Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Mug That Said "Embrace Change": The Aftermath of a Meltdown

I wipe down the counter.  After putting away the things that don't belong there, I stop and look.
What's left?  A grapefruit.  A folded blue cloth.  A fat mug with words "Embrace Change" written on it.

I feel a sudden irrational rush of resentment.

I feel, unfairly, that those words failed me, owed me something and let me down.

I am a happy embracer of change, I really am, I want to say out loud to someone.  My adult life has been spent adapting to all sorts of changes.  I am good at change, I think stubbornly.  I don't resist it, I roll with it.

This time though, my heart contracts and the words on the mug become blurry.  I think, rather unreasonably, Stupid mug!  What do you know about change?  I glare at it and its pretty flowers and calm color.

I step back.  One physical step only but much further away in my mind.

Until all things large and small become distant.

Time stops.

There has been another tornado.  My palms turned upwards in dismay.  It's left miles and miles of damage and debris.  Things got broken.  Time seemed to stand still.  For awhile we just existed in the eye of the storm.

A gentle question.  How was it?  Were you afraid?


 It was...unspeakable.  Inconceivable.  It seemed to come from nowhere.  The sky had been calm for a month. Nothing!  I had looked out my window, there were no small funnel clouds hovering menacingly over fields.  There was no darkening of the sky.  The wind didn't even pick up.  There were no alarms ringing in the air, telling us to run.  Get somewhere safe. To be somewhere safe.

I live where this sort of thing happens sometimes.  But even so, I forget pretty easily.  Second guess myself.  After awhile, when all evidence of the storm is gone, I go about my day, I smile to myself.  Maybe... it wasn't so bad, that last time.  It takes on the quality of a dream...of something not quite real...

But that's the weather for you.  That's life for you.  Isn't it?  

Later, there's a lot of discussion.  A lot of explaining the details.  A lot of words on paper.  A lot of change on the horizon.

In the aftermath, everything feels suspended.  Tender.

There is a little, still so little really, black haired boy skipping down the road ahead of me, a lopsided backpack half the size of his body, hanging off his shoulders.  Turning, peering at me over his shoulder.

"Mommy?  Do you still love me?"

"There's nothing you can do that would make me stop."

And silently I think "I've got this.  I've got you.  Don't worry.  We are going to take care of this somehow."

(I wrote this in April but didn't want to share it then.  Now we are well on our way to getting a diagnosis and I feel we have come a long way from this point.  Even just in my ability to deal with these things.)

Friday, 27 May 2016

Schoolyard Bullying

Bullying.  A word that has only gained in intensity and power despite its frequent use.  Everyone is outraged by bullying. It is the hot topic at parent meetings and "zero tolerance for bullying" has become every school's catch phrase.

And rightly so.  Consistent bullying is intolerable and can lead to horrific situations and leave lifelong wounds, especially on the heart of a small child, unequipped to make sense of a situation that would baffle most adults.  We have all read the stories, horror stories really,  of children and teenagers who take their own lives as a result of prolonged, systematic bullying.

We read these stories and try to convince ourselves that these things couldn't touch us on such a devastating level.  

We tell ourselves that a child who is bullied so badly that they take their own life must not receive the necessary love or attention at home to overcome the bullying by their peers.  A child who would take their own life must not have really been taught how great their worth was, how precious and irreplaceable they were.  However, if we are honest, we know that this is not always the case.  It's far more complex than that.  A child who is terrorized daily on the playground may have vulnerabilities in other areas already and may not have the capacity to cope with or process the trauma they are enduring.

Sometimes the most loving home in the world can't save a child who has been made to feel so utterly worthless.  

It is frightening to acknowledge that sometimes the most secure home isn't enough.

Bullying is intolerable.  

Schools should have a zero tolerance policy.  These words instill confidence, the idea that something is being done right, but is there substance behind these words?  

