Manitoba in Three Parts

I may have spent more time planning coffee dates than reading my textbook… but in the end it was the better choice (and the test is only on the first four chapters of the textbook which is exactly what I read!)

I have come there and back again. There being Manitoba. Back again being the snowy, snowy province of Alberta and the little bit of land in the country we call home. I had such a good time in class. It was a class on psychological testing and assessment and when the teacher asked what our anxiety level was over the course (especially the statistics portion of the course), I answered honestly:

I have no anxiety because I still don’t think there’s any reason for me to know this stuff. Other people know it and that’s fine with me. And I’m hoping by the time I become anxious about the stats portion of the class that Iwill already know how to do it and just bypass the anxiety altogether.

Sometimes this ability to repress my feelings and direct them towards external sources comes in handy…

And, like most good things in life, I stuck my foot fully in my mouth and I absolutely loved the content of the course, especially the statistical analysis part, and I  now see just how useful this will all be in my practice. So there. Now that my foot is no longer in my mouth, I can tell you that the class was excellent and I learned so much and look forward to adding all that I’ve learned to my counselling work.

So that was the main reason I went to Manitoba. But the added bonus was being able to see old friends. How many different coffee dates/different sets of friends did I plan to see during my 7 day trip to Manitoba?

8.

How many did I end up doing?

10-ish.

I am so glad that, even though a snow storm prevented me from making my original flight, my plans didn’t have to change too, too much (besides too little time with Heather P! and a few faces missing at Faith). This is quite remarkable when you consider that I brought the snow with me to Manitoba.

And it was so good to see old friends. And to connect. To really connect. It was nice to know that after a year and a bit, we can still have good and true and deep conversations, even over a short lunch hour. The connection was really good for me. Life-giving and good.

Reason #2 for going to Manitoba.

The other reason I went was for the sanity of my family. I have a pile of counselling hours to get through before I graduate in April. But I also have two (hooray for only two!) more classes to take. I could’ve taken this same course in Calgary in March but I knew that because I’ve had a slow start with my counselling hours that I’ll be making up for it in the winter. Thus, it would’ve been too much to cram another course in to an already busy semester.

So off I went last Saturday thinking a little bit, but not too much of Olivia’s slightly sore-sounding throat. I got her to gargle a few times before I left and we threw some vitamin C at her. But I wasn’t expecting to wake up Wednesday morning to one side of her face being swollen! Well, technically, I only saw it through pictures via text message that Marc was sending me… But I was getting him the Alberta Healthlinks # and advising him on what to do while my class was going on. Long story (and a trip to the walk-in clinic, the ER, a snowstorm, and another trip to the doctor) short, she has strep. Which showed symptoms on her poor, puffy face. Poor, poor girl. What a scare it gave us too! Marc woke me up with a text Thursday night (technically Friday morning) wondering if he should take her back to the ER (in the snow storm) because the other side of her face had suddenly swelled up…

Luckily, Olivia wasn’t feeling sick (just looking awful!) and Marc was still able to do youth and could work from home Thursday and had already planned to use up a holiday day when the kids were off on Friday.

So I did not get the illness-free week that I’d hoped for. But everyone seems to be doing fine now.

And, except for the Livia stress, it was a wonderful week away. I feel like I have grown in many ways and I actually feel a new measure of peace — can’t quite put my finger on what or how. My way of being in the world just seems a little easier and lighter (despite the poutine, cheesecake, and other must-have Manitoba foods consumed this week).

Things are very good.

Posted in Family, School | 4 Comments

Just One Week

I leave in the morning for the last week-long course I need to do for this degree. I am so glad for that. I’m glad I get to go to Manitoba to do it. And I’m glad that it’s worked out to see a pile of different friends over the course of the eight days I’m away.

But, more than that, I will be so glad when this week is OVER!

