Monday 28 October 2013

The pen

It's been many years since I've picked up a pen and poured out my thoughts.

I used to do it daily, but when you learn, too late, that your every word has been read by another, the humiliation sticks and the words do too. Instead I picked up my keyboard and made myself at home in this space, right here, writing down my words for anyone to see.

Some things can't be shared with the whole world. There is real and raw and authentic, yes, but there are also other people's stories, that tangled mess of mine-but-not-mine.

But writing saves me. The words build and build inside me and they demand release, threaten to sour in my veins if I don't bleed them out, I need to write need to write need to write the way I need my very breath. So I picked up my pen and a pad of paper and I bled pain in ink and tears and it was Good.

It continues to be good. The little one's naptime now begins with me picking up that pen and writing as she falls asleep beside me. It's cathartic and easy and I didn't realize how much I edit online. Cover all the bases, clarify this, preempt that, add disclaimers and feel guilty because I didn't take the time to find a picture to go with the post; I'm a bad blogger. To write just for me and no one else? What rediscovered freedom!

Of course, there's no one in my journal to push back, to point out, to provide feedback. No one to encourage or empathize or share their own stories of pain or beauty, death or life.

That is why I keep coming back to this place: I need you. Thank you for being here.

Just writing along with the EO...

Wednesday 23 October 2013

From the ground up

My mother tongue is silence, sarcasm, and cold shoulders. I've always said I'd do better, but a first language isn't easily forgotten and a second not easily learned. Caught in limbo between what I know and what I want to know, I try to avoid conflict altogether. I stuff it in and eat it away and numb it with too much mindless time spent staring at a screen. Hand me a pen or a keyboard and I'll get the words just right, but ask me to say them out loud and I freeze. I'm fine, I say. Except that I'm often not.

* * *

It was the end of summer when the husband and I crash-landed in our own marital winter. Like the barrenness of that season or the charred remnants of a forest fire, it seemed as though nothing good could grow there again. But God, as He so often does, has breathed life into our dust and brought beauty forth from what was broken. Vulnerability has a way of bringing us closer, doesn't it? And goodness knows I've never felt so exposed.

It was in those first days of crisis that I knew there were only two options: I could find both the ability and the courage to speak in that unfamiliar tongue, or I could fall back on what I know to the certain end of the marriage to the man I've known since I was twelve years old. There was no cold shouldering this away.

I'm not sure I've ever prayed harder, and those words in that unfamiliar language came. I spoke them with a voice both trembling and certain, and it made all the difference for both of us.

* * *

The husband and I have been rediscovering each other for the past several weeks. Some days are good and some days are not; it's all just hard, very hard. He has been endlessly patient and understanding as we work to rebuild shattered trust and broken hearts. From the first moment, he has not denied, minimized, nor failed to take responsibility for what his actions have done, and that too has made all the difference. We're both learning.

I'm still fighting to hang on to the fragile beginnings of that new spoken language. Some days I have done well and others I have failed terribly, but the importance of it has sunk deep into my soul. Those days following dredged up anger from old wounds that I hadn't known were still open, but how can they ever be healed if I will not acknowledge them? I have been unfair to my husband and to our marriage in my reluctance to simply speak my hurt aloud. I have failed to allow him to make amends or to understand my thoughts and feelings. It was all small stuff before, daily annoyances that arise when living with another imperfect human being, but even those things become big when left to fester.

So I'm learning to speak, and it's hard. I'm a mess of leave it well enough alone and how do I say this right and fear and trembling and second-guessing. But I'm learning to speak.

* * *

Everything always seems to happen at once, doesn't it? Now we're moving to a new home and all that entails. We're purging the excess that has accumulated over the past four years and it feels good but it's challenging, too.

We're rebuilding from the ground up in many ways, circling back to the beginning. Starting over. Learning. Trying again.

Maybe we'll do a little better each time around.

