You haven’t been yourself the last week. You seem angry and upset. The other day I finally picked you up and brought you upstairs so we could be alone. We cuddled in bed and as I hugged you close, I said that we needed to talk. I would ask you questions and you could answer just by shaking your head either yes or no. You haven’t been talking lately so this was my attempt to get you communicating with me.
Are you upset about not being up at the cabin anymore? Head nods no. Are you upset about going back to school soon? Head nods no. Are you upset about not seeing mom as much when you go back to school? Head nods yes.
You began to tear up, and rubbed your eyes discretely as though you didn’t want me to see. Your back was facing me so you couldn’t see me cry either.
I asked if you’d like to have lunch at home some days (my way of spending more time with you during the week). You seemed happy about that and I felt relieved. Relieved because you let me into that little head of yours just enough to understand how you’re feeling right now.
Tate Tate, I love you so much. There are days where I think you should be home with us. And I know the first week, I will keep looking in the back seat for you – as we drive to the beach or out to run an errand. I will miss you. I will miss your questions and our chats.
And I know that you learn so much at school. You are now able to write your first and last name so legibly. You even want to include your middle name now. You can add things in your head and your drawings are becoming quite detailed. You are very observant.
You have a great little mind. You’re the first to ask why the cement truck driving in front of us has a hook on the chute and the one at the window watching the house across the street get their metal roofing installed. You also tried to convince me the other day that we could turn the bunk bed into a three person bed by suspending a bed for your sister in between you and your brother. You had a whole plan worked out for how to secure it to the underside of your mattress. I love how you think.
And I’m worried about you going to school. I remember what it was like last September – watching your bottom lip quiver while you stood in line with your classmates. You wouldn’t take your eyes off of me. You were trying so hard to hold it together and not cry. And the day you burst into a loud sob and held desperately onto my legs (so not your usual behaviour) – it took everything for me to not cry along with you. I waited until you went into the school and we rounded the corner of the building on our way home. I could have worn sunglasses the first month of school to hide my red and watery eyes.
I’m also worried about how the Henry’s will treat you (Henry B pinches you and Henry K says unkind things to you). I hope that I will teach you to communicate with them and with your teacher. I want you to love school and to stay curious. School should be a place you are excited to go.
So tonight we will pack your bag and talk about the morning. We will take your first day of school photo and I will do my best to smile and encourage you. And I’ll probably still be teary as I leave the schoolyard without you. Maybe we’ll have lunch together tomorrow.
I decided not to use Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Pinterest for 30 days. I journaled daily and it wasn’t until I wrote this post, that I realized how good the time away was for me…
I wrote 41,380 words (172 pages typed) for the book I’m writing for the kids. I love it and it’s still a work in progress. There are some really beautiful pieces in it and I’m learning so much from writing it.
I’m happy with the progress I’m making with the kids book. It’s as though our whole family is coming together to write it for them, which I love. It makes me a little teary. I hope I can organize it and write it in a way where the kids can learn from it and make their own connections. (Day 3)
I talked to my parents on the phone. It’s hard to have a good conversation over Face Time with the kids performing in the background. On multiple nights, we laughed and reminisced. Mom and Dad shared funny stories from when they were in school. And there were some stories that were sad and hard to share. It helps me understand.
I connected with people I care about. I wrote letters, on paper, and tucked them into envelopes with photos. I sent them to friends and family back home. I got two letters back and it was such a nice surprise.
“Thank you for remembering me… I still miss Bill, especially at night…” (from our neighbour, up at the cabin, who lost her husband to Alzheimer’s).
“I feel special you wrote me!!! A real letter. You made my day…” (a family friend that I worked with when I was a teenager.) She said that her writing stinks, but wrote me the best three page letter that was so utterly her. I laughed out loud when I read it.
It was so nice to read about how she’s doing. It’s been so long.
I discovered that I have underestimated our local library.
We went for a walk after dropping Tate off at school. We mailed two letters with photos to a friend and family member back home. We bought cheese. We went to the library to pick up a book I had on hold. I actually spent time looking at other books for myself. Travel. Craft. Photography. Biographies. A wealth of resources right near our house. (Day 2)
I had dinner with a friend.
Dinner with Nika is filled with stories and laughter. Four hours later, we’ve had dinner, dessert, and are hugging outside in the snow to say goodbye. I needed this catch up. (Day 3)
I enjoyed little moments with the kids.
Big Day. Costco Day! The kids love Costco, especially Thatcher.
We spend our time looking for the “Sneaky Cheese.” I pretend that I can’t find the big bricks of marble cheese and the kids are on the lookout. It’s always been in the same place.
We have the same route. Granola bars for Tate’s lunch and for snacks. Down through the aisles to grab some crackers or tortilla chips. On the way into the milk cooler, Charlie is quick to pull on her toque or put her hood over her head. “It Cold.” We go by the “raw meat” on our way to the bakery section. The produce cooler instantly has Thatcher asking for grapes. A loop to grab bread and some ‘nanas.
Thatcher is quick to pop up when we arrive to the check out. He likes putting everything on the conveyor belt, while Charlie tries to eat the butter through the silver wrapping. Afterwards, it looks like a little mouse was nibbling on it.
And the visit usually ends with hotdogs. They like to have them torn in half so they have two smaller hotdogs to hold onto. Thatcher likes the works – ketchup, mustard, and relish. Charlie gets a little ketchup – more because I’m the one who will be cleaning her up afterwards. After we fill our cups with ice water at the pop machine, we are ready to find a seat. They like to sit at the picnic tables with an umbrella.