It’s not just about the school stuff either. (Although having only 2 more courses left after doing 18 is pretty exciting.) Really, it’s about being back home again. For some reason life just gets very complicated when I’m away. The first time I took a week long modular away from home, Olivia had burnt her arm days before and so Marc had to take all three kids to the ER every night for it to be redressed. I’m pretty sure Luke the next time I was gone. And then this past spring Olivia threw up within hours of my arrival in Calgary for class. I told Marc I’d turn around and come home, but he said to stay. And so I did and got messages throughout the week about how things were going at home. Things like, “Don’t panic, but Olivia just threw up all over the new couch.”

Marc does great with them. Truly. But, the kids have a knack for getting sick, or there’s something extra on the calendar, or they have a day off school that week (when there hasn’t been a day off school in weeks) when I need to be away!

I sure hope this last week goes okay. One of Marc’s meetings has been postponed and replaced by another meeting which is going to be at our house. His Friday activity might be cancelled, meaning we might not have to arrange playdates for the kids because (of course) they’re off school on Friday.

But what I’m trying not to worry about right now is the sickness. My kids haven’t been sick in weeks. Which is remarkable for our family — especially with my little asthma boy, Luke.

BUT.

Today after school Olivia said that she had a headache all day and was so tired at school she was almost crying. Yesterday Madeline said her throat was sore when she swallowed and she was coughing. (Strangely, her throat started to feel better when I told her we probably shouldn’t buy her a slurpee if she’s getting sick.)Luke was the only one without symptoms.

Except that it has taken him over 1.5 hours to fall asleep tonight. Even after I got the kids in bed extra early because we all need to be out the door at 7am to get me to my flight tomorrow. He was all tucked in and good to go and a while later he started crying (like sobbing/heaving crying) about how much he would miss me this week. I laid down with him and calmed him down and he was settled again. But he was still awake and then he came out not too long ago and said he couldn’t sleep. So I gave him a melatonin and sent him back to bed.

I really did so well tonight. I was patient and caring. I even FELT patient and caring on the INSIDE. Rather than what I often experience of being mad on the inside but force myself to appear calm to the kids.

But I fear — with each sniff I still hear in Luke’s room — that I might start to unravel because this week might unravel. Every time Luke stays up even the littlest bit late his asthma acts up and he coughs and coughs. Sometimes it leads to sickness. Sometimes (if we can get him to bed early enough for the following days) it goes away.

But tonight it’s now a late night instead of an early night for him, and it’s an early morning.

And I would SO love for this week to go by like the past month has gone by with no sickness and little stress and everyone doing their things and going where they need to go. That would be really nice. Just for this one last week. But maybe that’s a lot to ask when one of the caregivers is two provinces away…

Anyway… We shall see what the morning brings. For now I am glad that Luke appears to be sleeping and that the snow has stopped falling. And tonight I pray for health and safety for me and my little family for this one week. This one last week.

Posted in Family, Kids, School, Travels | 2 Comments

To Brace Or Not To Brace

That is the question of the day.

This morning Madeline and I headed up to Edmonton for a follow-up appointment for her and a consultation for me with the orthodontist. She gets to wait a year for some grown up teeth to come in before the long road of mouth reconfiguration for her. I get to make a decision. And it is not an easy one.

From what the doctor said to me, I was in the first generation of orthodontics being a routine thing. There was no understanding of what those undergoing orthodontic treatment in the 1990s (when my over-sized, crowded adult teeth were coming in) looked like 20 years down the road. I had braces for a few months in grade 3 and then braces again from grades 6 to 9  and wisdom teeth out in high school. I wore my retainer every day after grade 9 for a long time, slowly weaning down as instructed, still wearing it in university and even after we were married. But I was never told that I should wear my retainer once a week forever, as I later found out I should’ve been.

And so some crowding has started and continues to get worse. I have one tooth on the bottom that is getting pushed out and it’s starting to decay. I don’t care that I have a crooked tooth. I care that the tooth is decaying and also wearing down my upper teeth.

I found out today that I what I got done in junior high was a “camouflage treatment”. It straightened my teeth but didn’t fix the problem. I guess what I needed back in the 90s was jaw surgery to move my lower jaw forward. This came up today when I commented on my double chins (a proud Norwegian heritage on BOTH sides of my family!). Apparently it’s not just a flabby neck problem, it’s that my jaw sits too far back. So because of that problem not being addressed and my lack of retainer retention and who knows what else, I now have the choice of whether or not to get braces for the third time in my life.

