Friday, September 29, 2006

It's not every day you get called an inspirational guru

Michele thinks I’m an inspirational guru. Now I have a reputation to live up to. So because it’s Friday and I’m tired and can’t think of anything else to write, here are my best inspirational tips for the day. (Just pretend I’m a wrinkled old woman sitting in my little hut high up in the mountains and you have trekked for days through the snow just for the honour to sit at my feet and soak up my wisdom.)

- When your daughter is tossing and turning and coughing and crying in your bed in the middle of the night, it’s a good idea to have a bucket handy. Because it really sucks when she pukes all over and you have to change your bedding at midnight.

- Crackers and cheese in a ziplock bag = one of the easiest alternatives to sandwiches when you have 3.2 seconds to get your kids out the door.

- And here’s one of the nuggets I gave Michele yesterday - if you’re a writer or an artist, and you need a little boost to build your confidence and to get your creative juices flowing again, buy a nice portfolio (I have a nice faux leather binder) to feature your work and then spend some time arranging it in an attractive way. It’s nice to remind yourself of what you’ve done now and then and it might help you sell yourself to a potential client.

- Jealousy sucks. Always be nice to other people who share your craft, even if they quickly outpace you and soon have two textbooks that they’ve written which don’t really fit into that lovely portfolio I mentioned above.

- If you don’t want to look like a dumb blonde, don’t use the word “stocker” when what you really mean is “stalker”. And if you want to act like you’re all knowledgeable about Canada, don’t spell “Winnipeg” as “Winnepeg”.

- If you want to have an easy life in which everyone likes you and you don’t have to make decisions that tick people off, don’t become a manager. My mistake.

- If you’re riding the bus home, and some drunk man shits on the seat across the aisle – well, I hardly know what advice to give here. What I did was ask the bus driver for something to put over the seat so nobody else would accidentally sit in it. Shudder.

- If you have an appointment with a designer who wants to show you the proof for the project she’s been working on, don’t go into a closed door meeting in your boss’ office just before she arrives and leave her waiting for half an hour in the reception area. Oops.

- If it’s your turn to bring treats for Friday coffee break, and your mom makes the most kick-ass cinnamon buns in the entire world, sweet talk her into letting you have some and then show up at the office with them. You’ll REALLY impress your colleagues.

- If it’s Friday and you want to avoid doing any meaningful work, sit around your office pretending you’re an inspirational guru with great wisdom to dole out to worthy peasants. Maybe even ask your colleagues to kneel before they enter your office. Except you might lose some of those points you scored with your mom’s cinnamon buns.

- If you want me to visit your blog, leave a friendly comment and I’ll visit. I’m not one of those rude people who don’t return visits. (At least I TRY not to. If I forgot to return your visit, feel free to leave me a reminder.) And I’ll NEVER call you a “fan” even when I have a million people climbing my mountain through the snow to sit at my feet. Aaahhh….

- Don’t eat yellow snow on your way down the mountain.

There - now I’m going to retire to my guru hut where I’ll recline on my silk-covered chaise lounge and have some of my servants feed me chocolates and grapes. Come back another day for more nuggets of wisdom.

(And if you find any spelling areas in the above post, and it gives you great glee to point them out, knock yourself out! But if you think I mis-spelled “honour”, that would be because you’re not Canadian and you don’t know the right way to spell things!)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen completely unrelated things:

1. I had a lovely lunch with my friend Suzanne today. Her life is in a really good zone right now (job promotion, re-united with her boyfriend, etc.), which makes me happy because it hasn’t always been that way.

2. Michele, if you left your casserole dish and cheese grater at Suzanne’s house, you can go pick it up sometime. But if you’re going to go there and hang out and drink wine with her for a couple of hours, don’t go without me ‘cause I’d be jealous. Maybe we should have a “picking up your casserole dish” dinner party. Sounds like a good excuse.

3. That little sort-of-regular writing gig I had lined up? Yeah, well, after the first publication where 2 of my pieces appeared, the magazine (called Words of Life) folded. Bummer. I really liked that gig. But the editor liked me and said that in her next job (still working for a publishing company) she’d keep me in mind.

4. I have to pee right now but I don’t feel like getting up.

5. I wish I had a chocolate bar. Mmmmm… chocolate…

6. I have a tentative writing assignment for another magazine, so all is not lost.

7. Next week I get to meet a blogger friend. Whoopee! I’ll tell you more about it later.

8. I have a painting of a hot air balloon hanging on my office wall. It was painted by an old veteran in a veteran’s home in Montreal. It makes me want to float away. Maybe the old veteran wanted to float away sometimes too. It seemed like a sad place to grow old, where you had to share a room with 4 or 5 other old people with only a thin curtain between you.

9. I need a good book to read. I usually have a stack of books I haven’t read on my bed-side table, but I’ve worked my way through most of them. Any recommendations?

10. I don’t like it when I find a blog I like to read, and I leave lots of friendly comments, but the person never reciprocates. It makes me feel like a stocker or something. Or when I’m feeling insecure, it makes me feel like my blog is too boring for them to make the effort. Before long, I give up and skulk away.

11. My period must be coming soon, because I’m craving all kinds of unhealthy things. Maybe a chai latte or a coke to go with that chocolate. Mmmmm….

12. Maddie seems to be past her “crying before daycare” phase. Yesterday she told me “Mom, my crying days are SO over.”

13. I still have to pee. Now that I’ve gotten to thirteen, I’m outta here before I burst!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Okay that's quite enough sadness for one blog!

Before you all run screaming from my blog for fear that I might drag you deep into the pit of despair, I promise I'll place a moratorium on depressing posts for awhile. Seriously, now that that's out of my system, I will turn to happy thoughts.

Our life is good. Really good. Sometimes we miss our son, and sometimes we commemorate some of the pain that has shaped us over the years, but mostly, we are a complete and content family. We rejoice in life. We rejoice that even though Matthew didn't survive, Marcel did, and so did the three beautiful girls we are so honoured to raise.

And because we're all a little tired of heavy stuff, we decided that instead of a memorial, we'd throw a party for Matthew. First there were the balloons at his grave, then there was the ice cream. Doesn't every six year old want ice cream at their party?

We have so much to celebrate. Matthew came to our lives, touched us, and then left us. We are grateful for the brief moments he lived in our midst.

Maybe next year, I'll start a new tradition. We'll throw an annual "September's not such a bad month after all" party. Wanna come?


He would be six years old today.
What does six look like, when you’re a boy?
Would he catch frogs and climb trees?
Would he obsess about hockey
Or would he prefer painting?
Would he tease his sisters?
Would he fall in love with his first grade teacher?
Would he already know how to read
Or would school be a challenge for him?
Would he collect sports cards
And memorize sports trivia?
Or would he spend more time making little babies laugh?
Would he pick up his socks
Or would I find them strewn across the house like his sisters?
Would he ask “why” a hundred times a day?
Would he fear change or embrace it?
Would he race down the sidewalk on his bicycle or roller blades?
Would he make friends easily
Or would he shyly wait for others to make the first move?
Would he argue with his daddy and me
About bedtime or bath-time or cleaning up after himself?
Would he make awkward beautiful mother's day cards for me
And slip them shyly into my hand before I climbed out of bed?
Would he follow his older cousins around
And emulate their every move?
Would he challenge the status quo
Or long to be just like everyone else in his class?
Would he look just like the six-year-old blonde-haired blue-eyed Matthew
Who lives around the corner from us
Delightfully oblivious to what it means when we look at him?
Who would our little boy be
If his heart hadn’t stopped beating six years ago today?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The darkest day

Warning: This is not an easy-to-read post and should not be read by children. If you're one of the children connected to GNF who likes to blog or read blogs, PLEASE don't read this. You can read the post below this one instead.

