Pandemic Diary, the Collection from Nothing By the Book

I am, of course, blogging the pandemic. What else would I be doing?

Below is a collection of my Pandemic Diary posts, from March 17, 2020 onward. I’d say, “Enjoy,” but they’re not really fun. Yet? Maybe eventually, I’ll get funny again? One can hope.

In the meantime: I’m documenting. You’re welcome. 😉 xo

OMFG IT’S 2021
AND I’M STILL DOING THE PANDEMIC DIARY

 

The Year of Hell, with the Good Bits, too (2019 Collection)

Life’s real troubles are rarely about a boy, but “survive” was definitely our family theme for 2019. We did, and we will even danced a little.

But it was an awful, awful year.

Game face on

Happy birthday (the war’s not over)

Suffering, loving, living… home

She danced, who is she?

Some words of wisdom from the House of Snot & Vomit

All the good things in the year from hell, or, conscious loving

I believe I can fly

“I’m crushing your head!”

Work, heroin, and a heroine named Clementine

Jane does Disney like this: no mouse, no rides, a hell of a lot of angst

But you don’t understand–I really am feeling stupid, or Arguing with the therapist and non-problem solving strategies

Deep Texting Conversation with My Teenager

So, yeah, I met Julia Cameron (in the flesh!): The power of story, dialectics and the creation of god

Heaven Hangover, or, thoroughly non-journalistic reflections on the Investigative Journalism Intensive, Banff Centre 2019

Manufactured Memories, for Suzie

If you want to save the world, fund libraries, use libraries, love libraries

Two in high school, one at home equals… I don’t know, I’m really bad at math

Confessions of an unreformable plant killer

Finding Water, grateful for Julia Cameron, kinda whiny anyway

The kids are all right, but you’re old and out of touch: a love letter to libraries inspired by Susan Orlean et al.

“You are amazing”—you are partly right

Her story, my story, our story

This is a happy moment

Halfway to 90: on flying, smashing the patriarchy, and other dreams (May 21, 2019)

We “celebrate” mothers but we neither value nor support them: if you’re not gonna walk the talk, take your hallmark holiday and shove it (May 12, 2019)

Kick like a girl (April 28, 2019)

Because laughing is good, even when it’s hysterical (March 30, 2019)

Privilege, burnt quesadillas, and betrayal (January 27, 2019)

Anger as Fuel: Latin History For Morons, Microaggression Defined, Calgary Artist Eman Elkadri’s Social Justice Art #raceissues (January 12, 2019)

 

52 Weeks Project (2018 Blog Post Index)

For 2018, I had set myself the goal of returning to regular–religiously weekly, actually–blogging. The only “rule” was that I had to post once a week. Otherwise, I was free to navel-gaze, freefall, freestyle, and freeform and be relatively incoherent.

The really terrifying thing about this collection? It reads so honest, doesn’t it? It fails to document–notice?–what was really going on in my family, my life, with my daughter.

It is a hard year to revisit. Nonetheless, I expect, some time in the future, I will be glad to have documented it.

Table of Contents for 2018: 52 Weeks Project

The year started with a Monday; so does every week (Week 1: Transitions and Intentions)

Easier than you think, harder than I expected: a week in eleven stanzas (Week 2: Goodness and Selfishness)

A moody story (Week 3: Ebb and Flow)

Do it full out (Week 4: Passions and Outcomes)

The Buddha was a psychopath and other heresies (Week 5: No Cohesion)

A good week (Week 6: Execute, Regroup)

Killing it (Week 7: Exhaustion and Adrenaline)

Tired, petty, tired, unimportant (Week 8: Disappointment and Perseverance)

Professionals do it like this: [insert key scene here] (Week 9: Battle, Fatigue, Reward)

Reading Nabokov, crying, whining, regrouping (Week 10: Tears and Dreams)

Shake the Disease (Week 11: Sickness and Health… well, mostly sickness)

Cremation, not embalming, but I think I might live after all (Week 12: Angst and Gratitude)

Let’s pretend it all does have meaning (Week 13: Convalescence and Rebirth)

The cage is will, the lock is discipline (Week 14: Up and Down)

My negotiated self thinks you don’t exist–wanna make something of it? (Week 15: Priorities and Opportunity)

An introvert’s submission + radical prioritization in action, also pouting (Week 16: Ruthless and Weepy)

It’s about a radical, sustainable rhythm (Week 17: Sprinting and Napping)

It was a pickle juice waterfall but no bread was really harmed in the process (Week 18: Happy and Sad)

You probably shouldn’t call your teacher bad names, but sometimes, your mother must (Week 19: Excitement and Exhaustion)

Tell me I’m beautiful and feed me cherries (Week 20: Excitement and Exhaustion II)

A very short post about miracles, censorship, change: Week 21 (Transitions and Celebrations)

Time flies, and so does butter (Week 22: Remembering and forgetting)

I love you, I want you, I need you, I can’t find you (Week 23: Work and Rest)

You don’t understand—you can’t treat my father’s daughter this way (Week 24: Fathers and Daughters)

The summer was… SULTRY (Week 25: Gratitude and Collapse)

It’s like rest but not really (Week 26: Meandering and Reflection)

It’s the wrong question (Week 27: Success and Failure)

On not meditating but meditating anyway, and a cameo from John Keats (Week 28: Busy and Resting)

Hot, cold, self-indulgent as fuck (Week 29: Fire and Ice)

In which our heroine hides under a table (Week 30: Tears and Chocolate)

Deadlines and little lies make the world go round (Week 31: Honesty and Compassion)

That’s not the way the pope would put it, but… (Week 32: Purpose and Miracles)

And before you know it, it’s over (Week 33: Fast and Slow)

Ragazzo da Napoli zajechał Mirafiori (Week 34: Nostalgia and Belonging)

Depression is a narcissistic disease, fentanyl is dangerous, and knowledge is power, sort of (Week 35: Introspection and Awareness)

I’m not gonna tell you (Week 36: Smoke and Mirrors)

Slightly irritable and yet kinda happy (Week 37: Self-Improvement and Self-Indulgence)

It’s not procrastination, it’s process (Week 38: Back and Forth)

Pavlov’s experiments, 21st-century style (Week 39: Connectivity and Solitude)

The last thing I remember (Week 40: truth and um, not really)

All of life’s a (larval) stage (Week 41: Stagnation and Transformation)

Damn you, Robert Frost (Week 42: Angst and more Angst)

Speaking of conflict avoidance… (Week 43: Fight of Flight)

Halloween, Samhain, All Saints Day, Day of The Dead, Candy (Week 44: Neither Here Nor There)

Again with the silver-tongued Persians, and other stories (Week 45: Silence and language)

War, Famine, Pestilence, Mornings (Week 46: Mornings and the Apocalypse)

Time flies but the Christmas tree is up (Week 47: Status quo and Change)

I didn’t kill anyone–it just smells like it (Week 48: Guilt & Poison)

You have a bad memory, while I want to rest on a flower (Week 49: Mothers and Caterpillars)

Atheism, Spirituality, Boundaries, Slytherins (Week 50: This and That)

When everyone’s a special snowflake… (Week 51: Normal and Narcissistic)

The year will end on a Monday (Week 52: Guilt and Gratitude)

one last thing…

Trio on benches at laundry park3

“Mittens?”

We come out of the warm YMCA building, the chlorine scent of the swimming pool still clinging to us. Ender, with the determination only a four-year-old possesses, drags his sled down the stairs. Clunk, clunk, clunk. Slam! It lands on the bottom. He looks over his shoulder. Scowls at me. He’s tired. Hungry. Probably, despite the snowpants, sleeping-bag-jacket, and over-the-face toque, cold, because it’s the coldest, snowiest December YYC has seen in 112 years.

He plops down on the sled in a Buddha pose.

“Mittens?”

I ask, kneeling down beside him.

“No! My hands are NOT cold!”

He’s tired. Hungry. Contrary. It’s at least -15 Celsius.

I shrug. Get up. Start pulling the sled.

It’s a beautiful, clear night. The air feels clean—sparkling—even as it hurts my lungs, bites at my exposed cheeks. I pull the sled on the cleared-of-snow-but-there’s-so-much-of-it-everywhere-I-kind-of-want-a-snowmobile paths. Look at the twinkling lights. The sleeping-bag-parka-engulfed people. Turn my head.

“Mittens?”

“No.”

I shrug. Start walking again, my hands warm in my mittens. I think of what 2013 was, and what 2014 might be. I think of milestones, real and artificial. I think of hope-despair-desire-acceptance-creation-destruction-reconstruction. A plot line emerges from all those thoughts, a fascinating one, and I hear a conversation in my head that sets it up, and I fall in love with it, but it doesn’t really fit into what I want to do, ultimately, with that piece of work, and then my thoughts leap to the unBloggers Manifesto I want to write for Nothing By The Book for January, a polemic that in its current form is not doing quite what I need it to do, and I know it’s because I’m pulling too much into it, going off on too many tangents, and for a piece of writing to work, it needs to be focused, and a polemic piece of writing needs to be brutally so, digressions and tangents only work if you pull them back, at just the right time, to the central idea, the theme… or the chorus…

I turn around.

“Mittens?”

“No. Not cold.”

Mittens Pin

I cross the bridge. The lights are beautiful and almost make me forgive Christmas its existence. And I think about… beauty, definitions of, abstraction of, and that thought takes me to my daughter-who’s-about-to-turn-nine, so beautiful in mind-soul-body that it makes me ache, so full of potential and wonder that it’s that thought, and not the cold air, that stops the breath in my throat for a second… and I think about all the ways that I think fail her as a mother, all the ways that I am not what she needs, and tears swirl in my eyes—but maybe I am what she needs? And, really, what a silly question, because I am what she has and she is what I must learn—and, tears still dancing in the corners of my eyes, I turn my head…

“Mittens?”

He shakes his head. I never imagined motherhood to be this—so full of such intense joy and such paralyzing pain. So full of summits and valleys. So glorious, so rewarding—so fucking heart-wrenching. And that thought takes me to twelve different places at once, and I’m not sure how much self-awareness I want to chase in this moment, so I choose to chase the idea that self-awareness, for all the pain it brings, is also a source of power and that takes me to such very, very interesting places…

“Mittens?”

His hands are folded in his lap, and he’s bent over them. Head bopping. Falling asleep. He bops up. Scowls at me.

“Mittens?” I repeat.

“No.”

I walk faster. Over another bridge. Through the steam rising from the cracks in the ice of the river. I look at the water, ice, snow, steam and feel a shot of resentment and fear. I try to see beauty… and not next year’s flood waters. And I grit my teeth and don’t chase that thought. Find another. Oh, this one I like… I smile—my nose runs, because it’s so cold—my mouth opens and I almost stop moving because all I want is that thought and, irreverently and irrelevantly, I also glory in the fact that it came to me in this moment when I am alone… except I am not, because I am MOTHER and I am never alone, even when I am.

I look over my shoulder…

“Mittens?”

“Not! Cold!”

I can’t really run in my boots and on the snow, but I walk as quickly as I can. Home, home. I cannot wait to be home, and not just because it’s cold, and I love that thought, that feeling. I want to get home.

“Mom? My hands are cold.”

I’m about… what? 200 meters away. Maybe less. I kneel down beside the four-year-old. His hands are pulled into the sleeves of his sleeping-bag coat. I blow on his fingers and slip on his mittens. Kiss the tip of his nose.

Do not lecture, and so, enjoy the brief victory of mind over impulse. Pull the sled the last 200 meters home.

I wish I could tell you that the next time we go out in the cold, he says “Yes” the first time I try to put on his mittens. But he won’t.

I wish I could tell you I will never again doubt that I am what my daughter needs or let my thoughts go to all those other unproductive, painful places.

I wish I could tell you that, somewhere between the YMCA and home, I found the answer to EVERYTHING. Because how awesome would that be?

But, I just want to tell you this: You can fight over the mittens. Cajole, badger, plead. Force.

Or you can wait for those little hands to get cold.

And when they do—put on the mittens. Silently. Without the “I told you so’s.” Or too many expectations for the next time.

Fuck, yeah, it’s a metaphor.

Jane

P.S. Happy New Year, beloveds. I am torn what to ask of 2014. In the closing weeks and months of 2013, I rather wanted a less eventful year. But now that it’s here… eventlessness is so boring. And unfulfilling. So, 2014—be eventful. Be FULL. I’ve got plans for you. And you’d better be prepared to rise to the occasion.

P.P.S. “Jane, why are you anthropomorphizing a calendar construct?”
“Because… Metaphors. So useful.”

Coming sometime this month: the unBlogger’s Manifesto. Minus all of its digressions. Or maybe not. Focus is key. But it is digressions that make life and thought interesting…

P.P.P.S. “I love this! I want more!”
“I am so pleased. Connect with Nothing By The Book on Twitter @nothingbythebook, Facebook, and Google+. Or, for a not-in-front-of-the-entire-Internet-please exchange, email  nothingbythebook@gmail.com.”

After the flood: Running on empty and why “So are things back to normal?” is not the right question

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He asks the question with a smile, as a casual opener before we move on to “real” issues, and is shocked and appalled when I burst into tears because, well—I don’t cry.

“Are things back to normal?” he says and immediately wishes he hadn’t said it, and doesn’t know where to go from there. And I’m shocked too—I don’t know where the hell those tears have come from, because I’m fine, we’re fine, everything’s just fine.

Except, of course, it’s not.

We had this flood in YYC and Southern Alberta back in June, you may remember (my flagship post about it was unLessons from the flood: We are amazing, and if you want facts, visit the evolving Wikipedia entry  or the Calgary’s Herald’s The Great Flood of 2013 page), that devastated my neighbourhood and so much of our city. An army of citizen volunteers turned out in the tens of thousands to respond to the crisis. It was amazing. It was euphoric. It had us walking on air and out of crisis mode in a couple of intense weeks.

People were asking a week, two weeks after the flood—as soon as the rivers receded, as soon as most of the debris that was our basements, our houses, our possessions, our lives, was taken off the streets and into the dumps—“Are things back to normal?”

And in late July, August, euphoric, proud, we could smile and say, “We’re out of crisis mode.” And maybe talk a little about insurance, and the Disaster Recovery Program, and plans for reconstruction. And laud our mayor’s leadership and bitch out the provincial government and, you know, do all those “normal” things.

I’m not sure when “normal” got harder to fake. Maybe in September, when we’d reconnect with people we hadn’t seen for a few months, and they’d say, “So—did you have a good summer?”

Funny—we are so socially programmed to be inoffensively happy and placating, the autoresponse to that question, which the mouth starts to form before the brain has a moment to reflect, is, “Yes. And you? That flood thing? A minor inconvenience. Moving on. Going to Disneyland!”

I did not have a great summer. We did not have a great summer. And things are not back to normal. What does that mean, anyway?

I look at him as if he can give me the answer, but of course he can’t. And he’s never seen me like this before, or under stress before, but he’s spend the summer ripping out friends’ basements, and they’re none of them quite “normal” right now either. But they’re not talking about it. “We’re fine, everything’s fine.” So what’s going on? What’s up with us, what’s tearing us up, as we move into month five after the flood?

I struggle to put it into words.

The obvious answer is that reconstruction is not going well. The rip-outs, it turns out, were the easy part. Putting things back… Well. We’re all at different stages. Sunnyhill’s probably further behind than many others because of our need to rehabilitate all 41 damaged units simultaneously. But I don’t know anyone who was affected who’s totally “done.” Most of us—all of Sunnyhill—have been back home for a long time. But we’re living in reduced, scarred spaces. An eternal mess. That’s hard. I know every time I walk in and out of my front door, every time I see the ripped door casings, the dismantled walls, the hole where my hall closet used to be, my jaw tightens.

So. That kind of sucks. But—really—I’ve been through renovations before. Who hasn’t? We are, I tell him, the mildly inconvenienced. We know this. Bitching and complaining about naked joists, drywall dust and “what the hell did the contractors do now?” seems like such a First World Whine. And that’s the other thing.

We feel bad—guilty—over feeling bad. Because. India. Colorado. Fuck, High River.

That sure doesn’t help.

He refills my glass. He tells me about his friend, whose house is fine but whose rental property was devastated, and how guilty she feels that her own personal loss wasn’t greater. That she was, ultimately, only financially inconvenienced, while her tenants lost—everything.

Stupid, I say.

Human, he counters.

I start crying again. He gives me his napkin to wipe away tears, snot. I hide my face.

We’re exhausted, I say when I can talk again. I’m the mother of three young children who all went through severe insomniac stages—and I’ve never been this physically exhausted. And it’s not from physical labour, the way it was during the crisis. We were entitled to be exhausted then, right? But now—others are doing the work (or getting paid to do work the results of which we’re not seeing, I snarl, and I laugh, and he does too, because that’s “normal” for me, much more normal than these uncontrolled tears). We’re just doing the everyday stuff—well, a little more, and so much of the everyday stuff is more difficult, but… Not entitled to complain. Not engaged in heavy physical labour. And, frankly, letting a lot of the everyday stuff go. Never did one thing to the flooded garden this year. Cleaning windows? Ha. I barely clean the kitchen. And my kids have never eaten so much take-out, ever. So what are we exhausted from?

Living? he says, gently.

I shake my head.

Frankly—I look at him through the wine glass, and it’s the refraction of light through liquid that blurs his features, not the water still swimming in my eyes—frankly, we’re exhausted from being so fucking positive and amazing. We know we pulled off a miracle. We were awesome. We were strong.

And now we’re really tired, and we’re done—except, of course, we’re not done.

Because things are not back to normal.

But tears aren’t swimming in my eyes anymore and I heave a sigh of relief.

Jesus, that felt good, I tell him. And then—I’m so sorry. We were supposed to talk about…

He interrupts me, waves my apology away. And he tells me—how he’s been struggling. Trying to figure out how to be a good friend to his floodster (we don’t do the victim thing in YYC, and survivor’s a rather dramatic term, don’t you think?) friends post-crisis, and feeling at a loss. And how he needed to hear this as much as I needed to tell it. And how he will never ask anyone in any of the affected Calgary neighbourhoods “Are things back to normal?” ever again.

We laugh. Order dessert. More wine.

In this moment, although things are not back to normal, I’m fine. We’re fine.

Or, at least—you know. Functional.

• 

The writer engages in overt emotional manipulation, both to achieve a level of release and to communicate that which is hard to articulate. My family and friends won’t finish reading this post—they’ll be texting me in a panic before they get to the end of the first paragraph. Chill. Although things are definitely not back to normal—and for the love of any and all of the gods I don’t believe in, do not ask your flooded (or otherwise whacked by life’s events) friends and neighbours if things are back to normal, ok? Just don’t—life is unfolding as it must. And in my own beloved little corner of the flood plain, we are all doing what must be done. And—because we’re a community—we’re helping each other through it. (And possibly drinking too much wine, but. So be it.)

But if you’re on the hills and edges of the flood plains—if you’re on the edges of any life affected by a traumatic event—and you’re struggling to figure out how to help your friends who are clearly post-crisis but equally clearly not-ok, do this:

  • Listen. Don’t tell us how strong, wonderful, amazing, or lucky we are. Just listen. Let us feel bad, sad, frustrated, furious. Tired. We know we’re amazing. We kind of need permission to be… whiney.
  • Connect us to help. If you’re a local reader and you need to help a local floodster, a good starting point is the resource list provided by Alberta Health Services here. But babe, remember how I was telling you during the crisis to see the need and fill it, how saying “How can I help?” isn’t enough when people are in shock? Sending your friend the link or telephone number may not be enough. Walk the line between empathy and obnoxiousness as best as you can, but a “May I call and make an appointment for you?” is likely more helpful than “Here’s a link I thought you’d find helpful” email. For your hard-core entrepreneur friends who don’t want to do stress-relief acupuncture and roll their eyes at sacrocranial therapy etc. etc., the Canadian Federation of Independent Business has some hard-core resources—that include getting connected with counsellors if that’s what you need.
  • Recognize that we’re not as… full, or resilient as we used to be. And so—take less. In a way, take more—we’re not as patient or tolerant as we used to be either. Nor necessarily as rational. Deal with it. And, if you can, look for ways to fill us up. (Preferably not just with wine. Although that sometimes does do wonders.)
  • Invite yourself over. Our scarred houses are difficult to love right now. Sometimes, company is difficult to seek out. But isolation really sucks. Come on over.
  • Invite us over, or out. Our scarred houses are a little oppressive right now, but suck us in with all their demands. Get us out.