I’m torn because it will cost a lot of money. I’m torn because I don’t care about the cosmetic look of my mouth. (Though the idea of me big smile being filled with braces for a 18 months does make me sad.) What I care about is decay and movement in my mouth that could lead to more teeth trouble down the road. Marc says I could get a lot of dental work done for the price of the braces… so I’m torn again! Plus, I kind of want to wait until after my Masters’ grad in April to get the blasted things on as well.

So… To brace or not to brace. That is the question.

I would appreciate any feedback, especially from those with dental knowledge or who have gone the orthodontic route later in life.

Posted in Life, Memories | 1 Comment

Resisting the urge to title this “Parenting: My Cascading Mountain of Rage”

Parenting. Who knew?

Who knew it would feel like walking in circles. Or — what’s that one from pinterest? — brushing your teeth while eating an Oreo cookie. Or like that woodpecker who decided to try out the siding by our front door the other day: you bang your head over and over again and nothing good comes out.

I wouldn’t really say that it’s been a rough go around here lately. It’s just that it feels like it’s the same thing over and over again. And it’s mostly related to caring. Care about your things by not leaving them all around the house. Care about others by helping out WITHOUT sighing and grumbling.

And I am patient and I remind the kids to care and be kind and I parent with kindness. UNTIL. Until I just can’t anymore. And lately it’s not that I get to that place sooner. It’s that when I so finally get to that place I am there  instantly. There’s no easing into the frustration, it’s all right there and I’m at the top of the mountain screaming down to the unwary villagers below who have no idea the avalanche of anger and frustration that’s about to roll on top of them.

It feels really good.

No. Not a bit. But in a way I feel helpless to stop it. I FEEL so much. I get so very frustrated. And I feel so very powerless — to change them and to change me.

The other day Madeline was looking for a certain pair of pyjamas. She’s been living out of a laundry basket of her clean clothes on my bedroom floor for a month now (grrr!), and just that day I’d folded the laundry and put hers in that basket with the intention that she’d take it all to her room and FINALLY put all of her clothes away and out of my room. Well, that message of needing to put the clothes did not get relayed to her (or any of the children) that night when I went out (though I’d given Marc those instructions). And, instead, Madeline looked for her pjs by rooting through the basket turning all of the folded clothes into a big messy heap on top of the basket.

Was I impressed? No. Did I speak to her with a very annoyed voice which, now that she has teenage hormones starting, causes her to either get really sassy or burst into tears? Yes. That night it was tears. So I lead my daughter to tears.

Notice how I said that: “I lead my daughter to tears.”

You know what I think a good chunk of my frustration is these days? I feel like everything’s my fault. My kids are messy because I don’t discipline enough and am not organized enough to lay out their chores clearly. If they are ungrateful it’s because I’m not grateful and have not “fostered” a spirit of gratitude in my home. (I’ve read a lot about attachment lately — which is not necessarily the same as “attachment parenting” — and it sure is a great way to realize that parents are to blame. I know that’s not entirely true, but it really feels like it sometimes in the literature.)

And all of that self-blame makes me react to not just whatever my kids are doing, but it makes me feel all of my faults as well. All of the guilt and shame I feel for “making them” the way that they are. Funny, how I so easily take responsibility for all of the bad things and not the good…

But this story does have a happy ending. Well, at least the laundry story does (as today was not a particularly happy day in Vanderworld.) I stopped. I took a deep breath. And I realized I was looking at an emotional pre-teen who was crying. And yes, in my head, I remembered my neuroscience textbook that said I needed to engage in right brain to right brain connection with her to change the neural circuitry of this moment to something caring and empathic rather than angry and isolating. And so I consciously chose to feel compassion for her instead of blame for myself. And I hugged her and said everything was okay. And then she explained to me that she did what she did because she was trying to keep the clothes off the floor because she knows how frustrated I get when clothes are on my bedroom floor.

She was just trying to do what would make me happy.

Ugh…

It’s hard being a parent. And I *do* know that I not am sole reason they are the way they are. I really do.

