Great TV, Grief, and Sharing Our Stories

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I’m in love with This Is Us. In love.

At the end of each episode, I’m usually muttering ‘…such a stupid show’ through tears as I bemoan having to wait another week for more.

Months ago, my sister told me about a video she’d seen online about a family losing their pet. It brought us to the topic of how much people share online, and why. The conversation has stuck with me and often gives me pause as I write. Watching This Is Us has reminded me why it’s so wonderful that people share their stories; how important it is.

After watching an episode late the other night, I curled up in bed looking through my bedroom door. I looked past the silhouette of the bookshelves to the place my two children often stand to chat as they expertly delay their bedtime. I slowly brought my focus back into my bedroom, to a shelf that holds the memory of my child that was never given the opportunity to pester me with questions instead of going to bed. The baby I’ve never been able to snap at in nighttime frustration – sending her to bed to nestle under the covers beside her twin sister.

I’ve never stood outside my girls’ bedroom, telling them to stop playing and get to sleep, while I quietly revel in their sisterly goofing around.

I wish This Is Us had been on ten years ago. Watching one of the story lines unfold so beautifully – the complexity and interplay of joy and sorrow – has reminded me how I struggled bringing only one of our daughters home from the hospital. I held the social worker’s words of advice close and searched online to find more information about what my little girl, sleeping in her swing, would feel and go through as she neared adolescence. I sought online help to figure out what I could do to fill the void my daughter would feel having lost an immense piece of herself before she could even comprehend such a loss.

I found many touching stories online but little that was specific to the loss of a twin. Through the years, I’ve written a bit about my experience but it was cathartic writing, not anything I wanted to share. I was too close to it, and didn’t want my words to be a call for sympathy.

But, I’ve arrived at a place where I feel like I am closer to knowing the answer to why I write and, more importantly, why I would want to share. This Is Us has reminded me how alone I still feel sometimes — forever bound in that stinging ether between joy and sorrow.

Grief is a taboo subject. It is rife with cliches and a deep desire from onlookers for the griever’s raw emotion to be subdued or, at the very least,  packaged in a socially acceptable box wrapped with a colourful ribbon that screams, “I’ll be okay. Go about your business. I got this.”

Grief, though, is an asshole and isn’t going anywhere. Watching Rebecca and Jack’s story helped me remember the painful moments while feeling a little less alone.

Morphing Into a Valentine’s Fan

I don’t buy into the craziness of Valentine’s Day. I get something for the kids so they wake up to a card (yep – I have a  problem with cards too) and little treat. But, that’s usually where the Valentine’s celebration ends. I think it’s a pretty silly day.

Except…

My husband decided to spoil me a little this year.

Last week, I was snappy with everyone. I’m not a talker by nature – I tend to let my irritation, sadness or anger fester. It’s not a good quality and I’m trying to unwind the unhealthiness with my kids. Within my little four-pod, we’re pretty good; in our home, emotions are never embarrassing and talking through things is the norm. But, that doesn’t stop me from falling into old habits and stewing every once in a while.

My husband, fortunately, is more emotionally intelligent than I, so he gave me the opportunity to unload by making time for us to sit together.

I felt immediate relief and have enjoyed the added bonus of a little pampering since, including the flowers and card pictured above.

The (seriously amazing) card didn’t change my opinion of this commercial day, but my husband’s words later in the evening made me desire Valentine’s Day every day.

After a wonderful dinner (that he made), he disappeared upstairs. When I followed a few minutes later, the bath was steaming and candles were lit. “I’m locking the door,” he said as he left the room. From the other side of the locked door came the sexiest words I’d ever heard:

“Kids, you come and get me if you need anything. Do. Not. Bother. Your. Mom.”

Nineteen years married and I fell in love with him all over again Valentine’s Day, 2017.

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I’ve Been Reading

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With so many books on my To Read shelf-turned-shelves, I made a(n empty) promise that I wouldn’t buy any more novels for a while. Alas, I didn’t even make it through January before I bought a book…okay, books. One purchase was a textbook though, so I don’t think it should count, but there’s no excuse for the other one (fine — two).

