My Imposed Sabbatical and Trusting Life

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In my ‘new life’, I am on sabbatical.  I can’t say it’s entirely of my own choosing, as there are factors at play that are out of my control.  We are essentially at the whim of ‘the system’, jumping through many hoops, and waiting (somewhat) patiently to be given the green light to move forward with our plans to open up my new practice.

Although I knew that there would be a period of time between leaving my life in Ontario, and creating a new one here in Nova Scotia, the imposed sabbatical has shown me that I like to be in control far more than I was aware of.  I may be a thinker, but I am also a do-er.  Apparently I like to be the one calling the shots (yes, friends, you can laugh here – I am aware that I like to be the leader).  But I wasn’t aware of how hard it can be to let go and trust.  Giving into that – trusting that things will all work out – is giving up a whole different kind of control.  And that one’s been an eye opener for me.  Despite evidence to the contrary, and the fact that everything is turning out exactly as I wish it to be – albeit more slowly –  isn’t always enough to keep me in a state of trust.

I want to lean into this, and trust wholeheartedly that everything is turning out exactly as it should.  The truth is that  I have to constantly quell the voices of fear and doubt.  I have to accept that there are some things that are not in my control.  And that oftentimes, life moves along at a speed that is different than what I want.  (Funny how life’s challenges show you sides of yourself that you were not fully aware of.)

It’s been over two months since we left our life in Ontario to move home to Nova Scotia.  And in the quirky way that time flows, it simultaneously feels like light years in the past, and just yesterday that I left.  One of the hardest things I ever did was to walk away from the hundreds of families I had come to know and love in my chiropractic practice there.  While I am happy to know that they were left in very capable hands, it doesn’t change the fact that I miss them.  Facebook pictures of babies and kids only go so far.  The ten years of history and connection I had with the people there were deep and very real – and if I were fully honest, I’d have to say that when the fears or doubts come up – they are about whether I will be able to create the same level of connection and community here that I did there.  Realistically I know I can and I will.  But the doubts still creep in.

It’s a lot like when Ethan laments the friendships he left in our little town of Beeton.  While he plays with kids at school, and generally is happy, we know it will take a while to forge new connections like those he had with the kids he knew for over five years.  It would be nice if we could just jump right in – but time can’t be rushed – in his case, or in mine.  I have to take the advice we give to him – to be himself and know that the friendships will come.  From my perspective as an adult, I know that he has yet to make the friends that will likely stay with him for a lifetime.

So, in the light of listening to the same wisdom – I have to trust that I will be able to build a new practice full of people and families who I will come to know and love – just like I did in Ontario  (Is it possible for it to be more?!… I don’t know.)

What I am missing is the opportunity to build relationships with people, to remind them that they are designed to be extra-ordinary, and to help them through the hands-on power of chiropractic, and guidance in creating a lifestyle around them and their families that will allow them to truly thrive.  I miss feeling like I am making a difference.  In my current bubble, my influence is small, my ability to reach and inspire people is unknown.  I feel like I am hibernating.

It is scary starting over.

The funny thing is that now I have the family support around me that I never had in Ontario – the one thing that I could’t create there is inherently part of our lives here.  Family and friends have been instrumental in holding me up or helping out when I’ve most needed it.

What I miss is knowing that I play an important role in families’ lives.  I miss the people that we left in Ontario. I miss knowing that I make a difference in my community.

On the good days, I am excited for what is yet to come, for the relationships that I am yet to build, and the connections that are yet to be created.

I guess what it comes down to is perspective.  (Isn’t it always?) I can’t force life to move faster, just because I am impatient to start building a new practice here.  I can either moan and complain – or suck it up, and keep taking action to prepare.  I can treat this sabbatical like my time to process and heal – like a snake shedding its skin – so that when the time comes, I am ready to fully embrace my new life here.

It is, after all, where we are finally putting our roots down.  It is where my heart has always been.  Maybe what I need to remind myself of is this:  we had a great life and great friends in Ontario, and I created an amazing practice there.  But there is a deeper question here – perhaps what I should be asking myself is this:

What am I capable of now that I am in the place where my heart has always been?

Starting Over

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Today our kids started at a new school. It’s a long way – 2000 km – from their last school, as we are trying to settle in to our new Nova Scotia lives (despite the fact that we are still, essentially, homeless). As I sit and write from a seaside dock, looking out over the still waters of the inlet by the cottage we have rented for the month, I am breathing in the fresh sea air, grateful for the calming effect of the beauty around me.

I’d like to pretend that this is vacation. After all, I don’t have a ‘job’ to go to (yet), and I have not yet established a new routine. The truth is that there is still too much uncertainty for it to be relaxing. Far from it, actually. I am trying my best to appreciate these little moments, but the truth is that I like to plan. I like routine. I like planning. And it’s been so many months of uncertainty and change that it can get in the way of fully enjoying these little moments.

I am not adverse to change. As a matter of fact, I embrace it. This time, however, we’ve taken on our fair share. We have moved across the country – from Ontario to Nova Scotia – to be closer to family. We still don’t have a home (although we’ve had an offer in on one since July 2nd). And because of that, I still don’t know when I will be able to open my new chiropractic practice. I don’t know when I will feel settled. And in reality, once we are in our house (a building that I will also be practicing out of), we will be busy in a way that may possibly eclipse the hectic pace of this past year. Maybe right now is a breather – like the calm before the storm. Or more accurately, the calm between storms, as these past few months have been absurdly crazy.

Four months ago, our world turned upside down when Dean’s dad passed away from a sudden heart attack. Three months ago, I found the right chiropractor to buy my Ontario practice, setting in motion the many steps to relocating our entire lives. Two months ago, I announced to my practice and friends that we would be leaving Ontario, while simultaneously putting an offer in on a house/practice in Nova Scotia and preparing to list our Ontario home. One month ago, we said our final Ontario goodbyes, put our kids on a one-way flight to Halifax, and then drove East with all of our belongings. These past few weeks have been full of family time, beaches, and summer fun east-coast style. But they have also been full of stress, with daily interactions with lawyers, accountants, realtors and banks.