Eleven years ago yesterday was quite possibly the most horrible day of my life. I’m not sure on what scale you measure “horrible” when the events were so different, but in some ways it was even worse than the days I lost my dad and my son. It was the darkest, most hopeless day I have ever known. I don’t normally remember this anniversary, but Marcel’s mom always does. She reminded him of it yesterday.

Eleven years ago, I was pregnant with Nicole, our first-born. I had a decent job with the government, we’d moved into our first house that year, and Marcel had left his trucking job and moved into the office so that he could have more regular hours and spend more time at home with his emerging family. It should have been a good time – a hopeful time. It wasn’t.

Due to a combination of new job stress, new parenthood stress (throw in a fairly major pregnancy scare which landed me in the hospital for 3 days), and a condition later diagnosed as anxiety disorder, Marcel plunged into the deepest darkest depression I have ever seen. It was really, really scary. He was a shell of his former self. He couldn’t handle the simplest tasks. He couldn’t get out of bed in the morning and get himself off to work. He couldn’t sleep at night. He paced the floors, and regularly lost all control of emotions. If you’ve never seen anyone in this state before, just believe me – it is completely horrible. There’s no way to describe it. The man I loved was unrecognizable.

We tried repeatedly to get him help. We checked him into an overnight treatment facility, but they didn’t do much for him and he was home the next day no better off. He went to see a psychologist who basically told him he should grow up (which still makes me angry). We didn’t know where to turn. Nothing seemed to help and nobody seemed equipped to help us.

Eleven years ago yesterday, he got up early in the morning (he was starting work around 4 a.m. those days) and kissed me good-bye. I was hopeful. I thought he had turned the corner and was ready to go back to work. The night before, he’d said he’d try the next day. When he said good-bye, he said “take care of my baby,” probably patting my tummy while he did so. I said I would, and I wished him well. And then I went back to sleep, because it felt like life might be returning to normal.

When I got to work a few hours later, I phoned his office to see how things were going. They were surprised at my phone call. They said that Marcel had phoned a few hours earlier and said that he wasn’t coming back to work. Ever.

I can’t even begin to describe the panic that set in when I heard those words. What did that mean? Where was he? Why hadn’t he called me?

I rushed out of the office, shouting to someone that something had happened and I needed to go home. Now. My former boss and mentor heard me and followed me to the elevator. She wanted to know what was going on. I said I didn’t know for sure but that I would let her know. I think she hugged me.

My memory of the rest of the day is a combination of blurred surreal images and sharp crisp moments that are forever burned in my brain. I took the bus home, not knowing where else to go. I started phoning some of the people who might know where he was – his mom, his brother, I can’t remember whom. At some point, I phoned my Mom, partly because in my desperate brain I thought he might have fled to the farm because that was a place where he found peace. Mom hadn’t heard from him but said she was jumping in the car to come to me.

Throughout the day, some friends and family showed up at the house, everyone desperate to help me find him. His cousin came and said that he had driven to all of his favourite childhood haunts, hoping to find him somewhere. Others phoned to say they were praying or looking or doing whatever they could think of to help. Some just phoned to cry or to let me cry. Because we couldn’t just sit still, my mom and I drove to Marcel’s favourite lake – the place where he loved to fish and where he’d always said his ashes should be released when he died. He wasn’t there.

Mom tried to get me to rest, but there was no rest to be had. I think I fell into a fitful sleep at some point. That part’s a blur. I’m sure she also tried to get me to eat. At some point, we phoned the police. They sounded skeptical on the phone, like they were fairly certain he’d skipped town to escape a nagging wife. They said they couldn’t look for him until he’d been gone longer – maybe 24 or 48 hours, I don’t remember.

As I relive these memories, my throat feels tight and my eyes are fighting tears. I hardly know how I lived through that long, long day. It felt like someone had stuck a large syringe into my body and drained every last drop of hope from my life. Although I didn’t say it out loud, I was certain that Marcel was somewhere dying. Alone. Lost. Frightened. Unable to cope with where his mind had gone since the illness took away his will to live.

Late that night, the phone rang. It was Marcel’s brother. “We’ve found him.” He said. “He’s alive. But he’s at the hospital and he’s in pretty rough shape. You need to come here. Now.”

We raced to the hospital. I don’t think J-L gave me many details over the phone, but I found out later that Marcel had checked himself into the hospital. He was very near death after a nearly successful repeated suicide attempt. He had sliced his throat and his wrists, and plunged a knife into his chest. I can hardly type those words, because even eleven years later, it seems too gruesome to be true.

He told me later that he was sure an angel must have driven him to the hospital, because he didn’t know how he’d gotten there. He did remember waking up in the back of the truck, realizing that he was still alive, deciding there must be a reason why he was still alive, and choosing to get himself to a hospital.

Throughout the long night, we waited (his family, some members of my family, and me) while the doctors performed surgery on him. We didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know how serious the damage was. We only knew we needed to keep vigil and pray that he would live.

Needless to say, he survived. There was no long-term damage, except that he says it changed his ability to sing the high notes and he’ll wear scars for the rest of his life. A week later, he was released from the hospital. We finally found him some good help. He joined an anxiety disorder support group, learned a lot more about the demons that were haunting him, saw a more reasonable psychologist, and went on medication.

He has never suffered such debilitating depression again. Once in awhile, he recognizes himself slipping into that pit, but he knows how to get help now, and he knows how to spot the signs. He’s done a lot of really positive things to fight these demons, because he knows how important it is to live a healthy life – for himself, for me, and for our daughters.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, sometimes the memories are overwhelming and I find I need to write them down. And sometimes I think of all the other people who suffer through depression – either their own or someone they love – and they need to hear other people’s stories to know that they are not alone.

Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to get help and a lot of people still don’t know how to talk about mental illness. For us, it took a near tragedy to learn to recognize the signs. If you’re in the middle of this yourself, please don’t let it come to that.

(In case you're wondering, Marcel read this first and I have his permission to post it.)

When pigs fly

As I've said before, Maddie and I have the best conversations in the bathtub. This one happened last night:

Maddie (pointing to my tummy): Do you have a baby in your tummy?

Me: Nope. You were the last baby I had in my tummy.

Maddie: What about Matthew?

Me: Matthew was in my tummy before you were.

Maddie: Is he still a baby?

Me: No. He's almost 6 years old.

Maddie: What's he doing right now?

Me: Well, he's probably hanging out with Grandpa. Maybe they're feeding cows right now.

Maddie (looking doubtful): But they don't have farms in heaven.

Me: How do you know? Have you been there?

Maddie: Yes.

Me: When have you been to heaven?

Maddie: Whenever I close my eyes.

Me: And what do you see when you close your eyes?

Maddie: (grinning at me) Flying pigs! (laughs) And flying cows! And flying sheep!

So... what does heaven look like when YOU close your eyes?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Longing for baby

Yesterday morning in church, I put my arms around a young mother who’d lost her first baby to miscarriage (yes she IS a mother none-the-less). My eyes filled with tears as I expressed my sadness for the life she’d lost. It’s never fair. It’s never easy. And even though I’ve had a similar loss, I never know the right words to say.

Later that day, I looked over at my sister holding her beautiful dark-eyed baby girl. My eyes filled with tears again as I gazed upon one of the most beautiful images in the world – mother and child. In this case, the picture is made more beautiful because it’s been preceded with more than a little pain along the way. After years of perfecting the auntie role, and quietly longing for her own child, my sister came to motherhood late and now wears the cloak with beauty and grace.

