December 05th, 2018
Have you ever wandered through the world
and wondered why you're here?
I wish I knew. But this little girl is my tether today.
A teacher wrapped up in a four-year-old's body.
And she's pulling me through.
As for our troubles, let's just let them float away,
like party balloons set free,
no longer weighted down by sadness.
We don't need to anchor our fear anymore.
Let the sky claim all our anxieties.
Let the sun's rays calm our souls.
Because you and me,
we don't always have to be waiting
for the next axe to fall.
Hurt will happen, but we can still find pockets
of beauty and whimsy in this treasure hunt of life,
if we look closely.
We need to shed our shells and masks
and stop fighting ourselves.
We come from star-stuff, my supernova,
and we are good enough to be here and take up space,
just as we are.
So let's forget about our power struggles over breakfast,
and eat more rainbow ice cream instead.
Let's stop worrying about everything we cannot control
inside and out there, and just take solace
in colouring a beautiful picture together.
We can navigate the blues
with pinks and yellows and purples,
The strands of our hearts have been braided together
and intertwined with unconditional love since
well before you took residence in my womb.
Butting heads on a daily basis won't break our bond.
Either will me taking to my bed.
The pain is not permanent, little one, for either of us.
Soon I will let mine go, just like those colourful birthday balloons
that slip out of our fingers when we're not looking,
and move quickly and quietly into the sky.
So I did it. Last night I gathered my courage, and the words I'd written about my mental health journey, and I set them free at the Beam On exhibit in a room inside the Old Town Hall in Newmarket. Surrounded by beautiful artwork, I added my voice to the visual manifestations of mental illness. And I was heard.
It's one thing to share your story on the screen, to send it out into the internet ether and let your words speak for themselves. It's a whole other world when you get up in front of a microphone and let people peek at your heart for six minutes straight. But I did it, and I couldn’t be more proud of my role as a mental health advocate. I met so many lovely, encouraging souls last evening, and it meant the world to have my favourite people on the planet in the audience. Thank you to my mum, dad and sister for showing up for me, like they always do.
When my husband first suggested we bring our four-year-old daughter, Eve, to the event, I wasn't sure. Would she be bored? Would there be any other kids there? Would it run past her bedtime? But Michael didn't care about any of that. He simply wanted Eve to see her mama being brave and giving a talk that might help some other people.
There are so many days when I feel like a parent on the sidelines, not participating in things because of fluctuating moods or chronic pain, so it felt wonderful for me to show her what I CAN do, for a change. How I can contribute to an important conversation, raise awareness and show people what it looks like to survive a collision with mental illness. How it's possible come out of the darkness to the other side and tell your story as part of the healing process.
My favourite part of the night was when I finished my speech. As soon as the audience started applauding, my darling girl excitedly ran up to me and presented me with a single flower. Later on, Michael told me she what she whispered to him afterward: "Mama did a good job of not being shy in front of all those people." As compliments go, I'll take it.
My Daughter's Inheritance
Give these lip balms to my daughter
whose mouth she got from her father
Let her take these everyday treasures
she coveted from her mother's dresser
for there will come a day soon when
she will no longer want my possessions
Loan her the statue of Tara, the mother of all Buddhas
that I crossed paths with in Union Square
Let my namesake's compassion and feminine wisdom
seep into the deepest part of her childish heart
as she sleeps tucked up in dreams
with her blanket half-on, half-off
Hand over the sketch of a forever family
to the little being who stretched two into three
Let her be reminded of love's eternal hold
and how it never lets go, no matter
how many times we bump heads and bruise hearts
Bestow the patterned box of tissues
for all those blue tears and excruciating moments
she won't feel good enough in her bones
despite her parents' assurances that she is
everything beauty could aspire to and
both the cosmos and universe to us
I can get by with a sparse nightstand
an Ikea lamp, a perfume bottle and wedding bands for my hand
but I will hang on to the good mother sticker
and remember to pack it up when we move on
keeping it safe for when my daughter has a daughter
and she needs a daily reminder of her own
We moved to Yonge & Finch when I got pregnant. It was the only area in Toronto where we could afford a three-bedroom apartment, and we needed more space for the baby.