For my neighbours, who are awesome, and doing all the things. But who are also exhausted and running on empty, and need to have those feelings acknowledged and respected. (Especially my beloved L. So much love and appreciation for all that you’re doing.)

For my friends, who helped so much, and who are always trying to help. In the most creative, occasionally disturbing, ways. (Yeah, I’m talking about you. I’m not saying it didn’t work… but that was really weird. Still. Thank you.)

And, for myself. Cause I really needed to cry.

Cheers.

photo (13)

“Jane”

Sat., Nov. 2nd P.S. You’re breaking my heart but also feeding my soul with what you’re sending to my in-box. Yes, you are free to share this piece wherever you think it needs to be heard. The private place to cry is nothingbythebook@gmail.com. Much love. J.

The AP Hair Style: I don’t brush my children’s hair. It’s a massive philosophical thing. Really

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When my kids were teeny-weeny—but already hairy—my friends and I used to joke that you could always identify the attachment-parented kids at playgrounds and playgrounds by the “AP Hair Style.” That is—unbrushed. Unkempt. Wild.

Now, ya’ might think that’s a granola-hippy-natural kind of thing.

It’s not.

And you might think—goddamn lazy attachment parents, not with it enough to perform the simple task of running a comb through their kids hair in the morning.

Screw you.

Or you might think—if you’re a self-identified AP mama, perhaps—that it’s because… well, it’s not important. And there are more important things. Sleep. Play. Breastfeeding. Perusing the fair-trade-all-wooden-no-plastic toy catalogue. (I’m not making fun of you. OK, I am, a little. But–I’ve had that catalogue too. Chill.)

Nope. It’s actually really important. The not brushing even more so than the brushing.

Ready?

I didn’t brush—don’t brush—my children’s hair when they did not want me to brush their hair—because it’s their hair.

Hold on.

I’m going to shout it.

IT’S THEIR HAIR.

Part of their bodies.

I do not assault it, when they are unwilling, with a hair brush, any more than I would assault, do violence, on any other part of their bodies.

THEIR BODIES.

Their own.

Under their own dominion—not mine.

Their wild, messy hair? Part of the lesson that they’re learning that no one—not me, not nice Mr. Jones down the street, not that creepy dude in the park, and not their first, over-eager boyfriend—has a right to do anything to their bodies that they don’t want them to do.

This is a lesson our children need to learn, repeatedly, while they are close enough to us that they will learn it, hear it.

But we don’t teach it with words. We don’t teach it with scary lectures or with fear.

We teach with how we treat their bodies. From their nose to their toes, and all the parts in-between.

And their hair.

Think about that next time you wield a hair brush.

xoxo

“Jane”

COMMENTS FOR THIS POST ARE NOW TURNED OFF, so we can all have a peaceful weekend. And for those of you continuing the debate on other fora:  a not-so-gentle reminder that name calling is not debating. Criticize the idea. I want you to. No name calling or being nasty to other commentators though, ok? Not cool.

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Other People’s Awesome

For all the parents on the verge of *that* conversation with your daughters (and sons), here is a brilliant Dear Daughter, I hope you have awesome sex piece from the Good Men Project.

For the bloggers in the crowd having social media anxiety and overdose: Joel Comm’s I am leaving social media.

For the bloggers in the crowd who want an easier way to share my stuff and to have me share your stuff, come join me on Triberr, at Ain’t Nothing But a Blog Thing Tribe or, if you’re a homeschooling blogger, at Undogmatic Unschoolers.

My neglected (by me) blogging sisters have been turning out all sorts of awesome these last few weeks. Jean at MamaSchmama wrote a beautiful I can make it home  piece into which she sneaked some lovely introductions to some of her favourite (and mine—she is clearly a woman of immaculate taste) bloggers. Kristi at Finding Ninee wrote what I think is a love letter to her son titled Forgotten Loves  that will a) make you cry and b) make you hug that squirmy love in your live extra-extra-hard—and Rachel at Tao of Poop was clearly on the same page with I Used to Love.

And while I’m tugging at your heart-strings, let me turn you over for a few minutes to Jen at My Skewed View, who delivers a birth story so poignant I’m tearing up as I remember it, and I read it more than a week ago: Eight Years Ago Today.

Jessica at School of Smock wrote a great piece about why pregnancy books now piss her off  and Stephanie at Mommy Is for Real reminded us all why we never eat out anymore. With our children anyway.

And Sarah at Sadder But Wiser Girl was also full of advice last week. She tells you to always check your underwear (and then some… you might need to change your underwear after reading Sarah. Just a word of warning). Jenn at Something Clever 2.0 also made me pee this week. So maybe read this post before changing your underwear…

Deb at Urban Moo Cow made me really, really, REALLY happy I don’t have a toddler anymore. Can I admit that? I can. I’m good with that. I don’t want any more babies, either. EVER.

But I’m super-super-super happy that Stephanie at Where Crazy Meets Exhaustion is glowing. Really. (Note to my most beloved: Vasectomy. Now. No more babies. Ever. But that’s a topic for another post, perhaps…)

Last thing: new friends. I’m getting to know these people this week:

Dysfunction Junction

and you should come play with me.

-30-

P.S. Where the hell is your like button? I turned it off. Cause if you really liked it, I want you to tell me. And I don’t really need to ego stroke from the other. xoxo J.

unLessons from the Flood: We are amazing

I didn’t really panic until I hit the first police barricade and was told I couldn’t get into my neighbourhood. The police officer and I eyed each other through my window.

“We can’t let any more cars into Sunnyside,” he said.

“I need to go get my husband,” I said.

“And our dog!” Flora piped up.

“We can’t let any more cars into Sunnyside,” he repeated. Then looked at me again. Cut his eyes to the right.

He might as well have said, “But you know the area well, of course.”

I nodded.

Sharp turn right. How many other ways into Sunnyside? The main roads would be blocked off… but, yeah. Residential streets. Roundabouts. Alleys.

Text from Sean:

“Worst case scenario, park on McHugh’s Bluff. I’ll bike up the hill.”

It’s good to have a Plan C.

But Plan B worked: about 12 minutes later, after several not-entirely legal turns—one of them right in front of another police cruiser—I was in my driveway. The sky was blue, although the clouds south of the city were terrifying, and coming closer.

And I was home… and my neighbours were throwing things into their cars… and, yet, none of us really felt a particular sense of urgency, even though we got, at 5:45 p.m., the call to get out of our neighbourhood by 7 p.m.

See, our city’s two rivers, the Elbow and the Bow, get angry every once in a while. We get massive snow melt most years; every few years, they rip our riverbanks. And there was crazy flooding already south and west of the city—but… we were so sanguine. I mean, this is Calgary. One of Canada’s largest cities. Natural disasters don’t happen here.

Still. We’re responsible citizens.

“Are we going to flood?” Flora asked, in tears.

“No,” I said, firmly. “This is a precautionary evacuation. We’re just leaving so that the emergency crews don’t have to worry about us. Chill. Grab some books, your iPad—sleep-over at Grandma’s. No big deal.”

But. Those clouds. Disconcerting.

An hour later, with some clothes, computers, and Sean’s film equipment (our livelihood) in the truck, we were in evacuation traffic. But of course, right? What in a big city emergency doesn’t involve a traffic jam? Especially when you’re evacuating 100,000 people in a city of a million?

Texts from family and friends: “Are you guys high enough? Are you safe? Are you dry?”

Our response: “Evacuating. But safe. No worries.”

That was Thursday, June 20, 2013.

It was, honestly, kind of fun.

Ender’s commentary: “Does the river have a leak? Shouldn’t someone plug it?”

We laughed.

The rain that came down on us as we were navigating evacuation traffic and already flooded bridge and road closures to get to the safety of my parents’ house—providentially on very, very high ground—was a little scary.

But. You know. It was rain.

“Kind of an adventure, hey?” Cinder said. “Holy crap, look at that thunder!”

Kind of fun.

***

It stopped being fun in the morning when we saw what the rivers had done.

Our neighbourhood looked like this:

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… and, by comparison, we got off easy.

If you want your heart torn to pieces, google “High River flood images” and see what the rivers have done to our neighbours in High River.

Not that Calgary was unscathed. The damage was… astounding. Our downtown core—the financial core, the business centre of one of Canada’s largest, richest cities—under water. Paralyzed. Some 100,000 of our people—out of their homes.

The rivers—gone mad. Still flowing, ripping.

It was, we found out, not just the worst flood ever in Canadian history, but the worst natural disaster in Canadian history.

“Well,” I told Sean—who’s from Manitoba, a Canadian province famed for its rampaging waters and regular floods, “when Calgary and Alberta do something, we do it all the way. Even natural disasters. Eat your heart out, Winnipeg! Our flood’s more epic than yours!”

And we laughed hysterically. Because, you know. If you don’t laugh…

We spent the first day after the flood doing what our amazing mayor, Naheed Nenshi, told us to do. Staying home. Staying off the roads. Letting the emergency crews do what they had to do.

It was the hardest thing ever.

You know how you watch the reactions of survivors of natural and other disasters on the news, and there’s all these people clamouring to go home, even though it’s dangerous and stupid?

I will never mock them again.

We wanted to go home.

We wanted to see home.

On Saturday—day two after the flood—we broke. We started calling and Facebooking and connecting with the people in Sunnyhill—our immediate community—and we met in a safe area… to plan? Compare notes? Cry? I’m not sure why we met. I think we needed to see that we were all ok.

And then… we broke orders. We didn’t mean to, you know. We were just going to stop on top of the McHugh Bluff to look.

But.

Home.

We walked down.

Thigh-high water in our street, spilling over sidewalks, lawns, and the adjacent Curling Club parking lot.

Water everywhere.

No way of getting “home.”

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We looked.

The kids played on the playground—high and dry.

I let tears flow for the first time.

I don’t think the pictures really do it justice.

There was so much, so much water.

So much destruction.

It was overwhelming.

Our children—how resilient are children?—thought it was kind of cool. “Can we swim in it?” Cinder asked at one point. “Jesus Christ, no, it’s probably full of sewer water,” I choked out. They ran. Climbed trees…

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Cinder took this photo of our Common area from the Tall Pine.

… and skipped rocks in the flood waters. Ender earned himself a cameo in one of the flood videos:

 (That’s one of our neighbours kayaking through our Common. An experienced paddler, she was rescuing some of our people’s documents. You see, we didn’t really take that evac order that seriously. Some of us didn’t even take underwear, much less passports… The video is by Calgarian Bradley Stuckel and co.–did they not do a beautiful job? My filmmaker husband is uber-impressed.)

On Sunday (the flood waters came over Thursday/Friday night), Sean and I sold our children to friends, and, along with most of the flooded out Sunnysiders, waded into our neighbourhoods ahead of the all-clear from the city to see what the hell was going on with our houses.

It was, I’d like to say upfront, after seeing what we waded through, an incredibly stupid and dangerous thing to do.

But you see… it was home. We had to go see.

We reacted, all of us, in different ways to what we saw.

Sean went shopping for clean up and demolition supplies, and then to a community planning meeting.

I, unable to deal with the massive destruction on the ground floor, went up to our kitchen, and cleaned out the fridge—power, of course, was off, and had been since Thursday, and everything was rancid. And then cleaned, scrubbed the fridge. Because that, I could do.

And then…

And then, friends, my city’s people pulled off a miracle.

I think, in the future, the enormity of what the flood did to Calgary will be underplayed because of the rapidity with which the city stabilized and returned to some semblance of “normal” within a week.

We evacuated Thursday, June 20, 2013.

A week later, parts of our downtown were open for business.

The majority of the flooded houses in my neighbourhood had been ripped and disinfected: saved. All of the 41 (I said 38 in my earlier posts on calgarybusinesswriter.com: forgive me, numbers not a strong suit, ever) flooded units in my little sub-community of Sunnyhill were gutted, cleaned, bleached, demolded: saved. (Here’s my initial call for help to our friends, neighbours, and citizens; here’s the thank you and another thank you because one is just not enough—and here’s my take on why and how they performed this miracle.)

We lost, as a city, as a province, a mind-blowing amount of infrastructure. Roads. Bridges. Our beloved Zoo! Individual houses, and so many possessions (me: never buying anything. Ever again). But our response to this crisis, as a community, as individuals, has been amazing.

What grabs the headlines during so many other crises, and disasters? Looting. Riots. In Calgary, we had too many volunteers. And the Calgary Police Service wrote the citizens a thank you letter

Our people opened their houses to evacuated relatives, friends and strangers. Started a laundry brigade for the evacuees. Fed displaced residents and the army of volunteers. Turned out in hordes to rip out basements, clean up debris, help any way they could.

Laughed in the middle of the chaos:

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We put up “Need Sewer, Need Power, Need Cute Firefighter” signs in our windows:

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(This isn’t my photo; it’s a FB/Twitter viral sensation–if you took it, tell me and I will happily credit you.)

Why our mayor is awesome and you should have nenvy too: “To all the people with the ‘Need Cute Firefighter’ signs in their windows’: We’re working on it,” he tweeted in response. And man, he delivered:

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Ender wanted to pose with the cute firefighters. It was totally Ender. Not his mother. Really. Um. Moving on…

We have a crazy amount of work ahead of us, as individuals, as neighbourhoods, as communities—as a city and as a province.

Are we back to normal? Not quite. But we’re “back.” And we’re working on defining our new normal.

But after what YYC did in these last two weeks—we’re gonna get her done. No question about it. Because—we are Calgary. We acted as a community, to save our communities.

We are amazing.

You want to see more pictures of how amazing we are? Of course. Here are a few more:

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“Please don’t give my daughter an eating disorder. But you will. You will…”

2011. Flora is six and lives in a bit of a bubble. There’s no TV—and thus commercials—in the house. No glossy magazines. The meme videos she watches on Youtube are big brother-tested and, while generally in poor taste, rarely an assault on the self-worth and identity of a young woman. She chooses her clothes among her favourite friends’ hand-me downs, and loves them because of who they came from. “Designer jeans,” to her, are an ethically troubling line of scientific research.*

She eats real food—and lots of delicious, sweet things. She never has to clear her plate. She can eat dessert first. Or never. For breakfast or in the middle of the day. She eats when she’s hungry, and does not eat when she’s not.

She loves herself.

And then, that stupid bastard, he tries to wreck it. When she’s six.

He’s not a bad man, you know. Just a guy. With a TV and without a daughter. I think he was just trying to be nice, make conversation.

This is what he said:

You’re eating a second ice cream? You are going to get so fat.

To my six-year-old daughter.

He moved on. Forgot. The effect on her? That evening, as she comes out of the bath, my six-year-old daughter looks at herself in the mirror—for the first time in her life, critically. She thrusts out her belly. And asks me:

Mom? Am I fat?

And I, who have spent much of my adult life struggling against the eating disorder and body image damage inflicted on my teenage self, I freak. But manage to hold it in, for her. And hear the story, what’s prompting this. And engage in a little bit of deprogramming. And tell her, that the next time I see him, I will explain to him why what he said was inappropriate and wrong and ensure he will never say that to another little girl again.

I figure by the time I see him, I will be… less angry. Because, you know, I know he’s not a bad man. Just a guy. With a TV. And no daughter.

But I’m still furious, seething. And so, what comes out of my mouth, instead of the rehearsed, rational statement I practiced, is this:

I understand you tried to give my daughter an eating disorder.

And he’s shocked—hurt. Doesn’t understand. Then, as I explain—a little appalled. Both at me, and I hope, at his lack of reflection? But perhaps not. I do think, however, he won’t call a little girl fat again. Or suggest she might be getting fat because she’s eating an ice cream cone.

But he hasn’t changed, he doesn’t understand. No, I don’t think I was that effective.

He’ll never do it again, because he’s afraid the little girl’s psychotic mother, who clearly has issues, is going to go medieval on his ass. As I did.

And you know what? That’s good enough. Not perfect. But good enough. That’s what I think in 2011…

Green tea (matcha) ice-cream with red bean.

2013, now. Flora’s eight and a half. A specimen of physical perfection: healthy, strong, athletic, beautiful. She kicks ass in Tang Soo Do. Does one-handed cartwheels for fun. Can outrun just about every boy on the Common, except for her big brother.

Eats when she’s hungry. Doesn’t eat when she’s not. Snacks on chickpeas. Loves ice cream. There’s no TV or glossy magazines in the house. She’s still lives in a bubble, at least some of the time.

But when she gets out of the bath tub, when she’s in the swimming pool change room—not always, but every once in a while, I see her looking at herself in the mirror—critically.

It rips at my insides.

I thought I could save her. But how can I? She has nine-year-old friends who talk about diets—who are on diets. Too many women in her life, around her torturing themselves, hating themselves. Unhappy with themselves. Passing the message on.

It’s everywhere. She’s learned “fat” is a horrible insult when thrust at a woman. She’s learned the look, shape of her body is what matters the most to too many people.

She’s not even nine yet. She still doesn’t know about designer jeans. But she knows this.

I thought I could save her.

But you won’t let me.

Inspired by Urban Moo Cow‘s guest post on Finding Ninee in the This is Our Land Series: The Greatest Gift

* My kids are brilliant. Deal with it.

The Authoritative New Parents’ Guide to Sex After Children, Redux

(or, how to make sure you keep on doing that thing that landed you with children in the first place!)

Two Hearts

Ambitious title, but I bet I’ll deliver. Tell me afterwards. Two caveats. First, if you’re currently childless, don’t read this. It will either depress or embarrass you. Especially if you’re a guy. It’s the weirdest thing, really: when it comes to talking about sex and bodies, there is no creature more uptight than the childless male. Anyway, if you’re one of those, go read How I got deprogrammed and learned to love video games or Math + Gun = or … (I’m not being sexist, am I? You can read this if you really want to. But I know you’ll be mortified… Here’s a test: let me tell you about the time my bestest male friend first saw me breastfeeding. Where are you going? Come back!)

Second, if you’ve got young children and you’re having all the sex you want—really? Honestly?—you probably don’t need to read this. But you should anyway, because maybe at the end of it, you might be having more sex. And what could be better than that?

And thirdly—I said two caveats, right? Oops—in case you haven’t noticed, this post is going to be about sex. That’s how you get children. If reading about sex makes you squeamish, stop here and go read… how about It’s not about balance: creating your family’s harmony or 10 habits for a happy home from the house of permissiveness and chaos. Or that fabulous, famous They tell you, “It gets easier.” They lie post.

Also, mom, dad, mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother—um. Yeah. You’re excused. Go read how Cinder and Flora became Greco-Roman Pagans. And never, ever mention this post to me. OK.

The rest of you, come with me.

English: 3 of hearts.

OK. Here are the three assumption I’m making:

1. You have kids. Babies, toddlers, preschoolers, sentient school age kids. The babies need to be breastfed and rocked to sleep at all hours of day and night, the toddlers and preschoolers exhaust you, and them older kids stay up later and later and open doors and need help with homework and need you to feed them and take them places and…

2. You don’t have enough sex. Define enough as you will. You’d like to have more.

3. You’ve got a partner to have this sex with (if you don’t, I canna’ help you with that, but I hear there’s these dating sites…). The partner would also like to have more sex. The will is there. What’s lacking is time and opportunity AND STRATEGY. (If the will’s not there… well, I can help you with that a bit. There will be an addendum about that at the end.)

With me so far? Want to. Don’t have (enough) (at all these days). Don’t worry. There’s hope. Really. You’ve just got to rethink a few things.

Two Hearts Beat As One

First, there are three principles you have to internalize.

1. Sex is more important than sleep.

2. Sex is more important than cleaning.

3. Sex is more important than work.

Somewhere between child one and two—or maybe it was two and three?—my partner and I made the following pact: either one of us was free to wake up the other at any other time for some quick love making (stress on quick: I’ll come back to this point shortly)… unless the sleeper had a 6 a.m. appointment with the client from hell or some other such situation. We made this pact after the following conversation:

Jane: Dear God, do you realize this is the first time we’ve had sex in… oh my god, has it been three weeks? Four?

Sean: Well, by the time I come to bed, you’re always asleep. And I know you’re going to be up half the night with the baby, and then up super early with the toddler, and…

(This is why I love him so, by the way. What a guy.)

Jane: You can wake me up.

Sean: Really?

Jane: Yes.

Sean: You can wake me up anytime, too. I mean, if you’re ever awake after me. Well, unless I have a 6 a.m. shoot. Don’t wake me up then.

Jane: Deal.

Sean: Deal.

