My piece on connection and seeking balance is featured at Kindred Magazine. I am delighted to contribute to this great group of women writers.
I check my list and lean on my cart. There’s that familiar flutter, the anticipation of it’s going to get worse and I’m stuck. I’m here to buy groceries and the pain in my legs is explosive. I could desert my cart and drive home, but we need food. I began the shopping trip okay, my legs cramping but tolerable. And then the ache crept, grew bigger and I have three more aisles to go.
Butter, sour cream, milk go into my cart. My left leg feels squishy and I know there’s blood pooling in my liner. (A liner is made up of silicone which goes over my leg and then fits into the protheses.) What I need is some privacy; to take off my legs, ease the pressure and clean up the blood. I have to get to checkout.
One step. Two steps. Twenty steps. A hundred steps.
My hands shake as I plunk every item onto the conveyor belt. Fast and careless. While I pay I look for a restroom sign and there it is; a beacon. Public washrooms are gross and they’ve become my safe haven.
I roll my full cart into the handicapped stall. I sit down hard. Legs off, shoulders sagging, my head in my hands; I wait. Until the throbbing subsides. Pain is a second heartbeat. A ragged pulse.
I grab toilet paper to catch the dripping blood before it reaches the floor. There’s a scrape, a shuffle outside the door. Deep breath. I slide everything back on, biting my lip as the liner rolls over the open wound. Opening the door, I apologize to the woman with her baby for taking so long. For a quick second I think maybe I should explain. But. No time. No strength.
She smiles. “No, no. That’s okay.” Her sincerity, my weariness almost makes me cry. Now I have to get to my car.
One step, three steps, a thousand steps. I still have to drive home. 15 minutes of torment until I reach sanctuary.
Since being burnt and losing my feet due to a horrific car crash 17 years ago I have dealt with chronic skin breakdown and pain. There are days of reprieve. I’ve even had weeks of reprieve, but my skin breaks down, I get different liners, new prosthetic legs, and pain resurfaces. Distress is never far away.
A few short years ago I wrote a book. A memoir with a cover and publisher and title and everything! There were book signings and television spots, months of feeling like the luckiest woman in the world.
I was invited to speak more. My kids began to grow up, turning into people with lives of their own. Life got busy. My legs were an ongoing problem. Battling infections. Energy waning. A bad week spiraled into a bad month and then it was, “it’s been a bad year and a half. Oh, um, I guess it’s been two years now.” There didn’t seem to be an end. Bad legs became bad health. My body couldn’t cope. There were frequent visits to doctors. Blood drawn. Priorities changed.
Careful with my time and energy, my life is a forced list of capabilities. There’s little room for extra. I’m fine until I’m not. Each day is different. When it’s a good day, I’m grateful and I go with it – no analyzing. Walking. Seeing a friend. Going to work. Yay! Unless I’m obviously limping or I tell you “my health is for shit”, most people will assume I’m alright. I want to be okay. Because I’m over it. I am so sick of being sick. You get tired of explaining. My complaints on Facebook would look like this:
Legs hurt. Again. Please send chocolate.
In bed. Watching Downton. How cute are Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes?? (I did text that to a friend.)
Full thickness wound. Boo.:(
Really missing morphine! #nostalgic
On prednisone for some weird immune thing. I’m allergic to myself. Feeling manic. (For those of you who have had the delightful/disturbing experience of being on that steroid you get this.)
I put out the happy stuff, not because I’m lying about my life but because these issues can be consuming and my life has other parts – lightness, sweetness. The bad cannot outweigh the good. My family. A great book. A dancey Annie. A funny, weird thing Ben said. Good friends. The TV I’m obsessed with. If I’m not driving or working, I’m resting. I don’t have a choice. I have to go to bed. That gets old fast.
So, what is the point of writing this?
To fill you in, to catch you up on where I’ve been. This is what’s happening. I felt I owed it to you guys, to the kind people who followed me on this journey of writing. I was around until I wasn’t. To say I’m so sorry to my writerly friends that I haven’t been around.
To tell those of you who deal with chronic, persistent anything that you are not alone. As children we’re told we can do anything and we grow up to discover that might not be true. We have limits. We’re told to push past and soar. Sure, yes, sometimes that’s possible. But. Sometimes in order to thrive we need to acknowledge our limits – not in defeat but with acceptance. Sometimes it’s worthwhile to say this is hard. In the muck of it all I can still see the good and make the most of living. Because there is so much good.
