Tag Archives: birthday

Remembering the Captain

11 May

Captain Snuggles would have been one year old today. His mom, Amy, should be wiping birthday cake off a sticky face and cursing about how difficult it can be to get new toys out of packaging these days. Instead, she is going to the cemetery to visit a tiny grave.

Amy, if you’re reading this, my thoughts are with you today. I am sending you love and hugs, and wishing for a day of peace for you.


10 May

My thoughts are very scattered today, and I’m not sure why.

Is it because my Mom left this morning, and I won’t see her again for maybe two years, maybe more?

Is it because our out-of-town guests are gone, I’m back at work, and now we have to adjust to some kind of normal life?

Could it be sadness over the sudden and unexpected loss of a friend whose memorial I will be unable to attend?

Or perhaps thoughts of my friend Amy, who will mark her son’s first birthday tomorrow beside a headstone with his name on it, are weighing on my mind.
Maybe it’s because I’m having to accept that the half-marathon planned for the end of this month is not likely to happen, because life has been getting in the way of training and I don’t want to put myself at risk of illness or injury.

Maybe it’s just a combination of all of these things. Maybe my mind is overloaded. Whatever it is, I feel like I need a good cry.

Tonight, after the kids are in bed, I might do just that, aided by a hefty glass of wine.

The Good Run

9 Jan

I have been struggling with my running lately.  Not in any big way, but just enough for me to have been craving a Good Run.  I have had several enjoyable and satisfying runs lately, but a Good Run is something special.  It is one where, even if you struggle a bit at first, you suddenly realize, a couple of kilometres in, that you have found your groove.  A Good Run is not necessarily easy – in fact, the challenging nature of it is part of what makes it Good.  When you finish the run and hit the “Stop” button on your watch, you have a feeling of accomplishment.  You have done the distance you promised yourself, and you have reserves left in the tank.  You would be able to go further if you wanted to, and yet you feel that you have pushed yourself.

I have not had a Good Run for about six weeks.

Until this morning.

I drove to the community centre to see which other members of my running club were venturing out for a run in the snow.  As it turned out, there were only two of us, and the other runner is one that I can pace myself to fairly well.  Because of the snow on the ground, we agreed on seven kilometres.  We briefly contemplated a trail by the lake, but rejected that idea due to the possibility of ice.  We are two women running by ourselves in very wintery conditions: we chose to play it safe and stick to the roads.

The snow on the sidewalk made it a little difficult for us to keep our footing, and it took me about 1.5km to find my rhythm.  Once I was going though, I was going pretty well.  I resisted the temptation to outpace myself in the beginning, and although I did not make it all the way up the one and only (and very, very long and steep) hill on our route, I gave it a good shot and did pretty well.   A water break and short breather at the top, and both of us were ready to go again.  The sidewalks were a lot more slippery towards the end of the run, but I finished pretty strong.

The seven kilometres took a little more than 43 minutes.  Considering the snowy conditions we were running in, I was happy with that time.  But as with any Good Run, the time wasn’t even the point (that’s the other thing: Good Runs are not necessarily the fastest runs).  The point was that I set out with a distance in mind, and I completed that distance feeling good about it the whole way.  I felt that I had accomplished something, and maybe set myself back on track to actually follow a proper training program.

I have a little story that illustrates what a Good Run is like.  Recently – on Christmas Day, as it happens – my younger son celebrated his 5th birthday.  In honour of the occasion, I made him a cake.  The trouble was, I didn’t have any icing to put on the cake.  I dug around in the kitchen cupboards and did some research on the Internet, and came up with a recipe for icing sugar.  A couple of hours and a big giant mess in the kitchen later, I had produced an iced, decorated cake.  I had worked really hard to make it, and I had poured into it lots of love for my son.

It was not the best cake I had ever made.  The icing was not as nice as the stuff you buy in the stores, and my “Happy Birthday James” lettering was not the neatest.  But you know what?  Because of what had gone into the making of it, and because of the look on my son’s face when he saw this cake that had been made just for him, it was the best cake I ever had.

