Category Archives: annie and ben

small celebrations

Annie shouts, “I’m a pony!” She prances through a field, zig-zagging through the tall grass. Benjamin skips along the path ahead of me, hands in his pockets. The sun is high, warming my shoulders, my face. I smile, basking in the day.

In their play, in their freedom, happiness comes easily. Between consuming schedules and registration for next year’s activities and when did my car become a living room and people who exhaust me, I lose perspective. Worry gets in the way of joy, busy overshadows delight.

Annie crouches on the path, her pony left behind, and scratches letters in the dirt. Ben is nearing the bend and soon he’ll be out of sight. He doesn’t stop to look over his shoulder, knowing I’m there, mere steps away. I cup my hands around my mouth, calling, “Ben, stop! You need to wait for us to catch up!”

He halts, kicking up dust. Annie joins me, slipping her hand in mine. My heart hitches. This, all of this, is life-giving. Something to celebrate. We walk along the river, and talk and talk and talk. Blooming trees. Is someone barbecuing? Look at the canoes! Picking dandelions. Inventing wishes. And there is quiet, too, just our footfalls and breaths between us.

I don’t have to do one more thing right now. We don’t have to be anywhere. I’m not yelling, “Stop fighting! Get your shoes on! We’ve got to go!” And tomorrow, tomorrow I’ll carve out rest, some time for myself. The hurry and rush of the week falls off my shoulders.

Near home Annie lifts my hand to her face, so my palm rests against her cheek. She sighs, “I love my life.” Ben turns around, “Me too!”

In their presence, I gain clarity. I need to be in the moment. “I love my life, too.”

Swept up

In a morning spent in White Rock

There is a great community full of gorgeous, fun and funny writing over at Yeah Write, and I am joining up with them again this week.

lost and found

We’re in the car, windows rolled down, words measured and aired. My family holds some of our best conversations strapped into our seats driving toward various destinations.

My eight-year-old daughter Annie, who has expressed a steady stream of thoughts and opinions, interrupts herself, “Are we always learning?”

I say, “Yes, we are. We’re taking in the world around us. That’s one of the best things about life. We always get to learn.”

“Why do people do bad things if they know it isn’t good for them?”

I wonder why all the philosophizing, but I’m going with it. “I don’t know. We have choices, but sometimes we don’t make the right choices. Or we want to try something out, so we do, and then find out it’s a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes,” I catch her eyes in the rear-view mirror, eyes like mine, “I do know it’s important to think for yourself.”

She asks, “Is it important to like yourself?”

“Yes, it is. To know and respect and like you is very important.”

In my girlhood I often felt hesitant and cautious, searching for something just out of reach. I had trouble identifying my emotions at the age of eight, but I knew I was lost. I silenced my confusion, who could understand me? Instead, I played to my strengths. I was the loyal sidekick, a friend to the popular girl. What I couldn’t do for me, I did for the girl in charge. I made her feel good about herself.

From lost and uncomfortable to insecure and loathing, I could not like myself. I wanted to, but didn’t know how. Years later I peeled myself from the wall, abandoned friendships that harmed, and stopped hiding in the shadows. It was okay to want more. It was okay to like me. It wasn’t arrogance. It was necessary.

When I get to observe Annie in her ballet class, I can see from fingertips to toes she is armed with confidence. Concentrating on a drawing, giggling with her best friend, bounding across the yard, she is fearless.

I once lost Annie at the school playground.

I can’t see her anywhere. “Annie! Annie!” I’m frantic. My fingers graze a friend’s shoulder as I dart by, “Have you seen her?” My eyes are everywhere at once. And I remember. I walk over to the tallest tree, the best tree to climb.

“Hi, Mommy! I’m up here!” she chirps. High, high in the tree is my girl. I gulp air, consoled by the realization that I know her, I found her.

In the car I listen to her chatter, her curiosity and I breathe, please, please keep this. This knowledge of who you are. Always, always be yourself. The wind finds me through the open window and carries my wish for both of us, discerning I need this grace as much as she does.

I’m linking up with the fabulousness that is Yeah Write this week. Come check out great writing!

