Archive for the ‘relationships’ category

The devil put me here….

November 3, 2012

…another one with incredible lyrics. I will write more here one of these days, but for now….busy….writing.

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Wake us from the sleepwalk of our lives……

October 9, 2012

This article by Zadie Smith, which I will be discussing with my writing group, says so much about… Well, my fellow writers, you’ll have to read it to find out. Enjoy.

http://faculty.sunydutchess.edu/oneill/failbetter.htm

Epic Journeys

April 23, 2012

I have a note above my writing desk at the moment that says: stories I grew up with were about love and survival, tragedy and death, and always, always REBIRTH. I put this note there, next to a few pictures of my kids, to remind me of something I’m working towards.

It may seem obvious, we’re all working towards goals, aren’t we? But we can loose our momentum, stumble along the way. We’re human, and stumbling is as much a part of our nature as dreaming. Hitting low points can make us tender, extra sensitive to the bruises we’ll encounter. But that only makes the highs all the more sweeter.

The weather here on the Rock is often a struggle to deal with, the damp that offers so few breaks from snow and fog (two and a half days in a row last week of sunshine that melted what we hope is the last of the snow, then an entire weekend of sun actually left me feeling a bit breathless, it’s so rare to see that much light here!). So we do the best we can. My husband and I joined the Family Y, and we’ve been using the heck out of it, mostly in the way it’s designed to be used: as a family. It’s great, we walk there a few evenings each week, put the kids in the “baby room” as our older two call it, then hubby and I can go work out together, which I don’t think we’ve ever done before in a gym. He found out the other night there was a kickboxing class about to begin, so we thought we’d check it out. By the end I was laughing deliriously, it was so challenging! And super fun.

We’ve also been out of town together a few times in the last couple months — Cuba, just he and I, which was, wow, so sweet. The kids did great with my parents for the week we were gone, and I found the right balance between missing them, and…..um, actually, I didn’t miss them, it was so great to get away for a week, but excruciatingly lovely to squeeze them again when we returned. Then, my hubby took one more entire week off (pure bliss to have him for a stay-cation!) and we went out of town for two nights, to Terra Nova Park. We stayed in a cabin, but did a soggy hike one day, half of which was in knee-deep snow. It felt great to get out there with the kids, to be somewhere alone, just us, in the trees, listening to the birds, and to see our 7 and 5-year-old live up to the challenge of having to walk in the couple kilometres on the road, since it was still closed for the season, then do the 3 km hike around the lake and all the way back up the road to the truck. We were super proud of them. It was like an initiation  that they all three passed (the baby was in the backpack for most of it, but we let him down to scuttle the last hundred metres or so in the pouring rain). That day was my birthday, and on the hike, our five-year-old lost his first tooth! The motivation to have his first visit from the tooth fairy probably helped his little legs to keep moving through all that heavy snow.

In keeping with some of the things I’ve promised myself (and my mother!) to do this year, I also applied for a job recently (which was already filled by the time I made my follow-up call, but still, it felt good to stretch those job-searching muscles again, to see on paper, ie, my resume, all the things I’m still proud of). I have, as I set out to do in my resolutions for 2012, been writing more, more and more, and reading as much as possible, too.

During my latest visit to the library, in search of a book to get lost in, I discovered something I didn’t think I was looking for at all. I’d thought about finding something in the fantasy genre, something otherwordly, completely fantastical and full of action. Instead, I was drawn to a non-fiction book I can hardly put down (The Golden Thread, a reader’s journey through the great books, by Bruce Meyer), one that has given me the boost I needed to get back to work on the novel I’m determined to have a complete first draft of by the end of this year (not so amazing, really, since I’ve had it in the works for more than a decade now, in one form or another). See, this book got me thinking about all the classic epic journeys that take place in all my favourite books, from childhood to now….and beyond.

Meyer has reminded me of what I enjoyed in Tolkein, Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis, Milton, Homer, and so many more writers. That the classics follow a standard set in the Bible, that ideas and words should reach into our imaginations and grasp hold of something vital in the human spirit. What I’m working towards is a story of hope, survival and rebirth. I don’t stop to think about whether or not my own epic journey will make it to publication. I do stop to relish the support and the enjoyment of creation along the way. My husband made my birthday cake into the shape of a book, with it’s title, and By Carrie, written on it. It was like a tangible endorsement for me to keep going, even when writing is nothing but a hobby for me at the moment, even when I sometimes find it hard to justify working at something that has no monetary value. But hey, I have to keep believing, it’s not about the destination. Life is in the journey.