A Good Run is like that – what makes it Good is not how fast you do it or whether it is easy – what makes it Good is the heart and soul that goes into it, and the feeling of reward that you have at the end.

Christmas Without Casualties

29 Dec

Christmas is always such a weird time of year in my family.  It’s a mixed bag of emotions for me, ranging from the very bad (my Dad’s death three weeks before Christmas six years ago) to the very good (my younger son’s birth on Christmas Day five years ago).  Then there’s the fact that almost every year, I find myself inthe midst of some strange family drama that has very little to do with me.  I have to deal with someone threatening to boycott Christmas, someone else threatening to decline gift exchange, bizarre arguments, and plans that change multiple times before landing on the original arrangements.  Then you add a child with autism, and built-in resistance to changes in routine, and the picture gets very interesting.

This year it wasn’t too bad.  As always, I missed my Dad in the weeks leading up to Christmas, but took heart from the fact that Christmas was his favourite time of year and he would be bitterly disappointed to see me having a miserable time on account of his passing.  So it was with nostalgia and bittersweet memories that I put up the Christmas decorations this year, just a week before Christmas.  Dad would have approved of the Christmas tree laden with ornaments, including James’ plastic Playdough scissors that he insisted be hung on the tree right below the angel.  He would have loved the little village I have in George’s room, complete with lights and snow, and he would have nodded approval at the little Christmas tree with lights that I got especially for James’ room.

Here’s the amazing thing that happened this Christmas.  There was no family drama.  Let’s say that again, shall we?  No.  Family.  Drama.  Admittedly, we came close.  Gerard and his mother had some words.  Said words were taken out of context by both parties, and a big misunderstanding ensued.  I have so enjoyed the wonderful feeling of peace and harmony that we have been experiencing with my mother-in-law, and I did not want to let that slip away because of one stupid conversation.  I spoke to Gerard.  I spoke to my mother-in-law.  I smoothed the waters, and explained to each of them what the other meant, and peace reigned again.  Mother Theresa would have been proud of me, and for the first time in years, we were able to celebrate the festive season without waiting for the other shoe to drop.  It was truly a Christmas miracle.

Things were OK on the George front as well.  His resistance to changes in routine has intensified over the last few weeks, and while this did cause some difficulties, there were no crises that we couldn’t handle.  They were little things, like the fact that he got extremely anxious whenever the lights on the big Christmas tree were turned on (interestingly enough, he has no problem with the lights on the little tree, or the lights in the village in his room).  So, we dealt with it in the simplest way possible.  We did without the lights on the tree.  When he saw presents, he wanted them opened right away.  Seeing a wrapped present that he’s not allowed to open is not a pleasant experience for George.  Lots of distraction and tactical planning later, we had all survived, and apart from one casualty, all of the presents were left intact until the proper time.

There was one very difficult moment on Christmas Eve, after my brother-in-law had left with his wife and baby, when we were trying to get the kids settled for bed.  Both of the kids, no doubt reacting to the excitement and pure overstimulation, had meltdowns.  One autistic, one neurotypical, manifesting their pent-up anxieties in different, but equally loud and stressful, ways.  Simultaneously.  It was like Meltdown Central at my house, and it took a long time for calm to be restored.

In the end, though, Santa was good to everyone, and we all got through several days of Christmas (and one birthday) as a harmonious, happy family.   I can truly say this: Dad would be proud.

Mission: Not Impossible

13 Dec

After a brief absence from the Blogosphere, I am back.  Last week my employers sent me on a three-day training course that due to its reflective nature, left room for little else in my brain.  The course was a seminar version of Stephen Covey’s book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”.  I expected it to be like many corporate training programs I have been on – interesting but a little dry, high in metaphor but low in practicality.  What I did not expect was that I would walk out at the end of the three days with a personal mission statement, a seven-week plan for applying what I learned to my life, and an invigorating feeling of “Holy crap, I can really use this stuff to change my life!”