She hides under her bed, small and still. It’s not enough to go to her room and slam the door. Her feelings are sorted in a quiet, dark space. “Annie, are you okay?”
The first time she hid I couldn’t find her. I opened her bedroom door and found an empty room, and then a tiny voice, “I just need to be alone.”
“Oh.” I was surprised. “Okay.”
I left, wondering about this new thing. The whole house knew when she was upset. Every step up the stairs loud and defined, Annie always had big feelings packed into a small body. At the age of 2 she hit and pushed when she was angry, no time to explain. Always moving, running, jumping I couldn’t keep up with her. She couldn’t find her words, but she knew exactly what to do with her body. She has become better with words, curious with questions, but her body still takes over. Now, when it’s too much, she retreats.
I was all-in all year and somewhere between summer beginning and ending I got tired. My body broke down. It was too much. I’ve been hiding in this season, my favorite season, when fall steals summer in a burst of red and gold, leaves falling to invite quiet. I am feeling, but unable to find the words. Writing – my fall-back, my go-to, my sanctuary is missing. I’m not under the bed, but I’m guarded. Separating my thoughts. Being thin-skinned in a thick-skinned world.
We admire toughness. The ability to deflect, to be quick with answers. Handle noise and intensity with a smile. To shrug and say so what. We are rated, reviewed and judged, and we’re supposed to be fine with it, welcoming. What happens when you’re not so easygoing? We get hurt, overwhelmed, receive bad news and we must bounce back, and when we can’t, we’re wondering what’s wrong. Thick skin is demanded.
It doesn’t fit.
I have always wanted to be one of those people who lets things slide off her shoulders, cares less. But things get to me and under my skin. I hang on white-knuckled until I’m pried loose. I can do it all until I can’t. Guarded, unguarded…I’m not sure which way to go, but I know armor is heavy. Rather than fight sensitivity, I’ll surrender. Be high-strung and scrappy. I am flaws and failures, honesty and strength. Secure, insecure. There is no right version of me. Of us. Whatever that means. We are two sides, all sides; heart, mind and soul.
I look at Annie – we are more alike than not. I tell her it’s not about being perfect. I know perfect lives vast inside her. “It’s okay to make mistakes. Learn from them and keep going. There is more to you than a mistake.” This isn’t profound, but it’s important for her. As I say these words, this little truth; I take a deep breath. We are doing the best we can with what we have and that has to be enough.
in Rare Bird
This beautiful book is written by Anna Whiston-Donaldson. It is about the life and loss of her beloved son Jack. I’ve been reading Anna’s blog for a long time, learning about her kids and her son who reminded me of mine, so when I received an email from a mutual friend sharing the sad news that she lost her boy to a tragic accident I was shocked, heartbroken. This should not have happened. I have witnessed her survival and strength turn into a book. The book is not trite or happily ever after. It is true and rich and thoughtful. I loved her courage, her incredible ability to write and let the reader in. I couldn’t put Rare Bird down. You can buy it here!
Our family does this thing at dinner. Best parts, worst parts. What are the best and worst parts of your day? Ben’s best parts often revolve around food and he rarely has worst parts. He shrugs his shoulders. “It’s been a pretty good day.” He speaks last because he is so busy eating he can’t form words around all of the food. Annie is eager to talk because she has many best and worst parts to her day, all of which must be shared, so she usually starts us off.
The rule is that there are no rules. Scott and I don’t get to judge even if it turns out the worst part of the day is when Ben got kicked by his sister or mummy lost her mind in the car. If their best part was that they got a smencil (a smelly pencil) and they saw a cool bug, awesome. Everyone is entitled to their feelings, their best parts. Sometimes the worst part is so embarrassing that we preface the story by demanding that “you can’t tell anyone outside the family” with a long, threatening look for emphasis. We have found this dinner thing a great way to start a conversation, rummage through their hearts and brains a bit (every once in a while their answers go deeper than a smelly pencil), and the kids know they can talk without fear of us freaking out.
So. Here are a few of my best, worst parts over the last long while.
