Tag Archives: Family life

When I Love You is Not Enough


About a month ago, a girl killed herself.  A student at a local high school, on the honour roll, popular.  Her story was kept very quiet – there was no sensational, sentimental news coverage about yet another casualty to the shoal-laden waters of teenager-hood. There were shocked whispers from those who knew her. And then, silence.

I am not saying that every teen suicide should be plastered all over the front pages. I cannot imagine that helps families deal with the pain; no doubt it would heighten the already unimaginable grief they suffer.  What I want is for…God, what do I want?  Let’s think about that for a second.

I want teen and young adult depression, behaviour disorders, and mental illness to go away, as in eradicated.  This is an unrealistic wish because the stats are going in exactly the opposite direction.  There is a crisis of mental illness among our young people.  The children cannot be our future if they’re too ill to face today, never mind tomorrow.

There is a part of me that wants to run and hide from this information.    I don’t suppose the Amish community would accept me and my two electronics-addicted kids but sometimes I am tempted to try.  I can see us now, piling into our four-door sedan, driving to wherever the Amish live.  We would abandon our car, our iPhones, our Blackberrys and we would stand, waiting and hopeful…please take us into your simpler world…save us.

Nope.  They’d turn their buggies around and flee as if the Seven Horses of the Apocalypse were chasing them.

There is no escaping from the fact that our children are in jeopardy.  A multitude of factors can be pointed to – from our obsession with material things to various media to our lousy diets.  Are we, as some would argue, poisoning our own young with too much information, not enough sleep, and too much white sugar?  Their little brains are being affected by something; they are short-circuiting like so many overloaded electrical panels.

Depression has long plagued the human race – evidence shows that even the ancient Egyptians suffered.  I was born at the tail-end of the Boomer generation; I’ve suffered from depression off and on since birth.  However, for most of my life, I slogged through the fog undiagnosed, as do a vast majority of people who live with some form of the illness.

Todays young people are not allowed the luxury of sleep or downtime.  Busy children are children who don’t have time to get into trouble.  Well-intentioned parents over-schedule – after all, extra-curricular activities will mean well-rounded, successful children and isn’t that what we want for our kids? Maybe they think that if their kids are kept busy, they won’t have time to get depressed.  If only.

While parents over-schedule, the world over-stimulates.  Studies now show that Internet use is changing the way kids brains develop. Factor in the crap diet that harried parents feed their kids as they speed down the highway to hockey practice from piano lessons in the minivan and you have a timetable for disaster, a recipe for a nervous breakdown.  Don’t get me started on the genetics factor…

The principal at our local middle school gives a speech every September.  It goes something like this:  Your children, because of where they are in the developmental process, are about to leave you.  They, for all intents and purposes, are going to be snatched by aliens.  They will be returned to you in about 7-10 years when their frontal lobes are closer to being fully developed.  Be patient.  One day, your child will reappear as if they’d been there all along.  They’ll say “Good morning, Mom” and stand blinking in the kitchen wondering why they can’t find the cereal bowls even though you renovated the kitchen five years before.  It’s ok.  This is normal.  Good luck.

The first time I heard that speech, I burst into tears.

I want to cry now when I think of all of those under-cooked brains out there that are beleaguered by feelings of hopelessness and despair far beyond what the normal teenager feels.

The statistics are scary.  One out of every twenty teens is depressed.  Look at the average class size in a high school or middle school.  Do the math.  A great many go forth undiagnosed because these same children cannot articulate what is happening in their heads. Their parents, too busy negotiating traffic whilst eating something in a paper wrapper, aren’t listening.

Listen.  I’ll say it again in case you weren’t listening: listen.  This means shut up and listen.  Parents are great at talking and listening at the same time which…isn’t…really…helpful…it’s no wonder our kids spend a good portion of their time rolling their eyes at us.

Enter another girl.  Pretty and smart,she doesn’t think she is good enough for anything, not even living.  Another statistic, another teen suffering from depression.  She thought about doing what the other girl did.  The difference?  She asked for help.  She knew something was horribly wrong and she took the first steps to stop it.  She pushed her parents to listen, knowing that all the I love yous in the world were not enough.

People might sigh and exclaim, “But she is so young! So perfect!”  Yes but depression is an illness that knows no boundaries.  It can afflict anyone at any time. Is there hope?  Absolutely!  But, this other girl must work to re-wire her brain.  There will be setbacks and sparks might fly.  She must always be diligent, watchful, and aware.   If she can change the way she perceives herself now, she can carry that learning into her future like a torch held high to light her way.