This day I take pictures of them eating their hot dogs because I want to remember these days. Of our little lunch date, them swinging their little legs and being so engrossed in eating a sketchy $1.50 hot dog. There will come a time where I will be doing the grocery shopping on my own. I won’t have my little companions who keep me moving quickly to avoid their boredom and fighting. (Day 4)
And today I think I figured out an idea for what to hang over the fireplace mantel – a quilted wall hanging. I think it would be cool to use a collection of fabrics – family photos transferred to fabric, handwriting of family members transferred to fabric, pieces of the kids baby clothing, wool from home, and more… I would make it all in triangles. (Day 7)
I signed up for a workshop.
I finally signed up for a 10 class yoga pass at a studio near our house. I signed up for a mala making workshop being offered this Saturday. It’s a weird thing for me to sign up for but there’s something about it that has grabbed my attention. Each time I’m in the yoga studio, I look at the poster. When I went online today to buy my yoga pass, I read over the workshop information again. I checked out her Instagram account and website. Lainie, enough. Just go. I’ve learned to trust my intuition on things like this. If I don’t let something go and keep revisiting it, I need to do it. I know nothing about malas and look forward to learning more. (Day 8)
I realized that I need to do things for myself.
I decided to take Thatcher and Charlie to the ROM. They went ooh and aah over the dinosaur bones. Thatcher loved walking right beneath the dinosaur in the main lobby – looking up to see its ribs hanging above us. They stuck goggles on their faces and grabbed paint brushes, to act like archaeologists moving around glittery sand to find the bones hidden underneath. We saw the bones of snakes and were surprised to see how thick walrus skin is. I think they will nap this afternoon – so much stimulus.
And for me, it was exactly what I needed. I was inspired by everything. I loved how they displayed collections; they were beautiful. I wanted to remember them for my own work and took pictures like a nerd. I was noticing the headings of display cases and taking pictures to remember them. I revisited the massive tree slices and nerded out over the tree facts and how they connect so much to our lives. I need to go back on my own one weekend while the kids are napping and Eric is home. It fills me up.
I went back on my own and loved it.I missed having Eric with me, someone to talk to about the pieces. We like going to museums together. (Day 5)
I went to three yoga classes.
Off to a yoga and writing class at 6:30 p.m. I kiss the kids goodnight and grab my mat. It’s a class about grief. I feel really good. I actually feel like I’m in a good place. What would I even talk about? I don’t think Grandma. Maybe my former self?
And yet when I start to talk to a dim room, lit with the warmth of candles and strangers sitting on their mats, I find myself getting choked up.
I don’t remember what year it was. I don’t remember years.
(I remember how long she’s been gone by Tate’s age. She passed away 3 months before he was born.)
My Grandma passed away four years ago. We were very close. She was like a mom to me. After she passed away, my life completely changed.
(This is where I get choked up.)
I quit my job. I had three babies.
And then I can’t talk anymore. I know if I do, I will cry in front of everyone.
And it’s weird because I’m not getting emotional because I’m sad. I think I’m realizing just how much has changed since she’s been gone. She has missed so much.
We had Tate. We sold our first home. We bought a new home. Eric left the Argos. We had Thatcher. We renovated. We had Charlie. I quit my job.
I think what I need to grieve now is who I used to be. (Day 4)
I researched things.
I started researching grief. There was a question from last week’s yoga and writing class that I have been thinking about: How do you manage your grief? It surprised me. I never thought of grief as something that we have control over. I’ve never managed my grief – clearly, since I am carrying pieces with me decades later. I loved the question and wanted to see what strategies might exist (hence my google search).
I want to write to the kids about grief. What it is, my experience with it, and ideas for them to consider for managing it. They will experience it someday and I want them to know more about it.
These are a few lines that stood out to me from my initial research (as in just a few articles I found online so far):
“Many people think of grief as a single instance or short time of pain or sadness in response to a loss – like the tears shed at a loved one’s funeral. But grieving includes the entire emotional process of coping with a loss, and it can last a long time. Normal grieving allows us to let a loved one go and keep on living in a healthy way.”
And these were some suggestions for how to manage grief: express yourself, allow yourself to feel sad, keep your routine up, sleep, eat healthily, avoid things to numb the pain, go to counselling if it feels right for you…
I wish I would have known these things. From my experience, it feels like death happens and then you try to move on. You go back to school. You start a new job. You try to ignore the feelings. You don’t talk much about those who have died because you know the tears will come. I just carried it. I carried it all for so long. Counselling was never an option. We lived in a small town and psychologists were something we saw on TV. We called them shrinks. (Day 8)
We went to see friends out of town one weekend.
Today we packed up the kids and drove up to Collingwood to see Sean, Becky and the kids. It was nice to have a change of scenery. The kids played non-stop in the basement and the adults could sit at the table and talk. It was glorious.
A night of wine, beer, watching Queer Eye. I don’t remember the last time I went to bed at midnight. (Day 19)
I learned how to sew leather pencil cases upcycled from leather found from a thrift shop.
Naptime was spent cutting up a leather jacket to make pencil cases and doing some work on the kids’ book. (Day 21)
I read The Year of Magical Thinking and now have a girl crush on Joan Didion and her writing.
I finish Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. If asked about it, I would likely say it gets repetitive. But it’s also the point. She was grieving the death of her husband and daughter. She replayed the same events over and over in her head for a year and beyond. She was trying to make sense of what had happened and kept revisiting facts and memories. Her book is truly about grief and it is beautiful in its sheer honesty. (Day 15)
I spent more quality time with Eric.
