On a jet plane

Our bags are not quite packed and we’re far from ready, but either way we’re leaving tomorrow for our three-week vacation to the East Coast. I’m not even panicked. Not because I’m completely confident that all will be well, but because I’ve entered into a state of hurried stillness. (Like when you watch in slow motion as your child’s Frozen cake fall out of your hands just as your party guests hit the high notes in “Happy Birthday.”)

At this point, I’ve shifted focus from what we will bring to Nova Scotia to how we’ll fare on the long flight from here to there. Flying with little ones is challenging, and I’m not one to never back down from a challenge. But the reward (arriving in Nova Scotia! To the land of sea, salty air and babysitters grandparents!) makes it totally worth it.

We haven’t had any terrible experiences while traveling with kids. We’ve typically fared pretty well. Probably because we keep three simple things in mind:

  1. Be prepared. (Preparation and a few strategic travel toys go a long way.)
  2. Be patient. (Take deep breaths, even if it is stale, circulated air.)
  3. Be thankful. (I’m always grateful for a friendly flight attendant or an understanding seat buddy. I’m grateful for the chance to travel. And, more importantly, for a smooth, safe landing.)

And if all else fails, which it usually does, I’m not above bargaining, bribing and begging. Desperate times (otherwise known as days of the week, when you’re a parent) call for desperate measures.

On that note, I’m signing off. Maybe for a while. But I’ll think of you when I dip my toes in the frosty, frenzied waters of the Atlantic ocean.

Let’s do this!

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. (But also the destination)

I should start by saying that at one point, I really did believe I could achieve it. At least, I wanted badly to believe I could achieve it. A year ago, I set my goal: I will run five miles by July 2015.

I’ve wanted to run in the annual 5 Mile Road Race in my rural hometown for years, but this was the summer when the timing, training and intention would all line up. With months to prepare, I could finally get myself into the sort of shape that would carry my 30-something-year-old post-baby body across the finish line (which is traditionally and cruelly half-way up a hill on Main Street). I’ve attended the race before, as part of the small cheering crowd, but this will be the summer that I race. I will run 5 miles.

Wellllll, that’s probably not going to happen. At least not in time for the race, which is just two weeks away.

I started ‘running’ last summer. Before then it had been a very long time since I ran, for exercise, on a regular basis. I had fallen out of favor with ‘health’ and ‘exercise’ and physical ‘well-being’ during my grad school and baby birthing years. I had sporadic bursts of aerobic activity, but overwhelmingly my time was spent wishing I could improve my lifestyle instead of actually doing it. Then, about a year ago, my husband and I fell (pushed ourselves) into a routine of eating food that made us feel better and doing activities that made us feel stronger. Running fit neatly into that lifestyle change, and we’ve been pounding the pavement ever since.

My first big milestone was running 5K. I started running for three minutes, walking for two, for about a half an hour. I adjusted to running four minutes, walking for one just in time for my first 5K race in October of last year. This was huge for me. Even though I had already been running a distance of 5K on some of my training runs, crossing the finish line that day meant the world to me. I ran my next 5K race bedside my husband in May of this year.

My second major milestone was running 5K without stopping to walk. While at dinner with my very dear friend, I was lamenting about my sluggish runs. My friend, who was training for her first full marathon, told me that my barriers were more mental than physical. Just try it, she said. So I did, and that week I ran 5K without stopping. I was pumped. (A side note, she ran 42.2K at a quicker pace than I ran 5K, not just because I’m very slow, but because she’s amazing.)

The natural progression would be to then increase the distance of my runs, which would conveniently coincide with training for, say, a certain 5 Mile Road Race that has been on my radar for years? Yes, some people might think this, but for some reason I’ve chickened out. I let my training slide and allowed the little voice inside my head who said, You can’t, drown out all the other voices who said, Maybe? I dunno. Five miles is kinda far. (I need new voices.)

It’s now two weeks away and I won’t bore you with the list of reasons I’ve cultivated as to why I’m not going to race. (My most altruistic being that I wouldn’t want to pull precious rural resources away from those who truly need it when I require medical attention at about mile three.)

I’m disappointed that my goal won’t be realized this summer, but I can’t be discouraged. The truth is, every time I wanted to stop, collapse and heave violently into a bush during my many runs around our Calgary suburb, I pictured myself crossing that finish line on Main Street in my small hometown. And it kept me going. So I may not be racing this summer, but in some ways I feel like I’ve already won.*

*Ok, ok, I have not technically won. But there’s always next year.

