Weathering the Shitstorm

Five great reasons to get my act together.

Five great reasons to get my act together.

Calorie counting, which I am mostly diligent about, but have taken a break from because my father-in-love is in town and he equals FOOD, has helped me shed about fifteen pounds since I last wrote here. I’ve limited myself to 1600 calories each day because I’m breastfeeding, and I’m generally staying away from complex carbs and refined sugar. Right now I’m about ten pounds away from my target, and I’m now seriously contemplating exercise each day. Note that I haven’t said I’m going to start exercising each day. That’s more commitment than I can handle, and the careful food choices seem to be working well. Score one for me.

I’m back to work (part time, I guess), and back on stage with the Coquettes, and about to head to Alberta with them for our first out-of-province shows. My experience with becoming a mother, birthing a baby, and watching my body turn inside out and upside down has created this insane confidence on stage. More than ever, I feel like I’m there to have fun, help the audience have fun and I really don’t give a shit about what might come out of my mouth in the process. This has made for some great shows as far as I’m concerned. That edit button is gone it seems, and hilarity ensues. Score two for me, I guess.

Noah is thriving, and smiling like a maniac nearly all of the time. The little monster is only four months old but fitting comfortably into nine month clothing, all while exclusively breastfeeding! He’s so long, I think he may end up a giant like my 6’7 brother. His sisters are wonderful too. I just had the absolute pleasure of two glowing parent/ teacher interviews where both teachers sang the praises of our wonderful children and our wonderful family. Score three?

I’m giving myself this cyber pep-talk because in therapy I’m experiencing what you might call the eye of the storm. The work I’m doing there feels like complete and utter shit. It feels like teenage days all over again. I sort of hated high school, so on Sunday nights I would feel absolutely sick with dread knowing that I had to return there on Monday. This is the same feeling I get now on my pre-therapy days. What’s going on there? Well, the simple answer is when I’m faced with difficulty, criticism and my own short comings, guess what I do? I go stony, I detach, I shut down. I do this because I  feel like I’m a terrible person and everyone around me is better off without me. I want to crawl in a hole and run away. That’s what happens inside. Outside I look like a cold-hearted bitch who doesn’t care about anything.

When there is a problem in your relationship, you want your partner there with you. You want them emotionally present to help work through difficulty. I can’t do this, or at least I haven’t been able to do this. I hate this about myself  and now I’m taking a very critical and thorough look at where this comes from and how I can stop it. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do and it hurts like hell.

So, how does a Schnoo deal with such a difficult emotional place?

1. Binge eating. Yes, I allow myself to completely and totally pig out, but only for one day. I know I can get back on track quickly, so I just go for it. Emotional eating is never a great idea, but sometimes only chocolate and popcorn can make the pain go away.

2. Maid mode. Today, after gorging myself last night, I have been a cleaning maniac. Cleaning through stress is the best thing. It’s a physical opportunity to scrub away all of the ugly, and it feels so good to take care of it while my partners are hard at work earning our bread. This morning marked the best on-my-hands-and-knees-in-front-of-the-toilet catharsis yet.

3. Makeup. If I feel like shit on the inside, I can’t stand to look like shit on the outside. I try to take extra time to focus on the things I can control, like glowing skin and bright eyes. I love makeup, I love the art of makeup application, and I love how this simple act picks me up.

4. Writing. It’s like puking the contents of my head onto paper, and I swear it’s the greatest gift I was born with. No other physical act makes me feel better.

5. Fresh air. I need to leave my physical space when I feel like crap. I used to take my iPad to the cafe near by, but with the little Noodle as my constant companion, I can’t indulge in out-of-the-house writing excursions these days. Instead he and I are going to drag daddy out to the new diner around the corner for lunch where I will sport my fresh and dewy face, indulge in a milkshake, and try to not feel like such an asshole.

If I have these wonderful people in my life who say they love me, and who are trying to build a world with me in it I can’t be so horrible, right? Is it shame that I feel in the face of making them hurt or feel frustrated and disappointed in me? Why can’t I let myself make mistakes and be a ‘work in progress’? Why can’t I just say “Yeah, that IS shitty, let’s fix it” instead of wanting to run away and hide?