I had sent him a text earlier in the day that said, What do you think about no TV tonight and no phones? I wanted us to talk about our finances, plans for travel and projects around the house, etc. It felt good to talk about where we are at, how we plan on paying things off, and talk about our trip together like it’s actually going to happen. It feels like we have little time to talk about things like this – our plans and goals. When the kids are awake, we can barely hear each other. When they nap, we want to use the time to get things done or have some time on our own. And after bedtime, we are brain dead and tired. TV and phones become our default. (Day 10)
I drank wine.
I know why Happy Hour became a thing; it must have been invented by Mom’s who are at home. Around 4 p.m. the kids start winding up and are miserable, right as you are trying to get dinner ready. I really should keep a bottle of red in the kitchen for such an occasion. (Day 9)
I tried meditation for the first time at our yoga studio.
I’ve signed up for a half hour meditation class. This is way out of my comfort zone. I have no idea what it is like but I’m willing to give it a try. All I know is that I live up in my head all day long. It’s exhausting. I would like some quiet up there.
I walk into a small room filled with candles. There’s a blanket and a cushion for me to sit on. There’s the instructor and one other girl named Jess. They are both wearing malas. Ah, crap. Was I supposed to bring my mala?! (so funny, never thought I’d EVER say that. What is happening to me?!?)
We are instructed to sit on our cushions but towards the front so we can properly rest our legs on the floor without straining some particular body part – I forget which one. We are asked to close our eyes and all I think is, how in the hell am I going to be able to sit here for a half hour with my eyes closed?? I won’t be able to last that long. The 30 minutes actually flew. (Day 14)
I’m starting to take care of myself.
Today at lunch, I got the kids plates together and accidentally grabbed a third plate – habit. Before I put it away, I decided to make a plate for me. What the kids eat, I should eat. I feed them so well and never do it for myself. They had cucumbers, tomatoes, homemade dill dip, blackberries, strawberries, and a few tortilla chips (they had a little sandwich earlier). It’s a new habit I need to start. What they eat, I eat. Usually it seems the opposite – mom’s gain weight because they eat their kids food – chicken fingers and fries. I just don’t eat or just have carbs – quick and easy to grab. (Day 24)
I’m learning more about myself.
I quickly write up my Lainie List even though I know that no one will read it. I realize how much I need other people’s approval. Working on that. (Day 18)
I tried potty training Charlie.
We Face-timed with Mom and Dad. I show them how I’m potty training Charlie with chocolate chips. I feel like a circus / animal trainer. She pees on the potty and waits for her two chocolate chips. Then stands there and says, I want three! Mom bursts out laughing. And I’m impressed by her number sense. She knows that three is more than two! (Day 16)
I spent four hours in Chapters and it was amazing.
I went out for dinner with a friend. I was invited to another friend’s place for dinner. I’ve seen more friends this month than I have in a year.
I used my time to do things I enjoy.
It was a good month.
I felt inspired. I felt grounded. I know what I need to do.
And I’m worried.
I’m worried that I’ll go back to it – the scrolling that happens when I’m bored or want to escape the chaos in the house or in my head. I’m worried that I’ll go back to posting things for others and not necessarily for myself.
And so, I’ve decided to go back to it slowly.
Go after what you want – cautiously. Stick to the self care practices that you are building. Nurture relationships. Be present at home. If not, back to the woods you go my dear. (Day 28)
So I’ve decided that I will only go into my social media apps on Mondays for the next month or so. Hopefully it will be a fun way to start the week by reconnecting with everyone. The rest of the week I will focus on my health, the book for the kids, and my family.
Donald Young School was the only elementary school in town.
The kids you began kindergarten with were your classmates for the next nine years.
Maybe you remember the halls of your school too. Here’s what I remember from mine…
I only vaguely remember looking for a spot on the floor to lay down with my blanket during nap time.
Mrs. Kellar was my teacher
She had short curly hair, glasses and wore decorative sweaters
We hatched baby chicks in our classroom. Eggs sat resting beneath heat lamps.
Violet used to sing in the bathroom.
We would get prizes or certificates for having a clean desk
I stuck a yellow smiley face sticker up my nose
The alphabet was posted along the ceiling in white cursive letters set against what looked like a green chalkboard background
There was a piano near the door
SRAs. Do you remember these?!
I won the Fire Prevention Poster contest. I received a little plaque and got to meet Smokey the Bear 🙂
I won the Spelling Bee. It was the first and only trophy I’ve ever won. True story.
Nathan Ludwig ate hot dogs that came from his thermos. We were all so grossed out by it.
My mom used to send wagon wheels in my lunch kit. I used to squish them in the white plastic package.
Spelling tests were a big thing. I remember Grandma Lainie helping me practice during visits at Flanders. She taught me how to spell the word to-get-her (together). Her little trick – look for little words in the big word.
I got a love letter from a boy in class. Check off the answer to: I love you. Do you love me? Yes or no. He followed me around for most of the day. I remember sitting on the stage in the gym and him switching spots with others to slowly make his way closer to me. I couldn’t take it anymore. I turned the note into the teacher by the end of the day. Romance? over.
I remember self-publishing our own books. We had a guest come in to show us how to create a book cover from two pieces of cardboard. We were able to choose a fancy piece of wallpaper to carefully fold around the front cover and the back of our books. She taught us how to write a dedication page and how to leave a blank piece of paper at the beginning before starting your story.