The good news is I’ve managed to read six books from my To Read shelf. The bad news is I loved all but one so my bookshelves aren’t much lighter.

We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was a quick and thought-provoking read. I have never identified with the word feminist: the idea, yes; the word, no. I’m trying to make up for that complacency now. This was the first book in my quest for some feminist clever and it was a good one.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates was a difficult but stunning read. I took many digestive pauses, circled names and ideas I wanted to learn more about, and bookmarked many pages. Definitely a book I will go back to.

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel is one of the most unique books I’ve read in a long time. Jon Klassen’s illustrations added just the right amount of creepiness to enhance an incredible and unusual story. It has taken up residence on my All-Time Favourites shelf.

The Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (Jim Kay (Illustrator), Siobhan Dowd (Conception))has been sitting on my shelf for ages. I had justified the purchase by telling myself it was for my son, but I’ve now officially laid claim. It’s new home is my Favourites shelf. Jim Kay’s illustrations are phenomenal. I found myself pausing often to get lost in the images of the monster.

I want to devour everything Patrick Ness has ever written. Fortunately, I have two more of his books on my shelf. As previously alluded to: I have a problem.

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon was a great, quick read. Loved the two main characters and it has a comfy place on my shelves so my kids can pick it up one day.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes didn’t make the cut for long-term housing. I had never heard of this book prior to reading Everything, Everything and then – boom – I visit a bookshop and there’s Flowers for Algernon prominently displayed. Obviously, the universe was telling me that little Algernon should live with me. Checking Goodreads after I finished the book, I think I might be the only person (truly, the only one) that didn’t enjoy this book. The story was interesting enough to keep me reading, but I just never felt a connection with the characters.

I’m reading Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan now and feeling equal parts love and terror. I can’t put it down and steal moments to read a few pages whenever I can. I think I just might have a minute or two now…

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Raising My Voice

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This past weekend was a tough one for me. I sat in front of the television watching the Women’s March on Washington with tears streaming.  My children sat with me, asking questions as they came up. Some questions were easier to answer than others.

Ten years ago, I carried two beautiful girls in my womb but knew I would only have the privilege of raising one. The baby that was going to die was the one that made herself known almost every second of every day; she kicked and shoved her twin constantly. Abigail moved as if trying to fit a lifetime of big sister pestering into just a few short months.

When our family doctor used the words “inconsistent with life” I just stared at him. I couldn’t think. My vision dimmed and all I could do was focus on trying to breathe — trying to stay upright.

I listened but had to rely on my husband for words and memory.

I thanked the doctor as we left the room, forcing a smile as if I was leaving with a prescription for the common cold. My strength held me up until we reached the office’s front doors and my husband reached for my hand. That small kindness weakened my resolve and my knees buckled.

Fortunately, my husband’s strong arms kept me standing as they have in so many moments since.

Weeks later, a new doctor from our high-risk pregnancy team carefully introduced me to another term I had to grapple with:  selective abortion.

The doctor explained that Abigail’s condition could prove problematic for her sister who, at that time, was being monitored for only minor anomalies. While more testing was done,  we had to start comparing the potential complications of carrying both babies to term with the potential complications of selectively aborting our dying child.

My hands rarely left my belly – I wanted the immeasurable power of a mother’s love to change what was happening inside my body. I wanted to wake up and feel the glorious terror I had felt immediately after finding out we were pregnant with twins. So desperately, I wanted to go back in time to the conversations I’d had with my husband about finances and how our son would handle two new baby sisters. I yearned for the relative simplicity of weeks gone by.

Selective abortion. The term smothered me — a blanket of what ifs and loss so heavy I couldn’t catch my breath.

Abortion is a contentious issue at the best of times, so we didn’t tell many what we were going through because we didn’t want personal views on the morality of abortion to weigh on what we ultimately had to decide was best for our family.

After more testing, the decision was taken out of our hands. The procedure was too dangerous to attempt because of how Abigail was presenting.