I used to question the logic of  my friends who would start therapy and then quit, but now that we’ve scraped well beyond the surface and am digging into the meat of my psyche I can totally understand the impulse to stop the process. I won’t though. Somewhere beyond all of this crap-ass feeling is the realization that I (and all of those I love) will be better for it. Somewhere my mind knows that crying like a maniac is actually better for me than going all stony and hard so I don’t have to feel things. Therapy is best approached like a very sticky bandaid – get in there, rip it off, and deal with the pain rather than gingerly peel it back, or see if it will eventually fall off in the shower. That last one always ends up a dirty, stinky mess, doesn’t it?

Spring time goal: getting rid of the hard candy shell to enjoy the gooey centre.

16 Days

A Little Tin of Chocolate

I began writing this blog in 2008, fresh after a breakup from a very complicated relationship, and filled with excitement because I was about to embark on a solo vacation to Paris. Life felt pretty huge and terrifying then. I was raw with emotion, and apprehensive about what the future held for me. When I returned from my trip, I would have no place to live, and I’d be facing the realities of being single and thirty-something.

I drank Paris in, and fell deeply in love with a city that I always suspected would have a special place in my heart. Because I was on a very tight budget, I allowed myself only a few token souvenirs, mostly purchased at a well-stocked supermarket and the Parisian equivalent of Winners. One of these mementos was a tin of French drinking chocolate, so I could enjoy the delicious little ritual I had created for myself each afternoon no matter where I ended up back home in Canada.

When my new family and I combined our households, the chocolate tin came with me. I hadn’t expected the chocolate to survive, but the tin was pretty so I imagined we could use it for storage in our kitchen. French chocolate is resilient though, and to my amazement still tastes as good as it did when I first bought it almost five years ago.

On Tuesday night, A and Daddy made us a post-dinner hot chocolate and marshmallow nightcap, and all five of us sat around the table enjoying it together. As I gazed at the faces of these beautiful girls who have been one of the greatest gifts of my life thus far, I was suddenly overcome with emotion. Strolling through the aisles of that Parisian grocery store, trying to choose just the right thing to bring home, I had resigned myself to believing that children and family were a long, long way off and perhaps something that were not meant for me in Schnooville. But now I sat surrounded by my family, (a family I have chosen against all odds, and a family who freely chose me despite all of my flaws), drinking that Parisian chocolate and ready to burst with another brand new life who gets to go through each day with these wonderful people. I feel no fear about this huge milestone because my heart believes I am exactly where I should be, with the people I need most in my life.

Look defeat in the eye and love yourself even harder. Tell disappointment that you deserve better. Treat your broken heart to vacations and decadent chocolate and trust that somehow, probably in the most unpredictable way, it will all work out. If you believe that you are lovable, the love you crave will find you.

H & A Enjoy Some Tummy Time:

35 Days

Today I am 35 weeks pregnant and have 35 days left to go.

Last night I had a dream that the clinic that helped us get pregnant called to tell me that my trial fertility run was over, and that my abortion had been scheduled and they were ready to inseminate for real. I was shocked and horrified and I turned to both of my partners, but they were nonplussed by the news and took me to the hospital for my appointment, asking me what else I expected. I kept pleading with them, with doctors, etc to just wait out the next month so we could have this baby, but everyone kept telling me “That’s not the way it works.” Finally I faked needing to use the bathroom to make my escape and woke myself up, but felt so profoundly that my dream was real. Needless to say, there was no going back to sleep for me. It was 3:00 am.

My Babycentre pregnancy app tells me that I have 35 days left to go. Last week I would have told you that felt like a lifetime. This week I can tell you it doesn’t feel like enough time.

I don’t think I’m a good parent. More accurately, I know I’m not the kind of parent I would like to be. I’ve been working really hard in therapy, and with my own reading and research to unlearn a very deeply ingrained way of thinking that was largely instilled by my paternal grandmother who helped raised my brother and I; this idea that children and adults are not equals, and therefore don’t receive the same kind of respect; this notion that being stern and needing control is equal to good discipline; the “because I said so” school of thought. I would venture that many of my peers were raised the same way I was, as this seemed to be the North American standard of our generation. We weren’t unloved, but we realized we had a very different place in the hierarchy of our households, and we were constantly reminded that this place was below the adults.

