Filed under: general | Tags: brothers and sisters, family, mental illness, siblings
My eyes hurt from crying. I imagine if I looked in a mirror, I’d look like a boxer… after the fight.
And as always lately, the trigger was a song.
When it came on a smile built on a two-decades’ old memory washed over my face. As the song went on, it felt like all that time, it had been prophetic.
My brother, until he was forever changed – yes, changed – by an autoimmune disease combined with a mental illness, was my brother, my father, my best friend, my biggest fan, my mentor and ally.
We used to dance around our house and sing. Like, sing. Our two favourites were Lisa Loeb’s “Stay” (he was totally Ethan Hawke in Reality Bites, as an aside) and the one below.
I hadn’t heard it in… forever. So, when it came on today on the way home from visiting him in hospital, where he’s been for almost 3 months, I was instantly overcome. I remember so vividly us yell-singing this song so damn theatrically around our living/dining room, that we would end up doubled over laughing.
But today, as the song progressed and then came to its beautiful ending, the smile evolved into tears. And I continued to bawl for the countless times I then replayed it.
Bring it on back, bro. Keep fighting and come back to us. We love you.
Filed under: general
Disclaimer: This post is overflowing with privilege. I fully recognize that our family has financial choices available that others simply do not.
Not long ago, I wrote A Parent’s Super Power about how parents become superheroes when they have kids and tap into a previously unharnessed source of energy in order to live their lives. I cringe when I read it now. Here we are, two years on, my children still don’t sleep through the night, one has turned out to be prone to anxiety and highly sensitive and my husband and I have been working very stressful jobs, and… I’m burnt out, officially/medically. I have left my job, my career. Maybe not forever, but certainly for the foreseeable future.
When I went to the doctor about six weeks ago, her series of questions made me realize that while I knew that I had become extremely fragile, I hadn’t fully accept the internal collapse that had happened.
“Do you ever think about hurting people?”
I was surprised to get that question. It was a first. As anyone who has experienced bouts of depression, one knows the “do you think about hurting yourself?” question is standard, and I’ve thankfully always been able to reply in the negative. But this was a new one. By asking it, the doctor was revealing how bad off she thought I was.
If I was surprised by being asked the question, I was even more so with my answer, which came out so reflexively without any filters, that it essentially revealed the root of my current crisis:
“I fantasize about taking better care of people,” I responded in tears.
My children, who I knew needed me more than I was able to give them with how our lives were organized. My husband, with whom, under all the stress and frantic chaos of our lives, I have been dancing a waltz of resentment and bitterness. Myself, to breathe without chest constrictions, to meditate, to do yoga, to run, to paint, to read, to nest, to fulfill that part of me that wants to care for those close to me (seriously, the aforementioned privilege that this post is soaked with makes me nauseous, but there it is).
I started with a month off, which was spent basically asleep, building up some basic physical, emotional and mental reserves. It soon became clear that this was a new world order that, for the sake of our family, needed to become more permanent. I was able to breathe again, parent with patience, wife with kindness – all of which was complementing the compassion, kindness and gentleness that my own self was demanding.
Much has been written by people more eloquent, smart and researched (there will be no research happening by this camper right now, needless to say) than I about the debate of whether or not we (implicating women generally, for some reason) can have it all. Some adults have to have it all – be parents and work – because financially that’s what they need to do. What they are teaching and modeling for their children is incredibly valuable and I will call them superheroes until I’m blue in the face. In the case of two parent households who can contemplate one parent staying home, it should go without saying that both parents’ careers should be up for reconsideration. In some households that I know, Dad stays home, takes care of everyone and sits on school council. As it works in our household, mine was the easier to put on hold, primarily because I am so burnt out and when thinking about alternatives to 9 to 5 office life, the only things I want to do are things like walk my kids to school and stay home with them when they’re sick without thinking twice about it (rather than fly my mom in from another city so that le husband I don’t have to take so many sick days, as was the approach last winter).
One of the most surprising revelations that this experience has revealed to me has been the pervasiveness of this level of exhaustion. While certainly everyone is (legitimately!) tired and feeling stretched, it was when I started to tell people what I was going through that their eyes would suddenly change. I can only describe it as an instant recognition of what I was saying and without them even having to say it (though almost invariably they did), I could see that they needed the same break. So many are operating close to this edge that it breaks my heart.
Just to be clear – it’s not that marriages are not partnerships, that men aren’t pulling their weight. My mother constantly stands stunned amongst my friends as she watches the men parent, cook, care in ways that were unheard of two generations ago. Le husband has probably been doing the majority of our house stuff (without complaint) over the last six months as I descended further into my depressive and anxious burnout and generally is a totally present and participatory dad and husband. But, notwithstanding the obvious fact that we are different people with different levels of tolerance for different types of stress, I without doubt spend considerably more emotional and mental energy worrying about the kids’ present and future well-being, not to mention the one who gets up with them every night because OMG HOW DOES HE NOT HEAR HIS CHILDREN CRYING?!?! These two things alone are a mighty significant drain on my energy level, which may have a gendered aspect with which I don’t even know where to start.