Swept up
in Old Mare

These guys are friends and they know music. Their album You Deserve More came out a little while ago and it’s on high rotation in our car. We love it, not just because they’re good friends, but they’re good friends who make good music.

best and worst parts

I met Kelly not too long ago when I became a member of Studio 30 Plus, a great site for writers. I submitted a piece for Weekend Spotlight and I did it all wrong, showing off my technological ineptness. And Kelly was there to guide me with utmost patience and care. She helps run Studio 30 AND she holds court at her own blog, Naked Girl in a Dress. I am honored to be there today.

Kelly is celebrating the two year anniversary of her blog. She is a writer and photographer. I lifted this quote from her blog because I love it so much.“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”  ~Helen Keller

Kelly moved beyond the closed door, opened the right door and walked through. I admire her tenacity and talent.

At her blog I write about my family, our dinner-table tradition of best and worst parts, and my struggle to embrace parenthood. You can read the post in its entirety here. Come join me over at Kelly’s!

when I grow up

I strode with confidence toward my leg guy (prosthetist) and stopped in front of him to list my demands.

“I’d like a custom liner for my left leg to match the right one. Do you think I’d be eligible for new sockets because these sleeves keep sliding and the suction isn’t so great and I’d like to look into having fancy schmancy covers for my legs that have toes. Toes! My legs look like Grandma legs and I’m just over it. With the pantyhose and the lumpy ankles…”

I waved my hands around to make my point and I finished with a flourish, “Let’s look into this!” I offered a winning smile. The smile of my 8 year old that will get her way no matter what, this is not negotiable. And then I remembered I’m a grown-up. I pushed my shoulders back, “What do we need to do to make this happen?”

I didn’t plan on becoming an amputee. On my list of ‘things I want to be when I grow up’ under astronaut, nurse or teacher it didn’t say ‘person with missing limbs’. I remember being in awe of Terry Fox as a child. He was and is a national hero. In our schools, on TV, at home we honored this young man who ran across our country with his artificial leg to raise money for cancer research. He had guts, heart. As a seven year old I wondered if I could be like him – did I have guts like that?

Our schools do a Terry Fox run annually and last year I decided to join my daughter for the run, but we walked. As we did our laps around the field Annie informed her friend, who walked with us, “Do you know my mom’s an amputee? She has fake legs. Two of them!”

Her friend nodded and smiled.

Annie took a deep breath. I could see she was about to launch into how it all began. I whispered to her, “It’s okay. We don’t need to get into this now. Let’s keep walking.”

Do you know what’s weird about being an amputee? Almost everything. And, after a while, almost nothing.

Becoming an amputee was shocking, devastating. I woke up to a nightmare, to the message that my life would never be the same. “You’ve lost your right leg, Heidi. And it looks like you will lose your left leg, too.” Dreams of what I would be went up in smoke and I entered a new world of fittings, castings, new terminology and disability. I fought with my identity. Who am I haunted me with every careful step I took in my prosthetic legs.

And now, now I’ve been able to speak on behalf of the burn fund, on behalf of burn survivors to various groups and organizations, to stand in front of many people and say, you can do this. You can get to the other side. I get to share my story to further research and help raise money for people like me. Beyond that I get to live my life and it’s an ordinary one with extraordinary circumstances and moments. I could say to my seven year old self, “You have the guts.”

Thirty years later I walked around a field holding my daughter’s hand as we honored a national hero. And I’m grateful.

Swept up

In Midnight in Paris!

It’s about a youngish couple who travel to Paris for business and are forced to face the illusion that a life different from their own might be better. It’s a movie by Woody Allen starring Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams and it is a delight!

known

I stood in the kitchen wondering if I should sweep the crummy, sticky floor or just lie down on the couch and call it a day. My kids whispered on the staircase after I had shooed them to the basement. Ben said, “I have to tell her.”

My six year old boy, hair disheveled and jeans slung low, shuffled over and planted his feet in front of me. “Mommy, I have to tell you something.”

“Okay, Ben. Lay it on me.” I expected a confession.

He took a deep breath and opened his mouth. “Mommy.” He couldn’t make eye contact and he appeared nervous, but Ben rarely looks me in the eye, so I let it go. And then I thought, is there a puddle of pee somewhere? Did he break my phone? No, not my phone.

“Mommy, you are my hero. You are brave and smart and you finished a whole book and that is hard work. I’m lucky you’re my mommy.”

He sped through his speech, threw his arms around me and hung from my neck. “You are my hero. I just had to tell you.”

