Sunday, 19 September 2021

Pause




Sunday afternoon AJ, Dani and I were at one of our favourite parks/playgrounds. We call it “The Secret Playground” because it is tucked into a grove of trees at the end of a street and you could miss it completely if you don’t know it is there. I love it because it feels like you are in a forest meadow. There are tall evergreen trees, small fruit trees, and tangles of lilacs as well as playground equipment. The kids love all of it, often disappearing into greenery or up trees when they are done with the playground. You can always hear birds and often spot a woodpecker. These mild autumn days, the sky is a stunning blue above.

There is also a  Little Free Library in the park, a cupboard where people can take or leave books. The girls always run to check it out. On this day AJ found a battered old board book and Dani brought me a yellowed, cracked paperback that I barely glanced at. We read the board book together. I convinced AJ to put it back, and then the girls ran off to play and I picked up the paperback to return it too.

Something caught my eye; I’m not sure what. I changed my mind and took it back to the bench with me.





I had no familiarity with Gilda Radner or her work. I didn’t have a TV as a child and my parents didn’t care for pop culture (that’s a whole other story). My first assumption was that she was some 80s daytime TV star that housewives watched. But even this thought generated curiosity. I couldn’t care less for celebrity culture in general, but older books arouse a kind of anthropological interest in me. Our world changes so fast that reading something from a few decades ago is like a peek into a foreign, but also familiar culture.

The books begins in 1981 when Gilda is 35 and 
falling in love with Gene Wilder. She is a comedian and TV star, and trying to start a career in movies. But her new romance also fills her with dreams of a domestic existence. Chapter 2 is titled “The baby and the movie star.” Gilda was three years younger than my mother, but doesn’t at all resemble my mother, nor would I say she particularly resembles me. I felt bemused reading about her frenetic energy and shifting priorities. However, she is the sort of woman that I grew up aware of: a life focused on potential, the ever present message that you could “be anything,” do anything, filled with belief in unbounded potential and time.  After her wedding, Gilda says:

When I got home, I ordered stationary that said “Gilda Radner” and “Mr and Mrs Radner.” I was uneasy for a while trying to figure out when to be Gilda Radner, thr TV star, when to be Gilda Radner, a brand new person, when to be Mrs Gene Wilder, the wife of the international movie star, and when to be Mrs G. Wilder, just another blushing bride.
I decided I could be them all.

Gilda admits she stopped using birth control after she began her relationship with Gene, hoping a pregnancy would motivate him to commit to her. But when they marry in 1984, she is 38 and pregnancy hasn’t happened. She goes for a hysterosalpingogram, which shows blocked Fallopian tubes. This leaves three choices: IVF, surgery to open the tubes, or adoption. Gene is willing to try for a baby but points out they should not ruin their relationship or lives. They opt for IVF.

The historic account of IVF is both familiar but with an added layer of terror. Perhaps it is just me, but older accounts of medical procedures have the feel of a  sophisticated horror movie. Just add an internal scream or whimper after each of the following sentences: Gene and Gilda make seven embryos, but transfer “only” four, to avoid multiples. They give permission for the remaining three embryos to be destroyed because the clinic doesn’t have facilities to freeze them. Gilda must fast and lie inclined on her back for several hours after transfer, to increase chances of implantation. A week later, she starts bleeding heavily and IVF is proven a failure. Gilda is willing to try it all again but Gene, probably to his credit, refuses.

Next, Gilda has the operation to open her tubes. It is successful and she looks forward to “just” having timed sex to conceive. This is the part of the story I could personally relate to the most as that was essentially our strategy. Gilda learns of course that it can be as exhausting as fertility treatments in its own way. Like me, Gilda used ovulation predictor kits to determine when she was ovulating. I sometimes wondered why they are called “kits” when it is just a stick you pee on. Well, mystery solved. Here is how you used an ovulation predictor kit in the 80s:

I bought one of those ovulation kits where you are the scientist. You have to catch some of your first urine of the morning in a cup, mix with some powder, wait ten minutes, mix something else, wait ten minutes, mix with another thing, wait a half hour, dip a stick into the mixture and match it up with a colour chart to see whether it is blue or green or yellow. The kit costs about eighty dollars for one cycle. I didn’t tell Gene I was doing this. He was already wondering about my sanity.
Trying to conceive naturally also takes an emotional toll. After IVF, Gilda says: “…I’d lost interest in anything else. I was desperate not to not have a baby.” After the operation to open her tubes: “…as soon as I got to the middle of the cycle, the panic came in. I was always counting days on my calendar. Then when I got my period, it was like a death: a failure, another lost child.” … “I continued to dwell on the fact that every time Gene traveled and we weren’t together, I was missing an ovulation cycle, an opportunity to have a child….”

