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A Letter To My Younger Self

10 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 10 – Dear 16-year-old me: Write a letter to yourself at age 16. What would you tell yourself? What would you make your younger self aware of?


Dear 16-year-old me,

I am writing to you from 26 years in the future. I am 42 years old, and a lot has happened in the last two and a half decades. The world is a different place now, and I have grown up a lot since I was – well, you.

I don’t want to tell you too much about the next few years of your life, because as painful as some of it will be, it wouldn’t be right for me to change it. I am who I am today because of some of that stuff. You have to live through it, knowing that you will survive your worst times and come out stronger for it.

However, there are a few things you should know, that will make it a bit easier for you to navigate the next 26 years.

1) You are not fat, no matter what anyone tries to tell you. You are a beautiful young woman, and this body image problem that you have is just going to cause problems for you later in life.

2) When you go to that birthday party that’s coming up and drink a truckload of beers, Mom will smell your boozy breath from a mile away when she picks you up. Especially when you open your mouth to make lame excuses for why you’re tripping over your own big toes.

3) When they bring in the school’s first computer later this year, pay attention to it and learn how to use it. Computers will become a massive part of your life so you may as well start now.

4) That hairdresser appointment you have next week? For the love of God, cancel it. Believe me, you do not want a perm. It will take the phrase “big hair” to a whole new level.

5) If you meet a good-looking guy in the hallway of the medical centre, don’t talk to him. He’ll just cause trouble for you. Don’t fall for his flattery.

6) You’re allergic to mangoes. Like, seriously allergic. If you avoid mangoes, you will avoid anaphylaxis and a trip to an Israeli hospital where they’re very nice but don’t speak good English.

7) Things will happen during your University years that will be very hard on you. You will not be as alone as you will feel, and if you ask for help, you will get it. Don’t try to go through it alone.

8) Just because one therapist is mean and judgmental, that doesn’t mean they will all be like that. Don’t try to deal with depression alone for twenty years before you get help.

9) Find out as much as you can about autism and take your first child for screening as soon as you see the signs. The doctor will try to get you to wait for another year. Don’t listen to him. Threaten to sit in his office gathering dust until you get a referral.

10) Post-partum depression is a terrible, scary thing, especially when it goes undiagnosed for over a year.

11) Take care of your feet. You’re going to be getting plenty of use out of them. When you really get into the running, your feet will not be your most attractive feature. Wear your callouses and blackened toenails with pride.

12) You don’t realize yet that you are a runner. When your inner runner emerges, go running with Dad every opportunity you get. Later in life, you will hold onto the memories of those runs like treasures.

13) You deserve happiness, and you deserve to be treated with true respect. Don’t settle for anything less.

14) Enjoy your sleep while you can. When you become a mother, you will yearn for it.

15) In a few years’ time you will go to Israel. It will be one of the best times of your life and you will meet some people who will become lifelong friends. Enjoy it and store as many memories of it as you can.

16) The degree you do at University will have no relation to your eventual career. That does not matter. The degree will be useful to you in other ways.

17) Spaghetti mixed with ketchup does not make a gourmet meal, and you will get some very strange looks if you make it for your parents as a special treat.

18) Don’t try going on antidepressants without the guidance of a therapist. As the depression lifts, some other feelings will emerge that will seem scarier. You will need help managing those feelings.

19) The person who has been your best friend since you were ten will still be your best friend when you are 42. Your friendship will survive a rift and you will be there for each other through many major life events. Treasure this friend, because she really is a gem.

20) Life is too short for bullshit. Don’t bear grudges, don’t procrastinate, and make the most of every opportunity you have.

21) Take care of your teeth. When Mom lectures you about flossing, she’s right.

Enjoy your youth, Younger Me. It will be gone all too quickly, and you want to have some good memories of it to carry you through the darker patches of your life.

I’ll see you in 26 years’ time. Enjoy the ride!

Regards,

Older You

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Butterfly

5 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 5 – Ekphrasis Post: Go to flickr.com/explore and write a post inspired by the image. Can you link it to your health focus?

