The Little Engine that Couldn’t

It would seem as if we’ve arrived at the end of an era. I have had a long run at this blog — almost 9.5 years. But it looks like it is time to close up shop in some form or another.

The heyday of vandermeander.com happened when I was pregnant with Olivia, when I was the self-doubting, frustrated mom of young children (who looked pretty good in a bikini at 9 months pregnant). When we moved to Manitoba for seminary blogging got less frequent. I think I was still saying some good things, but the blog was slipping on the priority list. By the time we got to Alberta it was almost off the list. (I’m not sure I even had a list anymore.)

I’ve blogged so infrequently these past two years, and even when I’ve been inspired about a topic, I haven’t bothered to sit down and write. Plus, what I write feels a lot more personal. Maybe that sounds funny since I used to share everything online (seriously, search any word in the side bar, you’re likely gonna find it), but the little bits I write now feel like a lot more of me is being exposed. Plus, now I am a professional and employed counsellor and having a google search of my name come up with pictures and stories about every area of my life just isn’t a good idea anymore.

So it’s time. And, on the one hand, I sit here on the verge of tears because this has been a good little place for me for almost a decade, I have made some wonderful online friends who’ve become real-life friends, and I know a lot of people have appreciated my words… but, on the other hand… all of those things I just said above. It’s just time.

And so today I sit here in my kitchen in Alberta (in a place I didn’t know I would be when I started this), and think about all that has happened over these years… So much has happened in our family — we’ve moved three times across three different provinces. Marc and I both got Masters degrees and professions. We’ve watched our kids grow from babies into school kids and are now counting the years before Madeline heads off to university. (Six more years. Six.)

And so lots has changed and we’ve changed. But in so many ways we’re all still the same. We still can’t really keep our house clean. The kids still get annoyed when someone else is chewing too loud (but almost all of them chew too loud). We’d still rather spend an hour in a bookstore than almost anything else.

And me. I know I’m not the same mother who started typing out her thoughts when Luke, her second baby, was just a few months old. I really didn’t know what I was in for. And, if I remember correctly, I was pretty sure of myself as a mother when it was just Madeline. And so this blog kind of coincides with the beginning of the mom doubts. And the doubts remain.

I had a rather insightful conversation with my boss last week. I told her that I hoped sometime I would stop driving to work and thinking about the day ahead and the people I would see with the thoughts, “I can’t do this” repeating in my head. I really hoped I’d find some confidence, or at the very least, not be plagued by lack of confidence. And she replied, “But, Dixie! That’s how you do everything! That’s how you parent your kids, that’s how you live with Marc. The point is that you don’t let the doubts stop you from doing what you do.”

It was the big Oprah “aha” moment for me: not the second part that she said, the first. It was the first thing she said: the simple statement that I do everything with self doubt. And that’s been true for a long time. Sometimes I’ve let that stop me from doing things, other times I haven’t.

What I’ve realized is that my doubt is internal and rarely influenced by the externals. People validating and encouraging me can lessen my doubts occasionally, but they are still there. I can do things that repeatedly prove that I CAN do things, but the thought process is still “I can’t.” How many times do I need to graduate at the top of my class before I will think that I am capable?!

And it’s the same with being a mom. I ran into a friend who I’d been close with when my kids were small and she commented that she always thought I’d have more kids because I was such a good mom. My thought was, “How’d I miss that memo?!” “Why didn’t somebody tell me I was a good mom?!” But the truth was I know some people did… I just didn’t (or couldn’t) believe it.

You see, I’m “The Little Engine That Couldn’t But Then Does.”

Does that make sense? Like I chug along, “I think I can’t. I think I can’t. I think I can’t. I’ll probably mess up. I’ll probably mess up. I’ll probably mess up. Oh. I guess I did it. I guess I did it. I guess I did it.”

Does that “I think I can’t” help me at all? Nope. But it’s always there. I can see it as a I scroll through the history of this blog.

My hope is that I can slowly start to be a little more kind to myself: “I’ll do my best. I’ll do my best. I’ll do my best.”

And I don’t necessarily want to stop writing. But this particular (very detailed, very public) part of my life needs to be laid to rest. And so, in the next little while, I will likely make it password protected so that it’s still there but secure.

Truthfully, in some ways, I feel a bit ashamed of who I was for a lot of those blog years. But I do recognize that I have just gone through a very formative decade of my life. And part of the growing up in that time is to recognize that who I was before, in the midst, and after all of those changes is okay.

My hope is that my own vulnerability in this space has helped you see that you are okay. Or at least know that you’re not alone. You can do it.

I guess I did it, too.

