Back When

I stood in line at the drug store, buying nylons and mascara. There was sugar free liquorice and I almost bought some. For just a second my mum wasn’t dead, she was alive and talking to me and sugar free liquorice went into her stocking.

I called my godmother – to get her new address for her Christmas card, to see how she was doing, to arrange to stop in for coffee after Christmas.

In some places, when I call, I am still Cheryl-Nancy. I phone and they say “Cheryl-Nancy!”. Like all children, I hated that name when I was younger. I hated how prissy it sounded. It reflected someone who just wasn’t me. At the ripe old age of 38 – nowhere near a child, it reminds me of my roots.

They are complicated roots. Gnarled, twisted. Some of the trees they grew were dark and twisted. And some of them weren’t. Some of those roots grew into amazing things. This morning was one of those mornings. You know, the kind where nothing goes right. You wake up late, can’t find things, need to change your purse and your boots fit funny and your tights have a hole in them.

I was running around the house this morning, running through work stuff, school stuff, Christmas stuff (the gifts are bought. The decorating and the groceries – not so much). I walked back into the bathroom and there was a whiff of my perfume. For a moment, I thought of my mum rampaging through the house, trying to get out the door. For a moment I thought of being a small child, of where I came from.

Back when I was still Cheryl-Nancy.

 

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Fierceness Written Within

They didn’t know where it came from – this calm fierceness.

All they saw was the woman who got up, dumped out last night’s scotch, made coffee, ate her cereal out of a plastic bowl. Went back out to face another day of grad school. They hated her for it, some of them.

Sitting on my bed in the morning, legs dangling over the side, staring into a coffee cup, she remembered.

Horrible sounds that came from a broken heart. The moment her eyes could not cry any more, but grief still remained. Sitting on the kitchen floor, unable to move, for most of day. The moment she could not make a cake because she could read the directions but something was so broken she couldn’t comprehend.

And this? This with longer days and work and deadlines? I went and found this two years after those terrible moments. I found a software implementation project and I worked and I worked and I worked. I worked until my broken heart knit back together, until comprehension returned. Until I could find my way back to the light.

They only see her.

They do not see you, my little boy. With my red hair and your father’s hazel eyes. Our freckles. They do not know about you. When they ask if this is hard, if I have cried, what shall I tell them? That 9 years ago today I held you for half an hour and I sang you a lullaby and you gasped for breath in my arms and you died.

My heart lives in 2 places. The best of me, my single greatest and most profound achievement never opened his eyes. But I call you Gabriel and you are our baby.

Sometimes, with some of them, I held out my hands. I told them that a very long time ago I did a hard thing, and that hard things change you. Scar tissue is stronger than skin. These terrible things, these hard things, they make you. Maybe, if they were very lucky, this would be their hard thing and they would find light on the other side.

Some day, when it is hard for everyone around them, they will be calm and they will be fierce. It will be built on love and pain and sorrow and a short moment of exquisite joy. And nothing will frighten them anymore.

They will understand -the broken and the fierce- it comes from what lives in the space between our heart and our lungs. We hold it there because it is what we love and how we breathe.

What lives in that space is the most amazing light and wonder you could ever hope to see in a dark place. It defines us.

And you define me.

Even still.

Happy Birthday little boy,

Mummy.

*****
Dear friends and loved ones,

With great joy and heartbreak, we wish to announce: at 10:26 PM on December 10, 2007, Gabriel Anton was born into the hands of Cathy, his midwife, sang to in the arms of his mother, rocked in the arms of his father, bathed in the arms of his grandmother, and baptized in the arms of Regula, his Parish Priest.

At just after 11 PM, he was carried to Heaven in the arms of the Angels, where we will meet him again one day. At 520 grams (1 pound 2.4 ounces), and 33 cm (13 inches) he was wee, with 10 fingers and toes, and a full head of hair. He was a perfect, but very tiny baby.

For where your treasure is, there also will be your heart. Luke 12:34

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Tea Towels and Wooden Spoons

I see her around. Well, not really because she is dead, her ashes put in to the ground by my own hands.

Except that I see her. In a well dressed woman of a certain age. A tone of voice. A whiff of perfume. A turn of phrase.

Sometimes the turn of phrase comes out of my own mouth.

