Sunday, 30 June 2013

It digs beneath my surface

It must have been crippling for my mother when she had to leave my sister and me behind.
Now and then I think about how it was for her and I can’t escape this truth: Mutilation. That’s how it would surely feel if someone told me I could no longer see Deaglan and Naveen every day, no longer inhale the nape of their necks whenever I needed to.

Mutilation with no hope of medical treatment.

Last night I stayed up late reading this and by the middle of page 45 I had to put it down. I cried noiselessly into my hands trying not to wake my family. It’s not surprising that his writing has this effect. I wept deeply in places when I read this and this. Khaled Hosseini’s storytelling digs beneath my surface everytime. I believe his words to ring true because essentially he tells the stories of my history too.
He tells stories that push me to the brink of gratitude and guilt.

Last night I surveyed my life; my fortunate, easy life. I wondered for the thousandth time since coming to this country how much different it could have been if I was still in Bangladesh. I cried more. I saw no logic. I looked over at Naveen who was asleep beside me, his long dark lashes settled fanlike on his sun-kissed brown cheeks. Earlier in the day, at Costco, we’d indulged him and walked up and down the vacuum aisle three times so he could savor each model, each make, the different colors and sizes. I thought too of Deaglan, who stopped playing long enough that morning to lightly touch my big toe and tell me that he loved my toenail polish. His sometimes version of “I love you.”
Last night I had to put the book down.

Those kinds of stories, the ones about real suffering and real sorrow weigh on me heavily. I find myself unable to process them for long stretches. It’s a weakness. Just like the way I am acutely aware that I have not yet ever written a letter to either of the girls we sponsor. I’ve never sent them the small gifts they are allowed to receive. Never sent them pictures of my boys or our life.
I justify it.

I justify it by remembering how it felt for me in the orphanage when other children would receive photo albums from their new parents in Canada or America. Photos of large lavish homes. Cars. Televisions. I remember how it felt to suddenly want things you didn’t even know existed. Want things you didn’t even know you needed.
Last night. I read the book and thought of these things. I thought about how it must have been for my mother.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Just the right words

Last night we had an episode at our house.

I was settling the kids in after Naveen’s Blastball game (think pre T-ball, pre-pre baseball) and an extra hour of play past bedtime because, well you know how hard it is to be a kid and agree to go to bed while it’s still bright and sunny outside, when we reached official episode status.

By the time we made it upstairs I was tired, and hot. And in no mood.
I was in no mood for the usual delay tactics:

Mom, I’m hungry,
Mom, I just want to say goodnight to Daddy one more time
Mom, I have to go find my Spiderman
And on
and on.
So when he asked me I told Deaglan he would not be allowed to go down one more time – it was bed time. End of bloody story.

“I’m mad at you Mommy!”

“I’m okay with that, now please go to sleep.”

“You hurt me and that’s why I’m mad at you.”

“Hurt you?? When?”

“A long time ago, you hurt me.”

“Hurt you how? Accidentally?? Or do you mean I hurt you when I spanked you?”


Have I not told you that we occasionally spank our kids? I'll wait here while you consider how that makes you feel. It's a polarizing statement, I know.  Go ahead and take your time. I'll understand if you decide this is no longer a place you'd like to stop by...
You still here?

When I say occasionally, I mean rarely. To be honest I’m not even sure why we do it. We get much better results when we send them to the time out bench or take away a toy or do the old "I'm going to count to three".

You know, sophisticated parenting.

A swat to their bottoms usually gives us no results. Sometimes we get a momentary pause before they carry on with what they were doing, sometimes a giggle and often a “that didn’t hurt”.

Let me tell you the long story that started it all.
Shaune and I agreed even before we had kids that we would never ever spank our children. It didn’t seem to make any sense for us to hit when ultimately we wanted to raise gentle, peaceful kids. We were strong in our position.

We felt good about it.
We were united.
We stood firm.

Then Deaglan turned three.

One hot summer day that June, I ignored the nagging voice in my head advising me otherwise, and took both kids for a walk; Naveen in the stroller and Deaglan on his tricycle. We’d been cooped up inside in the shelter of air conditioning out of reach of the stifling heat. But Deaglan was dangerously close to exploding if he didn’t soon get an exercise break, so we ventured out. 
In hindsight I should have taken my chances and stayed in.

Because, it was hot. It was hot and Deaglan was uncooperative.

He stopped listening to my instructions to wait at the end of the sidewalk before crossing, early on, which forced me to constantly park the stroller mid-sidewalk, run up ahead, and bring him back to where I was. The sun was unrelenting that day, nary a wind to be found, so that I had to stop every few minutes to offer the kids water.

Deaglan refused to drink.