Just lately it feels like I am. And to carry on my shoulders the weight of the state of this messy house and the actions and intentions of all the people in it… well, that’s enough to make even the coolest person (which I am not) lose it every once in a while.

So, since I have to go for my mandatory six sessions of personal counselling because I’m a counsellor-in-training, I’m going to unpack this a bit with my therapist. Is it because I’m an over-achiever? Is it because I think that it is bad to be angry about things? Is it because I actually do think everything is my fault — because secretly, deep down I’d like to control everything?

Or is it just because I’m a human being… and I find it hard to be a human being a bit more these days because being a human being is just hard sometimes…

Posted in Family, Parenting, Psychology | 2 Comments

Neuroscience and Neon Sweatpants

In May I had the chance to sit in on a class on the psychology of emotion. A big component of the class was on neuroscience and psychology. I was part of a group that did a presentation on the neural correlates of obsessive-compulsive disorder. (I wasn’t taking it for credit, so don’t expect me remember anything from that presentation!)

What I took away most from the class was that there are things going on on in your brain  when you experience emotion or a mental disorder. Brainwave! This shouldn’t really be a surprise when you stop to think about it… But the science of it is fascinating (and this from a girl who’s never loved science).

So, the layman’s version — because I am still very much a layman in this area — is that when you are anxious about something or you get down or you just can’t stop thinking about that one thing, your brain is doing something different. It could be that one part is going into hyper-drive or another part is shutting down or mixed up messages are being sent between parts. But your brain chemistry is affecting the way you think and feel and experience the world.

The simple awareness of what’s going on in one’s brain chemistry in these moments can be quite freeing. And it’s not just because it explains what’s hapenning. It’s because when you know the physiology of what’s happening, it allows you to step away from the moment and think of it in a new way.

Let’s use ME as an example!

Shortly after coming home from that seminary class, forms came home from the kids’ school for “spring pictures” to be taken. We’ve never been at a school that does “spring pictures.” (Why would someone want to pay two times in a year for overpriced pictures of their children?!) We signed “no” and sent the forms back.

Then one morning I recall noticing Madeline’s outfit and saying, “Why are you wearing that play shirt to school?” And Madeline responded, as she always does to questions about clothing or her appearance, “Why does it matter?” And because I know that in the big picture what she wears (for almost all occasions) does not matter, I sent her off to school with her neon green sweatpants and the monkey shirt she wears for outside play (that I never, ever should’ve bought for her for $0.25 at the MCC thrift store).

After school that day the kids came home and said, “You know it was class picture day today, right?!”

No. I did not.

Silly me! I thought that since class pictures weren’t taken during the fall pictures that they didn’t take them and I’d been thinking about how I’d have to figure out a way to get a picture of the kids with their classmates sometime before the end of the year.

“Where were you sitting for the class picture?” I asked Madeline.

“In the front row,” she replied.

And that’s when I lost it.

Not on Madeline. But on… I don’t even know what! On the photographer who must’ve realized that the messy-haired girl in the NEON GREEN SWEATPANTS must have not known about picture day! “Put her in the back for Pete’s sake! What would the other parents think? Why didn’t I make her change her shirt? Or her pants? Changing one of them would’ve made a huge difference! Why did I ever by that shirt in the first place? Really?! ‘I got an A+ in talking’ was a shirt I thought worthy of one quarter?!

Throughout all of this initial panic, I remember intermittently telling Madeline calmly and rationally that we will laugh about this someday. And, “Isn’t it funny that that picture perfectly captures who you were in grade five? A girl who loved green and didn’t care about doing her hair?” I knew it was special and that it didn’t matter in the long run. It didn’t even matter what the other parents thought.

BUT.

I could not stop the panic and the regret in my brain.

And then I remembered my class.

And I told myself: Some part of my brain (if I’d read the textbook I might even be able to name that part!) is crazy overactive right now. I know all of my rational arguments are true, but they don’t feel true right now. I can’t calm down about this. But I can recognize that it’s my brain and not the truth. And so I left it at that.

Mostly.