I see her absence too. When I walk down Whyte Avenue at Christmas and think of the shopping trips she took with my Godmother. As I cook food for a colleague whose mother is dying. When I survey worn and stained tea towels and battered wooden spoons. Too many years with no stockings.

The galaxy of small things I don’t think about until I do. The unexpected moment which catches you.

I came from something.

Not always something good, loving or even healthy. But something. I had roots. I had tea towels and wooden spoons and some idea of how to behave in public. It is Thursday. 2 years ago tomorrow I sat with her while she died. On Saturday am I held her hand for the last time.

I carry things forward. I pass on things, share care and concern. I make a friend, whose mother is dying, meals. Send thank you cards, still dress appropriately. In many ways, she is no more dead than she was in all of those years that she wouldn’t talk to me. Except when the last of the coffee mugs that she bought me broke, I lost the ability to breathe.

I can go buy more tea towels, wooden spoons. I can order them from amazon and never leave my house. A coffee mug is just a piece of ceramics.

Imbued by love. Tradition. The sense of how things should be. My mother wasn’t very good at it, but at least some of the time, she tried.

And I miss that. I miss her. I miss roots.

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Judicious Application

I was talking to a friend about my financial accounting exam this coming Friday.

Mostly I am a bit panicked.

There are, I suppose, some who are simply so naturally skilled at accounting, who grasp the concepts so easily that they can skate along. Rarely is this me. I learn by a judicious application of, well, ass to seat and pen to paper. I guess, in this case, fingers to keyboard, since all of my study materials are on line questions.

I am not brilliant. I will say that again. I am not brilliant.

Mostly what I am is a combination of curious and diligent. I am good at focusing, I am good at asking questions and I am good at knowing what it takes for me to be successful, which mostly means that I know that I will pass this exam by doing question after question. It is boring. It is tedious. I may lose my mind if I get another question about costing for a stuffed alligator factory, the lampshade budgeting requirements or the break even point at the pen manufacturer.

I am the annoying kind of smart. Smart enough to be let in to do a grad degree, but not so brilliant that I will ever ace all of it, even with an extraordinary amount of effort.  Mostly I am going to muddle through. I will have occasional flashes of brilliance. Mostly I will plug away. I will do question after question. I will start my essays early, so that I have time to refine. I will read the text and then I will read and highlight and then I will make notes.

I am frustrated by the notion that I am brilliant. (Which was his word). Mostly because people assume that I don’t have to work and I don’t have reason to worry. I am frustrated because it is often hard for me. It is often challenging and rarely easy. I get my marks the old fashioned way – by hard work.

So stop telling me not to worry because I’m smart. I’m only smart enough to realize that I need to work hard.

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Endless Grey

I’ve been lacking in ambition and drive in the last few weeks. This is probably normal – it’s grey out – days of endless drizzle, sleet, snow, rain. It’s a tough time of year for me – the anniversary of my mum’s death, Gabe’s death. The end of fall, the start of winter, the lengthening dark.

I try and breathe through it, just like I do every year. Tell myself that it happens every year, that it will be ok.

I look out the window, hoping for sunshine.

Posted in Interruption. | 2 Comments

Aspirational Reading

I have enjoyed reading the Slate “Normal” series. Perhaps the virtue of aging is that you realize that you are relieved to be normal. I don’t crave differentiation as validation any more. I know my own failings: a predilection to overthinking everything, an embarrassing sort of earnestness and a hopeless love of shoes and lipstick that ill becomes a feminist. Middle age brings a desire for conformity, the endless comfort of knowing that your aches and worries and woes are the unimpeachable evidence of a undistinguished life. Middle age teaches that exceptionalism in all things is just exhausting.

This week (or maybe last?) was a post about displaying books. I am amused, the Mr. and I have a 10 foot high and 12 foot wide custom built book case in our dinning room. There are books in the basement, there are books in my den, a stack on the floor by my bed and a bookshelf in my office. My books in the dinning room are organized at least a bit artfully. The books in my den are shoved in to maximize space and let’s just not talk about my office bookcase. I’m not sure that having that many business and academic books isn’t a walking cliche.

The end of the article talks about the to be read (tbr) pile, more specifically the aspirational TBR pile that apparently some folk instagram. I carefully consulted instagram and I continue to see photo’s of cats and children and food and knitting and pumpkins. Apparently no one I know is cool enough to have an aspirational reading list. Possibly my TBR pile is exceptional.

