18 Years of Not Swimming

When I came to London at the ripe old age of 18, I wanted to try Guinness, so the very nice bar maid poured me a shot glass and when I hated the taste – dark, oily, bitter – she laughed and she made me something fruity where you couldn’t taste the alcohol.

18 years later, at the ripe old age of 36, the bar tender at the Maple Leaf Lounge poured me a pint of Guinness and I texted a bit with Mr. Spit before he went to work and a bit with the Handsome Aussie before he went to sleep. I enjoyed every last bit of the Guinness, for the record. Tipped the last bit back before I went to my gate.

While in London, I learned that some things change half a lifetime later.

Somethings don’t. My mother smiled last Friday night when I went to Marks and Sparks to buy knickers, even if she didn’t know why she was smiling. If you asked me what I missed about my mother, I would tell you few things. I miss how she used to put underwear in my Christmas stocking. It’s the silliest of things, but it was solid evidence that someone loved me, at least some of the time. Someone cared enough for me to do something that I needed, without me asking. I miss being a little girl when you went to Marks and Sparks to buy underwear.

In these now sorts of times, I buy my own underwear. And I forget to do it very often. I do most things on my own, truth be told.

As I travelled through Paris and into London, I kept thinking of the quote that is my desktop:

I almost thanked you for teaching me something about survival back there, but then I remembered that the ocean never handed me the gift of swimming. I gave it to myself. (YZ, What I forgot to remember)

 I have lost my way, my confidence, my everything in these last years. I thought it started in March, with the MS; I am realizing the roots stretch much further. Sitting at a Paris Café starting at the Opera, on French train while I was watching the countryside speed past, standing with my hands on the White Tower, singing hymns in Westminster Abbey; kneeling on the hard stone floor of Notre Dame while others recite the Our Father in French.

I have had a lot of time to think about who has handed me what manner of gifts.

I have tried to trace it back. To find the moment where I went the wrong way. Hesitated perhaps a moment too long. Kept silent when I should have spoken up, buried myself when I should have stood taller, accepted a lie for truth. I thought if I could find that moment, if I could find that single instant where things started to go wrong, I could move back in time, and I could “fix this”, whatever the unnamed malaise is. I have tried and tried and tried and finally I realized, it wasn’t just one moment. It was moment after moment.

I am unhappy. I have been unhappy for so very long that I don’t know what happy is. I don’t even know what might make me happy. I live in black and white and I dream in colour. I wake up to greyscale, but recall the vivid reds and teals and yellows from my dreams and they dance around the corners of my vision, teasing me that there is . . . something more, perhaps?

In the middle of 2 cities, I realized how incredibly capable and competent I am. I seem to have forgotten that. I managed to get myself exactly where I wanted and have a great time doing it. With no one to please except myself, I started to listen to myself. And in that, I found the ability to say yes when I wanted to, no when I didn’t. It was a start to listen to myself; to eat when I was hungry, to sleep when I was tired, leaving duty entirely behind. To only have my wants to listen to.

I thought back to the last time I was in London, wondering if it was better then. I was Head Girl, someone’s girlfriend, someone’s almost step mother, a young woman on her way to university, someone’s daughter. Even then, even at 18, I wasn’t just me.

In the middle of my pint of Guinness, the one that I liked this time, it seemed to me that I had enough of being everyone else’s Cheryl. It seems that 36 years is a long time to live for everyone else. It’s time to teach myself to swim again.

Posted in Feats of Wonder | 4 Comments

So. . . Paris

At the end of August I was tired. Bone tired. Weary. Exhausted beyond belief.

The MS treatments were starting in September (I arranged them from Vancouver and then Winnipeg) and it seemed as good a reason as any.

I arranged with my GP to take a month of medical leave. When she filled out the form, she listed “exhaustion” as part of the diagnosis.

I finished work on the 29th of September.

Everyone kept asking me – how are you not going to work? How will you actually stop working. The truth is much simpler. I have had no problems. None. I have sent a few emails, took one phone call. Not working has been easy. I was so tired that I had no desire to work.

Part of the break was a trip. The trip of a lifetime. I came to Paris. I have a few days left, and then 5 days in London. If I tell you the truth – it’s this. This is the trip of a lifetime, while I still can. While I can still walk every where.