Emergency Contact Numbers

February 28, 2012

I’ve made several attempts at writing this blog post over the last week and I’ve failed over and over again to finish it. It’s a really tough one for me because I’m not so much celebrating an anniversary, as holding my breath and waiting for it to pass.

We arrived in St. John’s a year ago. I hardly remember the lovely rental home we lived in for the first four and a half months. I realize now that there were things I could have done differently that might have made it seem like a less traumatic experience. I’m going to share some of these things here only in the hope that someone else going through a relocation might read about my experience, and learn something to make their own even a little bit easier. You see, this is the reason I started this blog in the first place. When we set out to move to Thompson, I found so little on the internet about relocation. Sure, there’s companies advertising how they can help make your move easier — Let us do your packing! Believe me, the packing is not the issue. The emotional baggage you’ll wear for the rest of your life is.

I got a cell phone when we moved rather than a land line, because I knew we’d be moving again once our house in Thompson sold, and I thought one phone with a number I wouldn’t have to change would make more sense. Besides, I wanted to be reachable should my daughter’s school ever need to get in contact with me. I am not a paranoid parent. But I remember feeling paranoid that my daughter wouldn’t be able to reach me in the event of an emergency.

I also remember crying every time I had to fill out a form — for the kids’ schools, or for the couple activities I signed them up for — where there’s a space to put an emergency contact number. I didn’t have an emergency contact. Well, I did, I was grateful I could put my husband’s boss’s wife as a contact. But that was like a surrogate. I didn’t have any personal contacts here. No family. No friends.

I let the cell phone be an excuse to not reach out to my own friends in other provinces. I should have been calling my girlfriends, I should have been expressing my loneliness, my joys and successes and adventures. Instead, I allowed myself to sink into a foreign kind of isolation. I shunned some of the mom’s groups I could have joined because I was tired, and wanted any extra energy I had leftover from caring for my children, for my writing.

I remember feeling like I had to be a hero, I had to be settled and fine with everything, able to handle all aspects of life for me and the kids, so that my husband could hit the ground running with his new job. I remember watching grandparents taking their children’s children to school, and wanting to ask them to adopt me and my kids. Please, take us in. Please, be our family. I need an extended family.

I have a family. My own parents have been so amazing, they came out to help me here several times. My in-laws were here to help us unpack at our new house in July. One of my best friends came out with her son to spend Thanksgiving with us, and I got to see two other friends who were in St. John’s in the fall. I remember thinking, during each visit, I should be so grateful for this. I remember how alone I felt whenever I said goodbye.

Goodbyes have been a theme for me lately, and I hate them. They get harder and harder all the time. I want to set fire to goodbyes. I want hellos that last and last.

I was talking to one of my husband’s colleagues recently who told me that, following a series of relocations for work, he once had to make the choice between his job and his marriage. He made the wise decision to give up his job, and keep his marriage. Finding another job was not difficult. Nothing is more important than family, he told me.

I’ve met several other women who have followed their husband’s careers, from places farther than other provinces in Canada — England, Korea, India. One told me recently that, although it’s hard to be away from home and extended family, and to have her husband travelling a lot for work, that at least there’s a culture of that here. Back in England where she was living, she said it was awkward for her kids whose friends’ fathers would pick them up from school, while their own dad was away. Here, the family blends in more, and they still make it work to live sometimes apart, and to just enjoy the time they have together. It’s not that simple, I’m sure, but those are the parameters you have to work with sometimes.

Most of this last year, for me, has been all about newness. Exciting as that is, I’ve craved normality, unsure of what that means, but at the same time, knowing I will find it, given time. Time I haven’t had, given two moves in one year, and three provinces in the last two years. My husband and I recently found a wedge between us that grew out of this relocation. We’re whittling it down. And I think one thing I’m learning about marriage — never before having faced anything that required real effort between us, but this last year, understandably, especially with a new baby who kept us up through the night those first several numbing months of this move — is that when you try to take anything just for yourself, that’s when you are hurtful. I disappeared into my writing, he into his job. We’ve both been able to focus on the kids, but not on each other.