The Daddy in my family today was raised a very different way. As he tells it he was constantly spoken to with respect and love and patience. He always felt valued and important. There was nobody barking commands at him, and every request was punctuated with a ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Sounds Utopian, no? Mama S had about ten good years of witnessing this kind of parent/child interaction through Daddy’s family before her babies came, but here I am in year three of my massive learning curve, and I feel like I’m always getting it wrong.

So yeah, maybe my body has done a great job with growing this tiny man for the last 8 months, but what the hell happens once he’s out in the world? How can I possibly get my shit together enough in 35 days to be the kind of parent I’d like to be and do great justice to the lives of not only my bio offspring, but the two amazing stepdaughters I’ve been blessed with?

How with lack of sleep and raging hormones do I find greater depth in my seemingly shallow reservoir of chilled out patience? How do I switch off the need to control the children’s actions (so they don’t hurt themselves, others, or god forbid develop unhealthy habits) and just really relish in their experience of childhood?

How do I prove to my partners in 35 days that I am worthy of the monumental task of parenting? How can I stop sounding like my stern grandmother when I’m not having a great day? What can I do to help the people around me relax and trust that I’m growing and changing and learning and that I’m not going to become perfect overnight? I need the benefit of the doubt to be able to grow, just as my precocious, wily, headstrong six-year-old does.

How do I push through all of this fear and trust myself enough to let my body take over the task of bringing this baby into the world? 35 days just isn’t enough time.

All the Bells Rang Out, There Were Tears of Joy and Laughter

In the face of so much uncertainty, I know this is true; I never want the holidays to feel like this again. This has always been an important time of the year to me, and I want to honor it without so much confusion and sadness for all of the rest of my days. Perhaps that’s naive, but this is how I feel today.

Initially, I thought I would forgo the extended family Christmas Day feast, a tradition I’ve observed since birth, every single year of my life. I’ve been so emotional lately, and putting on a brave face seemed totally impossible. I was also worried that I would be facing judgment, which is difficult on a good day.

As the days leading up to Christmas unfolded however, my reality shifted once again, and I found myself yearning for something as familiar as the sight of my own face in the mirror.

I felt great calm wash over me as I arrived at my parents’ house, my house for my entire life. Right after walking through their door, I knew I had made the right decision. As the day would unfold, I knew I was where I should be, but I also knew that four important people were missing. I felt their absence as profoundly as I felt the waistband of my jeans constricting around my turkey-filled belly.

It was a beautiful day in my aunt’s beautiful home. My family were generally warm and unobtrusive. I was so happy to play and snuggle and dance with my cousins’ beautiful children. We went through a spell where there were no little ones for several years, but now my generation is pro-creating and there is tinkling laughter and the exuberant energy of little monkeys all over again. I still hope that one day my own little ones will be part of that music.

Yesterday I learned that members of my family are actively reading this blog. I also learned that reading this blog seems to create some confusion for some of them. For those of you who are confused about who I am writing to, or for, or about I would like you to just ask me. Please send me a note. Please don’t speculate and create further confusion and possibly hurt feelings. This made for a really awkward moment on an already difficult day for me yesterday.

I have great love, respect, and admiration for my collective family. They have survived a lot of pain and loss. Despite this, we continue to come together. For me, that impulse comes from honoring the idea that there are some constant, deeply rooted things that tie us to the earth, and add meaning and purpose to our lives. Family is one of them.

Watching everyone spontaneously rock out to Boney M after dinner, with percussion instruments in hand or babies in arms reminded me of where I come from. Life is deeply painful, incredibly confusing, and exquisitely beautiful all at the same time. I come from people who deeply understand this.

The people who make us can’t fully know us, the people who know us can’t really make us. Our hearts belong only to ourselves and are our beautiful worlds to govern.

This heart of mine needs family. Deep, true, real family that I can belong with and belong to. This is at the top of my New Year’s wish list, and will shape the woman I am in 2011.