Besides refusing to hydrate and heed my crosswalk directions, he also refused to keep his hat on his head which meant that every few minutes I had to back track and retrieve it. Twenty minutes into the walk, when I could see his face was flushed from the heat, I stopped to assess the situation. We were now far enough from home that his uncovered head and uncooperative demeanour had me panicking a little. I poured some of the water he wouldn’t drink over his hair and patted a little onto his shoulders. It felt right to try to cool him down. He didn’t agree.

He went ape-shit crazy.

He shoved aside the tricycle and ran out into the street wild and crying. Cars came to screeching halts. My heart rose up into my throat. I braked the stroller and ran out to grab him. When we got back onto the sidewalk I asked him why he was so upset. He told me he didn’t want water on his head. Before I could explain why I’d done it he ran again, a wee madman with no hat on.

I felt half out of my mind with panic and fear.

I  ran out again and grabbed him. This time I threw him over my shoulder and spanked his diaper-covered rear. On the sidewalk I put him down and spanked his bottom again, telling him that what he’d done was unacceptable. I plopped him into the stroller beside Naveen. They were squished together but at least they were contained.

I was shaking.

I slung the tricycle awkwardly over my back and pushed the stroller home, a caricature of the hunchback on a hot summer’s day. The hunchback who’d just spanked her child for the first time.

I texted Shaune when we got home. I told him what I’d done. Confession-style. The phone rang immediately. It was Shaune. We lingered in silence for a few seconds. Then he broke the silence with this, “Well it’s high time we started hitting that kid. He had it coming!”

Last night when Deaglan accused me of hurting him, I felt sick and wounded. I searched back for a time in recent history I might have spanked him. A time when he’d likely crossed the line in the sand I’d drawn out for those rare occasions. I couldn’t remember a time where he’d even flinched after I'd warned and warned and finally swatted him.

I asked Shaune to come upstairs. I needed backup for this.  It worried me that he kept saying I’d hurt him but couldn't pinpoint when or how. I was getting nowhere with the specifics. Shaune sat him up and asked him to explain what he meant.

“Tell me how Mommy hurt you D (He rarely calls any of us by our given names). When did it happen? Was it when she spanked you?”


“Did she accidentally hurt you?”


“Then what?”

“She hurt my feelings when she wouldn’t let me go downstairs tonight and sneak up on you.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. Even though I felt clear that I'd never hurt my own child, for a  few minutes I felt unsure. Had I done something unintentionally? Had I been rough in a moment of anger?

I apologized for hurting his feelings.  Yet I stood firm that it was bedtime. I asked him to let me in on his plans next time explaining that had I known he wanted to play a prank on Daddy, I would have helped him. Even then, he stayed angry at me, refusing to kiss me goodnight.

I lay in bed feeling something very close to awe. 

I'd only recently learned to express my feelings. Growing up, I automatically bottled up anything that was unpleasant or negative. I was always agreeable. Always pleasing. Always pleasant. Even now I struggle when I must tell someone I’m angry or hurt. I grew up around people who rarely expressed themselves properly or appropriately.

Yet here was my five year old with just the right words.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Simple, human and oh so far from perfect

I’ve spent a lot of time this past year wishing we had a bigger house in a different neighbourhood. 

The truth is, we’re quickly outgrowing our three-bedroom semi-detached with its shared front yard and driveway. I think six years ago Shaune and I made an inadvertently good decision. At the time it was in our price range but we couldn’t have known then how much two children, childcare (Close to $15,000 this year!) and everything else that comes with family life would someday cost us .

Over the years, we’ve grown attached to our little street, made some very good friends with our neighbours and to my delight have connected with some of the parents of Deaglan’s school friends because they live on our street or the one only a block over. 

It satisfies a deep yearning I’ve always had, to plant myself firmly in a home, feel connected to it and the people close by.

And yet in the back of my mind I know this rootedness is only practice for the next house we move to. The one I keep calling our “forever” home; the one I imagine will be in another part of town, flanked by like-minded neighbours with kids the same ages as ours, comparable salaries and jobs, maybe a pool in the backyard, and definitely a double car garage for Shaune.

I didn’t grow up dreaming of grand things. 

It never occurred to me to imagine a large wedding or granite countertops. I didn’t know I was supposed to want crown moulding or an ensuite. And I watch myself even now, on some level, keeping a distance from a crowd that might make me think these things are important.

A few days ago Deaglan told me that one of his friends, his best friend actually, during play at school, constantly threatens to call the police when things aren’t going right or his way. I dug around a bit with gentle questions and it turns out Reid* threatens to call the “cops” if he feels he’s been wronged or mistreated somehow. He does this all the time according to my boy. I added this information to something else Deaglan told me about Reid a few weeks ago which is that once in a while Reid goes to his Daddy’s house on the weekends without his Mommy.

My heart hurt for Reid. I couldn’t help but play out the scenes of his parents fighting, sometimes violently, before they decided to separate.

Last night our neighbour across the street walked over with her two oldest children. She wanted to let me know that her husband had been arrested again. She wanted us to know in case we were wondering why we hadn’t seen Marcus* around lately. 