(And we draw the curtain so we can have some privacy.)

two hearts

So. Make this pact with your partner. Sex is more important than sleep. (Or watching that 10 p.m. show on HBO. Turn on your PVR, and romp. If you’re not drowsy after, then watch your show.) Agree to wake each other up when you’re horny. Agree to say yes—at least 4 out of 5 times. (I’m assuming you’re going to show appropriate discretion in when you’re doing the waking up. If partner’s got strep throat, you know, let the guy sleep. If the baby’s been going through a particularly tough phase—let the mama sleep. Find a different time for sex. We’ll get to that in a minute.)

Next: what do you do when that most miraculous thing of all happens and all your children are either simultaneously asleep, totally mesmerized by a movie or activity that doesn’t require your presence, or (gasp!) out of the house?

If you’re a mama, I bet in 9 out of 10 cases you clean. We can’t help it: the little monsters are messy, and if we clean when they’re out of the house, then at least we have the satisfaction of a clean house for a few minutes… an hour.

I’m not going to tell you to stop cleaning. But have sex first. The children are asleep—quiet—gone. Put down the vacuum cleaner, turn your back on the kitchen floor, and go fuck.

You can scrub the bath tub afterwards.

This is really easy for me, because I hate cleaning. However, if you derive some pleasure from the cleaning process, this may be harder for you. Do this: tell the messier partner to grab the initiative. When the children are asleep—quiet—gone, it’s his or her job to drag you to the bedroom, bathroom or living room rug. All you have to do is say yes.

Say yes.

Happy Valentine's day!

Sex is more important than work. In our case, we both work from home, so this is how it goes—one or the other or both of us is always on deadline. There’s always one more thing to write, edit, produce, revise, research.

There will always be one more thing to write, edit, produce, revise, research.

Have sex first.

Then go back to the computer. Have a project you took home, memos to revise, report cards to mark? Fine. They’ll still be there in fifteen minutes. Five, if you’re both properly motivated. Two, if it’s been as long as I think it’s been… Have sex first. Then work.

Now before you quote Dan Ackroyd at me,* it really is that easy. If you believe that…

1. Sex is more important than sleep

2. Sex is more important than cleaning

3. Sex is more important than work

…you will have more of it. Maybe not as much as you’d like to… but more.

To have even more, embrace the next three principles:

4. Foreplay is icing.

5. Beds are optional.

6. Matinees rule.

Valentine

Remember those hours and hours and hours of sensuous, languorous foreplay that went on and on and on and on…

Yeah, I don’t really remember either. It’s been 10 years… eleven. Well, there was that one night we sold the kids to the grandparents for the entire night exclusively for those purposes… but that might have been four years ago. Anyway. You now have kids.

That means foreplay is being alone in a room together.

Agree with your partner that foreplay is icing. Frankly, when you’ve got toddlers, it wastes precious time. You can after-play if the kids don’t barrel into the room. When you’re in one of those “OMG we never have time for sex” phases, this is your modus operandi:

A. Hey, we’re alone!

B. Clothes (but only the essential ones) off!

C. Coitus.

Everything else is icing.

Bed

Note how nowhere in the above did it say we’re alone in bed. Beds? Who needs beds to have sex? We’re alone in the bathroom. We’re alone in the kitchen. We’re alone on the landing. In the living room while the kids are in the bedroom… If you’ve got a family bed, the kids are always in the bed. Have sex somewhere else. Anywhere else. Just draw the curtains first.

Finally—especially when you’ve got teeny ones around—break the sex/night association. No law. Not mandatory. Repeat after me: you can have sex in the morning. In the afternoon. When the baby’s napping. If one or both of you has a regular Monday-to-Friday job, you’ve got less flexibility—but you’ve still got weekends. The hour before supper. You got the baby and toddler down for a nap on Saturday afternoon? Cancel the visit to Joe and Marla, and screw.

Be late for dinner at Mom and Dad’s. Don’t clean, don’t nap, don’t work until after.

“But Jane… you know… the truth is… I don’t really want to. I feel blah. Unattractive. Unsexy. Touched out.”

I know. I think every mother—and many a hyper-involved father, frankly—has been there post-partum. Babies and toddlers take a toll on you. (This part’s mostly for the mamas, boys, but read along to get educated.) Your hormones might be out of whack, and you might simply be exhausted. I’m going to send you to kellymom.com or Dr. Jack Newman’s breastfeedinginc.ca to look for some evidence-based research on how pregnancy and lactation might affect your libido, because I’m no doctor. From personal experience I can absolutely tell you this: I love my partner dearly and I love making love with him—and with each child I’ve gone through stretches where it’s just not been a priority and desire’s been hard to scrape up.

Here’s what’s helped me:

1. Exercise and sunshine. Bonus: if you do the Pavlovian “I have an orgasm after exercise” association, the motivation to exercise spikes.

2. Going to Mom’s Nights Out. Really. How does hanging out with a bunch of women help your sex life? Simple. You dress up and spend an evening with adults talking adult stuff and enjoying a meal without anyone throwing up on you. You go home—and if your partner played things right, the children are asleep. S/he’s not. Woo-hoo.

3. Put it on the schedule. OK. Least romantic thing ever, right? It sounds awful. Sex Saturday. You know what’s worse and less romantic? Not having sex at all.

4. Make it a habit. Here’s the weird thing about thinking you don’t want sex when you’re not having sex–as soon as you start having sex, your priorities shift. You think, “Sweet Jesus, this is great! Why don’t we do this more often?” Hold on to that thought… and do it more often. In the afternoon. Instead of cleaning. Before working on that work project. Quickly if you’ve only got five minutes. Hey, if it turns out you’ve got more time, you can always do it again…

Heart

Photo (Heart) by mozzercork

All right then. That’s it. To recap:

1. Sex is more important than sleep

2. Sex is more important than cleaning

3. Sex is more important than work

4. Foreplay is icing

5. Beds are optional

6. Matinees rule

Get off the computer, and go wake up your partner. And if you’ve got other tips for reigniting your sex life post-children, share them.

xoxoxo,

Jane

PS Veteran mamas, can you tell I just weaned the third? I bet you can…

PPS Play carefully, eh? Seems every time we have a frank sex post-children discussion on one of my groups or lists, someone gets pregnant. Once it was me…

English: Pregnant Elf

*(That’s Jane, you ignorant slut, the best SNL quote of all time, read about it here if you don’t know what I’m talking about, and no, it doesn’t show you how old I am, I saw it in re-runs.)

PPPS For a different point of view, visit my brilliant friend Dani at Cloudy, With A Chance of Wine and read Having kids kills your sex life, but then, pop over to when she changes her mind and tells you the 5 ways sex gets easier once you have kids. And then pop over to read Julie De Neen spew coffee all over her friend in Lying to your kids about sex toys.

PPPPS “Woman, I need an antidote to all the sex talk, cause I ain’t getting any.” I’m so sorry, babe. (But you know there are toys, right?) Go visit Wonderland by Tatu and read Hi, my name is T. & I am a screamer. Get your mind out of the gutter! Not everything’s about sex–she’s talking about something else. And, do pop on by The Sadder and Wiser Girl as she celebrates the one year anniversary of her blog–good on you, Sarah, and write on!

PPPPPS One more. The funniest thing from my over-crowded in-box this week so far comes from The Book of Alice: Wrongly Accused. It’s about boogers. And children. So you know it’s worth clicking on.

Jane out.

They tell you “It gets easier.” They lie

So there she is, stumbling down the block—walking circles around the playground—sleepwalking through the mall. The mewling baby inside a sling—a car seat—stroller. Glassy eyes, cause she hasn’t slept more than 45 minutes—no wait, two days ago, she got three hours in a row, score!—in four months. Wearing ratty pants—because they fit. And her husband’s sweater—because all her tops have been puked on and laundry, she was going to do laundry yesterday, but then the baby had a fever and…

So there she is. The new mom, the first-time mom, and she’s so exhausted and she so clearly needs—what? A hug, help, empathy, reassurance. And you—you’re a good person, and so you want to give it to her. So there you go. Run up to her. Smile. And you want to say, you’re going to say:

“It gets easier.”

Don’t. Just fucking don’t. Because, fast-forward two years, three, and there she is. Running down the block. Maybe another baby in sling. Toddler in stroller or running away. And maybe she’s getting more sleep—but maybe not. Maybe the toddler has night terrors, and wakes up screaming for hours on end in the night. Or maybe, even if Morpheus has been kind to her and the children sleep—she doesn’t sleep nearly was much as she should, because when they sleep, that’s the only time she can be free. To… think. To read. To be… alone.

The toddler makes a break for it and tries to run into the street, and she nabs him, just in time, and pulls him back, and starts explaining how streets are dangerous and he must hold Mommy’s hand, but he really, really, really wants to be on the other side, and he’s two, so self-will is emerging with a vengeance and soon he’s screaming and tantruming, and you, you can see she’s on the edge, about to lose it, because maybe this is the seventh time today—this hour—she’s had to deal with this, and you want to help. You want to give her a hug, help, empathy, reassurance. And you want, you’re going to run over to her and you’re going to say:

“It gets easier.”

Don’t. Don’t. Because a year later, there she is, with her three-and-a-half year-old. Before they left the house this morning, he put her iPhone in the toilet, cut his dad’s headphone cord into shreds, and threw $30 worth of grass-fed beef off the balcony in the compost pile. And now, his pants around his ankles, he’s chasing a flock of pigeons, penis in hand, yelling, “I’m going to pee on you, pigeons!” at the top of his lungs. And she’s trying to decide—should she catch him? Or should she take advantage of the fact that he’s distracted for five minutes, so she can change the new baby’s diaper? Because she hasn’t had a chance to even check it for the last five hours… And I swear on any of the gods that you may or may not believe in, if, at that moment, you come up to her, and you say—because you’re an empathetic, loving person who wants to help—if you come to her at that moment and say,

“It gets easier.”

she’s going to rip that diaper off the baby and throw it in your face. Followed by the tepid remains of her coffee (you’re lucky that she hasn’t had a hot, scalding hot, deliciously hot cup of coffee in three and a half years). And then she’s going to sob. And she’s going to say…

“When? When the fuck does it get easier? Because I’ve been waiting for it to get easier for two three five six years.”

I’m sitting in the middle of my living room—11 years into motherhood—and I’m in a brief picture-perfect postcard (Instagram for those of you born post-1995) moment. I’m stretched out on the couch, coffee cup beside me, laptop on my lap—and, for a few minutes at least, I’m chilling. Three feet away from me, my 11 year-old is building worlds in Minecraft, and Skyping with a friend. My eight-year-old is running with a pack of her friends just outside—I hear their voices, hers most distinct among them to my ears, through the balcony. Tucked under my arm is the three-and-a-half year old, taking a break from wrecking havoc and destruction on the world to play a game on the iPad.

I’m messaging with a friend a few years behind me on the parenting path. And she asks me, and I can hear the tears in her words even though she’s typing them (people who think texting lacks nuance do not text enough; she is weeping through the keyboard),

“When does it get easier? People keep on saying, ‘It gets easier.’ When? When?”

So, I wonder, is she ready to hear this? Is she ready to hear: It doesn’t get easier. All the people who say this? They’re all liars, every last one.

But I won’t say that. First, because I do not wish to make her despair. Second, because it’s not true. It does get easier. It really does. But when people say it, what you, first-time mother, hear it is not ‘It gets easier,” but this:

“Things will get back to the way they were before, soon.”

And that, my lovely friend, will never happen. Things will never be the way they were before. Never. Things have changed forever. Things will never get back to “normal”—as you defined normal when you were single—when you were childless. Never.

And so I tell her this, and again I hear tears in-between the words she types to me.

And now I have to deconstruct the lie to her. I have to explain. That they don’t mean to lie. It really does get easier—sort of. The stuff that’s killing you now—be it the lack of sleep, the aching nipples, the endless diapers-laundry-is-she-sick-is-he-teething or be it the toddler tantrums, potty training regressions, “She won’t leave the house!” “Getting him in and out of the car seat is hell”–all of that, it will get easier—and, in fact, end. They all wean. Toilet train. Stop drawing on walls (unless they in this house). But see, then, other stuff happens that’s really hard too. Ferocious Five. Sensitive Seven. Bullies on the playground—social issues with friends and ‘frenemies.’ Broken hearts. Explosive anger at things and issues much, much bigger than all those daily rubs that cause toddlers angst.

“It gets easier”: yeah, I suppose it does, because you figure it out, and adapt, and get coping strategies. But every time you “master” a phase—they change. Grow. Face new challenges. And you’ve got to change, grow and adapt with them. If only you could do so ahead of them…

But you can’t. And so, you see, “it gets easier” … it’s a lie.

And it’s the most destructive lie, the most life-damaging myth you can buy into. See, because if you keep on waiting for things to get easier—if you put living, changing, adapting, figuring out how to dance this dance, walk this path as it is now, with all of its bumps and rubs—if you put all that on hold until it gets easier…

Well. You’ll be fucked. Totally. And completely.

So. My dearest. It doesn’t get easier. It changes. You get better. You grow. Learn. And that little squealer—that awesome toddler—that slightly evil three-year-old—he grows. Learns. Changes. It gets better. When you learn and change and grow and all that—it all gets better.

But. Easier? No.

So. There she is. Frazzled. Exhausted. So fucking tired. And she sees you coming, and you have empathy poring out of your pores. And you want to help her. Offer her empathy. Support.

What are you going to tell her?

Hey, all, wow, thanks for all the sharing and massive Internet love. Bad day for my RSS feed link to break — this is it: RSS Feed https://nothingbythebook.com/feed/ — and even though there are a bazillion comments, I am reading and responding to every single one. Thank you so much, beautiful people. You can also email me privately at nothingbythebook@gmail.com. Or find me on Twitter @nothingbtbook. You know the drill.  xoxo “Jane”

Two great things from my weekend in-box, from the #FTSF blog hop, that fit in beautifully with the theme of today’s post:

Kristi Campbell’s post on FindingNinee.com:  I blog because of you, I blog because of us, and

Katia’s post on I Am The Milk: Closest to Me

Flora Space Art

“I Give The World To You,” by Flora (May 2013)

unLessons from the Posse

Biking in Waterton Lakes National Park

Photo from the newspaper "Nogales Herald&...

As we come around the corner, the crowds scatter, jump, recoil. First one–two–three–flying like the wind, silver scooters carrying them along like lightening, legs pumping–and then four–five–bent lower over the handle bars, legs pumping even faster to keep up with the vanguard–and you think they’re all through, but no, here comes six, working harder than everyone else because he has to keep up. And me, at the end, with number seven in the bike. Calling out, “High traffic area! Everyone keep to the right!” But they don’t hear me, of course; of course, they don’t, because there is only speed, wind, the path, and the posse.

I love the posse. Three are mine, four are borrowed for the day. Four people have the temerity to ask, as we zoom by, “Oh-my-god-are-they-all-yours?” and sometimes, I would punish them with The Look, but today I am happy, so I just smile. One-half of one couple is so appalled by the procession that is us that the beautiful young woman turns to her husband-boyfriend and says, loudly, fully intending me to hear, “And this, honey, is why we always use condoms.” I’d give her The Look, but then I catch the husband-boyfriend’s look, and it is one of such joy-envy-lust that instead of giving her The Look, I give him The Grin, and we have a very quick, secret psychic conversation:

Him: Seven, eh? Six boys? Man. My own fucking hockey team.

Me: Imagine the soccer games you would have.

Him: Basketball. Camping!

Me: You’d just sit in the chair, and they’d set up the tent.

Him: The littlest one would bring me beer.

Me: You’d build them the best treehouse ever, right?

Him: Oh, fuck, yeah. Would I ever. So… um… you wanna have more kids?

Me: No, I’m done. Sorry.

Him: Okay then. Well, have a good day

Me: Good luck with her, eh?

Him: Yeah… not sure this is going to work out.

We move on. Along the river. Over this bridge. That one. I don’t even attempt to tell them to stick with me–they are a posse, The Posse, and The Posse don’t wait for no Mom. But I am wise in the ways of The Posse, so I don’t ask. I command. “Meet me at the Dragonfly!” I yell to their backs. “Go ahead–and wait for me at the crossing! We all cross together!” It doesn’t matter how fast I go–they go faster. It’s all about being alone, really. I can read the fantasy, in the three eldest anyway. As far as they are concerned, they are alone.

We stop. Regroup. Do a headcount.

Me: Fuck. Five. Who’s missing?

They: The twins.

Me: Your mom’s going to kill me. Where are they?

They: Who knows?

Me: Dudes! No man left behind! Find them!

Phew. Just fixing their helmets by some bushes. Onward. But now I have given them a new war cry. They push off:

No man left behind!

Flora scoots beside me. “Did they leave me behind because I’m not a man?” she whines. “They didn’t leave you behind,” I point out. “You came to visit with me.”

Up ahead on the path: wipeout!

Me: Blood?

Him: I’m okay.

You don’t show weakness in The Posse.

The Posse fractures. Its members fight. When we stop at a playground and they play a mad game of tag with rules so complicated it makes my head spin, my eldest gets his nose out of joint. The twins think they’re picked on. Flora feels left out. Mostly, I stay out of it. Sometimes, I nudge towards a solution. But mostly–I let them be The Posse. I’m there to make sure there is no real injustice … but they know most of the rules of engagement. They are learning how to work things out. This is not Lord of the Flies.

My final test as Mom-wise-in-the-ways-of-The-Posse comes when we hit an ice rink. The ice is melting, sloppy. But still slippery. I see the desire in their eyes. The two eldest look and do a risk analysis. Then decide to try to break their bones on the nearby playground instead. The littles dump the scooters and go to slip and slide on their feet. But he-who-will-test-me comes up to me and says,

“Can we scooter on that?”

It’s a test. Any mother in her right mind would say no, and he knows this. And I know that he knows this. We look at each other, take each other’s measure. And I say,

“I can’t fit seven kids in my car if we have to go to the Children’s Hospital… Look, keep your helmet on, and no whining or crying at all unless there’s massive amounts of blood, and you’ve lost more than two teeth.”

He looks at me. Mildly appalled. His mom would have said no, outright, his eyes tell me, and I’m clearly irresponsible. Criminally so. But I’ve just given him permission. Really. If he doesn’t go on the ice, I’ll know it’s because he’s afraid. Of blood. Losing teeth. He’ll lose face.

He puts the scooter on the ice. Scoots.

“It’s not slippery enough to be fun,” he tells me. Drops it. And goes off to join The Posse.

We pass another couple on the last block home. This time, I have a quick, secret psychic conversation with the girl:

Her: Is it hard?

Me: Fuck, yeah. But so worth it.

When The Possee’s split up, and four-sevenths goes home with Fishtank Mom, they are all exhausted. And not-a-little tired of each other. But next time–next time, they’ll gel together again. Feel the wind, the speed. Be the pack. Fight, fracture, learn. Is it hard? Fuck, yeah. But so worth it.

Photo from the newspaper “Nogales Herald” dated July 20, 1922 showing an American posse after capturing the Mexican bandits Manuel Martinez and Placidio Silvas (middle of back row) who killed or wounded five people at or around Ruby, Arizona in 1921 and 1922. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And a thank you to the fabulous Tatu from Wonderland By Tatu for including Nothing By The Book in the shininess of the Sunshine Award. As you may have noticed, I truly suck at passing these on adequately. Not out of any better-than-thouness, truly, just out of… what shall we call it… laziness.Pure laziness. But thank you muchly, Tatu, you made me all smiley and sunny on a hard day. Here’s the link to the last one of these that I’ve paid back “properly,” which includes some irrelevant facts about myself and some of my favourite bloggers.

The not-so-mysterious incident of the carrots in the milk carton

English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto...

I.

I sleepwalk into the kitchen in search of the first cup of coffee. Boil water. Fight with the grinder. Dump old coffee grounds all over the floor. Clean them up. Make the coffee. Inhale the smell of… sheer bliss, really. If you’re a coffee lover, you know what I mean–there is nothing like it, it is the smell of perfection, the birth and end of the universe in one olfactory sensation, the promise of everything. Ah. Pour the first cup. No cream in the fridge–reach for the milk carton.

Pour.

Discover there are two giant carrots in the milk carton.

Look at them uncomprehendingly, because, you know, I have just smelled and not yet drunk the coffee.

Pour the milk into the coffee carefully. Replace the milk carton in the fridge.

Go sit on the couch beside the 3.5 year old. Drink my coffee.

II.