We weren't really familiar with the neighbourhood before renting there. I was lucky to have a good friend living across the road to show me the local gems. Most of our neighbours were Korean or Chinese, or Persian. It was a different world from trendy Yonge & Eglinton, but it woke us up and made us appreciate the United Nations of people we were living amongst. It felt odd to be the minority, but important to experience it at the same time.
Things stick out: Everybody smoked. On the streets. Hanging over balconies. There were lots of false fire alarms in our building. And loads of karaoke bars and great places to eat. They're all still there, of course, but now they're somehow tainted. Marred by what looks to be the hand of terrorism, whether it's a lone wolf or someone tied to a bigger organization.
A place doesn't stay the same once it's been on the news for the wrong reasons.
We lived right behind Yonge Street, a minute or two walk from where the first victim was found. I can't count the number of times I waited at that intersection to cross the street and grab the subway and go to work. The Starbucks at the bottom of the Xerox building was my caffeine home. It was also my haven, especially when I took mat leave way too early.
It's surreal to see your old hood on TV, on stations like CNN and BBC. We lived there for two years and eventually moved on, but Eve spent the first 18 months of her life there. It's where I went into labour at 3:00 am. It's where we took her home from the hospital.
It was our first real home as a family, even if we didn't own the walls or appliances. We loved the little park beside our place. The community centre. The stroll down to Mel Lastman Square on a Friday night in summer. The farmer's market. The relaxed vibe in the air.
I remember vividly the first time I took my newborn daughter out for a walk on my own in the middle of winter. She was dressed in a blue monkey snowsuit and I was terrified to be solely responsible for the little being cradled in my arms. They were shaking so badly. My heart was determined but terrified of bringing her out into the world with me as her only protection. What if something happened?
It was snowing heavily, and I suddenly felt guilty that her little angel face might get wet and cold, so I waited at the intersection and then crossed quickly to the building across the road. The warmth calmed me down immediately, and my breaths came a little slower. After 10 or 15 minutes, I worked up the nerve to leave. I recrossed the road and returned home, having somehow kept my baby alive. It was like a motherhood badge for my soul.
I'll always have fond memories of all our firsts at Yonge & Finch, and my heart goes out to everyone affected by today's tragedy. The horror of it all is keeping my eyes open tonight. As someone who doesn't drive and is a lifelong pedestrian, this type of incident is all the more scary.
I don't often consciously pray or get down on my knees, but right now I think our city and country (and world) need all the positive words and vibes and help we can get. I have to trust that justice will take care of the rest.
Something has to get better, soon. Doesn't it? How can it not? We can no longer live in a world that heaves with this type of everyday carnage and mess. We breathe it in in one city and exhale it out in another. It's an illness. How can we send our babies and children out into it, without their mother's arms, or snowsuits, or anything else to protect them?
When it the next thing happens, will it be to them?
Tonight it feels as if all I have are my anxieties and secret prayers. For the victims, their families, the first responders, the witnesses. The cop who didn't shoot. The mother of the murderer. For someone has to spare a thought for her.
But mainly I'm praying and sending light and love to Toronto the Good. Because an incident like this can't take our name or our inherent goodness away from us. Something this awful only makes it rise up.
I Have a Hero. I Call Him Dad.
The day starts innocently enough, watching videos under the covers. In my head I am already a bit stressed, since we have to be out the door and do school drop-off early today, in order to make it to a meeting with the vice principal at Eve's potential new school.
It's a week that has already seen me burst into spontaneous tears twice in the last two days, because my hormones are all over the place. So when my four year old with the Calabrese stubbornness refuses to brush her teeth because there's tiny drops of water on the brush, I take it off her and tell her I need some space. Then I lock the door for good measure.
After my shower, I head downstairs feeling slightly more magnanimous, and we hug it out. I am determined to be calm and put together for this school meeting. I make an avocado smoothie and take a satisfying sip. I am being healthy, I am in control. I GOT this.
Then my famous lack of spatial awareness decides to make an appearance. Suddenly the floor is mint green and speckled with glass. I feel those ever-ready tears rise up to the surface yet again, but I will them down and call my husband to help me clean up my mess.
