hipster beard and all, pressed up behind her for a photo shoot. With the golden gate bridge in the background, the pacific and steep drop to our left, I thought, yeah, this is San Francisco.