Sunday, 18 April 2021

Life in motion

Spring is well on its way here. Trees are budding. The tulips I planted at home and at school are pushing up through the dirt (hurrah! I was truly afraid that literally none of them would come up.)  We had a spontaneous playground/backyard visit with friends yesterday. Children played; adults talked. No screens involved. We still remember how to do it. We still like each other.

The Rockies, however, are still covered in pristine white and we get days of fluffy rain mixed in with our sunshine. This was a walk taken on a chillier day, which was nevertheless beautiful and peaceful (on colder days we can have the parks mostly to ourselves). Captured mid-step, mid-dance, I like this photo because it reminds me that life is always about motion, transformation, travel. You prepare as best you can, get dressed up beautifully (but of course!), put on your rain boots in anticipation of epic puddles,  and then you just go with it. 

My most recent favourite quotation:

In the place of stillness, rises potential. From the place of potential, emerges possibility. Where there is possibility, there is choice. And where there is choice, there is freedom!
—Gabrielle Goddard

Sunday, 4 April 2021

Big Picture Window

“In the big picture window, we can watch the world go by”

Big Picture Window, by Matthew and Jill Barber

Thursday, 1 April 2021


 Dani helped me do my hair this morning.

When I asked her how it looked, she said "Nigly." (NIE-glee).  As far as I can tell, this is an amalgamation of "nice" and "ugly."

I like it.

Tuesday, 12 January 2021


I’ve been trying to develop some traditions around New Year’s. I find it such an awkward holiday. We are not party people, not even before 2020.

A couple of things we repeated this past year that we started in 2019: playing with lots of balloons and watching The Lady and the Tramp.

This might become a tradition too: everyone made a painting of their choice on New Year’s Eve/Day:

AJ: “Cupcake”

Dani: “The Water With My Dragon”

Mr Turtle: “The Plight of the Swedish Fish”

Me: “Fear No Evil”

There is something surprisingly therapeutic about painting.

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Last of the 2020 musings (12/21 to 12/31)

I don't think I have any one thing to say to sum up 2020. But since I have some time to myself for the last two weeks, I'll use the metaphor of a tapestry and see what occurs to me between Solstice and New Year’s Eve.

Loose threads from the past that were woven into something:

The last of the anxiety about fertility (or lack of it, whatever) is essentially gone. Our family of four is exactly what it should be in my mind, and I am grateful things wrapped up as neatly as they have. One reason I'm pretty sure of this: My new co-teacher (we started working together in September) is currently trying to conceive! And she is now a patient of the same fertility clinic we went to!  Whatever issues she and her partner face (it's not very clear at the moment) they seem less serious than what Mr. Turtle and I dealt with. (Who really knows though.) How do I feel about this? Well I feel happy to be in a position where I can be supportive and understanding of her, to some degree. And that's about it. I'm neither anxious nor envious. Maybe that will shift a bit at some point, but I doubt it will significantly. I gave her my copy of Navigating the Land of IF, with a brief explanation of what in it I found helpful. I hope things work out for her. But I'm also enjoying the fact I'm in the mother/crone phase of life and don't have to worry about that stuff anymore.

Perhaps more disturbingly, our new classroom (we moved partway through the year to a big shared space instead of two classrooms) is right across from the washroom where I had my traumatic early pregnancy bleeding with AJ.  At first I avoided it. Then I admitted to my colleagues I had an unpleasant association with that washroom, listened to their sympathy, and started using it like it was any other washroom. I'm not particularly affected by going in there. But even if I do feel a bit weird about it, I'm going to keep using it until the weirdness goes away.  The reading and discussion I've undertaken in the past years has convinced me that avoidance is the wrong way to deal with fear and other negative feelings.

Overall, I feel about babies and pregnancy much the same way I feel about other (mostly happy) things in the past. There’s an ache of nostalgia for times passed away, but mostly I’m too involved and interested in current challenges and pleasures to get pulled deeply into it. And I can’t say I feel jealous of people for whom having babies is still an option. I mean....good for them, but also good for me for not having that particular complication.