I have a stack of books. I buy more than I read these days. These days of middle age – I read for 5 minutes before I fall asleep. I’m still reading through four year’s worth of books I bought in airports across the continent. I’m still reading through the books I bought second hand when I took the new job last year (I thought I was going to have all the time to read). I’ve bought books since then. There was a united way book sale and I had to buy books, it was for charity.

I find books, or at least being in their company, comforting. I know that my aunts will read this post (Hi Aunt Deb, Hi Aunt Robin) and they will laugh because they too have piles of books. My mother died with books unread (They are now in my to be read pile. Towards the bottom. I’m not that deeply invested.)

I’ll keep my TBR pile. It’s nothing special. I’m glad Slate agreed that it’s normal to have books you haven’t read.

Posted in Books | 4 Comments

Smile and be Pretty

I get handed the dumpster fires at work. Your train wrecks, car fires, blazing inferno’s? Project over budget, behind schedule? You don’t even know what’s been done? That’s where I shine. I’m good at that. I’ll take your mess and I’ll sort it and people will be happy. Clients will like me when I’m done. Most of my colleagues will like me after everything is fixed.

I’m competent.

I was on my way to a meeting yesterday. The sort of meeting that really should be an email, but because of the way we humans are, it was going to work best if we just got everyone in a room. As it happens, it took 3 minutes to explain the issue, 5 minutes to discuss some history and 4 minutes to agree on a solution. Another 4 minutes of next steps, add in some chit chat about cars, weather and hockey and you have a 15 minute meeting to solve a problem that had been going on for a month.

Competence and dumpster fires are the back ground – the main act occurred in a hallway yesterday at about 1:58 pm. I was running late for  the meeting I just told you about. Came across a colleague and a senior member of the client staff. My colleague – a man – put his hand on my shoulder – looked at me and said “young lady, what have I said to you about always smiling for the client.” 

There are so many places I could go with this.

If you are a woman I don’t need to go anywhere.

You are with me in that hallway.

You know I felt tiny and belittled and humiliated. I wasn’t competent. I wasn’t going to solve a problem. It didn’t matter that I was tired because I solve dumpster fires for 50 hours a week and I go to school for 20 hours a week. It didn’t matter that I didn’t feel well, that I was worried about a friend losing his job and that I was trying to sort out two other problems.

None of that mattered because I wasn’t smiling and I didn’t look pretty.

I’m not stupid. I know I’m playing at a man’s game. I know that. I know that there are fewer women hired into tech and that even less of us stay. I know it doesn’t matter that Justin Trudeau said “because it’s 2015”, that the Premier of my Province is a Woman.

What happened yesterday, it’s just another scene in the ongoing drama. Another act. Following on from the time the senior developer asked if my pubic hair was the same colour as my hair. When I’ve been called honey. Had my ass grabbed. Called a bitch and offered midol for daring to tell a man he was wrong. Been asked to make the coffee, do the photocopying. The time the client thought my BA was the project manager because he was a man.

I sent an email. Told the colleague his behaviour was unacceptable. Followed up with a note to my boss.

Apparently my bottle of “very expensive apology scotch” will arrive. This was my bosses’ suggestion to make amends.

I don’t want a bottle of apology scotch. I’m not interested in washing down my demands for basic equality with a side of light peat. I sure as hell don’t want to drink with someone who thinks I should look pretty.

I’m competent. I’d like to be equal too.

 

Posted in Evil Corporations, Feminism | 4 Comments

Proud As

I failed an MBA class. I’m proud of myself.

Well, not for failing the course. That is a bit bewildering. I aced papers in the other class. The class where the papers are marked by the former Dean of the program. There’s a 17 percent discrepancy. Apparently my goals were not “specific” enough in the final paper. I’m mystified because I defined when they would be achieved and how I could prove this, but there you have it, not specific enough. Since I wasn’t giving out the grades, my logic doesn’t much matter.

Anyway. That’s not why I’m proud of myself.

When I was doing my undergrad, failing a course would have sent me into a tailspin. I would have hidden for days. Shame would have moved in, taken over and held me hostage. It would have been the end of the world.

My identity was academic success. Failing meant that I was stupid. Being stupid was the end of the world.