“Benjamin,” I cried, “I’m the lucky one.”

He drew back and his eyes widened. My tears alarmed him. “They’re happy tears. You make me very happy. Thank you, thank you!” I smothered him with kisses. He dutifully let me kiss him, and as soon as he could, he made a break for it and ran to the basement.

One of the things I cherish most in this life is to be known. To have people in your life that just get you. You make sense even if you feel you don’t, and if you don’t make sense it’s not held against you. We’re not defensive. We’re not constantly explaining ourselves. I can let my guard down, I can settle into our relationship because I trust you. You know me and I know you. And in this knowing sometimes perfection happens.

It’s not that I’m a hero. I wasn’t waiting to hear those words. It’s that my little boy, who isn’t so little, more long and gangly, brought me perspective. It’s that he saw me for a few seconds, as his mom who cleans up after him and yells at him to pick up his Lego which has become a death trap to anyone that walks across our floor, and as a person. A person, a mother with feelings and goals and dreams.

We’re so busy and know so many people. At work, at school, at kids’ play dates and activities. We’re everything to everyone, so when you get to be just you and you are loved, regardless or ‘because of’, by those family members and best friends, it is gold.

Swept up

In you guys!! I was blown away and humbled by your kind words and encouragement after my last post (oh, the encouragement!!). I just want to say thank you for your being here and your belief. For taking me to a higher place.

This is how Benjamin looks most of the time: happy, even without the bubbles.

Again, photo taken by the fabulous Anastasia Chomlack

from the backseat

I’m in my van driving my kids around all the time, so here are a couple of offbeat and charming things I hear from the backseat…

On our way home from school Benjamin asked Annie, “Would you want to go to machete school?”

Annie said, “What’s a machete?”

“A really big knife that can cut off people’s heads.” Ben emphasized this with a swift karate chop to the neck.

Me under my breath, Umm, what? Machete school or murder school? Duuude.

Ben isn’t an aggressive kid. He’s fairly easygoing, loves Lego and his mom, a homebody. I don’t let him play video games where massacre is involved unless you count exploding Lego bricks in Star War Battles as massacre.  No one in our bloodline has a thirst for vengeance. Not on my side anyway. We Mennonites are born pacifists. Ben’s a bit quirky, odd perhaps, but out to kill? A future assassin? No. So I chalked it up to weirdness. He can’t help it. That’s been passed down from both Scott and I.

At dinner he asked his dad if he had a machete. Without missing a beat Scott answered, “No, Ben, I don’t have a machete. Why?”

Ben shrugs. “I dunno.”

I wanted to get to the bottom of it, “Did you need one for something?”

“No. I just think Daddy should have one. They’re cool,” he grinned.

Alright, Ben.

***

A couple of weeks ago I drove Annie and her friend to their ballet class when I heard Annie ask, “Have you heard of the Great Depression?”

I turned the volume of the radio down. They had just been discussing a ‘talking’ dog on YouTube and I had grown weary.

Her friend said, “What’s a depression?”

Annie: “Where people are really, really poor and they have to sell a lot of apples to get out of it.”

I piped up, “Are you learning about this for Social Studies in school, Annie?”

Annie: “No, I read about it in American Girl.”

Ah. And there you have it.

Swept up

You can hear my interview for the Angel Campaign with Rick Cluff on the Early Edition at CBC Radio here. Jump to time: 1:50:30 where I talk about my 7 month stay at Vancouver General Hospital and how the staff made my Christmas magical!

believe

I could use a little magic this year. A little ta-da! in my life. And in December it seems possible. As I drive past decorated streets and houses welcoming Christmas, I want to believe.

My family and I attend Bright Nights every year to kick off the holiday season. We ride the miniature train and revel in thousands of lights strung together, the displays of Santa and his reindeer, Cindy Lou Who and the Grinch, baby Jesus in a manger, and the conductor from the Polar Express on stilts! Dancing on stilts, by the way.

Bright Nights never disappoints. After the train ride we buy popcorn, walk through lit pathways, pose the kids in front of multiple displays and coax them to smile. “Smile bigger. Wow, that’s a lot of teeth. Okay, that’s creepy. Just smile normal.” If we’re lucky we’ll see a large flash of red in the crowd. Santa’s parked his sleigh and he’s bombarded with children and their parents clamoring for his attention. “Look up!” Scott points at the trees and the kids gasp at red, white, green and blue reaching and twinkling against night sky.