Sean stumbles into the kitchen in search of his cup of coffee. Lucky man, the lag between his wake up time and mine insufficient today for the first pot to be empty. Pours himself a cup of coffee. Savours the smell. And, responsible father that he is, asks the 2/3 of the awake progeny if they want to eat something. (Their mother does not speak, or serve, until she has finished her second cup of coffee. She is still on the couch drinking the first…) The progeny want cereal.

He grabs bowls. Cereal. Milk. Pours.

“Why the fuck are there two carrots in the milk carton?”

Neither the milk nor the carrots answer. I look at the 3.5 year old. He grins a wicked grin.

“I put them there, Dadda!” he calls out happily.

“Why… why did you put carrots in the milk?” Sean says. His voice full of angst and despair–and see, this is why I do not talk until after the second cup. Why suffer? And make others suffer? Let the caffeine do its work first…

“Flora was peeing,” Ender replies promptly.

I am almost done my first cup of coffee, so I understand perfectly. What he wanted to do was to flush the carrots down the toilet. However, the toilet was occupied. What else could he do with them? Aha! Milk carton!

Sean is still just smelling the coffee. And trying to understand all this. And perhaps on the verge of tears.

And here is proof that I am an excellent, excellent wife and helpmeet: although the effort involved in this is Herculean, I lift myself off the couch, stagger into the kitchen, grab his coffee cup, and put it into his hands. He tries to speak–I shut his mouth with a kiss.

I’d say drink–but I do not speak until I’ve downed the second cup of coffee.

He takes a sip. Then another. The world is slowly becoming a better place, and the case of the carrots in the milk losing its power to ruin his day.

I pour my second cup of coffee. Pour the rest of the milk into it. Shake the carrots out into the sink. Rinse them.

“They don’t look like they’ve been in there very long,” Sean says. He picks up the empty milk carton and peers into it. To determine–by what evidence?–the length of the carrot milk immersion?

Cinder, our 10 year old, stumbles down the stairs. Stops, and stares at the tableau, dominated by his father, evidently distraught, peering into the milk carton. And says…

“Did Ender pee in the milk again?”

I draw the curtain on the resulting scene. Suffice it to say, Sean was never happier that he was lactose intolerant… and Flora may never eat cereal again.

More like this: The obvious correlation between crying over spilt coffee and potty training

And some blogger love. Last week, Tirzah Duncan, the talented writer-poet-entrepreneur-cynical optimist-coiner-of-phrases-extraordinaire at The Ink Caster, passed The Versatile Blogger award on to me (which of course means someone gave it to her, congratulations, Tirzah). In addition to being a talented writer, Tirzah would be a great person to watch your back come the Zombie Apocalypse. If you don’t believe me, check out this post.

My head wasn’t quite done swelling when TJ, Sara and Jen from Chi-Town Mommy Mayhem — well, possibly just one of them, but I prefer to take the compliment from all three — handed off the Liebster Award to Nothing By The Book. Their blog is “dedicated to the uncensored mommies of Chicago” and their motto is “We don’t sugar coat anything here.” And they have kick ass tweets ( @MayhemMommyTJ).

I’m eight awards or possibly more behind doing the proper reciprocity thing, and with each passing day… Well. If you really want to know seven random things about me, read this my last Blogosphere Group Hug and find out how I once interviewed the prime minister of Canada sans underwear. For blogs that deserve to have the awards passed on to them–check out the blogs I follow, bottom of each page of the blog. Cause, you know, I only follow good ones.

The naked truth about working from home, the real post

Showerhead

I’m in the shower when the phone rings, and I hear it through the water and the door, and I know who it is even before Cinder hollers, “Mom! It’s for you!” Shampoo in my hair and my eyes, I’m leaping out of the shower and out of the bathroom without turning off the water—where the fuck is the towel?–and skidding into the combination Lego room/Sean’s office that holds the only upstairs telephone.

“Hello, “Jane” speaking,” I say crisply, sharply. Out of breath? No way, not me–the phone voice kicks in ASAP. My well-trained eldest son—the ire of the mother for misbehaving on the telephone is legendary—hangs off the receiver. On the other end of the line is a VP of a blue chip Bay Street company (like a Canadian Wall Street, but less sexy and exciting) I’ve been stalking for a few days, and I need to talk to him today. He’s in an airport—“Houston? And how’s the weather?—he’s got five minutes, what do I need? I speak quickly and cut to the chase: this, that, and, above all, a comment on that mess. The door of the room creaks open, and my daughter comes in. She sees the phone at my ear and mouths, “Mom? Why are you naked?” I mouth back, “Towel! Paper! Pen!” I cast a desperate look around the room—full of Lego and an assortment of my husband’s crap, including a printer, why the fuck is there no paper here? Or pencils? How can there be no writing implements in the bloody office?

The VP’s already talking and I see, gloriously, buried under all the Lego, a purple marker. This is how the professionals do it, boys and girls—I grab that marker and… I move to start writing on the wall, but the two-year-old comes in, and I have a brief second thought. I make desperate hand motions at my seven-year-old, and—she’s well-trained in this this too—she immediately says, “Ender? Want to watch a show on the i-Pad?”

But their exit is too slow–they’re still in the room and I start to scribble. With the purple market. Not on the wall. On my leg. I start at the thigh and work my way down, to the ankle and instep, contort myself, and write on the inner leg. Then the other one… The VP’s a gold mine. He gives me exactly what I need, and I’m transcribing every word.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I sing as I hang off. And become aware that

a. I’m naked in my kids play room

b. my legs totally covered with purple marker

c. the purple marker is a horrible, kid-friendly, washable piece of shit

d. the water from my hair is dripping onto my legs and smearing! Smearing my interview transcript!

“My laptop!” I scream, and Cinder bounds up the stairs with the lap top. “Um, and a towel!” I add. I’ve been anticipated: Flora’s in with the towel. I grab the towel, the laptop. Scrunch my hair with the towel before tossing it over my shoulders and torso. And I start to transcribe. From the top of the leg—never before am I so grateful for the remnants of the baby weight that give some heft to the thigh—down, up the inside. Down the other one.

And yeah. I got this, that, and the comment on that mess in particular. Fucking score. My heart beat slows down. I’m going to meet deadline, and the story’s going to kick ass.

What you need to know:

 a. It’s not supposed to be like that.

b. It’s like that much too often.

c. If you can’t handle life throwing that at you with regular irregularity, you shouldn’t even think about working from home with children underfoot.

I’ve worked as a freelance writer since 2000, and I’ve popped out babies in 2002, 2005 and 2009. They’ve all grown up in this: I managed three weeks off after Cinder, four days after Flora (I went into labour actually in the middle of an interview, and had to cancel another ), and with Ender, I blocked off a luxurious two-and-a-half months off… sabotaged about four weeks in by a favourite client.

What I mean when I say I’m a freelance writer: I churn out five-to-ten-thousand+ words a month for a variety on business publications and clients (my real life business portfolio here for the serious-minded in the crowd).

What you really want to know: what this means time-wise and brain-wise and child-wise. The time commitment is erratic: I’d say at least two hours a day spent in just keeping on top of having the work—that is, emailing back and forth with editors and key contacts, keeping on top of what’s happening, clearing up questions and details on what I’ve filed etc.—and anywhere from 12-40 hours a week in research-interview-writing mode. My target weekly work rate is 20-25 hours (12-low-effort-maintance, 8-12 high-effort research-interview-writing hours). Less than that, and I’m setting myself up for a hellish 40+ week down the line. (My target earn rate, by the way, is the equivalent of a full-time job within that 20-25 hours. But that’s a topic for another post…). Once or twice a year, I actively invite a hellish week or two because of a particular project, client, or painful state of the bank account.

I used to get the “How on earth do you do that with a toddler and a baby?” comment all the time; now I get the, “How the heck do you manage that with homeschooling?” And everyone who asks it is looking, if they’re honest with themselves, for a magic bullet. They’re looking for that instruction sheet, that secret, that has them visualizing me sitting at a desk typing away—or on the telephone conducting an interview—while my children quietly and peacefully play at my feet.

No such thing. How do I work from home with children underfoot?

The short, and really honest, answer is—in ideal circumstances, I don’t. My most productive and efficient output happens when another adult is in charge of them. My husband—my mother—a neighbour—a friend—a paid babysitter. That childcare and that focused time don’t happen spontaneously. I plan the hell out of my work weeks and work days. I schedule interviews for the days when the kids are planning to spend a day with Grandma. I swap child-care with my film-maker husband. I pay for it when I must. In a four-hour block of child-free time, I get two-days worth of work done. Perhaps more. On the days my mother takes the kids for a long 8-10+ hour day, I am so uber-productive my brain and fingers (and sometimes throat) hurt at the end of it.

That low-maintenance work—checking email, social media, initial research, screwing around on the Internet and calling it research—these are things I can do with kids underfoot, during the littlest one’s naps, while the older two are really engaged with something. These are things I can do in spurts, things that don’t require me to enter the flow or to fully focus. Telephone interviews? I never plan to do these without another adult in the house or the kids (under sevens anyway) out of the house. Writing? There are things I can write in spits and spurts, off-the-top-of-my head, and in 45 minutes after I put the kids to bed. A 5,000 word feature on the history of the Canada-US Softwood Lumber Trade Dispute? Or an analysis of what’s really at stake when it comes to the proposed oil sands pipelines? I need focused time and space to produce that, and I prefer not to sacrifice sleep for that.

Sleep-deprived writers produce second-rate drivel. (Unless they’re in the flow on the novel. That’s different. Right?)

So. In my ideal world, working from home still requires an investment—financial, or otherwise, in child care. But life is rarely ideal. No matter how well I plan, every story and every project has its share of surprises. A cancelled interview—spontaneously rescheduled just as the toddler needs to go down for a nap or the baby needs to nurse. An editor’s demand for a last-minute rewrite, due yesterday. A client’s panic attack requiring me to pull an all-nighter—or to rely on the house’s assortment of electronic devices to babysit the children while I pound away at the keyboard. A last minute “I shouldn’t take this story, but oh-my-god-I-get-to-fly-to-Montreal-to-interview-the-prime-minister!” assignment. And havoc reigns.

Planning allows me to ride out the havoc. The irregular regularity of the havoc trains the children. They know a deadline must be met. They learn by age four how to behave when Mommy’s on the phone (she doesn’t push it too much: tries to keep those unplanned interviews to under 15 minutes).

(Sorry, until age four—no guarantees. A DVD might buy you 15 minutes. Or it might not. The good news: with my almost-8 year-old and 10 year-old, I can handle whatever havoc hits with them taking it in stride. I now only have to outsource the three-year-old on the days when I have to write, write, write—or spend the day glued to the telephone. And increasingly, I can outsource the three-year-old to his siblings. Not for an entire workday—but for a decent stretch of time. So yes, it gets much, much easier as the kids get older. But when they’re little? It’s tough.)

And that, friends, is the naked truth about working from home with children in your life. Possible, rewarding, the only way I want to work.

But it’s work. It requires planning. It throws you curveballs. It don’t look like that sepia-postcard dream you’ve got rolling in the back of your mind in which you write an award-winning article effortlessly while a perfectly balanced and delicious meal is already simmering on the stove and the toddler is at your feet playing with dinky cars for two hours. It’ll have to racing out of the shower naked with shampoo in your hair at least once in your life, and teaching your children swear words nobody at the playground knows yet.

Think you can do it? Of course you can. Right?

More like this: The naked truth about working from home, the teaser

This post is being recycled as part of A Mother Life Hum Day Hook Up #33: 

A Mother Life

The most recent Nothing By The Book post is How we teach children to lie, without realizing it.

If it’s your first time here, I’d love to connect, in all the usual ways:

Follow me on Twitter: 

Add me to your circles on GOOGLE+: Jane Marshon

Send me a personal email to nothingbythebook@gmail.com

Like Nothing by the Book on Facebook.

(Split personality alert: If you are interested in my business writer alter-ego, you can find her portfolio at Calgary Business Writer and on Twitter .)

Thanks for visiting!

xoxo

“Jane”

Embracing Chaos

A61

or, unParenting unResolutions

“Mama? Big mama? Wake up, big mama. I love you so very very very much.”

This is how Ender sets up the mood for the day—ensuring that no matter what he flushes down the toilet or smashes into pieces with the meat mallet (“How the hell did he find it again? I hid it on top of the fridge!” “Judging by barstool beside the counter, and the stack of boxes on the counter, you don’t want to know.” “Oh, Kee-rist. How has this child not broken any bones yet?”), my first and most brilliant memory of the day is tickling butterfly kisses and expressions of love ultimate from the beloved beast who will spend the day terrorizing the house, the family, and if we let him outside, the neighbourhood.

He is who he is; he is three. He’s careening towards three-and-a-half (see Surviving 3.5 and 5.5: A cheat sheet for an exposition and some almost practical tips and tricks), and three-and-a-half for the boys I birth is the age of chaos. So as I prepare to say goodbye to 2012 and hello to 2013, I know that chaos and the Ender crazy will dominate much of the year.

And I make no resolutions to yell less. Or discipline more. I will lose my temper, and I will yell, and there will be days when, as I survey the destruction wrought by the whirlwind in the kitchen while I absented myself from his side for five minutes, I seriously ponder just how wrong it would be to put him in the dog’s kennel. Just, you know, for a little while. And there will be days—and weeks—when I’ll be counting the hours until bedtime from 11:15 a.m. And days when, as soon as Sean comes home, I will hand over the entire parenting business to him, and lock myself in the bathroom with a bottle—um, glass, I meant to type glass—of wine.

That’s part of the ride; part of the package. I’ve written elsewhere on that the ultimate secret behind parenting is; its close twin is this: every age and stage, every journey has tough stretches, challenging stretches. And they’re all necessary, and most of them are unavoidable, and happiness and peace lie in knowing that they just are. And not seeking perfection, from myself as mother, or from the child.

He’s so lucky, my Ender, my third. His eldest brother broke me in, thoroughly, and no sooner did I start to boast that I had “cracked the Cinder code,” Flora arrived, teaching me that I had learned absolutely nothing about the uniqueness that is her (bar that nursing every hour, every 15 minutes, or, what’s that word, constantly, is kind of normal) from my first years with the Cinder. By the time Ender arrived, all I knew, for sure, was this:

I love him, madly, fully, unconditionally, in all his guises.

He will exhaust me, challenge me, frustrate me, make me scream.

And I will love him still, and love him more.

As far as everything else goes? As he grows, I will learn him slowly, piece by piece, unique need by unique need. Sometimes well, sometimes badly. Sometimes I’ll fail him—and sometimes, I will do right by him even though in the moment he thinks I’m failing him completely. And maybe, at the end of it all, when he’s 30, 40, with his own children—in therapy—maybe he’ll despise me, blame me, reject me. I don’t know. All I know for sure, is this:

I love him, madly, fully, unconditionally, in all his guises.

He will exhaust me, challenge me, frustrate me, make me scream.

And I will love him still, and love him more.

More like this: Sunshine of Our Lives, or, How Toddlers Survive.

Blog Hop Report: I spent some of the weekend blog hopping at the TGIF Blog Hop hosted by You Know it Happens At Your House Too. What a fascinating variety of blogs, people and approaches to life, the universe and blogging.

I’d like to introduce you, if you do not know them already, to three mama-bloggers (but so much more) with attitude:

Jenn at Something Clever 2.0  (Twitter: @JennSmthngClvr)

Teri Biebel at Snarkfest (Twitter: @snarkfestblog)

Mollie Mills at A Mother Life (Twitter: @amotherlife)

And something completely different, a woman who took my breath away with her authenticity and boldness of voice from the first line of the first post I read of hers: Jupiter, “Eco-Redneck,Breeder,Stitch-Witch,Knittiot Savant & Whoreticulturist Extraordinaire” at crazy dumbsaint of the mind. I’m not going to attempt to explain her. If whoreticulturist is not a word that turns you off, the word sapiosexual turns you on, have a visit and get to know her. Otherwise, maybe not. Safe she is not.

Happy reading, happy blogging, happy living, and I will see in 2013. My year of chaos. Your year of… what?

xoxo

“Jane”

P.S. And if you’re having a slow New Year’s Eve at home with your kids and computer, check out Dani Ryan’s The Best of 2012 Blog Hop at Cloudy With a Chance of Wine.

How I got deprogrammed and learned to love video games

Cinder’s just shy of 10, and the big passion of his life is Minecraft. Or Terraria. Or both, but usually just one or the other. He loves them so much, he’s convinced his Mac-using parents to get him a PC laptop so he can play them more effectively. He loves them so much that his show of choice is watching Minecraft or Terraria videos on Youtube. (A digression for a Cinder recommendation: for Terraria, nothing beats Total Biscuit and Jesse Cox; for Minecraft, Antvenom is King, and Cavemanfilms is pretty good too. Now you know where to go.)

My boy loves video games. And this is a wonderful thing.

I never thought I’d find myself saying this. Video games were never a part of my childhood, and my experience of them as an on-looker—sister, girlfriend, wife—was, well, blah. Wasn’t interested. Didn’t understand the appeal. Could tell you one thing for sure: no kid of mine was going to waste his childhood playing video games. Could rattle of spades of research about how detrimental to the proper development of a child excessive (any) video game playing could be.

Well. What changed?

Simply this: My boy loves video games, and I love my boy. He started getting drawn to them about age eight, I suppose, meeting them at this friend’s house or that, telling us about them with excitement, in vivid detail. His game-playing father entered into his interest; his game-ignorant mother started to agonize. What to do? For what reason? With what consequences?

I spare you my internal angst, as first one online game and then another (“It’s educational, Mom!” Supported by Dad’s: “Really, Jane, it’s educational.”) got introduced. Then the X-box (“It’s Kinect, Jane—they’ll be exercising and moving while they play—isn’t that good?”). Then an iPad and all the apps and games that enabled. Here’s what steered me through it, though: I love my boy. He loves these things; he’s drawn to them. What’s he getting out of it? Why? How?

I love my boy, and if I love my boy, I can’t be dismissive and contemptuous of something he loves.

So, I’d sit beside him and watch him play. Listen to him talk about the games afterwards. In-between. Eavesdrop while he talked about with his friends. Watch while they acted out game scenes on the trampoline or on the Common.

I might tell you about all the things I’ve seen him learn from gaming another time (for one example, check out this salon.com piece about Minecraft ). Rattle of spades of research about how playing video games actually makes kids smarter (Here’s Gabe Zichermann talking about this on Ted Talks). But it really comes down to this:

I love my boy. My boy loves video games. His reasons for loving them are complex—but no less valid than my love for Jane Austen novels, or John Fluevog shoes. I do not have to love them just because he loves them—I do not have to make myself play them or enjoy them as he does, just because I love him. But because I love him, I can’t say—or think and believe—that what he loves and enjoys is a waste of time. Of no value. Stupid.

Flip it. Think of something you love. Knitting? Film noir? Shiny cars? Collecting porcelain miniatures? Whatever. Doesn’t matter what. I’m thinking of my Jane Austen novels, which I reread probably half-a-dozen times a year. Now think of how you feel when someone who’s supposed to love you and care about you—your partner, your best friend, your mother—thinks that hobby or activity is of no value. And takes every opportunity to tell you so. Do those interactions build your relationship? Inspire you with love and trust for the person showing such open contempt for something that brings you joy?

I love my boy. My boy loves video games. And I love that he loves them. I love that they bring him joy.

As I finish writing this up, Ender’s having the tail-end of his nap in my arms, and Flora’s listening to The Titan’s Curse. Cinder grabs his lap top, and sits down beside me on the couch. He pulls up an Antvenom video on Youtube. “I need to get this mod,” he says. “Cool one?” I ask. “Too cool,” he says. I watch him watching for a while.

I love my boy.

“Love you, Mom,” he says. “What do you want to do when my video’s over?”

Minecraft Castle

Minecraft Castle (Photo credit: Mike_Cooke)

Five is hard: can you attachment parent the older child?

It happens to the most attached parents among us. We’ve breastfed, co-slept, and slung our babes happily. It was easy—or, it became easy, once we got into the groove and shook off Aunt Maud’s disapproving glare. We saw our children grown and flourish, loved, connected, happy. But then, at some point, the demons of self-doubt return. Our child goes through a phase we see as difficult and challenging. Almost inevitably, this happens when we’re not at our best—pregnant, tired, stressed. And we wonder—is it possible to AP the older child?

Five seems to be the milestone when these demons attack most ferociously. Makes sense: it’s such a milestone age in our culture. The preschooler becomes a kindergartener. The stroller’s abandoned; first loose teeth come. The search for self becomes super-pronounced, and our five-year-old is frighteningly selfish. (I write about that aspect of five in Ferocious Five.)