I so wish our society could be reorganized. Rather than front-loading child-rearing with career, I want to be able to opt-in to a system where we can be supported for 10 years-ish to parent properly and then work an extra 10 years beyond our current plan (or have to pay it back. Maybe? Would that work? I don’t know! Don’t stress me out!). Same amount of working years, less societal burnout. Maybe this is how people are generally starting to organize themselves anyway and I’m just catching up. But wow, what a toll it has taken to figure this out on my own.
I am unspeakably grateful about having the ability to choose this path. I will miss spending my days with my co-workers immensely – they are a group of incredibly smart, dedicated public servants who also happen to be good, kind, and most importantly, hilarious people who probably kept me working a good year longer than I would have otherwise. We have accomplished some pretty unbelievable feats in the past almost-two years and I will forever be thankful that I was involved in them – truly a life experience for the books. The management in my organization has been supportive beyond even my wildest expectations (which mostly just confirms to me how much people understand how hard this life phase is). But I’m trading them in for two four year olds and two kittens (another post, to be sure) and adventures that I cannot yet predict.
So, as it would turn out, I’m not a superhero. It turns out that I’m just a mere human with some strict limits and hard choices. Giving up my job (and relying on a man?!?) goes against the cardinal rule of my single mother (well, until recently, when she was downright relieved to hear my decision) and gives my feminism a conflict that is even more significant than having birthed two walking gender stereotypes. But when I drop all of the expectations that I’ve set up for myself that I’m allegedly failing, at its root, this decision feels bold and true. And what better feelings to have than those?
So, here I am. Here we are. Starting a new chapter. Wish us luck.
Filed under: babies, family, The big picture | Tags: Canada, Canada Day, family, Grandparents, immigration, Italy
My Mother-in-Law, Mama P/Nonna, came to visit for almost a week, and headed back home to Toronto on the train today. She doesn’t love travelling, so she was a bit nervous of the train – it was only her second train ride. Ever.
But oh so fitting that it was to be taken on Canada Day, given when her first train ride had taken place.
She was eight years old when she arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia after what sounds like a gruelling three week boat trip from Italy with her Mom and two older brothers. When she arrived in Halifax, they boarded the train – for her first, and until today, last ride – to Toronto to reunite with her Dad and two of her three older brothers that she had not seen in years.
Since that time, she has built an incredible life with her husband and community in Canada, raising three amazing kids – one who works for the federal government, another a teacher and one who (officially!) owns a business, adoring her four grandchildren, supporting (and feeding) legions of family, friends and strangers including working with children with special needs for the last 25 years.
We’re all ever so thankful that her family took those voyages, so that Canada could call her its own.
(Oh, and by the way, she got home safely and sounds like this train ride was much more enjoyable than her last one…)
Filed under: babies, family, ottawa, Parenting, Restaurants, The big picture | Tags: babies, Community, family, friendship, Grandparents, Love, Ottawa
Tb and I spent the day with (Great, to her) Nanny yesterday. Tb is now three, (Great) Nanny is now ninety. Woah on both fronts.
It’s always a far more pleasant experience to visit the Lord Lansdowne with only one twin, particularly the one who feels she’s an adult rather than a monkey seemingly on speed. (Guess which one is more fun at the park or out for a hike?) So, we were able to spend awhile together today, just the three of us.
I teared up watching them chat at their Kettleman’s table while I ordered our bagel delights. I love that I can leave them alone together while I run off to get something (read: go to the bathroom). We all excitedly watched the jets fly over the building after they passed over the Cenotaph and my grandmother talked about the war years.
As the morning, and then the afternoon, wore on, certain similarities between my companions could no longer escape my awareness.
- Speed of getting from point A to B (spoiler alert: the speed is that which requires me to re-assess my own natural pace and allows me to take some (a lot of) time to re-assess whether I really need to always move as fast as I do – I decline to note the answer to that reflection)
- Interest in abiding by the unwritten (probably written, let’s be honest) rules around Moments of SILENCE (As in, no interest. At all.)
- Neither require my help, for anything. Apparently.
- Neither are particularly interested in small talk, which works well for me as then I get to small talk for three!
- Speed of eating one bagel, or 4/5 of a bagel (pic below is approximately 45 minutes since we’d arrived)
- Both get very excited about new walkers, as discovered after the original broke while at lunch and required being replaced in a hurry. This is J “surprising” Nanny with her new walker, which she only gave up upon securing the old (broken) one, now in our trunk)
What a lovely (and ridiculous) day.