Despite the increasing fixation on having a baby, Gilda still wants to work on her career. In 1985 she and Gene go to France to film a movie, and she starts birth control again because they decide it would be poor timing for a pregnancy. She is enjoying the experience and only notices belatedly that she is having dizzy spells and her period is late. After a home-chemistry-lab-like pregnancy test, Gilda discovers she is indeed pregnant. Unfortunately, she starts bleeding a week later and has a miscarriage **. She tries to take this philosophically, reassured that pregnancy is after all possible.

It is not to be, however. Gilda’s health takes a turn for the worse, as she suffers from inexplicable exhaustion, fevers, and aches and pains. Doctors and naturopaths cannot figure out what is wrong for a long time, but ultimately she is diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer. A hysterectomy permanently ends her quest for a family.

**Considering Gilda’s eventual diagnosis, I wondered after if she ever really was pregnant, as ovarian cancer can sometimes cause HCG production. It is a very scary disease. You can read on social media today about women in their 40s whose symptoms were misdiagnosed. I have often had the thought that one of the “good” things about being tested for sub fertility was someone was always looking at my ovaries. Now, however, nobody is checking out what is going on in there.


Most of the rest of the book focuses on Gilda’s cancer treatment, and how she coped physically and psychologically. It is a moving and interesting story (which I am still reading). I enjoyed her explanations of how she maintained her sense of humour throughout a very unfunny experience, and I probably will look up some of her comedy after all.

It’s Always Something is a tragedy. Gilda dies just short of her 43rd birthday. But it’s usually the tragedies that make you think, not so much the comedies and their happy endings.

What did I get out of this book? It reminded me of the infertility community at its best. I’ve never been keen on the infertile label, and I think support group culture has some serious problems. However, those touched by infertility and loss do have commonality. All infertility grief is not equal, but it is immediately recognizable. We are, in the midst of our personal hell, capable of seeing our similarities, of just wanting to reach out and hold another woman’s hand, or hear her story, or share a kind word. That is something I never want to forget.

There are many ways of putting infertility into the bigger context of a life. There is the “happy ending” of parenting a child or children. There is choosing to cease and desist and live without children. Then, most poignantly, there is the context of mortality. What if the time is shorter than you think? Gilda died when she was barely a year older than me. If I had just a year or two left, what is the meaning of all the things I have tried to do?

As I read Gilda’s story I feel still more grateful for the twists and turns of my life that led to this amazing present. I’m grateful that we all don’t have to live the same kind of lives, that we can make different choices. I think about what a strange, and dangerous game it is to try and force your life to take a certain direction. I feel tenderness to the women (and men) who told me so enthusiastically in my youth that  I could be anything, do anything, have everything I wanted, even though I now think that isn’t exactly true, and I won’t say quite the same thing to my daughters.

I think too about how fast our world changes, and how important it is to pause and tell the stories, and hear them too. It’s kind of like Gilda joined me at the park one day, and I’m glad she did, so we could talk for a little while and understand each other better.

Thursday, 26 August 2021

Looking ahead

We are coming to the end of summer 2021. Today is my last day of vacation; I’m back in school officially tomorrow and students, including mine and AJ, are back in classes September 1st.