I wrote a book called, Little Miss Snobby (inspired by the Little Miss and Mr. books that were so popular at the time). My Little Miss Snobby wore glass high heels, lived in a mansion, and wore diamond earrings that dangled from her ears.
Mrs. Kellar (she was a new, young teacher to our school at the time)
I remember practicing our spelling words in jello powder on white styrofoam trays. We could lick our fingers and eat the crunchy sugar crystals.
I remember the Veggie-tona 500. Yes, you read that correctly. It was a project of sorts where we were able to choose a vegetable to make into a car. We had to think about what vegetable would be ideal in relation to aerodynamics, weight, speed, etc. I think I chose to put wheels on a cucumber. We took turns racing our veggies down a ramp. I won second or third place.
Science fairs were a big deal. Time was spent at the local library, signing out books filled with possible science experiments. Research didn’t happen online, instead we relied on World Book Encyclopedias.
A new girl moved into town and into our class. Social dynamics shifted big time.
Grade 5 marked the beginning of annual school trips to Biwabik, Minnesota to go downhill skiing at Giants Ridge.
I did a project on panda bears. I presented it inside a green duo-tang.
We had regular music lessons with Mrs. Winik. Upon arriving, someone was tasked with the job of handing out the song books. They were thin hardcover books filled with lyrics of different children’s songs (old songs). She’ll be Coming Around the Mountain. On Top of Old Spaghetti. She would have us sing some of them in rounds. The best song was about a grandpa with whiskers…
I have a dear old grandpa. His hair is turning grey. He has a pair of whiskers. They’re always in the way. They’re always in the way, the cows eat them for hay, they cover the dirt on grandpa’s shirt, they’re always in the way. I have a dear old grandma, and every night she sleeps, she chews on grandpa’s whiskers, and dreams of shredded wheat. They’re always in the way…
Mrs. Meyers went on maternity leave during the school year. I don’t remember our substitute teacher’s name.
We had to complete regular book reports. There was a chart up on the closet door near our teacher’s desk. It was a class list. We would receive a gold star sticker when we completed a book report (I think that’s what it was for.) You could quickly see who had a few scattered gold stars on the board.
It felt like that year our class was out of control and disrespectful
I remember the clock falling off the wall on April Fool’s Day and our teacher losing it. Someone had taken it down to change the time but didn’t hang it back up properly.
We had an in class water fight
Garbage clean up was something we actually looked forward to. Being in an older grade, it meant that we got to go for a walk down the River Road. It was an excuse to get out of school, walk with your friends, pick up some garbage, and then enjoy a BBQ and ice cream afterwards.
I got my period for the first time and I had no idea what was happening to me.
Ms. MacPherson (a new teacher who did not live in our small town).
I remember being given a strip of paper with Tribbles on them – some fuzzy clip art drawn character to demonstrate three different feelings. We were asked to show how we were feeling that day by displaying a Tribble.
We had computers at the back of our classroom. The Internet was just beginning (bahahaha, I sound so old!)
We did a novel study of Dicey’s Song by Cynthia Voigt. Four abandoned kids move in and live with their grandmother.
The Grade 8 trip to Winnipeg was the event of the year. Shopping, swimming in the pool at the hotel, IMAX movies, a drama workshop, and Red Lobster.
I remember wanting to go to the high school dance (all of the grade 8 feeder schools were invited to a dance at the high school, as a way to meet one another before grade 9). I wasn’t allowed to go. I went up to the cabin with my parents.
Madame Low taught French from her cart that was on wheels.
She was petite, with short, dark curly hair. You didn’t want to mess with her.
She had a great sense of humour and didn’t put up with much in terms of misbehaviour.
I loved how she would whisk into our room, speaking French and asking how we were in a sing song kind of way. Comment sa va?
I remember French class including games, watching videos, doing plays, and written work too. We would chant…nous allons, vous allez, ils vonts…
What started as a simple idea became so much more.
For the month of November I tried a little project on Instagram and with friends and family through Facebook. Each day I sewed a pair of mittens from wool sweaters. I revealed one pair a day, for 25 days – just like an advent calendar. The first person to message me could buy them.
I thought it would be a fun way to make some money for Christmas shopping and $10 from each sale would go towards buying toys for other children at Christmas. The first day, my cute little mittens sat unsold.
Oh man. Maybe I will have 25 pairs of mittens by the end of this! Maybe they won’t sell at all…
The first pair of mittens I made. Thank you for buying them, Andrea. You gave me a little boost of confidence. At least I sold one pair, I told myself. That’s good!
By day 2 and 3, multiple people were sending messages so they could buy the pair of the day. It was becoming a mitten race! I decided to start posting the photo every morning at 7:30 a.m. to give everyone a fair chance.
By the end of the month, I had sold 25 pairs of mittens. I also had requests for custom orders and ended up sewing an additional 14 pairs. It was crazy and amazing.
I experienced so much support. I was able to reconnect with friends from elementary school and those I haven’t seen since high school. Friends from my university days joined in and former coworkers too. It felt like a reunion. It was awesome.
Whether you bought mittens, shared an encouraging word along the way or took a moment to click like, I’m so thankful.
Over $300 worth of toys purchased on behalf of those who bought mittens.
If you’re thinking of making a donation this Christmas, grocery store gifts cards and toiletries are high need items over the holidays (this was something that I learned more about from a women’s shelter).
Me First Melanie always sits in the front seat, so she can be the first person off the bus. She always rushes to be near the window, sitting proudly with her chest out and talking loudly for all to hear. She is a confident girl who loves her some Melanie.