 

Posted in Blog, Life | 8 Comments

The Gift of Presence

Tonight Marc and I finished up Season 3 of Call the Midwife. It is truly such a good, moving, and inspiring show. And I love that in this last episode they brought in some of Jennifer Worth’s interest in care of the dying. (Her book “In The Midst of Life: Is There Such a Thing as  a Good Death?” was so inspiring for me to read a few years ago when I first discovered my interest in palliative care.)

As we watched tonight, I was reminded so vividly of a moment in my own life. In the last episode, Chummy’s mom is sick and old Sister Monica Joan is ever-present in the room with her. Sister Monica Joan throughout all of the series has exhibited signs of senility. Her actions are not always “helpful.”  But in this episode she was simply there, offering her presence. And she did it because, even though she was so often unaware of her surroundings, she recalled that she also had said good-bye to her mother and in a way she wished could’ve been better.

And seeing her there, in the background but present, took me right back to one night in our trailer — exactly 3 years and one month ago.

It was in 2011 on the Sunday before Marc was to start a week-long intensive course that we found out his dad was very likely dying, and Marc struggled to make the decision to start the class the next morning, or to wait for confirmation from the doctor and possibly a better understanding of how soon he would need to be out there. He managed to make it through the entire class.

A friend suggested that I go along with Marc for the trip out to Summerland to see his dad.  We had no family with us in Manitoba and I just assumed that it would not be possible. Truthfully, because we had no family to help us, I hadn’t even thought of it at all. But this same friend also offered to stay with our kids for the weekend so that I could join Marc. And I did, and I’m so thankful.

We had a flight booked for Friday afternoon. Marc would only miss the last few hours of his week-long course. And I had a return flight booked for Sunday evening so I could get the kids back to school the next week. Marc’s dad passed away in the early hours of Monday morning. It felt like I was — because I was — barely home when Marc called to say that his dad was gone. And two days later the kids and I were on another plane for the funeral.

It all seems like a bit of a whirlwind, especially when I think of just how much happened in a few days.

But I have two memories of wonderful peace from that weekend.

The first is the Thursday night before Marc and I flew out to be with his dad. The suitcase was packed. The kids’ lunches were made, and they were settled into bed for the night. I remember the lights were dim in the trailer, and there sat Marc and I with two of our friends: Amanda and Rebekah. I don’t remember what we said. I don’t even remember talking. But I remember them being there with us.

So why is this significant? Why is that quiet hour of which I remember hardly any specifics so significant? Why does it still bring tears to my eyes? Because those two friends — who in the months that followed became dear, dear friends — those two girls had each lost their fathers. Of all the two friends to come to be with us that night. It was those two. I don’t know why they did, or why it was both of them. But the fact that they did, and the fact that they both did, means so very much to me.

The other memory I wasn’t going to share. I had truly just wanted to tell the story of Amanda and Rebekah. (I have been meaning to for years!)  But as I started to think about that weekend of travel and family and saying goodbye — of so much busyness — I remembered another peaceful memory.

Sunday morning — the last day that I spent in Summerland that weekend, Marc and I his brother wanted to go to church. So I stayed at the nursing home with Marc’s dad for the whole morning on my own. I swabbed his mouth, and I held his hand, and I sang him a few hymns. But what I remember most of all was reading  him the Psalms. I remember picking out the hopeful ones and purposefully omitting the fearful and vengeful ones. It was a beautiful sunny day and I just kept reading and reading. I’m not sure how much of it he heard. And what he heard, I don’t know how much he understood. It’s quite possible that morning of quiet was more for me than for him. But it was peaceful and beautiful, just to be with him — the father-in-law I only got to spend a decade with — for that morning. And that will stay in my mind forever.

And it reminds me again of the wonderful gift of presence for all involved. To simply sit and be near in those moments of life. Those moments: the, usually unexpected, moments where we are reminded again that we are human beings and beautifully vulnerable.

When we give the gift of presence in those moments, the fear and confusion is suddenly alongside care and compassion. And, if we’re lucky a little bit of the peace and love of the moment can be felt right there. But if not then, I, for one, am grateful that now I see what a beautiful gift of love is given in those moments.

And I feel the peace of them forever.

So, thank you, thank you, Amanda and Rebekah. With tears in my eyes and from the bottom of my heart for that beautiful, simple gift that you gave.

Posted in Family, Life & Faith, Memories | Leave a comment

Little Love Affairs

I’ll be the first to admit that there was a time in my life when I was envious of all of my single friends. I think I felt it the most when my kids were small and the demands of parenting were very obvious, very physical, and seemingly never-ending. In those days my books of choice were by Sophie Kinsella — the single girl in the city (even if all she’s doing is unsuccessfully looking for lasting love and shopping too much).