Threads pulled loose, threatening tangles or holes:

Covid-19 and attempts to contain it obviously made this year very, very weird. My life was not an exception to that. At the same time I wouldn't say my foundations have been shaken too seriously. I mostly feel strong.  Again I believe that this year showed the fruit of all the work I have been doing over the last 5 years to learn who I am and become more adaptable, intuitive, and centred. It's not finished by any means, and there are days when I feel defeated and foolish. But I feel much less lost overall than I did in the last 5 years or even last year.  I'm relating to people at lot more confidently. So, not many holes or tangles or loose threads, really.

Something I did mean to do this year but never did in person was explore one or more church communities. Mostly that was due to Covid and resulting shutdowns, although even prior to that I truly had no idea how to fit another commitment into our busy lives. But I have had a conviction, from about a year ago, that it is something I should do. Mr Turtle and I talked about it and agreed, which was exciting, but then  things got muddled. Still, it’s very much on my mind and I’m engaging with those desires and ideas by reading and listening to podcasts and conversations.

Surprising pictures in the tapestry:

Professionally, I learned more this past year than I have in recent memory. A lot of what I learned was technical and related to online learning. But even before those shifts I gained a lot of confidence in thinking and adapting on the run.  I didn't always enjoy it and during the last school year in particular I wished so badly that I knew some short cuts and ways to make life easier! But I definitely did work some creative muscle and once I got my wits together and my anxiety even slightly tamed, I felt like a whole new person. 

Speaking of anxiety, of course it has been a theme of this blog for a while, and I tend to consider myself an anxious person.  But I learned something rather important about myself this year: Danger, challenge and risk taking do not activate my anxiety.  Of course I can feel fear, but not the horrible paralyzing terror that makes me doubt every decision, every bit of information, every step forward and slows time to an agonizing death crawl that nevertheless seems to move faster than I can think.  No, what seems more likely to make me anxious is trying to be normal. 

Trying to be normal is still worth it. I don't regret any of the ways I've pushed myself to have the life I have now, which is so much better than anything I dared picture in my youth. Still, I'm thinking I might actually be better suited to challenge and crisis than I am to "business as usual." It's an interesting thought. When the going gets weird, the weird get going.

The family tapestry:

AJ: Six years old, beautiful, creative, expressive. Still wants to be an artist (mostly), or maybe a "dance performer." I continue to point out to her (probably obnoxiously) that "you can always have another job too, you know." I was raised to be practical; it sticks. She has made strides in learning to read since starting Grade 1 (meaning she got motivated to try.) Also really likes math. She claims not to be competitive but she totally is.  AJ is very much into dragons, gems and crystals (How to Train Your Dragon movies, also some Hobbit which I read to her periodically.) She is learning tap dance and piano this year.

Dani: closer to three than two now, so I tend to think of her as three. Looking like a little girl, not so much a toddler or baby anymore. Still my baby though. Well they both are. She talks a lot recently, and loves to dance and sing and count. Cute things she currently does:

  • Dani and AJ both love The Croods and Dani learned to do the perfect imitation of Belt’s “Dun dun DUN!” which is too funny.
  • She has started saying “This is my HOME!” about our house, with great happiness, as if it only just occurred to her (maybe it did). It’s very sweet and it makes me want to give three cheers of agreement every time she says it.
  • Dani always talks about “my dance class” though unfortunately she has never been to one. I took AJ to mommy/toddler classes but such things are not available right now. I am not sure if Dani really wants a dance class or she thinks life is one big dance class.
AJ and Dani are close though they squabble a fair bit too as I imagine most siblings do.  Still little enough that family is the centre of their world, which is a wonderful privilege and opportunity for us. AJ also continues to do fabulously in school, and I’m so grateful for her teachers and community there.

Mr Turtle is very close to being a full registered psychologist, after years (beginning in 2013) of getting a masters and all the other steps including exams and supervision. We love our long conversations when we can fit them in, though the pandemic has somewhat limited our ability to get away together. 