When I look back on these past four months, I can’t count the number of times I have been literally brought to my knees with stress, so close to the breaking point that I wonder if and how I can handle any more. Amidst comments from people of ‘how brave we are to start over’, ‘how inspiring that we have followed our dreams to move home’, right to the frank admission of many that ‘they couldn’t handle the insecurity and uncertainty of what we’ve taken on’, I’ve questioned how much I can handle, but never whether this was the right choice for our family.

I will admit that sometimes I feel I’m taking it all in stride, while other times, I wonder. Ethan has candidly pointed out to me that he’s been yelled at more this past month than ever before (which is likely true, unfortunately). Audra has sometimes regressed into acting like a kindergarten-aged kid, while other times being a life-saving and mature helper with her little cousins. The have both taken turns being absolutely golden – and driving us crazy with their bickering, whining and bugging.

With all of this, I am once again grateful for our decision to be real with our kids. I can’t fathom trying to always put on a brave face for them, when I’ve grieved deeply for all of the goodbyes we’ve had to say in recent months, from the stress we’ve been under, and sometimes just from sheer exhaustion. But they’ve also been free with their hugs, loving notes and artwork, and moments of mature understanding. They’ve handled these huge changes with such strength and courage that my heart swells with pride. They admit that they are uncertain and nervous – but more excited than scared. We’ve had great talks, lots of quality family time together, and the beauty of Nova Scotia to ground us. In this sense, I can draw strength from knowing that within our little family unit – everything that matters is good. (And eventually, the home, routine, and settling-in will come.)

Our decision to aim to be consciously present to the moments in front of us has allowed us to still make the most of our month of East Coast summer, despite the underlying uncertainty and strain. Without this awareness, I think we’d lose sight of all of the wonderful things that are happening around us, and the little moments of joy would be lost altogether.

We’ve been to numerous ocean beaches, lakes and pools; Ethan has even tried surfing already; we took a ferry ride yesterday only to be awed by the joyful group of dolphins jumping alongside the boat; we’ve explored the beautiful South Shore with its marinas, hikes, caves, wharves and beauty, and enjoyed many visits with family and friends. We have spent more time with our 5 nieces and nephew than ever possible before, had sleep overs, campfires, and impromptu family dinners. We’ve fallen right back into place with some of our oldest friendships, and have plans for many more fun times together.

It’s been wonderful – albeit tough, emotional, and daunting.

When I think of the brave faces on our kids this morning as they walked into a sea of unknown faces at their new school – and remember their nerves and excitement of last night and this morning – I am not worried for them at all. As a matter of fact, I am greatly looking forward to hearing about their day when we pick them up in a few hours. And I fully expect that the good will outweigh the bad.

Ethan and Audra First Day at Kingswood

So, taking a page from their book – I, too will admit that I am scared and uncertain – but also excited. While the transition to moving into our home and opening my new practice is one that I am anticipating will take months rather than days – I trust wholeheartedly that this move was the right one for all of us. I don’t expect it to be easy (it hasn’t been!). But I do expect it to be the best choice possible for our family – and that make the hard times worth the stress and strain.

Daunting but exciting.

As for what’s next? All good things. (I hope!!)

A Love Letter to My Son (AKA Ethan’s Birth Story)

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Hangin’ with Ethan in Cuba

Have you ever looked over at your own child and thought “Wow, what a cool kid!”? Well, yesterday I got to spend the entire day with Ethan.   With Dean in Edmonton visiting his mom (and getting to celebrate his Baba’s 95th birthday), and Audra invited for the weekend on a friend’s boat – it’s been a weekend of just me and my boy.  And I must say: he is exceptionally great company.

This is how I found myself to be enjoying a lunch date with him at a table for two.  As I sat across from him, listening intently to his animated stories and observations, it hit me: eleven years ago to this day, I hadn’t even met him yet.  At the time, I was nine days ‘overdue’ with him, excitedly, (and frustratingly) waiting for my baby to be born.  And as excited as I was to become a mom, I was completely unprepared for the all-encompassing love I was going to have for this unique human being.  The concept that one day I would be having deep conversations while on ‘a date’ with him was entirely unfathomable.

Ethan at 3 months old

On this day eleven years ago, I was anxiously awaiting that moment when I would get to hold my baby in my arms for the first time.  I was fervently hoping that our plans to have him born at home would be realized – and while nervous about the birth as a first-time mom – I did feel confident that I could do this.

As I sat across from Ethan yesterday, thoroughly enjoying his company, all of those memories came flooding back to me . This was likely heightened by the fact that his birthday is tomorrow, as well as by my recent re-discovery of the 13-page, 6,500-word letter I wrote to him about the days, hours and minutes leading up to his birth.

So – Ethan – these words were written for YOU, all about your birth story:

First off, you arrived 11 days after our midwives had anticipated.  While we were always of the mind that babies come when babies are ready – I’d have to say that your tendency to move at a leisurely pace started even before you were born!  However, I focused on being patient, and remembering that everything would happen exactly as it should, and at the right time:

“During the last months of pregnancy, I would talk to you often – about all the people you would be meeting, introducing you to your Dad and Casey (our dog), and towards the end, I would talk often about your upcoming birth.  I would explain that it might be scary, and it might be uncomfortable, and that it would be an experience that only you and I could share.  I would always tell you that we would be working together-  doing everything we could to ensure a warm and comfortable atmosphere, and a beautiful birth experience.  Through it all, I told you that we were a team, and that you could come whenever you felt ready.

As I’ve told you, your labour was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but was also the most exhilarating experience I have ever had:

“… I became so internalized that little around me was noticed.  I had no concept of time, nor of who was with me.  Every bit of my attention was inside of myself, and with you.  I didn’t consciously think during this time – I simply breathed or moaned my way through each wave.”