It hit one of my friends very hard when her eldest daughter turned five. She asked our playgroup community for help, and she framed her struggles under this big question: “Is it possible the attachment parent the older child? This five year-old who’s driving me utterly, completely crazy every moment of every single day? Is it time to bring out the conventional discipline–punishment–toolbox?”

This was my response. I had seen Cinder through five pretty successfully. Not yet Flora. Bear that in mind as you read. Check out Ferocious Five for the lessons Flora taught me.

Five is hard. But so is two, three, four, six, sixteen–all in their different ways. Part of the trouble is that our children move onward and forward through the different ages and stages, while we, their imperfect parents, have just figured out how to cope with the preceding one.

Is it possible to attachment parent the older child? Possible, necessary, critical. And here is where the difference between AP “things we do”–co-sleeping, breastfeeding, babywearing–and the AP “things we are” plays large. We don’t carry our five year olds, the majority of us don’t breastfeed them any more, we’re not necessarily co-sleeping with them. The “do” stuff is gone. The “be” stuff is all that remains.

And how do we “be” with the older children? I think this is one of the points at which our paths can diverge quite dramatically. And I don’t know that there is one *right* answer. For what it is worth, based on my sample of one five-year-old shepherded through some challenging stuff to date, these are the principles that helped us:

1. Make their world larger.

At five, Cinder’s world got larger. We’re homeschooling, so the massive change that is five day a week kindergarten wasn’t part of it–but think of what a huge change that is for the average five-year-old, and how hard it must be sort out, everything so new. Still, even minus kindergarten, it was so clear to us that a five-year-old was very different from a four-year-old. And absolutely, we butted heads because while he had moved on, I was still mothering a four-year-old.

A huge breakthrough for me was to make his world larger–ride his bike on (safe!) streets, cross the street on his own, go into stores on his own, play a bigger role in everything. I can’t quite remember all the different changes we did, but they’re pretty much irrelevant–they wouldn’t necessarily work for your child. Talk with her. What would she like to do now that she couldn’t (or wasn’t interested) in doing a year or six months ago?

2. The only person whose behaviour I can control is myself.

The other thing I always come back when we run into “downs”: the only person whose behaviour I can control is myself. And if I am unhappy with how my child is acting, the first step is not to look for a way to change my child, but to look at myself, within myself, and ask myself what can I do to change how I am reacting and communicating with my children? What am I doing–reflexively, thoughtlessly–that I can change. Start with me. When I’m okay, when I’m balanced, when I’m grounded–well, very often, the problem goes away, because it was in me in the first place. My children mirror me.

And, if the problem really is in the other–if it is all my Cinder being crazy or my Flora being whiney–when I’m taking care of myself, reflecting on my behaviour, and acting from a place within me that’s grounded, well, then I can cope and talk and help them sort through whatever craziness they are going through at the time without losing it.

3. Re-connect, re-attach.

I strongly, strongly believe that any punishment–be it a time out, a withdrawal of privileges, or the most innocuous manufactured consequence–does not help these situations but serves to drive a tiny, but ever growing, wedge between the attached parent and child. The absolutely best thing I’ve ever read about discipline was in Gordon Neufeld’s *Hold On To Your Kids*–absolutely aimed at parents of older children, through to teens. We’ve talked about this before, but this is the essence of what I take away from Neufeld’s chapter on “Discipline that Does Not Divide”: “Is [whatever action you were going to take] going to further your connection to your child? Or is it going to estrange you?”

So what do I do when I kind of want to throttle Cinder? I work at re-connecting. I call them re-attachment days. Have a bath together. Wrestle (I’m not advising it for pregnant mamas 🙂 ). Go for coffee (for me) and cookie (for him) at Heartland Cafe, just the two of us. Really focus on him and try to enjoy him. So often, that’s what he’s asking for by being obnoxious–really focused attention from me.

Now if I could only ensure I always give it to him so that we wouldn’t go through the head-butting phase in the first place!

4. Remind myself of what I want to say and how I want to act.

What do I do in the moment? That’s way harder in practice, no question. When I’m really frazzled, I leave notes to myself in conspicuous places with “when Cinder does x–do not say/do this–say/do this instead.” (Fridge and front door best places. Also, bathroom door.) And I tell my children what they are–“Those are reminders to me of how I want to treat you and talk to you, even when what you are doing makes me very, very angry.”

5. Sing.

Sometimes, I sing, “I want to holler really loud, but I’m trying really hard not to, someone help me figure something else to do, I think I’m going to stand on my head to distract myself…” (This works really, really well with two and three year olds too, by the way.)

6. Forgive. Move on.

Sometimes, I don’t catch myself in time and do all the things I don’t want to do: yell, threaten (if there is an “if” and a “then” in a sentence, it’s almost always a threat)… and then I apologize, try to rewind, move forward.

7. Put it all in perspective.

And always, always, I remind myself that 1) the worst behaviours usually occur just before huge developmental/emotional milestones, changes and breakthroughs, 2) my child is acting in the best way he knows at this moment, and if that way is not acceptable to me, I need to help him find another one, and 3) I love the little bugger more than life or the universe, no matter how obnoxious he is. (This is a good exercise too: after a hard, hard day, sit down and make a list of all the things you love about your little one. From the shadow her eyelash make on her cheeks when she sleeps to the way she kisses you goodnight… everything you can think of.)

And, finally, if I want my children to treat me–and others–with respect, I must treat them with respect. No matter how angry or tired I am.

Lots of love and support, 

“Jane”

Jane Austen, Watercolour and pencil portrait b...

Pandemic Diary: Creating when empty looks like this

i

One of my people—it’s good to have your people, isn’t it?—texts me much too early on a Monday morning with a marketing idea for my novels. I feel the love and enthusiasm in the suggestion and am only mildly irritated at how the concept shows a lack of understanding of both my industry and my target audience. I don’t say this to him, but my response to his (so very) enthusiastic barrage of texts betrays my lack of buy-in.

“You keep on telling me you’ve got to find new, not typical of the industry ways to do this stuff,” he points out. “So think about it. Is there a way to use this medium, this tool that nobody else in your field is using to work for you?”

He has a point—in fact, he’s quoting me to myself, don’t you hate it when people do that? I poke into my resistance a little more and arrive at this: he’s asking me to do more work, take more risks, stretch myself more, again—and OMG, it’s taking so much effort just to get out of bed and do the minimum these days, I really can’t…

I know there are people out there right now who can, who do, who are—and all the power to them. They’re gonna win and come out of this rich. Me, I hope, on the other side of this global disaster, I come out with my relationships to my children and my handful of key people more or less intact. And a manageable load of debt.

Some stories to tell.

That’s all.

ii

Another day, another COVID-19 alert from Flora’s school. If you’ve got kids, this has also been your life in 2020/21:

Dear Parent or Guardian,

We have been notified by Alberta Heath Services (AHS) that a case of COVID-19 has been diagnosed in an individual from [our school].

Our school remains open to in-person learning for all students…

Yawn, I’m innured: that week, there are so many messages—five, six?—that I don’t even bother to open any of them until the quarantine notice from AHS—“As a close contact, your child is required to immediately quarantine for 14 days…”—appears in my in-box. And, fuq me, here we go, for the third time since October, Flora’s sidelined from school for two weeks. It wouldn’t matter so much, I guess, except a) mental health and b) Math 20 is a monster and the online support for quarantined kids is not great. I don’t, I can’t blame the teachers—they’re still expected to teach live classes for the non-quarantined kids, and the schools got no financial support from the provincial government for this year of stops and starts, interruptions, and unprecedented stresses.

Sorry. I’m as tired of complaining about this as you are of hearing me complain. Whatever. Another prophylactic quarantine—we’re all healthy. We test Flora right away—also, Cinder, because, well, long story—in a municipal warehouse converted into a massive drive-through testing facility. There’s an apocalyptic feel to the setting—all the staff in full safety gear, masks, goggles, and hazmat suits, burly, also masked, security guards directing traffic, but also ensuring nobody gets out of line, or out of their car?

We get the test results—negative!—in less than 24 hours. But Flora still has to stay in quarantine. The rest of us are a little confused—we’re free to roam, but she’s not?—but that’s par for the course.

I’ve been confused and mystified for a year now.

iii

My upstairs neighbours are also quarantined. They’re feeling fine and symptom-free: just trapped. We’re a good building, so grocery deliveries and what not are arranged, and, also, nobody freaks out. This will make a good story when things get back to normal.

I often think, somewhat self-righteously, that in my building—just as in the Coop before it—we live the way people are supposed to live.

As a community.

The pandemic is shrinking our communities and making it harder and harder to maintain them. That, I think, is its true evil, its worst cost.

iv

I’m supposed to be a guest on a podcast about creativity—“What makes people creative?” is its theme, the central question the host likes to explore. The host is one of those amazing people who are starting new things, creating with abandon during this time.

I feel like an impostor and I’m not sure why he wants me on the show.

Him: In the past twelve months, you’ve released three novellas, been in two best-selling anthologies, written two new novels, are in the middle of a third—there was that poetry project over Advent—and, always, your blogs. Never mind the ghosting. Woman. If you have impostor syndrome, what about the rest of us?

True fact: until he enumerates what I’ve done… I feel I’ve done nothing. And I think it’s because the work isn’t flowing. I’m pulling quarter-full buckets out of the well with my teeth, often crying while I’m doing it, and that’s on the good days. There is no flow, there is no joy—there are gritted teeth and a determination to do the work—except on the days when there is no determination to do the work and I just want to sleep.

This used to be fun.

I used to be fun.

Remember?

v

The coffee I’m drinking this morning has a beautiful name: Nicaraguan Black Honey. I’m not sure I like it—it’s not bad but it’s different. Its flavours are subtle, nuanced—its taste changes in my mouth as I sip and swallow, reflect. I don’t have the vocabulary to describe what’s happening in my mouth.

Instead, I think… am I drinking too much coffee?

Am I drinking too much, period?

(The more I drink, the more candle holders I have and the more hedonistic my baths become—the thought makes me laugh.)

I pour myself another cup of coffee. Creativity sings in the cup. Creating, after all, is not mythical or mystical, despite the attempts of the pretentious to make it so. Creativity is, simply, making. Making a cup of coffee—boiling water, grinding the beans, bringing them together, pouring the result into a vessel of china, clay or glass (which is in itself a creation, a gift from its maker to you, the drinker). Up the supply chain—planting, harvesting, roasting the beans. Making soup out of whatever’s in the fridge. Making a meal out of saltine crackers, black market caviar and tins of sardines that fell off a truck somewhere on the way to the empty-shelved grocery store. Building a chair—a house. Turning a small pre-fab apartment into a cozy, unique home.  Taking an empty bottle of Glenlivet and repurposing it as a candle holder. Knitting a scarf. Giving an old car new life. Rewiring a lamp…

Creativity is small and humble and quotidian—woven into every breath of life. That’s where it’s seeded, born, nurtured.

This morning, my well feels very empty but I have a deadline. I have to write, produce, create a lot. So I start small. Morning pages. Then, coffee. Next, a slowly, carefully prepared breakfast. A short, not-for-money, not-for-sale sketch of what creating during the pandemic feels like. And… ok. The well still feels empty, but I have enough in me to lower the bucket. I’ll pull something up. That’s the way it works.

Him: Can we talk about my marketing idea now?

Jane: Your make work project for me? No. Circle back to me in 2022.

For now: baby steps. A cup of coffee. A simple soup.

A carefully crafted gift of words or food for the people I love.

That’s how creativity works when you don’t think it’s happening.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Don’t you hate it when the Buddhists are right?

i

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, another weird COVID holiday. Did you have a good time? I did, but it seemed to me, from the outside looking in, that it was a subdued affair, all around. Restaurants are open again in Viking Hell, but most folks I know chose to order in anyway. I’ve never really “celebrated” Valentine’s Day as a romantic couple—Sean and I had had a massive fight of mismatched expectations after our first Valentine’s Day as a couple and I dealt with it by abolishing Valentine’s Day forever more, and, since kids—and that’s been the last eighteen years of my life, I usually threw an unValentine’s Day party for people who didn’t have dates or couldn’t get babysitters. They were a lot of fun, those parties.

This year, I had 2/3 or my kids for an unValentine’s Day dinner–the eldest wanted to spend it online with this friends–which we ended by sharing a chocolate bomb from 8 Cakes, one of the participants in the YYC Hot Chocolate Fest 2021 (mini-review: great idea, mixed reviews on the execution—too sweet, too sweet, and all the colours merged into a quite ugly pale beige—still, it brought us joy, and showcased creativity, so, one thumb up, one thumb down, one neutral). Afterwards, a sheesha date—rose mint at Cafe Medina, I am so grateful my cafes are open again and I need them to survive, I need them to be here tomorrow and next fall and winter and next year. The day before, on Valentine’s Day Eve—this could be a thing—one of my loves and I gave ourselves diabetes by partaking in the YYC Hot Chocolate Fest and finding out how many cups of hot chocolate a person can drink in one five hour period.

(The answer is two, not five, OMG, my poor pancreas, and two is actually too much—one hot chocolate once a week or once a month or twice a year is about what one needs, really.)

So, COVID notwithstanding, month twelve (how has it been twelve months already) of the pandemic notwithstanding, ban on indoor social gatherings notwithstanding—please vaccinate the elderly and the vulnerable already, please, please, please—and my overall cynicism towards Valentine’s Day notwithstanding, I had a really terrific day and weekend. And as the weekend morphs into the week, I am thinking that, dammit, the Buddhists are right: happiness is a state of mind that comes from within.

Well, of course, there was all that chocolate. Surely that helped too…

ii

The day after Valentine’s Day—it’s a Monday—why is it so hard to keep track of the days of the week, was that not just yesterday?—a friend stops by unexpectedly. He’s in the neighbourhood. “I thought I’d just stop by and give you a hug; it’s been a long time.” I am covered with red ink and cornstarch—it’s Ender’s homeschooling at Mom’s day and I’ve long abandoned copy work and math for kitchen science. We’ve been playing with Elephant’s toothpaste (google it) and oobleck (ditto).

I get cornstarch on my friend’s black winter coat while I rest against his shoulder, in his arms.

The hug is illegal, although I’m not sure of the monetary fine attached to it. If he comes inside, it’s a $1000 punishment.

Him: How are you? You look good.

Jane: Up and down to be honest. January was hell. February is better.

Him: That’s all of us now. But you look good. You look happy.

Covered in cornstarch and ink, wearing a stained lab coat over pajama pants, with untended, undyed hair—and ink on my fingers and face—I know I don’t look good. I look good—I look… happy.

I check in with myself as I say goodbye to my friend and go back to Ender.

Am I happy?

iii

Feelings are weird, aren’t they? The result of chemical cocktails that, yes, are formed to a certain extent by our bodily reactions to external stimuli, actions, and behaviours… but, mostly, just made in the chemical factory that is you and me.

Am I happy?

I am stressed and stretched to the breaking point financially. I am worried about my children, on that day, especially, my eldest, who should be planning his future right now and he fucking can’t, who can? I am pondering if, perhaps, I need to rethink my career path and, instead of writing, dig graves or drive a bus, or, fuck, anything that brings in a steady, predictable stream of income instead of the random feast/famine of royalties and contracts. I miss you and her and him and them and parties and potlucks and art galleries. I am not certain about anything, I can’t plan more than a week ahead, and I’m afraid to read the news because I need another external negative stimulus like I need another non-paying “but it’s such good exposure, for such a good cause” contract.

And yet… with all of that…

All sanity depends on this: that it should be a delight to feel the roughness of a carpet under smooth soles, a delight to feel heat strike the skin, a delight to stand upright, knowing the bones are moving easily under the flesh.

Doris Lessing

…I feel sunlight on my skin and bones and muscles under my skin and layer of pandemic fat… and I’m happy.

Hydrogen peroxide, dish soap and dry yeast just gave me and Ender a morning of pure happiness. The dog at our feet, spreading her fur everywhere—I really need to groom her—is pure love. My friend’s drive-by hug runneth a full cup over. My mom made me cabbage rolls the other day, OMG, they tasted like heaven in my mouth. Flora is researching the Polska Walcząca/Armia Krajowa emblem, a piece of her family heritage that’s been an unnoticed part of the furniture in the home all her life, but has now acquired interest and meaning. I love her passion—I love this apartment, today, especially, the temperamental fireplace—and I love the blue sky and sunshine we’re getting during this polar vortex—it’s beautiful and I love beautiful things.

The dark chocolate a friend drops off for me the Friday before Valentine’s Day—a Valentine’s present and a “you’re important to me always” gift in one—singing happy birthday to my upstairs neighbour in the hallway, a text, a phone call from a friend who’s far away, finding the missing sock from my favourite pair, driving Cinder to work and listening to him process… all of these things make me… happy.

Listening to M.C. Beaton’s cheesy murder mysteries on my earbuds—a gift from someone who loves me who couldn’t believe I was still using my frayed “well only one earbud works, and the mic is fried, but it’s good enough” pair—and watching The Inspector Lynley mysteries on Britbox—another gift from someone else who loves me? Ditto.

I am happy, I am loved.

I rest in this feeling.

iv

I need to return a Service Canada call, to talk to someone about my EI/CERB application. I don’t want to—I hope filling out the form is the last minute voodoo I have to do before a new contract or sale materializes—god, for a $25,000 advance—it feels like it would solve all my problems and I won’t complain that it’s too small, promise, and I’ll work my ass off to earn it out and earn the publisher more money, promise, promise, promise—if only prayers really did work this way….

I look at the number I have to dial. I don’t want to. But I’ll do it. And then I’ll write and then I’ll look for jobs and something will materialize. It always does.

Him: You did look good. Happy.

Jane: I’m fine.

I’m not, really. It’s month twelve of the pandemic, and none of us are fine, all of us are broken and beaten up, and it is so cold outside—although warmer than yesterday, than last week—but we’re alive and I feel the sun on my skin. Do you?

Bask in a cold ray of sunshine for a while.

Then eat some chocolate.

Rest in the feeling.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: “All sanity depends on this”

i

I’m writing with one hand and petting Bumblebee with the other, scratching her under her chinny-chin-chin. Her eyes are narrowing in pleasure—now they’re closed. I stop petting and she paws at me—I resume scratching, this time, behind her ears. I’m good at this. I have three children—I’ve been writing with one hand while the other was holding, caressing a child most of my life.

It’s -28… -32 degrees Celsius—feels like -100—and I started my morning with a walk around the block with the beast. Now, there’s an impatient companion beside me as I write and her presence is both comforting and disruptive. It feels good, warm, relaxing—and then, she’s barking, interrupting what was about to become flow.

I soothe her, return to the page.

ii

So far, February does not suck. It’s cold as fuck, but the sun has been out on most days and my Mom the ER nurse has been vaccinated, and you’re feeling more positive about life and so, I think, am I. The kids, I can’t say they’re thriving, but they’re doing ok. Cinder is working and Flora is battling math homework and Ender is playing video games with his friends. Happy, thriving? I don’t know, I don’t think so. But ok, coping. Can’t really ask for more, not in 2020.v.2

iii

I’ve finally started writing 2021 more consistently as the current year’s date. Funny how hard it has been to let go of 2020—funny how, this year, January 1 did seem like the most arbitrary of milestones. What changed? Nothing, nada, nic. January 2021 seems to have belonged, in its entirety, for me and for you, to 2020.

February is beginning to feel like a new year, a new page, a new beginning.

iv

On the first Friday in February, I give one of my loves an amazing birthday. We are both a little shocked by how amazing the night and our party of two turns out. He did not want to celebrate at all—“Everything is closed, nothing to do, can’t invite anyone, it will suck”—and the only counter I had to offer was, “But… balloons?”

But between the balloons, ice cream, psilocybin and Leonard Cohen, it was an unforgettable, amazing birthday.

Fuck you, COVID-19.

(Thank you, psilocybin. And ice cream.)

Humans are like cockroaches. We adapt. We can survive in any climate, on virtually any diet. We can find joy and happiness in month 12 of the pandemic.

(It has been twelve fucking months people, if you’re wondering why you’re going off your nut—it’s because it’s been twelve months.)

But please take your “If it weren’t for COVID, we never would have learned that…” meme and shove it where the sun don’t shine.