My mom has struggled a lot with isolation the last few months in particular. We see her regularly and I’ve increasingly tried to accept and embrace my changing role in supporting her. I did initially struggle with being put into more of a caregiver role as it feels like losing a parent in a way.....the relationship if not the person, if that makes sense. There are emotions like frustration and resentment as well as love and worry and concern and empathy. I have my dad’s “let’s find a solution” mentality I think. It’s not easy for me to deal with people/situations where there is no solution. I’m not very good at the (feminine) thing where you “hold space.”

 But I’ve tried to embrace my strengths, admit to the frustrations and take responsibility for them, and do what needs to be done to take care of the future, meaning not avoiding or denying the challenges. My mom continues to live on her own but has been getting more professional help and my brothers and I have gotten more skilled at assisting her and at working together. Always I try to remember that no matter how difficult a situation is, there are ways to make it worse. So I try to always focus on what 1) won’t make things worse and 2) may make things better, in that order.  Actually, that’s been a pretty good approach for most everything that has happened this year.

That probably sums up most of the learning and challenges of 2020. It’s been a good year, or if it hasn’t been “good” by some subjective standard I at least feel good about how we handled what came at us. And that’s the most meaningful kind of “good” in my mind. Also, at this point in life I cannot pretend to myself that I am immortal. That illusion started to slip quite a few years ago and it’s pretty much gone now.  And so I do not want to wish away any remaining years of my life, nor even months, days, weeks or minutes. They are all too precious.  I would not trade the present for any imagined future. This is life, here, now. I can’t always choose my circumstances, but I can choose how I respond to them. And in that moment of decision, I have found my freedom and my courage.

Happy new year!

Monday, 12 October 2020

Thankful 2020 (so far, so good)

It’s Canadian Thanksgiving and seems like an appropriate time to add something to the record. I have a lot to be thankful for, both obvious and less obvious.

Six weeks into the 2020-2021 school year, here are the obvious things to be thankful for:

AJ and Dani  have adjusted well to their school day routines. 

Dani (two years, eight months) is full time at the daycare and is happy to go and see her friends. I don’t see directly what their space looks like nor what they do as parents aren’t allowed past the door. But her attitude is enough proof for me that she is doing well.  Dani loves collecting rocks, riding  tricycles and having her own opinions on everything.

Ditto for AJ. She loves Grade 1 and her teacher. Whatever they are doing at school for Covid 19 precautions doesn’t appear to phase her at all. She wears her mask most of the day without comment. The only thing that she complains about is that there is some sort of schedule of cohorts for the playground which means she doesn’t go there often. I often get requests to go after school. She has a few good friends in her class.

AJ turns six in a couple of weeks. I planned her party a couple of weeks earlier so we could hopefully be outside for most of it. We are going to a kids’ farm with a few friends to hang out with the animals and possibly play in the park if weather permits. I have warned AJ it might not come off exactly as anticipated for all sorts of reasons but she is philosophical about the whole thing so far. 

So far our family has stayed healthy so life carries on mostly normal with the precautions that have become routine. Family gatherings are smaller than previously but we continue to see our family in Calgary regularly, which is very important especially for my mom who has struggled the most with the isolation. We live without guarantees, but we live.

My high school year: also so far, so good. Or even, dare I say it, great. As far as not having Covid cases at school, I have to say I believe it is mostly luck. The students are good about wearing masks. Social distancing, not so much. We try to stagger class changes informally (keeping kids till the bell is a thing of the past, and tacitly accepted.) Still, despite reasonable best efforts, I have no doubt that one infected person could easily cause an outbreak, and odds are it will happen at some point, though I hope for the best. My former high school and staff was featured in the school board’s instructional video for Covid precautions. Ironically they were the first school in the city to have an outbreak declared.

The not so obvious things to be thankful for:

My new co-teacher and I have confessed to each other, almost with embarrassment,  that this has been the most pleasant and low stress opening to the school year either of us can remember (we are similar aged). Why this seeming miracle? We have very small classes, even by special ed standards. A few students, mostly the older ones, opted for online education for at least a few months. We know most of the others well, as I either taught them grade 9 or she taught them in the previous years. We have a well bonded little group and not too many issues (so far). The two of us also work very well together. I am more the dreamer and she helps us stay real and not take on too many schemes that take hours of prep. 