I don’t have any sort of magic formula for relocation. And each move is different, just like each person, as I tell my kids all the time, each of us is unique, like snowflakes. Couples are all unique, too. But I do know that keeping your partner in focus has got to be one of the only ways to survive it all together. We’re taking a trip together, just the two of us, next month, and although I’m a bit nervous to leave the kids for a week (but again, extremely grateful my parents are going to be able to be here with them), I know this trip is like a key to our survival.

There are a couple other things we’re working on now, like finding childcare for the kids so I can look for a job. I’m also trying to get into a writing course at the university. We’re also making dinner dates with other families, and more plans for things to do together as a family, more hiking, short road trips, fun meals together. My husband has been turning off his phone, even for a few hours on the weekends. He’s discovered that when something is really truly important, a person will call. The constant emails are…..very difficult to manage. I respect so much the fact that he has realized that if he doesn’t manage them, they will manage not only him, but his family.

I have to take responsibility for my own happiness, and not wallow in loneliness. I have to reach out in my new community and grab hold of the things that will make life feel more like living, and less like something to just get through. As my one friend said to me recently, no one else is going to do that for me. It’s been a heartbreaking year. But there have been some wonderful things that have happened, too. And if it is all about focus, I will carry all the positivity and everything gained from this experience, into my future. I will hope that anything I’ve thought I’d lost along the way, can be retrieved, built on.

At this point, one year after arriving in St. John’s, I have several emergency contact numbers. And counting. Perhaps I do have something to celebrate, after all.

What basic human rights mean to me

January 25, 2012

I love the dark, grey clouds covering St. John’s where I can hide and write my heart out. I don’t miss the sun, the obligation to bask in its brilliance, it only hurts my eyes. My fingers move across the keys more freely with the rain pounding on the windows, or when the snow piles up and locks us inside for yet another snow day.

The world I now live in, the place I’m at, now, is contentment with how far we got with decorating our newest home, the last colours we chose were red, and grey, I hated them at first, thought I’d made the biggest mistake, thought I couldn’t live with one more shade of darkness. But too much light only reflects off my screen, obscures my words, the fuel that keeps me going.

Under my clouds, sitting in front of my computer, I watch the world unfold. I’m seeing this world where there’s a God who exists that would take away the very basic right of choice. Some news, these days, not of wars or blatant disrespect for human rights in countries where we already know that is happening, but some news out of the States terrifies me, the news of potential leaders claiming women have no right to choice. These statements attempt to mask their controlling dictatorship in a religion that’s supposed to be all about love. Is the US for real? Does a significant percentage of their population actually support those who say a woman should live with even the consequences of rape? And here I thought we were all fighting for basic human rights.

My children are growing, changing before my eyes, filling my heart to overflowing more and more each day, and I am grateful for the fact of where I live, that my early years with them have been supported in so many ways. The one year maternity leave I had with my first child, because I was working at the time, paying into that pool that allowed me a paycheque for the first twelve months of my daughter’s life, it wasn’t much, but the promise of it, the offer, the fact of the existence of “maternity leave” was like a nod to my new life as a mother. A nod of respect. From my country. A country I’m so proud to call home.

I know some of my fellow countrymen and women would say our own PM is against abortion. But the last statement I’ve read him uttering on that topic was that he was not going to open the abortion debate. Abortion is legal in Canada. What he didn’t say, I believe, is more powerful that what he did say. That is, that we have the right, in this country, to the basic human right of choice. I know there’s many people in my own country still fighting that fight. But us parents, we make decisions on behalf of our children every single day. I know it’s a brutally touchy subject. But we as adults have to have the right to make those choices. No one ever said they were easy. But if we can’t have that very basic right, the right of choice, call it God-given Free Will if you aren’t an atheist, we might as well call these the dark ages. Maybe we never ever did leave those days behind.