“As the surging waves of force would wash over me, it felt as if every part of my being was joining together to help bring you to me.  It was so innately driven that I didn’t have to think, push, or make efforts – I simply surrendered to the sensations, and the life forces within my own body bringing you increasingly closer to being in this world.”

After a few intense hours of labour, you were ready to be born:

“…On the next contraction you slipped easily into your Dad’s waiting hands.  Your dad handed you to me, my first time holding you in my arms, though my body had held you so securely for so long.  I felt no surprise at seeing that you were a little boy, and was overwhelmed with love and gratitude.  And amazed at your calm, dark eyes.  You seemed so serene and wise.  The thought surfaced, ‘What a wise old soul I have brought into this world.”

As I sat across from Ethan at lunch yesterday, I felt like I was seeing him in two different snapshots in time.  Here I was, going back in time to the day he was born – while simultaneously being hit with the realization that one day relatively soon, he would make one fantastic date.  Interesting, animated and thoughtful – and still with those most beautiful, full-of-life brown eyes imaginable.  I felt like I was being given the gift of foresight – looking at my eleven-year-old son – while glimpsing the man that he will one day become, and feeling proud beyond words.

Ethan –  on the night that you were born, I learned the most important lessons of my life.  

Firstly – It was when you were born that I first realized how strong I could be. “Never before have I felt so connected to nature, to myself, and to the amazing power inside of me.”  It was in becoming a mom that I discovered a deeper, stronger, and wiser part of myself.  As I’ve told you many times before: When you were born, I was born too… as a mom.  In every way possible, your birth transformed me, and helped make me the person I am today.  I know that I am not perfect, that I make mistakes, and sometimes lose my cool – but I will forever look upon you (and your sister) as the greatest gifts I can give this world to help make it a better place.

And secondly –  There is nothing on earth that is stronger or more powerful than the love a mother feels for her children. “Every dream I had of holding you in my arms did not compare, and that love I feel in every fiber of my being only grows greater every day.” Ethan, I wrote those words within days of first meeting you.  And now, eleven years later, I still see them as truth.  Every day – even the hard ones – I love you more.

I look at you and see the amazing person you are, and can only glimpse the extraordinary person you are in the process of becoming: a wise and conscientious, fun-loving and adventurous, deep-thinking and creative person that I look forward to knowing, loving and spending lots of time with in the years to come.

I love you, Ethan, and I am so incredibly proud to be your mom.

Our family 10 years ago, on the Halifax waterfront (2004)

 

 

 

 

 

A One Way Flight Home

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“These are happy tears!” I had to call out to Dean as I ran downstairs, laughing while I sobbed. Otherwise he would have looked at me, wondering what had gone wrong.

“I just booked our kids on a one-way flight to Halifax.”

I hadn’t expected this to make me cry. I spent the half hour on the phone arranging their unaccompanied minor flights, happily posted this news on Facebook, stating it was ‘absolutely surreal after 16 years away from home.’ And then I read that statement and something in me let go.

We are going HOME.

We are moving our entire lives across the country. And for the first time in a long time, my tears are happy ones.

It’s been a tough road. We have a life here, amazing friends, great memories, and a practice full of families that I truly love. I have grieved over all of the people we will miss many times, and deeply.

Even yesterday, as I drove home from work with Audra, I had a quiet cry over some of the good-byes I had said that morning. I didn’t think she’d notice the tears on my cheeks from the back seat – but she did.

“Mom, are you crying?” she asked, turning her music off.

“Yes”, I replied.

Why?!” she asked.

“I’m crying over all the people I am going to miss in my practice,” I said.

“But you’ll get new people in Nova Scotia,” she offered without pause, making me laugh at her quick-thinking and pragmatic mind.

“And it can’t be as hard as all of the times we’ve had to say good-bye to our family.”

WOW. Yes, that summed it up in a nutshell.

It is very hard to go – as a matter of fact, this move might be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. In my practice, the outpouring of understanding, mixed with tears and hugs has unexpectedly made this the most humbling experience I’ve ever had. I am humbled to my core to see how much my love for my practice has been very much a two-way street. (And that’s not even touching on the friendships that will now become long-distance.)

The truth is that we are going TOWARDS something that we want more than anything else in the world: to raise our children around family. My heart fairly explodes at the idea that my 4 nieces and 1 nephew are young enough that they won’t really remember a time in their life when Auntie Amy didn’t live nearby. The joy that I feel when I think of all the times Ethan and Audra will get to have with my parents, their cousins and their aunts and uncles is indescribable.

We don’t yet know for sure if we even have a home to move into… (our offer is pending!). I don’t know how long it will take me to build a new practice. There are so many unknowns right now that I can’t even begin to list them all.

But we are going HOME. After 16 years away.

So am I crying tears of joy? You bet I am.

A Dave Matthews Band Concert with Kids

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I’m a huge Dave Matthews Band fan. For the last five years, their summer concert has one of the highlights of my year, and my absolute favourite date night with Dean.

This year, however, Dean had the idea to bring Ethan and Audra with us. My first thought was: “What?! Bring our kids on OUR date night?!”, quickly followed by: “That’s a lot of money to spend on kids – what if they’re too young to enjoy it?”, and underlying it all: “What if Audra gets into one of her moods and fusses the entire time?” (This was actually my biggest concern – and not an unfounded one.) Her mercurial personality has been a test to me on many family outings. I readily recall my birthday trip to the Toronto Aquarium – as well as our catamaran trip in Cuba – as being two great experiences that were tinged with moments of great drama from her. So, seeing as how our annual concert is one of my favourite, most-fun outings, I was worried that she might bring that same drama to the night.

I am so glad to say that I was wrong.