It has been an intense few months for me. I was busy promoting Fancy Feet and then I became a part of the ICBC Road Safety Speaker program. From March to June, I spoke to 20 high schools, telling my story and talking about choices. The best parts of being in a high school are questions from students that made me think, clusters of girls saying thank you and meaning it, a 17 year old boy hugging me with tears in his eyes. The worst part is how old I felt. When I returned to my former high school, they said, “Oh you can find your grad picture in the heritage wing!” The heritage wing. Wow. There I was, one of only a handful of girls with straight flat hair among all the big-haired girls of 1992. I felt a little smug until I remembered my hideous grade 8 and 9 photos.
While I was having the busiest year ever, so were my kids. Between school, guitar, soccer and dance I discovered I could not divide myself into a thousand pieces. The best part? I was focused on 2 things – being mom and going to work. The worst part? There wasn’t enough time to do everything else and the guilt…the anxiety of not being able to keep up with it ALL was overwhelming. I can’t even. I mean, write much? And my legs. My damn legs. My legs will always pay for busy, for my unrest and this was an especially tough year for my fancy feet. My legs deserve a post dedicated to them, perhaps titled: so this sucks.
At the same time, and this is the best, best part, it has been one of the most meaningful, incredible years of my life.
My dear friend Kerstin Auer of Auer Life invited me to write about my writing process. She writes about her process here. If you are not reading her blog, you should. If you get a chance to have breakfast with her, you should do that too! She is fun and funny, smart and thoughtful. She is honest and herself – which is what I like about her the most. And? Her kids are hilarious.
What am I working on:
Fancy Feet is going to be an audio book! So everyone will soon be able to hear me tell my story. I’m waiting for the details right now. While there isn’t a second book yet, the book I have pored over for 3 years will be offered in a new way and I’m very excited about that.
I haven’t been here at my blog as much as I would like to be, but you’ll find me at other places, soon to appear at Bonbon Break. You can also find me in high schools telling my story, giving presentations on road safety for ICBC. After Fancy Feet became FANCY FEET, writing at my desk for hours each day was set aside to promote, sign books and worry that people are tired of me.
How does my work differ from others in its genre:
There are many brilliant writers out there, people who are achingly good whose work is inspirational. I can learn from them, but I can’t be them. I know my limits. While I strive to get better, I know I’m not a genius and I don’t pretend to be one. I don’t substitute big words for small words if small words suffice. I know how to string a sentence together. Voice is what makes all writers’ work unique and sets work apart. As I write I ask: is this true to me, to my voice?
Why do I write what I do:
I love writing and over the years that love has grown. My blog has given me an incredible opportunity to meet and connect with people. I love that thing that happens when you write something, compelling people to exclaim, “Me too!” Relating and sharing and the exchanging of stories are the best parts of blogging. I write because I can’t help myself. It is something that’s inside me. I feel at home among words, so I’m challenged and content all at the same time when I’m reading or working on a new piece. My blog has been a great platform to practice the craft of writing.
How does my writing process work:
Quiet. I need quiet. I can’t write with noise. I write best when I am alone. Scott works from home in the basement and I’m irritated if I hear the scrape of a chair or a muffled voice on the phone. When I hear his footsteps on the stairs, I actually bristle. You writers know what I’m talking about. Woe to the person who interrupts the writing zone. Yes, I am that precious.
If I’m stuck and hit a wall (you know that black hole where any skill you thought you had is sucked up, up and away) I take a break. I get up from my chair, have a snack or run an errand. That last sentence or the right word will often find me in the car or as I’m stuffing clothes into the washer. Books are good influences and triggers, too. Getting into someone else’s story makes room for my own. Writing is creative and sometimes we need for inspiration to find us, but it’s also a discipline. In order to write, I need to write.
Kerstin talks about bringing a notebook with her wherever she goes. When I worked on my manuscript a good friend gave me a notebook and it was one of the best writerly gifts I was given. I tucked it into my purse and any idea, thought…good, bad…went into this book. I dated it, so I knew when I had this profound or pathetic musing. Another wonderful gift given to me was Stephen King’s book: On Writing. It is the best book I have ever read about writing.
I was so excited when Suzanne Broughton, editor of OC Register Family Magazine, contacted me to be a contributing writer to the Parenting Voices of their magazine. Suz and I go way back. When I first ventured into blogging her blog Alive in Wonderland was the first one I began to read. I loved her writing, her photographs and her voice. I was hooked and charmed into commenting, and what a thrill when she replied and read my blog. I had the delight of meeting her and her beautiful family in Disneyland a few years ago. Suz is as gorgeous in person as she is in the online world. So. When she asked me to write for her of course I said yes. I was thrilled again, and honoured.