I loved those books. And I loved being able to escape into a world that was not mine — a world that I never really got to live: the single girl in the city.

I have always said that if I hadn’t met Marc I would’ve gone to law school and eventually become a judge. I would be thin and well-dressed and live in an immaculate apartment. And would most likely been dead inside.

But, some days, oh how I’ve longed for that life.

It’s a life in my imagination, so of course I don’t feel all of the frustrating bits of it. I can fully idealize that life on days when the house is too messy or I long to have some exotic adventure with just Marc and I.

I just finished watching Eat, Pray, Love. The book was recommended to me when I was going through some really dark days after Olivia was born. I struggled so much to find meaning in caring for my family (especially when I knew I was the kind of person who could offer so much to the world!!). Really? Diapers and cleaning cheerios off the floor and yogurt off the curtains?

I read that book and it helped. And I’d recommend it for anyone who is struggling to know who they are and what they value in life.

And as I watched the end scene where Liz and her Brazilian beau speed boat out into the sunset, tonight I longed for that. For the freedom that comes with not having attachments. For the ability to do what you like and escape and feed your soul when it needs feeding.

But then I realized that I do get that. In little ways. Probably in lots of ways if I paid attention.

First of all, I know that it’s not just being married and having kids that prevents me from having freedom. There are limits to life no matter what your circumstances. Work, money, areas of obligation all keep us connected and unable to be as free with our time and our choices as we’d like in life.

But, we can choose to make the most of the moments we have. And that’s what I realized when I saw the speedboat in the sunset.

My speed boat into the sunset moment happens almost every weekday morning when the kids get on the bus. Marc and I have one glorious hour with the house to ourselves before he goes to work. These days it means the sun is shining in the windows and always the quiet of a new day is ahead of us — it’s quiet in that hour no matter how noisy and busy the day ends up being.

We sit and watch the kids get on the bus. Sometimes we go back to bed or I make a good breakfast while Marc showers, and we eat together often with kids’ dishes still strewn about the table, but we are together in the quiet.

It’s like a little love affair for one hour of the day. With bedhead, in our messy house, with a day of work looming.

Yet it feeds my soul — sometimes less in the moment itself and more as I think back on that hour later in the day. As I remember it, I feel the peace and security of that moment again. And I can be thankful for that little bit of peace in the midst of however the day or week has shaped up for my family.

Little moments of peace.

That’s all you can ever really ask for, isn’t it?

Posted in Family, Marriage | 1 Comment

It’s All Over But The Crying

Tonight I handed in all my Practicum IV requirements — the final documents needed to complete my Master of Arts in Counselling degree. Which means that I am done. Done except for one last trip to Calgary to meet with my classmates over brunch on Friday morning for our final practicum class.

Done.

Did you hear me?!

Done! Done this 60-credit masters degree that has been in my life for the past 4 years and 4 months.

And what was my first response?

I cried (not tears of joy) and had an overwhelming desire to debrief about all the ways I have done poorly over the past four years.

(Trust me, this was not the way I anticipated feeling after being done everything.)

But alas, that is what happened. And so I pressed “send” on my email, went to the bathroom, and then sat down on Marc’s lap (breaking our Poang chair would’ve really added to the moment, but it thankfully didn’t break) and proceeded to tell him about all of my worries about how I could’ve been a better wife and mom, how I’ve been caught up in my own stuff, and have not been the person I should’ve been all of these years. I didn’t get crazy negative and I didn’t break out into sobs… but it was a pretty solemn moment, a bit of a fearful moment, and tears were shed.

Because what’s done is done.

Yes, I now have done the work to put two new letters after my name. But what I’ve done (and not done) to get there is also done and there’s no changing that. I know I’ve done pretty well and that I’ve grown so much, but my first response wasn’t to embrace the good, it was to acknowledge and worry a bit over the bad.

And maybe that’s okay. And maybe I can do it now and get it out and let it go, and I will learn from the mistakes as much as the good, and, thankfully, I have an extra-gracious family who has loved me through it all. Thankfully. I know there is much to be thankful for. Truly.

So there you have it. It’s all over. And hopefully the crying is over too. Maybe just some tears of joy when I walk the stage on April 26th.