Their oldest child is also in Deaglan’s class, a tiny raven-haired beauty with the inkiest black eyes you've ever seen. I adore all three kids but this girl, well there’s something about her that makes me ache for a daughter.  We’d socialized with the family a few times and almost always call the two oldest girls over to play in our backyard on sunny days.

The mother, my neighbour from across the street, told me that she’d lied to the kids (ages five, four and two), told them that Daddy had gone back to Jamaica* to visit his sick father and might have to stay there for a while. She didn’t think the oldest girl, Deaglan’s classmate, believed it.

All last night my heart hurt for those kids and especially for that little girl. I couldn’t get her hauntingly beautiful but sad eyes out of my mind.

And while I lay there, something else crept in. It wasn’t as noble. It snuck in the way it always does; when I wasn't paying attention. It filled me with shame. I was reminded that I am still, afterall, simple, and human and oh so far, far from perfect.

It was a whisper of a voice urging me to move my family to a better neighbourhood; one without jail sentences and late-night domestic calls.

All day that family across the street, the one with the dad who is sitting in a jail cell, all day they were on my mind. I wondered what was better for my boys: to live in a neighbourhood where backyard barbecues and two-parent families is the norm or one where we are forced to witness the realities of real life.

The truth is, I don’t know.

*Not their real names. Not the real place.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

I feel healthier for it

Last week I met a woman I immediately liked.
She was tall, thin and authentic, with a feline quality about her face and movements but she had this way, unlike a cat, of disarming me. I watched her as we talked and decided I really liked her outfit. She was wearing good quality lounge-wear. I could tell it was more about comfort and texture for her though. She probably didn’t buy her clothes because they were Lululemon but because when she tried them on, they felt nice against her skin. I’m not even sure that they were Lululemon, just my best guess. The colors suited her creamy skin and auburn hair; olives and beiges.  

I made a mental note to wear my hair in a side pony as soon as I had the right occasion and felt something close to desperation to lose five pounds. Immediately.

She sat in a wingchair that I could tell had been purchased because it fit her esthetic. Her orange Persian cat lay snuggled in beside her. A few times it yawned and did a cat-like stretch but then settled down again between the outside of her thigh and the arm of the chair. It was odd that it didn’t seem odd to me at all. The cat belonged there and throughout our time together she made not one mention of it.

On second thought, I realized she’d chosen the pieces in the room because it likely made most people feel the way it was making me feel; relaxed and easy.

It’s not an easy thing though, meeting a new therapist for the first time. All sorts of anxieties run through your head. Will I like this person? Do I believe she’s qualified to help me through this particular issue? Will I feel judged so that I end up defeating myself, trying to be a good teacher-pleasing student instead of a fee-paying adult who needs to work through something? Will I act on her advice?

I’ve met many new therapists in my adult life.

Every few years I find myself on someone new’s  intentionally chosen couch. Each course of therapy is usually my last attempt at resolving an issue that has come to a head; an issue that surely developed out of the not so simple childhood that was mine. Something that will not be fixed by reading the right book or writing about it or resolving to change.

Sometimes I end up looking at the same issue from several different angles, in several courses of therapy because I just can’t seem to find a neat and tidy solution in five or six sessions. I feel healthier for it. I have absolutely no qualms about getting myself mental help. Talking things through, using cognitive behavioral techniques to change my thinking and actions seems to work for me.

I think I’ll always need to talk to someone when I get lost.

I really liked her. She was empathetic and fair in such a good way. She stopped me in all the right places, asked me some questions that despite my best efforts broke some anciently crafted dam so that I had to stop and cry into my hands, embarrassed and worrying about my makeup.

I’ll go back to see her and work through this.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Getting caught up in the right things

 We ate a whole lotta cake over the weekend.
 We visited with lots of friends and almost all of our family.
 We got caught up in Naveen and it was so, so good.
Shaune was up to his usual know, knocking our socks off with things like this: A  surprise vacuum cleaner cake for the birthday boy.
 Because it didn't seem right to let these years go by without acknowledging his love of household cleaning appliances.


We extended the weekend and snuck away to see a dear, dear friend. I needed to hug her again; let her know that even though things aren't the same as they were when we had all the time in the world to hang out, I think about her all the time; that time, distance and busy-ness does nothing to change how much I love her.

Deaglan learned how lovely and gentle Golden Retrievers are. (Maggie, Kathy's sweet, sweet dog, was so patient while Deaglan "taught" her all sorts of tricks)
We turned a 26 hour trip into a mini vacation. After visiting with Kathy and Maggie, we swam in the hotel pool, and then this morning, we walked the block from our hotel to see the Falls again. I asked a passerby to please take a picture of the four of us. This was the best we could get. In hindsight, we should have waited to hit the candy store till after we were done sight seeing.
Sometimes the best times come with hardly any planning at all.