The Dance


Fiction writers live in two vastly different worlds; the world of their imagination and the world of say, dirty diapers or  full litter boxes.  It’s a delicate dance sometimes – if a writer is not careful, hands could get…icky whilst daydreaming about a story.

I’ve never been much of a dancer, frankly.  I make no secret of preferring the land of make-believe to anywhere else; however, my reality is I have a husband and two children and a cat who is overly fond of her litter box.

A bigger danger than the aforementioned icky hands is when reality refuses to wait at the side of the dance floor for its turn.  Reality could be seen as an attention-starved brat who gets quite nasty when ignored.  Reality cuts in, not with a polite tap on the shoulder, but with a resounding thwack on the back of the head.

Let’s just say I’ve woken up with a headache for the last few days.  Reality wins; if it didn’t, I’d be carted off by some stern looking men in white jackets.

Because reality can be quite a bully sometimes, the writing inevitably suffers.  Unless, of course, you’re Aaron Sorkin who commented during an interview recently that he didn’t have to live in the real world.  Gee, that’s great for you Aaron.  Congrats.  I haven’t quite reached that level of wealth or arrogance. [Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Mr. Sorkin].

Some say writers should just write and damn anything that gets in the way!  Well, ignoring reality might mean we end up homeless or sick or really, really thin – none of which will aid the writing in the long run.  An author quoted in this month’s Poets & Writers said a full-time job, kids, and a life meant that writing takes a back seat at times.  No other choice.

Dancing between two worlds can be done but I worry that I’m too much of a klutz to pull it off.  I am comforted to know that everyone suffers the same bruised ankles and trodden on toes that I do.  The dancing might have to go on without me for a while, the stories have to sit on the sidelines and rest their feet.  They will be asked to dance again, never fear.



It’s been one of those days.weeks.  One of those weeks where I’m off-balance, off-kilter, off my friggin’ rocker. Some would say every week is like that with me and they might be right but this week feels worse than most.  Solar flares?  Dodgy planet alignment?  PMS? (re-named Perpetual Menstrual Syndrome)

A sampling as to why I might be nicknamed Madame Crankypants lately:

  • I can’t hear.  Seriously, my hearing is kaput, done.  I think.  I can’t be sure because my entire family mumbles and/or is plugged in headphones all the freaking time.  We could have been invaded by a family of howler monkeys yesterday my kids were so oblivious.  As it was, I stood in the kitchen talking to them without realizing for about 5 minutes.  WHAT?
  • I can’t see.  I tried to paint my toenails this morning.  I got more nail polish on the cat than I did on my toes.  In my defense, I have very small toes.
  • I had to go to Wal-Mart yesterday.
  • I lost my car in the Wal-Mart parking lot.  I nearly had to call my husband (not sure what good that would have done but he might have been able to make me laugh about it).  I had to pretend for 10 minutes that I was just casually strolling the pavement with my bag of melting frozen goods.  Tra la la…up and down aisles of cars…just out for a stroll, where the HELL is that car.
  • The Novel.  ‘Nuff said, y’all have heard enough whining about that for now
  • I can’t drive.  I used to be extremely competent behind the wheel.   Not so anymore.  I’m tentative, hesitant, distracted.  Awful.  I scraped the front bumper on the retaining wall of my own driveway.  With husband in car & neighbours watching.  AWFUL.
  • New stories are percolating in my brain.  They pop their little heads up at random times, distracting me – like when I’m trying to paint my toes.  Nothing strung together, just random bits.  They buzz like flies around my head.
  • The thought of a summe road trip down South.  SMACK! That’s the sound of the realization that I CANNOT, SHALL NOT go back to the land of my early 30’s in the shape I’m in now hitting me upside my head.  Working out makes me pretty; the thought of working out makes me cranky.

That’s just a sampling.  I could go on.  I’m just “off.”  Time to sign off and have a quick power nap.


The Cruelest Season


Spring:  season of rebirth, renewal.  Season of Hell.

I know, funny coming from me, the girl who wishes more fervently for warm weather than I wish cash grew on trees…well, almost.  But my house right now is not awash in joy.  We are awash in…how to put this…nasal secretions.  It does seem to be a never-ending constantly renewing natural resource.

I imagine the sounds coming from all three bedrooms in the morning must be akin to what London sounded like during the Great Plague.  I check the front door every morning to see if a city official has marked our house with a red X.

Don’t get me wrong folks – Spring is beautiful and bountiful – and I feel great.  It’s just that the other three members of my family are: hacking, sneezing, wheezing, coughing, scratching, blinking, and complaining.