For a variety of reasons, it has not been easy. There are a lot of things. Hard things.

And Paris, as I walk from church to cafe to church to museum, it has provided few answers. It has provided much beauty, and in that, some solace.

Posted in Feats of Wonder | 10 Comments

The Shoulders of Giants

In the middle of the Monday morning management meeting, it was announced. It was a fairly typical Monday for me – my flight was delayed, I was in Victoria, operating on perhaps as much as 5 hours of sleep.

I was promoted yesterday, which is kind of a big deal. I am, by a fair shot, the youngest principal in my practice. Not quite a week before my 36th birthday, I made principal. It’s a pretty good feeling.

It’s nice to be recognized for my work and my intelligence and my good ideas and the leadership I’ve shown. It’s nice that someone noticed and it’s nice to be rewarded. It’s the way things are supposed to work and in the past I haven’t seen this happen.

And there’s this moment that I got all of the congratulations. People told me that I deserved this, that I had worked hard and they were pleased for me and proud of me. I’m not going to shy from this – I’m very good at what I do, and the promotion is based on a lot of late nights, a lot of delivery success and a lot just old fashioned hard work.

Here’s the thing though. You see me. You see the woman who works hard, and that’s a truth. But this was a team environment. I had cheerleaders, people who believed in me and communicated that belief. I had a husband who does laundry and keeps me going. I have friends who help me brainstorm and solve problems. Others who listen to me vent and who affirm me when I’m nervous.

This wasn’t a solo effort. I thanked the minion, who is my right hand. Mr. Spit who is the other half of the Spit Corporation. My two best friends. The Handsome Aussie who reminds me to eat. (yes, I had a protein bar this morning for breakfast). Ms. Fab who offers me a more human perspective. My old boss who believed in me more than I believed in myself.

If I see farther, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants. 
Sir Issac Newton.

Posted in Road Warrior | 11 Comments

Sunrise

I feel like I want to start this story by telling you about going cocktail dress shopping in downtown Vancouver on Tuesday, when I had to move a meeting, and buying not one, but two cocktail dresses, including the last one in 20 minutes. I literally ran into the Bay in downtown Vancouver, found a sales woman, told her I needed a size 12 dress in black and I was going to stand in a fitting room and she could bring things to me.

Or I could tell you about dashing into a bathroom in Winnipeg 15 minutes before my flight today started boarding, and slamming the stall door shut and practically tearing off my clothes, throwing an expensive suit on the filthy floor while I shimmied into the same cocktail dress. I could tell you about taking up half the counter in the bathroom and how I didn’t give a damn, while I touched up my make up. I could tell you about sprinting through the Winnipeg airport in 4 inch stiletto’s, my trench coat flying out behind me, almost bowling over little old ladies, yelling sorry as I kept running. I could tell you how I threw my luggage at Mr. Spit and I threw money at the parking machine and I just kept checking my watch.

My best friend is getting married tomorrow. Her rehearsal dinner was tonight. It started 20 minutes after my flight landed. I was 15 minutes late. I could tell you all of that, but the truth is what I am telling you is that I would have bought a million cocktail dresses, and I would have run from Winnipeg to Edmonton. I would have flown the damn plane myself, driven through a million parking barriers and run over any little old lady that dared stand between her and I. There was no possibility of me not being there.

You see, this wedding? This romance? This love? The fact that Sky and Timby have a step father? The fact that she has a partner, the fact that we were there at all is the single greatest testament to resilience and courage and faith and hope and mercy that I can point you at.

It’s about magic. It’s about the moment that we tied ourselves to each other in a ritual of blessing and recited a word and I picked sunrise.

I kept thinking of that verse, the one that says joy comes in the morning. I thought of the long dark hours of the night, the times when it just hurt every moment of every day. I thought of my insistence 5 years ago that there was better out there and she had to go and find it. I thought of the moment that she walked away, and the moments afterwards, the children who stayed with us evenings and weekends while she got her feet under her. I thought of the false starts and the times that she displayed more courage than I would have thought could be contained in a single woman; how she got knocked down, how she took blows on the chin and how there were times my heart ripped to watch her struggle and I could do nothing more than affirm that there was better out there and she was on her way to find it. I believed in her and I believed in her right to goodness and mercy all the days of her life. When it was hard going, as it often was, all I could tell her was that. That I believed in more for her and the children.