When my son was first diagnosed with autism, we enrolled him in a local daycare centre on the advice of his speech therapist. He needed the social aspect of it, she said. He needed the group lunchtimes, the circle times, and all of the other elements of being part of a group of children. We were nervous about letting our sensitive, vulnerable son out of our immediate orbit, particularly since the daycare had never had a child with autism before.

To their eternal credit and our eternal gratitude, the daycare welcomed George with open arms. The director of the centre arranged for all of her staff to be trained in how to work with special needs kids, and George was very happy there.

During the summer months, the kids would be taken to play outside at the end of the day while they were waiting for their parents to pick them up. I would get off the bus from work, pick up my boy, and walk home with him. One day, I picked up his backpack from the darkened daycare classroom as usual, and went out to the playground. I always tried to arrive undetected so I could watch George at play for a few minutes. In typical autistic fashion, he always did his own thing. He played among the other kids, but not with them.

On this particular day, I got to the playground just in time to see a few of the other kids preparing to have a race from one tree to another. George stood apart from the kids, watching them shyly. When the daycare teacher said, “GO!” the kids scampered away from the start line while George stood by on his own.

My heart constricted with unbearable sadness. The whole thing seemed to underscore the isolation of autism, and I felt a sense of unjustness that my child was standing there on his own. With his lanky frame and long legs, he is a natural runner. He might have won that impromptu little race.

Damn autism, I thought. I knew these other kids well enough to know that prior to lining up for the race, they would have tried to encourage George to participate. But being locked in his own world, he would not have known how to. Outwardly, he seemed perfectly happy, but I couldn’t help wondering about that. What was going through his mind as he watched those other kids at play together? Did he feel any sense of isolation? Did he wish he knew how to join in?

I started thinking about sports teams and group activities. Was George ever going to be able to be part of a soccer team or a high school band? Would he travel in a pack of teenage friends or would he sit by himself in the high school cafeteria? Would he be excluded from birthday parties? Or would some group of well-meaning kids include him in their group and look out for him?

How was my child, with his autism and his social communication deficits, going to survive in a social world?

This is a concern that is with me more or less all the time, despite assurances from his teacher that he is starting to tentatively reach out socially at school, that he is getting better and better at participating in social activities, and that he is, in fact, an extremely well-liked member of the student body.

A few days ago I saw something that made my heart soar. Me and my husband were out for a walk with the kids, and we saw the teenage boys down the road shooting hoops in their driveway. Before we could stop him, George ran up to the boys and held out his hands for the ball. The boys good-naturedly obliged, and like a true natural basketball player, George bounced the ball on his knee and then threw it towards the hoop as if he did this every day.

The hoop was too high for George to have any success, and the boys offered to lower it for him. We told them not to worry and we went on our way, but not before the boys had invited George to play basketball with them any time he wanted.

When things like this happen, my vision of the future shifts, as if I’m looking at my son’s life through a kaleidoscope. I start to see possibilities that were previously hidden to me, possibilities that simply may not have been there before George grew and developed into them. Instead of seeing the kid who stood on his own while everyone else had a race, I now see the boy who, just for a few moments, joined other boys in a basketball game.

If I had, just a year ago, seen the picture that inspired this post, I would have thought, “George is probably never going to do that. He’s probably never going to romp around with friends or be invited to take part in impromptu soccer games.”

Now I look at that picture and realize that I am seeing the emergence of George as a social being. Maybe he’ll always be shy, and it is very likely that he will always need to be surrounded by people who will look out for him.

But his personality, his character, the very essence of who he is – that is emerging bright and beautiful, like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon.

Blog Beginnings: A Funny Guy Made Me Do It

17 Mar

Tim "Red Barren" Carter, who gave me the idea for my blog

Two years ago today, my blog was born. When I wrote my first post, I didn’t really give much thought to where it would all lead me. I wouldn’t have even started the blog if I hadn’t been pushed into it.