Sometimes a concern about bullying is met with something frighteningly similar to victim blaming.  "I am sorry but your child isn't like other children.  I'm sorry but your child doesn't read social situations very well.  I am sorry but..."

In essence, I'm sorry but somehow your child has brought this upon himself.

The bottom line is that these "I'm sorry but" comments are essentially contradictory to the idea of having a zero tolerance for bullying policy in the first place.  These comments in fact, contribute to bullying rather than lead to finding a solution.  The message given is that children could avoid being bullied if they would just conform to a standard notion of normal.  If they could manage to become just like everyone so as not to stand out in any way.

Is this what we want for our children?  It isn't what I want for mine.  The answer to bullying is not conformity or eliminating differences or the very things that make someone an individual.  As my children grow, I don't want to teach them to blend in and not stand out.  I want to teach them to stand up and be who they are and were created to be, even if who they are is a little bit quirky, a little bit different.  

We can try to teach ourselves and our children courage, empathy and hard things like how to stand up for someone who is being hurt or made fun of.  We can try to help them understand that a person is allowed to be different.  

It's important to keep teaching children that there are obvious differences we see at once.  For example, we may remember to teach our children that we don't bully a child who has a different skin color or who speaks with an accent.  We may remember to teach them not to make fun of someone who has uses a wheelchair or a child who has a visible disability.

It's also important to teach our children and perhaps ourselves, that there are less obvious differences as well.  Disabilities or syndromes we don't see or understand fully because a child seems "normal" on the surface.  The little boy who is bright and engaging but obsesses over one thing and repeats himself constantly.  The child who is sitting quietly in class and suddenly has a series of noticeable vocal or motor tics.  A child with sensory issues who has trouble processing the light, feel, noise, and speed of the world around them and experiences meltdowns or shutdowns.  All of these things may seem funny to classmates until someone sits down and explains to them what is actually happening to the child experiencing these things.  

That that child may just think a little differently and understand and experience the world a little differently.  Most importantly, that there is room in the world for everyone and it's ok to be a little different.  It's a pretty good lesson to take with us as we go through life.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Things I Would Like To Control

Tonight I am not looking to produce a brilliant piece of writing.
I am just looking to control the things I can control.
It's been the worst.
The most overwhelming.
I feel like between this and that, I can't quite reach the surface to draw breath.
I find myself wanting to scream at innocent people saying normal things
The words I always so smugly deemed as arrogant:
You don't understand.
But of course, I bite my tongue.
I had this urge tonight to smash my fist into a wall in frustration.
Or to see it fly through glass.
I, the peace loving, non confrontational, smiling optimist.
But of course, I kept my fists to myself.

Because I have to be emotionally stable now.
I don't get the luxury of hurling raw emotions all over the place
And leaving others to wade through the debris.

I am just looking to control the things I can control.
It's how I know when I am overwhelmed.

I struggle with a sweeping desire for clarity,
And when I can't find it.
I feel the panic burning in my throat and I want it gone.
Everything.  Every excess thing.
I want it all gone from my sight, gone from my home.

I keep hoping that in one of these purging binges, I find it.
That I will raise my eyebrows, give a rueful laugh,
Oh there it is!  Clarity was just hiding in the back of my overstuffed closet!

Material things, they make it so I can't breathe.

As soon as life starts spiraling, I start trying to breathe by throwing clothing into bags to give to a friend, by piling books on the floor to give to the library, by tossing papers and pictures into the garbage.  I open up my cupboards and slam them shut again, take a deep breath, overwhelmed by the excess...

Each thing that leaves the house gives me a rush of vivid relief.
A heady injection of the illusion of control.

The truth of it is this:
Material things are things I can control.

Things I can't control:
I can't stop someone from hurting,  Not even someone who is my world, my heart.

Walking home from dropping my son off at school in the morning, my stomach in knots, my heart pounding heartbreak, there's so much I can't control.

I can't keep him safe.  I can't protect him from the laughter, and fists, and words.