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The kids’ excitement en route to the show

The kids were fantastic. Our seats were great: being only one row back from the front of our section – and with people who sat the entire concert in front of us – the view we had was perfect.

The music was amazing. But it always is.

I’m so glad that I was wrong. Having our kids with us added wonderfully to the experience, and it’s one I’m so grateful that we could give to them.

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See, for me, the concert is about so much more than just the music. Every year, it’s an experience of watching masters at play. Surrounded by music, with my whole body vibrating with it, I am filled with joy and appreciation at the level of musical mastery and the band’s obvious love of performing. They put everything into every show. The looks on their faces tells it all. They are having a blast – and so are we.

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Every time I go, I am reminded of the deep-rooted joy that comes from playing life full out. No matter what your ‘genius’ is – giving it your all, having fun, and becoming a master in your area of expertise.

Every time I looked over at our kids – dancing, singing and laughing – I realized that we were giving them so much more than just a concert. It was an awesome and fun lesson witnessing what happens when you put your heart into what you love.

Yup, Dean was right. Bringing our kids to a Dave Matthews Band concert was a great idea. Like I’ve said before – I’d rather buy experiences than things. Without a doubt, this was one of the best family experiences yet.

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A Mom’s Journey on Learning to Let Go

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It’s Sunday morning at 11am. In years past, I would have already been up for 5+ hours, diapers changed and re-changed, nap times navigated, breakfast and snacks served, activities mediated and rest-time non-existent. I remember wishing occasionally for just one hour – just one – to do something without interruption. Our kids were little, highly needing of our time and attention, and not yet old enough to entertain themselves without our frequent participation, or the maturity to play without the watchful eyes of a parent. They couldn’t yet wipe their own bums, open the fridge for a snack, or play without supervision. Our level of needed-ness was unrelentingly high.

I don’t want to go back to those years – but I sometimes get overwhelmed by how quickly time is flying by and how little-by-little, Ethan and Audra are growing up. It strikes me as the biggest cosmic joke that as moms, we seem to be programmed to want to keep our babies young and close-at-hand, while sometimes wanting to keel over in sheer mental and physical exhaustion.

Nana with Ethan and Audra on a visit in 2006

I’m not the kind of mom who tries to keep our kids small. As a matter of fact, I feel like the job of a mom is one of constantly learning to let go – bit by bit, easing the reins, and letting our kids experience more and more of life. We do our best to let them expand their horizons, test their abilities and prove themselves responsible enough and deserving of new privileges as they get older. I love that they are old enough for us to do things with them that we want to do – like take long hikes, snorkel in deep water, watch exciting movies, explore new places, or have deep conversations. As a matter of fact, I’d choose the company of our two kids over that of many of the adults I’ve met. Our kids are awesome – and lots of fun to be with. With Audra just-turned-9 and Ethan being nearly-11, they are quick simply great company.

Skiing with Ethan, Winter 2014

Snorkelling with Audra, Cuba 2014

But today I find myself on the gazebo in our lush backyard, quietly sipping a coffee, willing myself to appreciate the time I have to myself. Somehow we’ve gone from being so constantly in demand that it was exhausting – to a weekend like this. Ethan has been having the time of his life at a friend’s cottage, while Audra has been at another friend’s house for an extended sleep over for the past 28 hours. And the simple truth is that I miss our kids. Right now, my heart is a little achy as I wait for my family to reconvene around me, filling me up with stories of their great weekend adventures.

Years ago, the idea of letting my kids go hours away for days on end would have been inconceivable. But with the passage of time, those boundaries slowly expand, pushing ever-so-slowly outwards. Maybe I’ll be called crazy for expressing this (that was Dean’s general comment when I expressed my feelings of missing our kids) – but I miss my kids!

Don’t get me wrong – I was happy to let them go. I was happy for them for the great and fun times they would have with their friends. We didn’t consider saying no to their requests for even a moment, and I am looking forward to hearing them joyfully recount what an amazing weekend they have had.

Maybe it’s just getting me at an exceptionally vulnerable moment, but every once in a while I get hit by the overwhelming realization of how quickly time flies. Our kids are growing up so fast. Sometimes it seems like those crazy-busy times of being a parent will never ease, and then I find myself in a quiet house while they play outside with friends, go to the park without me, or walk to school on their own.

Maybe this is amplified by coming on the heels of this being the first week that I wasn’t needed to pick them up after school. For years, they’d ask why some moms picked up their kids every day – while I only could do it two days a week – like they were somehow being slighted. And then this past Wednesday, Audra asked if she could walk home from school with a friend, which Ethan has been doing for a while. “Yesss….” I answered hesitatingly. I had no trepidations about her walking home in our small town – but my mind was processing this unexpected ‘first’- that of not being needed to pick our kids up from school. I wasn’t quite ready for that. (I actually considered going to the school – ‘just for the walk’ – but realized that I would have been doing it for ME – because I wasn’t ready for this step, even though they were.) Instead, I watched the clock as I worked on my computer – noticing when my normal departure-time came and went. And I stayed where I was.  Simultaneously feeling how convenient this was as I completed my work – while also feeling a little sad, like something precious was slipping away from me.

Maybe I’m being overly emotional, but my mommy-heart quietly grieves all of the signs of how I am a little less needed in my babies’ lives.

Even with this, there is another part of me that is laughing at myself: “Are you CRAZY, lady?! After all these years of constant work, juggling life as a working mom, mediating being a business owner with caring for our home-life, lacking sleep, and sometimes needing time for ME so badly that I was in near break-down mode?! Don’t you remember all those times?! Don’t you deserve a little break?! Can’t you appreciate this gift of time??”

So yes, I am enjoying my down-time, achy heart included. I had a fantastic date-night with Dean last night: we hit up a local street festival, followed by an amazing steak dinner on a sunny patio, a walk along the Barrie waterfront – and a sleep-in today. I looked at Dean as we drove home, and asked him what he thought our life would be like if we didn’t have kids (this is after he lovingly laughed at my comments about missing them). His truthful answer was that we’d probably travel more, live a more luxurious lifestyle, and have more money – but that ‘he likes having kids’ – and not just any kids: OUR kids. And I couldn’t agree more.