There were a few more times where I expressed my panic and then my uber-rational 10 year old daughter reminded me of how the picture did not matter. And in time I settled down and was okay with it all — can even smile about it all. And I was glad I had that little tool of neuroscience in my belt to help me not completely blow my top.

Because, truly, who could not smile at a picture like this?!
Madeline neon sweats

Posted in Funny Bits, Kids, Psychology | 5 Comments

Putting Up Our Own Walls: My 13 Year Old Logic

I’m curious to know which of my middle school friends will remember this particular story. I’m even more curious what their thoughts were in the middle of it…

Picture a small town hall with two classes of grade seven students having a dance on the last night of their class camping trip. Picture 12 and 13 year-olds awkwardly dancing to the hits of the early 1990s — a little Extreme, Paula Abdul, Mariah Carey, and always a Bryan Adams ballad to end. As if the bad music, poor dancing, and newly raging hormones isn’t awkward enough, imagine in the middle of dance floor a girl dancing with a chair. A girl dancing with a chair all night. The entire dance. If someone approaches her, she invites them to grab a leg of the chair and join her.

As the night goes on, people start to get a little annoyed by the chair dancing. (Which, of course, is truly just holding/hugging a chair and moving to the music, and can be compared in no way to the more popular “table dancing” or “pole dancing”.) People wanted her to put the chair down and join the dance. Or at least just put the chair down. But there is a catch. If she’s going to have to put the chair down, she insists that she sang Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” for the whole group. There is no logic in this request, of course, but they comply and the girl puts down the chair, the music stops and she sings “Unforgettable” in earnest. And the dance continues.

I haven’t figured out yet if that night was actually “unforgettable” or “unbelievable” or “unforgiveable”… because, you see, I was that girl.

That night has in a lot of ways become one of those blurry/fuzzy stories of adolescence. I know it happened. I remember being there — the way the chair fit into my arms and the creative ways I used the chair to do a few spins, as if the chair were actually dancing with me. But what I do not remember is being conscious of why I was going such a ridiculous thing. I just did it. It was what I wanted to do.

But now I know why.

I danced with that chair because I thought no one would want to dance with me. So I thought that rather than standing out in the crowd by being the one nobody danced with, I’d just prevent the possibility of rejection on the dance floor in the first place! Insert chair and 13 year old logic.

Of course, like I said, I did not consciously go through that thought process, which leaves me guessing how I came to do such an absurd thing. But, the absurdity, as you know, does not stop with the chair, but ends with the culminating moment of singing for both of the grade seven classes, my teachers, and the trip chaperones. Why?! I don’t know. How could someone so obviously self-conscious want to do something like that? The only thing I can come up with was that I masked my complete lack of self-esteem with ridiculous confidence. Just like I put the chair between me and my potential dance partners, I put on a veil of confidence at certain moments.

There were, after all, some things I wasn’t self-conscious about: I knew I was smart and funny and could sing just well enough to make a mockery of most songs. But besides those things, I was quite certain of my ugliness and aloneness, and those insecure thoughts under-girded most of what I did in those early teenage years. In fact, they were the undercurrent of everything; those insecurities were the reason I did all of those ridiculous things that night!

As I write that I think of what a mess my life could’ve become if my insecurities had lead me to do even greater and more unfortunate things. I ought to be grateful it was just a little chair dancing and Nat singing, as embarrassing as it is! And I’m grateful that I can now understand what I was doing back then, even if it makes me sad that I was too scared to put myself out there in “normal” teenage ways.

Of course part of me is glad that I had my own unique way of being back then and that I now have a whole novel-full of “ridiculous Dixie” stories to share, which will hopefully help my kids to carve their own path in the world in unique and wonderful ways (and with hopefully a lot less of the crushing insecurity).

Here’s to life without too many walls. Or at least understanding why we put them up in the first place and — even in just the knowing of that — taking the pieces down and not being afraid to be ourselves in the world. Here’s to putting the chair down and seeing if anyone asks you to dance.