It struck me, as I sat there next to her and reached over to pluck Abigail out of her hands, that the “successful” birth of a child almost seems against the odds sometimes. In between hugging the mother-without-child and sitting next to the mother-with-child yesterday, we had 2 families in our home for lunch, both of whom have adopted at least some of their children. One family adopted all four of their children, and another adopted the two in between their biological children because it seemed they wouldn’t give birth again.

I just need to look at my own family to know that babies cannot be planned or even expected – they can only be hoped for. There are four siblings in my family (including me). None of us have had the family we “planned”. My oldest brother and his wife ached through years of infertility before they adopted their first child. The second child they adopted was only in their home for one night before the birth mother changed her mind. After their third adoption, their family is as complete as it can be while there’s still a hole in it from the one that didn’t stay.

My second brother and his wife had 2 sons in quick succession. They hoped for more, but cancer took that hope away. We are so grateful that my sister-in-law survived the cancer, but we know that there’s still a tiny hole in their life too.

We have our hole too. After 2 beautiful daughters, our son was born lifeless. This week, we remember his sixth birthday. About six months after we lost him, we miscarried another baby. The next year, Maddie brought us joy and comfort after our losses, but while I was pregnant with her (and for several years after) I had an irrational fear that we would lose her too. When you’ve lost one, you keep company with death, and you are forever reminded that life is temporary. It didn’t help that we lost my dad, my uncle, and my grandma just over a year after she was born. The grim reaper seemed too close at hand, and Maddie seemed almost too precious to stay. When she was diagnosed with a heart murmur, I thought my fears would be realized. She’s four now, and couldn’t be healthier, but that doesn’t stop the irrational fear from surfacing now and then.

As I mentioned earlier, the fourth in my family, my sister, waited for years to become a mom. In between, she nurtured her nieces and nephews, but always had to go home alone. The fact that she’s a mother now doesn’t make that pain any less relevant.

When I look around the blogosphere, I’m reminded of the same thing. Anvilcloud and Cuppa rejoice in their daughter’s pregnancy, but this is only after long months and years of living with the pain of infertility. Karla lives with the same fear I did while she goes through her third pregnancy. Her first baby, Ava, lived only a few short hours. Her second pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Gina longs to have a second child, but health concerns have made that difficult. Those are just a few of the examples I've come across. I’m sure there are others of you who have unspoken pain. Some of you, for example, may cringe a little when you look at pictures of my daughters because it may not seem fair that I got to have three when you had none. I don’t know your pain, but I validate it none-the-less. (And if I have shown insensitivity in any way, by talking too much about my children and not leaving space for your reality, please forgive me.)

My heart aches for each person whose life didn’t go quite according to plan – for those who lost babies, those who lost hope, those who cried alone in their rooms when other people brought babies home, and those who had to give theirs up because of circumstances outside of their control. Sometimes, we are fortunate enough to birth and raise our babies, but sometimes we have to live with a different reality.

For all of you who have children, remember to be grateful. Hold them close and enjoy them. Be mindful of the moments you have with them. Don't take that for granted.

For those whose children didn’t get a chance to grow up in your home, if you feel comfortable doing so, please share their names or stories in the comments, and I will commemorate them the next time I visit my son’s grave. For those whose longed-for children remain only a dream, I’d like to remember them too.

On September 27, our son Matthew would be six years old. When I visit the menagerie at his grave this week, I’d like to take with me each of the names of your beloved missing children – whether they died, went away, or lived only in your dreams. You can simply send me a name, or you can send me a poem or some other memento. If you want to post something on your blog, let me know and I will print it and bring it with me. If you had an early miscarriage, and never got around to naming your child, you may want to consider doing so now. A name can be a powerful way to make the memory or dream of your child more real and your pain more valid.

If you don’t feel comfortable sharing in the comments, send me an e-mail instead. If your pain is too raw or too personal, I will respect your privacy.

I will try to honour each of your children and your memory of them in a fitting way. I will post a picture of whatever mementos I place at the grave. If you do not have a sacred space for your memories or your sorrows, I hope this can serve as a virtual memorial for you.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

This one's for you, Anvilcloud

I couldn't resist. :-)

Friday, September 22, 2006

I love a shrinking "to do" list!

1. Agree to final edits of video production for "An Uncomfortable Truth" (yeah, it is SO a knock-off of Al Gore's film title, but it works) and get it and the cover graphic to the production company. CHECK.

2. Sign off on design work of a huge project (magazine, poster, etc.) that will get mailed to 10,000 churches, send it to the printer, and pray to God they can print it before my trip to Toronto, where I'd rather not show my face in front of my staff if it's STILL NOT DONE. CHECK.

3. Sign off on design work of the annual report for the year that ended five months ago (it's not MY fault it's late! And it's a month earlier than last year, so this is an improvement!) CHECK.

4. Send graphics for envelopes, posters and other assorted items from our new "corporate re-branding" line to the printer. CHECK.

5. Sign purchase orders for spending a WHOLE WHACK OF MONEY on above projects and pray that it's worth it and the donations start flowing in. CHECK.

6. Pray that the mistakes that we ALWAYS find on completed print jobs will not be major ones this time around - like spelling the board president's name wrong, or something equally embarrassing. (It's inevitable - there will be mistakes, even though we proofread about 10 times. I tell people we do it on purpose - like the mistakes on an Amish quilt - to keep us humble.) CHECK.

It's been a productive day at work. I have no idea why every project reached completion on the same day, but the stars must have aligned themselves that way. I love creative people like graphic designers, but given the very nature of their creative line of work (and the way their brains work), they don't necessarily follow the ordinary protocol for such mundane things as meeting deadlines, returning phonecalls, and all those other fun things that go along with big projects like all of the above. I will be happy not to live with this twitch I've had lately from all the waiting I've been forced to endure.

And next week, if the printer's machine breaks down and every one of these projects is horribly delayed, I will run away to a beach in Costa Rica and never come back.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Meme's the word

I hardly ever get around to doing memes (my apologies if I ignored yours and offended you -please try not to take it personally), but I'm bored tonight, there's nothing good on TV, and I really don't feel like doing something mature and productive like laundry. (Plus I have to live up to my husband's pronouncement that "all I ever do is blog".) So here's the one Laura passed me...

- I dressed as a panda for a summer job and people got to have their picture taken sitting on my knee. (That was the year the local zoo had pandas visiting.) It was the hottest summer EVER and I was stuck inside a panda suit. (For part of the time - the other part of the time I was the photographer.) Yes, it WAS as hot as it sounds. Especially when grown men decide that it's fun to sit on your knee. The next time you take your kids to the zoo, see the kitschy little photo booth where you can get your picture taken with a "zoo animal", THINK ABOUT THE PERSON IN THE SUIT!
- I cleaned hotel rooms for a summer. Blech. Double blech. I suck at cleaning. If I were GOOD at it, I wouldn't be sitting here writing this post.
- My very first job was running a summer day camp in our local community centre. It still freaks me out that parents of about 30 children trusted their kids with three bored sixteen-year-olds. Trust me - we weren't equipped.
- I spent one year working in data entry at a trucking company. Back then, I was naive and not very bold or I would have slapped that sexist arrogant truck driver with potent body odour (after 5 days in a truck and no showers) who used to think he could sidle up to me at my desk and touch my shoulder. Yuck.

- I really don't like watching movies over and over again. Once I've seen it, I rarely want to watch it again. There are a few I could tolerate the second (or third) time around though - Shawshank Redemption, Dead Poet's Society, Music Box, and this year's favourite, Little Miss Sunshine.