I don’t want to offend another person’s beliefs. But I don’t understand why anyone, in the name of a religion that desperately needs to be modernized, taken not so literally, why anyone feels they have an obligation to take away another person’s right to choice. Or to claim “family values,” and the upholding of the “traditional family” as the only acceptable place to raise a child. I also don’t understand those who shoot down even gay rights — why can’t everyone see that there’s many ways to love in this world, to offer love, to cherish it and to share it?

I used to love the sun. I still do, occasionally. But sometimes, the things it illuminates are terrifying. Sometimes, I’d rather hide under my dark clouds, wrap my own definition of love, human rights, happiness, around me as a shield against the parts of the world that I can’t understand or relate to.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Lights

November 25, 2011

The other day I made one of those careless parenting decisions that backfired in an explosive way. When my four-year-old son insisted on “helping” to fill the van with gas, I succumbed.

His father started this with him (during those first few months following our latest move, when the boy was terrified of being left alone in the vehicle). I’ve allowed this before too, back when the baby was little enough to sleep in his car seat. I would hover over my little man, making sure he had the nozzle properly inserted into the mouth of the gas tank. This time, the baby, now twelve months old and much too impatient to wait quietly while his big brother did something fascinating, began to scream. I stuck my head inside the van to distract him. My normally very coordinated four-year-old decided for some reason to slide the nozzle out while still squeezing the lever, causing the gas to explode all over himself in a river of the strong-smelling liquid.

This was all taking place on a day in mid-November, which is a freak-out time of year if ever there was one. You know how it goes, Christmas is approaching, the anxiety of all the extra work to do leading up to the holidays is closing in. The first colds and flus of the season are sweeping through families whose time is already taut with activities, appointments, Christmas card lists and wish lists, fundraising and all those seasonal events we are obliged to attend.

That night, with the gasoline smell permeating the entire house even after putting the clothes through the wash four times, I was on my way to Brownies with my daughter where I’ve volunteered as a leader. As usual, I couldn’t find our inside shoes, or the binder I’m supposed to have with me at all times for these meetings, or the cookie money I’d collected. I succumbed for a second instance in one day, this time to my frustration. “I will NOT do Christmas cards this year, I will NOT go to your stupid party, and no one better expect me to do any decorating or baking this year!” I yelled all this at my husband, but it bounced off his back as he turned away from me, no doubt rolling his eyes as he did so.

I got home later that evening to find my husband putting up a string of lights in our kitchen. He told me quickly that if they look silly, he could take them down. My nose twitching, I went into the laundry room. I got those gassy clothes out of the wash and took them outside to hang them on the line. When I came back in, the lights twinkled at me.

I stayed up late that night, writing madly. The Christmas lights sparkled. Outside, it began to snow.

Over the next few days, I finished a story I’ve been working on for years. I sent it to another new friend I’ve met here in St. John’s, a very talented poet with whom I’ve been sharing work back and forth. He encouraged me to submit my story to a contest. I also completed a non-fiction piece, and submitted that one to CBC Radio’s Winter Tale competition.

My kids were playing outside in the snow the day I finally retrieved my son’s clothes off the line. They smelled fresh as fresh could be, not a trace of the gasoline odour left. My son asked, “Mommy, what’s on your Christmas list?” At the same time, my daughter announced she wanted to go in and do some baking with me. We all went in and plugged in the lights. As my children and I worked together, the mess in the kitchen grew. I embraced the magic of the lights, even began to mentally prepare my Christmas card list. I discovered my answer to my son’s question.

One House, Two House; Old House, New House

October 4, 2011

One of the fiction stories I remember writing in elementary school was a tale about a haunted house. The gist of it was something like this: through a series of spooky events someone discovers their home is haunted, and the entire family ends up trapped within its walls for generations. I’m sure my young brain conjured some fascinating images for that story. I do know that I pictured the house as a dark, three-storey structure, standing alone in the centre of a wide, grassy field. I think I titled it something very original like, The Haunted House.

I no longer believe in haunted houses. But I do believe in being haunted by decisions I’ve made years ago that spring back to me in the present like a sling-shot in time. As well, by more recent decisions that I see as having a domino affect on my life, long into the future. And I do believe I will forever be haunted by the choices I make on behalf of my children. It’s terrifying enough holding your own fate in the palm of your hand, never mind the fate of three other lives.