The final countdown

It’s one week until we leave for our three-week vacation, and I have about a month’s worth of things to do.

I love to plan, and I love to execute those carefully laid plans, but I never seem to do any of it in a reasonable measure of time. I’d like to think I thrive under pressure, even though my husband might refute this, but either way it’s how I roll. Panic is my greatest motivator. It’s not that I don’t want to prepare, pack, or suspend our paper delivery. I’m excited to do all those things, because it means our vacation is right around the corner. I’m just not that motivated to do those things until we’re rounding the corner at full speed and our vacation smacks me in the face.

Say you have six major tasks on your list of things to do, and each task will eat up about half of your day. Would you leave all six tasks until the last possible minute? Yes? Ok, great, we can be friends.

The satisfaction of having everything done in an orderly fashion with time to spare just isn’t enough for me. I like the thrill of being spurred. Others may refer to this as procrastination, but I prefer to call it thrill-seeking. (Oh dear. If doing twelve loads of laundry in a day is my adrenaline equivalent of BASE jumping, maybe I do need to reexamine things.)

I wasn’t always like this. I remember packing for short weekend getaways weeks in advance. Our hospital bag was ready to go before I even felt my first baby kick. I’m not sure why it happened or when it did, but somewhere between baby one and baby three, my pre-meditation motivation waned. There’s just no point in cleaning our house the day before a guest arrives. Unless I tidy ten minutes before we have a visitor, our house will be a disaster. There’s no point in dressing our kids for a Christmas concert an hour before curtain call. When it’s go-time, we line our girls up at the door and yank their dresses down over their heads, like a frill factory assembly line.

Our vacation will be the same. The last 48 hours leading up to our departure will involve a lot of laundry, a lot of packing, a lot of cleaning and a lot of stomping. (Stomping is how I get around when I’m in full panic mode.) I plan to spend the next five days thinking about how much I will have to do in those last two days before we leave. I’m almost looking forward to it.

We always make it. I’m reminded of a quote by Lorne Michaels, often attributed to him by his Saturday Night Live alum. Lorne says, “We don’t go on because we’re ready. We go on because it’s 11:30.”

We’re going to get the kids in the car. We’re going to board that plane. Whether our bags are carefully packed or our empty house is left dustless and gleaming, we’re going on vacation. The only thing that really matters is how lucky we are to have this time off, and how lucky we are to spend it together.

And my daugther’s blankie. Dear God, we cannot forget blankie.

Try, try again

Gosh darn it.

My daughter’s 4th birthday is just around the bend, so yesterday I walked to the mailbox in the sweltering Calgary heat to see if any goodies had arrived from the east coast. I hadn’t picked up the mail in a while and wasn’t surprised to see that the box was stuffed to the brim.

I flipped through the pink birthday cards, glossy flyers and utility statements until I came across an envelope with a familiar logo and return address. It was a thin, clinical-looking letter addressed to moi, from a publisher who must have just received my manuscript two weeks ago. I didn’t have to open it to know what it said inside. (But of course I did open it there on the sidewalk, in the suffocating heat, while my heart, hopes and dreams melted out of my body and onto the simmering concrete below.)

I absolutely knew that the chances of my children’s poetry collection being picked up by a publisher was teeny, tiny, don’t-get-your-hopes-up small. The publisher I sent it to produces just a few (wonderful) picture books a year, most of which are solicited and not from the slush pile. I knew that practically nobody gets lucky on his or her first try. I knew that practically no publisher is looking for a children’s poetry collection. I knew this. But I didn’t know the sting of rejection would come so soon. I thought I had six weeks, at minimum, to live in my fantasy world of what if? And the truth is, there was a part of me that really, really believed this might happen. I knew it was unlikely, but reading, “Unfortunately, I have decided to decline your submission…” in the glaring mid-day sun was deeply, deeply disappointing.

My husband, bless him, felt immediately called into action. He asked, so what’s our game plan? I said I didn’t have a game plan, aside from eating this entire can of Pringles while I wallow in the closet. My old game plan was to be one in a million and triumph against all odds with little to no effort or rejection, but it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that I have to shift my tactics.