I hope that your Christmas Day was warm, and that your Boxing Day will suitably be devoted to eating too much, drinking too much beer, and watching the Canada/Russia game. This is what will keep me rooted to the world today.

People shouted ‘Let everyone know, there is hope for all to find peace.’

Chrysalis, Day Twenty-Eight

DISCLAIMER:

Adventures in Schnooville is my personal space on the Internet. If you’re here, it’s either because I’ve invited you in, or you happened by and I decided to leave the door open.

Are you hearing me? This space is mine. For me. Please don’t forget that for a second. All of the thoughts, dreams, hopes, fears, and frustrations expressed here are my unique perspective on my very own unique life.

If you see yourself reflected here, if you discover experiences that are similar to your own, if you can relate, then I am of course delighted. That’s rather the point, isn’t it? We are compelled to write to combat feelings of solitude and isolation, and we are compelled to read to discover common themes and threads that tie all of us together. It makes me happy to know that for some of you, reading about my personal journey has made yours a little less lonely. If I do nothing else in my life, I think that’s a very fine thing.

If you know me beyond the realms of the internet, if you know a little bit about my life and the players therein, you are sharing even more of my personal experience, and if you’re reading this, then you ought to honor that. It’s rather like I left my journal open on your coffee table, isn’t it? On purpose. This is where I walk through my emotions, and here you are, sharing that with me. If it upsets you to read this, then walk away. Don’t read. Cancel your subscription, un-friend me on Facebook, delete me from your news feed, or take a break and come back some other time. I’m not writing for you, and I never will be. Commenting on the emotions I am expressing is futile because I can and will continue to express what I am feeling here. Always with as much sensitivity as I can muster, but as long as I’m here, I’ll be writing here.

I think you will find that if you give yourself a week, and then come back and re-read whatever upset you, it will be a very different experience. Or perhaps not. Whatever the case, it’s your responsibility to deal with how my emotions might be making you feel if you chose to read these pages.

Comments of reflection, relation, sensitivity, encouragement, sharing, and inspiration are always welcome here in Schnooville. Harsh criticism, judgment, and hurt are not. Start your own blog.

Finally, I would like to say that nearly a month in this chrysalis has given me a keen look at what it is like to be one of those people who absolutely dread this time of the year. For you, every year beyond this one, I give a little slice of my heart. I’m not sure if it’s the cold and snow, or if it’s the result of carefully planned propaganda, but this time of year wants sad and lonely people to hurt more than ever, and that’s just wrong.

Here is the challenge I throw down – make a list of everything in your life, right now, that offers you a consistent sense of warmth. Notice I didn’t say people? People are not so constant, but I can bet a warm mug of tea (with a nip of scotch perhaps) is always a little bit of comfort. If you have even one constant person who can be counted on for warmth, even if you don’t know them well, add them to your list. Warmth is warmth when it’s especially cold.

A whole month has passed almost since my life began to change shape again.

Last year, at this time, I knew it would be the last Christmas that I found myself in the circumstances I was in. I didn’t predict this change of course, and within the many layers of pain and sadness is a layer of unexpected surprise. A change of course that illuminates, and offers hope in the power of love. Hope that I have always held hidden beneath my layers of fear and cynicism. Now this hope has a face, and a name. It is real, and I will hold it close to my heart and recognize it over and over again each day.

There will be no fresh start because life continues moving forward. If you keep moving with it, your landscape will always change. In these dark winter months, the light at the end of the tunnel is impossible to see, but as spring waits tucked around the corner like a blushing virgin, so too is the light hidden away, waiting for the moment of revelation.

I raise a mug of warm scotch to you, and remind you that you’re not ever really alone.

Chrysalis, Day Three

Being sick and homeless sucks. Beyond that, I’m doing okay. I’m back in the city, in a comfortable guest room at my friends’ home. They also have a dog, so my creature comforts are covered here.

I saw my family last night. It was bittersweet. There’s the usual happiness and exuberance of the little ones, who are such an absolute delight, but then there is the sadness and other complicated adult emotion, which of course I expected. Expectation doesn’t make it any easier.