Posted in Family, School | 3 Comments

Memories as a MA Student Ma

Just over four years ago, in January of 2010, I started my first course in the Master of Arts in Counselling program at Providence Theological Seminary. It was a psychopathology course and apparently I was the only one in the class to read the textbook. At least that’s what my good friend Amanda said. Except at that point she wasn’t my good friend. I actually met Amanda for the first time in that class. I remember so clearly her standing talking to some students at a break and calling me over and asking if I was “Marc’s wife who we’ve been waiting to meet.” The running joke that whole week was that I’d finally be allowed to leave the trailer! Another memory of the week was when the professor was highlighting symptoms of OCD and said in a panicked voice, “Did I lock the front door this morning?!” I replied very casually, “We don’t worry about that. The cold shifted the ground over at the trailer, so the door doesn’t even close anymore.”

And so I began a four year journey to get this masters degree. Something I hadn’t even thought of a year prior nor had ever considered as a career option in my life. But the more I learned, the more I loved what I was learning and saw how well it fit with my interests and abilities. And I did well, academically. And I tried my best to balance life as a part-time student, full-time mom, and wife of a full-time seminary student (and later, pastor) all while living in 800 square feet of trailer with the nearest family 900km away. The kids were 2, 4, and a just-turned 7 year-old Madeline when I started. Olivia was in diapers! And now at the end of this, I will graduate on my 35th birthday and Olivia will turn 7, herself, two days later!

Marc and I will have our 14th anniversary this August. Right now we’re sitting at 13.5 years of marriage. We got married right before our final year of university. I did the math last week. In 13.5 years of marriage, one or both of us have been in school for 7 of those 13.5 years. And you know what we were doing the other 6.5 years? Those were the baby years of course! So we’ve either been stressed and sleep-deprived from taking care of kids or writing papers.  I know that the regular 9 to 5 work world is stressful in its own right. But the only time we’ve ever lived that life was for the 9 months I was pregnant with Madeline and we moved twice in those 9 months. (We’ve moved 6 times total in our marriage, and, truly, I don’t feel like we are as gypsy-ish as we sound.)

So I am simultaneously looking forward to having just work (because did I mention that the counselling agency I’m interning at has asked me to work there after I graduate?) and also feel like I may have a slight identity crisis. I feel like I’ve lived life for so long with, at the very least, a constant low-grade (moving to medium to high depending on the week!) stress because of deadlines that I know it will take some time for me to adjust to the lack of  external stress and pressure in my daily life. I know this because at the end of every semester (if it actually ended before the next one started), I always took about a week to not feel lost in my days because the deadlines weren’t there. I also know this because today I found out that one of my courses from the masters of philosophy I started after university will count as my final theology elective and so I am now a half a paper away from being done my degree! And when I got the news I cried tears of joy and felt such relief. And then as the day went on, I had these moments of feeling lost and disoriented, but eventually the relief of not having one more course to do would come again and I’d try hard to believe it.

I’ve been waiting for this day for so long. It’s always seemed like something so far away — possibly even something that wouldn’t happen or that I couldn’t do. But here it is. And so tonight we celebrated. Marc and the kids and I drove into Camrose and we celebrated “Dixie-style”. Meaning we ate as cheaply and efficiently as possible. East Side Mario’s has this great “4 can dine for $24.99″ deal with bread, soup or salad, and pizza. Knowing we’d be out for supper, I gave the kids a little bit of pop with their lunch so that we didn’t have to buy drinks at the restaurant. Then we ate lots of bread and soup and salad, so that we got full on that and took some of the pizza home. Marc thought our lack of beverage purchases wasn’t very celebratory, but I thought it was the perfect way to “celebrate Dixie.”

And while it seems like I have been in school forever, I know that these years will fade in memory pretty quickly. So tonight I want to give a few snapshots of my life as MA student ma.

That first semester, we had 30 days to from the end of the modular to complete all of the assignments, and I recall locking myself in the bedroom of the trailer a few times when Marc would get home from school, telling him, “I just need 30 uninterrupted minutes to write this paper.” And that’s how I’d do it. I’d power through with gusto when I could be by myself — which was not often. I worked a lot during naptime. The thing was, the school work was not my main focus being a mom way. I always thought of the degree as my hobby of choice, rather than — say knitting — and so I could jump into pretty easily whereas the full-time students would easily get bogged down with the never-ending schoolwork.

Then there were the week long courses that took me away from home. I had three in Calgary and one that took me back to Manitoba after we’d moved to Alberta. The first time, Olivia had burnt her arm the week before and so Marc was left with the responsibility of taking three kids to the ER for dressing changes every night before driving 1,400km on his own with them at the end of the week to pick me up. During the other courses, the kids were, inevitably, sick. My modular in Manitoba last year included Marc texting me pictures of Olivia’s swollen face and telling of trips to the ER while I was in class. Then there was the time that my license plate fell off on the drive to Calgary. Yes. Those modulars were always very interesting. And I know Marc is an exceptional dad.