While it’s packed with people and bright with lights it is a sanctuary, a place in the park for our community carved out by firefighters, many volunteers, and donations made by visitors. A place where everything stops for a while so we can get swept up in the season, appreciate the good in our lives, not pay for parking (in the city this is very exciting) and be merry. Bright Nights is an event that’s been close to my heart for 12 years.

On our way out before we stop at the donation box, before we say goodbye to the firefighters handing out candy canes as they wish us “Merry Christmas!” we notice a new display. It’s the train from the Polar Express chugging along the tracks and just above it on the roof of the train station is the word Believe.

Ah, magic.

Swept up in Bright Nights at Stanley Park, Vancouver.

I tweeted this pic of Annie and Ben last night.

be bold

My kids know I’ve been writing my story and this has prompted many observations and questions about the crash. Benjamin is caught up in justice. “Did the bad guy go to jail?” “Was he going very fast?” “Did he say sorry?” Yes, he went to jail but nearly didn’t. Yes, he was going very fast. And the last answer is tricky. Annie is taken with what happened later, after the crash. She’s known about me longer and considers herself an authority on the details. “That’s why you have the marks on your arms.” “How did the doctors cut off your legs?” “I’m named after Betty, right? I’m just switched around.” She turns to Ben, “I’m Annie Elizabeth. I’m named after Mommy’s best friend.” Yes. Well, they cut them, but let’s not get into ‘how’ exactly. And yes.

And then one day…

We’re eating dinner. Scott is skydiving, so it’s just me and the kids. Annie looks up from the spaghetti she’s twirling with her fork and says, “I’m glad you didn’t die in the crash.  If you died, you wouldn’t be our mommy.”

I clutch at my heart (oh, my heart) and I am crying which makes Annie cry and Ben continues to slurp his spaghetti, looking at me and then Annie. I get up from my chair, throw my arms around her and squish my cheek against hers, “I’m crying happy tears. I’m happy I lived too. I’m so lucky to be your mommy.”

***

I returned from the PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writers Association) conference with (stealing from Emmy nominated Friday Night Lights) clear eyes and a full heart. I attended the conference because Scott made me and because I’ve detached from the book. I’d been staring at my screen slack-jawed and eyes blank, knowing I must fill in the growing gap between me and getting the story out there. I needed this conference.

I was lucky enough to meet these brave and lovely women, Alexis Bass, Alisha Sanvicens, Claire Carey (who doesn’t have a blog, but should!) and Joanna Roddy, who ended up being my guides through the conference and guides in boldness. They sparkled, pitched their stories, and shone. Surrounded with people that live to write and the lucky few that write to live, and hearing stories of how writers earned the title, author, I was inspired. Annie’s words tapped me on the shoulder reminding me to finish what I started. I’m here for a reason – to tell the story.

I know what it means to be bold, how deep you have to go sometimes to find it and at other times you wear it like a coat. You throw it on and oh-hey-it-fits-and-it’s-comfortable! If I hadn’t stuck up my hand during Saturday’s workshop to give the shortest synopsis of my book ever I wouldn’t have met Kim Kircher or read an early release of her book The Next 15 Minutes which is incredible and everyone should read it when it comes out in October. Seriously, it’s crazy good. If it hadn’t been for all of these gutsy women I wouldn’t have pitched my story to a few agents and an editor that day and I wouldn’t have the opportunity to send my material to them. Bold blazed everywhere that weekend and I’m going to continue to follow the light.

when friends are twerps

“Who is the boss of you?”

“I am! And, you are. Right, Mommy?”

Yup, that’s right.

In preschool both my kids learned a song called, Let’s Make Room for a Friend. And that song was carried over to two afternoons a week for a year. While they interacted with the other kids at school, they called each person a friend and under close supervision worked out the small problems that cropped up among three year olds still learning words and how-to-share. This lesson spilled over into the playground, into the next year at four year old preschool and then onto big kids’ school. Share, be kind, and make room for a friend.

I preach it, too. I talk to my kids about being inclusive, about apologizing when we’ve done something wrong, having manners and being kind. When Annie asked me, “What is compassion?” I thought, that’s a good question, before I answered her and we had a discussion about what it means to feel for others and to put others before ourselves. Sometimes. And this is where it gets tricky for me.