Tuesday 22 October 2013


It took us nearly a month, but both of our cats have found new homes.

Lucy now lives with a lovely woman and another cat in a quiet apartment, perfectly suited to her quiet temperament. She is well loved and cared for, making it easier to have said good-bye to her.

Simon has become the resident cat at a local residential care home, which also perfectly matches his outgoing and affectionate personality. Simon thrives on attention, and I nearly cried with joy when I found a residential care home that was interested in adopting him.

I am so grateful to friends and readers who offered encouragement and suggestions, who tagged Facebook friends and shared statuses in hopes of finding someone willing to open their home to a cat or two. Lucy found her home thanks to a tag by one of you wonderful readers, and Simon's home was found in response to one of more than thirty emails I sent to local residential care homes, hoping to find one who was interested in a residential cat.

It feels strange to not have cats in our house. I've had at least one cat since I was a little girl, having convinced my parents to let in a stray black kitten that I had found. I named her, unsurprisingly and uncreatively, Midnight, and she died only a couple of years ago. There was also Casper, the white cat we adopted shortly after taking in Midnight, and you can see how my uncreative naming streak persisted. Next came the stray cat who wandered into the library where I worked as a teenager; I had begged my mom to let me bring him home. He's still there, living with my parents, and you won't be at all surprised to hear that I named him Books. Then I moved out and adopted two cats of my own, my Lucy and Simon.

Now it's just us and the hermit crabs and it hasn't really sunk in yet. I still automatically tuck my shoelaces into my boots so the cats don't chew on them, still go to scoop the cat litter when I'm taking out the garbage, still keep food carefully watched lest a cat jump up and help themselves to a few unattended bites.

I suppose we'll all get used to it in time.

Monday 21 October 2013

Sights and Sounds and Smells

It's fall and I'm in love with rainbow trees, red tips cascading down to orange and yellow, with the last green holdouts hanging around the bottom. Red leaf-carpets on the ground remind me of cherry blossoms in spring; the two make nice bookends to the equinoxes, I think.

We drive past the fall rainbow trees on our way to pick up their daddy from work. They sit in the backseat, those boys and that girl, and the boys ask endless questions while the girl shrieks. The middle one tells us about his "reflections", which from the sound of it are basically laser beams that come out of his eyes in the dark and help him see. Oldest scoffs, does not, but then he relaxes and joins in and soon they're having laser beam fights with their eyes and now there's even more shrieking.

I've memorized the smells of the 45 minute route from our house to the husband's work. We begin in the sun-warmed car, but the smell of french fries soon takes over as we pass the McDonald's on the corner. A little further down we pass a restaurant that invariably makes me think someone in the backseat has either thrown up or pooped in their pants, which so far has only been the case once; I was amused at that coincidence, having discovered the poop only seconds before passing that particular restaurant. Life is funny sometimes. As we turn off one main road and onto another, the smell of fried chicken takes over. Further down, as we drive over a bridge, the earthy smell of logs floating down the river invariably catches my attention. I always breathe deep here; I love the smell. Soon after we arrive at his work and begin the sensory journey in reverse as we head back home.

We won't be making the drive for much longer though. Early mornings to make the long commute coupled with late nights when he takes transit and long drives when we pick him up have taken their toll. We looked at many (many) houses that were reminiscent of the last time we looked for a place to rent, but we've finally found one that has that perfect trifecta of location, yard, and nice house. We dropped off the security deposit and will now spend the next four weeks purging and packing and moving. Oh my.

It's not perfect, the new place, but it's clean and updated and nice. I'll miss the cozy feeling of carpets beneath my feet, trading them in for all hardwood floors - a bonus to most, but not my cup of tea. Cushy area rugs will be Priority Number One. And our beautiful walls - our bright yellow kitchen, the calming pale blue bedrooms, the lavender bathroom, the hard-to-describe-but-sort-of-teal living room - will become solid peach throughout. I'm grumpy about it and also ashamed of my ungratefulness, that we should have found such a lovely place and yet I'm pouting about paint colours and hardwood floors. I expect we'll make it feel like home in time.