I recall finishing up my class on the book of Job (with the president of the seminary, Gus Konkel, who actually translated Job for the New Living translation) while lying in bed with strep throat two days before we moved to Alberta. I did *really* well on that paper. Seriously. Because, I have also learned that 20 drafts of a paper doesn’t necessarily make for a better paper. I have gotten some of my highest marks when I’ve said, “Screw it!” and submitted my paper thinking that it would just “have to do” and then finding out what I did do was a 98%.

You see, the researching and writing papers has always come easily to me. I enjoy it and know I can do it well. The biggest stress came when I actually had to counsel people. I felt so inadequate. Part of the reason was because I had done quite a few courses online and so I felt like my professors maybe didn’t have a good gauge of whether I was capable of counselling. And I also never really knew (still don’t!) how I compared to my classmates and whether I had learned “enough” to be able to really try this counselling stuff for real.

So imagine, if you will, Dixie going in for her first counselling session — a roleplay — with her dear friend Amanda as the fake client. Luckily, Amanda knows how to run the videocamera in the session room, as she was also a counselling student. And, so Dixie goes to hit “record” on the video camera and turns to Amanda and says, “Just one minute.” And out she goes, down the hall to the bathroom, because Dixie has a bit of a “nervous stomach” which needed to be relieved before she could press record. But she did come back and press record and she did her first session ever and didn’t get one negative comment, and the prof even commented that Dixie and her nervous stomach didn’t seem at all nervous on the tape.

And after that I knew I could do it! Of course! I mean, I did it once, so, of course, I could do it again! I would never have to run to the bathroom before a session again. I certainly wouldn’t have to go before pressing record on the second session…

:)

Thankfully, that was a Practicum I only condition. And I have now made it through 120+ real counselling sessions without having to go to the bathroom once! I’m still not sure if I’m doing this counselling stuff up to snuff but I am listening to the words of my supervisor and am “being Dixie” more and more in session. And that is, for the most part, good. And I’m learning so much and loving the work the more I do it. I will always love the research and the security of having my nose in a book and the possibility of formulating a sentence in ten different ways before it comes out in a satisfactory way. But I am also finding joy that I never thought I would in the interactions of the counselling room, even if there is less security and more risk involved in participating in the story of another in-the-moment.

So, those are my seminary memories. My semories. I remember the good and the bad. The highs and the lows. And I think, as I look back, I don’t regret too much. I’m certainly more aware of my own struggles and faults now than I was four years ago. But I also have a lot more compassion for myself now too.

And tonight we raised our glasses of water to having my masters being done just a few months sooner than we thought and the palpable sense of relief that comes with that. And we raised a glass to our dear friend Jeff in the registrar’s office who emailed the good news today. And we raised a glass to making it through these months and years of stress and change and still loving and caring for each other in the middle of it all — and probably loving each other better because of it.

So, here’s to four years and 60 credit hours and *cough cough* thousand dollars done… well, after I finish that last half a paper. :)

Posted in Family, School | 3 Comments

Choosing How I Feel

This weekend was supposed to look a lot different than it does.

We were invited down to Calgary for my cousin’s birthday on Friday and since the kids were off school and I had class in Calgary on the day of the party, it all worked out well. But, add to that, my aunt and uncle’s offer to have the kids for an extra night and drive them home Saturday or Sunday because I had to leave on Friday to get back for work Saturday morning, and it was a recipe for an AWESOME weekend! Marc and I had plans to go to the city to have supper with our good friends as the wife just had a birthday, we were going to get a hotel room for the night, since I had to work for a few hours Saturday morning in Leduc anyway, then we were going to a matinee of the new Wes Anderson movie. Brilliant!

Can I just remind everyone of the incredible luxury of parents of children having a night out? Especially, parents of children who do not have any family members close to where they live to offer free childcare? On the rare occasions those opportunities arise, you take them! And we were going to!

And then it started snowing Thursday morning. And the snow wouldn’t have been a problem if the wind hadn’t been so nasty. And so I knew right from getting up Thursday morning that there was a chance our plans weren’t going to turn out. But I hoped. And then I was okay with not going because of the roads, and I decided to be cautious. Then came the time we would’ve left, and I wasn’t so okay with it anymore. And the disappointment set in. And, okay, eventually I was crying and possibly sulking on my bed in disappointment, but at some point I decided that maybe it was okay to have a quiet weekend at home. And it has been.

But then there was Friday morning when I had to skype into my class for three hours while being home alone with three children. And I got them all set up with a movie downstairs so that they would be still until my 10 minute break mid-class. Except, for some reason, the kids brought their movie upstairs into the little tv for when the kids are sick which is currently in Olivia’s room, rather than the large screen tv downstairs. And then Olivia needed a refill on the orange juice and the carton was too heavy. And then, “can we have some Reese’s Pieces?” And some other disruptions.