I will set my alarm and I will get up early tomorrow and I will make muffins to feed people, and I will drive to the house and I will do whatever tasks they put in front of me. I will work tomorrow until the moment I drive home, throw on a dress and a cardigan and drive back with Mr. Spit to see them pledge their troth.

Tomorrow – before everything starts, dearest friend of mine, piece of my heart, I will stand on my front porch and I will face east and I will watch a sunrise, and I will whisper my prayers for you, as I always have.

I will thank God, the universe and everything with every little bit of my body. I will pour gratitude and joy into the sunrise.

Tomorrow of all days, joy comes with the morning.

Posted in Marriage | 8 Comments

I need to go to bed

It really is Friday, although barely. I have to go to bed.

Mostly, given the unreasonableness of the guests in the room next to me, because I need to do this . . .

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Always Worse

Most mornings I roll over in bed, turn off my alarm, grab my phone, text Mr. Spit, check for email, check facebook, say good morning to the Handsome Aussie and then look at my calendar.

Now, you might suggest that looking at a calendar which is over full before you have even left the warmth of your bed is not a good plan and I would allow you are right. I’m used to it now, so I usually wince a bit and possibly whinge a bit to Mr. Spit or the handsome Aussie about how full my day is, and then I get out of bed, pour coffee into myself and get on with it.

This morning, knowing it was going to be a particularly bad day, I rolled over, did my usual things and flipped to my calendar, which was  . . . . blank.

Blanker than a white wall, blanker than the look on a teenagers face as she gets caught with a mickey of Jack Daniels and tries to find some reasonable excuse, blanker than blank.

And when you are already overbooked, these are the sorts of things that spiral into a crises very quickly. I have 7 meetings today between 9 and 5, located across a very large university campus. I have practice stuff to do and I have to keep it all organized and straight and get it all done before 5.

There is no way I was going to be able to manage this if I didn’t have a calendar.

If you were wondering – for a moment, I thought about calling in dead this morning and going back to sleep.

 

Posted in Flying with Warthog Air | 1 Comment

Bucket List

After I was diagnosed with MS, everyone kept asking me what was on the bucket list for me, what I needed to do sooner rather than later. . .

And I had no answers. I’ve never really kept one. I had a few things – I wanted to dance at Nephew the eldest’s wedding, hold his child. I wanted to be well enough to care for the next set of babies.

For all my planning, I’m not a bucket list sort of person. I’m an experience, live with those who love me, care for those around me sort of person. I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive, experiences and travel, big plans and small events with those you care for. It’s just that I don’t think about the big things much. They happen or they don’t. There’s so little you can actually do – you can plan and save and hope, but it can all fall apart. Hold on to the now. That’s mostly safe.

I’m not in Edmonton this morning, and I’m thankful. Winnipeg is not my city. I don’t much like it here. I have no real idea why, but for today at least – I’m glad to be here all the same.

You see, I had a bucket list in 2007. I had a list and it involved a little boy. And this morning, on this first day of school, I was going to take his photo on the front porch of the house I still live in. I was going to walk him across the street, our street, into the school he had looked at out of his bedroom window. I was going to drop him off in a first grade class room, with his backpack and his lunch.

There are secret anniversaries in grief. Days, moments, that pass that are so intimate that you never share them with another person.  I remember not just the day I first felt him move in me, but the day I first wore maternity clothes.

Then the anniversaries of my hopes and dreams – the days I thought would come to pass. The Christmases of my dreams that will never be the Christmases of my memory. Days that do not mark a thing that happened, but a thing that you thought might happen. The days that mark what was on your bucket list back then.

Still, you grieve those days – the bucket list that never was. You will grieve them every day of your life. And in the hurt, you hold out your hands when someone asks you what your bucket list is after MS – as the ground shifts under you again.

And you think – now. My bucket list is holding on to what I have now. Because what I thought I once had still hurts.

Posted in Baby Loss, Gabriel | 4 Comments