So my husband and I have moved into the fourth house we’ve owned together. It is our first-born’s sixth residence; our second-born’s fourth; and the baby’s third (the kids’ homes include a couple of rentals along the way).

If I’ve learned anything after four house-hunts, it’s this: if you go into it expecting perfection, you’ll never, ever be satisfied. So here’s my personal rules for success (keeping in mind that rules are easily broken, and “success” is a moving target):

1. Area is most important. When my husband and I moved to Sudbury, Ontario, a location four hours north of the sprawling city of Toronto, he wanted a quiet place on the lake, and I, the one who would be “stuck” at home with kids until I could find another job,  wanted a neighbourhood where I could meet other young families and walk to a library. I guess you could say I, with both those desires satisfied, won. We made friends spitting distance from our backyard with whom we could party, avoiding hefty babysitter costs. I was able to walk the kids to library storytime, and eventually, once I found work, to their respective daycares. A place on the lake would have been nice, but…..we had many great camping spots nearby instead.

2. Room for the kids to play outdoors is imperative. I cannot stress enough the fact that kids need outdoor play as surely as they require proper nutrition (so do adults, we’re just better at self-medicating to try to ignore this fact….something that will be the demise of us all one of these centuries, I’m afraid). If my family managed to get outside daily in Northern Manitoba, I’ll be damned if I’ll let the winds of the Atlantic force us to stay indoors most of the time here in St. John’s. This time around we found a house in the city, with a flat backyard (a rarity in this hilly part of the world), and we bought a terrific play structure on kijiji that we set up even before the moving truck arrived.  I am proud to say that the kids – ours, and many others in the neighbourhood – log many hours on that playset.

3. Once your family gets to a certain size, space is an important luxury. After living in a three-bedroom rental with the baby tucked into a corner of our room (which did not work out at all, as he was waking three or four times each night, a terrible habit that stopped once we moved the other two into a shared room, and the baby into his own space), we decided four bedrooms was mandatory (but very difficult to find).

The house we chose is like a mansion after the apartment we lived in downtown. But we have no garage. I can hardly begin to describe how painful this is. And, as flat as the backyard is, the front makes up for it by consisting of a steep drop off a short treed platform to the sidewalk and then the road, and a series of haphazard steps from the front door to the driveway. I have come close to chucking the stroller down that drop-ff in frustration many a time.

So no, it’s not perfect. Sacrifices have been made in order to satisfy the above points. But we do enjoy the area. Even better, we have great neighbours (we’ve always been lucky with neighbours!), and kids for our kids to play with. I guess you could say, we choose lifestyle over…..structure.

The other night I was lapping up some culture at a presentation by Jane Urquhart, who was speaking at Memorial University as part of their Pratt Lectures. Urquhart’s topic was, Inner Lives: Fiction and the Visual Imagination, and she emphasized that the inclusion of architecture is essential to bringing fiction to life. I can’t help but think how appropriate that topic is for my reality, the adult portion which could be titled: The Many Houses of Carrie’s Life. I could split it into chapters according to preference, first being the Thompson, Manitoba house. I could meander into a tale about how unlikely it was that in a place I never ever wanted to move to, we found our perfect abode.

However, for us, the outside is often drastically more important than the inner walls of our home. The Thompson one was a modest-sized house, but had the biggest backyard. It even backed onto green space in a place where we didn’t worry about crime or property damage (the worst that happened there was, you’d find squatters from the nearby reserves in the forest, who would sometimes leave behind thrift store finds like jackets and chairs, ooohhhh, terrifying!).

I think I’ve been somewhat sobered by this move. We’re faced with the highest energy costs we’ve ever known. We have one more little life to hold in the palm of our hands (and what a delightful little life it is!). Already, we look back on last winter and breath a sigh of relief that we survived it. We’ve finally closed off our moving claims, been compensated for the things that got broken or lost. My husband has a veritable gang of guys he goes mountain biking with and, although he only got his bike out of storage two months ago, I think he’s used it more this year than the last several years combined. I am giddy as a school girl over the amount of literary events and supportive network of writers here in this city.

Best of all, we are making connections that are, at last, feeling permanent and meaningful.