Here’s what happened:

Over a decade ago, a super-cool dude by the name of Bruce started a super-cool ezine called Really Good Quotes, and I was one of the original subscribers. In the early days of the ezine, Bruce did everything himself: the research, the writing, the sourcing of quotes, and the compilation of the issues. Five days a week he did this.

After a while, Bruce realized that it would be nice to have a life, so he cut back from five days a week to three, and he started enlisting help. He recruited a couple of writers and asked me to be the editor. And so it became my responsibility to collect everyone’s submissions and format them into something resembling a respectable ezine. When I’d been doing this for about a year, Bruce offered me my own column. I handed off the editing responsibilities to a guy named Cliff, who does it far better than I did (and writes an awesome column to boot), and I started focusing my attention on writing.

Through this whole process, I became friends with the other writers on the ezine. We were a close-knit little group from the start and our friendships started to extend beyond the bounds of Really Good Quotes. One of my fellow writers – a guy who, sadly, is no longer with us – was called Tim. Tim had a heart the size of Texas and he was an amazingly funny guy. He was also a technogeek, so in addition to being a friend, he became my unofficial tech support person.

It was Tim who got me into writing outside of Really Good Quotes. My older son’s autism diagnosis came when I was in the midst of post-partum depression, and I felt myself buckling under the weight of everything. Tim contacted me during this dreadful time and told me that perhaps I needed an additional forum for my writing.  He offered me a space on his website where I could write whenever I wanted. There was no requirement to post, there was no pressure and no expectation. I simply had a place to go when I needed to vent.

One day more than a year later, Tim told me I needed to spread my wings. He wasn’t booting me off his site, and in fact he wanted me to stay and continue posting, but he felt that my writing was good enough to warrant a wider audience. He encouraged me to sign up with one of the well-known blogging platforms that came complete with a large community of bloggers. At first I was resistant to the idea. It sounded like more hard work than I was in the mood for.

Tim’s idea would turn out to be a bug that, once planted in my mind, kept nagging at me. After a couple of months, I thought, What the hell? I signed up, and here I am, celebrating my blog’s second birthday.

Many things have happened since then, both in my blog and in the broader context of my life. I have seen all kinds of growth in my kids, I have watched my son beat out all of the doctor’s predictions, and I have done some growing up myself. I have run all kinds of races and beat my own personal best times. I have voted for the first time as a Canadian citizen, I have tied the knot with my long-time partner and I have taken on extra responsibilities at work.

As far as my writing goes, I still write for Really Good Quotes. I am also a writer and scheduling editor for World Moms Blog and I participate regularly in the Indie Ink writing challenges. I have been invited to participate in the Health Activists Writers Month Challenge which runs in April. I have been voted as one of the Top 25 Canadian Mom Blogs. And very soon, my website will be going through an overhaul. I am excited at the prospect of launching a new look to showcase my writing.

I feel like I am entering a whole new phase and I cannot wait to see where it brings me.

Happy 2nd birthday, blog!

(Photo used with the kind permission of Kristen Carter)

Journey–Part 2

24 Feb

On Wednesday I started chronicling my recent trip to South Africa. I intended to put everything in one post, but as it turned out, a lot of activity was packed into my ten days there. This is an account of my last few days.

2012-02-15 14.27.52Wednesday: I have been looking forward to this day ever since I arrived. My friend Jenny picks me up and we spend the day together. Why am I so excited about this? Because Jenny and I have been friends since we were ten. We live far away from each other now, but something as paltry as distance isn’t going to change the fact that she is my best friend and always will be. We go out for coffee, then take a walk around the bird park. We watch a live bird show – part of it, anyway, before the rest of it is cancelled due to rain. After that we head indoors and have lunch together. It is a great day, one that concludes with us resolving to have a joint 50th birthday celebration in some exotic location. We have a few years to nail down the details.