Now it's late and the house is quiet. Our days are so full with so many changes happening at once; I arrive at the children's bedtime feeling jittery and unsettled. Now comes the exhale. Breathe. Relax. Rest. Begin again tomorrow.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

When I grow up

It's the preschooler's new Thing: "When I grow up..." It's usually said in response to being told that he cannot have the current object of his desire, but he'll happily share his grown-up dreams during less volatile times as well.

"When I grow up, I'm going to buy whatever I want."

"When I grow up, I'm going to have a birthday party every day."

"When I grow up, I'm going to eat ice cream all the time."

"When I grow up, I'm going to have meat and rice for every supper."

"When I grow up, I'm going to buy all the Lego."

"When I grow up, I'm going to buy clay, so much clay that it will fill a whole room, and I'm going to build with it every day."

"When I grow up..."

Usually I just agree with him. Oh yes, that will be very nice. Sometimes I forget he's only three and I slip into logical mode - money and responsibility and contentment and happiness not coming from things and blah blah blah, he doesn't care, he's still little and these dreams are the stuff of life in his mind.

Of course, I remember thinking the same things a child. I would drink pop whenever I wanted and I'd stay up late every night and I'd have really long nails like my mom's and I would never be mean to my kids and basically, my life would be perfect and so would I.

Surprisingly, that hasn't actually happened yet.

If I'm honest, though, the game hasn't really disappeared for me. It's just changed a little bit, morphed into something both equally unachievable and equally appealing. It's the running joke between the husband and I: "When we're rich..."

We say it with a wink and a twinkle in our eye. We say it as we sit together right in front of our 18-year-old 12-inch TV, playing Wii and straining to keep track of things on the fuzzy little screen. When we're rich, we say, we'll get one of those big screen TVs and actually get to see what's going on. My Lego Frodo beats up his Lego Sam and steals all his coins. He pokes me in the ribs in protest and I flash him an evil grin; he returns my grin with a mock glare and a kiss and you know what, forget a bigger television, I'd rather keep snuggling in front of this little old thing.

But we keep saying it anyway. When we're rich, we'll indulge in this. We'll splurge on that. We'll have a house of our own with a yard and a garden and a library (because of course) and a white picket fence. We'll spend a year traveling abroad and we'll have that fancy SUV and our furniture will no longer be purchased primarily from IKEA and we'll have that new coveted-but-unnecessary gadget and our ethical ideals will more easily become reality and and and...

We'll do all the things and have all the things and then life will be perfect, right?

Oh, it's mostly said in jest. We're old enough now to know that money can't buy happiness and other such trite-but-true clich├ęs. There will always be something else promising us contentment if only we had it; you never truly "arrive" in this game. But I am merely human and sometimes I forget these things and the joke feels less funny, more wistful, oh, one day, when we're rich...

But these someday-when-we're-rich dreams, they're not so different from fear, I've discovered. Like those worries about what the future may hold, they pull me out of this right-now life and I forget gratitude, forget to be here and present and thankful for this very moment. Oh, they can be fun, these dreams, and they can be truly good, too, but only as long as I'm still actively and abundantly living in the present instead of longing for something that may or may not come.

It's always gratitude that brings me back. When my fears or my dreams pull me into a future I can't live in, when pain and anger pull me the other way into the past, it's gratitude that reminds me to live abundantly here and now. It's gratitude that I carry with me like a shield during the day and pull over my shoulders like a blanket as I lie down at night.