- Arden, Manitoba
- Steinbach, Manitoba
- Banff, Alberta (where I suffered through that chambermaid job)
- Winnipeg, Manitoba

- ride my bicycle
- read
- write
- step off airplanes in new countries

- pad thai
- almost anything made with cream cheese, including the chicken dish I made the other night
- the pizza we get every summer that's cooked in a wood-fired brick oven on an organic farm (the ambience is half the value)
- my mom's cinnamon buns

- that resort near the Serengetti in Tanzania where they bring you moist towels and fresh mango juice when you pull into the parking lot - one of the most amazing places I've ever been
- that beach in Greece where my sister and I finally "did like the locals" and went topless
- that little kitschy outdated motel in Truro, Nova Scotia, with the magical tree in front that looked like a burning bush
- that crepe restaurant in Quebec City where watching the crepe chef was like watching an artist at work

- almost every blog on my blogroll, but now that I've finally figured out about bloglines (I'm a little slow on the up-take), I usually just go there to see who's updated rather than clicking on them one at a time
- CBC news

- Europe (backpacked through nine countries)
- Mexico (my only winter hotspot vacation)
- road trip through British Columbia, Washington State, Oregon, and California
- Kenya and Tanzania (technically it was a work trip, but it felt more like a vacation)

- knock yourself out - lots of you have already done this, so I won't bother naming you.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

This is what it looks like when you let go of a plane 4500 feet above the earth

Yes (in case you're looking closely at my face) I screamed. Wouldn't you?

See the little blue blob above my head? That's the pilot chute which the instructor releases while you exit the plane. It automatically ejects your main chute.

In case you've come late to this party, and don't know anything about how exciting my life was for that brief period of time, you can see the video here, or read about it here.

And now we go back to our regularly scheduled programming of soccer games, boring days at the office, endless loads of laundry, groggy midnight puke-cleaning-up duties, and all those other riveting moments in my life.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

What do you say?

In the car the other day, we were listening to a report about a women's shelter somewhere in the middle east. The woman who runs the shelter was telling the stories of some of the women who'd come to them, desperate and alone. Sometimes, she said, they didn't get to the women in time. She recounted the story of a young woman who'd gotten pregnant by her lover. Her family had found out and, to uphold their "honour", her brother had taken it upon himself to kill her and cut her body in pieces. He'd carried her hand with him to proclaim to the community that their family had been cleansed of its sin and that they were honourable once again.

The questions began to flow from the three little listeners in our back seat.

"Did they just say her brother killed her? Why?"
"Did he really cut her hand off?"
"What did they do to the man she slept with? Did he get killed?"
"What about the baby she was pregnant with?"
"Do they ever do that in OUR country?"
"Why are women treated so badly there?"
"Why do they believe men are better than women?"

What do you say to three little girls, who've had no reason to believe that their value is any less than that of the boys, that explains the horror of a story like that? How do you say "it's just not right" without sounding like you're prejudiced against a whole race of people? How do you make sure they understand that, though things are much different here, we should not become complacent and ignore the plight of the women in places where it is not?

And, perhaps just as importantly, what do we do to help? Because sometimes I feel so helpless.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Lookin' on the bright side

While I was trying to untangle a knot in a string Maddie brought me, she said, "Look on the bright side Mom." "And what, my dear, IS the bright side?" I asked. "If you can't do it, Daddy will be able to. 'Cause he's stronger than you."

And then, because I'm stubborn like that, I persevered and untangled the knot. 'Cause honey, comparing me to Daddy hardly brings out the bright side in me!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

My writing place

I think I may need to build an office in the graveyard. Not just any graveyard - the graveyard where my son is buried.

Whenever I need a little peace and quiet, and perhaps some clarity of thought, I visit his grave. It's become a bit of a ritual. I often take my journal along, and jot down some of the thoughts wandering around my mind. In the past, when I've had a public speaking engagement, I've gone there to put the finishing touches on my talk, or even practice.

Lately, I've had a bit of a semi-regular writing gig for a daily inspiration type of magazine. I've written 6 short pieces for it, and 4 out of the six have been written at the graveyard. Today I went there for about half an hour and wrote 2 of them. I'm not sure what it is, but when I sit by his grave, my creative thoughts seem to tumble out in perfect order. The ideas come as if from thin air, and I rarely have to edit.

I think my muse likes to hang out in the graveyard because there are so many stories there to keep it company.

Friday, September 15, 2006

In which I rant and rave and use phrases like "back in MY day"...

Customer Service? Does ANYONE know what that means anymore? (Yes, I AM aware that I'm sounding like a grumpy ninety-year-old.)

1. I have been trying ALL DAY (since about 9:00 this morning) to get through to the federal government's 1-800 number for the child tax benefit ('cause I'm an idiot and forgot to apply for it back when Maddie was born FOUR AND A HALF YEARS AGO). All day I've heard that annoying "beep, beep, beep" which means that either everyone else in Canada is desperate to know when their child tax benefit cheque is arriving (so that they can spend it on beer and popcorn, according to one of our classy politicians), OR everyone at the office is lying on a beach somewhere, with their phone receivers lying abandoned on their desks. And THAT'S what they get the big government bucks for. (Yes, I can say that now, since I'm no longer a government employee.)

2. I went to MTS (the local phone company) at lunch time to make some changes to our account, and the customer service agent behind the desk led me to a little kiosk, handed me the phone receiver, quick-dialed the number for me and said "you'll have to talk to our customer service agent for that". Huh? Did I miss something? You have a whole store in the mall just so you can send me to a phone to make the call myself? What are all those fancy computers behind your desk for - SOLITAIRE? To add insult to injury, I was put on hold for 10 minutes. So I sat in this stupid little kiosk while Mr. Customer Service Agent played Solitaire (or something like that). Gee thanks Mister. Why don't you just go join all those other customer service representatives at the beach?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Take the challenge

I think I'll take this blogger up on his challenge. It's a good one.

Anyone have their eye on any of my stuff? Let me know and I'll see if I have the guts to give it up.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Signs of sadness

I arrived at work late this morning, and just before I dashed over to the meeting I had to attend at the hotel next door, I glanced down at my shirt. There it was - the telltale sign of sadness. Snot on my shoulder. Little four-year-old snot from a sad little girl who cried on my shoulder while I tried to pry myself away and make it to my bus on time.

She's sad these days, my normally cheery little extroverted video-producer. She's sad because for the first time in her life, she has to spend her days away from her buddy, Daddy. Yesterday, I got a call that her tummy hurt and she was crying. Turns out, she was missing us. She cried several times last night, and then again this morning. It was horrible leaving her there this morning. I had to fight the tears as I rode the bus downtown.

It's caught us by surprise. She was so excited about daycare. The first few days, she was having so much fun being surrounded by new friends every day. But now the novelty has worn off, and she doesn't want to go anymore. "I have an idea," she said plaintively, "maybe I can go to Taylor and Noah's house." Nope, honey, that doesn't really work. "Well, then maybe Auntie Cyndi could look after me." Nope, I'm afraid not. You'll just have to try to be brave and get used to going to daycare.

I know this will get easier, but right now my heart is breaking.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Maddie's directorial debut

This is what happens when a four-year-old learns to use a video camera.

Videography: Maddie
Direction: Maddie
Camera-person: Maddie
Script: Maddie
Starring: Maddie
Songwriting: Maddie

Monday, September 11, 2006


All over the internet, people are remembering 9/11. Though I’m a country away, and may not have been impacted as much as our neighbours to the south, I remember too.