Thursday: Mom and I head out early to do the shopping we were going to do on Tuesday. We buy presents for my boys and food for the memorial that is planned for tomorrow. Then Mom drops me off at a shopping mall, where I have arranged to meet up with my friends Faye and Njabulo. I used to work with Faye and I was in Toastmasters with both of them. We spend hours drinking coffee and talking. Eventually we go our own reluctant ways. I do a bit of shopping before meeting up with my cousin Philippa, who is visiting for a few days from the coastal town of Knysna that is now home to her. We have coffee, do more shopping, and then head home to have dinner with Mom.

2012-02-17 15.11.45Friday: My brother arrives at a prearranged time, and the three of us drive out to my aunt’s house. We have a small private memorial planned – just a few us of us, all family. With my brother protectively carrying the ashes, we go up the hill behind her house. My brother says a few words that bring smiles and tears to the rest of us, and then we scatter the ashes under a tree – the same tree where both of my grandparents were scattered many years ago. My aunt’s final resting place is absolutely gorgeous, and the rain has held off for this occasion. We go back to the house and share memories. This is just the kind of final farewell that my aunt would have wanted.

Saturday: My friend Caroline picks me up and we go out for brunch. I haven’t seen Caroline for about twelve years and she looks just the same. We have a great time catching up, and then she comes back to the house to have tea with me and Mom. After she leaves, Mom and I go out for lunch with my brother. It will be a long time before I see him again, so I am glad of this opportunity. When Mom and I get back to the house, my aunt and cousins come for tea. I finish my packing, and then Mom and I tearfully say goodbye to each other before my cousins drop me off at the train that will take me to the airport.

I returned to Toronto on Sunday afternoon, feeling jetlagged, exhausted, and filled with the sadness that comes from leaving behind a grieving mother. I wish I could split myself in half. I am so happy to be back here, with my husband and children. But I wish I could have spent more time with Mom. I feel like she still needs me, and I hope she knows that even though I am far away, I am always at her side.

Journey–Part 1

22 Feb

This time two weeks ago I was sitting at Heathrow Airport waiting for my connecting flight to Johannesburg. I was bored out of my skull, having spent seven hours drifting aimlessly around the Internet and walking around the duty free shops looking at stuff I didn’t want and couldn’t afford to buy.

Eventually my flight left, and I arrived in South Africa early the following morning. The next ten days or so were a whirlwind of activity. I spent time with my mom and my brother, went out with people I haven’t seen for an inordinately long time, and said goodbye to my aunt as we laid her ashes to rest.

It is worth recording what I did during this trip, because I am not getting any younger and I do not want these memories to get lost in the busy-ness and noise of my regular day-to-day life.

2012-02-08 22.57.18

Thursday: I arrive in South Africa. My brother picks me up and feeds me non-airline food. It feels odd to drink a cup of coffee without air turbulence making it splash all over my face. I absently wonder whether pilots plan to hit turbulence right around the time coffee is being served. My mom picks me up from my brother’s place and takes me to the house that was home to me for many years. I meet the current instalment of dogs and cats, and have a glass of wine with my mom before going to bed and failing to sleep.

Friday: Today is a sad day. My mom and I go to the funeral home where we meet up with my aunt Mary and my cousins Alison and Ivan. We go in to pay respects to my aunt. Little do I know that the image of her bruised and damaged face will come to haunt me after a few days. She was so beautiful in life, and that is how I want to remember her. In the evening, my brother comes for dinner. He is working too hard, and he looks too stressed. We all relax together for the evening, the three of us. I feel the absence of my dad. I feel like he should be there with us. Maybe he is.

Saturday: My brother takes Mom and I out for the best cappuccino in town, and then Mom and I head back home because we’re expecting a visitor, Pieter. I have known him since I was about ten, when his late wife Tanya became friends with Mom. In the afternoon, my brother picks me up and we go out for a movie. After the movie we go to a rooftop bar to have a drink and chat. We have a great time. It has been far too long since we went out, just the two of us.