Just because we CAN make the best of a shitty situation doesn’t make that situation desirable.

v

Doris Lessing wrote, ““All sanity depends on this: that it should be a delight to feel heat strike the skin, a delight to stand upright, knowing the bones moving easily under the flesh.” So it may be -100 degrees in Viking Hell, but today, again, it’s sunny and I feel the sun, and also biting frost, on my face as I walk the dog towards the kids’ house. I’m going to drive Ender the six blocks to my place, because I can spare him the frigid seven minute walk, and I’ve never understood how freezing your ass off and risking frostbite when you don’t have to builds character. We’re going to crank up the fireplace and drink hot chocolate and for lunch, I think, I’ll make spaghetti carbonara—make the house smell like bacon. It will drive the dogs crazy… but in a good way. I’ll drive Ender back to the coop, then take Cinder to work, pick him up . In-between, write, checkto see if Flora’s started reading Che Gueverra’s biography, eat some chocolate—crank up the fireplace.

The house will still smell like bacon when you come over for supper tonight, and it will be a good day.

The dog, now stretched out on the cold hardwood floor, and not demanding pets, agrees.

xoxo

“Jane”

Writing practice looks like this

i

Morning. Coffee. Notebook. My morning pages usually start with a list like this—things, concrete objects—sometimes sounds and smells. Kettle boiling, whistling. Cinnamon on my fingertips. Traffic outside the window, or is that birdsong? And more words follow, eventually. Sometimes, I write about what I really think and feel. But often, I just skate on the surface and only document what I can touch. Pen. Paper. Notebook. Here I am, writing another word, making another sentence.

I am re-reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and am struck, again, by how both for Natalie and for Julia Cameron (author of The Artist’s Way and the reason I write morning pages), writing is not just a vocation, it’s a religion. Well, neither Natalie nor Julia would use that word. They’d say spiritual practice—they do say spiritual practice.

I am wary of the word ‘spiritual.’ Too many encounters with kooky ‘spiritual’ people have drained the word of positivity and power, just as too many encounters with the intolerant and the outright evil have stripped ‘religion’ of all that’s good for me.

But writing is definitely more than my job. It is my vocation, and it is my practice.

(No adjective necessary.)

ii

I have a new WIP on the wall, and I explain to Flora the planning and tracking process. She reacts with teenage contempt.

Flora: Why are you telling me this? I’m not going to be a writer. You’ve made sure of that.

I’m a little stung. Why is that? I reflect. Do I whine, complain too much about the work? I do not mean it—I love it. I love the work. Do I act as if I do not love it?

Flora: Sure. You love it. But it’s SO MUCH work. For so little money, and like, no recognition—so much risk for so little reward.

And I’m stung again, that this most precious child of mine measures the worthiness of what I do by its financial success. If my books sold millions and made millions, maybe she’d want to be writer.

If her author-journalist mother was a famous, a household name, a TikTok meme, maybe she’d want to be a writer.

But all I do is write my insignificant, unfamous stories for audiences of 500, 1000—10,000 when I’m really, really lucky.

Her judgement stings, and looking at the story on my wall, I ask myself, not for the first time, why I bother to do this.

There are so many easier ways to make a living, pay the rent and the visa bill.

iii

Breathe.

Notebook.

Pen.

One word. Another one. Find yourself on the page—ground myself on the page. Document yesterday—find in it the kernel of a mystery i want to explore. Turn it into story. Find flow and peace—as well as frustration (oh, but it has a purpose) and pain (but it’s to a purpose and so bearable, necessary)—inside the work.

iv

My morning pages often end with the beginning of a draft of what will be a public post—or the articulation of an idea I’ll explore later in a story, a poem. A novel.

Flora: It’s just journalling. Waste of time.

She has a lot of contempt for journalling, thank you, mental health professionals. It was as useful a suggestion for her at the height of her illness as bubble baths as self-care were for me.

Jane: No. It’s like doing your Tang Soo Do forms over and over and over again. It’s practice.

She doesn’t understand.

She doesn’t have to.

But I do wish she’d value it.

A little.

xoxo

Jane

Pandemic Diary: A gathering

i

So I cracked the other day and I reached out to my friend of last resort. Do you have one, two? IT’s not quite what you think it is. For me, this is the rather surprising, unexpected person to whom I didn’t feel particularly close or connected to… but who life has shown me I can count on when the shit hits the fan. We need these people. We don’t necessarily love them, nor they us. We don’t see each other that often—if we see each other too often, we start to bore each other. But then…

Jane: Things are bad. I need help.

Him: I’m here for you.

And actually—that was enough. Often, that’s enough. A deep breath. A realization there’s still a safety net, someone to lean on if I must. And, a gathering—January is almost over. This cold snap is gonna be pretty short. I’m writing. I’m loved. You’ve got my back—I’m not gonna lean on you because you’re exhausted and brittle too, but I know you’re there. Surely, not much longer now…

Him: Friend of last resort? Really?

Jane: And what would you call me?

Him: Fair…

So now I think I might be able to call you—well. Take a breath but don’t hold it. Wait until March. The gathering is a process. January’s not quite over yet, and then, we still have to get through February. Brrr. March. We’ll talk in March. Perhaps in March, you’ll feel comfortable enough to leave your house and you know… hug me. Vaccine or no vaccine.

But if not—if you eed to wait until September, until 2022… I’ll be here for you.

At least… I’m pretty sure?

ii

I’m a little worried about this, to be honest, but my worry is also proof that I’m shaking off the January blues. I’m thinking about the future, and that’s a big deal. Will I love you in March? In 2022?

It’s been a long, long time…

Him: A long time goes by between each of our encounters.

Jane: Yeah, but I don’t really love you.

Him: Remind me—why is it that I’m here for you when you need me, again, always?

Jane: I don’t know. You just are.

The pandemic has shrunk our social circles. Interrupted our connections. Will they resume when things get back to normal?

Some will. Some won’t.

I do think some people’s ability to connect socially, intimately with others will have been damaged, severely, and will take a long time to come back.

And some of us will be very, very empty… and not able to do the work we usually do in blowing on, reigniting the embers of friendship.

Him: It’s really not that hard. Look at me. Look at us.

Jane: Promise?

Him: I’m here for you. I was here in January 2019. I was here in August. I’ll be here for you in March. Or September. Or 2022.

Jane: Maybe I do love you. A little.

I do love you, a lot, but it’s been hard to feel and to give that love recently. Do you feel that lack? Experience the same impairment? I think so, I think you must.

But I also think… it is almost over.

I feel a gathering.

Jane: I’m here for you.

You: I know. You were there for me even when you thought you weren’t.

Jane: How’s that a thing?

I don’t know. But it is. January is almost over. February is a short month. Some stupid trees are in bud already.

A gathering.

Him: Um… and is anybody here for me?

Jane: I’m here. Always.

Breathe.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS Do you selfie when you’re moody? I pretty much never selfie when I’m fully happy and satisfied. I think it’s a way of making sure I still exist…

Pandemic Diary: Of sleep and guilt

I’ve been sleeping a lot the past few months. In bed between nine and 10, out until seven or eight, and crawling out of bed with reluctance—then, on many afternoons, laying back down for a 20 minute nap—how has 90 minutes gone by, impossible! My energy during my waking hours has been decent. Not up to my standard—and honestly, I no longer know what that is. What is it on which I’m basing my expectations? Pre-pandemic? Pre-Flora’s illness? Pre-flood? Pre-children?

I don’t remember. I vaguely suspect that it’s always been a struggle—that I’ve always thought I should be doing more than I am, that I am never satisfied with what I manage to achieve.

I am trying, for the seventeenth or seventieth time in my life, to simply surrender to what is.

And what is right now—I need a lot of sleep.

Maybe it’s catch up—2019 and the first months of 2020 was a time of no sleep, interrupted sleep, bad sleep, waking nightmares.

Maybe body wisdom is a thing, storing sleep against the next bout of depletion.

Maybe it’s body wisdom reacting to nothing more than pure in the moment situation stress, depletion. I mean, people! Doing nothing and staying home? It’s exhausting. Taking the dog for a walk—did I walk too close to you when I passed you on the path?—is exhausting. Why did that woman give me a dirty look? Oh my god, I need to cough and sneeze—it’s allergies—am I going to freak people out? Should I go off path and cough in the bushes? Will someone push me into the river while I’m doing that, or scream a bunch of names at me as they walk by, because, the pandemic is turning people into assholes?

Ugh.

I’m going to have a nap when I get home.

Being with my children is exhausting—exhilarating, because this time is suddenly so precious, but also, different, weird—exhausting. On the nights that they are over, I go to bed, drained, as soon as I take them home—which is no longer my home. On my days with Ender, when I take him back and get to my solo home, I lay down to recharge, to release all the feelings—not all of them good, all of them exhausting.

Being with people is exhausting. There aren’t that many people I’m allowed to be with right now, and most of them are drained, strained, and exhausted, and we irritate rather than feed each other—we feed each other’s dark. I see you, and I need a nap. Or ten hours of sleep.

Well. And so be it. So it is. I think. At least I’m able to sleep, and my sleep is deep and restful. And when I do get out of bed, even on the days I don’t really want to do so, I do most of the things I have to do. That’s got to be enough. Right?

I think one of the reasons I feel guilty about how much I’m sleeping is because most of my friends seem to be suffering from life-inflicted insomnia—and the ones with little kids, of course, hardly ever get enough sleep. Me, I am. And it’s wonderful and delirious, really. I mean, I wish everyday life didn’t drain me as much as it’s draining me right now—but damn. The fact that I can sleep ten hours a night?

That’s sweet.

That’s awesome.

Why am I feeling guilty about that, at all? It’s not as if my abundance of sleep is taking away from your abundance of sleep in any way, is it?

And it’s not like crawling into bed at 9 pm is keeping me from doing anything. Well. I guess I could be writing into the night… but. These days, I need to sleep instead.

It’s 8 am. I was in bed 9:30’ish last night, asleep shortly after 10. Up at 7. I’ve walked the dog, written my morning pages, done a writing spring, and now, this blog post. Drank half a bodum of delicious coffee.

Another writing sprint now, maybe even a third before breakfast and a hike to the Coop to see Ender, check on Flora, walk the dogs. Drive to pick up Cinder from work—that will take me to 2:15 pm, and after that, I’ll probably need a nap. In the afternoon, what? Another writing sprint after the nap. Maybe editing. Make supper for the kids—brace myself for their complex moods and emotions. Try to hold space for all of them, value all of them. Walk them home (not my home) afterwards, heart aching. Walk the dog. Crawl into bed at 9 pm, exhausted.

I think, when the sun comes back, I might want to meet you for an evening walk or drink. Chat, hang out. Right now… I need to sleep.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS And with all of that—OMG, I miss you and I miss dancing and parties and concerts and all of the things we used to do together. And also, I don’t want to talk to you, at all. All of this can be true all at the same time. It all gets sorted out while I sleep.

Pandemic Diary: You’re forgiven; now move on (and maybe forgive me, too)

i

I come bearing absolution.

It’s ok to be sick of your limited social circle right now. The two, four or fourteen people who have been your household—COVID cohort—shrunken support network for the past ten months? They’re lovely people. And you love them. Well, you loved them. But now, you’re sick to death (almost) of them)—you don’t want to hear any more of their stories—you’ve heard them all, actually—everything they do irritates you, every flaw, once endearing, now magnified a thousand times…

It’s all right. They are annoying as fuck. They suck. Ok, yes, they’re great people. You’re just sick of them. And that’s ok, it’s normal—it’s ok.

Absolved.

I know that Sally and Molly over there have just grown closer and more Hallmark greeting card co-dependent over the pandemic, posting pictures of disgusting harmony, love, and perfectly nested, delighting fully in each other co-existence. They even work from the same home office. AT the same desk. All is love and perfection. Sick of each other? They are even more in love now than they were before COVID hit.

It’s ok. They’re the freaks here—or outright liars. Probably, actually—they’re the liars. You and your not-so-low-key homicidal rage towards people you live with and (used to) love?

That’s what’s perfectly normal.

You’ve spent so much time with each other, with no external distractions, limited coping techniques. You’re grating on each other like never before.

Of course you’re sick of your people. They’re sick of you too. And the only way to take a break from each other is to be completely alone—and that can be difficult to accomplish during lockdown when you’re locked down together—also, how many solo winter walks can one person take?

ii

My January blues manifest in a visceral dislike of all of my friends. I don’t return texts (now you know why, sorry, I’m so sick of you, no, it’s nothing you’ve done, you just exist, go away). I don’t make plans. I fantasize about Cuba. Then, suddenly, I go online in search of strangers—for the love of god, give me a new person, a new conversation, anything other than this, anything other than you.

You: I feel really unloved here.

Jane: Tell me you don’t feel the same way about me?

iii

So. I come bearing absolution. For you. for me. Of course we’re sick of each other. OF course we want to run away.

Of course we feel trapped.

Her: And you could call me! You haven’t seen me in six months and, well, I still won’t see you, because pandemic, but we could talk on the phone and…

Jane: Weirdly enough, I’m sick of you too. So, no.

January blues, pandemic blues.

Don’t worry about it. It’s normal. It’s ok.

I give you absolution.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Project managing in crisis

i

One of the hardest things about being the project manager of your life—the hardest thing about being the project manager of your life—is that when the project is going off the rails and you’re stressed, exhausted, maybe depressed, definitely a lot mess… the people around you still treat you as the project manager.

The one in charge.

Them: “What’s the solution?”
“What should we do?”
“Tell me if there’s anything you need!”
“How can I support you? Just tell me!”

Project Manager: I need you to stop asking me to find jobs for you—for the love of god, seize some initiative and figure out a way to help and lessen my load on your own, and if you’re not competent enough to do that, just leave me da fuq alone!

Them: She’s having a bad day. It’s probably PMS.

It makes sense, really. If you’re generally a with-it person, in charge of the controllable aspects of your life, with high executive function and all of that, the people in your life get used to you taking initiative. Organizing things, planning things. Seeing shit through. You tell them what to do, where to go, how to contribute, on what timeline, in what order. They do it, shit gets done.

I used to even plan and make all the arrangements for my crashes and breakdowns—okay, Mom can take Ender for a sleepover on Wednesday, maybe I can sell Flora to her friend for the day and even night, Cinder will be okay on his own for a few hours, I’m gonna go scream in the woods for four hours, pick up pizza on the way home, all will be well—I just have to make it through Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday morning—all will be well, I got this.

It’s when you step out of that role—fall out of it with a loud thunk—that things go sideways. You stop the planning and the managing, your people freak out because that’s not the way this has been working—nobody’s in charge, chaos, help—you get pissed because they’re useless drones who can’t figure out how to do anything without explicit instructions—and, odds are pretty good that after a brief freak out, you take a deep breath and find, somewhere in your heels, just enough juice to project manage them through your crisis… or push your crisis off until next Thursday, when you’ve got some time in the project of your life for it. No? Not next Thursday? Sunday the 24th? Perfect. Let’s do it then…

So you do it. But you hate it and resent it. Worst of all, you learn, over and over again, that when you’re broken, an exhausted mess? You’re still the project manager of your life, and you are in a really dysfunctional, unsupportive organization. There is no CEO or team lead or colleague watching out for you. You can’t count on anyone else to pick up the slack.

 ii

Extreme self-reliance, the psychologists say, is a form of trauma response. It’s taught by experience, circumstance. Shit goes down—past experience has taught you that you’re on your own. So, you take a deep breath, and you say, “I got this. I’m gonna get me, us out of this. The rest of you, just don’t get in my way, that’s all.”

I recognize that I do this. Unfortunately, most of you are useless in a crisis—you’re not that useful when things are chill to be frank—but it’s fine. I got this. I’ll get me out of this—while I’m at it, I’ll get you out of this. But, to be clear—I’m gonna resent you the whole time. For fuck’s sake, can’t you do anything to help me, ever?

iii

Breathe.

January blues. Shitty anniversaries. Triggers. The good thing about documenting one’s inner and outer life is that one has a record—of the good and the bad. One is braced for a tough December, a really horrible first week of January. One plans for it, and one survives it. (One talks about oneself in the third person as a dissociative coping strategy—try it—apparently it’s not recommended by neither the positivist psychologists nor the vestigial Freudians—how is Freud still taught as anything other than a historical curiosity?—but it’s damn effective in creating some distance between oneself and unpleasant experiences.)

One doesn’t expect the second week of January curveball and one is hammered by it, but one knows what to do, more or less, sort of.

Them: Write piles of self-indulgent, incomprehensible crap in the gender-neutral third person?

Jane: You smoke weed, I write. Writing is free and doesn’t make my clothes smell like skunk.

Her: And your hair. Your hair stinks.

Them: Why is everyone picking on me?

January blues. I go inward. I will love you, I think, again in February. Well. No. That’s too soon. March. Right now though, I’m a bowl of resentment. Ball of resentment? I like the image of a bowl—a bowl, ceramic, colourful—so pretty—of swirling, surging, black-and-purple resentment that I’m holding tight to my chest. If I eat from the bowl—and I want to—I’ll ingest poison.

I’m on my own, I’m alone, no one can help me.

Breathe.

iv

A few weeks—months—not years, but it feels like it, a friend gave me two bags of Superstore no-name brand frozen Chicken Parmigiana that he thought were, well, too disgusting to eat.

Him: For your kids? Kids like shit like this.

Jane: Maybe.

I’m not going to read the ingredient list to you. Maybe, there was chicken.

Flora: Wow, this is crazy. The first bite is really good, but then, as soon as you stop chewing, you feel like you’ve eaten plastic…

Ender loved them. Absolutely loved them.

Jane: What do you want for lunch when you come over tomorrow?

Ender: Chicken pizza!

Jane: What?

Ender: You know? Those delicious chicken pockets? Like the chicken with cheese and tomato sauce inside it?

I love my Ender, but God I hate Superstore, and also, Sean  needs the car tonight, and also, I have so much work to do today and I’ve lost so much time already and OMG, I’m not going to give my son what he wants for lunch tomorrow, I’m a failure as mother, I might as well just crawl into bed and die, there is no hope, no point, I’m on my own but I can’t actually get enough with it to go to the store to buy Ender lunch, I…

Breathe.

Trauma response.

It does not actually have to play out like this.

I text.

Jane: Is there any chance you’re going to Superstore tonight?

Him: Yes. What do you need?

I’m pretty sure he was not planning to go to Superstore until I text. But that’s what friends do. They show up…

Jane: That inedible Chicken Parmigiana, you know what I mean?

Him: One pack or two?

Jane: One.

Breathe. Not alone. Not unsupported. Still the project manager of my life, cause that’s the way the world goes, but not unsupported. I ask for what I need and it comes to me—I accept it with reverence and gratitude.

Breathe.

Ender gets his Chicken Parmigiana. My Mom shows up the next day with won ton soup, bacon and a bag of frozen seafood—I can put off the Superstore or Costco horror trip for a few more days.

Thank you.

v

A project manager’s fantasy is, I think, a team member who can read your fucking mind, anticipate what you need—see the gap and fill it. You know. A future project manager in the making, really—the person who’s gonna take your job from you and you can’t wait for them to do it, to be honest, because this job kind of sucks, but also, you’re a control freak, and so you’d only work for a project manager who is more competent than you, and what are the odds of that? Such project managers and such employees are rare, unicorns. (In workplaces, they are, by the way, called office wives. Telling, no?)

A satisfactory team member is one who does what you ask them to do and embraces increased responsibility as you hand it to them.

Sigh. So be it. The team is a collaborative, interdependent unit.

But someone has to be in charge.

And, really. I do want to be in charge of my life. Don’t you?

But… tomorrow.

Today, though, I’m taking a mental health day, going for walk, screaming in the woods.

You: Is there anything I can do to support you in this?

Jane: Stop asking me for shit and get out of my way. I mean—um, no. Thanks. I got this.

I’ll give you further instructions on how to contribute tomorrow.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS Well, this is weirder than I had planned. Did it upset you? Breathe…

Pandemic Diary: Doing nothing, with relish

We’re just sitting here, not doing very much, me and the dog. She’d really like me to finish up doing not very much and take her for her second walk, but she hasn’t become obnoxious about it yet—just the occasional look and sigh. Being in the house is boring. The outside world calls. There’s snow outside and run through, and smells to discover—new dogs to meet.

“Soon, Bumblebee,” I tell her. “I need just a little bit longer to do nothing, right here.”