It was Nikki’s first day of kindergarten. Few thoughts were on my mind that morning, other than the milestone of sending our first child to school. I don’t have a strong recollection of seeing her off at school, but I’m sure that she was stoic and composed. Beneath the exterior, though, she was probably stressing about whether she’d put her shoes in the right place, whether she had the “right” kind of backpack, and whether she’d know how to follow all the teacher’s instructions correctly. Few things worry her more than staying within the framework of the rules.

I left her there and jumped in the van to head downtown to my office. On the radio, the first hint that there was something seriously wrong was the unmasked emotion in the voice of the radio announcer. She was fighting tears as she relayed the story of the plane hitting one of the towers. In retrospect, I suppose she wasn’t one of the more experienced announcers – she hadn’t learned to mask her own connection to a story.

As I drove, I had the eerie feeling that the world had just changed. An office tower had been hit by a plane. This meant that there was no safety anywhere anymore. A plane could drop out of the sky and hit my van. I could step out of the elevator in the office tower where I worked, and watch a plane fly through the window. I, along with every other person in North America (or anywhere else, for that matter), was vulnerable.

I arrived at work late, and few people had heard the news yet. Once in my office, I turned on the TV (yes, I had a TV in my office because I worked in media relations and had to watch the news now and then), and people started congregating around me. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. As we watched, the second tower was hit. This was no longer a random accident.

Throughout the day, the TV stayed on in my office. I tried to work, but was constantly interrupted by people stopping by to catch glimpses of what was going on. There was a subdued air in the office. No one knew what to say.

On the way home from work that day, I wrestled with what to tell the children. Though Nikki was only 5 at the time, she was incredibly perceptive and I knew that she would hear about this and would worry. I had to tell her at least some portion of the truth so that she would be prepared when she heard about it through a classmate or teacher. When I picked her up at daycare, I explained what happened in simple terms. “Some bad people flew planes into some very tall buildings. A lot of people died in those buildings.” “But why mommy? Why would bad people do that?” “I’m not sure, honey. Sometimes people get angry at other people and they want to hurt them because of their anger.”

Shortly after we got home, I noticed her at the front window, watching a fire truck go by. “Mommy,” she said, “are those fire trucks going to the towers?” Hmmm… I guess I forgot to tell her that the tall buildings were in a city far away from here. The questions didn’t stop there. They never do. Throughout the following week, she pestered me again and again, especially when she caught sight of the news reports. She needed some understanding of why something like this could happen. Did the bad people have families? Where did the bad people live? Did they rescue anyone alive from the towers? If it happened THERE, could it happen HERE?

Around the same time, my sister and I were planning a trip to New York City. Our initial plans, in fact, would have meant that we’d have been there around the time the towers came down. I didn’t want to miss the start of kindergarten, though, so we delayed our plans. Now we didn’t know whether we could go through with it or not. With planes grounded all over North America, it wasn’t clear when or if our trip would happen.

A lot of people thought we were crazy for still considering a trip to New York City, but we decided to go through with our plans anyway. We were not about to let fear diminish our lives. After all, didn’t Rudolph Guiliani and the President tell people to keep visiting, keep shopping, and keep attending the theatre? And wouldn’t New York City be one of the safest places in the world in the aftermath of the tragedy?

At the end of October, we visited NYC as planned. We were greeted at the airport by soldiers with machine guns, something I’d never seen in a North American airport before. Times had changed.

We went to the theatre, we shopped, we took tours on a double-decker bus and a boat, and we wandered around Central Park. We did all the things tourists do. We enjoyed ourselves, and we fell in love with a big beautiful city whose heart still beat with a bold, indomitable pulse. We listened to people’s stories of the New York that was, we saw the memorials in front of fire stations, and we honoured the hurt all around us. We saw the smoke rise from the gaping sore in the city’s centre. We smelled the faint scent of death and destruction. We didn’t get very close to ground zero (I was pregnant at the time and had doctor’s orders not to walk too far), but through the surrounding towers, we glimpsed those infamous remaining beams marking its place.

After visiting New York City, it wasn’t hard to understand why that city had been targeted by the terrorists. If you want to hurt someone, you aim for the heart. NYC has a lot of heart. It’s a vibrant, pulsing city, and its pain would (and did) reverberate across the country and beyond.

Today, five years after the fact, I don't want to forget, but at the same time, I can’t help thinking it’s time to move forward. Although the loss of 2996 lives is tragic beyond measure, I find it even more tragic that, in the 5 years since, a culture of fear has been used by political heavyweights to justify hatred and the abuse of power. I’m sick and tired of hearing about the “axis of evil”. We all know that words are powerful things, and if we are continuosly reminded of the evil threats against our countries, we can't help but start to believe it. On this, the fifth anniversary of 9/11, I sincerely wish that old language could be set aside for a new language – one that builds on hope, justice, and compassion instead of fear, evil, and hatred.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Some of the random bits floating around in my brain

- Although I'm not a very orderly person, I love order. I love it when all the pieces are lined up and fitted into their designated slots. I spent a little bit of time finding order in our lives this weekend - lining up the budget, cleaning house, doing laundry. I get a burst of pleasure when the pieces line up. It makes me wish I could convince myself on a daily basis that the pleasure is worth the pain of maintaining order. But I'm way too lazy for that.

- I'm not very fond of our backyard. By this time of year, it shows. It's gotten overgrown and unkempt and looks nearly abandoned. In the Spring, before the bugs arrive, we spend a fair bit of time back there, eating suppers on the deck, etc. But as the summer heats up and the bugs arrive, we spend less and less time there. It feels much too closed in (the only way to get there is through the garage or through a narrow pathway beside the garage, and it's surrounded by fences and overgrown shrubs), and therefore kind of claustrophobic and bug-infested. This year we inherited a wooden bench seat from a neighbour who moved away and we placed it in the front yard. We spend quite alot of time out there now, watching the world go by. A neighbour walked by yesterday as I was sipping my iced tea and said "you look relaxed", and indeed I was. I've decided that I much prefer front yard living. It makes me feel more connected to the world. Maybe that's the extrovert in me coming out.

- I don't particularly like doing laundry, but I like folding towels. I learned the "right" way of folding towels when I spent a summer working as a chambermaid at a resort in Banff. It was a horrible job, cleaning the messes people left behind when their vacation ended. Vacationing people tend to be more sloppy than at-home people, because they aren't responsible for their own messes (do you know how hard it is to scrape dried-on Cheerios off the floor?) Once in awhile, when we'd check our day's duties in the morning, Allison-the-mean-boss would have selected one of us to be the "spare" person which meant you didn't have to clean rooms, but instead spent most of the day in the large laundry room, folding towels and doing other odd jobs. I learned to fold a perfect towel (anything less than perfect risked the wrath of Allison), and I still take pride in my stack of neatly folded towels. The last weekend of that summer was the best because Allison-the-mean-boss learned that I was good at sewing, so I got to spend the busiest weekend of the year mending laundry bags, sheets, and towels. She wasn't mean to me once all weekend. Instead, she raved to everyone about how well I sewed. It was a good way to end an otherwise horrible summer.

- It's not a bad gig when your children grow old enough to be contributing members of the household. Yesterday, when Marcel was out, the living room and bathroom got cleaned without me having to set foot in either room! And they were an acceptable level of clean, not the kind you have to re-do when they're done. And one daughter taught the other daughter how to clean the toilet! What's not to like?

- Right now, Maddie is dancing around the basement with butterfly wings strapped to her back. She just said "I wish I was a REAL butterfly." And then she thought about it for awhile, reconsidered the permanence of her wish, and said, "I wish I was a person who could turn into a butterfly whenever she wanted." Me too. Wouldn't it be fun to float around and watch people?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Thirteen things about my kids on their first day of school and daycare

Just thought I'd try this whole "Thursday Thirteen" thing on for size.