Disruptions when I am video and audio logged into my class so everyone can see what I’m doing and we are doing confidential case consulting so the kids cannot hear what I am saying. So I eventually went and hid in my room and had to sit on the floor by the door, lest the class see the piles of laundry or think I’m participating in class from the comfort of my queen-sized bed!

So I google-messaged Marc at the church to tell him what was going on and he called the kids on the phone and told them to stop bothering me, but every time they took a step out in the hall, I didn’t know if the next thing would be a knock on the door. And I was so distracted and tense, that I just needed Marc to come and take the kids for the last half of the class. Which he did. And class was good and stress-free after that.

But, as I was in the middle of that whole scene, I could feel my anxiety rising. And so many thoughts came into my head which were adding to the anxiety.

Like when I discovered that pausing the screen is not the same as muting, and so my whole class heard me ask the kids why they didn’t watch their movie and then heard the swishing of the cords and the pillows as I got set up on the bedroom floor. Apparently the other online student couldn’t hear a word of what was said because of all of my swooshing. And all of that reminded me of the total embarrassment I felt when earlier in the semester the mic picked up Marc yelling at the kids for all of my classmates to hear.

Then as I sat there asking Marc to please come home, I was reminded again of how I automatically think that his job trumps my job and that sometimes that makes me mad or frustrated or sad. And I’m not sure if that’s the way it is or not, but I felt both frustrated AND guilty that he was going to have to bring the kids to work for the rest of the morning.

And then I remembered that if it hadn’t snowed yesterday — the ONE day it’s snowed in March! — that I wouldn’t be having this problem at all. I’d have been happily sitting in class stress-free because there would be no crummy internet or children lurking in the hallways with questions and needs. Nope! I would’ve been in class and then Marc and I would’ve had a night out AND an afternoon out! And the kids would’ve got to do some fun things in Calgary. But, nope! Can’t catch a break! Oh yeah! Just like when Marc and I missed our nights away at Pastor/Spouse retreat this fall!

But then Marc said he would come and get the kids and the 10 minute break arrived so I could get up from the computer and get the kids ready. And I remember, clearly, walking into to Olivia’s room and I was on the verge of all of those thoughts and frustrating memories causing a cascade of negativity and self-pity and bitterness. It was right there, ready to wash over me and amp up my frustration to newer levels. But instead I chose to just stop the thoughts right there. And I decided to be glad that Marc was coming to grab the kids rather than being annoyed that he didn’t offer it in the first place. And I decided to ignore the temptation to go down the path of  frustration over the days Marc and I get to ourselves often not happening.

And I chose gratitude. Or at the very least I chose to stop the frustration. And it was such a better choice to not feel that frustration.

And in the end, it’s been nice to have a quiet weekend at home — the first in many months.

And it’s good to be reminded that my bitter little heart can chose something better. Something better than bitter.

Posted in Kids, Life, Marriage, School | 1 Comment

The stories we tell and tell and tell…

Are there certain phrases that roll easily and frequently off your tongue? When a particular subject, event, or person comes up, do you have “go to” phrases that you always say? Have you told the same story in the same way to many different people even across years?

Or is it just me?

I continue to learn SO much in this counselling internship of mine. When I think of what I looked like as a counsellor in September versus now, it’s hard to even imagine. And I’m learning not just from the experience or from the study or from my supervisors, I’m learning from my clients.

And I learn the most when I look at myself. All of myself. Even the stuff that is difficult or embarrassing. Like today, for example.

I left work right after an hour-long meeting with my supervisor and I felt like I was buzzing — alert and anxious, but mostly embarrassed. I’d gone on a bit of a personal tirade and what I recognized (and acknowledged to my supervisor as we spoke) was that the things I was saying to her are things that I’ve said for a long, long time. Word for word. A subject comes up and this stuff automatically flows out of my mouth. And it was not good stuff. It was not stuff that showed my reflective, empathic side. It was Dixie with her amazing ability to cleverly exaggerate. (But it’s just so dang clever! I gotta say it!)

But, oh how I wished I hadn’t said all of that.

And that’s why tonight I went to my journal and wrote it all out. I wrote about those words that I always say. I wrote about the embarrassment that I felt. And I tried to figure out why those are my go-to words.

What purpose do they serve? What is my motivation for saying them? What do they do for me? Really? Do they lead me or my thoughts in any positive direction?

You can probably guess what the answers were.