Yes, I may have to re-read this myself on some of those days that I want to pull my hair out with parenting-frustration. I don’t subscribe to the idea that the ‘best years are behind us’. Despite the truth in how being a mom makes me grieve as my kids leave behind more and more of their dependency on us, I can also welcome the new more-mature relationships that are forming in our family. I can laugh at myself for crying over these little things, all while understanding how deeply the roots of these feelings go.

The wiser part of me knows that our kids don’t need me any less than when they were little. They just need me differently. They need us to listen without judgment, to extend our trust a little deeper, and to demonstrate our confidence in them by letting them go just a little farther afield with each passing year. They need to know more than ever that they are loved and accepted by us, even when they falter. They need to know that they can always talk to us – even about the hard things – and that our arms are always open for limitless hugs.

As for me, as a mom of two kids quickly approaching the adolescent years, I feel like the hardest part of the ‘job’ – that of letting them go even more (while holding my breath as they stretch their wings) – is going to be a life-long journey. Maybe this weekend was just a reminder of how far into this process we already are.

Dean with our big kids!

Dean with our big kids!

And maybe my job is to have a little more faith in US – in the job that Dean and I have done so far in raising our kids to be the healthy, happy, self-confident individuals that Ethan and Audra are proving themselves to be. Maybe I need to let go and trust that we have been doing a great job – the most important one in the world, in my opinion.

At the end of the day – regardless of how young or old they may be – they will always be my babies. Our babies.  (While dads may process this differently, I have trouble believing that this doesn’t affect them, too…) And we will love them the way that only a parent can. Whole-heartedly. In the moment – and for every moment past and future.

Navigating Loss… And Choosing Life

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Two weeks ago I hit rock bottom. I’m sure that’s a relative term, but for me it meant that I was feeling the lowest and most defeated that I have felt in a long, long time. Call it process overload, call it grief, call it whatever you want… I just wasn’t myself and was having a hard time finding my way back.

The truth is that I was pretty close to full capacity for stress before my Nanny passed away on April 30th. And it was in the midst of that sadness that the phone rang on May 5th with the surreal news that Dean’s dad had died from a sudden heart attack.

Our week in Edmonton with Dean’s mom and family was both harder than I expected, and more normal than I thought possible. I found myself marveling at how life still goes on – even in the tough times. I’d be getting groceries and thinking ‘how weird this is that no one who looks at me would know the roller coaster of emotions going on inside.’ I took great pleasure in the way that our family was able to talk openly, tell stories, enjoy each others’ company, and even laugh together. I was deeply comforted by that.

The kids were amazing. While both reacted and dealt with the news differently – I was again comforted by their candidness in asking questions, making comments and observations, and going about entertaining themselves in their normal ways. I did find them both to be very short-tempered with each other – and they spent lots of time playing on their own (Ethan would disappear to play Minecraft or shoot basketball hoops, while Audra would watch shows on her ipad, or play outside with grandma’s dog). But they both had melt downs periodically that would break my heart.  

In Edmonton I felt like I coped well. I felt capable, and like I was in touch with that core of strength that lies deep inside. I was strong in our travels with our kids (although the frequent video texts my sister sent of my nieces literally saved my/our lives a few times that our emotions almost got the best of us). I felt strong enough – albeit a little anxious – to see Dean’s dad at the viewing. But again, the kids were amazing. We explained to them what to expect and gave them the option to choose if they wanted to ‘see Grandpa’ – to which they both immediately insisted that they did. At the funeral home, I actually had to hold them back from running in – just to give Dean’s mom a chance to go in first. And I was so proud of them as they walked up to the casket – quietly cuddling in to myself, Dean, or Grandma. (And then the stream of questions began: “Does Grandpa have shoes on? Why? You can’t even see them! Why is his hand puffy? Why are his eyes closed? And on and on. It was so normal to hear the natural curiosity that it lightened the experience substantially.)

We got through the funeral – including a very moving ceremony with a long procession in which his military friends saluted his body and then Dean’s mom – and we ended the day in the kitchen telling stories with friends and family. In Edmonton, I grieved, mediated the sporadic breakdowns from our kids, cooked for our extended family, and nurtured everyone as best I could. I leaned heavily on my own family – including many Facetime calls to my mom (who was still in Newfoundland following Nanny’s funeral), and my sister – whose wonderful girls made me laugh at the times I most wanted to cry. Again, I am eternally grateful for technology – especially when geography makes us so far away.

The hardest time I had was once I returned to Ontario with our kids. Dean stayed in Edmonton for an extra week – and while my dad had offered to fly up if I needed him – I decided that I could get through 5 days without Dean, and with a little help from friends. As a matter of fact, help from friends in our little town of Beeton was one of my saving graces. One friend took the kids before school – and even offered to pack their lunch for them on that first day back (A little gesture – maybe – but it was one of the kindest and most thoughtful offerings I have ever had extended to me. Thanks Lisa – I doubt you know quite how much that helped me!) Other friends got our kids from school and fed and entertained them until I got home from work. The net result was a load off of my shoulders, and an extra-fun week for our kids with their friends. Again, my gratitude was enormous.

Maybe it was knowing that our kids were well taken care of – and that Dean was exactly where he was most needed – that lead to me letting go to keep on processing my own grief. It took everything I had to practice for the first two days – especially as I will only put my hands on people if I can be in a state that is healthy enough to help them. It took every bit of focus I had to be present enough to be in my practice.