1. When Nikki packs her school bags, she makes sure everything fits in an orderly fashion. Before she went to bed last night, she came to see me to list off all the things she'd packed to make sure she didn't forget anything.

2. When Julie packs her school bags, she's just happy if nothing is dragging so low that she'll trip on it. And even if she DOES trip on it, no big deal.

3. Maddie is very proud of her new pink lunch bag. She felt like one of the grown-up kids when she packed her lunch last night.

4. Nikki went to school wearing her new pink skirt and top, re-did her ponytail about five times, and stressed about the tie on her blouse not being quite right for first day of school pictures on the front lawn. When I kissed her, I could tell she'd applied lip gloss. Her ensemble was complete with her beloved Crock footwear on her feet.

5. Julie went to school with her torn-on-purpose jean shorts and a blue tennis shirt, looking a little like the punk rocker/tomboy she aspires to be. She barely combed her hair for the first day of school pictures. She gave her sister a hard time for re-tying her bow.

6. Maddie hopped out of bed this morning when she realized it was her first day of daycare and she'd have a golden opportunity to make new friends. She was content to wear whatever I pulled over her head, though she wanted flip-flops on her feet instead of the sturdier shoes I insisted on.

7. When we met with Julie's teachers, and they asked if there was anything they should know about Julie, one of the things I mentioned was that Julie finds school a little too easy and needs to be challenged a little more than she was last year. Marcel mentioned that she read ALL of the Harry Potter books by the time she was eight because she devours books faster than we can get them from the library. Julie sat beside us trying not to let them see a little grin sneak onto her face while we bragged about her.

8. When we met with Nikki's teachers, and they asked if there was anything they should know about Nikki, one of the things I mentioned was that Nikki is very diligent about getting her homework done and never has to be reminded to do it, especially if it is a big project and it's not due until next week. Marcel mentioned that she particularly likes history and politics (like her dad) and impressed last year's teachers by how much she knew. (Do YOU know all the leaders of the political parties?) Nikki sat beside us trying not to let them see a little grin sneak onto her face while we bragged about her.

9. When I filled out Maddie's registration form for daycare, I said her favourite foods are peanut butter and bagels with cheese. I also said that her favourite activities are making new friends and playing on play structures. ANY and ALL play structures. What I didn't add was that Maddie can spot a play structure miles before we pass it and tries to convince us to stop at ALL of them. There are a few play structures close to our house, and she prefers going to the one where there's the highest probability that there will be other children there.

10. Nikki was worried that we didn't have enough money to cover all the school and daycare fees we need to pay.

11. Julie told me about 5 times that she has "butterflies in her stomach" but that she couldn't WAIT for school to start.

12. Maddie is already convinced that daycare will be the GREATEST PLACE ON EARTH because her sister told her they sometimes got to go to 7-11 for Slurpees when she used to go there. Oh, and there's the "new friends" thing.

13. Okay, this last one's not about the girls. Marcel is back in school too. He's been at the school where he's doing his first student teaching for a few days now. He's almost as excited as the girls. So far, he seems very happy about the prospect of becoming a teacher. He's student teaching at the school that's right next to Nikki and Julie's school, so he can drive them home on the days he's there. I forgot - I should have included him in the "first day of school" picture this morning.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Feels a little like frantic

- sharpen all the pencils (do they REALLY need 20 pencils?)
- write post-dated cheques for lunch fees
- "Mom, I don't have clean underwear for tomorrow."
- where are the gym bags from last year?
- do you have running shoes for gym?
- "Mom, this looks like a 1 inch binder instead of a 2 inch binder."
- fill out registration form for daycare
- write cheque for daycare
- write cheque for school fees (no, that's NOT the same as lunch fees - way too many fees)
- "Mom do I HAVE to take a bath?"
- throw load of laundry in the washing machine - make sure it includes underwear
- "Mom, I don't have gym shorts for tomorrow."
- add gym shorts to the load in the washing machine
- write names on hundreds of pencils and crayons and pens and notebooks
- "Mom, where's the shampoo?"
- phone family members for emergency contact information for daycare registration form
- wipe sour cream from supper off the table so it doesn't end up on school supplies
- "Mom, are there any clean towels?"
- find kleenex boxes and paper towels, add them to school supplies bag
- make sure backpacks don't have any remainders from last year's lunches moulding in the bottom
- "Mom, I can't fit this all in my backpack. Can you help me find another bag?"
- find a cloth bag for extra school supplies
- look up medical information and doctor's phone number for daycare registration form
- nag daughters to pack lunches
- help daughter open salad dressing container for sandwiches
- "Mom, can I have a pudding for a bedtime snack?" "No!"
- pile up all the extra forms from school in a messy pile to figure out tomorrow what to do with them
- try to find phone number for new piano teacher. Give up. Put that on the mental list of things to do tomorrow.
- nag husband to clean up the supper dishes
- check registration form for soccer try-outs for next spring (why do they HAVE to do this the same week school starts?)
- feel guilty because your daughters can't sign up for all the activities their friends are signed up for
- throw load in dryer
- tell daughters to brush their teeth and get ready for bed
- "Mom, can I have some grapes?"
- "Mom, can I have some juice?"
- "Maddie, leave Mom alone. Can't you tell she's getting frustrated?"
- check school supplies list one last time
- look around the increasingly messy house and worry about it getting worse once husband is in school full time
- try to remember whether I threw the load in the dryer
- kiss daughters good night
- sit down at computer feeling on the edge of frantic


I hate the night before the first day of school.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Now I know what the sky tastes like

What possesses someone to jump out of a perfectly good airplane? I'm not sure I know how to answer that. I've just known for a long time that I wanted to do it. And lately, it's been a stronger urging than a simple desire - it's been more like a "need" to do it. Why? To find out what the sky tastes like. To push myself to the limit. To stare fear down and laugh in its face. To learn to let go of an airplane. To get fullness out of life. To float above the world and then settle down into it with a new perspective. To find out what I am capable of. To live abundantly. To test my own boldness.

There are three kinds of reactions when you tell people you jumped out of a plane. Some people think you're completely nuts and have no comprehension of what would drive you to do something so insane. Some people think you're nuts, but at the same time they admire and possibly even envy your courage for doing it. Some people can completely relate because they have already done it or know that at some time in their life they will do it so they want to know all the details.

For those of you who want all the details, pull up a chair and let me tell you. I think this is an experience I'm going to want to talk about for a long, long time, so I'm just getting warmed up here. (I have to warn you - this is going to be long. I'm writing it for me as much as you.)

The day started early. I picked up my friend Jo-anne who, when she turned 40 a few years ago, had also decided jumping out of a plane was on her list of things to do. On the way there, we were like giddy little school girls. "Do you think we'll really have the nerve to do it once we're up there in the sky?" "What do you think it will be like landing on the ground?" "Do you know that nearly every person I talked to about this knows of someone who broke their leg coming down?" "Did you hear that we have to CLIMB out of the airplane instead of JUMP?"