So, yes, I embarrassed myself in front of the person whose opinion of me as a counsellor and as a person has some significant weight at this time of my life. But. Maybe that’s what I needed. I needed to feel the weight of that with someone whose opinion I value and respect in order to stop doing the things that have come naturally for so long. Just because they’re natural, doesn’t mean they’re beneficial. And so I am going to do a lot of thinking before those free-flowing phrases come out of my mouth again. And I wonder what it will be like to look at these areas with fresh eyes, now that I’ve taken my cynical spectacles off.

Is this making sense to anyone?

I’m wondering if others can relate to these kinds of automatic responses to situations — hearing yourself say the exact same phrases every time a particular subject comes up. What does it look like to think about those phrases and why we say them and in what way they are shaping up?

Because the other thing I’ve learned is that every time we revisit something, we modify that experience. We change our perspective and our experience of that memory. We can do that positively or negatively. And whichever one we choose, the more we choose it, the stronger and more powerful that perspective becomes. Until it seems like there’s no other way to see it. No other way to speak of it. So we say the same old things every time.

But not me. Not after today. Not anymore. At the very least, I’m going to think before I tell my stories.

Posted in Psychology, School | 2 Comments

The Past, The Future, and the Light in the Darkness

Marc and I have a couple of go-to movies. They are our comfort movies — our potato/carbohydrate movies. One of those movies is Midnight in Paris. It’s a light, entertaining, and beautiful movie about a writer on vacation in Paris who wishes he could live in the glory days of Paris — in his mind, the 1920s. (Spoiler alert!) He travels back in time to the 1920s and meets a girl from that time who thinks it would have been the best to live in Paris in the “La Belle Epoque”.

We’ve watched this movie so many times, but last night when we watched it, I realized something: People idealize the past because they know how it ends. They know the whole story. Whereas, when you live in the present, there is more fear because you don’t know where things are going. Sure, in the movie they talk about all of the great characteristics of each of their favourite eras — the culture, the music, the feel of the time.

BUT.

I’m convinced that part of the appeal is in knowing the whole story of those eras. And that whatever calamity may have hit in those times, they made it through. Or, as in both cases, the idealized eras of both characters end in the world taking a turn for the worse. (La Belle Epoque ends with World War I, and we all know what happened in the world once the roaring 1920s were over! ) By living in the past, we have the option to just pick the pieces that we like, but we also we know the whole story. We know how it ends, which will, of course, influence which parts we like!

And now I’m going to make this connect to parenthood.

I was at a baby shower tonight and struck up a conversation with a great lady from our church… which may or may not have lasted the entire shower until all but a few of the guests had left and where I didn’t even get up to the snack table!

We talked about all sorts of things, but what struck me was her perspective. She became a grandma a few years ago, so she’s about a full generation ahead of me in the game. And so her perspective on my stuff as a mom is different than mine because she’s walked it before in her own way. What I am looking ahead at in my future is what is in her past. She’s been there. She’s seen how it ends. As have a lot of the other ladies who joined our conversation.

And it is so good to hear their perspective. I can get so nervous about how my kids are going to turn out because of how they are behaving in these days. And what I need is not only some good advice about how to guide my children along paths of love, kindness, and gratitude. I also need to hear that kids (even kids you don’t know what to do with sometimes!) can turn out okay.

Because right now I don’t see what the future holds. Right now I have just over a decade of parenting under my belt and I can point to some rather harrowing moments of the past and can now see how they have shaped some beautiful things. But I see that best looking back. It’s awfully hard to see that looking ahead!

But when I sit with women who’ve gone on ahead of me, I can reorient my thinking a bit so the future isn’t quite so scary. So I can live in my present a little more fully and not fantasize about going back to a “better” time when life was more in control (because life didn’t actually feel all that in control when I was living then anyway!). Nor do I have to try to live in the future — either through worrying about how things will go or dreaming of a time when there won’t be lego men and spilled Nesquick on the kitchen table for days on end.

As we drove home from the shower, Madeline said to me, “Why is the dark so scary?” I replied, “Because we can’t see where we’re going.”

Exactly. But when I talk to these ladies — these ladies who’ve lived it — and when I take the courageous step of saying how things are really going for me… it’s like those bright beams on the front of the van on the drive home. I still don’t see everything ahead of me, but I see a lot more than I would without them.

So, tonight I go to bed thankful for good movies, good conversations, and those brave women who are walking ahead of me on the journey.

Posted in Entertainment, Family, Motherhood | 3 Comments

Dear Dixie,

Dear Dixie,

Today you feel stressed. Today everything is too much and you just want to crawl under the covers and stay in bed all day.

You tried that a few times. Unfortunately, you can’t fall asleep.