I can be stubborn. Not all the time, but I’m definitely guilty of hanging on to opinions, stories and perspectives for way longer than I genuinely believed them, or needed to.
Take, for instance, my opinion of Ottawa. I moved here at 19 and proceeded to spend over a decade hating it. Being from Montreal-ish (ahem), how could one come to love such a city, devoid of life, energy and creativity?
Things eventually started to change and I’ve come to really adore this big village. I love its size, the absence of traffic, the absence of pretension. And I love its stoic character and its friendly, humble traits – ones like no other. Others are more qualified to talk about the art and restaurant scene, so I’ll leave them to it. Ultimately, we love our life and friends here. It is so easy to have a good life here (even with the weather!), and we so appreciate that.
Driving to yoga this cold Sunday morning, I took the scenic route along the Canal. It wasn’t yet 9 a.m. The best word I can think of to describe the scene is “bustling.” As always, there were the runners along the lovely paths, balancing the need to protect from the cold while managing their sweat, determined to keep their training (for May?) on track. The Canal itself, meanwhile, was hosting hundreds of skaters. People flying down solo, couples holding hands (including an elderly couple that melted my heart), groups of friends, people all bundled up and clearly teaching themselves to skate, others doing twirls and spins.
Again, it wasn’t even 9 a.m.
That’s when I thought to myself: Wow, LB… what took you so long to realize that this city was entirely worthy of your love?
So, listen. Here’s the thing: I’ve done my fair share of scaring all of you not-sure-about-whether-to-have-kids peeps, I think. So I’m here with some good news.
When you become a parent, you get access to a previously locked super power. You know in a video game (fact: the last video game I played was Super Mario Brothers, so apologies if this analogy doesn’t make sense in this century) when you get to a new level, or get enough coins, or whatever else you used to have to do to get stuff and you get a new life or super-power (bigger!, jump super high!, run super fast!, etc.!)? Well, that happens in real life, too! Upon welcoming a new baby (or two, or more goddess help you AH!) into your life, a super power is revealed. It’s been in you the whole time, as it turns out. But, you weren’t allowed to access it until it was really necessary.
This super power is different. It’s less about what you get and more about what you no longer need for survival, which is great because you can’t have it anyway: Sleep.
Pre-kids, when you hear about parents’ sleepless lives, you think one of two things: (1) They’re over-exaggerating because no one could possibly function on that little sleep. Liars. Or (2) I could never do that so I better not do the kid thing. Misery is unappealing to me. (You’re the sane one in this equation, by the way.)
In fact, while some people are over-dramatic (gawd), (1) is very likely the situation. I offer my life as illustration: I move beds anywhere from two to seven times a night. Sometimes those bed switches are interspersed with runs to the kitchen for medicine/milk/puke bucket or a need to change bed sheets or a cardio workout with a 25 lb weight to soothe your unhappy child. Anyway, even on the easy nights, given this “traffic,” you can imagine how much continuous sleep I’m afforded. And this is with kids that are almost two and a half. In the last three years (because believe it or not being pregnant with twins is not at all conducive to good sleeping after week 20), I have slept through the night (STTN), uninterrupted approximately five times. That’s a STTN average of .005%, in case you’re into numbers (that math is probably wrong).
BUT, here’s the good news: I’M FINE. Sure, I look tired, my eyes are kind of burning all of the time, and I’m pretty sure I could stop, drop and nap pretty much anywhere, but I’m fine. I’m happy and healthy. I have energy to laugh, love and care, to go to work, to do some volunteering, to run and yoga (OK, that’s rare, but it happens), to love and play with my kids and le husband, to host gatherings (wherein I don’t cook – not new, just stopped pretending) for friends and family, to do some courses and to watch some carefully-chosen TV shows (currently Downton Abbey, but also Girls, House of Cards and OITNB).
I’m fine… thanks to my super power. And you will be too*.
*Update: An awesome, brave friend called me out on the fact that this post completely minimizes/offends those battling post-partum depression (PPD). Having (gratefully) not gone through PPD, it’s an experience that’s not mine. Having been through depression though, I know how exhausting and incapacitating depression can be. Sans kids, I talked myself into going to work and then came home, laid on the couch and slept a lot. I did nothing else. That is why, to me, parents/moms going through PPD are even more heroic – the ones I’ve known are still parenting and loving their children despite the massively heavy load of depression to bear. They are having faith that this too shall pass (albeit with some help, because help helps) and that the fun and joy will come again. What an incredibly profound lesson in strength and patience for their children. So, no… sorry. You don’t get out of the ‘super power’ club. In fact, you’re in a class way above. xo