But the vacuuming and blending of a new smoothie is all too much for my girl. She can't hear her Tayo the bus how on the TV, and she is SO not ready to get her coat or shoes on. More mayhem ensues, and then we all practically fling ourselves out the door to escape the negative energy of the house and start the rest of our day.
But the universe is not done having fun yet. It seems we have another lesson to learn. While Eve screams her head off on the front steps, Michael and I realize something simultaneously. We have closed the door and both forgot our keys. The car keys, of course, are also inside the impenetrable fortress that used to be our house.
It is 8.50 am and we still have to drop Eve off at school and get to Newmarket by 9.30. But it's not going to happen. Michael calls an Uber and we manage to get Eve to school (of course none of this affects her usual routine). But then we are stranded again. It's too much money to take another Uber to Newmarket. We are not going to make the meeting, and we still have no keys.
But someone else does. My dad, that hero of a man who told us to always call on him when he retired (and even before then). Let me know if you need a drive somewhere, he would say. Let me know if I can help in anyway. Well, today we took him up on it, and he drove down to Richmond Hill without even having eaten, to pick us up and bring us home.
That's just who he is. As we sat in our driveway, worn out and still a bit frazzled from the emotional fracas, he asked if we needed anything else. That's just the kind of guy he is.
Now we are home, the appointment rescheduled, feeling (mostly) settled and back to work, getting on with our different kind of day, and I am just reminded of how grateful I am to have him (and my mother) in my life. They're such a great support system to us, always putting my sister and I (and our families) first.
So now I will try to get back to my regularly scheduled programming and put this morning's shit-show behind us. And later today we will go get a bloody extra key made to keep somewhere outside our bloody house.
Fibro Is Teaching Me How To Let Go
The sun was shining, but my body was hurting. I hauled myself out of bed and walked down the stairs, wincing all the way. I took the easy parenting way out and put Moana on for my daughter for the millionth time. I guiltily unwrapped three chocolate chip mini-muffins and dumped them into a plastic bowl. Voila, breakfast.
Then I went back to bed. I just wanted to lie about in my red waffle pajamas all day and hide from the pain. When my fibromyalgia flares up, it sucks the life force right out of me. My motivation to get up and get showered goes right down the drain. Sometimes pain killers work. Sometimes I don't catch the gremlin invasion in time.
It's weird having an invisible illness. I don't LOOK sick, and my joints don't always get red or swollen. Fibro is cunning and unpredictable, and likes to mix up its habitat. It constantly moves to different places around my body - my knees, my elbows, my wrists, my shoulders. Recently it was my big toe, of all things.
I never know where to expect it.
But it always comes before the rain, or a major weather system. I usually get 48 hours notice that pain is on the horizon. I don't know if it's ALWAYS weather or food-related, but It's something I've been battling since 2008. I read recently that it's somehow connected to growing pains. And different reactions to perceived pain signals in the brain.
All I know is that any sort of precipitation is the enemy.
I remember when we went to Portugal last year, and it was sunny for TEN DAYS straight. My joints were beautifully normal and calm; I never felt so great.
Sometimes the hit-by-a-truck fatigue and overall achy feeling of fibro robs me of family time. Instead going to the science centre with my husband and daughter, I often have to to rest in bed, perfectly still after gulping down extra-strength Advil, until my bones didn't feel like they're 80 years old anymore.
Sometimes it means sitting on the other side of the glass on a Sunday afternoon when my daughter has her swimming class, because I don't feel up to being in the water with her for an hour without any support. That's when it really sucks.
You can't SEE this condition. You can't tell if I'm exaggerating. Yes, I'm grateful I don't have lupus or arthritis, but being stuck with a chronic invisible illness is no walk in the park, either. I swear there are horribly nasty days when it hurts so bad that I've found myself scrounging up heavy-duty pain meds from my c-section FIVE YEARS ago, just to get some relief.
The pills may be expired, but they work. They allow me to function, to get my life back.
When they kick in, I usually have two choices. Continue lying curled up in my pajamas watching Grace & Frankie on Netflix, feeling downhearted and not part of this world, or forcing myself up and into the day.
Honestly, it can go either way.
Usually I choose the latter option. Sometimes I go on a half-hour walk and let the cool, brisk air cool me off and calm me down. I try to walk off the discomfort if I can.