There aren’t preschool songs about asserting yourself with messages like ‘I don’t make room for people that are colossal jerks’. In our growing tolerance for others and believing in niceness above all else what do we do when someone isn’t playing by the rules and being nice? I’m not talking about a bad day. Everyone has those. I’m talking about consistently bad, borderline malicious behavior toward others. Bullying. I can’t believe that it even happens – that in Kindergarten kids are being steamrolled by a peer. I’m sure they are confused and hurting, too. But, my kids aren’t therapists and I don’t think they should be anyone’s punching bag.

It’s always the twerp that everyone follows. The leader of the pack is the bossiest and the meanest. Why can’t it be the kindest, the one that sets up lemonade stands to raise money for charity? I would settle for someone that just stays out of trouble and doesn’t swear. Ben likes to please, to fit in and I’m watching him being swayed this year by a twerp. I reel him in as much as I can, remind him of who he is and what our standards are. There have got to be times when you don’t make room for a friend, which is what I told him a few days ago. “You don’t have to be friends with this boy. There are plenty of other boys to play with. Good, fun boys. Friends don’t try to control you.”

This year, more than any other year, I feel like a parent. I’m cringing, hoping, stepping in, taking a step back and making impassioned pleas to my kids about everything. Like most parents, I am always wondering if I’m doing, saying the right thing as we navigate through how to be you and what is or is not okay. And if you get stomped on, what should you do? I overheard Ben and this boy, the leader of the pack, talking about a book Ben brought to school. Ben was proudly showing off the second book of a series to him, “Look at what I brought!” The boy said, “Why do you always bring those books? You brought a book like that last time.” Ben’s smile slipped for a second, “Because I like them.” And Ben walked away. It was a small step forward and I was so proud.

Swept Up

That’s right. I’m bringing it back. For my early readers you’ll remember ‘swept up’. If not, this is the portion of the blog when I tell you what I’m, well, swept up in, what I’m into. This week it’s the movie Bridesmaids. I laughed all the way through it. It’s funny and heartfelt. Go see it.

because it’s christmas

I struggled to find joy in the aftermath of tragedy. I mean, I smiled. I laughed. But, that deep down no one can take it away from me kind of joy had been hiding for a while. I knew it was still in me, somewhere. I tried to unearth it, to dig it out from under grief and the black of loss. I remembered its steadfastness, how joy brought hope with it and longed to see its face again. I needed it and thought please, let it come to me.

I knew how to survive, to fight and win. I endured surgery after surgery and each battle that followed. I knew how to clamp down, grit my teeth and do my best. It was the emptiness afterward curled in the pit of my stomach that scared me the most. It attacked me with a ferocity that took my breath away. I didn’t know what lay ahead and ‘what now’ scratched at my mind, relentless in its bleakness.

One evening Scott and I were at my parents’ home having been given the day off from the rehabilitation center, which had become home for me. I was shivering not from cold, but from this emptiness that was present at every turn reassuring me of my hard-earned existence and my aloneness in it. I whispered to anyone, anything, “Does it ever get better?”

Scott answered, “I think it’s going to be love that will get you through.”

I didn’t know what I was looking for. A booming voice from the heavens giving me the answers to a cure, promises of rainbows and happily ever afters. Love wasn’t good enough. Love was mocking in its inadequacy.

“Love?”

“Love.”

How could he be so sure? I felt bottomless in my need. Nothing could fill me up. Love would sink like a stone and be lost.

How could he be so sure?

I turned it over in my palm. I weighed it against everything that I knew. I looked hard at love and gave it a chance.

It didn’t happen overnight. It wasn’t fast, but love did its work freeing joy, releasing her to me. Love wasn’t limited to one source. Love came from everywhere. From a father who finally told me he loved me, from a nurse holding my hand when I couldn’t hold in my tears, from a friend that pulled up a chair next to my hospital bed, from a physiotherapist that was firm in her belief, “You can do this” and held me to it, from a stranger telling me I was beautiful when in this world I knew I was not, from a boy I just met, and from myself – to not give up, to guard the light I had trusting it would grow greater than the emptiness that threatened me, to know that hope, joy, and love were always and would continue to be mine.

for old time’s sake

Swept Up

Merry Christmas!