Me First Melanie is the queen of selfies and is forever updating her social accounts. Here’s Melanie out shopping. Here’s Melanie out with friends. Melanie. Melanie. Melanie. You will know what she’s doing at all times.
Me First Melanie is trendy. She’s always wearing the latest clothes and accessories, full makeup, and carrying around the newest iPhone to take her photos (her parents bought it for her). Everything she owns is the best and she lets you know all about it.
She’s often so busy talking about herself that she doesn’t ask how you’re doing. She’s already planning what she’s going to say next. And your birthday? Well she might remember it a few weeks later.
She’s the one who makes the plans and has others follow (they are usually planned around what works or is convenient for her). And when you are out with her, she has no problem leaving the group to hang out with someone she sees as better. She puts her wants and needs before others. It’s all about her.
What does Me First Melanie want others to know?
She wants people to know that she feels socially awkward. She says the wrong things and then kicks herself for it later. Why did I say that?!? I meant to say… Now they’re going to think… Me First Melanie also gets excited about things and doesn’t know how to share them in a way that doesn’t sound like bragging. She ends up saying it as she sees it, which is usually taken in different ways.
Me First Melanie comes across as overconfident, arrogant actually, but she’s really insecure. She constantly compares herself to others and doesn’t feel like she measures up. She’s just trying to fit in and belong.
What has Me First Melanie given me?
Thank you, Me First Melanie. You have given me the courage to shape my own life and make my own decisions.
You made me strong enough to leave my small town of 1, 200 to go to a university 20 hours away from home (where I didn’t know anyone). It was what I wanted and was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I ended up meeting my husband, my closest friends, and I came out of my elementary / high school shell. It was exactly what I needed.
Even decisions like our wedding were shaped by what Eric and I wanted, not the expectations of others. We were married up at my parents’ cabin, standing beside the lake. We ate Dairy Queen ice cream cake (as our wedding cake) and danced outside under the trees. I later ditched my dress for a pair of jeans and a hoodie. There was no aisle or his/her sides; instead, our friends and family stood around us casually at the shore with drinks in hand. We loved it. Me First Melanie is the voice that tells me to go ahead and do what’s right for me (and in this case, us).
And yet despite all that she has given me in terms of finding my own way, Me First Melanie is also a part of myself that I am so ashamed of. She brings me so much guilt, especially now that I’m a mom. It’s become a crazy clash.
I pretty much feel guilty all the time. I feel guilty when I’m frustrated after one of our kids has a cat nap instead of the usual 2 hours (because it means the end of some quiet, alone time). I feel bad when I sleep longer than my husband in the morning, leaving him to get up with the kids when they wake up. I feel selfish going out for an hour to write before Eric goes to work. Maybe he would like to go to the gym…if I was home then I could keep the kids busy while he got breakfast ready…Me First Melanie and I are not getting along lately.
It’s something I’m working through and some days I feel better at it than others. But Me First Melanie and motherhood have taught me that I do care a lot about other people, and that often it’s not me that comes first. I just need to channel my Me First Melanie for good – to take time for myself when I need it and to be aware of when I’m wanting it too much at the expense of others.
I should add that with my little bus people, I don’t totally see myself in every characteristic of them. If you asked my friends, I remember birthdays (or think that I do). I don’t talk loudly for all to hear and taking selfies makes me super uncomfortable.
I care about asking people how they are doing. And if you were to see me on the street, I am not wearing the latest clothes, very likely no makeup at all, and I wish I had the newest iPhone. But there are definitely parts of myself that I do see in her. By writing about her, I hope to accept who I am and stop being so hard on myself. Self-awareness can be quite a gift.
If you want to know why I’m writing about this stuff, I’ve explained it in a post I wrote called: Protective Patty and My Why. If you want to meet my other bus people (and get to know me a little more), check out:
On Saturday you asked, Is the weekend almost over?
Why bud? Are you excited to start school? Yes!
On Sunday you asked again, Is the weekend almost over…
We’re so glad that you are excited to go.
It’s quite a change from earlier this week.
While having breakfast together, you asked: Am I going to be all alone? Will you be there, Mama?
Then a single tear.
Oh man, what it took for me not to cry along with you. Instead I picked you up from your chair and plopped you in my lap. Your now long legs on either side of mine with arms wrapped around my neck. Face buried into my shoulder. I wiped my tears before you sat up.
You were my first.
And now you are the first of our little crew to leave home and start school. Deep down, I’m actually excited for you. I really hope that it’s a good experience for you. You are such a smart little guy. You ask the greatest questions, are so curious, and love to experiment and try things. I hope your teacher keeps that love of learning going. It’s something to have for a lifetime.
And…I really don’t want to cry in the school yard. Like really don’t want to. But if I do, it’s because of this…
This was you, Tate. Your dad took this picture of us. We were in the hospital just after you were born. We were so excited to meet you.
The best days were laying on a picnic blanket together in Witherow Park.
Or when your Dad and I would take you to High Park. We would stretch out a blanket under a tree, have a picnic, and read you stories.
And then stick you in a bucket with cute clothes on and take a million pictures.
You went through a stage of loving cats, so I made you this costume.
And this was the year you wanted to be Chase from Paw Patrol for Halloween. You were so excited to go trick-or-treating. Then after 30 minutes you said, “let’s go home and try some treats.”
The year you fell in love with Easter. I kept following you around the house and re-hiding the Easter eggs because you didn’t want the hunt to end.
We loved quiet mornings at the Farmers Market with smoothies and time spent playing under the big tree.