Posted in Life, Memories | 2 Comments

Our Staycation

Four hours until our family of five is all together again. For the past week we have been scattered across two provinces: Luke and Olivia with my parents in Saskatchewan, Madeline at church camp, and Marc and I at home by ourselves. There have been lots of comments about nude housekeeping. (You wouldn’t believe all of the comments about nude housekeeping!)

We had the same opportunity last summer. Except last summer we had a certain number of to-dos: pack the trailer (since we were moving two weeks later), pick out furniture (since we only had one couch at that point and that couch was staying with the trailer), get together for many “one last” visits with friends.

This year there was nothing on the agenda, besides a few evenings filled up with church things and a determination to get away for one night in Edmonton. Even if we didn’t FEEL like making the effort of picking out a hotel and going to Edmonton and staying over night, we were GOING to, because we COULD.

“Because we can” was kind of the theme of the week, and it had to be balanced out with “because we want to.”

You see, we are tired these days. I don’t know why. We can’t seem to figure it out. But we’re tired. And, though, Marc had to work this week, I didn’t have too much on the agenda and I did a lot of relaxing.  A lot of browsing pinterest for great pins on grief and dying and counselling. A lot of wandering the house trying to decide which part of the house I felt like cleaning. Some naps. Some colouring. A bit of reading. But not much of anything because I was so dang tired.

In the end, we did muster up the energy to go to Edmonton. We went to the Art Gallery of Alberta to see two exhibits we really wanted to see. We had some nice meals out. We had the hotel pool to ourselves. We got upgraded to a suite that was essentially just one big room with two tvs next each other on the wall (which were instantly set to Sister Wives and the end of the Rider game). We had a long walk by the river and did a little bit of shopping.

Which takes us to Monday night… with five more days to go…

I’ll admit, I felt a bit lost and rather grumpy the next day. Marc said that that was understandable since we had just spent a day and a half where we could do whatever we liked, but not every day can be like that. He went to work. I started at the messy (the always messy) house and remained in my funk. As the day went on I began to tell myself that days don’t have to be perfect to be good. That you don’t have to be perfectly content for it to be a good day. Good days don’t always consist of doing everything you want — or doing nothing. There are good days to be had even when there’s work to be done.

I was out of my funk by the end of the day. Or at least I fell asleep and woke up out of the funk.

Wednesday I had a meeting with the two ladies who I am going to be co-facilitating a bereavement support group in the fall. It was a great meeting. I left there feeling excited about this great opportunity. I also left there and banged into the door as I exited the building, causing Marc to burst out laughing as he watched from the vehicle. We went for a great lunch at a great restaurant with a great gift certificate… because we wanted to. Not just because we could. Wednesday evening we had a fun bbq with the church.

Which brings us to yesterday, which saw us on the road by 7:45am for a pastors breakfast, to which I tagged along and had breakfast with one of the other pastors wives. It was great. And I was officially exhausted by the time we got home after lunch. Cue a long nap and guilt-free afternoon spent in bed. (I tell you, pinterest is the place for so many things. I want to be friends with one of the ladies on there not just because of the great counselling content she has on her boards but because of the impeccable manner in which her boards are organized!)

But last night… last night was the last night before the kids are home. Big pressure. This is our last night to be able to do whatever we want. But we can’t just do whatever we want because that might be what we can do when the kids are home! We need to do something we can’t do when the kids are home. A movie! I love movies! Why can’t there be any good movies showing?! The next time we go to a movie it’s going to cost us $40 in babysitting just to see a movie! Why, oh why can’t there be any good movies showing this week?!

You know how when you go to a restaurant you order what you can’t have at home, even if it’s not necessarily what you really want to eat? (Oh, am I the only one who does that all the time?!) Well, last night felt like that. We did go out for supper in Camrose. We did wander the town looking for a place to have dessert. But we were just too tired to do anything else — even walk along the nice path by the pond…

We came home and watched a movie and went to bed. Even though we can do that when our kids are home. “What we had the energy for” won out over “what we can’t do when the kids are home.” And that’s okay. It was a good week. And it was nice to have a quiet house. But it will be just as nice to have a noisy house. It was nice to have freedom. But it will be just as nice to have our kids home. Very nice, actually.