Summer highlights:
  • Music in the park on Wednesdays! Our local historical park, a beautiful location (and the setting of our wedding 11 years ago) hosted a free outdoor concert every week this summer. We went to many and what an awesome opportunity it was. I knew that the absence of live music was affecting me but I couldn’t fully grasp the extent of that loss until I was there in the moment and felt sanity and goodwill wash over me. I would prepare a picnic dinner and we would mosey off as soon as Mr Turtle came home from work. Sunshine (maybe a little rain), happy people, dancing, good food. It was the best.
  • Camping! With a little improvisation. All the reservable campsites booked up in about 5 minutes this summer. We had made plans to go camping with friends and naively believed we could get a drop in site. No such luck. Instead of taking four very disappointed kids home again and unpacking everything we drove to our friends’ parents acreage and camped there. It felt a bit awkward initially but truthfully people are people and you get to know them best when you share some problem solving. The kids had a blast and the adults had fun too.
  • Play dates! We did a fair number of these and it was great to see the kids have time with their friends and I enjoyed some great conversations too.
  • Of course there were trips as family, picnics, that sort of thing. We did a couple of wonderful hikes. I like my high quality human contact and then I like to just see trees and sky sometimes too. 
  • AJ took sailing camp and loved it! I am now motivated to learn more myself and get our family more involved in our local sailing club next summer. Sailing was a big part of my family growing up so it feels like continuing a tradition. At least one other friend is also interested so who knows….maybe an all woman racing team one day. Hehe.
  • We are ending the summer with a generous visit from my in laws who live in the states. They hadn’t been here for a year and a half so this is a privilege. The weather, which had been hot and dry for most of the summer, and smoky for a few weeks is currently my favourite weather. Sunny, a little bit rainy, and just warm, not hot. Perfect for park outings and drives where you can see for miles.
This coming year:
  • Back at the same school with the same assignment and team (hurrah!) As far as the year and pandemic stuff….well who knows. For now “everything old is new again” as we have much the same behavioural requirements in school as we did last year, at least for the next month. Vaccinations appear to be having a positive effect but the recent news is less promising. Things change so fast. But there is a bit more flexibility in that students can play in band and sports, for example and hopefully we can do field trips and off campus work experience if we can arrange it. We’ll see. My mindset is very much “one week at a time” and “take opportunity as it comes.” I’m grateful for the people around me and whatever chance I have to contribute to my community.
  • AJ goes into grade 2! Likewise hopeful that her school will continue to be a positive and nurturing environment for her, as it has been so far. Grandma pretty much took care of back to school outfits, and they go for haircuts tomorrow, so we are moving through the rituals…..I just have to assess the shoe situation.
  • Activities: I am continuing with my Canadian step dancing class/community, whom I’m hugely grateful for. Hopefully we can do some performing this year….but it is what it is.
  • I definitely want to join a church community but it is a super weird time to be doing it….so….who knows….it will happen somehow because I have no idea when anything won’t be….weird.
  • Activities for the girls! They are going to take Ukrainian dance, swimming lessons and AJ will continue with music. Our weeks will be busier! However with the exception of AJ’s music I have arranged their activities on the same days (so one commute) and as close to home as possible. Again, with Covid…who knows how things will actually look but if you hadn’t noticed, I’m all about strong connections and communities and developing skills and resilience….so we will be rocking in the free world here, every day, every way we can.
I’ll leave you with 
this story of the saint I share a name day with.  She was a total badass and very hard to kill. I’m hoping I can share even a fragment of that good energy this coming year. 

Thursday, 12 August 2021

One Thursday morning


AJ reading Robert Munsch’s A Promise is a Promise. 

(Meanwhile I try to get coffee out of the jar with a butter knife. Good thing they can amuse themselves.)

Saturday, 24 July 2021

Dance with me daily

AJ took tap dance this past year at a local studio. I was very excited to find it as it was about 10 minutes from our house and 5 minutes from AJ’s school. This meant minimal commuting: we would just pop in after school on Friday. I looked forward to this studio being part of our lives for many years.

Unfortunately it was not to be. The owner decided to close shop after this year. It was not directly Covid related as far as I can tell, though it was surely an exhausting year for her. She decided she needed a break after 16 years.

Toady she held a garage sale and I picked up two of the costumes. They inspired immediate joy and dancing and I actually love this photo.

I have found a new studio for both girls and very excited about it….more on that another time.


For our days are filled with wonder
Nothing should ever stay the same
Let our hearts beat the rhythm
May love show us the way

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Summer bossoming

I remember being very young and admiring houses, imagining what my “dream house” might have in it. A porch, a globe on a stand, a willow tree and a spiral staircase were some particulars I remember. I don’t particularly want a globe on a stand anymore, or a staircase of any kind. I still like porches: they give a house a friendly look I think. I also really like stone and brick work. Willow trees are pretty, but some neighbours have them and they completely cover the ground in leaves in the fall. That’s a lot of raking.

