Curbing my New Year Enthusiasm

I am an impulsive planner. I have to-do lists of to-do lists. And when the new year roles around I enjoy laying out my goals for the year. For the last six years, I have set goals according to a few key areas such as my personal and professional development, my spirituality and travel. As you can imagine, as a list lover, every year I get ambitious. And inevitably, every year I manage to scratch a few goals of the list, but only a few. The rest are left to be regurgitated again and again as each year passes.

So this year I’ve decided to take a new approach inspired by a recent article by Hope Clark. I am reducing my pages and pages of goals to four simple, achievable (yet ambitious) things. It wasn’t an easy transition. Those who know me well would laugh as I fought the urge to add more and more to my list. I couldn’t help but add-on a “Nice to Have” list for a couple of low priority but would be fun goals.  My hope is that my energy will be well focused for the next twelve months with only four goals to pursue. I’m also hoping that the feelings of disappointment and inadequacy I’ve felt in years past regarding my failed goals will disappear. (I mean, why do I even do that to myself? I’ve got two kids under five…somedays I should be proud I managed to brush my teeth.)

The entire process feeds into my ultimate goals, to stop taking life so seriously and to act more than think about doing things. I can have lists from here to the moon, but if I don’t act at all then what’s the point. And luckily this year, my list is short, sweet and enjoyable.

Happy 2014 everyone.

 

 

 

 

Grieving and the Holidays

This article was featured in the Winter Edition of my newsletter. Sign up above to get the newsletter delivered directly to your email. 

As December draws near and the holidays loom, instead of the common anticipation and excitement, individuals who are grieving often feel a sense of dread. Common sentiments are, “How will I be able to cope with the memories and the heartbreak?” or “There is so much pressure to be cheerful and festive, but I’m not in the mood. I feel like I need to fake it.”

The idea of facing the holidays without someone you love is painful and magnifies the sense of loss. Holidays are filled with traditions that may not seem the same anymore. It is helpful to plan ahead and create new ways of approaching and marking the holidays. The following excerpt from When Your Child Dies: Tools for Mending Parents’ Broken Hearts provides some ideas and strategies for coping.

  • Only do things you want to do.
  • Keep things as simple as possible.
  • Allow yourself to talk about your grief and your loved one.
  • Consider the needs of the family and make decisions as a group.
  • Find a way to make special tribute to your loved one.
  • Skip the holiday gatherings and traditions if you want to.
  • Make sure to take the time to be alone if you need it.
  • Give yourself permission to have fun.
  • Acknowledge that emotional pain during the holidays is normal and will likely occur.
  • Be vocal about your needs.
  • Share stories and reminisce.
  • Ignore or change old traditions as feels right.
  • Eliminate unnecessary stress.

If you are grieving this holiday season, I encourage you to reflect on what is most important to you over the next month. How would you like to acknowledge your loved one through the holidays? Are there new traditions or activities that you would like to incorporate such as volunteering or a special ornament commemorating your loved one? Or, do you want to celebrate the holidays at all? Listen to your heart and determine what works best for you and for your grief.

A Note on Grieving for a Baby during the Holidays

Parents who have suffered the death of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth or post-natal death also look to the holidays with a certain sense of dread and uncertainty. Unlike other losses, the memories of the baby are limited and instead parents are faced with grieving memories unformed. All the imagined holiday’s and moments shared suddenly become impossible and parents are cruelly reminded of the potential they have lost. Despite this, the grief of parents who have lost babies often goes unacknowledged during the holidays and parents may feel isolated in their grief. If someone in your life has recently suffered the death of a baby, be open to discussing and acknowledging the sense of loss and grief they may feel in light of the holidays. If you have suffered the loss, consider new traditions that you can introduce that acknowledge the love and longing you feel. There are six ornaments on my tree for Alden, one for each Christmas without him. Making these ornaments has been a ritual that creates the space I need to bring him into my heart and mind over the holidays in a calm, quiet, loving way.

Wishing you all a peaceful, truthful and calm holiday season.

 

Grief dupes me again

Eventually you hit a battle rhythm with life, and your grief walks away from centre stage. You feel confident. You feel like the depth of sadness is only fleeting now. You are a mother bereaved, but you are happy. Then out of nowhere, grief gets you. Creeps up from behind and says – hello remember me.

As an author of a book about grief, you think I wouldn’t be surprised. We even wrote about how grief goes in cycles and that it is a lifelong process. But really, grief, did you have to show up now? I was feeling good.

But the reality is, I can’t determine when or how I will experience grief throughout my life.  Sometimes the cause for my sadness will be obvious, like Alden’s birthday or deathday. And somedays I am going to be unexpectedly blue without obvious cause – other than just plain missing my son and wishing things could have worked out differently. This time around there are a few factors in play but the seven year anniversary of Alden’s death is weighing on me more than last year’s anniversary. I find myself faced with coming to terms with the preventability of it all. The last edges of my disbelief are wearing off and I have no choice but to acknowledge that this will never change.