Since submitting that first manuscript, I started focusing on another project. I was working on it all week while taking a writing boot camp from a group of literary agents. For kicks, I asked one of the agents if there was a market for children’s poetry collections. Her response was the polite version of ummmmm… no. That doesn’t mean you give up, but as I learn more about this elusive industry, I begin to understand that writing well isn’t always enough. You need to know the market but be ahead of the trends, you need to fit the bill but still stand out, and you need to keep trying, trying, trying. Plus you have to write well.

Talent is common, but tenacity is what sets success apart. This is the message you get over and over again in the pursuit of something big. I’m not sure if I have tenacity. Mainly because I’m too lazy to go look up its definition. (Is it like elasticity? Like, after three pregnancies my abs have lost all tenacity? Although this would imply they had some tenacity in the first place.)

Of course I know what it is, and of course I’m willing to work hard. In fact, I’m eager to work hard. I know this writing gig is a long road. And I know for sure that it’s the road for me, in some form or another.

My letter of rejection is now pinned to the cork board above my desk next to some pictures of my kids and a very loaded July calendar. The letter was neatly typed and spaced. In the corner, the editor included a short hand-written note. She invited me to try again with something that better fits their publishing bill.

Well, I guess now my game plan is to do just that.

Glowing hearts

There are many things for which I am grateful. A partner who is my equal (or better) in every way; three healthy, happy, adoring and adored children; and a life that has lead me down many incredible paths. Some were wonderful, some were challenging, but all have shaped me for the better. And I hope there are more to come.

Sometimes I wonder if many or any of those experiences would have been possible if I were not born in such an amazing country. I’ve made mention before of my Maritime pride. There’s no place in the world like Nova Scotia and I’m proud to be part of the club. But I’m just as proud to be a Canadian.

Our children will have so much at their fingertips. The world is smaller than it’s ever been and I have a feeling they will be itching to explore it. I hope that’s a possibility for them. I hope they hike and dine and traverse around this incredible globe, because it will help them learn more about where they came from. And I hope that they, too, are proud to wear a maple leaf on their backpacks while they do it. (I supposed that means I should learn how to stitch.)

Today, I’m feeling proud. And a little sentimental. And very, very grateful.

Happy Canada Day!

Out of character

I like to give advice. It’s a tick, like twirling my hair when I’m pensive or standing on one foot when I’m anxious. It’s involuntary. I can’t help but offer help, even if it’s unsolicited and in no way helpful. This is why my siblings stopped asking for my advice (and my father’s advice) some time ago, although that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped giving it (nor has my father).

Not everyone wants to make the same decisions as me, or desires the same outcomes. My siblings and I are individuals, and while I would love my younger sister to move into my sleepy suburb and settle down, that’s not exactly her cup of green tea latte from my local coffee shop (amenities!). Now that I think of it, I can probably pinpoint the exact moment my father realized that I wasn’t an extension of his DNA. (Although we do share the same involuntary furrowed brow, which is the gentleman’s version of resting bitch face. Much preferred.)

Just before high school graduation, after most program application deadlines had passed, I revealed to my dad that I had not applied to an engineering program as planned and submitted solely to journalism school instead. I’m sure this was shocking to him. He was eventually tickled that I would attend the same institution as my older sister, and unsurprised by my leanings towards the arts, but this was the first major decision I made without his knowledge and input, and perhaps the first flex of my I’m-my-own-person muscle.

Everyone needs the freedom to exist as they truly are. This makes our story better. What makes me happy may not make, say, my little sister happy. (This may be an exact quote from a polite but stern email she sent me a few years ago when I sent her a local listing.)

Lately, I find myself keeping this in mind when writing characters. For the longest time, I tossed draft after draft of unconvincing writing because something didn’t really click. It was probably the poorly thought out plot or the terrible dialogue, but it was mostly because of my characters. They were undeveloped. I was putting them in situations that didn’t make sense or ring true. I was writing about them, but I wasn’t getting to know them.

A few years ago I took a writing course while working on what was then imagined to be a book of children’s middle grade fiction. I remember having a chapter dissected by a group of writers (which is akin to having your abdomen dissected by a group of writers) and the most consistent critique was about the characters. Who are they? My protagonist was all over the place, because I was trying to decide who she was. The only character that resonated was a supporting character, a teenage boy. I wrote him well because I knew him. Even though I invented him, I wasn’t trying to invent who he was. I was simply writing about how I knew he would exist in this invented world.