I can't keep his shining exuberance intact.  I can't wrap my arms around him and keep him from being hurt.

And this is when it hits me, the helplessness I feel.  I wish there was a contract I could have signed.
Between God and I when I became a parent.

It would have asked me to confirm please,
Am I willing to take all the pain, all the needless suffering this child might experience, on myself,
Let him get through life whole, unscathed?
Sign and date below.

I would have done it.  I would have said, yes anything.  Just let him keep his smile.

If that were a thing I could control.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Blogging: Succeeding At The Things That Don't Matter

“Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don't matter.”  - Francis Chan

I first started blogging in 2007 when my husband and I first decided to adopt.  I began a blog called "Carpe Diem, Gorgeous!" and simply wrote. That was really all I did with the blog.  I didn't worry much about stats aside from thinking it was great fun to see the various countries those who visited it came from.  I didn't spend time on blog promotion groups, I don't even think they existed then.  I may have occasionally shared a post to my personal Facebook page but rarely.  Getting things shared on social media wasn't yet a "thing".  I never heard someone mention "going viral" or having that as a goal.  I never heard of blogging goals at all.  I never thought about my blog "making it big".  In fact, the main reason I stopped blogging at Carpe Diem was because I felt I had too many readers (in reality, not a huge amount!) and I didn't want it to become more about the readers than about the actual writing.  This isn't vanity speaking, this stems from the fact that although I love writing and publish many personal things, I also have a deep, contradictory need for privacy.  

Looking back, I think that we had more fun blogging then.  Blogging was more relaxed.  Many wrote simply for the pleasure of writing.  This can be argued of course since it is only a personal opinion but it's how it felt.  We all connected then through browsing and truly enjoying other's blogs, commenting and building strong relationships.  After a couple years of blogging, I had a good readership and a strong, close group of people that I interacted with (and interact with still in may cases) and many of those people became friends.  

I took a break from blogging (not writing) for several years and came back to discover blogging is business now.  Blogging is serious and competitive.  Blogging is less than ever about personal interaction and more about numbers of followers on social media.  Much (not all) content has become quite bland or on the contrary, purposely controversial.  Less about actual writing and more about succeeding at blogging itself.  I find that I have trouble making myself care about all these things blogging is now supposed to be.  I just want an emotional and creative outlet.

I care about writing and authenticity.  I care about reading what other people are genuinely concerned about or what touches their hearts.  I care about beautiful, interesting, clever, creative writing.  I care about the people behind the words.  I care about interaction and sharing.  I care about reaching people.

I like to write serious things and I like to have fun with writing.  I like a little, unprofessional, non- trendy blog.

The articles I send out into the world for publication are one thing.  I write them because I want people to share and read them.  What I write here is different. Sometimes I want to write things here that are more private, that I don't want to be shared many times or seen by many people. Things that are just for me.  

In the end, people may like or dislike what I write but I am the one who knows whether I am satisfied with what I have written.  That knowledge has to come from inside myself.  

Writers need to have a combination of assurance and uncertainty to maintain authenticity and vulnerability.  Blogging is one thing.  Writing another.  And sometimes, people manage to combine the two.        

Happy writing!  I'm still having fun!:)

Monday, 14 March 2016

Now You've Got To Be Strong

Now you've got to draw close.
Wrap your arms around your body, use you hands to
Protect your heart.
Create some sort of barrier.
Do the hard things you aren't sure you can do.

Now you've got be strong.
Not give anything away.
Hold your hand across your mouth
And not give fear a voice.

Now you're going to become familiar with a new sort of chaos.
With things that will hurt and damage.
Familiar with watching someone you love more than yourself fall apart.
Familiar with distance and not being able to reach them sometimes.

Now your heart will break
And you will cry a million private tears,
Into towels in the bathroom
While you do your makeup.
Into pillows.
Into your hands.
At any time of day.
And maybe no one believes you.
Or maybe they think it's your fault.
You haven't done enough.
You have done too much,
In any case, you can never win.
There will always be those who see the ways you have failed with this.