This week we stopped for a quick visit to meet your new teacher. I hoped it would make you feel better about starting school. It worked. As we walked away, I looked down and asked, What did you think bud? Your answer: Great.
If I cry on your first day of school, it’s just because I love you and I will miss spending time with you.
When you wave goodbye as you walk into the building (which you may not even do), I will do my best not to play these pictures through my head. Instead, I want to be the Mom that is smiling and waving excitedly to you. I want you to feel good about your first day and about moving on without me for this part. You’ve totally got this.
A person can rationalize how the human body works and functions. Death is a body no longer breathing. A heart no longer pumping blood. Organs no longer functioning. We are not immortal beings. Death will happen for us all (spoiler alert).
Loss is different. Loss is the hard part.
Loss marks the end of a life. It’s knowing that you will never see their face again. Never hear that laugh, feel that hug, or hold that hand.
Loss feels unfair. It’s painful. It’s counting the number of days. weeks. and months. that they have been gone. It’s when a week without them feels like an eternity, and a year feels unbearable. You can’t imagine what the rest of your life will feel like. They are gone.
We try to hold onto them in our own ways. We keep mementos. letters. a piece of jewelry. a business card. a pin. We think about the moments they are going to miss. And we wonder if they are watching over us.
It was loss that consumed me. Loss and trauma.
my death story. part 2.
My experiences with death and loss changed my life. How I dealt with death and loss changed my life.
I spent a lot of time living in fear.
Fear of being Happy. If you’re happy and things are going well for you, that’s when something bad happens.
Fear of Love. When someone you love dies, it destroys you. Why leave yourself open like that?
Fear of Losing People you care about. Fear of Dying at a Young Age. Fear of Being Vulnerable. Fear of… so much.
Death and Loss. Baggage I carried for far too long.
After having the kids, I knew that I needed to deal with it. I wanted to be in a good place to teach the kids about it. I wanted the kids to see death as a part of life. I wanted them to know that it’s okay for loss to hurt and there are ways to work through it instead of avoid it. And for myself, I want to see death as something more natural and beautiful – if that’s even possible. It’s been hard but I’m getting there.
This is my story of death.
my death story. Part 3.
1990 – 1999 (9 years)
Grandma Beatrice (1990)
My Grandma Beatrice passed away when I was in grade 6. Although I remember feeling sad, it felt natural and normal to me. She was in her 60’s and I knew that older people passed away. I remember my brother and I standing outside on the deck of our house. Mom told us, Grandma is gone.
There was a funeral at the Knox United Church in Emo. She was buried in a casket. I remember crying only when they carried her past me as I sat in a pew. It felt like they were taking her away.
My Aunt Bev came back. I had never met her before. She lived out West. She seemed drunk sitting on Grandma’s kitchen counter, wearing bright pink lipstick and a fur hat.
Auntie Lyd, Jessica, Seth, Dustin, and Dillon (1993)
Losing Auntie Lyd and my cousins impacted me more than I thought.
I was in grade 8. It was Easter weekend. My Auntie Carolyn and Uncle Bill were visiting from Dryden. I don’t remember the phone call in the middle of the night. I don’t remember the next day.
I went to LaVerendrye Hospital with my mom. I only remember black. His face looked like a black swollen basketball. Uncle Kel was unrecognizable.
He wore a blue silk shirt stained with dark spots. Salve or vaseline making contact with the thin silk shirt. The only thing he could possibly put against his skin. He wore it to Jess and Seth’s funeral.
Vague recollections of a funeral for my cousins, Jess and Seth. They chose to play, I will always love you by Whitney Houston, in the service. A popular song at the time which meant it played in every store and unexpectedly in the car when you were driving somewhere. A constant reminder.
A memorial service was held at Jess and Seth’s school. I wandered the hallways and looked into classrooms. Which desk did they sit at. Were their shoes lined up in the hallway with the others. The Rose. Auntie Lyd’s favourite song. Grandma said that she liked to sing it.
One weekend we were at their house for a birthday party. A few weekends later, they were gone.
They died in a tragic house fire. Somehow I gathered really graphic details of what had happened. I carried them. It wasn’t until I talked to my mom 20+ years later, that I was finally able to let them go.
Jennifer Carlson (1994)
There was a bus accident on our way home from school one day. We were in high school.
We never saw what happened. We heard about it afterwards. The bus carrying my brother and I was ahead of the accident scene.
A truck had driven over a set of train tracks. A steel signpost became dislodged from its’ back. It smashed through the front window of the school bus. It travelled to the back of the bus, hitting kids along the way.
It hit Andrea, a girl who went to our elementary school. It hit two boys, Tyler and Jason. It killed Jennifer Carlson. She was a few years older than me. We grew up in the same small town and skated in the same figure skating club.
It could have been our bus.
One of my dad’s close friends ended his life. We called him Uncle Ross. He taught us how to water ski. Our height measurements are still etched on a wall in his cabin. When I think of happy moments from my childhood, they often include him.
I never knew anyone who had committed suicide before. I tried to understand why he might have done it.
Losing Auntie Carolyn was devastating to our family.
It was unexpected. We didn’t understand how someone who was so active and busy, could get a random virus that shut down the organs in her body. Doctors didn’t understand it.
I was away for my first year of university. I had no idea what was going on. Within 24 hours of flying home for Christmas, she died. My aunt died on Christmas Eve. My dad fell apart. My uncle was lost without her. My cousins no longer had their mom.
We have felt her loss for the last 20 years.