We arrived at Adventure Skydiving at 9:00 a.m. sharp. Little did we know though, that a 9:00 start time is more like a recommended time to arrive - not necessarily when the class would start. We walked into the brightly painted hanger (painted about 6 different VERY BOLD colours - I suspect it reflects the personality of the people whose passion is jumping out of planes) and found our way to the office. There were several people milling around. It was hard to tell if they were staff or fellow first-timers. Most of them seemed to know each other, so we sensed that they were somehow connected to the place. One or two people were busy packing parachutes into their very small packs. One fellow in particular caught my eye. Everything about him screamed "California surfer dude without the surf" (except that he didn't have blonde hair). Actually, he looked (and talked) alot like Keanu Reeves in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. On a cool morning, he was the only one dressed in a t-shirt and shorts. And there was a casual "how's it hangin'?" air about him. I suspect that similar kinds of people are drawn to the surfboard and to the parachute. He didn't look too bright, and my first thought was "that can't possibly be our instructor." (Of course, you know how this will end, don't you?) After packing a chute, he went upstairs to the loft and played an arcade game while we waited.

In the office, we signed our lives away. Yes, we were aware that what we were about to do could lead to our deaths or at least serious dismemberment. Yes, we were willing to give up all our rights and never, ever sue the company. No, we did not have serious injuries or conditions hindering us from jumping. Yes, even if we died, we promised that our estates would never, ever sue the company. And one of the scariest things on the form - the ONLY thing they would guarantee was that the parachutes we would use had been used before! No, it didn't say they had been used SUCCESSFULLY before - just that they weren't new out of the box. For all we knew, they might have wiped the blood from the last jumper off the chute before packing it for us.

Around 9:45, our instructor (yes, of course, it was Keau-Reeves-look-alike-arcade-playing DUDE - what else did you expect?) gathered those of us who were taking a first-timer course into the classroom. There were ten of us - six twenty-something friends who probably bet each other while inebbriated that they had the balls to jump out of a plane (including one girl, who also talked about balls now and then), a 40-something guy and girl who knew each other but didn't seem to be a couple, and Jo-anne and I.

One of the first things instructor-dude told us was "most of your chutes are packed, but we're still waiting for some of the guys to show up to finish the rest. They're still too hungover from last night, but they'll get here." And I said "oh, thanks for that little bit of comfort - assuring us that our chutes are being carefully packed by hungover party dudes". Hmmm...

Some people have asked what I did all day, since I didn't jump until 3:00. Well, there are alot of things to learn before you go up in that plane. One of the first things you learn is how to get out of the plane. It might seem simple, but believe me, that is by far the HARDEST part. No, you don't just let go of the door and jump. You have to CLIMB out of the plane, stand on a step on top of the wheel, hang onto a strut coming down from the wing (all while the wind is blowing at you about a hundred miles per hour), slide along the strut up to the end, take your feet off the step (yes, by that point, you're hanging in the air by your fingertips), bend your head back, and then let go. YES it IS as tough and heart-stoppingly frightening as it sounds.

So you can imagine - in order to get that all right when you're 4500 feet up in the air, you have to practice. And practice again. And again, while instructor-dude shouts at you like a drill sargeant. In our case, after watching it happen several times on video, we all went outside to the roughly built wooden practice plane to go through our paces. "Slide your right foot along the step (while keeping contact so that the wind doesn't whip your foot against the side of the plane), put your left hand out onto the strut, right hand out, then your whole body, placing your left foot next to the right - now slide to the end of the wing." Yes it DOES have to happen in that order.

What else did we practise? Well, when you let go, you have to put your legs shoulder-width apart, throw your hands above your head, and arch your body. This is the part where instructor-dude said "guys, this is your chance to thrust your hips forward and shout to the world 'I have a very large penis!'" Yes, he was that classy. Once you're arched, you have to count 5 counts, and then check right and check left to make sure your chute has deployed properly.

This brings us to the really interesting part... how do you KNOW that your chute is deployed properly? Well, there are 4 things to watch for - the right shape, no cords wrapped around it, no spinning, AND it hasn't forgotten to deploy entirely. Trust me, you want to memorize these malfunctions if you ever take the leap. They are firmly embedded in my mind. I even dreamed about them last night.

And if it malfunctions, you need to know how to get rid of your main chute and deploy your reserve. This is the part where you think "What the @#!!@$! am I doing planning to jump out of a plane with a chute that MAY NOT deploy?" But, by that point, I was pretty committed, and if there's something you should know about me, it is this - I AM STUBBORN. Once I decide to do something, it would take broken limbs or a raging tornado to change my mind. Since neither of those things had happened, I was in for the long haul.

With all that training spinning around in my brain, we took a break for lunch. My greatest fear was that I would forget something essential when it really mattered. "Was that punch right and then punch left to get rid of my chute and deploy the reserve? What if I punch left first? What if I put my right hand onto the strut before my left hand?" Oh, my whirling, twirling brain!

After lunch, we had a few last minute things to learn - like how to control your chute once it is fully and properly deployed, how to tell which way the wind is blowing, how to land, etc - and then it was test time. Yes, there's a test. I guess they don't want to take anyone up in that plane if they've been sleeping through the course. Forty questions later, I handed in my test and went back to the hanger to wait for the green light to jump. Instructor-dude came out a few minutes later and called each of us over to let us know what we got wrong and what the right answers were. No, there was no 50% passing grade on this one. One single mistake could mean your life. I got only one wrong, and once he'd ensured I knew the right answer, I had to initial the question I got wrong so that he couldn't be held liable for mis-instructing me.

By this time, my family had arrived to watch the excitement. (Well, most of my family - Nikki's still at her friend's cabin and was quite happy to miss watching me jump out of a plane.) Marcel, Julie and Maddie were there, as were my Mom and Paul. Once again, it's interesting to note the differences in people's reaction. My kids - well, Nikki hated the idea of watching me, Julie is dying of jealousy and is determined to get a job there so she can jump as often as possible, and Maddie was so busy making friends with a couple of other kids hanging around there that she was fairly oblivious to what was going on. When it comes to parents, it's different too. Mom was thrilled to watch, and probably would do it herself (she's a bit of an adventure junkie too), while Marcel's mom was horrified and probably spent the whole afternoon at home with her rosary praying for my survival.

Jo-anne and I were the last group to go (there were two or three jumpers per plane-load and only one plane, so it took 4 flights), so we watched everyone else jump first before we suited up. In the second plane-load, one of the twenty-something party dudes came back down in the plane. He'd lost the nerve and couldn't jump. I hope his ego survives the ribbing he'll inevitably suffer.

"Jo-anne and Heather - time to suit up." It was our turn. First you find a jump suit that fits. I slipped into mine. Sweaty arm-bands. Yuck - someone had used it just before me. But by the time I had it that far on, I didn't want to bother finding another one. I'd just have to put up with the reminder of someone else's fear.

The pack they slide onto your back and buckle to your shoulders and legs is HEAVY. And by three o'clock in the afternoon, it was HOT outside. Between the jumpsuit, the parachute, the helmet, and the fear, I was sweating. And dry. All at the same time. Both Jo-anne and I were feeling excrutiatingly parched, but the last thing we wanted to do was have to undress to pee, so we didn't drink anything.

When the plane was ready for us, we climbed on board. The plane... hmmm... what can I tell you - it doesn't instill a great deal of confidence in you. For one thing - it's tiny. The interior is smaller than the interior of a volkswagon beatle, and you have to get four or five people in there WITH packs on their backs. You feel like one of those clowns that piles out of the tiny car at the circus, along with seven of his closest friends. You have to fold your body into painful shapes, crouching on your haunches to fit into your tiny space.

Once we got in, we looked around and realized it wasn't like those NEW VW beatles - it was more like one of those old hippie beatles from the seventies. Forty years past its prime. The interior is ancient and it's held together with red duck tape. I put my arm on the small arm rest, and it fell off. Nope. Not a real confidence booster!