I acknowledge the invisible pain and let it do its thing. And then I let it go.
I let it marinate in my bones, but then I let it go. I let it worm its way into my muscles, but then I let it go. It will drift away eventually, like a tired red balloon on a windy day. I know it will find its way back to me another day, but it doesn't have to define me.
With you around, life was always full of extremes.
"I love you the most, Mama," I remember you confessing with a conspiratorial smile one night before bed. You tossed it out almost casually, like a gift. It was our secret.
A few days later, you took it back.
"I don't love you anymore, Mama!" you screamed one frigid night Papa put together a wooden car for you he bought in New York. You decorated it together, with your current favourite colours, blue and yeh-yow.
It seemed like your previous passions of pink and purple had been cruelly forgotten, cast aside, just like my top status in your heart.
What I did that night thirty years ago to offend you, I don't remember. I just recall the ice pick sticking out of my chest at your childlike utterance.
The way you sat on the stairs outside my room and watched me silently cry, eventually crawling into the room and into my embrace so I could make YOU feel better.
Many years and tears have passed since those innocent, throwaway words, and more mature hurts have sprung up between us. The usual mother-daughter battles we are destined and blessed to go through together.
Not everything is a state of emergency anymore. That I am grateful for. My current ticker couldn't take the excitement. I am old and relieved to be free of certain things like tantrums and slammed doors, but I still remember the way you used to pronounce the word "world" like a man from the 1940s. It would come out sounding weirdly wonderful, like "wieuld," and there was nothing better I'd ever heard.
When you were four, you would always skip the number 15 when counting to 20, no matter how many times we reminded you of its existence. You would also cheat constantly at Snakes 'N Ladders, all coy eyes and side grins. I let you win most of the time, for my own peace of mind. If I didn't, you'd turn your back on me and pout out the window. Or immediately demand a rematch. We must have played it eight thousand times. My knees and hips wouldn't survive that wooden floor now.
I don't have to prepare your breakfast anymore, or cajole you to eat something other than crackers. Do you still prefer Cheerios in the morning and shredded cheese and nectarines for dinner? I wonder if your kids will also be picky eaters. You can blame your father for that. You got that gene from him.
Sometimes when Papa and I are sick of playing cards or watching documentaries or just seeing our own faces, we watch videos of you. Back when you had baby teeth and baby thumbs you still sucked at night.
Now your woman's hands remind me of my own, before time and age spots took them hostage. I wish I could hold yours more. I remember painting your nails for the first time, with cheap Frozen polish that came off nearly as quick as it went on. Now it is you taking my arm as we cross the street. Your eyes that scan the roads for any potential danger. That used to be my job.
It seems like we have switched places in so many ways.
I remember when you got your first ear infection, how you couldn't hear properly for weeks afterwards. "Talk louder, Mama!" you would shout angrily, thinking I was plotting to annoy you. Your father and I would have to hold you down and force the medicine down your throat. Sometimes the ordeal could last a good 20 minutes while you took breaks and deep breaths.
Now it's me with the bad hearing. I long to listen to you hum under your breath. I wouldn't even mind your incessant questions, your constant "why?"s. Your quick video calls these days just aren't the same as seeing you up close, seated beside me on the couch. When you come home on Sundays and lean in and talk into my good ear, it feels like love. It feels like you never left the nest.
It's the only time my heart doesn't hurt in my chest.
I remember that old intimacy we had when I was still young and you were a small child. The way you would depend on me for everything. How you would curl up in my lap for comfort. The way I would croon and rock you back and forth, soothing away a world of hurts with only my arms and heart.
I felt so powerful then, so full of womanly focus and purpose. I was a lioness.
I know you feel the distance, the pain of being growing up. Sometimes you still bury your face in my neck and pull me close when the loneliness gets too much.
There are days when it feels like all I have left are aches and pains and crosswords. Pills and doctor's appointments. There are no more forks in the road for me, just rest and reflection. There is a time for living, and a time for introspection.
Now I get to sip chai tea all day long and finally get around to reading all those books I bought and piled in a tower in the bedroom. I await your visits and the possibility of grandchildren and ponder all the lines on my old lady hands, the ones that have led me to you, my unconditional love.