The first useful thing I got out of this course was the process of actually turning a behaviour into a habit.  If you do something every day, after 28 days or so, the brain will have laid down new neural pathways for that behaviour.  In other words, it will be a habit, something you can do without consciously thinking about it.  The trick is to maintain the behaviour for the first 28 days.  I’m testing out this theory with my vitamins.  I am notoriously bad at remembering to take them – which is why I am currently sick, unable to run, and officially going crazy.  I am going to make sure I take my vitamins every day for the next 26 days (because I’m already on Day Three of this particular habit).  By Day 28, I will be taking the vitamins without even thinking about it.  I will also be thinking proactively, setting goals, thinking win-win  and generally being a Highly Effective Person.  OK, that might take a bit longer than 28 days, since my seven-week plan involves focusing on one habit at a time.

Formulating the personal mission statement was a very interesting exercise.  I was asked to visualize myself at my 80th birthday party, and write down what tribute I would want the most important people in my life to pay to me at that time.  Once I had figured out what I want people to say about me towards the end of my life, I was able to think about what I would need to do – how I would need to live – to get to that point.  And from there, I could draw up my personal mission statement.  It was an emotionally intense exercise, because it was so reflective.  Not only was it reflective: I found myself reflecting on things that I am not necessarily comfortable thinking about.

In the end, though, I came up with a mission statement to live my life by.  The mission will be adjusted from time to time as circumstances in my life change, but the substance of it will pretty much stay the same.  My mission, from this point forward, is the following:

  • To nurture my children, and help pave the way for them to lead happy, fulfilling lives
  • To be one half of a synergistic whole in my marriage, and for the whole to not only be functional but fulfilled
  • To be someone my coworkers value, and to make my contributions to my team really count
  • To write
  • To take care of my body so that it can run many, many miles
  • To be true to myself, and to take care of myself
  • To overcome
When I turn 80, I want people to be able to say that I accomplished all of this.  And I want a big-ass cake.

Blowing out another set of birthday candles

2 Dec

When I woke up yesterday morning, I felt a little bit down. It was my birthday, and for some reason I was thinking that very few people would remember or care. The previous day had been torture for all of us – it had been a very rough day for George – and none of us had managed to get much sleep. I think that at the start of my birthday, I was suffering from exhaustion as well as emotional fall-out. For a variety of reasons, I just wasn’t expecting a lot from my day.

Then I turned on my computer and checked my email. There were about a dozen birthday messages waiting for me from friends and family members. I opened my Facebook page and my eyes popped as I saw birthday wishes from about fifteen more people. It was only six in the morning and already I had received birthday wishes in one form or another from almost thirty people.

Wow.  Maybe my birthday wouldn’t be so bad after all. I got myself dressed and looking semi-presentable and left for work.  My pathetic self-pity tried to follow me, but I knocked it on the head and fed it through the paper shredder.

In the middle of the morning my Mom called.  This is always a highlight of my birthday. Even from the other side of the world, my Mom manages to make me feel special in a way that only Moms can. Later in the day, I got a call from my brother. He was calling from a cell phone in South Africa, so we had only a brief conversation that I struggled to hear in the chaos of the bus station, but it was so lovely to hear his voice and know that he was thinking of me.  And all through the day, the emails and Facebook messages were pouring in.  By the time I got home from work last night, I was feeling touched by all of the kindness, and truly humbled that so many people had taken time in the chaos of their own lives to think of me and wish me well.  Even today, the wishes are still coming in.

When I got home yesterday evening, there were flowers and a birthday dinner and cake and presents. As I sat there among my family, the feeling of being loved and appreciated settled on me like a soft snowfall.  How had I thought, that very morning, that people would not care?

Turning 40 worked out well for me. I became a citizen, received a marriage proposal, and after a rough start, I had a great running season. Now that I’m 41, I look forward to more great things. My wedding, for one, which is just five short months away. Now that I’ve joined a running club, I expect to go from strength to strength. I have started the process of conquering demons from my past and making positive changes to my personal life.

And next year, I will not start my birthday by feeling sorry for myself – life is too good for that!