At some point in my 20s or 30s, the “dream house” ceased to be a thing. Perhaps it was when my husband and I bought our house. Then we had a reality, not a dream. Or rather, once that goal was achieved we had other dreams. The truth is, I want a house with heat, clean running water, a toilet that flushes the first time, and safety and privacy. I have learned I don’t care that much about anything else. I wouldn’t want to live in a shack but I don’t envy anyone their mansion.

My other criteria when we bought our house was a yard. I wanted to be able to dig holes if I felt like it. I don’t exactly know why I had that thought  as it’s not like I dug a lot of holes in my youth. But I had a notion that a yard connects you with nature, I guess.

The nature in our yard is interesting.  I have a hypothesis that our neighbourhood wants to be a forest. Things just grow madly, trees included and I believe that without constant intervention, there would be little evidence left of people in a few years. Many of the plants in our yard preceded our presumed ownership and they will be there after we are gone I am sure.

The interior of our house is pleasant and as organized as it ever will be with children. But I have never been able to find a happy balance with…..whatever is going on in our backyard. The main reason is that we have invasive plants that evolved in some dark circle of hell. The ultimate invasive has to be creeping bellflower. If allowed to flower, each stalk can produce up to 15 000 seeds. The roots are thick and deep, often the size of carrots. Herbicides may briefly kill it but it returns from the root. Nothing likes to eat it. And if pulled or dug up, which I did week after exhausting week for 10 years, it will regrow from even the tiniest fragment of stem or leaf left in the soil.

I never was able to think of what would make our yard pleasant or attractive because of the constant battle with this many tentacled beast. Finally, last year I read online about something I hadn’t tried: kill it from the top by covering the ground. I put down old yoga mats and a tarpaulin in the areas that were worst invaded and weighed them down with bricks. It looked ghastly and sad, and fetid pools of water formed on the tarp when it rained.

It worked.

Slowly I replaced the old tarps and yoga mats with landscape paper (not even burying it, just putting it on top. My in laws gifted us with a few pretty perennials last year. I added a few herbs as Dani will pick and eat everything in the yard and I thought I could at least provide something that is actually edible. Perhaps she would learn to prefer it. The bricks and paper still looked nasty though.  But a trip or two to the dollar store gave me ideas, and soon the girls and I had collected a bunch of inexpensive decorations that we could add to our space.

All through this process I was still weeding regularly, BUT, I actually was making some progress now.

This week, we finished our initial creative spurt and I find myself feeling something unusual when I look at the yard: pride and happiness! It actually looks….pretty. I don’t feel immediate despair and existential defeat when I look out the window or step out the door.



The wide view of one corner



Close up



Out of control strawberry patch, that never makes strawberries. (Whatever. It has fertility issues I guess.) Also rhubarb.



Herbs: mint, chocolate mint, lavender, parsley. Also some leftover garlic and lettuce from my refrigerator, which I planted instead of composting.



A shady corner. I would like to get a small bench for under the tree.



Along the fence. This edge is where the creeping bellflower is still trying aggressively to push through. I’m holding it back, but it’s hard to eliminate along the edge of the paper as it invades the grass. But a stalemate is better than a rout.

We still need to do some major work on the yard. These improvements are quite superficial. We have the budget too; it’s finding the mental energy and time that has been a roadblock. But even though my efforts are relatively minor, they have made such a difference in my mental state. I actually believe we can have a pleasant space in our yard now! I feel motivated to do more. I have a sense of accomplishment. 

If there is a moral to this story, it is that total victory is not necessary to move in a positive direction. What is needed is just a little bit of encouragement. Progress is anything that is slightly better than complete and utter defeat. At least, that’s how I feel about it. I made something pretty and I even have some time to stop and smell the mint now. Next year, maybe roses.

Monday, 28 June 2021

2020 to 2021: scool perspective

 

The "Sc ool House" from Megamind

So, we are wrapping up another academic year: 2020 to 2021. If spring 2020 blindsided everyone, then September 2020 to June 2021 was the school year everyone knew would be…different. That is something; it allowed for preparation anyway.  Perhaps we didn’t know exactly what to prepare for but we could make a few reasonable guesses.


There were a lot of things that worried me about this school year, but by and large I took the attitude that having some opportunity to do good is much, much better than no opportunity. And I never doubted that I had some opportunity.

Actually, it turned out there was plenty of opportunity. Of course there were also arguments and strained nerves and stress and anxiety, because of the situation and because, well, people are people. But overall I feel very lucky to have landed where I did.