But now you have to focus.
On moments.  The small singular softer moments.
On loving and loving and reassuring that you love,

Now you must become the safest harbor there is.
The very safest place you could ever imagine
For someone who is hurting in ways you don't understand.
Now you have to open your arms
And make room for all this sorrow.
You slowly kneel on the floor and collect shattered pieces of everything broken.
Lego. Glass. Hearts.
All in disarray.
Now you have to try
To put everything back together,

Now you've got to be stronger than you expected you'd need to be.
And you can be.
You can be
Both warrior and peacemaker
Both a storm and a safe place
For the ones you love.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Accepting Norway

It's funny that come July I will have lived in Norway for 12 years and yet I have devoted little time to writing about my life here, aside from a lone article focusing on the importance of nurturing strong friendships when living far from one's home country: Why Friendship is So Important When Living Abroad.  

Maybe because Norway and I have had a rather rocky relationship at times or rather, when I look at it now with eyes wide open, because I have struggled through some trying and difficult human relationships here and wrongly held Norway the country to blame for personal attitudes I found restrictive and narrow.

This wasn't always so.  When I first came to Norway, I threw myself into being there.  I was enthusiastic about the people I met and the country itself.  I was 18 years old.  My hair was streaked blond and I was wearing an old grey and red school sweater and jeans.  I stepped into the cool autumn air and smiled at my friend Alyssa, my partner in crime, my fellow adventurer.  Oslo.  It felt so grand. So far away.  Feeling edgy and grown up, I slung my back pack over my shoulders and stepped on to the busy street, cupping my hands around my mouth and shouted to anyone listening "Can anyone point us in the direction of a church?"

We planned to take shelter in a church, we thought we could sleep there for the night.  Because we had very little money we thought this was quite a clever plan.

A beautiful black haired woman stopped in front of me.  "A church?"  Her eyes curious, her mouth forming a surprised "o".  I explained we needed somewhere to sleep and she smiled and motioned with her lovely, manicured hand to follow her.  She had somewhere we could stay,  

We were jet-lagged and optimistic.  We followed her down some winding unfamiliar streets.  She spoke to man outside a building, he led us to a room upstairs.  It was expensive but by this point we were too tired to care.

We slept there one night and moved on, not thinking about it again until I told a Norwegian man where we had stayed our first night in Norway and he snorted with laughter.  "You stayed there? That place is known for prostitution and drug dealers!"

To this day I still haven't slept in a church in Norway but at least I have this great achievement to brag about.

I digress but I came to Norway at 18 prepared to love it.  I visited again several times before moving here "for good" at the age of 24.  Every time I visited I told my Norwegian friends to find me a job and I would stay.

And that is funny in itself, because I often feel it would have made more sense given my personality and way of thinking to be drawn somewhere else.  Somewhere vibrant and colorful and diverse. Instead at that time in my life, I was drawn here.  

I was drawn here by love eventually and the thing is that after 12 years somewhere, you come to know yourself to be at home in a place, whether you like it or not really.  Whether you intend to feel at home or not.  The thing is the lines get blurred.  Home, family, missing, loneliness.  You come to see it's all a journey.  You are home here. You are home there.  It is not clear cut or easy to define anymore because you give up one home to create another and yet home is inside yourself.  Home is anywhere now.  

Living in a country is nothing like traveling, even extended traveling.  Living somewhere is a whole other story. 

I see now, finally, that Norway has borne the brunt of so many of my emotions that were really directed toward other people.  People who rather than welcome me or helping my transition here, made it more difficult.  People from whom I expected far too much.  Now for me, the lovely thing is, this is all done in my head and heart.  

I simply accept what is at this moment in time and I don't worry about the rest. 