I was exhausted, napping every day by necessity – but not sleeping at night. I tried working out – only to find that my muscles were so weak that I could hardly get through the classes. I remember one workout in particular when I couldn’t talk to anyone because I was afraid that I would blubber if I opened my mouth – and willing myself to keep it together while doing my warm ups. I was eternally grateful that friends were feeding our kids dinner so that I didn’t have to think about that. And for the first time in years, I found myself wanting to emotionally eat. Bad choice, possibly, but I wanted pizza and junk food, and things that I know make me feel awful.

The weekend when Dean came home I felt like the missing piece of the puzzle was put back in place. For the first time in a week, I slept. But I wasn’t out of the woods yet. As a matter of fact – I think that the combination of having Dean home and having our best friends Tanya and Mike and their kids visiting possibly provided the ‘perfect’ time for me to go into breakdown mode. I realized that I needed help and support – and that I was afraid to lean on Dean the way I usually would. How could I lean on him for help when it was his dad that had just passed? I didn’t want him to see what a hard time I was having. I didn’t want to add any stress to him. I didn’t want to worry him – and felt guilty for not being strong enough to be the support for him that I expected he would need. All of the sudden, I felt that the joy of having Dean home had transformed into a greater sense of alone-ness.

I had lost my rock.

We have a busy life and there are lots of responsibilities that I have. And one thing I know for sure is that I would not be able to ‘do my life’ without the constant love, support and encouragement that Dean gives me. I was perceiving this unexpected but massive loss (albeit inaccurately) and it may have been the final straw for me. I felt like I was trying to balance on a three-legged stool that had just lost another leg.

Fortunately, the presence of our friends helped immensely. I could cry to them (and I did), while knowing that Dean had support, too. And while ineffectively ‘hiding’ my breakdown from Dean, they were able to assure me that Dean was okay – that he saw and understood that I was afraid to lean on him as I usually would – and that he wanted to still fill that role for me.

The truth is that my rock bottom was not only about losing people that I loved. It was that the very foundation of my life and beliefs was shaken. I was afraid to trust life. I was living in a state of anxiety about how quickly things can change. I was afraid whenever the phone would ring that it might be bad news. If Dean called me and I missed his call, that fraction of time before I called him back was filled with unreasonable worry that something else might go wrong. I felt like I was living in state of perpetual fear. And it felt so foreign to my normal way of thinking that I wasn’t able to be myself.

I have made a conscious choice in life to focus on what’s right vs worrying about what might go wrong. It isn’t from a place of being naively optimistic – but rather one of being realistic to circumstances and choosing the most empowering way of thinking that I can in any given moment.

One of the questions I ask myself when life’s challenges show up is:

Will this matter in a month, a year, 5 years? (and usually the answer is NO)

Or I reaffirm to myself that “Everything that matters is good.” (our kids are happy and healthy, we have a roof over our heads, good food in our fridge, a loving and supportive marriage, purposeful work that we love, and great relationships with our families.)

For the first time ever, my modus operendi didn’t get me through. Yes – this would matter as time went on. And everything that matters wasn’t good. We had lost people who we loved, and who were central to our lives. Some things would never be the same again.

I realize that I had to go down to the bottom of my grief before I could begin to climb back up again. I may even be grateful (soon) that it happened with such velocity, albeit intensity.

I had a choice. I could let these combinations of experiences change me and how I viewed the world. I could wallow in sadness, add a little more fear to my viewpoint, and play a little smaller (safer) in life. Maybe then it wouldn’t hurt so much. Why couldn’t life just be EASY?

OR.

I could pick myself back up. Put my routines and supports back into place. Lean on Dean – and let him lean back. Be grateful for all the parts of our life that are still great. Be present to the people in front of me. Journal. Write. Do my morning routine. Get back to the gym. Eat well. Take my vitamins. Get good sleep. And trust life again.

I started back to journaling my list of gratitudes every morning – reflecting on what was going well. I allowed myself to hope and dream for the future again – even knowing that things may not work out exactly as I want. I decided I would rather live life full out – including putting my heart back into everything I did – even if it meant that I may face heartbreak or disappointment again.  Essentially, I chose to not let these experiences break me. I needed time, help from friends, connection with Dean, and love from family to get back to being ME.

Am I different now? Yes, some things change you forever.

Let me sum it up with this: Years ago I was asked which life path I would choose: Would I rather live a happy, even-keel life – or a life with unbelievable highs and lows? One would be ‘safer’, with less mental/emotional challenge – while the other could be like riding a roller coaster of extreme highs, successes and moments of great joy, while peppered with monumental challenges, extreme lows, and moments of defeat.

Fundamentally, we have chosen to live life full out. Option B is the one for us – highs and lows. Let’s face it – the lows suck. Truly. But I am choosing to believe with all of my heart that the highs will make it all more than worthwhile.

I know that life goes on, and that time heals. I don’t know what to expect in the upcoming weeks, months and years. I know that we will be very busy, welcoming new challenges, while hopefully enjoying many moments of happiness and ease. I feel like we are due for another up-swing. And even if all doesn’t go ‘to plan’ – I’ve decided that it feels better to lean in and hope anyways. In the very least, I feel like I’m ME again. And quite frankly, I think that’s how I need to be and who I need to be to ‘do my life’ and do it well.

Thank you everyone for your help and support, kind words, prayers and hugs. They have been so greatly appreciated.

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Grieving for Grandpa

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Please be aware that this blog will not be a happy one. I am writing it on what is likely to be one of the most challenging days I have ever faced.

As I type, we are flying across Canada – unexpectedly and heartbrokenly. I am not yet ready to come to terms with the reason we have stopped our lives – nor to look into the deep pit of sadness that I am wishing would lay dormant in my heart.

We have become a statistic- one of those families who gets the ‘dreaded call in the middle of the night.’ We have lost Dean’s dad – our adored Grandpa – to a sudden heart attack.  I am not yet ready to drop down into that pit and feel all of the emotions that are brewing there. It is too raw, and too surreal.