Mind you, since we got Mad Alyss last August, The Man has been making all of these noises and more but oddly, without complaint.  Because he loves the cat.  He has been stoically enduring allergy and asthma symptoms that would have sent me to my grave long ago.  I’ve gotten quite used to checking his pulse in the middle of the night…

The other members of the clan are not so stoic.  They peer at me with red, bleary eyes and declare themselves unable to cope a minute longer.  I have bought out local supplies of:  Benadryl, Claritin, Reactine, and Mentos (a placebo that works quite effectively at shutting up the complaints).  I have injected sea water nose drops, rubbed Vapour Rub, and I have smelling salts on stand by (joking).  The vodka is for me.

Mother Nature mocks the sufferers with beautiful sunny weather.  Outside our bedroom window, our maple tree looks about to explode, its green buds fat with yellow-green pollen.  We keep the curtains drawn so as not to cause undue mental distress along with the respiratory.

It pleases my housemates not that I fail to suffer with them (although I do a little – but shhhhh).  I can’t say I let it get to me as I walk outside and gulp deep breaths of air without rushing for a kleenex.  They can still shoot daggers with those bleary eyes.  Ah, Spring….bring on the relief of hot humid weather (and a new chapter of complaints)!


Who’s That Girl? Oh S#(*, It’s Me…


Ever walked by a shop window or a big mirror, seen the reflection in the glass as you pass and wondered for a split second, “Who is that?” For once, I’d like to do it and think, “Who is that lovely, pulled-together, chic creature?”  and then realize it’s me. 

That exact scenario hasn’t happened yet.

Usually, what happens is I catch a glimpse in the glass and stifle a scream…or, at the very least I groan and quicken my pace.  But during my mini-writing retreat the reflection in the glass was inescapable.  I walked by a gigantic mirror in my hotel room between the sleeping area and the bathroom (hence the inescapable-ness); I then caught a glimpse of a grumpy looking stout woman in really bad clothing (in my defense, there was a draft in the room and I am a devout layerer.)

I stopped in mid-stride and did a double take.  Holy shitballs, I exclaimed out loud.  That’s what I look like.  I peeled off my bulky wool sweater and still the image refused to slim down.  I looked like a pear with pink and green mold growing on it.  Not a pleasant vision. 

When did this happen?  How did this pear-shaped creature take over my usual svelte self?  It dawned on me that I had perhaps taken the “fatten up to survive a Canadian winter” thing too far.  Sadder still is the realization that we had a really mild winter…

The really bad clothing problem can be rectified but the shape of me – well that’s another problem altogether and given the state of my idling  metabolism – it won’t be so easy to fix.  There are several very serious obstacles standing in my way.

Obstacle #1:  I am severely allergic to exercise.  Just the thought of planned physical activity can throw my back out or bring on a migraine.

Obstacle #2:  Exercise allergy notwithstanding, I have an unreasonable fear of fitness clubs.  I hate the music, the overabundance of spandex and sweat, the judging (bullshit, you know it happens). 

Obstacle #3:  Severe lack of funds.  Even if I could overcome #1 & #2, I can’t afford to join a gym.  I do have an exercise bike in my basement…somewhere…

and finally, we come to Obstacle #4:  Me.  As we all know, #4 is the only one that really counts and the one who drives all the others.  I see runners, joggers, and cyclists every day – I feel pangs of jealousy when I see them out there no matter what the weather.  They are better than me.  I run like a three-legged water buffalo.   I’m scared to death to cycle on city streets and that leaves walking.

But will walking be enough?  I think I will enlist my soccer star daughter as my personal trainer.  She is trained by a fairly maniacal coach who is a believer that fitness wins the game.  She can teach me some mat exercises, some core workouts, etc.  The problem is, who is going to make me do it?

I know – that stout woman in the hotel mirror.  I am finally at the point where I will do anything to avoid seeing her ever again.


To Catch a Thief, 2012


‘Member back in the good ole days when we worried about physical muggings or pickpockets who casually bumped into you on the  bus and heisted your wallet?  These days you can get mugged and not even know it until days later…when the bank calls…

Our bank called last night to politely inquire as to whether we had really purchased over $10k of electronics at two different stores on the opposite side of town.  “Um…honey?” my husband called.  He looked around, “Nope, same old tv we’ve always had.  Really?  So, nice stuff.” 

Apparently our muggers had expensive taste in electronics and helped themselves to quite a lot of it.  My credit card never left my wallet – and, as I found out from the bank this morning, – it never has to.  Thieves are very sophisticated these days and can obtain a wealth (pun intended) of information without hauling their dishonest asses out of a chair.