Below is the beginning of the article: A happy ending for mom left disabled by crash
I worried about being a disabled mother. Would I be enough for my kids? A few years before the car crash when life was unbroken, no line on the horizon, I had been a nanny to two boys. I took those boys everywhere – to the park for wild adventures in the ravine. I gave them piggybacks and played until I was spent.
At the age of 19, I thought I could be a good mom one day. At 23, I dated someone I could dream with and then one terrible evening everything changed. My life was divided into before and after by a car crash that killed my friend, burnt over half my body and cost me both my legs. During the seven months in the burn unit and the five months at rehabilitation, my boyfriend, Scott, was there and we chose to walk through this world together.
Two years later, Scott and I got married, and we were thrilled and nervous as we anticipated our first child. There were concerns about my legs. Would my prosthetic legs fit as I gained weight? Would my grafted skin stretch enough to accommodate the growing baby inside me?
This year I’m going for a “good-enough” New Year’s resolution. Clearly, because we’re near the end of January and I am only now coming up with a resolution. No lofty goals or profound words for me this year. I simply want to care less because I often care too much.
I am who I am and I am pretty happy with me, flaws and all. I’m fairly certain I have an awkward 13 year old girl living inside a 39 year old woman who compensates with chocolate and Netflix. I’ll never be rid of insecurities, but as I’m getting older and becoming more of a grown-up, I want to let go once in a while and be less afraid. To be less obsessive. Less at war with myself. Just less. In a world where it is mostly about more, I’m aiming low.
Last year Ben struggled with anxiety around pick-up time at school, birthday parties, activities – every pick-up time. If I wasn’t in his eye line he panicked, “Mommy! Mommy?” He grew louder; his body twisting, running to find me. And I was there, in the shadow of a tree, on a bench, talking to someone, never far. “Ben, Ben. I’m right here.” Calm and smiling, I comforted him. Sometimes there were phone calls from mothers, good friends letting me know Ben is upset. He wants you. Do you want to come? I did. He hadn’t always been like this. This was new. When I arrived, his cheeks were red and tear-stained. Shoulders straight, he was quick to recover. “I thought maybe you weren’t coming. I’m okay.” I pried, asking him why he felt this way, but I never learned the root of his fear. We’d strategize about what to do if plans changed. I reassured him over and over. “Remember to breathe. I’m here. It will be okay.”
I feel like Ben some days; my insides twisting, heart racing over something that may or may not happen. These past few months I have discovered there is nothing quite like putting your memoir out there to rattle your bones and remind you of your vulnerability. Asking for help, hassled by guilt, wondering if I’m too much, then not enough – I’m an old clock wound up tight and tick-tick-ticking until it’s all I can hear.
So? Today? As part of my quest for less, I’m going to watch an episode of Call the Midwife. See my daughter dance and not be in knots about the costume that isn’t ready yet or her upcoming competition. Hope that inspiration finds me instead of striving to find it. Remember to breathe, I will be okay. Maybe in less, I will feel air and sky and room will be made for more.
in dark chocolate & peppermint pretzel crisps
I’m having issues with posting images, so you’ll just have to click to see all of the goodness that are these crisps. Sadly, they are only available during the holiday season. They were on sale and I bought 10 bags – need I say more?
“You have two kids!”
She smiled as I sat down in a chair and I smoothed my dress over my knees. I had stepped off the stage moments ago after telling my story to a group of women.
I signed the book she held in her outstretched hand. She moved closer, rested her hand on the table beside me as we talked. We didn’t discuss my disability. We didn’t dissect the car crash or the many reasons I was led to the stage this night. We talked about what we had in common. How we have two kids, a girl and a boy, two years apart. We swapped stories. “I used to drive my babies around for ages just so I could get some sanity.” “I never thought I’d repeat myself so much.” “I’ve turned up the music loud in the car…I mean loud…so I could drown out the whining. Oh the whining!” And we agreed – thank God for drive-thru Starbucks. We laughed over the innocence and craziness of our children, the perils of parenting. Mom stuff.
As our easy conversation came to an end, I stole a glance at my phone. Somewhere between speaking about loss and choosing hope, a text had come in. It was from my daughter Annie: Hi mummy just wanted to say an early goodnight and that I Love you. Followed by smiley faces and hearts. I sighed, my heart full. I typed: Awww…I love you too! I was just giving a speech. Miss you babycakes. Give Ben a hug for me. Smile for your ballet teacher tomorrow.