I don’t know what to expect when the plane lands and Dean greets me and the kids. I have no idea what it must have felt like him to arrive home yesterday to a world without his dad. I can’t even begin to imagine how lost his mom must be. And for my own sake, and that of our kids, I can only touch on those thoughts for very short periods of time. If I stay too long, I wonder if my heart might shatter. I want to ‘fix it all’…. and I can’t.

On my end, I’ve had 24 hours between bringing Dean to the airport and this flight taking off with me, Ethan and Audra on board. I’ve found myself bouncing between moments of intense sadness, disbelief, concern for Dean, his mom, his brother and Baba – and uncertainty over how this is going to play out with our family, and especially with our kids.

The reality is that I love Ethan and Audra with a ferocity that sometimes takes my breath away. Like all parents, I want to shield them from all of life’s pain, hurt and disappointment. I want to ease their confusion and grief. But I can’t – and that is so, so hard to accept.

It is in moments like these that I most feel like a she-bear: I fiercely desire – with a deep, primal drive -to protect them at all cost. I wish I could simply growl away or fight off the threats to their wellbeing. But I can’t. The threat this time isn’t a tangible one.

I can’t stop the waves of emotions that have already been unleashed. I don’t know how to prepare them for what is yet to come in the hours, days, weeks and months. I am in completely uncharted waters here.

And yet, that fierce love I have for my kids burns so brightly that it hurts.

I wonder if the hardest part about all of this is the sense of helplessness. I can’t change what has happened. I can’t bring Grandpa back. I can’t speed along the grieving process. I can’t take it away, and I can’t kiss this boo-boo better.

Time. That’s all I’ve got. And love. I will love them through this. I will love Dean through this.  I will love myself through this. I will cushion the blows, dry the tears and listen patiently as they rage through their emotions. I will mother them through it the best I can. In a way, it almost feels like a battle to be fought – and I am preparing myself to hit the ground running – with formidable strength, courage and compassion.

I am already so incredibly proud of them for how they are handling themselves. They have been insightful, honest and wise. They have been sweet, funny and sad. They have been distracted and present, helpful and challenging.

I know that there is no way to prepare for moments in life like these. So I am left to trusting the process, leaning on my own friends and resources, saying ‘yes’ more often than ‘no’ to any requests the kids have of me, and donning my job as a role model as best as possible. This may be one of the hardest times to do so.

And what do I wish to role model for them? Being real, but brave.  Finding appropriate and respectful ways to express emotions. Being thoughtful and kind while still taking care of myself and my needs (after all, I am no good to anyone if I crumble in the process).To be authentic enough to cry and ask for help – while also being a strong shoulder for others to cry on.

I am so incredibly grateful for our long-standing decision to let ourselves be real with our kids, to not shield them from the facts of life – like death and sadness – and for having taught them that they can and will feel every emotion under the sun. And that that’s okay.

And I am so grateful for all of the discussions we have had about life and death, spirituality, and the value of all of life’s experiences.  (Trust me, we are not valuing this experience right now – but one day in the distant future we may be able to look back and learn from it somehow). I am so grateful for the foundation they already have from being surrounded by love – and that they know love to be the most powerful force in the universe. I can only trust that this foundation will help to see all of us through this.

Yes, I love our children fiercely. And while it pains me deeply to see and anticipate moments of great sadness from them – I know that they, too, are strong and courageous, confident in themselves and their ability to face life head on.

Even in the hard times.

Especially in the hard times.

We love you, Grandpa!

 

Nanny’s Passing

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This morning my Nanny passed away. ‘Nanny from Newfoundland’, as she is referred to in our household. And while I am deeply saddened, and feel the grief from our large, extended, Canada-wide family, there is a part of me that keeps a little smile among the tears. No matter what she may have appeared to be as a ninety-five-year-old woman – I’ll tell you what she actually was: formidable.

After all, at ninety-five years of age, she was still living at home on her own up until a few short days ago. Even with the events of this past year, when against all likelihood, she healed well from a broken hip in the fall, was walking again without assistance, and even got off of the oxygen tank. At 95 years of age, I have to shake my head in wonder.

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At Nanny’s 90th birthday celebration with my sister Andrea

You see, underneath her unassuming appearance lay one of the most determined and pragmatic personalities imaginable. She called life as she saw it, and there was never any false pretence. With my nanny, what you saw was what you got. She cared about the simple things in life and with her, family was always first. As for her own needs, she simply wanted to be at home, in her own bed, and eating her own food. And making her own decisions – as she was fiercely independent.

As a matter of fact, her pragmatic style has long been a source of amusement in our family. For years now when anyone would speak to her about any future plans, her oft-repeated response was, ”Sure, I might be pushin’ up daisies by then, bye!” (imagine this in a strong newfie accent) So of course, when my sister called to tell her that she had booked flights to visit in June with her three girls, that was the expected response. It was a flippant way of stating the truth – that we never know what life is bringing us – and that on her end, she had come to terms with life and her eventual passing.

The smile in my heart is also from admiration. Admiration for a woman who was strong, who knew her own mind, kept her razor sharp wits about her at all times, and was at peace with life and ‘meeting her Maker’. I remember our first scare with her was over 12 years ago, when she had congestive heart failure. I remember planning my wedding that year, anticipating that she wouldn’t be around to see it. AND I remember her remarkable turn around – so that I can also remember her sitting at my wedding, full of life, and writing in our guest book that maybe she’d just stick around long enough to be a great-grandmother. Which she did. Twenty-seven times over – I might add (and one more on the way).

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Nanny with five of her 27 (!) great-grandkids. Halifax, April 2012

 

Yes, my Nanny was a fighter. She lived through world wars, hardship and change. She lived through raising eight kids, losing a husband early on in life, and burying one of her grown sons. In recent years, she has been in and out of the hospital several times – but each time she rallied. And she returned to living at home on her own: which was exactly where she wanted to be.