I close my eyes and breathe deep. I feel the baby pressed warm against my side, the comforting weight of the quilt lovingly stitched by my grandmother's wrinkled hands, my husband's strong hand in mine even as he sleeps. I smell baby girl's damp sweaty hair and the crisp fall air drifting in through the open window. I hear a soon-to-be-gone cat's meow, the quiet giggles of boys in their beds but not yet asleep, the childhood-familiar sound of a train in the distance. There is so much right here and it doesn't matter what may or may not come, not as long as it is today. And it will always be today.

But for now, a three year old dreams of complete freedom and a thirty year old still sometimes dreams of the same. Some things never really change.

Thursday 3 October 2013

Farewell, Felines

Oh, my mama heart.

The boy has been dealing with some asthma-like symptoms for a while now. He's on an inhaler and has been visiting the pediatric asthma clinic since spring.

In the ER when his breathing troubles began in earnest.

The specialist felt his asthma symptoms were related to prolonged exposure to an allergen, so they set up an appointment for an allergy test. He just had that test last week.

The doctor asked the usual questions. Any pets? Two cats, yes, but we've had them since before he was born. What do you and your husband do? He's an electrical engineer, and I'm home with the kids. Does he have trouble breathing after physical activities? No, never. Do his allergies seem to be tied to a particular time of year? Not really, no.

And so on.

Then came the test, which was very quick and simple. Ten minutes of waiting - no scratching! - and a physical exam, then the results.

"I'm afraid no one is going to like this news." I couldn't think of what she could possibly mean. She continued. "This dot here? The only one with a reaction? That was the cat dot."

Our cats? We've had those cats for as long as we've had the boy. And I mean that quite literally - we got the cats the same week we got pregnant with him. Apparently, though, these allergies commonly develop around 4-6 years old. Who knew?

The doctor explained that because of the severity and singularity of the allergy, there really weren't any other options besides removing the cats from the home. I didn't think the boy was really listening, but his tears quickly indicated otherwise. He sobbed in the office as the doctor apologized and sympathized and offered tissues.

The boy is heartbroken. He cried that entire day, sitting on the floor with the cat in his lap. Nothing hurts a mother's own heart like seeing her baby in pain.

Cat pillow, 2011

Although he was still holding onto the hope that he could convince us to keep the cats, he was ever-so-slightly comforted by the thought of them going to a home where he would still be able to visit them sometimes. He had particularly hoped his Oma could take them, since she already has a cat, but she was already looking forward to a cat-free home and was unwilling to take on two more. We've asked cat-friendly friends, posted on Facebook, pleaded in local email lists, contacted residential care facilities in the lower mainland, all to no avail - after all, how many people are interested in taking two cats? It's been a heartbreaking and discouraging process, and as each day goes by, the cats' prospects look increasingly bleak.

Simon is our outgoing black-and-white cat who takes an immediate liking to everyone he meets. He loves to be stroked, snuggled, and have his tummy rubbed. He enjoys spending his nights cuddling with the boy in his bed.

Lucy is our more reserved white cat who prefers a quieter show of affection, making her an excellent lap cat for those who just want some company. She loves a cozy warm fireplace to curl up in front of.

Both cats are friendly and gentle with no displays of aggression, having patiently tolerated the fur-yanking stage of five different babies without so much as a warning hiss. They were adopted as a pair when they were kittens and often spend time grooming or sleeping next to each other; it hurts our hearts even more to think of them being separated. These are lovely cats who just need a new home to call their own, and it is so frustrating to me that we can't find a single family or care facility willing to welcome them into their home.

When we moved out here, the husband and I briefly talked about giving away the cats so we didn't have to bring them halfway across the country. The boy, only two at the time, overheard us. "But they're my friends!", he passionately protested. That ended the conversation right there; how could we give away his friends? And you know, I have complained about these cats more times than I can count over the years. Cat hair and litter boxes and hairballs and meowing just as I'd get the baby to sleep - they're good cats, but they're still cats, and they lost their cherished baby status as soon as the first human baby arrived. Now, though, there's little I wouldn't give if only my baby could keep his beloved pets.

But he can't, and these cats need a new home.