Also, Google Classroom. Although we are back in person, there was never any doubt in my mind that I would use Google classroom as a learning tool and remote teaching back up. My co teacher was not as familiar with it and was dubious at first, but I assured her it really would make things easier. And by God, it does. I am more organized now than I have ever been in my career. We share plans and ideas with a couple of clicks of a mouse. We have even added on  colleagues outside our school and substitute teachers to share ideas and curriculum with them. We can work on projects in real time with the students while staying socially distanced.  The opportunity in all this pandemic-caused disruption is to learn new ways of doing things, to move beyond limitations that don’t need to be there. All this is benefitting our students who have the opportunities created by our shared energies and creativity.

Compared with this time last year, I am shockingly confident, relaxed and optimistic. And I am actually profoundly grateful for all the non Covid-related  struggles I had last fall. I feel like I went to mental health boot camp, and when pandemic crazy happened I was able to go into the battle strong. I cannot overstate the difference it has made to switch my self image from....whatever it was seeing myself as someone who leads, or at least stands out in front.

The other thing which cannot be overstated, is what an advantage it feels like to be able to stay in my community. Again, whatever turns of fate got me to where I am now, no matter how unthrilled I might have been about specific situations in the past, I am so lucky now to be in the position I am. My home, daycare, AJ’s school and my school are minutes apart. I literally drop off Dani and cross the street.  I am not a fan of the identity group based, atavistic energies of our cultural moment. Bleah! So much NO.  But my tribal instinct, if any, is now centred squarely on my local community.  I have located myself in time and space and this is where I will aim to make a positive difference. For now.

I could go on and on; I could explore all the reasons I’ve come to this moment. I could also be writing another entry in a couple of days starting “wow everything has turned into a shit show.” But I have faith in the moment, and in myself. As the Samurai proverb says: “Take arrows in your forehead, never in your back.”

The pumpkin cake AJ made with her Grandna over FaceTime.

Monday, 31 August 2020

Summer 2020 and what’s next

Obviously I haven’t been blogging regularly but I feel like I should add something to my work and life in the middle of pandemic entries.

  • We finished the 2019-2020 school year distance teaching / learning. While a great many things about the whole situation were not ideal, for reasons that don’t take much imagination, I believe we made the best of it. Most salutary for me was the experience of taking on a leadership role through the process and observing how that affects me mentally and emotionally.
  • Summer 2020 was really very good, overall. We reached our tenth wedding anniversary in July. The plan was to return to one of the locations of our honeymoon, Arizona with our kids and in laws. That didn’t happen obviously.
  • However, with about a week to go I thought of an alternate plan. We spent the day at the historical village where we held our wedding. I hired the photographers who took our maternity and family photos to get some pictures to mark the occasion. We spent an hour doing that then the rest of the day playing at the park. Not as many attractions were open due to Covid-19 but it was a beautiful day with enough to keep us entertained. We ended with dinner at a restaurant.
  • We managed some mini vacations in our province including the first time ever camping with the kids.
  • We remain healthy. Everyone in our family has gotten at least one Covid-19 test, including asymptomatic ones. All negative.  I am grateful that our province makes testing very easy so that the process is minimally disruptive though still unnerving.
  • School is back in person tomorrow. In the big picture of things, I feel fortunate. I am back at the high school I taught before AJ was born. My class is small and I know most of my students as I taught them in grade 9 last year. For the first time in my career, I walked into a classroom that was completely empty of other people’s stuff. Apart from making it very easy for me to meet the new space and no clutter rules, it has made a huge difference in my stress level.
  • Who knows what tomorrow brings though: everything changes so quickly. I try not to emotionally commit to any particular scenario too much.  What I think about is how to be as adaptable as possible and build strong trusting relationships. I do trust the people around me and this is enhanced by being back in my community. I work a five minute drive from home; Dani’s daycare is across the street; AJ’s school is about 3 minutes away. I even found a dance class for AJ a couple of minutes from her school. Mr Turtle is developing work from home plans at his office. All of these things give me confidence and safety.