Here is an example of what we have literally and metaphorically grown this year.

In the fall I was trying to think of ways to get us outside as much as possible, for physical and mental health reasons. I came up with idea to plant some bulbs, which would then hopefully come up in the spring (which felt ages and ages away).


Planting bulbs in the fall

We found a neglected corner of an outside planter box and teachers and students set about weeding and planting bulbs.


Our garden - ready to sleep all winter

As we worked through the garden project and other shared initiatives, my co teacher and I became more and more comfortable working together. In terms of individual and collective resilience, we also found it wise to plan and teach closely. For example, if one of us was away from school unexpectedly the other was almost sure to be teaching both classes solo. (Substitute teacher coverage became increasingly poor as the Covid -19 waves impacted the city and its school system.) When the opportunity came up, we moved out of our separate classrooms into a big shared classroom.

I didn’t forget our garden through the long cold winter and its trials. I wondered if any shoots would come up at all. I thought there was a decent chance we’d get zero. But imagine my excitement when I saw several of these one day! One small success felt like it justified all the doubt and effort and was a promise for even better to come.

It's ALIIIIIIIIIVE!!! First shoots in the spring

After some more gardening and a lot of water hauling, we had a beautiful flower bed!

Flower Garden after some spring TLC

I remember taking drama in high school and learning the most important rule of improv. Whatever happens on stage, you never stop the action. This basically means never saying “No.” You can take someone else’s idea in a new direction, but you don’t just negate it. It’s an act that requires a high level of trust and openness from the participants.

I feel like at its best our special Ed class is like an improv act. We are also working closely with (so far) a couple of our CTS (Career and technology services) teachers. As the temperatures turned chilly outside and our bulb bed lay dormant under the snow, we wondered how we could grow some plants in a windowless room with only artificial light. We asked the shop teacher if he had any ideas and one thing led to another and ultimately led to this:


We are trying to teach people to call it a Life Star not a Death Star.


The Life Star is an indoor garden, and when complete will have its own lighting system and plants on most of the shelves, except the lowest one which we will put cushions on and keep as a bench (three people can sit comfortably inside).

The design is open source online, and you can learn more here:


We got a corporate-funded grant to purchase our supplies, and the building was done over the past semester by several of our special education students, who were mentored by advanced construction students. It was an amazing partnership that worked very well for all the students, and we want to continue it in the coming years. Perhaps we will make Life Stars for other schools. We would love to create a business where students make and sell products, learning skills and getting work experience. Conversations bloom into more and more ideas for the future, and who knows how much is possible, but we intend to find out. If you hung out with us, you would want to be part of it too. What a time to be alive!



With much gratitude,

Preferably with a little less pandemic-induced stress and anxiety




Saturday, 26 June 2021

2020 to 2021: Family perspective

 


AJ completed Grade 1 this past week (!!!) and according to her and anyone else whose opinion matters, she had a great year. Dani turned 3 in January and was in preschool/daycare full time. She also made friends and became increasingly chatty and imaginative. She knows the letter D and thinks all D-words are her name.

AJ made great leaps in her reading and writing this year, and after reading her Writing Workshop compositions this week, I thought  it would be fun to include a few of them to create a story about her school year.


I like to look at the snow. Look at the snow it is so pretty.


Chinook adventures


I like carving a pumpkin

Halloween 2020

I like to bake cookies. Because they are yummy.


Peanut Butter Cookies


I like to open presents. With my sister.

Christmas 2020


The unicorns are looking at the stars. And the rainbow. And the moon. They like looking in the night.
AJ and rainbow


The ladybug is walking on the sidewalk. She is looking at the sunset. She likes the sunset.


Road trip sunset




I like to ride my scooter. My sister likes to ride her bike. My mom came too. We were at the park. I feel calm. I love my sister. Me and my sister race each other. First we went on the playground. We like to play on the swings. Then we went walking.

Dani - 3 years old

AJ - 6 years old


I am learning a fun one. I go to music class.



Then finally, there are creative works such as this:




All leviathans are different. This leviathan has tentacles and horns and wings. It has 4 wings. It breathes death fire. It eats ships and islands and mountains. Death fire is not ordinary fire. It is also poisonous and dangerous. It will burn you up and turn you into toast cover you in jam and somebody will eat you and die.

And on that note, have a fantastic summer!