Saved in the edit

Someday I will write a book about Christmas. I may start it today, in fact, since I’ve been threatening to for the last dozen years. But like most things I say I’m going to do around Christmas time, it either doesn’t get done or I half-ass it. April is really my month for stretch goals.

For me, the Christmas season always feels like being a beginning swimmer at a swim meet. Everyone else is diving and turning and passing me, and I’m just trying to stay out of their way and not drown. Since having kids, things have improved because it’s so much easier to make miracles for small innocent offspring than it is to make them for one’s self. But let’s just say before that, my goal was to minimize the number of hours between Dec 1 and Dec 26 spent sobbing in the bathroom.

This year Carl mostly made Official Christmas happen, helped by my mother-in-law, and I slept and tried to grow bone. He did a great job. It was one of the best.

And I don’t think my kids noticed that one of the Christmas engines was not firing off. I think this is of course because Carl is amazing, but also because as a family we have edited Christmas to the point that it is manageable. We don’t come close to doing it all. But we try to do enough to carry the through-line — peace, goodwill, and caring — forward.

So it’s in that spirit that I thought I would share this video around the importance of editing in the creation of my generation’s central epic.

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Falling on the Floor

I attended a PIAC conference this fall. The keynote speaker was Dr. Stuart Shanker, who outlined some of the differences between misbehaviour and stress behaviour. He also pointed the audience towards Dr. Mel Levine’s The Myth of Laziness. It was eye-opening as a parent to recognize how easy it’s been for me to forget my original parenting position which basically comes down to “kids will do good if they can and have the right support and guidance.” I’d fallen into some patterns of assuming laziness in my children for sure.

And myself.

The premise shared by both Dr. Shanker and Dr. Levine’s books are that if a child isn’t succeeding, there’s probably something in their way. Dr. Shanker looks at stress and anxiety in particular, and how that kicks children into “red brain” — a stressed, anxious response as if a tiger were chasing them through the woods. And people who are trapped in their red brains can’t access the parts of their brain that help them to learn and perform at a higher level.

Ding, ding, ding. I know allll about the red brain, trust me. As a person with PTSD, I’ve spent a lot of time learning to (somewhat) manage my broad-strokes fight-or-flight response, sometimes better, and sometimes not so well.

I often (not always) do some of the right things for the “big” PTSD-related issues- deep breaths, calm down, get centred, “fake it ’til you make it,” etc. Five years of therapy helped. And in some ways I feel like I’ve mastered some of that to the point that I can turn around in my journey and start to more openly share some successes with other people to see if that helps.

My martial arts journey has been a big part of that, since learning to get grounded in my body and be in a place where I can learn skills, physically, that are completely foreign to me, and work through any triggers and upset, physically, has been huge.  I spent decades of my life becoming an expert at not being in my body, so the idea of being expert at using my body is…ridiculous.

When I start a class, I’m always ready to be at the bottom of it. But I go anyway.

And because it’s martial arts, and that was just brand new to me when I started, I come to it without expectation. If this were a movie maybe that would make me really skilled at the martial arts part of it, but unfortunately, it doesn’t – I mean I even broke my leg doing it! But I am willing to fail 99 times out of 100, because I don’t confuse my beginner status with my own value as a human being. I don’t have a sense that I should do this better or that better. I identify as a martial artist not by my achievements but by my effort. (Technically, I guess, I have a growth mindset.)

And what’s more, I recognize that some weeks, my capacity to risk myself on the floor is more limited. And I’m okay with protecting myself that way and seeing it as part of the journey.

But…here’s the realization as I grapple with having a broken leg while starting a new job in a new field, which involves a lot of walking around and I can’t walk yet…I don’t always apply the same principles to other ares of my life.

I let my critical inner voice mistake inexperience for incompetence. I let the frustration of those around me impact me. I judge myself as not enough.