The good news is, after years of experience I can get through these periods of grief with more ease and understanding. The confusion and overwhelm of the first few years are behind me and I can cope with the emotions more readily. Although difficult, these unexpected times of sadness also hold moments of appreciation and love for Alden that I am grateful for. It’s like we write in WYCD, “Throughout your life there will be times when you experience a resurgence of emotional pain and grief bubbling up… These moments validate your ongoing loving relationship with your child and evolving bereavement. Your child will always be in your heart and mind.”

 

 

A dash of surprise

Last week I stopped into a cafe to grab a coffee. I must have had an air of desperation, or maybe the clerk saw the blur in my eyes. Instead of the Americano I ordered, he handed me a Red Eye. What is a Red eye you ask? It is espresso with coffee. I suddenly filled with delight. A new and unexpected experience, a humble new adventure at a roadside coffee shop. How fun!

As a parent with young kids, life is driven strongly by routine. Each week and even day follow similar patterns and the days can meld a little bit. This kind stranger who was giving me a new drink was actually spicing up my life! There are a lot of little thoughts I took from the experience.

Firstly, man am I easy to please!

Secondly, new experiences, however small, reconnect me to the excitement and surprise that life can offer. Sensing, experiencing, doing new things makes me feel GREAT! and more alive and I need to do more of it. The routine simplifies things, makes things predictable and in some ways manageable. It also provides some stability for the kids – things I value. But what they will remember is the exciting day trips, the weird foods we try, the late nights at music festivals, the great conversations with new people. Those are the kinds of experiences that I want to fill my life with, and the life of my kids too.  So thank you stranger at the coffee shop for shaking me out of my routine doldrums and reminding me about the potential for spontaneity in life.

Finally, I’ve never considered surprising strangers for fun but now I am very tempted. Anyone have any random acts of surprise ideas? Post it in the comments – I will do it and post about it. (Kind ideas only please).

 

Looking for “the moment”

The kids play chase while I rest my back.

At the beginning of the summer I suffered a back injury which I am recovering from slowly. For a period of three weeks I could do nothing. I mean nothing. No picking up kids, no cooking, no cleaning, no working. Nothing but lying on the ground, icing my back and walking.

You would think, since I couldn’t do anything, I would be able to just enjoy the time watching my kids and relaxing, but no. After a couple of days, I started to think about all the things I had to do when I got better. A week later I felt my stress starting to peak as the endless to do list I had been rattling off in my mind for days now started to implode (remember, I couldn’t do a thing). At this point I barely noticed the kids I was so wrapped up in thinking about all the things I had to do. And I was literally just lying on the floor, putting myself into a tizzy.

Then, out of the blue, Myles and Kaiya had a roaring, non-stop laugh like only siblings can and it stirred me from the self-induced stress monster I had become. I realized that I had been focusing so much on the future that I was failing to enjoy the present (minus the excruciating pain). Yes, I was home under unfortunate circumstances, but I was home with the kids, which I have been missing so much since returning to work full time. I was worrying about things that I couldn’t achieve at the moment anyways, so what was the point of spending a drop of energy on them?

We often hear the saying, “live in the moment.” As an insatiable planner/multi-tasker, this can be a little hard.  I can get so wrapped up in planning, I can’t just chill out and enjoy where I am or what I am doing. As a parent of two young kids with lots to do this is somewhat understandable, but it also contradicts with the type of parent I want to be. If my personal train of thought is building a grocery list while I’m trying to read a book to my kids, I’m not being 100% attentive.

Who better to turn to in my search for “the moment” than my kids? Kids aren’t wrapped up in the future or past yet – they are enjoying it, exploring it, doing it right now. So far my quest for ‘the moment’ has had spotty success but now I am making a concious effort to notice where my thoughts are hanging out. I’ll continue, with my kids as my guides, and maybe with a little effort I’ll end up closer to the present.

Introducing the TodBot

Evidence of my resident toddler.

Dear Universe,

On behalf of all the parents of toddlers everywhere, can you please help us out? These toddlers are out of control! I have a great pitch to solve the woes of many parents – a todbot (short for toddler robot). And I have all the programming ideas you need to get started.

First, the clean-up setting, designed to clean up the unexpected messes of any 1-2.5 year old: crayons on the wall; the bucket of toys they dump out for fun and then abandon; the food and/or juice all over the floor, table, face and walls (how and why?!). Another great feature of this setting is ensuring that all sharp objects are away from counter edges and any unobvious yet dangerous weapons are tucked away.

Setting number 2 – the safety setting. This setting is designed to keep an eye on the trouble makers so parents can actually get things done. It includes spotting our little monkeys as they climb on counter tops, kitchen tables, and jungle gyms. The todbot shepherds toddlers back to their parents when they run away again and again and again.

Setting number 3 is a special favorite of mine: the reduce grossness setting. This setting puts the todbot on high alert for anything especially gross and keeps disgusting things out of toddler mouths and hands. No more taste-testing chalk, crayons or playdo with this setting. Kiss drinking puddle water goodbye and no need to worry about the toilet scrubber being used to “clean” the floor or wack older sisters and parents.

Of course, an unquantifiable demand is that the todbot would perform it’s duties with the love and patience all of us parents have down on earth. Think you can make it happen? Because seriously – we need a break down here.