I’ve been working on another book for a while now, and I’m really excited about. I’m excited because I’ve learned a lot since my first efforts. (It stings a bit to just abandon my previous attempt but writing shitty first drafts isn’t a waste of time, it’s a rite of passage.) I’m excited because it’s a great story, set in a beautiful place, and it’s about a dynamic, daring young girl who’s so incredibly fun to write and get to know. And I can’t wait to see what happens next.

The girl on the plane

It’s not often that I find myself travelling alone. When I was in my twenties, most of my terminal hopping and orderly boarding was done solo, but since getting hitched and having kids, my airport experiences have shifted in flight.

I no longer have the luxury of time and tranquility that comes with traveling alone. I used to love lounging in an airport, coffee-sipping and people-watching, while more burdened travellers herded their children and awkward carry-ons towards their elusive gates. (Now I am one of those burdened travellers and can say that it’s about as enjoyable as it looked to me back then.)

The first time I boarded a plane I was eight years old. My slightly older sister and I were escorted to our seats by a friendly flight attendant while we sported special buttons that read, “I’m travelling alone!” (Oh, how times have changed.) My parents sent me and my sister to Ottawa to spend a weekend with our uncle. We (and another sibling set on the same flight, also travelling alone) were whisked to the cockpit for a quick tour and given warm, gooey cookies with milk. I was hooked.

There have been other flights since. There was the Halifax-Ottawa-Chicago-Amsterdam-Nairobi-Lukasa-Lilongwe milk run to Malawi when I was twenty. There was the longest 55 minutes of my life flying over southwestern Ontario on an 18-seater Beechraft during a lighting storm (I will never again be excited to sit in seat 1A). There was the first flight that my new husband and I took together, which surprisingly didn’t end in divorce. And the first flight we took with our newborn, which unsurprisingly did end in three shirt changes and a shortfall of diapers and clean soothers. (Flying with kids lends a whole new meaning to turbulence.)

My memories of waiting in the airport are even sweeter. Waiting in for my boyfriend to arrive from Ontario while I was still studying in Halifax; waiting for my sister to arrive at Heathrow when she visited me in the UK; waiting at the gate in Calgary with each of our newborns in our arms as family from the east coast ran down the moving escalators towards us. Airports have always meant something to me. When I was young, they were a gateway to a world I was itching to explore, and now that I’m older(ish), they’re an emblem of going home.

During my most recent round-trip, I was alone again. I was traveling to Nova Scotia to say goodbye to someone and I was sad. I saw young people flying alone, couples old and new, and many, many young families making the trek ‘home’ from Alberta to the Maritimes as summer finally begins. I bought my coffee, a chocolate croissant and a certain best-selling thriller that I’ve felt compelled to read for months now, and I sat. And read. And watched. And I felt grateful for everything.

Farewell

I remember talking to a friend shortly after the birth of her first child. She felt anxious more often than not, and admitted that when she heard the occasional sirens of a passing ambulance, she immediately and unequivocally believed that someone she loved was in it. That was never the case, but for a while she was consumed with this fear of an inevitable loss or heartache.

While her thoughts were a little extreme, I doubt she’s the only person to ever think this way. At some point we’ve all had our hearts in our throats when the phone rings in the middle of the night or there’s an unexpected knock at the door. Usually, it’s nothing. A telemarketer. Sometimes it’s my dear mother calling, whose been known to occasionally forget the time difference between here and there, unaware of the anxiety provoked by a 4 AM phone call from home. Sometimes, however, it’s real.

I traveled to Nova Scotia last week to say goodbye to my beloved aunt. She had been diagnosed with cancer, but her sudden passing was unexpected and devastating. She battled, admirably, and in a way that makes you question your own strength. Could I have ever been that strong?

Her children showed the same strength in their goodbyes as the community rallied around them. Their mother was given a Nova Scotian farewell, with family, friends, fiddles and bagpipes. When my family and I return to Nova Scotia next month, we’ll visit her at her final resting place, on a hill overlooking a river that leads to the Atlantic ocean. And I’ll know that she is at peace.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming

I’ve been so busy counting down the days to summer vacation (and the end of pick up, drop offs, practices and programs) that I forgot to consider one important thing. What are we going to do with all this free time?

Before our kids started school, summer vacation was exciting (better weather, BBQ, our annual pilgrimage home to Nova Scotia) but otherwise meaningless. Back then, my countdowns surrounded my jailbreak from work for maternity leave and then my subsequent jailbreak from maternity leave to return to work. When our third daughter was born and I left my job to stay at home full time, we enrolled our oldest in pre school. We embraced the September to June calendar from that day forward, until the end of time. Or at least the next seventeen years.