2012-02-12 07.16.16Sunday: I go for a trail run by the river. The altitude makes it tough, but I love the sunshine and the beauty, and I deem the run to be a success. When I get back, I go out for breakfast with Mom and my cousin Alison. Later in the day, my friend Wayne picks me up and we go for lunch. It is great to see him. I met him when I went to Israel twenty years ago and we have been firm friends ever since.

Monday: My birth father Ron takes me out for brunch. I saw him seven years ago at my dad’s funeral, but I have not had much contact with him since. We have a good time and a lovely chat. In the afternoon, two of Mom’s friends come over for tea. One of them I have known all my life; the other I am meeting for the first time. A good time is had by all.

Tuesday: I have a day with Mom today. The plan is to go to her hairdresser salon – run by her long-time friends Willie and Martinus – and then to go shopping. I am delighted to see them. They have been true friends to my mom for many years, and Willie cut my hair last time I was here seven years ago. Willie takes one look at me, and telling me that I’m far too young to be walking around with grey hair (God bless him), he makes an executive decision to colour my hair for me. Mom and I end up spending most of the afternoon there, talking, laughing, and getting our hair done. There is no time for shopping at the end of it, but we do stop on the way home to make sure we have wine. It’s all about priorities.

Continued on Friday…

Non-Canadian Thanksgiving: Things I’m Thankful For

24 Nov

My social media feeds are making me hungry today. My Facebook newsfeed and my Twitter timeline are full of people in the United States talking about turkey, wild mushroom tartlets, various kinds of fresh-baked breads, pumpkin pie, sweet-potato-this-thing or roasted-carrot-that-thing. It all sounds delicious, and I am truly happy that everyone is having such a lovely feast. But you know, sitting up here in Canada, the ham and cheese sandwich that looked so nice while I was making it suddenly seems a little sad.

Yes, I know. We Canadians already had our turn last month. While I was Facebooking and tweeting about my own Thanksgiving dinner six weeks or so ago, I got a number of responses that said something along these lines: “Lucky cow!”

Anyway, even though it is not technically my Thanksgiving, I thought I’d take a moment, while everyone is in the mood, to reflect on things that I am grateful for. Because sometimes we get so caught up the busy-ness and stress and noise of life that we forget about the things in our lives that make it all worthwhile.

Like these:

  • I have two gorgeous children who are in perfect health. Yes, my son has autism, and yes, this affects both of my kids, but I get to hug them and cuddle with them and kiss them goodnight. I get to read to them, play with them, and arm-wrestle them into eating their veggies. They are there to wake me up early on Saturday mornings while I’m trying to sleep, and they are there to dump toys all over the house and then refuse to clean up after themselves. There are some parents who have buried their children, who can only dream of all of this. My heart aches for them, and I appreciate every second with my kids – the good moments and the bad.
  • My husband and I have arguments. I mean, who doesn’t? Every couple has arguments. There are times when he drives me crazy, times when he makes me cry, times when I feel overworked and underappreciated. But then there are the good times. The times we laugh together at some joke that only the two of us can understand. The times we go to meetings at our kids’ schools and work together for the betterment of their future. He calls me during the day for no reason other than to tell me he loves me, and when I’m on my way home from work, he walks to the bus stop to meet me because he wants to see me that badly. He is the love of my life and I cannot imagine life without him. And I am truly thankful that I sat in a park that day ten years ago and fell for the stranger who approached me.
  • The economy has been up a certain creek without a paddle for some time now. I know of people who have lost their jobs, who cannot afford a simple visit to the doctor, who struggle to feed their families. I spend a lot of time griping about my commute, but at least I have a job to commute to. It’s a good job, too. Challenging work, reasonable pay, good benefits and for the most part, people I enjoy working with.
  • I have some phenomenal friends. Some I have known for a very long time, and some are relatively recent additions to the fabric of my life. Many people talk about their online friends versus their “in real life” friends. I make no such distinction. If you have hugged me (either in person or virtually), cried with me, advised me, been there for me, allowed me to be there for you – you are my friend, whether I have met you face-to-face or not. Knowing someone exclusively through online media does not make that person any less real. So, to my friends – whether we have physically met or not –  I love you and appreciate you. Truly.
  • Then there are the people who I don’t really know well enough to be able to be able to call my friends – not yet, anyway. I hesitate to use the word “acquaintances”, because that word implies that I merely know these people. It does not adequately convey the idea that they are important to me, and that I greatly value their presence in my life. Many of the people I interact with on Twitter fall into this category. I cannot say that I know them, but they brighten my day, or somehow make me feel that I’m not alone; that no matter what I’m going through, someone understands and more importantly, cares.