Yours truly,

Ragged Mother of a 20 Month Old

p.s. If you can program it to do my dishes and fold endless piles of laundry that would also be appreciated.

 

Help for Newtown

Last week the Huffington Post published an article about the Parkers, parents of Emilie who was killed in the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings. The couple had a  meeting with the father of Adam Lanza (the shooter in the Newtown tragedy). I was struck in the article by Elisa Parker’s words and about her conviction that she ”needed” the meeting to occur. As a bereaved parent this is something I am very familiar with. The intuitive feeling that in order for healing to occur, I needed to listen to my needs, even if I wasn’t sure where they were leading me. Falling in line with her needs is absolutely a positive choice. As we say in When Your Child Dies, “You are the best person to determine what you need to help you grieve and heal.”

When the tragedy in Newtown occurred, co-author Randie Clark and I felt an automatic desire to reach out and help as did many others. As bereaved parents ourselves we also re-experienced our own pain in imagining that of the bereaved parents of Sandy Hook. When we got the call that both a private donor and our publisher New Horizon Press would be donating cases of the book to the community of Newtown, I felt a sense of relief. Help was on the way to the parents of Sandy Hook and I had contributed to that. It was gratifying and confirming; our motivation from the beginning has been to help other bereaved parents by furthering their understanding of trauma and grief, by providing tools so they can be empowered in their grieving process, and through speaking from the heart, parent to parent.

I don’t know if the parents of Newtown have had the chance to read the book yet, but when their faces and stories pop up in the news, I find comfort in knowing it’s on their shelves.

Commemorating the Penny

In Canada the government has recently decided to stop issuing pennies. These small copper coins have been minted since 1858 and formed my early understandings of what money was as a child. I relished in rolling my ‘riches’ up and even bought penny candies from the corner store (and I’m not that old…). For the young me, pennies were worth something.

With a one year old on the brink of speech I realized that the word penny may never enter his vernacular. Some of you may think, just a word, no biggie. But this reality seemed noteworthy to me. There are just a couple years between them but my oldest daughter knows and treasures pennies, while my youngest will not be exposed to them in any significant way. It made me think about how history influences us in minute yet significant ways and how your identity reflects your age and generation, but also the world you live within. We are living history, a fact I often forget.

And with that comes the importance of knowing where you came from. So I’ll tuck a few pennies away to show them to my son when he gets older.

 

Managing Family Transitions

After a year and a few months of being home with the kids I’ve returned to full time work as a Planning Officer with Emergency Management BC. I have to admit that after three weeks, my adrenalin is starting to fade and I’m feeling pretty bagged. Transitions like this can take a toll on a family. Here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way regarding how to reduce family stress caused by big changes such as a parent returning to work.

  • Take baby steps. Unfortunately I had to jump straight back into full time work but I know of many moms who negotiate a transition period were they work part time to start and slowly work their way up to full time hours as the kids adjust. If you can, find a way to ease your kids into any changes ahead.
  • Maintain as many elements of your routine as possible. While big changes are happening, the predictable elements of your child’s day can provide a consistency that softens the blow.
  • If age appropriate talk about the reasons and impacts of the change with your kid(s). If they vocalize something that is bothering them, empower your kids to offer solutions. By giving them the reigns it offers them a measure of control over the outcomes of the changes happening in your family.
  • Take on one change at a time. Doing too many changes at once, such as a big trip or moving houses on top of something else can cause exponential stress or overwhelm for your little ones.
  • Keep things simple. The change itself is going to complicate things at first so keep everything else as simple as possible. Expect to eat Kraft Dinner or order pizza a couple times a week. Ignore chores if you have to. Getting the family settled and the kids feeling secure should be the main priority to start. The rest comes later.
Luckily for us the kids are faring well so far. As for me, I’m going through my own adjustment period but so far I have unintentionally mothered my co-workers only once or twice. My motto so far – to keep it simple and to appreciate/hug my kids a lot when I’m close.

 

A is for Organic

 

As much as possible, my family purchases produce from Vancouver Island or British Columbia. We are as ‘locavore’ as we can be. This means that in the winter we eat a lot of root vegetables and stews, and berries are a delectable summer treat. I’ve never explored organic foods because I assumed that they were going to be outside of my budget. But recently I came across the Environmental Working Groups Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides (www.ewg.org/foodnews/). Much to my surprise, apples were at the top of the list for residual pesticide levels in food. The great news about this is that organic apples are commonly comparable in price to the non-organic variety, and with apples now in season, it is a simple switch that is a healthier choice. Keep an eye out in your neighbourhood. If you’re lucky, you may be able to score free apples of the organic variety somewhere nearby. We’ve managed to harvest apples from a couple of apple trees and have been delighting in our organic apple crisps and apple sauce.  I can’t promise to shop organic all the time, for all products, but apples seems to be the place to start.

Note: I can’t help but state that the Shopper’s Guide is based on the United States which likely has different guidelines for pesticide use. Regardless, I found it to be an informative resource that could guide consumer decisions – but I’m no agricultural expert. If anyone has information about a similar Canadian resource, please leave a note in the comments – Thanks.