According to the bank, there are as many ways to get your credit card information as there are types of credit cards.  And here I thought if I shielded the pin pad with my hand while keying in the PIN, I was safe.  Ha.  I cut the woman off after she recited the fifth method; I just didn’t want to know any more.

And, why bother? I thought.  I can’t protect myself from these people.  The best thing I can do is make sure there is fraud protection in place through the credit card company.  Or, I can cut up all my cards and use cash only – but in this day and age, that’s just not practical.  And, as has always been the case, not the safest either.  But, honestly, I would rather a good old fashioned pocket picking to what happened to us last night.

To those who purchased that nice 55 inch flatscreen with surround sound system, 3D and built-in bar, I hope it falls on you while you’re trying to hook it up.  Karma, baby, karma.

Was it Something I Said?


Deep breath, Banshee…

Even casual conversations about health care are a dicey business.  I know that.  And being an ex-pat American living in Canada makes it even dicier.  I took the world’s best healthcare for granted until I moved to Canada – yes, I was one of the extremely lucky Americans who always had an excellent healthcare package through my job.  If I needed something, I called my doctor, got in to see him/her right away, and got on with my life.  I didn’t miss entire days of work waiting in a clinic or an emergency room nor did I waste countless hours calling around trying to find a doctor who took new patients.

From 2002 until 2006, my family went without a regular family physician here in Canada.  There were none.  If I drove by a clinic that had a “taking new patients” sign, I’d cross lanes, block traffic and perform other unsafe manoeuver to get to it.  When we  finally found someone who was taking new patients, we’d get one appointment and then be told  Dr. So-and-So was moving to Saskatoon, or Lethbridge, or Dubai.  I began interrogating doctors, “So, are you planning on moving, retiring, going into the Witness Protection Program, dying, or winning the lottery in the next 2 years?” 

In Calgary, procedures of all kinds, major or minor, had waiting lists.  Women went out-of-town to have their babies, sometimes driving up to 2 hours away for an OB/GYN appointment.

Toronto, Canada’s largest city, is not in much better shape.  The only difference here is that we have at least half a dozen hospitals to choose from in a 5 mile radius.  Because here, an Emergency Room visit is often the only way to get seen…by anyone.  We thought we had a lovely family doctor  only to find out that she left rather suddenly right before Christmas.  There was no warning, no letter, no notification from her office.  Gone.  Was it something I said?  Oh, I forgot to ask the Witness Protection question…

So now my daughter needs a diagnostic ultrasound on her shoulder and I have no doctor to write the actual referral.  I feel like I’m constantly chasing my tail and when it comes to my family’s health, this is not only frustrating  but scary.  I just got off the phone with the clinic.  They have one doctor left who is taking new patients…I’m trying not to picture the kid who gets picked last for the sports teams in gym…and I asked the receptionist (who told me this doctor is very nice):  “Do you have her chained to a desk so she can’t leave?”

She laughed.  So did I.  Then we both said at the same time, “It’s really not funny is it?”  No.  It’s not.

Lost in IKEA


Not too long ago, there was an  ad for IKEA lauding it as Swedish for “idea” but every time I shop at an IKEA store I have to wonder whether it was a good idea.  As I drive away sweaty, thirsty, and feeling as though I’ve just trekked through a very vast expanse of either jungle or desert, I wish I knew the Swedish translation for “frustration,” “exhaustion,” and “I don’t care how good the savings, is this really worth the effort?”

In fairness to the Swedes, I’m sure most of my difficulty with their iconic store is that I’m not well-versed in how to shop there.  I always wear the wrong footwear, I never remember to bring provisions – water bottle, high energy snackables, compass – and worse, I never enter the giant sliding doors with an iron-clad plan.

[When The Man goes with me, there is always a plan but since The Man would rather have all of his nose hair plucked out by a blind person with dull tweezers than go to IKEA, I often go alone.]

For shoppers like me who suffer from high anxiety and who are subject to ADD caused by over-visual stimulation, IKEA is not a good place to meander or browse.  There’s just too much to see, too many ways to get lost, and too many displays to knock over while turning in an aimless circle.

Even if I go in with trail mix and a plan, I am often thwarted right at the very end just when I think I’ve escaped without physical damage or emotional scarring.  As I barrel into the self-serve section pushing a trolley as big as a tractor trailer (and far less manoeuverable), I skid to a halt in Aisle 37B/subsection 1a only to find they have no more of the Stokholmen shelving in the off-white solid wood but have 500 of the same in the lingonberry mauve (foil finish).