Now that the final days of June are creeping hastily upon us, I should probably consider our game plan for July and August. Our family thrives on routine. I’m assuming most do. Although our schedule is sometimes grueling, it also fuels us. When I know I have to be here and there at this time and that, I can do it. We’ll probably arrive missing a shoe and a little bit late, but we will be there. I rely on our crazy schedule to keep me from going insane.

Having a routine also benefits our kids. (As long as they’re not over-scheduled. I try not to overdo it.) While shuffling from A to Z can get tiresome at times, their weekly activities burn their energy, stimulate their developing brains and provide some order in the busy, bustling business of growing up.

So again. What are we going to do when we have nothing to do?

Well, a big chunk of time will be our vacation within our vacation. To say that we’re excited to visit Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in a few weeks is the understatement of the summer. And then there’s the week or two leading up to the trip, which will probably be filled with prepping and packing. And then the days following our return to Calgary, which will be hours and hours of laundry and apologizing to our dear, darling dog who won’t be accompanying us this year. (She will be in good hands.)

That brings us to mid-August, when our daughters will attend a summer science camp where they fully plan to concoct a shrinking potion (I think I wasn’t clear enough when I read them the brochure). Then it’s basically back to school preparations. Somewhere in-between I promised the girls plenty of visits to the water park, the zoo and visits with their friends who have air-conditioned homes.

All of a sudden it’s September again. (Did I just hear a leaf drop outside?)

I’m sure there will be plenty of boredom and breakdowns, but hopefully there will also be lots of impromptu fun. Which I will schedule in whenever I can.

I’m guilty, Your Honour

I’m sure this isn’t a phenomenon unique only to me, but ever since I became a parent, I carry with me a tremendous sense of overwhelming, all encompassing, sometimes crippling guilt.

It usually surfaces, unsurprisingly, when I surface. That is, when I emerge from the clutches of stay-at-home momness and leave kid-less for whatever errand begs my attention at the moment. Whether it’s buying groceries alone, shopping alone or (like last night) getting a pedicure alone.

My trip to the salon was supposed to be a restorative mini-retreat for my soul (and callous heels), but despite my attempts to be mindful and zen, I was a jittery, guilty mess. I felt terrible that the dishes from dinner were left undone on the counter, I felt guilty that this was the second night in a row that I had met my husband and the door after work and left him to fend for himself during bath and bedtime, and I felt guilty for the time and money I was spending on my toenails when there are a million other things that could use my attention and funds.

When my solo errands are a little less me-centric, I can usually mitigate the guilt with the relief that productivity brings. I can do ten times the errands alone in the time it takes to caravan the kids around town grabbing groceries, mailing packages and depositing cheques. (More likely withdrawing cash.)

But when my nights off or weekends away are all about me (i.e. pedicures, hair cuts, very necessary and very painful swimsuit shopping) I find it hard to justify my absence from home. I worry about the state of the house, the stock of food in the fridge, the mood of the kids and the sanity of my husband who I’ve left solely in charge. I sometimes judge myself so harshly that it makes it impossible for me to enjoy my few minutes of freedom.

But this is where things get ridiculous, because as my co-parent and legally binding partner often reminds me, he is perfectly capable and totally happy to do this. He loves it. He’s an awesome dad, and the kids usually prefer their fun Daddy-time to the hours of hustle and shuffling of Mommy-time.

And this makes me feel every more guilty.

It’s no secret that during the day, parents who stay at home with their kids have shit to do. There is very little time to relax and connect with your kids, and when those wonderful moments do arise during the daytime hours, you have to be very mindful of them or you will miss them. When my husband gets home from work, this should be the time when I can clock-out of the housekeeping, bookkeeping and kid-keeping and enjoy my time with the kids. This is what my husband tries to do.

But lately, instead, I’ve been zipping out the door to try and tackle the mounting to-do list that accompanies this time of year, this stage of parenting and this mom’s attempts at maintaining sanity.

Yes, I know these private moments away are good for me. I know that I’m a better mom and partner when I’m feeling restored. I know that these feelings of guilt are not only useless and unnecessary, but a little destructive. I know the sky will not fall.

And I guess I can reluctantly admit that I love my new toes.

(In a shade called Lobster Roll, because obviously.)