At the Edge of 40
There can either be saudade or glory
In this hilly, ancient city crammed
With tiles and custard tarts
As my new age slyly winds its way
Around the corners of my eyes.
My old self is a mirage.
I am fuller of figure now,
With little lights of grey matter
Fizzling out like birthday wishes
After all the candles have melted down.
During this decade, I got hitched and had a baby in the wrong order,
which turned out to be the only way my fate could unfold.
My thirty-something identity has peaked,
along with my hips and fertility.
These days, my body is mostly beyond me,
but my heart, that treacherous, wondrous muscle of mine,
it's still a miracle,
and it keeps the time just fine.
Pounding up six flights of stairs
To a stranger's flat in Lisbon,
It reminds me to pause and breathe
In the memory of everything
During this unseasonably warm November,
when she is teetering on the precipice of girlhood
while climbing on a foreign playground
And I am inhaling one-euro wine
while holding hands with my hero,
who is disguised as my husband,
plotting which bookshop we should hit next.
Today I am happy and excited to be a freelance writer. Often there are stretches of time when work is light or even non-existent. Contracts come and go. Contacts disappear. There is no sure footing in the freelance world, no stable paycheque to hang your hat on every two weeks.
And yet, despite all this, the lifestyle fits. It works for me. The more I do it, the more I wonder how much it's about the flow of energy. It seems to go better for me when I think positively, and even embrace the uncertainty.
Recently, I had a bunch of pitches rejected from a magazine I've published with in the past. I was beginning to lose hope that I would ever have anything accepted by them again. And then, a couple weeks ago, a month after sending my last idea into the void, I heard back. Green light!
Today I interviewed a woman who's created a web series for the CBC about her infertility journey. And do you know the wonderful, most surprising thing? It's absurdly and hilariously funny! For me, it's such a refreshing take on what's usually such a sad and heartbreaking story.
Of course I checked the Voice app on my phone was working before she called. My husband even got involved, showing me what to do (since I usually do interviews through my computer—weird, I know).
So do you know what happened when she called? The bloody record function wouldn't work! Now, my already-anxious mind was already busy sending my nerves into a frenzy, so it's probably the last thing I wanted to happen at this particular moment.
Luckily, I have a techie-inclined (or just fast-thinking) hubby who works at home with me. Instead of letting the panic win, I simply told my interviewee about my technical difficulties and laughed it off while he dashed down to the basement to get his tablet (which had working Voice app).
In recent years, I've really learned that sharing any type of vulnerability instantly makes me more real to other people. When I confessed my initial recording woes, the woman I was interviewing told me that she was actually feeling under the weather, and shared a bit of herself with me.
I am so excited to watch this TV show she's created, and perhaps see some of my own steps on the infertility journey reflected back at me. I followed her on Twitter the other day to get a sense of her writing, and today she made my day by saying she had read MY article, the one that just got nominated for Best of the Net. She even called herself a "big fan"!
It's an amazingly beautiful feeling when another writer you respect validates your own scribbling—never mind someone who's just written a television series. It helps soothe the sting from getting rejected from The New Yorker yesterday (lofty ambitions, I know).
So today I am grateful to be a journalist, an essayist and a reporter of this mysterious thing called life. I'm happy for the fall sun shining outside my window as I work. I'm glad to be feeling well and able to document the good things about being a writer. I am also pushing myself to write more about things that really interest me.
Next week I'll be interviewing an author, a first for me. I read her memoir recently, and decided to reach out through her website and see if I could snag an interview. Her PR person got back to me quickly, and said yes. I wouldn't even have had the idea if it weren't for an ex-colleague, who got in touch recently to ask if I was still freelancing. Today I thank her for thinking of me.
Freelance life is all about connecting—making new connections and nurturing old contacts. Keeping in touch. It's a empowering feeling to feel like you're helping to write your own happiness, your own life story. Today, I thank you—each and every one of you beautiful souls—for coming along on the journey with me.
is a writer, editor, and poet. Her writing has been nominated for the Best-of-the Net award, and has appeared in The Washington Post, HuffPo, Today's Parent, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Motherwell, among numerous other publications. She is also an advocate in the mental health and chronic illness communities.