I’ve had a really productive week and, thus far, weekend, and so I feel allowed, justified to do nothing right now. Glorying in it, really—thinking that after I walk Bumblebee and commune with nature and give my body fresh air and exercise, I will return to doing nothing, and feeling good about it. It seems like that kind of day. The kids are coming for supper but my mother made a Babi dinner for us yesterday, and I resisted the urge to send it to Sean’s house with the kids, so I don’t even have to cook tonight. Here I am, sitting. Staring into space—it’s almost meditation. Reading The Artist’s Way again, and sipping black coffee, and thinking that maybe I should return your texts, but, you know, that feels like work right now, so, actually no… doing nothing, feeling okay about it.

I’ve done nothing a lot over the past six, nine, twelve months, but most of the time, feeling nothing does not feel good, right? I mean—oh, what do I mean—I mean, like with so many things, it comes down to choice. Right now, in this moment, I am choosing to do nothing, to rest in this space, and it feels great.

Last month, I did nothing, a lot, because I felt incapable of doing anything, and so I wanted to act, but I couldn’t, and I did nothing, and it felt awful…

Today’s nothing feels so good.

I worked. I met deadlines. I finished—even though the circumstances were hard and, to be honest, I did not want to do the work very much, and it was hard to focus and think. But I did it.

And I went grocery shopping and did the kitchen laundry and tidied my apartment—washed the floors, even—and I did not bail on the one social commitment I had made for the week. And yesterday I did all the things I was supposed to do, both for myself and for others.

And I said no to some other ones.

And so today… I get to do nothing.

The dog is getting agitated. The nothing is about to be interrupted by a long walk, during which I will listen to an audiobook, and think about nothing.

And after which I might have a nap.

A friend wanted to watch movies with me today… but that seems like something. I’m not sure I’m up for it.

It is, very much, a do nothing sort of day.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Time, time, time, what has become of thee?

“Time, time, time, see what’s become of me?”

Ok, people, something is wrong. Very badly wrong. Time is not working the way it should, and if this was an episode of Star Trek—I’m watching Star Trek: The Next Generation in the background of some of my life—Data would have already noted this discrepancy and we’d all be trying to pull Spaceship Earth out of the event horizon-anomaly-vortex-thingy.

But it’s not Star Trek, it’s real life, and we’re stuck.

We’ve all been commenting on this phenomenon throughout the past year. “This year has lasted a week and a decade.” “The last five months have been the longest five years of my life.” “How is it still Tuesday?” “How is it Friday already?”

Time is just not working the way it’s supposed to.

Time flies–or is it drags?–when you’re drinking gin…

What’s most concerning to me is that, theoretically, I should have more time. Right? I mean—there’s no place to go. Nothing to do. No one to do it with. (Apologies to my COVID cluster, whom I’ve been ignoring for the past two weeks—I’m so sick of you. Aren’t you sick of me? I mean, I don’t even want to text you any more right now. “What are you doing?” “Nothing. You?” Ugh. I’d rather be alone than bored with you, true fact, I know I’m a terrible human being, deal with it, you’re not that awesome either.)

(Um. Sorry about that. Pandemic, lockdown, eternal darkness in Viking Hell, January Blues, you know. I’ll love you again after the Equinox.)

Where was I? No place to go. Nothing to do. No one to do it with. I should be awash in hours and hours of time that I’d be struggling to fill with god, I don’t know, yoga, meditation, writing, exercise, learning Farsi.

(I’m still on Chapter 1 of my Conversational Farsi textbook. I. Can’t. Remember. Anything. But my calligraphy is getting marginally better… I now write like a four year old, rather than a three year old.)

I’d probably make more progress on that Farsi if I actually opened the textbook… see if there in the background?

Instead—blink. Snap. The day is gone—I have accomplished a quarter, a tenth of the not very much I was planning to do and, fuck me, tomorrow is half over too—how is that possible?

Some of this is due to the low grade depression most of us are in (some of us are in full blown depression; when a friend of mine called the Canada Suicide Prevention hotline last week1-833-456-4566—they got put on hold), some of it is due to the lack of external time/schedule anchors in our work-at-home, learn-at-home, stay-the-fuck-home-unless-you’re-a-politician-with-a-timeshare-in-Hawaii orders, and some of it might actually be the rsult of the Earth spinning faster now—I saw the headline of a study to that effect th eother day but, you know, I didn’t have the time to read it.

Time, time, time.

Tick-tock, tick-tock. Deadlines, schedules, appointments, alarms.

Tick-tock.

Killing time on tik-tok.

Time. “It’s a hazy shade of winter…”

xoxo

“Jane”

I’m fairly sure I don’t look this emaciated in real life, btw, Mom. It’s the angle and the huge glasses. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

PS Ok, this is a Simon and Garfunkel song, but I think the mood calls for the Bangles not Paul and Art, right? Enjoy:

Pandemic Diary: Feeling all the feelings, naming and owning their shame

So I went through a thing with you the other night, when you were feeling all the feelings, but then, on top of that, shame for feeling all the feelings, and I think I helped you, a little, but through it all, I also got feelings—followed by shame about having those feelings—and so today, I find myself pondering—where does that shame about having feelings and emotions come from? I don’t think it’s biological, innate, and inevitable, because it makes no sense—it does not help us survive. It’s destructive, actually, and traps us in horrid spirals. The Buddhists and the yogis, and most psychotherapists, teach you to look at your thoughts and feelings (they don’t always separate the two) dispassionately, without judgement—without shame. But we judge. That’s our go-to. We shame.

Why?

Let’s take the generic pandemic-related feelings most of us are feeling these days—frustration, depression, anxiety, anger. Really. All the feelings. “I can’t cope.” “This sucks.” “Pain.” “Alienation.” “Loneliness.”

Fury at strangers, because they’re not wearing masks–because they are…

Isn’t there a layer of shame and judgement on top of each of them? “Why is this so hard?” “What’s wrong with me that I can’t cope?” “So many people have it so much worse—why am I so unhappy? What right do I have to feeling this much pain?”

Every right. Cause it’s your feeling. Your pain. Your level of emotional exhaustion and depletion. Your particular hormonal cocktail.

Isn’t it hard enough feeling all the feelings in the first place without feeling ashamed that you’re having them?

No—stop! Now you’re feeling ashamed that you’re ashamed—stop, stop, stop!

(What am I doing? I’m not supposed to tell you to stop how you’re feeling…)

Deep breath.

Eat some chocolate.

You: You know chocolate is a junk food and not a medicine, right?

Jane: Lie. It’s medicine, and also, a food of the gods. See Sophie & Michael Coe’s The True History of Chocolate; also, Marcela Presilla’s The New Taste of Chocolate; also—this one is the most depressing, tbh, but sometimes, knowledge hurts—Kay Frydenborg’s Chocolate: Sweet Science and Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat.

I work through my shame in the morning on the page, write my way to being at peace with the ugliest of my feelings. You, I don’t know, I hope you slept deeply and dreamed of beautiful things, and woke up willing to accept all the feelings as part of who you are right now. No shame necessary…

But now, no longer feeling shame, I wonder if instead of dissipating it, we just need to name it and accept it. “I feel—frustrated, angry, suicidal. I feel ashamed of these feelings, because, Christ, things aren’t that bad, really, and yet I feel inadequate, incompetent, a failure. I feel all of these things. And that’s ok. It sucks, but it’s also ok…”

(Dialectics.)

I kinda feel like re-reading Brene Brown on shame (cause she thinks there’s a reason for shame– https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psN1DORYYV0), and also, maybe, meditating, cause I need to come down a little more, and also, eating chocolate cake, but I have neither flour nor coco powder in the house, should I go shopping? No. I also feel like writing, so I’ll work instead. Julia Cameron says, “The trick is to metabolize pain as energy,” and dammit if she’s not right.

I’m gonna check in on you later, and I’m sure you’ll still be feeling all the feelings. Including shame. But maybe, less powerfully? And that’s okay. That’s you right now. And I love you as you are. In the pain, and in the shame.

Later, I’ll bring you chocolate.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: I had a dream that I went to Hawaii for Christmas vacation… wait, that wasn’t me and it wasn’t a dream…

[Note for non-Alberta readers: I don’t usually write place-specific posts, but this one is necessary, bear with me. We’ve been in a fairly strict lockdown over Christmas—pretty much everything’s shut down (except malls and churches) and no indoor or outdoor social gatherings between households are allowed. That’s right. Most of us couldn’t see our family and friends over Christmas. Meanwhile, a bunch of our politicians went on vacations. We the voters… are unimpressed.]

I had an incredibly vivid dream last night that I was having an illegal COVID-19 lockdown party. It started just with me and you in my living, and then you asked if he could join us, and he brought a friend, and the friend brought a kid—who brought my kid—and before I had blinked my eyes twice, there were six or seven people in my living room and on the patio. And then, an AHS health officer with a Foothills Hospital ER ID (vivid, did I mention) around his neck, and then two cops writing everyone $1000 tickets for violating the public health order, at which point—in my dream—I list my shit and announced that I would only pay these if the motherfuckers who went on “essential because it’s a family tradition” Christmas trips be fired, maybe drawn and quartered too.

I woke up—alone—and really pissed and there’s just one thing I need to scream. Two, actually. First, if you’re a private person, Joe Blow, and you went to Hawaii, Las Vegas, Saskatchewan or Eastern Canada for Christmas during the Alberta lockdown despite the Canada-wide advisory against non-essential travel… whatever. Your call, your judgement, your risk, your life—I can’t be 100 per cent sure I wouldn’t do the same if I had the money and if I didn’t have children.

But if you’re my elected government representative and your government has just ruined my Christmas tradition, and maybe, in the process, put me out of business—no. No. You don’t get to go to Hawaii for Christmas. Yes, I am holding you to a higher standard than Joe Blow. You work for me, you told me to grit my teeth and suffer, and then you fucking went to the beach with your extended family.

Second, and this had much worse results for public health in Alberta… The key consequence of Hawaii-gate is that I’m much less inclined to follow the lockdown rules. Was that the plan, Jason, Tracy? Mission accomplished. Before, I was resenting them but mostly complying. Now, to be honest, I feel there is no point. Why should I deny myself and suffer while my leaders… well, lead by example?

(Bet they all went Boxing Day deal shopping too.)

Stay home, my ass.

Do whatever you like, and screw the consequences—that’s what Alberta’s political elite (what a joke) have told us to do this with their behaviour holiday season.

Packing for Hawaii right now—in my dreams—licking airport washroom door handles—in my nightmares—wondering if politicians will ever NOT disappoint me.

Remember this come the next election, people.

😡

Jane

PS Everyone who does communications / strategic consulting work for the UCP needs to be fired as well. I mean. Seriously. As a communications professional… I just pretty much can’t. I will be teaching the UCP’s handling of COVID-19 as a textbook “Here is how not to do this” for years.

Pandemic Diary, Continued: But, maybe, a reset?

Do you remember—if you’re a writer, artist, I bet you’ve done this in your artistic infancy—getting a new notebook, a new sketchbook, a thing of perfect beauty and also, infinite potential, in its blankness, newness? It is untouched, unblemished. So full of potential.

This is how every January 1 seduces us—this is sort of how I feel, on a small scale, on every Monday. Potential perfection, here I come. This week—this year—everything will be better, different, more… perfect.

Happiness though, and life, lie in the acceptance that… actually… well… at 12:01 on January 1, 2021? Things, people—you, me—are much the same as they were at 11:59 on December 31, 2020.

So. No New Year’s Resolutions here. No hopes, dreams or plans either, really, to be honest. The bar is pretty low: I want to be employed and solvent, healthy and sane. Loved and loving. Alive and glad to be alive. That’s where the bar got set in 2020, which is much better than the bar for 2019 (“Survive, fuck, survive, can we get through this?”—we did, more or less).

In my Morning Pages, January 1 is just another page in a notebook started on December 12. In life, it’s a pretty glorious day—it begins with dancing (turns out you can have an all-night dance party with just the people you’d spend most of your time with at the all-night dance party you’d go to if there weren’t a lockdown) and ends with Ender in my arms, on my lap, on my head in all his giant, almost as heavy as me but still a child glory, as the kids and I watch Community after playing Qwerkle. In-between, all three children at my table, slurping Pho and making terrible jokes, a good book, a lot of “Happy New Year! May 2021 not suck—or at least suck less—god, I’ll see you, hug you, hold you in 2021, right?” texts. Also, a walk with the dogs, and the weather is warm although not sunny. Also, memories and reflection—and they’re not all bad.

Gratitude suffuses me. And they’re right, those trite memes and those wise sages: practicing gratitude changes everything. I am grateful for this moment and this feeling; I am grateful for you. I am grateful for this ridiculous, annoying, giant dog that sheds long hair everywhere; I am grateful for this cozy, cute apartment that’s a five minute sprint away from my kids—I am so grateful for my beautiful, mostly thriving children.

When you—when I, anyway—practice gratitude, there are no mistakes or regrets. Although there is still pain…

So. 2021. Hello. Don’t suck. I’m grateful to be here, and I will ride your bumps and slings and arrows… but. Like. Don’t suck. Suck less. Fulfill some of the potential promised by your blank page… in a, like—I don’t want to say “positive,” lol, because 2020 has made meaning of that word loaded—in a, let’s say, productive, powerful, purposeful way. That leads to good, beautiful, worthwhile things.

In return, I promise to whine less and be thankful more. Deal?

(The year doesn’t answer; being a fictional, artificial construct of our collective imaginations—well, except for the whole scientific Earth travelling around the sun bit.)

Deal, I answer for it.

Deal.

xoxo

“Jane”

Break from the Pandemic Diary: Detox this

Subtitle: Consider that part of the problem in your fixation on toxic relationships is you? Could ya’?

On Christmas Day and Boxing Day, in between people, tears, and naps (it was a weird-ass Christmas, what can I say), I binge-watched Bridgerton, fell in love with the gorgeous Simon (not so much with Daphne, but oh, when Heloise gets her own storyline, yes, and also, Lady Danbury, yum, and Marina and Sienna? OMG), and knew immediately it was only a matter of time before someone would try to ruin it all for me with some kind of perfectionist analysis.

It ain’t perfect. But it’s gorgeous and sexy and I loved it. Why can’t you just let me enjoy it?

I didn’t—I haven’t—I won’t—read any of the critiques, btw. But I see the headlines, and I hear my friends jabbering about them. The ones that piss me off the most are the ones that dive into the “toxicity” of the relationships in the story.

So let’s get two things straight, right now. First, in a patriarchy—and we live in one—it’s virtually impossible to have a relationship—any relationship, between people of any genders, not just a man and a woman, but especially between a man and a woman—that’s free of misogynist overtones.

(Just like in a white supremacy, it’s impossible to not be a racist, no matter what colour your skin or how ardently you value equal human rights  for all. But let’s keep things focused on gender right now. It is easier.)

Second, it’s impossible to have a perfect relationship. Period. THERE IS NO SUCH THING. There are more or less functional ones, more or less co-dependent ones, more or less frustrating ones—if you’re in a perfect relationship? You’re delusional (probably due to the hormone cocktail that makes us fall in love). And if you’re looking for a perfect relationship and refusing to settle for anything less?

Good fucking luck, Your Grace.

Perfection occurs occasionally on movie screens and within the pages of a book, because the creator yells cut before the hard stuff starts. It’s fiction. And fiction is also delusional.

But sometimes, we need our delusions, you know? So lay off Simon and Daphne.

By the way: perfect relationships make for fucking boring plots and screenplays. You know this. Do you want to watch a movie about a couple who come together, experience no difficulties and misunderstandings caused by conflicting values and priorities, miscommunication, and the fragility of being human and fallible? You do? You lie. Those stories are unreadable, unwatchable. They bomb at the box office. You want drama in your onscreen relationships. You devour it.

The problem comes when you want and thus create that drama in your real life relationships.

I find the term “toxic” in general, and in reference to relationships in particular, somewhat triggering these days, and I would love to see it disappear or at least diminish in popularity in pop psychology and on my friends’ social media timelines. There are a number of reasons for this, the first of which is that the people who use the term the most… tend to be, to be honest, kinda toxic themselves. I wouldn’t use that particular word to describe them, a) because I dislike it and b) because there are many others: negative, whiny, pouty, querulous, waspish, petulant, self-victimizing, other-blaming, generally not a pleasure to be around, and rarely contributing in a positive way to my relationships with them, because, at any given moment in any given interaction, they are likely to start complaining about their toxic relationships with their exes, currents, parents, friends, bosses, colleagues, etc.

This, of course, makes me wonder what they say about me when I’m not around. It’s probably not good even when our relationship is smooth, and once we hit rough waters—and all meaningful relationships hit rough waters sometimes—I know what they’re going to say about me.

“She was so toxic.”

“That relationship was becoming just too toxic.”

Ugh.

To all the people who keep on airing their toxic relationship laundry on in my newsfeeds… I don’t want to gaslight you. Shitty, exploitative and downright evil relationships exist, and if you’re in one of those, with a friend, lover, or family member, get da’ fuk out. But could ya, like, maybe consider that if all your relationships are toxic… maybe the problem, is, like, you?

I’m not saying you’re toxic. As I’ve said, I dislike the word, and I don’t throw it around. But, like… maybe you could use a detox. From, like, thinking that what’s wrong with all of your relationships is the other person. Like… dude, dudess, sponge cake: at least some of it is you.

And until you figure that out, and change your role, reactivity, and responsibility in them, every relationship you have will be toxic.

Doing the work to figure that out, though, is hard. It’s much easier, instead to point out how the fictional relationship that I want to enjoy in my book or Netflix binge-watch is toxic and rail about that.

But you know what? Go ahead and rail and rant. Maybe that’s part of the process—maybe that’s how you work it all out for yourself. I’m not gonna read it though, and I’m gonna watch Bridgerton again, because Simon, Heloise, Marina, Sienna… and of course, Lady Whistledown, perfect in all their imperfections.

And then, when it’s allowed again, I will embrace you and tell you that I love you in all of your imperfections, despite all the conflicts, miscommunications, drama, trauma, stupid decisions, outright mistakes.

Deal? No? I’m toxic and you’re pursuing perfection?

Good luck. Your Grace.

xoxo

Jane

Pandemic Diary: COVID Christmas Canticle

December 25, 2020

Two years ago was the worst Christmas ever, a year ago was the most awkward and delusional Christmas ever, and so, this COVID Christmas morning, which finds me alone in bed, a steaming cup of coffee (with cinnamon ) beside me, and cranberry cake too, and, of course, Morning Pages—well, it’s weird and different.

But it’s not bad. Not at all. Things have been so much worse.

I hate it that that’s my yardstick. But it is a pretty effective one, you know? There have been a number of occasions over this past year when I’ve looked at someone totally losing their shit over a quarantine-lockdown first world whine, and all I’ve been able to think is, “Wow, so you’ve never suffered before, not even a little bit… how incredibly lucky you have been… and how ill-equipped to deal with this stumble you are, you child of good fortune…”

To be clear—if I could wave a magic wand and take away Flora’s suffering over the past two, three years—and my own by extension—I’d do it in half a heartbeat. However. As it is the part of the package of my life as I’ve lived it so far? Zoom Christmas Eve was lame but hardly the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, you know?

In my family and culture, we celebrate on Christmas Eve, an orgy of food and presents. This year, we celebrated in three households—the kids and me in my little hobbit house in Sunnyside, my brother and his family in Auburn Bay, my parents on the hill in Signal Hill. One city, three neighbourhoods—I pretended we were in different countries. It was okay. My Mom still cooked all the foods that I still don’t know how to make (I should get on that, perhaps). My over-enthusiastic parents played Santa Claus and braved the winter roads to deliver the grandchildren’s presents after supper. My children gorged themselves on pierogis—the dogs on the Christmas cookies they liberated from the dessert table while the rest of us were opening presents (don’t ask about the results of that). Afterwards, we played Anomia and watched a couple of episodes of Community on my laptop. Laughed.

I walked the kids to their coop house just before 10 pm—the night was warm and beautiful, and it felt like a very, very good Christmas Eve.

I will miss—I do miss—being there for their Christmas morning. Earlier in the week, a friend suggested that there was no reason why I shouldn’t be there. Wouldn’t it be better for the kids if we just did Christmas the way we had before? We’re getting along well, polite and kind, why not spend Christmas together?

I didn’t bother to explain. I’ve learned a lot from watching friends divorce badly for the past 15 years. It behooves me not to repeat their mistakes—I am committed to making only new ones.

So. Christmas morning alone in bed with my morning pages, coffee, cake—maybe a movie—Bridgerton premiers today, no? Christmas night with you—sushi, Bailey’s, Christmas leftovers. The middle of the day? I might write. Walk the dog.

Or stay in bed and binge watch Bridgerton.

A day off.

Not such a bad thing, you know.

Thigs have been worse.