This time I looked at all the things I do well, all the personal and professional success, and I shrugged. Failing a course is not a big deal. It’s going to be a pain in the ass to make it up. It’s going to be expensive. Eh. It’s only time and money. Not the end of the world. I let the shame go. When it tried to come in the front door, I stood and barred the way.

This time I sent the program co-ordinator an email. Booked some time with the instructor to review the feedback. Sent my paper to my writing coach. When I didn’t like the answer about how to make good on the course (effectively re-take the course) I appealed to the program head. I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere. I have a great argument for the option I presented them (re-write a harder paper, equivalent to re-taking a final exam had there been one), but this really is a cash grab on the part of my university. They have me over a barrel and they know it; they are not going to give up a couple of thousand dollars.

Mostly what I’m proud about is that I did all of that.

I acknowledged I failed, did what I could to understand why (it turns out if you are writing about leadership goals in this program, your goal is to get a maximum rating on the emotional intelligence ranking of your performance appraisal. Anything else is not specific enough). There was a hoop, I missed the hoop. I’ve actually always sucked at academic hoops. This is nothing new. It pissed me off during undergrad and it infuriates me now.

I failed the course. I proved that I have learned a few things since my undergrad days. That’s worth a lot.

 

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On the Night of My 38th Birthday

On the night of my 38th birthday, I met the system admin for dinner. I didn’t tell him it was my birthday when I texted to find out if he wanted to meet. I told him that my meeting was going to end late and I’d rather eat with him than be stuck in traffic.

I was sitting at the restaurant, still in my work suit, heels kicked off under the table, drinking my wine when he turned up and called me a brat for not telling him why we were meeting. We weren’t meeting because it was my birthday, not really. Being stuck in traffic on my birthday would have been crummy, but fine. Being alone on my birthday would have been crummy, but fine. We met because he makes me laugh. He makes me lighter, happier.

The year I was 19 was the first year that I decided to work on a skill as part of my birthday. That year I chose balance. It is obvious that I was only 19, thinking I could master balance in a year. At twice that age I think if I might manage it over a life time -if the person doing the judging squints. I try for more achievable things now.

Last year I told you about gathering many I loved for my annual birthday dinner and how I was going to learn to live in the moment.

That was what I was going to do.

That wasn’t what I did.

I learned something harder, way more painful and ultimately far more useful. I learned about investment. I learned about costs and I learned about return and I learned about reading the contract carefully.

It has broken me at times in the last year. I’ve sat on my couch, in the corner, sobbing. I haven’t talked about it here. Much of it is has been murky and painful and not always simple or easy to explain. I have walked away from relationships I thought I would never leave. I find myself surprised by how much easier life is. Saddened too, that I invested so heavily into something with no return. I have gotten better picking when I invest. I catch myself much sooner and shut things off quickly.

On my 38th dinner, the System Admin made me laugh. He grabbed my ass like he always does and told me I’m not too shabby for an old lady. He reminded me that I am worthy, that I am smart and capable and most importantly, cared for. He affirmed the best of investment, when we go all in and they do too. When we get through the times that are hard and sad and reach the moments where we eat steak and we bicker over the mushrooms and he tells me that cheese cake is a vegetable for my birthday.

I have no idea what I will learn this year. None. I’m sure I’ll realize soonish. I usually do when I start thinking this way.

On the night of my 38th birthday I celebrated investment. It was glorious.

birthday

Posted in Feats of Wonder, Learning Life | 3 Comments

Standing in the Same River

I am told that you never stand in the same river twice. I am not sure. Maybe.

There are times in this last three weeks that it has felt like the same river. At times like boarding school, large scale implementation projects and more often that I would have liked- junior high.

The water was cold and fast moving and it almost took my breath away.

I have been held up, kept warm, nourished.

A random classmate who is one of the kindest women I’ve ever met. I should like to be her when I grow up. (She’s younger than me, I have some catching up to do). Ms. Fab who has rescued me and comforted me and on one of the hardest days here simply told me that she was coming to get me. A friend I have called every night. Every night I call and I tell him how much I dislike most of my team. I tell him a bit about interesting readings and the fact that someone complained it is “too hard” and every night he listens to me and never tries to fix it.

And the amazing and glorious Mr. Spit. Who tells me every day that he believes in me. That I can do this. That I am smart and funny and capable and I have something to give. (My team does not believe this.)

I don’t know. Maybe this isn’t the same water. It is the same river.

And I am glad of company in it.

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