Grandpa Pud (2001)
My grandpa passed away when I was in my third year of university. He went to sleep under a star-filled sky and didn’t wake up. Grandma lost her partner, lying at her side. Mom found out in a Canada Customs building. A message was left for her to call family. They were driving back from dropping Eric and I off at the airport. We had just been home for reading week.
From my teens to university, I experienced a lot of death. It felt like I was just waiting to see who we might lose next. And yet, my biggest worry of all – was losing my Gram.
Grandma Lainie (2014)
Saying goodbye to Gram always involved a hug where I had a hard time letting go. I just held her and cried – whether we were holding each other in the middle of the The Circle D Restaurant parking lot, at the doorway of her little house, or standing outside in her driveway at Flanders. She always said that we had a hard time saying goodbye.
When Gram passed away in 2014, 3 months before Tate was born, my fear of death felt over. There was nothing left to worry about. My biggest fear in life had happened. She was gone.
But now I worry about losing those closest to me. Those times when Eric has taken the kids up to see his mom for the weekend, I think about how my entire family could be wiped out in one fatal accident.
I worry about losing my mom.
And now I worry about my own death. I have tried to prepare for it. I write books to leave behind for the kids. The control freak in me has drafted my obituary, because if anyone is going to tell my life story – it’s me. I have left notes for Eric saying what I want the funeral to be like. Pieces have been written for him to read aloud to those who come. Seriously. I know it’s a little disturbing, I get that.
I want to create my death box. I learned about the idea in a talk I watched online. I want to have everything done and ready in there. My obituary written. My funeral planned – it’s going to be like an art gallery with music and booze and pieces of my life on display. I hope it sparks lots of storytelling. I want my wishes in that box. I want to write a list of who is getting what – nothing of value, more of sentiment. And then I want to fucking live my life.
I want to take that box and shove it in the bottom of some dark closet. I want to believe that it won’t be found or needed for decades. I want to plan trips, enjoy my life, and know that I’ve done everything I’ve wanted. The rest is out of my hands. I have to live before I die. That’s the whole point.
It’s 8 bells, Dad would announce. Rob and I would run as fast as we could to the hope chest sitting in the living room.
The long, heavy wooden chest stretched the length of our picture window and came up to our chests. We knew it wouldn’t move.
We clasped our fingers around the hardware. We thought that if we were able to hold on long enough, we wouldn’t have to go to bed. It didn’t work.
Mom would quickly tickle us. Our hands struggled to hold on. Eventually, we would lose our grip and be taken off to bed giggling.
But it didn’t stop us from trying again the next night.
you would never know.
When I was a kid, I didn’t realize the treasures that were inside.
To me, it was just a big piece of furniture. A place where we kept our fish bowl and some picture frames.
The hope chest now rests in my parent’s basement. It no longer has such a prominent place in the house.
It sits in the furnace room, usually covered with newspapers and flyers that are used to start the wood fire. Mittens and toques are often scattered on top. You would never know that it’s filled with amazing things.
a treasure box.
Dad’s first pencil box. Mom’s baby book. Their high school yearbooks.
Dad’s boy scout sash with badges. Newspaper clippings of Mom on the high school curling team.
My first pair of shoes. My brother’s drawings. Our kindergarten scrapbooks. My grade 2 writing journals and the little vest I wore for school photos one year.
Little artefacts of our family, tucked away for safekeeping.
Mom and Dad saved up to buy the hope chest before they were married. Mom said she used it to store her prizes from curling bonspiels.
Back in the day, hope chests were meant to store items that women would need when they became wives – bedding, tea towels, and things they made. A makers version of a dowry.
For our family, it became a place to hold our keepsakes. My dad is sentimental. Mom is too. I think Eric and I are the same way. We keep first birthday candles and pieces of the kids art work.
After teaching in Welland for three years, I wanted to be with Eric.
He was living and working in Toronto. We were traveling back and forth on the weekends, and I hated saying goodbye on Sunday nights. I wanted to live with him. I was also scared. I was never one to follow a guy.
I did it anyways.
I applied to the York Region District School Board and got an interview at Reesor Park Public School. Janet Porter offered me the choice of a kindergarten class or grade 8.
I said kindergarten, I got grade 8.
I was worried that I would butt heads with them. I had heard about the hormones and attitudes of grade 8 students. And I loved it.
I taught grade 8 for five years at Reesor. The kids were funny. They were smart and thoughtful.
I helped plan graduations and went on year end trips to Quebec City and Ottawa with 70 teenagers. We went camping in the winter and helped organize the Terry Fox Run for the school.
There was no hesitation when I told people that I loved my job. I felt like I was making a difference.
I also thought about school non-stop, which wasn’t healthy for me. Weekends and evenings were spent lesson planning or assessing student work. If I wasn’t doing school work, I felt like I should be. I couldn’t go to the grocery store without seeing an idea for my next lesson. I had a hard time turning it off.
I continued to learn about math. I signed up for every math workshop being offered. I eventually got to know the math consultants in our school board. One day they asked if I would like to have a math coach pop by my classroom every week or so to co-teach with me. Yes!
That’s when I met Janine. This blonde stranger who came into my classroom with a Starbucks tea. As a teacher, this was everything. To drink a hot tea during the day, it didn’t happen. It felt like such a treat.
I learned so much from Janine. She was so skilled at crafting math problems in a way to get kids thinking and talking. At my side, she would share her observations of students’ thinking and together we would question and prompt when needed.
Janine was (and is) someone who sees the good in others, even if they don’t see it in themselves.
She helped me feel more confident in my teaching abilities which eventually led me to opening up my classroom for other teachers, superintendents, and international visitors to observe my math lessons.