Posted in Family, Marriage | 2 Comments

Canada Day 2013

Can’t decide which I like better! (Which picture, not which child…)
Canada day 1
Canada day 2 2013

Happy Canada Day! We are off to celebrate in the capital city (of our province).

Posted in Family, Kids | 3 Comments

As long as…

I don’t know what came first: the months of unending sickness in our household or the months of unending research on dying. Actually I know they both started around the same time in November, but what I don’t know is which of those is the cause of the anxiety I have been feeling since that time. It does wax and wane, but for the most part I have been anxious almost every evening for six months.

I liken it back to when I was pregnant with Olivia and every night for about the last month of the pregnancy I would panic. “There is a baby in my stomach. The only way that baby will come out is if I push it out. The pain is inevitable. THE PAIN IS INEVITABLE!” By about 9pm my insides would be freaking out and all I could do was to go to bed, read the Psalms and listen to Mozart for the Mother-To-Be until I fell asleep. In the morning I was fine. It was a new day. “Of course I could push a baby out!” Day goes on, “I can still push a baby out.” Suppertime, “I can do it.” 9:00pm, “Nope. I can’t. I’m freaking out. Why oh why can’t there be another way?!”

That’s what this anxiety has been like for me in the past months, except not about pushing a baby out but about pain and suffering and death. Some evenings have been okay. Some have been bad — never to the point of a panic attack, but to the point where all I can do is pray and try to sleep. “Sickness and death are inevitable! There’s no escaping it! Why can’t there be another way?!” Just like Olivia’s pregnancy I am fine in the morning; I don’t even understand why I felt so afraid …until the kids are in bed and then the anxiety magically and instantly appears.

All these months I thought I was panicked about death, about sickness, about pain, about midnight visits to the emergency room. I thought it was because I would do school work until late in the evening, so I stopped working before 9 o’clock. But tonight I figured something out…

You see, I mentioned this whole thing to my friend a few days ago and asked her to pray for me. For the past two nights I have gone to bed without even a hint of the anxiety. I thought her prayers must be working! And maybe they are…. But tonight the low-grade anxiety came back. And when I stopped and thought about why it came back another possible cause came to me.

The past two nights have been peaceful in our house. Little stress, relaxing evenings, peaceful, happy bedtimes, everyone in a good mood. Tonight when Olivia went to bed that was not the case. She was stubborn. She was sad. I was frustrated and disappointed. We prayed, kissed goodnight and I scratched her back, but there was a definite lack of “peace” around putting her to bed.

Do you know what I want to do in palliative counselling? I want to help people find peace in their lives, in their relationships, in the things they have done and the things they have left undone as they come to terms with their life ending. It is a beautiful and noble thing, and I love that I get to devote most of my research and work to something so meaningful.

But I see now that, though I think what I study is so important, I am really bad at doing it. I am really bad at letting go of the things that were left un-done in my day. I get really frustrated when there isn’t peace and love in my family. I get really anxious when there is conflict and uncertainty.

Do you know why I think I get anxious so often about dying? *Newsflash* It actually isn’t because I spend a good chunk of my days reading about death and dying! I don’t think it’s the pain and the suffering and the loss even. It’s because I am afraid of what I have left undone. It’s because I am afraid that the things I have done will have hurt people.

Like tonight: “If only I had figured out a better way to interact with Olivia! If only I understood her better! If only everything had been perfect!” I wouldn’t feel so anxious right now.

I’ve had the phrase “as long as” running through my head for the past while…

There are a few people in our church community who are facing some major health issues — scary health issues. And I pray for them and I ask for peace. And in the back of my head I think “as long as _____ doesn’t happen, they’ll be okay…”

But that “as long as”  — that thing that I think must not happen (for them or for me or my family) — that is what is scariest of all! That’s what keeps me afraid. But that “as long as” is awfully hard to let go; I don’t want to let go of it. It is so scary to let go of it!

And that “as long as” can be a big thing or a little thing. I can go to sleep tonight “as long as” everyone was happy when they went to bed; as long as everyone was healthy when they went to bed; as long as no disaster strikes while we sleep. Big or small, it all leads to fear and anxiety. And we live in an uncertain world where there are literally infinite “as long as”-es that we could come up with.