The adventure that began seven years ago

18 Sep

When I was a little girl, I didn’t play with dolls. Being a bit of a tomboy, I was much happier getting my knees scraped up and playing with potato guns with my brother and his friends (my poor mother would reach into the bag of potatoes while preparing dinner, only to pull out potatoes that we had used in our potato guns and then put back, full of holes, where we had found them).  I’m pretty sure my mother worried about me.  I had very little interest in typical little girl activities, and by all appearances, I was not dainty and girly, and I had the maternal instincts of a gnat. How would this rough-and-tumble kid grow up to have a functional spousal relationship, not to mention kids?

I didn’t do much to ease the concern of my parents when I was a teenager and later, a young adult.  Socially, I was a late bloomer, and when I did finally start dating, I was going out with entirely unsuitable people. I had my first honest-to-goodness, genuine relationship with a decent human being when I was well into my twenties.  I was with the man in question for two years before life simply took us in opposite directions.  That break-up came about a year after my brother came tumbling out of the closet, so my poor parents despaired of ever having grandchildren at that stage.  To be honest, I kind of gave up hope for myself as well.  I was thirty and alone, and about to move to a place where I knew no-one.

When I was finally expecting my first son at the ripe old age of 33, I started to worry for entirely different reasons.  I was convinced that I was going to be a crap mother.  I had no patience at all.  I had a quick temper.  I’d never really felt comfortable around children, and I wasn’t really sure that I’d know what to do with my own child. I knew a whole lot about being pregnant – what to eat, how to exercise, what all of the little aches and pains meant – but when it came down to it, I knew nothing about actual babies.

Seven years and one day ago, on September 17th 2003, I spent the day cleaning my house to within an inch of its life.  I didn’t know what had come over me: I am not exactly a poster child for domesticity. I was even cleaning windows, for the love of God.  My nine-month-pregnant self was tottering precariously on a chair making sure there were no cobwebs in the corners of the ceiling. That afternoon, I went to the grocery store and stocked up.  When I got home, I cleaned out the fridge and rearranged cupboards.  I think Gerard, the soon-to-be Dad, was a little frightened by my sudden flurry of activity.  I may have been just eleven days away from my due date, but wild horses couldn’t have stopped me.  I was a woman possessed.

Six hours later, when I felt as if I was being turned inside out by contractions, I realized that I had spent the day nesting.  I had read about this nesting phenomenon, but at the time I hadn’t really put two and two together.  It is debatable, of course, whether I was nesting because I was about to go into labour, or whether labour was induced by all of the nesting activity.

A few minutes before 11:00 the following morning, September 18th 2003, the pain was forgotten as a brand-new baby boy was placed gently in my arms. As I looked at my George, into those big eyes that looked so innocent and yet so wise, I was struck by the enormity of this life change. Five minutes previously, I had been just another woman – admittedly one going through an intensely painful experience without any drugs to kill the pain.  Now I was a mother.  I was responsible for an entire human being.  How he turned out, what kind of life he had, would depend to a great extent on my actions.  The weirdest sensation I had was that I was actually ready for it.  I was not afraid (although, to be honest, some pretty intense anxiety would hit two days later, when I was sent home and expected to actually keep this miniature human alive without the aid of nurses telling me what to do).

George the baby

Seven years on, my miniature human being has been transformed into a long, lanky beanpole of a kid whose pants keep getting too short for him. I still experience anxiety, but of a different kind, and I have just accepted that anxiety and worrying are just normal parts of parenthood.  I have faced many challenges, survived another childbirth (also without drugs – do I not learn from these things?).  I have discovered that contrary to what I used to think, I actually do have deep reserves of patience.  I have learned what true unconditional love means, and that those maternal instincts that many people thought were missing when I was a kid were lurking in there somewhere all along.

I have watched my baby grow into a wonderful little boy.  Things are sometimes really difficult for him, there are times when we cannot reach him in his autistic world.  But more and more, we are making connections with him.  We are seeing the spark of intelligence and the emergence of a wonderful quirky sense of humour. He is quick to smile and when he’s with the people he loves, he is generous with his hugs.

On September 18th, 2003, my life changed forever. Not only did I become a mother.  I became George’s mother, and that is something truly special.

Happy seventh birthday to my beautiful boy who has touched the world with his own special brand of magic.

George the boy