As much as it seemed like an old beater (I half expected to watch the runway through a rusted hole in the floor), the take-off went smoothly. It was my first experience in a small plane, and it was a rush. I loved it. It feels somehow more visceral and connected to the sky than a flight in a air-pressure-controlled jet. I'd love to do it again sometime. Perhaps the next time I'll do it without jumping out, so I can enjoy the ride a little more. :-)

The plane climbs higher and higher, circling around the small airport. I kept glancing out the window and watching for the runway. Our landing strip was right next to the runway. One of my greatest fears was that I'd jump out of the plane, lose my bearings, and have no idea where to come down. (I forgot to mention that just after we arrived in the morning, we saw someone jump and she floated WAY off course - they had to send a truck out to try to find her.) The sight of the landing strip was a bit of a touchstone for me while I grappled with my fear.

Jo-anne was the first one out. In preparation, the instructor (not our classroom instructor, but a cuter, friendly, less crass instructor who instilled a great deal of confidence by looking at us with his beautiful relaxed eyes, and believing we could do it) had her kneel down as though she were kissing the floor. He removed the pilot chute from her pack and held onto it (he would deploy our chutes by releasing the pilot chute after we jumped.) Once we reached 4500 feet, he opened the door. Wind filled the plane. A few moments later, he nodded to Jo-anne, smiled reassuringly, and gave the command "Get all the way out!" Inching past him, she slid her right foot out, then her left hand, her right hand, and her left foot. "I'm going to slip!" she shouted to the instructor, and sure enough, before she'd reached the end of the strut, she slipped. Like a shot, she disappeared beneath us. I glanced out the window just in time to see her chute deploy. Whew! Even though she hadn't managed to follow the instructions to a T, she'd survived. If she could do this, I could do this!

We circled once more, and then the instructor nodded at me. I knelt close to the door in front of him and kissed the floor. With the wind whipping at my face, the instructor leaning over me, and the fear gripping me, I felt suddenly claustrophic. Let this be over soon, I prayed silently. I didn't mean the jump - just the odd prostate position I had to hold next to a wide-open plane door while he prepared my chute. He tapped my shoulder and I sat up. Then came the command I'd waited for... "Get all the way out!" Aaaahhhh! This was it! I was about to leap!

I can hardly describe those next few seconds (they felt more like minutes but were really very short). I think my brain and body went into survival mode. I couldn't think, I couldn't feel - I could only act. "Right foot, left hand, right hand, right foot." I was numb - the fear felt like a cloud wrapped tightly around me constricting my breath. "Move," was all my brain communicated to my body. "Do not think, do not look down, just move." And move I did, inching along the strut like I'd practiced. I felt the instructor's foot next to mine, coaxing me along. My feet left the step and I was hanging. For only a moment, though. I glanced at the instructor, looked up at the red dot on the wing they'd told us to look for (to ensure we were looking up when we left the wing and were ready to launch into the arch position) and let go. Wow! I let go!

While the climbing out felt like a suspension of feelings, thoughts, and emotions, the letting go felt like they had all come back, sharpened to 150% in their focus. Adrenaline rushed through my veins. The thought I remember was "I have just done the scariest thing I have ever done (by choice) in my life!" As the thought entered my mind, I felt the gentle tug of the chute deploying and my body following it into an upright position. I didn't have time for the five count. I don't think I even THOUGHT of the five count. Before I knew it, my chute was perfectly deployed and I was floating. FLOATING! 4500 feet above the earth!!!! Now I know what the sky tastes like! It tastes incredible. It tastes like a life fully lived.

As I floated down from the plane, I had the feeling that my perceptions were powerfully enhanced. Every sight and sound and sensation was bolder than it had ever been. Every moment felt like a lifetime wrapped in a second. "This is so much more than I could have dreamed of," I thought. "I have never felt so alive!"

Coming down is much easier than I thought it would be. A ground controller talks you down through the radio strapped to your chest. "Jumper 2," he says, "45 degrees to the right," and you tug your right toggle and feel your chute turn to the right. At 45 degrees, you release the toggle. A few moments later, "Jumper 2, Jumper 2, 90 degrees to the left," and you see the runway beneath you. From up above, I watched Jo-anne land successfully on the designated landing strip. I saw my family near the hanger. "Jumper 2, you're doing just great." I was headed directly toward the windmill at the Steinbach Mennonite Heritage Museum. "Jumper 2, 180 degrees to your right," and the landing strip was in front of me. "Jumper 2, relax and get ready to land." The ground was quickly approaching. "Jumper 2, eyes on the horizon. Ready, now FLAY!" and I pulled down hard on both toggles, my feet touching the ground. My body collapsed straight forward, gently crumpling to the ground.

I stood up, threw my arms into the air, and shouted. "Woohoo!" I looked around me and saw the video camera pointed toward me. "Woohoo!" I shouted again and leaped into the air. I was alive! SO alive! More alive than I'd ever been!

Before long, I spotted Julie and Mom running toward me. I gathered my chute and headed toward them. The world was strangely silent. I saw the plane landing on the runway in front of me, but I heard no sound. The only sound that registered was the sound of my own breathing, strangely loud and accentuated in my ear. It was the sound of life. My life.

There you have it - the story of my jump. It was all the things I dreamed of and more. It was life-affirming and life-altering all at the same time. When I looked at myself in the mirror that evening while I brushed my teeth, I saw a woman who I respected more than I ever have in my life. That woman in the mirror had jumped out of a plane. She was incredible. She was bold. She was powerful. I went to bed knowing that if I can jump out of a plane, I can do so many more powerful things in my life. Watch out world - here I come!

Only 38 things left to do on my list!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

I came. I saw. I JUMPED!

About all I have the energy to say tonight is... it. was. AMAZING! Did I say amazing? No, that's far too small a word. INCREDIBLE! LIFE-CHANGING! STRATOSPHERICAL! (is that a word?) I promise, I'll tell you more tomorrow, but I am about as exhausted as I've ever been in my life. Worth it though. Definitely worth it. (Note: click on the play button twice.)

Friday, September 01, 2006

Good thing she won't move away from home for eight years or so

I always think I’m not a very sappy mom. I almost feel a little guilty about it sometimes. I don’t get all choked up when the kids start school or have their first sleepover at a friend’s place. When our first baby moved out of our bedroom into her own room for the first time, it was Marcel who spent the night on the floor beside her crib, not me. When I go away on business trips, at least 5 times a year, people ask me “don’t you miss your kids like crazy?” And if I’m honest, I say, “not that much, really”. Oh, it’s not like I’m not happy to see them when I get home, or that I don’t think of them while I’m gone. But a few quiet nights in a hotel room by myself along with solitary evenings of eating out in nice restaurants (with my meals paid for) and wandering around a new city – really, it’s NOT a hardship. And I don’t pine for my children. I might feel a little sad when I miss an important event (like missing Nikki’s 10th birthday when I was in Africa) or I might feel guilty if they’re sick while I’m away, but I don’t miss them much. (Does that make me a bad mom?)

BUT… I think I’m getting sappier. Nikki’s going to a friend’s cabin for the long weekend and…well, I miss her already. I just phoned home to say goodbye before Marcel drops her off at her friend’s house, and, I’ll admit it, I wanted to hear at least a small hint in her voice that she was going to miss me. Nope. Nothing. Me, on the other hand – well, I got off the phone all choked up. Pathetic. Me – getting all blubbery. I suppose it has something to do with it being HER that will be away for three days instead of ME. It’s easier to be the nonchalant, not-missing-anyone person when you’re the one doing the gallavanting and having the adventures.

So, now I’m beginning to think that perhaps I’m just as sappy as nearly every other mother out there. I’ll probably wander around the house like a lost puppy when/if they go away to college or move out of the house.