So tonight, when the anxious feelings came, I went in and held Olivia while she slept. And I thought again of how I love her even though it is so hard to love when I don’t always do it right. I prayed for her as she slept. And I reminded myself that tomorrow is a new day — a new day to learn and grow and try again.

That’s why death is scary, right? Because there is no more “trying again.” And maybe part of my fear does come from all of my studying, because it makes me hyper-sensitive to the fact that the time we all have together is limited.

I want to be able to sleep in peace each night knowing that whatever I did or did not do is what it is. And living with an “as long as things are perfect” caveat needs to stop. Instead I want to learn to say “as long as God is there I will be okay.”

And when God is there, there is no more “as long as.” I can find rest and peace in it all. Somehow. I don’t know how. There is rest and peace in it all. And I want to be unafraid of letting go in order to know that peace. I want to be unafraid of letting go of my mistakes, the hurts I’ve caused and the hurts I’ve felt, and the uncertainty of everything in life and the fear of life being over. Instead I choose to struggle towards faith, to trust that Jesus is always there, even when I’m afraid.

So tonight I end the day with this prayer from The Divine Hours and this most fitting and beautiful song:

Watch, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight, and give Your angels and saints charge over those who sleep. Tend Your sick ones, O Lord Christ. Rest Your weary ones. Bless Your dying ones. Soothe Your suffering ones. Shield Your joyous ones, and all for Your loves’ sake. Amen. 

Posted in Faith, Psychology, School | 2 Comments

Contrived Joy/Pure Joy

So that last post showed the dandelion pictures from today, but if you go back to the dandelion post of 2008 you will see that to get a decent happy picture of the children is near impossible. Today wasn’t much different. “Look at the camera, Olivia!” “No bunny ears, Luke!” “Sit straight. Sit forward. Sit back.” In the end we get the shot, but usually there is a good amount of yelling and frustration in order to get the “happy shot”. Ironic, no?

We almost didn’t take the dandelion pictures today because the skies were looking a little ominous. We went out pretty quickly after school for the pictures, and shortly after supper the rain started. By that time the kids were already in their pyjamas and someone got it into their heads that they needed to go out into the rain. And go out they did. And it was a moment of pure joy. The kids running free, getting drenched, dancing and yelling. Marc had learned some new worship songs at a youth conference this weekend. We opened the windows wide and blasted the music, and this is what we watched. Pure joy.

The same thing happened on Mother’s Day, except it almost didn’t. All I wanted was a nice picture of me and the kids. Simple enough. But it quickly escalated into tears and yelling and “Just leave and do whatever you like because you don’t care about any of this!” The kids and I were all in tears. It was the worst. At that rate I was going to have to go out and buy another cake like this (see Mother’s Day 2006) for me on behalf of my family:
ass cake

I told Marc I didn’t want a picture of us when we were all crying. So he decided a change of “scenery” was in order. The kids and I went out and sat on the front step. Marc turned around for a minute and when we looked again he had dropped his shorts to the ground, standing there in his underwear in our front yard just to get us to smile. And it worked. Oh boy did it work!
Happy Mother's Day!  (I had to drop my pants to get this reaction out of a kind of grouchy bunch. Those are the sacrifices we make for our families.)

And this has now become the picture I want to frame more than any other — more than any contrived picture of happiness. This picture reminds me that the moments of pure joy are often the ones most connected to the moments of pure frustration and desperation. Because when those moments are redeemed, when they are flipped around and made right, oh boy!, are they made right! Made right all the more because of how wrong they were before.

So I am glad tonight to be reminded that joy is found in the unlikely, messy, frustrating places of life. And I’m glad I have a husband willing to drop his shorts in order to put a smile (albeit a smile of shock and disbelief) on my face. And I’m glad I have kids who want to go out and dance in the rain and get wet and messy (note Madeline’s “mud” hand). And feel alive. There is so much joy to be found in simply being alive.

Posted in Kids, Life, Motherhood | 3 Comments