And to some degree, what I am always going for is what I’ll label supreme competence. I like to be good at my job, to be the expert, to be the one who can be relied on to think things through and do things right. I don’t think these are bad goals.  I don’t want to be a lousy martial artist, and I don’t want to be lousy at other things that I do. I want to excel.

The problem is that in one case, I let myself really experience my incompetence, and work to get better, and it adds to my day immeasurably. In the second case, I experience my incompetence, and work to get better, while beating myself up and feeling like shit about myself, and stressing out and eating chips and being cranky about chores, and it eats away at my days. And it makes it harder because that tiger of anxiety that says “you suck, you’re ruining things, you need to be better” is actually contributing to lack of success.

I learn and perform way better when I am not generating a field of anxiety. Like…really.

So simple, and so not.

 

 

Getting to okay: The foot feels the foot when it feels the ground

In March 2004, I went into labour after a very healthy, textbook pregnancy. 89 hours after her birth, my daughter Emily passed away due to damage to her body because of a lack of oxygen during delivery.
Bridge with water and trees Scarborough ON
That experience cast a oversized shadow. We live in an era of antibiotics and ultrasound. Carseats save lives. The kids, generally, are okay. But I have a hard-coded understanding that really bad things do not just happen to other children, out there. They actually can happen to mine.

One of the questions I’ve gotten from women who have experienced similar losses, especially when it’s new and fresh and raw and awful, is how will I ever be okay again?

When my eldest son came home from the hospital I was so completely freaked out that he was alive, because I had to keep him that way. I sat on the floor with him in my arms, receiving blankets stacked in the underneath of the change table, cold air from the air conditioning on my thigh, feeling him breathe. Please breathe, please breathe, please breathe is a tough postpartum mantra. But we made it. We were okay, enough anyway. Okay had moved. Two years earlier, okay would have been counting diapers. That year, it was getting up off the floor.

Point awarded: Life.
Butterfly at Colonel Danforth Park
On Monday, my youngest, Liam, age four, is having eye surgery at Sick Kids to remove a cataract. It’s a day surgery and as far as surgeries go, not a big deal. But he will have general anesthetic. It would be nice if he had a good shot at seeing things afterwards. And now I have to make that leap of faith over the gorge that was losing Emily that I can trust the medical team to look after him properly, because the last thing he needs is a parent who is a mess.

And it’s been all right. I have not asked the pre-anesthesia screening nurse to let the surgical team know I have filled my quota of coping with medical nastiness, so please would they keep in mind that the balance of good and evil for the entire universe depends on whether they do their jobs correctly. I haven’t even spent more than…well too many hours on Google.

But then this morning.

Grief rarely drops you a line saying Tuesday at camp drop off, you are going to watch your child launch himself at the stairs and then The Fear will arrive. That’s how I think of it, The Fear. There’s normal parenting fear. There’s the fear you feel the moment before the test results come back negative. And then there’s The Fear felt in that eternal second spent realizing the med tech was looking at your baby’s brain activity, and wiping a tear from his eye at the same time.
Bridge freezes sign at Colonel Danforth Park
Once it knows your address, The Fear can be an over-persistent caller. It lodges in the reptilian brain: Fire is hot, don’t put your toes over the edge of the cliff, your child might die. Might die this week. 

The Fear can be held at the threshold by logic, but logic won’t get it off the porch. It will wreck sleep, and concentration, and relationships. And I think, when people want to know if they will be okay, that’s one big part of it. How do we get The Fear to move on?

Here’s today’s answer out of a million possibilities.

photo 2 (1)I didn’t try to argue myself out my feelings. I didn’t head to emerg for a heart workup. I didn’t make a mimosa. Instead, I grabbed my camera and went for a walk, because it seemed like a better idea than even that protestant work ethic standard, Being Productive. And as I took the time to look at what was right there in front of me, everything behind me slowly shifted back into a manageable size. It was okay.

The pictures in this post are from that walk.