Today I will head downtown, after a moment of silent reflection on this important day of remembering. I have a doctor’s appointment which is keeping me in the city. After that I’ll head back to the house to gather some things, and help get the kids from school. I hope that I’ll be able to stay to spend some play time with them, and see them into bed.

I feel blocked today. The words aren’t flowing very well. It’s like my sinuses and my fingers are mirroring each other. Jian Gomeshi is telling me that Nora Effron is now the editor of a special section of The Huffington Post devoted to divorce. I skip over to it, and I’m immediately disgusted by do’s and don’ts that include:

Do know you’re a hot chick.

Don’t act crazy.

Nora is talking to Jian about the difference between divorcing with and without kids. I’ve divorced without children. It was fairly seamless. Now I have no legal rights at all, and I move forward with hope that I won’t be denied access to kids that I have no legal rights over. I can’t fight for my home, the business I had started was never put to paper so it exists as a vapor, and my job is no longer because I was working in the family business. No protection for me whatsoever.

Every fear I had about this relationship has come to realization.

I’m lucky that I don’t immediately have to think about work. I’m going to use some time for healing, but next week I will tackle my resume and make it look shiny and new. Even a simple retail job during the holidays is something to help give me my power back. I will never, ever again rely on anyone else to support me, no matter how sincere their intentions are.

I am a complex nut. I find it incredibly difficult to trust someone who I approach as a romantic partner, yet I continually subject myself to such complicated, compromised situations. In this instance I’ve given away so much of my independence. I thought I had an amazing opportunity to realize some of my own professional dreams, and I did. I was working hard, and seeing my work come to beautiful fruition, but that’s all gone now, and I have no idea if this is a permanent change. I should have insisted on putting things in writing. At least then I’d have some sense of security.

I made a baby too. A book that now lies suspended, it’s fate entirely uncertain. I poured my heart and soul into it, and I have real belief in it, but I simply don’t know what to do next.

Day three in the chrysalis is the most despairing yet. Despite the sunshine, it’s feeling rather impossible to see the light at the end of this tunnel.

 

Chrysalis Life, Day One (Morning)

Bailey's Winter Coat

I drifted in and out of sleep, waking only once with the panic of feeling like I was having a bad dream (and that dream was in fact my own reality). Instead of being woken by my step-children, I was greeted with a tiny dog that looks like Samuel L. Jackson crash-landing on my sternum. In a flurry of slimy dog kisses and the faint aroma of corn chips I regained my bearings and rubbed the sleep from my eyes.

I quickly realized that my low-carb, high protein lifestyle does not match my parent’s peanut butter and jam toast for breakfast routine. At least coffee is universal and the grocery store is on the corner.

As I woke up slowly, instead of packing tiny lunches, I opened email after email from concerned friends. Some who I’ve known for years and who really are my family, some who I barely know at all who wanted me to know that I was loved. This made it possible to imagine the next few steps in my day with some measure of lightness in my heart.

My parents insist on keeping their home like a meat locker. Thankfully, it’s a cozy home, despite this sub-zero climate. I donned my fingerless mitts to hunch over my computer like some red-headed lady Bob Cratchet.

Cooking is path that leads to happiness. There will be cooking in my future, and I’ll be diligent about sharing recipes here. We can call it the “Broken Hearted Feast”. Then I’ll publish it like a cookbook and make millions of dollars. Don’t steal that.

(LATER MORNING)

I’ve just done some actual Coquettes work to set a client up with everything she needs to convince her board to let us show our tatas in Owen Sound. Fingers crossed.

Before that, I took my mom’s ridiculous little dog for a walk around my old hood. He has a new winter coat which he seems to be terrified of. I think with firm patience I’ve broken him of this paralyzing fear, because his little legs finally got moving and he was able to make a poop. Tiny victories.

This simple stroll around the block was a snapshot of my entire life in The Hammer. My parents have had the same house since 1975. I think their refusal to move had less to do with economics and more to do with their desire to give my brother and I the stable home that neither of them really had as children. They live in a complex of townhouses, and I think they are one of three original homeowners who remain here from the glory days.