Your brain keeps spinning with everything — all of the things that you need to do, all of things you have done, all of the unexpected changes and frustrations, all of the deadlines and demands.

And don’t forget you’re sick. And that you’ve only NOT been sick for 10 days of the past 40 days. So you’re a bit worn out.

And look at you! You have gone back to bed the past two mornings to sleep because you knew you were getting sick again and you didn’t want to get worse by pushing yourself to get up and go full tilt from 7am onward. And so far you’re not anymore sick. Well done.

And look at you, as well! You’re aware that your natural propensity to bitterness and blame when you get stressed may have been starting up when you realized how difficult one of your assignments is going to be and how very little instruction was given. Yes, Bitter Betty wants to come over and play today. But you recognize that Bitter Betty only yammers on when you are stressed and that you don’t have to play that game.

Bitter Betty also likes to catch up with Dame Blame, and Dame Blame likes to uncover all of those parts of your life that aren’t going *exactly* how they should be and then she sends you on a rampage of frustration where you try to fix everything in a panic, leaving a war path of nasty demands in your wake.

But you also recognized that it was Dame Blame at the door, and you opened it only a crack and then shut it again. Because you knew letting her in wouldn’t make you or your situation any better.

So, dear Dixie. What are you doing to do on this day? This day when you’re tired and suddenly on the verge of frazzled but there are many thing to be done? And just thinking about those things makes you want to run and hide and fantasize that none of its real. Ie., that the five girls coming to the sleepover birthday party tomorrow are actually coming to a house where a hazmat suit is not needed to go from the front door to the basement? What do you do?

Well… you start by what you just did. Talking to yourself. And being aware of all of these crazy feelings you’re experiencing. Naming them. Having compassion for them and for yourself. And then. Stay in bed if you need to. But just for a bit. Then get up and do what you can. And let “what you can” be enough.

(That’s what I’d tell myself if I were my own therapist, anyway…)

Posted in Life, Psychology, School | Leave a comment

On Christmas Eve Night

The kids are tucked into the living room tonight — a new tradition as of last year. They are asleep on the couches and the giant bean bag cushion in their new so-soft flannel Christmas pyjamas. The glow of the Christmas tree will shine on them all night long (we didn’t set up the automatic timer this year…) It’s an idyllic Christmas scene, even if Olivia sounds wheezy and was heavily medicated before being tucked in and Luke is just barely getting over a cold himself.

It has been a good Christmas thus far and tomorrow looks like it will be a fun and relaxing day as well. Marc’s mom has been here for a week now and it is nice to be with family this year. So very nice.

Idyllic. Idyllic. Idyllic.

Tonight we went to church and participated in the Christmas Eve service. There was talk of rest after busyness and light in the darkness — a pretty realistic depiction of Christmas, really. And I consciously let myself sink into that message. Life has been stressful these past weeks and months. Some days and weeks are not easy. I feel like I’ve had a few goes this fall where I actually didn’t realize just how bad things were until it was all over.

But tonight I’m happy and I’m tucked into my bed in my own Christmas-y pyjamas (even if they were purchased on clearance in July and I’ve been wearing them since then).

I’m here now and I’m thankful — so thankful — for a night like tonight. A night of peace and joy.

And as I soaked in that moment in the service, lighting the candles and softly singing Silent Night, I thought of those I know who are not having an idyllic night or an idyllic holiday or an idyllic year. Truthfully, I thought of the faces of people I’ve seen these past four months in my first term of doing counselling work. And as we sang “all is calm, all is bright,” I said a pray for some of them and the pieces of their stories that they have shared with me, for those whose night may be neither calm nor bright.

And I sat there cuddled up with my little family… and yes, three of the five of us are sick, and the girls idea of letting me “do their hair” for Christmas was an elastic pulling their bangs out of their face, and Olivia may or may not have had to wipe her nose on her dress when I ran out of kleenex in the service … but still it was a peaceful night to sing of peace and joy and to know peace and joy. And I am thankful for these moments, after and even in the middle of sickness and stress.

Because the beauty of Christmas for me this year is a little more realistic. I feel like I know Christmas a bit more this year or that I am letting myself be known by it. Because it’s not all perfect or easy but that’s okay. I can lean into the light offered at Christmas just as I am. And these stories I’ve been hearing as I’ve sat with people over these past months, I can set them down by the light of the baby Christ too. A gift, really.

Like the imperfectly wrapped gift from a child, I set myself — all myself — up next to the light of Christmas tonight. I offer it and then I rest there. The sleep of Christmas. The sleep of hope and light in a dark world.

A merry, merry Christmas to you, tonight wherever you are tonight.

Posted in Faith, Family | 1 Comment
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