Today I walked out with aching feet and feeling like a salmon who had just made the ardurous swim upstream (because I never, ever follow the arrows painted on the floor).  Any plan evaporated when faced with the vast array of things laid out to the horizon.

I left without even so much as a bag of Swedish meatballs (which I’d actually meant to buy).  Good ideas for IKEA (for next time):  don’t go alone.  Add Valium to the trail mix.  Rent a mobility scooter.  Learn Swedish for “clear the decks, coming through!”

Taking Back the House


Aaaaah.  I sit in total solitude, eyes closed.  It’s 8:27 a.m. and the last kidlet has left the house – Winter Break is over and I’ve got my house back.  I plop on the floor and try to relish the silence but am soon overwhelmed by the wet tongue of our latest houseguest, Miss Annie-Bear who is not a bear but a small dog.  Then, Mad Alyss arrives, starts swatting the dog and my brief moment of peace is over.

Nonetheless, the house is mine.  My Man is back to work, the kids are back to school.  I am on my own.  Sure, back to work and back to school means no more lazy mornings lying in bed until 10 a.m. but that’s ok.  It was time.  I was starting to drift like a boat without a rudder and the constant presence of others in my space was rapidly driving me mad.

Some consider my love of alone-ness problematic and unnatural.  I know so many people who must be constantly plugged into some device or have some sort of noise filtering through their bodies – stereo, television.  To me, that is unnatural.  What could be more organic and natural than silence?  Solitude and it’s accompanying silence is so necessary for deep reflection, thought, and meditation.  Quiet is essential to me and the only way I can write.  I envy people who can write novels in coffee shops and on the subway.  I’m just not wired that way.  So, alone I must be – but with purpose.   

The purpose, in this New Year, is not much changed from other years:  write, take care of me & my loved ones, eat healthier, and hold on to the wispy threads of my sanity.  To find a viable source of income without resorting to selling internal organs would be nice, too.  All of this takes work, focus, determination, and resolve.  Oh, and patience.  And, of course, quiet.

In the newly peaceful house, I will contemplate how to achieve my goals and then…off we go then, time to get to work.

In Praise of…Insulation


Most of the time, I take the roof over my head for granted and without complaint.  Some would argue.  Some would say I spend quite a lot of my time griping about it’s various faults, lack of amenities and high-end finishes and so forth.  Some would be right; I do.  I would counter argue that for three seasons of the year, my griping is done rather benignly, even quietly.

Until winter.

In winter, my voice struggles to be heard over the whine and howl of the wind coming through our 1970’s era windows that were not installed properly then.  My voice shakes and quivers, not from shyness or fear but because it tends to do so when the rest of my body is shivering violently from the cold.  As it does.  Every winter, in this cute little house. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I adore my house in spite of its archaic windows, creaky floors, and bizarre 1980’s “renovations.”  I just adore it slightly less in winter because when the wind blows either off Lake Huron or Lake Ontario, it tends to blow nearly unimpeded through my living room.   If the wind is blowing, we can’t light candles.

Our house has insulation issues or more boldly put, it has none.  Put your hand on any wall (even the interior ones) and you’re likely to get frostbit.  I’ve been in houses where there is proper insulation; oddly, this doesn’t happen.  I’ve walked on floors barefoot in houses with insulation.  My toes don’t turn white and tingle. 

I watch, green with envy, those renovation shows where the walls have been taken down to the framing.  Standing in what looks like space suits are men wielding hoses.  Spewing in a rainbow of pinks, purples, and blues (depending on R-value?) is a frothy stream of foam insulation being sprayed between the studs.  I sigh heavily and wonder how wonderful it would be to have those little space men in my house.

I would be happy with one dude with jeans worn below where it’s decent and proper with one hose spewing pieces of cellulose insulation.  I’m told this wouldn’t require us to remove all the drywall in our house – they can just bore one or two holes and blow it into the walls.  Not as space-age and airtight as liquid foam but surely better than nothing.

My insulation dreams are all for naught…unless we come into some lottery money.  My kid needs braces.  Insulation is a luxury we cannot afford at the moment and so, I pull on another sweater and leave my fleece-lined boots on.  I reach for my headphones so I can’t hear the wind’s soft whistle through the walls.

[Note: to those reading who might take issue with my version of reality; I’m a writer and therefore, entitled to artistic license.  In other words, I tend to exxagerate, embellish, amplify, and even overstate, with unabashed gusto.  I know that the wind doesn’t really whistle through the walls…it’s more like a soft “whooshing” sound.]