We had been forced to grapple with life and death, but, as painful as it was, the decision had been ours alone. Morally and legally, we could decide what was right for our family.

This past Saturday, my daughter asked me to change the channel from the news coverage of the march. I told her I wasn’t ready to turn it off, that it felt too important.

I said she could leave the room if she wanted, but she stayed. And, I cried.

I looked at my little girl and tried to put into words why I was so emotional. Each time I tried to speak a stifled sob would choke my words back. Even when my son held my hand for comfort and strength, I couldn’t describe what I was feeling.

When I look at my daughter I see the battles I didn’t think she’d have to wage.

I see her sitting in a room with a doctor telling her news that will shatter her, and I see that loss forever dimming her light.

I worry about her not having a choice in that moment. In any moment.

The thought of my daughter’s rights to her body being compromised cuts me deeper, more painfully, than the scalpel that brought my girls into this world.

I’ve seen many posts questioning the motives of the Women’s March on Washington – questioning the necessity of such resistance. In these pieces, too often the marcher’s stories are silenced and their courage negated as commenters label them whiny liberals, libtards, ugly bitches, or crybabies.

That’s why I’m raising my voice and telling my story.

I am inspired and motivated by everyone who attended the marches worldwide. There are so many layers and complexities to the issues people marched for on Saturday — this is only my story, but I am here and I am paying attention. I will continue to learn, read, and listen. I will do better and I will no longer be complacent.

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Winter Wisdom

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Years ago, the kids were out front building snow forts.  The sun had gone down so I kept an eye on them from the warmth of the house.

When I saw my child ready to eat a handful of snow I hollered, “DON’T EAT SNOW IN THE DARK!” Neighbours, outside at the time, made a point of mocking my choice of words.

I took the ribbing but still remain steadfast in my sentiment: One should not eat snow when lighting does not allow you to see colour variations. Full stop. No exceptions.

We live in a very dog friendly neigbourhood.

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My Place of Persistence

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You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.    -Octavia Butler

This is my blanket apology for potentially pointless, grammatically challenged drivel. It’s to be applied retroactively and to all future posts.

Chasing Clever is my little space in the world to write – a place that forces some accountability –  but I make no promise of it being good, entertaining, moving or grammatically correct. One day (hopefully!) but I’m a work in progress.

I spend a lot of time staring at the ‘Publish’ button asking myself why I want to throw my words out into the world. Will they make a difference? Does it matter if they make a difference?

After a first draft I ask myself if I’d be comfortable telling a family member or friend what I’ve written. This question is usually cringe-worthy, forcing me to put the piece away for another day. I am a private person so my desire to write is often at odds with my lifelong aspiration of invisibility.

Instead of clicking on ‘Publish’ I obsessively mull over where and how my writing fits. I try to work out what my focus should be – the niche all the experts say is necessary.

But, I have no niche.

I will rarely put my thoughts into a coherent order and I’ll never use words as eloquently as I’d like to, but writing is a compulsion that I’m going to give in to for now.

Chasing Clever is my place of persistence.

You’ve been warned…

Awkward Trips Clever

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Lately I’ve been the walking definition of awkward.

There’s a clever, graceful girl hidden within – she tries to guide me but the awkward thrives.

Clever claws her way past Awkward often, just trying to be heard, but Awkward always catches up and trips Clever before I heed her message.

Awkward pushes on.

Over the years, I’ve come to embrace Awkward and, fortunately, I’ve found people who find it endearing. Some days, though, I wish I had the power to summon Clever with ease.

I find that a healthy sense of humour can often push Awkward into the shadows. There’s nothing like a well-placed self-deprecating joke to help soften the most uncomfortable situations but then there are times Awkward co-opts my sense of humour as well.

Mischievously, Awkward will lunge towards Humour at the most inappropriate times and shove a stifled laugh out of my mouth before I can reel it back in. My laugh isn’t quiet. It’s a curse.

Perhaps that’s why I’m drawn to writing: I can edit out most of the awkward.

Then something like this squeaks through and I realize I just need to make peace with Awkward and move on.