Some days I feel that this beautiful country lacks something essential for holding the soul together.  I will never be fully Norwegian but nor am I really fully Canadian.  I have trouble identifying a place I really identify with,  But perhaps this is a great blessing.  I am not afraid.  I am not attached to just one place.  I can move through the world with great ease.  

I can be here.  I can be there.  My home is not a tangible place.  

Monday, 22 February 2016

A Letter To Those Mothers Who Have Given Up A Child For Adoption

Dear Mothers of Loss to Adoption,

I don't know if you will want to hear from me, a mother through adoption but the beauty of the internet is that we all have a voice.  We can all be heard.

I read some of the comments you wrote about my recent article on infertility that was posted on your Facebook page.  One of you said I was disgusting and another said that it was impossible to mourn what I'd never lost.  One wrote that your sympathy for those experiencing infertility ended when a woman thought she could take the child of another mother and try to make it her own.  One person commenting likened adoption to wanting a Porsche and feeling entitled to one and so simply taking one that rightfully belonged to someone else.  One woman shared her belief that the only real mother is a birth mother.

Reading those comments didn't make feel me angry, defensive or even offended, but they did make we wish that there was some way I could reach out to you.  Just as each birth mother is unique and has her own story, so is each adoptive mother.  We are not all the same.  I won't try to make less of your grief. You have every right to it.  We all have our own stories and those stories are our truths.

My truth is that I have thought about you from the moment that adoption first entered my mind. Before I even knew with certainty that we would try to adopt, it was you I wondered about.  I hurt for you because although I wasn't yet a mother myself and I knew nothing of your circumstances, I understood that this was not all joy and celebration.  There was immeasurable grief, loss, anguish involved too.  I knew my gain would be someone else's heart-shattering, lifelong loss.

I tried to imagine you.  My mind wouldn't rest.  I pictured you in an unfamiliar place, a world away from me.  Arms wrapped around yourself.  Hands resting on your belly.  I wondered how old you were.  If you were just a child, or a widow, or a woman my age.  I wondered if your family had abandoned you upon learning you were pregnant as so often happens in some countries even to this day.

I wondered what you felt when you learned you were pregnant.  Were you filled with a tentative joy? Did you hope against hope, pray for a possibility, however small, that you might not have to part with the precious child you carried inside?  Were you terrified, did you dread what was to come?  Did you feel full of resolve or full of despair?  Was the child you carried a product of love?  Anger?  War?  

I wondered when you would begin to think about me, a nameless woman in another country. Another world.  What would you want to tell me if you could?

Now I am writing this years later, I feel deeply the pain of adoption but I also see the beauty it can bring in some situations.  It is not a perfect answer or solution but it can be an option or answer for some.

Even at the beginning of this long journey, I wanted to promise you so much.  Mostly that I would not forget you, but more importantly, that I wouldn't let your child won't forget you either.  That we will always be a part of each other.  You will always be with me and with this child.

It is my hope that my children carry a love for their birth parents and their birth country in their hearts as they live.  I promise you I don't feel threatened by this.  There is enough love to cover this. Enough love to cover me and you.  It is my hope that one day we will meet you again.

I am stepping into the gap for this child although I am not perfect and can't do it all or know it all.

I can't apologize for the fact that my husband and I are parents through adoption.

But I promise you that I don't feel entitled to this child.  I know he is not fully mine.  He is fully his own and I have the honor and great responsibility to care for him as he grows and love him.  In this way, I hope to honor you too.

I picture myself standing before you, beside you, with you, someday.  I feel we are united.  This is your child. This is my child.  We are united in our love and responsibility to him, you and I.

As I said, I don't know if you wanted to hear from me but I wanted to tell you this.

Love, C.

(I wrote this in response to comments that were written under my article on infertility on one of the pages that shared it on Facebook.  I don't usually respond to those sorts of comments and did not want to engage in an argument no one can win on Facebook or in the comment section of Huffington Post but felt as though I could address it here.)