Not surprisingly, our family has always rallied around her. She has never wanted for care, phone calls, or visitors. In recent months and years, my mom and siblings have arranged their lives to have someone in Newfoundland with her keeping her company, and taking care of any business at hand (which Nanny didn’t always make easy, I might add!… she liked things all done her way) But the love they all feel for this remarkable woman made it a simple decision for her children to fly from all parts of the country to spend weeks at a time with her. She enjoyed visits from her grandkids and great-grandkids from all across Canada. Quite simply, I think she lived for that.

I know, because I saw how she was filled with life and laughter simply by being around her great-grandkids. The last time we saw Nanny was two years ago when I flew to Halifax with Ethan and Audra – expressly for the purpose of having them meet and remember their great-grandmother. It was one of the best family visits in my memory, and one that I will cherish forever.

You see, everything my Nanny did was genuine. There were no contrived appearances: with her, you get what you see. But underneath the slowing body and wrinkled skin was a mind of steel and an enormous heart. Family meant everything to her.

But this time, she was ready to leave.

From what I was told, this is how the story goes: Earlier this week she developed pneumonia. And although she was advised by my aunt – who is a nurse – to go to the hospital, she stated that she would go in the morning. (I’m not sure how that sat with Aunt Paula (the nurse), or my Aunt Joanne (who was staying with Nanny at the time) – but I expect that whatever transpired, they realized that if Nanny had made up her mind to sleep the night in her own bed, there was not much they could do.) In the morning, Nanny stated that she’d go ‘right after lunch’. And after lunch she put on her coat and shoes, sat on a chair and stated that she needed a short while – before announcing that ‘she was ready to go.’

Now, I was not there, and that was told to me second-hand. But I can vividly picture Nanny – calling the shots right until the end. And I imagine – with the intuitive sense of truth – that she knew that this was her final goodbye. I imagine that she knew that she had just slept her last night in her own bed, and eaten her last meal at her own table. I imagine that she knew as she crossed the threshold of her house – the home she had lived in with her husband, the home she had raised their eight kids in, the home whose walls were filled with many decades of memories and several generations of laughter – I am certain that she knew that this was the last time.

And in this simple way, she showed her immense courage. It was in this simple, peaceful way that she lived her life. When I picture this, I am filled with awe for her simple courage, and with peace for knowing that she passed on her own terms. While she may have said that ‘she’d go when her Maker called her’, I have a sense that with her strong and determined mind she somehow managed to set it all up to her liking nonetheless.

My Nanny died in her sleep last night. And while she may not have had many people present at the time of her passing – I assure you that she was absolutely surrounded in love. With great love, sadness and joy, today we say our final goodbyes.

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Our Family Trip to Cuba

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We recently got back from a week in Cuba.   I can still close my eyes and transport myself there:  I am right back on the beach, feeling the warm ocean breeze on my face as I sip my coconut water and immerse myself into the sounds of the waves, kids laughing and the palm trees swaying above me. Mmmm…. Bliss. 

We decided to take our kids to Cuba for lots of reasons: to escape the long cold winter, to see a different culture and part of the world, and to have fun spending time with just the four of us. Our priorities were to enjoy the hot sun, great beach, and good food (yes, we even had good food, even in Cuba!).  And we got them all – all wrapped up in a week of memories that we will have forever.

It’s funny to me how much perspective factors into enjoying a vacation.  I mean, you’re away from daily life!  And even if you like your life, as I do, it’s a very welcome change to remove myself from the daily routine and responsibilities.  (Absolutely rejuvenating, actually… ) As for different perception, when we got back, another person who was at the same resort that same week with their family wrote a blistering review, full of complaints about their vacation.  Were they at the same place?, I wondered.  

How did they miss out on the beautiful beach: the powder-like white sand, warm water, refreshing breeze?  Did they not take the time to snorkel around the pier, immersed in schools of fish and feeling the peaceful feeling of being a part of the underwater world?  Did they not enjoy the hot sun on their face (or maybe hadn’t traveled from a place that had had an incredibly long and cold winter?!)  Did they bypass the chance to walk on the beach in the early morning sun – or to stroll there in the last hours of daylight?  Did they not hear the great Cuban musicians that played in the outdoor lobby every evening?  Or maybe they didn’t like having fresh coconuts brought to them on the beach – to eat or to drink from with a straw?  Maybe they didn’t try the delicious cappuccinos – or appreciate good wine.  Or good food with lots of fresh, cooked-in-front-of-you variety.

Or maybe they focused so much on the negatives that they were blinded to the great vacation that was waiting for them  on the other side of their complaints.

Our vacation was not perfect… but it was.  Our resort was a little tired looking – but it was clean with pleasant staff.  The main pools were small – but never busy and there was always lots of room to play .  Our bed was uncomfortable – but I woke every morning to work out the kinks with some mobility work on our balcony overlooking the beautiful beach.  There wasn’t much to do in the evenings – but we were happy to get good sleeps and enjoy the most of our daylight hours.

I’m reading a book right now called Positivity.  It reveals how essential it is to our overall happiness to have a “positivity ratio” of at least 3-to-1.  Is that so hard?!  To find 3 positives for every negative?  To focus your attention on what’s working vs what’s not? What if this one simple adjustment in thinking could allow you to be happier, more at peace, and more resourceful in your life?

To quote:

“Positive emotions – like all emotions – arise from how you interpret ideas and events as they unfold.  They depend on whether you allow yourself to take a moment to find the good – and on whether, once you’ve found it, you pump that goodness up and let it grow. “

As for our week – it was never hard to focus on the positive.  The highlights outweighed any negatives by at least 20-to-1.  It certainly didn’t take any effort to make the most of our time.  For all of us – it was one of the best family weeks we’ve ever had, and a place I will return to again and again in my memory any time I need a mental pick-me-up.

Playing at Playa Pilar

Playing at Playa Pilar

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Snorkelling the reefs on our catamaran excursion

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