Sometimes, life gets overwhelming for me and all I want to do is run away and hide. But when I turn on my taps, I get hot and cold running water that’s clean enough to drink. I walk outside and all of the buildings are standing. There are no bombs flying around and I haven’t lost all of my loved ones and possessions to an earthquake. I live in a house, not on the street. Although I live halfway across the world from my mother, I don’t have to worry about whether she is sick or injured, because through the magic of technology that I can afford to have in my home, I am in daily contact with her.

No matter how bad things may get from time to time, there is always something to be thankful for.

(Photo credit to http://www.flickr.com/photos/lonecypress/3264410416. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

Groundhog Day

27 Oct

Edie sipped her tea while she waited for The Beast to boot up. She hated The Beast. It kept making her download updates that she didn’t understand, and most of the emails that she got were rubbish. Damien had bought it for her when he’d been transferred to Utah, insisting that they would have to communicate daily by email. She supposed that she shouldn’t complain. Other people’s kids moved away and forgot all about them. At least her son wanted to stay in touch, and to her surprise, their daily email exchanges had become a patch of sunshine in her otherwise monotonous days.

Edie’s gaze drifted to the picture of herself and Sammy that had been taken when they were both seven. They had been best friends: when Edie and her family had been rounded up and taken to the concentration camp, they had been thrust into a small, cramped room already occupied by Sammy and his parents. Sammy had taken her under his wing. Somehow he had made her feel less afraid.

The two children had spent hours playing in the tiny room, or on the small square of dirt outside. Whenever he eluded her during tag games, or outwitted her as they played with their makeshift Checkers set, he would smile, tap the side of his head, and say, “You gotta think like a groundhog.” Edie didn’t know what this meant or what a groundhog was, but it made her laugh every time. Despite the life they were living, they were happy in their own way.

And then, one day, Edie had come back to the room with her mother to discover that Sammy and his parents were gone. Edie did not need to ask where they were or if she would ever see Sammy again. She had become used to the people around her disappearing. She knew that they went into the big building at the far end of the compound and never came out.

Now, as she looked at the picture, she shed a silent tear for her sweet, funny friend. She wondered if he had been afraid while he was walking to his death. She gently touched his image and whispered, “You gotta think like a groundhog.”

The Beast had finally booted up. Edie opened her email and sighed as her screen filled with messages from people trying to sell things, tell her fortune, or entice her to try online dating. Damien called these messages spam, which Edie didn’t really understand.

In her haste to delete the messages, Edie accidentally opened one of them: an advertisement for Go Get ‘Em Exterminators & Pest Control. As she moved her mouse to the X in the corner of the message, a line of text in the advertisement caught her attention.

To catch the critters… you gotta think like a groundhog.

Edie stared at the screen in shock, her mind starting to race. Could it be possible that two people would come up with the same phrase almost seventy years apart? Or – Edie barely dared to allow herself to think it – could it be possible that Sammy had somehow escaped?

Could Sammy be alive?

With shaking hands, she picked up the phone and dialed the number in the advertisement. Although seventy years had passed, Edie instantly recognized the inflections in the voice that answered.

“Sammy? It’s Edie.”

This week’s Indie Ink Challenge came from Carrie, who gave me this prompt: A spam email that turns out to be more than expected.
I challenged  femmefauxpas with the prompt: Tell us a ghost story. The kind you would tell while sitting around a campfire eating roasted marshmallows.