I held the phone in my hand and smiled at a woman walking toward me and I saw the word before it landed, before I felt its truth. Blessed. I am blessed.
I was just introduced to this incredible organization Global Mothers at a friend’s Christmas party. “Women in North America may have differing economic environments than their counterparts in the Global South, but they too share the universal role of motherhood. From seeing the first smile to hearing the first words, being a mom is a new and powerful experience that connects women with each other. Global Mothers seeks to strengthen this connection through a product line that is designed specifically for new moms and their young children. When a mother in North America purchases a product to care for her child, she is in turn caring for another child in the Global South by providing valuable income for that child’s mother.” You guys! Isn’t that awesome?! I just bought beautiful bracelets for teacher’s gifts and I’m wondering how I can get a certain gorgeous necklace into my stocking. AND you can shop online! I am in love with their stuff and their message: Every product has a story. Buy good.
FANCY FEET has been busy, thanks to many of you! Book signings have been successful and so much fun. One of my favorite stores to visit was Third Place Books in Seattle. Shelves lined with beautiful first editions served as my backdrop as I read from my book to a lovely group of people including some supportive writerly friends. I shared a green room with The Wiggles just before my interview at Breakfast Television. I was reunited with 2 of my 4 rescuers at a BC Professional Fire Fighters burn fund event. Between driving my kids around, tackling my laundry, signing the one hundred and sixteenth school form and panicking over a too-big ballet costume for Annie, I’ll open my inbox to find kind messages like this one:
I want to thank you for sharing your amazing story. I just finished reading on my Kindle and was so sorry to reach the end. I felt like a dear friend had left. Best read I have had in a long time, your outlook is a great example to follow.
I wish you and your family the very best!
It has been an incredible few months and I am very grateful. Many dreams have come true.
AND, if you can believe it, the holiday season is almost here and I am having a FANCY FEET Christmas sale! Check out the reduced prices of my books here. I will also happily sign your books!
“If you could have any superpower, what would it be?”
My brothers and I were playing in our backyard asking questions kids have asked forever. I was emphatic. “I want to fly.”
Although, at the age of 9, I would have been satisfied to see more than a few inches in front of me and have straight teeth. But these questions were not about our measly humanity. This was about far-away and fantasy. Living in an alternate dimension.
We discussed all the superpowers, debating which ones would be the coolest. X-ray vision. Invisibility. The ability to cling to walls. Which superheroes were the best? What about the Wonder twins? They can take on the form of an eagle or a waterfall. Batman has stealth. Superman has speed. Wonder Woman has a gold lasso. Their special powers make them superheroes but they have other traits in common. They have flaws and fears, obstacles to overcome. They wrestle with their humanity.
My son, hesitant and proud, called me a cyborg last week. I laughed because I kinda am. Part machine – so cool, right? Very superhero! But the truth is I am an ordinary person who is afraid to fail, afraid that I will be crushed by the weight of the unknown. Yet, there is more to me than my fear. I can’t manipulate time or see into the future, but people’s pain doesn’t scare me. I have empathy. That’s something my scars and cyborg-ness have given me. We are more than what’s wrong in our lives.
When I was a kid my fear was that the baseball would reach me in the furthest part of the field. What if I couldn’t catch it? I’d cringe every time I heard the crack of bat against ball. Now the fears are grown-up, bigger, and I can’t outrun them. There are some I can shake off and others that hang on tight. Everyone is confronted with fear. We can’t be fearless, but we can have courage. We can be afraid and try anyway. We can take a deep, wobbly breath and stand up. We get to be the heroes of our stories.
I’m inspired by the heroes I know, in the way they live their lives. My mom has a backbone of steel and loves her grandchildren fiercely. My world is a brighter place because of the generosity of my friends. My friend Anna lost her beautiful boy and somehow manages to find grace in heartbreak and stun us with her strength.
We get tired, sad and lost, and we have the capacity to be kind, compassionate and bold. Possess the character traits of a hero. Armed with our experiences and lessons learned and perspectives, we have stories filled with resolve and depth, bursts of brilliance and color. While I would still love to fly and have superhuman speed to save someone from disaster, being a hero does not have to be about invincibility. It’s about our hearts and minds, the glory of our humanity.