This is actually pretty good.

December 26, 2020

Christmas Eve is good. Christmas Day is good. Boxing Day is passing in peace. It all feels like the calm before the storm though—storm hits in the evening. Nearly breaks me. Ender doesn’t want to come over to my house for supper; his reasons don’t matter—his rejection breaks me into little pieces, makes me barely capable of breathing and paying attention to his siblings. He is my smallest one, my least forged one, the one who needs—needed—me the most, the one who I fear will be the most damaged by our separation.

I scream in pain for hours, cry myself to sleep.

December 27, 2020

I am loved and I sometimes make bad decisions—but that’s okay, that’s part of life. I am loved even when I make bad decisions. It’s kind of strange mantra for the day, but it works. I do things that make me feel good enough to get through the early morning, and then Ender and I end up going on a mega walk with the dogs and with Grandma. I manage to not cancel a socially distanced walk with a friend, even though I really, really just want to crawl into bed and cry some more—and it helps, a lot. (It helps even more that my friend, seeing the state I’m in, says, Fuck Covid, and hugs me, holds me.) I cancel—or rather, skip out early—on a Zoom meeting when one of my people asks me to come run some errands with him. The request, I know, is not company for him, but company for me, because he knows I ache.

We run here and there, accomplishing not very much, end up eating South Indian dosas and Albanian sausages in an idling car for supper.

I am loved.

Ender and I skype: “I love you.” “Me loves you too.”

It’s hard, it’s hard, everything is so hard right now.

I am loved.

I am alive. In 2020, that’s the bar.

December 28, 2020

Morning pages, Laundry Monday, walk the dog, drive Cinder to work—attempts to work sabotaged, interrupted, by self, by life. A text—“We’re just walking past your house. Walk?” And I’m outside in a flash, boots and snowsuit on, exhausted but elated. When was the last time I’ve done something spontaneous? When was the last time that was allowed?

We walk. Talk. Walk.

I am loved. I love. I am alive. I survived this fucking nightmare of a year—and so did you. We did it. Lots of others didn’t, but let’s not think too much about them right now. You and I, we’re here, we did it.

Three more days to go.

December 31, January 1, just days in the calendar… but… aren’t you going to be glad when 2020 is over?

December 29, 2020

I am happy.

In 2020 (in 2019…), these are rare moments, and when they happen, I fuck Buddhism and practice attachment with all of my might. Don’t leave. Stay here with me, for this entire day, DO NOT LEAVE.

We walk in winter wonderland, and I understand why some people call it church—I’d still rather be in my sheesha lounge, to be honest, but I’ll take this, I’ll take this—and for a few precious hours, everything is okay with the world.

I am happy, I am loved, I love, I am alive, I am a tiny speck of light and life in a vast universe, insignificant yet infinitely important. Fine. Church.

Perfection.

Return of pain—memory of the moment of pure happiness—hold on to that.

Breathe.

I was happy—I will find that feeling again.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: No, the pandemic hasn’t changed you—prove me wrong

Let’s start with this quote from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas:

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you; if you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do  not bring forth will destroy you.

…which I bring to you via my re-reading of Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life. Cope—and others—use the full quote in the context of finding purpose, vocation, dharma—the meaning of your life, as a kind of life journey encouragement. Find your purpose and do it all out (if you bring forth what is within you, it will save you) or… well, perish and die (if you do not bring forth what is within you, that act of self-denial will destroy you).

Today, I want to fracture and pervert the purpose of this quote, because what I’ve been finding out all through the pandemic is that crisis and stress really excels at bringing out what is already in you. So, if you’ve got an entrepreneur inside you, as soon as shit hit the fan, you were distilling hand sanitizer, sewing face masks, and repositioning your coffee shop into a full catering service for white collar workers trapped in their condo towers. Avowed and formerly secret artists made pandemic art—performers found ways to perform, however inferior. Me, I reverted, on a dime, from writing escapist fiction to documenting the drama and trauma of the moment—the thing most within me is the desire to document and tell the true, real story, not the false, fantastic, soothing fable. You—well, you did your thing.

What was it?

No, really. What’s that thing, your thing? What’s within you that you brought forth during the dumpster fire that was 2020?

The end of the year always makes me pensive and reflective, a combination of the darkness and the turning over of the calendar. The first blank page of 2021—what lesson can I bring to it from 2020? What pain, baggage can I shed?

The exercise is hard in 2020 (I didn’t do it in 2019; it was impossible).

But still. Even though it’s hard, I want to do it. So. What did I learn, about muself, about you, in 2020?

Mostly, my biggest lesson? (You will hate this). People don’t change. Crisis, suffering, trauma—we pretend they temper, shape, save people? They don’t. Experience, good or bad, does not so much change people as it accenctuates—brings forth—what is already in them. So assholes, in 2020, just became more assy and more perforated. Martyrs found more extreme forms of martyrdom and self-righteous self-sacrifice (“I will leave the house never, and, also, not have any contact with anyone at all, not even six feet apart and while wearing a mask, because I want to do everything in my power to keep you safe”—no, honey, you just get off on suffering and sacrificing more than everyone else, and you want your suffering and sacrifice to be more profound than everyone else’s. No judgement here, just so long as we’re clear that you’re engaging in a coping strategy and a stress response just as much as I am—and we’re not pretending that you’re so perfectly, smilingly selfless here.)

For me, I find this year of pandemic has accentuated both my mood swings (see rant above) (also, perimenopausal hormonal shifts probably aren’t helping—but chocolate sure does) and my already unforgiving self-awareness, and also, that ruthless part of me that looks at you and says, “Meh, my life will be fine, if not better, without you, you’re too much work, screw off,” and also the “You’re my people and my responsibility and I will die for you—what do you need” unconditional lovely part, and also, did I mention, mood swings.

It has also amped up the characteristic that had made me such a good journalist back in the day—that part that goes, “Actually, there aren’t two sides to this story, there are two hundred, but this is the most compelling one—why isn’t anyone telling the story like this? Fine. I’ll do it.”

That part of me, I value and like. (The moody, ruthless bitch, less so, but. People don’t change, so I’m stuck with her.)

So what has the pandemic amped up in you? Tell me. Or—it’s probably too personal. Tell yourself. Don’t cheat. Fight the temptation to say, “The way the pandemic has changed me is…” You didn’t change. We don’t change (at least, very, very rarely). But what, that was already inside you, did this crisis bring forward, spotlight, accentuate?

The only wrong answer:

“I’ve always been am empath and, OMG, the pandemic has just made me so much more attuned to the feelings and suffering of others.”

Self-proclaimed empaths, I’ve been watching you all year, and this crisis has made you ever more attuned and aware of your own suffering and very committed to expressing it to others—and generally whining about how your suffering on behalf of others is not appreciated and recognized. A) Pretty sure that’s not empathy—do check the definition. B) Not asking you to suffer on my behalf, so, like stop. C) Asking you to shut the fuck about it, though, ok? Tx.

Um. Did I mention—mood swings? Ruthless?

And also—documenting the drama and the trauma?

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.

Bring it forth.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS Do, by all means, bring forth genuine expressions of empathy—we’ve never needed real empathy more. Hint: such expressions generally do not need to be preceded by the phrase, “As an empath, I…” Empaths focus on other people, notice and respond to what other people are feeling. Narcissists focus on themselves. I know it’s a blurry, hard-to-discern line, but it’s there. Find it.

Pandemic Diary: Of aliens, erectile dysfunction and pillow forts

i

You’ve probably heard by now that COVID-19 may lead to erectile dysfunction among men,and if you haven’t, well, you have now, so spread the word. I’m very excited about this rumour—and, sorry, it is not backed by any scientific claim, just one dude talking out loud and claiming the title “expert” because, I don’t know why, well, he has a penis, so I suppose that’s enough, so he’s just talking and grabbing headlines, because, limp penises are newsworthy, in a patriarchy, anyway—but anyway, I’m so excited about this, because if COVID-19 negatively impacts men’s sexual performance, the vaccine is so gonna work, and also, there’s gonna be a cure just around the corner.

Prove me wrong.

I’m being silly (maybe) but, really. Prove me wrong.

ii

You’ve probably heard by now that the mass inoculation program against COVID-19 has been masterminded by aliens who… what? You draw the line at that? You sure? Alien conspiracy theories are my absolute favourite. Come on. If you’re gonna go that way, go all the way.

I dare you.

No, I don’t think you’re stupid. Desperate and thus gullible, yes.

Anyway. I’m just in a mood and I want to poke at you.

Where were we? Right.

Aliens.

iii

I want, I want, I want—today, I want to build a pillow fort in my bed and never come out—some things I need to do, children, dogs, work—I want to want things but all I want is this blanket around me. So. Today, I don’t resent the lockdown even though the lockdown is the reason I don’t want to get out of bed. Funny, hey?

Funny?

xoxo

“Jane”

PS It is a lockdown even though the malls are open. Do you not understand? I do not care about the malls. You can keep them closed until the end of time. I need my people in my pillow fort

Pandemic Diary: Let me scream, let me scream: Christmas is cancelled, and it’s okay to be really, really mad about it

i

I am doing my best to let everyone deal with the dumpster fire that is Alberta’s second wave lockdown as best as they can. I’m letting people scream—not that I could stop them (control reak much, Jane? Yup, not just a little), but you know what I mean. Regardless of whether they are “it’s a hoax” anti-maskers, herd immunity libertarians or “lock ourselves in iron lungs and never come out” extreme protectionists—whatever they are screaming feeling? It’s all valid. Yes, even the hoaxers. This situation sucks so much, and angry, frightened, confused—disempowered—people don’t make good decisions.

So I let them scream.

(By which I mean, I don’t leave nasty, contradictory or disempowering comments on their rants. I just let them… be.)

I know I’m doing better, myself, because I can let them scream, and I can listen to them. In mid-November (fuck, mid-October), I couldn’t, and I’d look at the tweeting masses and kinda go, “God, I only wish this virus was more deadline—none of you deserve to live.”

I’m slightly more compassionate now—this week… this day… this precise hour, anyway. Scream, baby. Scream all you want to, need to, my pissed off little love. Christmas is coming, ditto Yalda and Solstice, Hanukkah is here, Kwanzaa just around the corner, and all of this sucks ass.

In my newsfeed, a meme like this: If you’re moaning that Christmas is cancelled, then what did you learn from the Grinch?

That Christmas is about holding hand with your people and signing together around a naked pole, then carving the roast beast for all the members of your community and, like, celebrating together. What did you learn from the Grinch? That it’s about sitting alone in your cave and hating the Whos?

Dammit, sorry—that thread of compassion in me… it’s thin and it just snapped. Sorry, sorry. You too are screaming: you’ve missed Christmas Day celebrations before because shift work, travel, university, illness. Whatever. But you know it’s not Christmas Day we’re mourning.

It’s holding our people, tight. And babe… I know you gotta scream. But you also gotta let me scream. Because I want, I want, I want to be part of the three generation pierogi-making assembly line. I want to have Christmas Eve brunch with my friend and get kinda tipsy if not outright drunk (with my friend) so that I go to the over-the-top Polish Christmas Eve dinner at my parents’ house with a buzz. I want to experience all the family fights and the over-eating and the present orgy that on other years frustrate me. I want to do it all with my kids, my parents, my brother and his wife, my nieces and nephews, and any and all orphans we’ve gathered around us that year. I want to end the night at my beloved neighbour’s annual Christmas Eve open house. I want to wake up on Christmas Day not knowing who will drop by that morning. I want to swing by your house mid-afternoon with your present and disappear into your arms, into your love for a few exhilarating minutes. I want to spend the evening, night with everyone I love.

And the fact that I can’t do that –it really, really sucks. And you—I’m talking to you, lockdown lover, so in love with the righteousness and self-sacrifice of your suffering—you need to let me scream that it sucks.

Because it does.

ii

I am, of course, doing new things this December so that Christmas does not utterly suck for me, my parents, and especially my children. (I don’t have an awful lot of energy to spare for my friends, to be honest, forgive me.) I might even make it beautiful: I came up with a fantastic idea for the kids Advent calendar, and I’m doing a Yalda/Solstice thing for the first time, and… well. Stuff. But when people tell me, with relentless positivity, to embrace this lockdown as an opportunity to create new traditions? I want to kick and scream. Just… let me mourn the old ones, okay? Let me be ad. And let me hope that in 2021, I’ll do all the old things again. (Maybe some of the new.) With my people, tightly in my arms.

iii

I’ve seen this type of messaging too: “This isn’t the first Christmas that I’ve spent away from family. You’ve never worked shift work, travelled, gone away to uni and been to broke to come home for the holidays? Suck it up.”

Come on, people. I’ve spent lots of Christmases away from my family—a country away, a content away, two oceans away (is that even possible? I’m not sure…). But in none of those situations was I alone. The first adult Christmas my brother and I spent away from my parents, we were together in Korea—and we organized an old school Polish Christmas Eve for my roommates. The next day, we had a Southern Texan Baptist meets Pennsylvanian German Quaker meets Toronto Atheist Christmas Day, and on Boxing Day, we celebrated Korean-style with our students. My Christmases in Montreal, all of us “orphans” came together. The Christmas my parents spent on a cruise in Australia—it was a great Christmas, but we all chose to spend it the way we did.

This one? It’s not a choice. It’s forced on us by circumstance.

And it’s disempowering, and it sucks.

Scream.

Scream as much as you need to.

Just, like… not at me?

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: On plurality, the weirdoes I love, and talking to strangers

drafted in late November

i

Flora: Am I still your “most likely to grow up to be a serial killer child”?

Jane: Yes?

Flora: You’re not sure?

Jane: I’m sure, but I’m not sure what answer you want to hear?

ii

Flora and I are walking briskly in the cold-not-cold November air from her house to mine (it’s still a mindfuck to me that this is a thing: her house, the kids’ house not being the same thing as my house). She’s going to watch my friend’s neurotic dog while the friend and I go out for sheesha (a perfectly legal act during this weird-ass non-lockdown, yes it makes no sense, yet, it’s totally fucked, but there it is). And suddenly—OMG—shiny things! A lawn of an apartment building strewn with treasures. Incense and Tarot books, candles, scarves, so many pretty things. Flora and I plunge into their midst.

“Are you moving?” I ask the woman who, from the safe distance of the balcony, tells us to take what we like and donate what we can, either into the jar or via etransfer.

“Just downsizing, decluttering, passing stuff on,” she says.

Her book collection is great, and lots of the odds and ends and knick-knacks make me smile. I introduce myself and tell her, “You have so many lovely things here. Also, I love your books. We should be friends.”

In another time—by which I mean, in a time unravaged by this modern plague—we’d exchange phone numbers and make a plan to meet for coffee tomorrow, probably at Vendome. Or maybe I’d ask her if she likes sheesha, would she want to come with me and mine to Cafe Med sometime, maybe even today? But in this time, in this stupid semi-lockdown, we just look at each other with hungry eyes. I make a note of the apartment building address, her balcony. Maybe in the spring, I’ll ask her to hang out. If we can, if it’s “safe.”

Flora and I resume our walk. She seems a bit perturbed. And, here it comes:

Flora: If that’s the way you meet people, no wonder you’re friends with so many weirdoes.

No one as judgemental as a teendager—no one as easily embarassed by a parent as a teenager either. Still. This is, to be fair, one of the less antagonistic things she’s thrown at me these days; almost an invitation to dialogue and conversation.

I take it.

Jane: I love my friends and they’re amazing. What? Who’s weird?

Flora: You’re friends with like, anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers! And people who are in cults!

Also, one of my friends is married to a Flat Earther. But I don’t think Flora knows that.

Jane: I only have one friend in a cult, and it’s not really a cult, more like an intentional community with cult-like overtones, and she’s one of the  most loving, thoughtful people I know.

Also, I didn’t meet her on the street. I met her in cyberspace, which I suppose is the 21st century version of talking to strangers on the street?

But I digress—Flora and I fall into what is now a common conversation for us, in which I tell her I think it’s important to spend time with, to listen to, to try to understand all sorts of people. Hanging out exclusively in a silo of people who think just like you is bad for the brain and bad for the heart—bad for the world, actually. It makes you lazy and narrow-minded and…

She doesn’t exactly disagree. She just doesn’t see the value of my point. She’s in the throes and the enthusiasm of that stage of life at which she’s just starting to find her people. With whom she’s forming a cohesive, supportive cohort from the safety of which she can judge all those are people… who aren’t like her.

Jane: It’s boring to just hang out with people who think just like you, right?

Oh, the look she gives me—only a fifteen year old can give you a look like that. It’s not boring for her. Not yet. It’s new, and so it’s intoxicating.

We seem to, right now, as a society be failing to grow out of this normal, natural, necessary adolescent stage of development of surrounding ourselves with like-minded people… and only like-minded people.

This is harmful, to our personal development and to meta-social development of our culture.

I hear this all the time, and I bet you do too: “I want to be surrounded by like-minded people.” To be sure, who doesn’t? It feels nice. And we all need our safer spaces in which we can relax, and not be the culty weirdo.

But we also need spaces, relationships in which we are challenged, uncomfortable. Excited by the different, inspired to try to understand the inexplicable, oppositional, contradictory.

My most rewarding relationships have always been with the people who are not very much like me. They’re interesting to me. Hanging out with intellectual and emotional copies of me is very, very… dull.

iii

While Flora babysits a neurotic poodle, I spend time with a friend who is not very much like me at all—we share some commonalities but more differences, and that’s what makes our friendship interesting. Later that night, all three kids come over for supper and the teenagers argue over—well, everything. And make Ender cry. I navigate the emotional storm as best as I can; walk them to their house in the dark, thinking about the complexity of relationships.

On the way back I pass the lawn strewn with beautiful things. A couple is going through my future friend’s treasures in the black of the night. I turn on the flashlight on my phone for them.

“Is there any incense left?” I ask. “I was kind of thinking of getting that earlier in the day.”

“Yes!” the woman says. She introduces herself as we scavenge, six feet apart, and feel each other’s vibe.

She’s kinda like me.

“We should be friends,” she says. I ask her where she lives, and she’s not in the hood anymore, but her guy lives just over there. I know the house—I think, in another time, I’ve sat on its porch…

In another time, they’d invite me over for a drink and a joint, right then, right now. Tonight, we each make a mental note to find each other in the spring. Maybe.

They might be my kind of weirdoes. Or cultists. Conspiracy theorists? Or some other kind of animal altogether. I don’t know.

I’d like to find out. I think I’ll like them.

xoxo

Jane

Pandemic Diary: Pandemic fatigue, also, sniffles

I wake up with stuffed nose and sniffles and I don’t know how that’s even possible, unless it’s dog hair allergies, because, for fuck’s sake, I never go anywhere anymore. My fridge is empty and I don’t want to go to the grocery store, because I don’t want to be surrounded by panicked people—I also don’t want to send a minimum wage Instacart employee to the grocery store on my behalf, kwim? If you’ve done no reflection on how your ability to work from home and order in is an epitome of socio-economic privilege—no matter how poor you think you are—do it. Now.

I’m pretty sure it’s allergies…

Anyway, a stuffed up/runny nose is not a COVID-19 symptom. But I think my throat is sore too. Maybe? Is it store? Or is it just dry? Should I tell my kids not to come over today? Cancel my planned six-feet-apart—this is so not six-feet apart, but it’s too far to feel good, why did we even bother—walk with a friend?

Pandemic fatigue. Don’t mock. It’s a thing. People who are tired of making decisions make bad decisions. They decide to stop deciding.

They die.

Ok. The house is warmer now. I’m warmer. Sniffles gone, I think? How about that sore throat? Not sore anymore. But now I have aches. Am I stiff or getting the plague, or some other plague? Or is the pandemic turning me into a hypochondriac as well as an unbearable whiner?

I’m thinking today’s the day I stop drinking, for the month at least, because it’s safer, really, right? Instead of wondering, “Am I drinking too much?” … just drink not at all. I can do it. I don’t want to do it, but I don’t want to do anything, so what’s one more thing?

Damn. Another sneeze. Am I 100 per cent sure sneezing is not a symptom of COVID? Google. Yes. It’s not. But am I getting a cold? How can I be getting a cold? I don’t want to get a cold. Yuck. Or maybe I do. A few days sick in bed with a good reason not to do anything… would not be that bad. Right?

Ugh.

Decision fatigue. Pandemic fatigue. Sniff.

Yawn.

Do all the things, and do them without your friends and without leaving the house.

Yuck.

Also, fuck.

😦

Jane

But the sunrises are beautiful…