When they bought the house it was a promising little suburb surrounded by orchards and farm fields. Now, it’s The Hood. Two clusters of low-income apartment buildings sprung up, and the neighbourhood deteriorated accordingly. This place went from a sea of kids who were similar in age to a land with few children who could speak the same language, blue collar workers, and immigrants who are trying to get a foothold in their new life.

As I grew older, the parks and playgrounds got meaner. Used condoms, hypodermic needles, shifty, greasy men in dark corners, strangers with slow-moving cars, crack dealing public school thugs and angry girls with babies in their tummies became more and more common.

The family-minded neighbourhood die-hards stood their ground. There is a handful of home owners who insist on maintaining pristine gardens that they tend with love (my mother is one of these). One of the low-income housing buildings even takes up a tenant fund to create a glorious landscape of hollyhocks and snapdragons each summer. Some of the people in this neighbourhood have real pride in where they live, and a great number of our neighbours are one welfare cheque away from having nowhere to live at all.

Welfare cheque days were the most dangerous in this neighbourhood growing up. From what my parents have told me, the new immigrant population has now outnumbered the white trash conglomerate, so things aren’t as exciting as they used to be. I clearly recall Friday evenings spent dodging beer bottles soaring from balconies across the street, parties that lasted two days with the strains of Waylon Jennings floating from open screenless windows, and the police here, in multiples of three from 9pm until way past my bed time.

And yet, my mom and dad managed to carve out a little oasis.

Now, my old school is an adult learning centre. The public school next door to where my school was shares it’s massive field with a recreation centre and fully-loaded playground, and there’s a cricket field, soccer field, and cluster of benches under a group of trees where the Sikh gentlemen sit conversing and sharing food year-round when the weather permits.

Bailey wore his powder blue and silver coat, and I floated along my route to school and my usual trick or treat route in a cream-coloured Calvin Klein coat, a brown Valentino scarf, my Coach sunglasses and a vintage fur hat. The men I encountered were ruddy-faced middle aged white men who seemed to have nowhere to go, and the women I saw were scale tipping ladies and girls who poured themselves into jogging pants with words written across the bum. And of course the Sikh gentlemen.

My point here is not to establish status. My designer articles are things I loved that are the product of my extraordinary ability to source mad bargains. I don’t spend insane amounts of money on clothes and accessories. My point is to illustrate that in this place, since I was six, I have always felt like a stranger in a strange land. How many other twelve year olds have had a collection of signature scarves?

As has always been the case, I felt everyone I encountered eyeballing me. Perhaps that’s why I’ve grown so comfortable in the spotlight in my adulthood? Embracing the attention has certainly been useful in my life.

Our therapist made a very astute observation yesterday that I hadn’t even arrived at yet. My experience of the relationship I was trying so hard at was that no matter what, I would always be the outsider. I’ve felt like an outsider for my entire life and have experienced some real pain and feelings of inadequacy as a result. My struggle to belong has shaped me as an individual, and the pain of struggling for acceptance in the context of my relationship was simply too great.

I regret deeply all the hurt my honesty has  caused. There are so many people who, when faced with their own difficult truths, can brush these aside and exist in a place of denial and trying to maintain status quo. I did this once, for four years, and I promised myself to never, ever do it again. It pains me to think of my loved ones feeling so sad. We tried to do something quite unique, and we discovered some amazing things about ourselves, the complexities of love and relationship dynamics, and each other as individuals. I don’t feel like it was a failure, but rather a very necessary journey for us all. I hope that through the pain we now face each of us can hold on to that. I hope that we can hang on to the love we’ve found, in the way that mature, open-hearted, self-aware individuals can do. I also hope we can shelter our children from the complicated nature of adult relationships and cushion them through these transitions with all of the love and security they deserve.

Sadness is like a deep well right now. I have to make sure to hang on to the bucket.

I’m making dinner tonight for my parents and my brother. Here’s the menu:

Roasted Sweet Potato

Sauteed Green Beans

Braised Red Cabbage

Pork Tenderloin with Pears and Shallots

Perhaps some time in the kitchen will make me feel a little bit better.

Updates to follow.