I enjoyed feeling like I was helping other teachers with their practice. I knew how much Janine’s support had done for me.
Eventually, being in the classroom started to feel like groundhog day. The same schedule and routine every. day. The same staff members and the same issues. I was ready for a change.
I decided to apply for a math consultant position in our board.
For over 5,000 elementary school teachers, there was a small team of math consultants. I didn’t feel qualified or skilled enough for the position, but I tried anyways. I became the 6th member of the team.
I became a curriculum consultant.
My first week as a consultant was so difficult. Going in, my friends told me that I would hate the politics. I didn’t even know what that meant. I eventually learned.
But for me, I hated feeling like I wasn’t making a difference. I know it sounds cheesy, but when you see changes in students every day, it just felt different.
Each day I wondered what I had accomplished outside of being in a meeting and eating my lunch. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all meetings and lunch.
Once schools were settled into their beginning of the year routines, and funding came in from the province to support professional learning for teachers, our small math team was scrambling to keep up.
We were driving across the region visiting multiple schools a day. And it was so out of my comfort zone.
Instead of standing in front of 34 grade 8 students, I was presenting information to a room of 100 strangers or more.
I was facilitating learning sessions for school teams I had never met. Planning math lessons with teachers and then going into the classroom a few hours later to teach the lesson together. There was the pressure of time to get things together and the pressure to think on the spot. It felt like the ultimate improv act every day.
I never felt like I did a good enough job.
After the fact I would kick myself, wishing I would have said or done something differently. I should have prompted with this… I should have pulled in this resource… I worried that the teachers and principals weren’t getting the best experience because of me. And for my colleagues, who might be reading this, you will likely disagree. I know I was being hard on myself.
But where I did find a good fit was in e-prof.
Janine encouraged me to be the representative for our math team. Eprof was made up of a group of curriculum consultants who met regularly to do web work on behalf of the teams they represented.
A team leader, Jane Paterson, would plan learning sessions for us, so we could learn more about writing and designing for the web.
I fell in love. Yes, you read that right.
I was learning how to create websites and how to write for the web. I learned about the inverted triangle for web copy and how eye tracking technology could calculate exactly how long we attend to information that’s online. It was all new to me and it was so interesting.
I got to attend a Nielsen Norman conference and learned about user testing, mega menus, and the importance of prototyping. I became fascinated with Design Thinking. I wrote scripts for video and designed learning modules for teachers to access, on their own time, for professional learning. I created web pages and kept multiple pathways in mind.
Eprof changed the path of my career.
So when an opening came up on Jane’s team, Learning Design and Development, I decided to apply.
Although it was hard to leave the math team, I knew the work was a better fit for me. I could work quietly behind the scenes, instead of being front and centre. I had time to think things through and create, instead on thinking and acting in the moment.
I became an instructional design consultant.
I worked with a team of web developers, a graphic designer, and media threes. It was exciting.
I got to learn more about writing script, I helped facilitate projects, and coached consultants in the creation of their web resources for teachers and principals.
I partnered with other departments in the school board, creating resources for Leadership Development and working on webcasts to be viewed board-wide.
But it still wasn’t me.
As much as I loved the creation part, I wanted to do more of it. I loved being a part of the planning, but I wanted to get my hands into it more. I also spent a lot of time at the office, at my desk. I needed my days to look different and the opportunity to interact with people more.
Then we found out I was pregnant.
A new position had just been posted: Curriculum Coordinator of Digital Literacy. It wasn’t my love. Yes, I loved technology and always trying something new. Yes, I wanted to be a part of the coordinator meetings to have some input into the decision making (it was a team that met separately from the consultant group of 60+ people).
But something didn’t feel right to me.
I decided not to apply. I didn’t think it would be fair to the team to move into the role for only three months (before my mat leave started). I wasn’t sure if it was a good fit for me. I ended up applying.
My gram had passed away a few weeks before I started in the new role. Emotionally, I was a mess. I was also 6 months pregnant and moving into a role I was uncertain about.
I’m glad that I did apply because I quickly learned that planning team meetings and spending a lot of time on email was not for me. I learned that I need to: make things, interact with different people, and spend time with kids. I was even further away from it all in this new role.
Then Tate was born.
I felt so relieved to be on mat leave. I did not miss work. at. all.
I was often asked to come into the office for a visit. I wasn’t interested. I was loving my time away.
In the middle of my mat leave, we found out that we were expecting a second. I decided to go back to work for two weeks in December – to help a little financially. Since I hadn’t been back to work after my first mat leave, I wasn’t eligible for unemployment.
With the help of friends and many doctors appointments, either myself or friends took care of Tate over the two week span.
I hated being away from him. I knew that I was done.
In December 2015, I walked out the front doors of the office, walked down the ramp and turned to look back at the tall glass building that I had once been so proud to work in. Goodbye. I turned around and haven’t been back since.
Then came Charlie. Another year of mat leave. Then an extension of my leave. Then a second extension of my leave, until I finally knew and trusted that I never wanted to go back to teaching.
As much as I loved my time in the classroom, I knew that I was ready for something else. The thought of 10 more years until retirement, 10 years is a long time. Even though it would mean more money, I couldn’t do it.
And so here I am. Writing my career story after my resignation has been finalized. I’m awaiting the paperwork to move forward with arrangements for my pension.
I’m planning creative workshops for fun. I have no idea what I’ll do, but I’ll figure it out.
As Tate said to Eric one day, I can do it. I just don’t know how.