Heal

Yesterday was the first day I’ve been out all week. My back has been giving me grief and although that allows me to watch too many episodes of Schitt’s Creek (my son would argue there is no such thing) and admire our bedroom’s newly washed windows, I do get restless. So yesterday we went for a drive to see the leaves.

I gave up on being a grouch over who’s wearing or not wearing a mask long ago, or at least I’ve really tried. But when we drove into the park yesterday and saw a large family celebration (with no masks), we just felt sad. Still Scott and I put on our masks and the kids stayed in the car because they would rather steal my phone and replace the screen picture with an image of a very buff Jesus (honestly, don’t ask). We took five minutes to ourselves and tried to find the tree we’d sat under more than twenty years ago where Scott had brought up the idea of us getting married for the first time. A perfect moment for sure with no kids and no back pain.

We drove through pretty Waterloo, the leaves so amazing this year. We got ice cream. We felt sad again when we drove past the mall and it’s absurdly full parking lot, not sure what was more disturbing, that it was so packed during a pandemic or just that it was so busy on such a gorgeous day. We talked about how much we miss our family and friends.

I’ve being doing really well lately at not focusing on numbers. I’ve been losing my phone on purpose in order to read more (although I’m in a bit of a slump and haven’t read a fantastic book in awhile). While I rest my body and my back, my mind is busy figuring out how to make the best of the long winter we are staring down. It needs to rest too.

And then the word Heal comes to me and everything settled. That’s what this time is. Calm. Quiet. Light, is what I imagine for the winter. We’ve had a lot of heaviness over the years – long before Covid – and maybe this winter, this time, we can rest and just heal. Maybe that’s what we’ve already been doing. School isn’t going terribly, it’s moving along. I’ve had a piece of writing published. Our dog couldn’t be happier. We had new bird feedings and so many birds! Scott makes me zucchini fritters and happy videos for his students. We have so much to be thankful for.

Heal. This is my word for this year and next, I’m not waiting until Jan 1 because what’s the point when I need it now. It allows me to let go of worries that I wasn’t doing enough for my family and guilt that I shouldn’t be enjoying this time when the world is in chaos. We’re going to slow down, appreciate this time and use it to get stronger so we can in turn do more to help others.

Heal.

What Would Ann Do?

I am a bartender, a hairdresser, a priest.

I have all the stories, but they’re sealed, and although so very much my own, I can’t tell them. Not yet, anyway.

The stories I have I need to write, they are too much too keep inside and need to be processed. Writing non-fiction feels better these days then fiction. My grandfather, before he died, used to tell me I had to write because I had so many stories to tell. I thought he meant made- up ones, now I’m not so sure.

But my stories aren’t just mine and many are hard and sad and personal. They belong to my sons and my family with me right in the middle. This is just thinking out loud after a long week and it’s only Tuesday and I’m not even thinking of world news and insanity that is the president. I am thinking of so many stories about my mother and the reasons she never shows up in my writing. I don’t know how to do it, write them down and put them away for now I suppose.

Maybe Ann Patchett would loan me her title, ‘This is The Story of a Happy Marriage’ if my stories were ever collected. Heck, I even have one about her I’m not sure how to share and it’s so, so good! I can’t find the quote, but she once wrote that she writes because she can’t carry the heavy stories around and writing (non-fiction) is her way of figuring them out to make things lighter.

Lightening may be a good first step.

*Pink Fish Pick! A book that goes so well with my thoughts and this post would be the book I’m reading now, “Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson. It reminds me of so many of my favourites; Elizabeth Strout, Kent Haruf. Perfect for fall and I’ve been meaning to read this series for years. And yes, Ann P may have posted a video lately reminding me of them.

My Shaking

The story goes that when I was born, the umbilical cord got caught around my neck cutting off oxygen for just enough seconds so that by the time I was three, I couldn’t hold a pencil or tie my shoes with my very shaky hands. I don’t remember when I started having a specialist at Sick Kids which in the 80s never amounted to far too many blood tests and the same exercises every six months – try to walk in a straight line without tipping over, hold your hands arms out straight and let’s watch you shake (I’d hold my muscles so tight so I wouldn’t) and let’s check your reaction time when I drag my car key up along the bottom of your foot. All followed by, yup, you have cerebral palsy and we’ll keep seeing you until you’re 16.

I don’t remember who first called it My Shaking, probably me? I dealt with it in two ways. First, denial. By the time I was in second grade my teacher said I would have to learn to type in order to be able to get through school. I simply couldn’t write, it was illegible not to mention painful but I still fought to be able to do it – to stay at my desk and not walk up the row to the huge, architect’s desk that had been made just for me, with a yolk to push my scrawny body and chair into, up close enough to be able to type on the brown and beige Smith Corona that was bigger than my bowl cut framed head. I’d flick the switch and it hummed and glowed like a mothership returning to its home planet. It was a massive gift and changed my life, all thanks to Easter Seals, but at the time, I wanted none of it. What would Ramona Quimby think and when would kids stop calling me Shake ‘n Bake?

The second way I deal with my shaking was (is) through humour. From an early age I would work my way through an array of jokes to distract from the soup I was spilling or when I couldn’t keep my colouring inside the lines or couldn’t zip up the front of my winter coat. I’d scoff at how I’d never be a brain surgeon or a watch repair person! Even yesterday I told my kids I should get hired to give Covid test, imagine how effective I would be! They laugh, my husband teasing, but I still remember the pitying looks I’d get from classmates and friend’s parents when I’d make jokes, “Oh Sarah, don’t say that, it’s awful.” I’ve always just wanted to shake, joke and move on.

The summer before grade 3 I had to learn to type, it was impossible for me to physically keep up and my skinny arms would be killing me at the end of each day from trying. My Nana sat with me every morning and taught me to type the way the other kids learned piano. For hours, propped up on pillows to be able to reach the typewriter keys, I practiced exercises and it didn’t take long before I could type a few words without looking, both hands on the keys, slow and steady the quick brown fox went.

I used the typewriter and the architect’s desk for three years, hating it everyday because it wasn’t safe and fun like my days practicing with Nana had been. When I had to type in class, I would walk from my seat at the back of the room (probably I’d asked to be seated that far away from the electronic beast) and the class would groan. I would pull out the fluorescent orange seat with SARAH written in bold Sharpie on the back and flick the switch meaning the teacher had to speak louder. Spelling dictations were impossible, I would type and blink back tears while kids yelled at me to shut up.

It was around grade four that one thing, the best thing, clicked. I was getting faster, I hated it but was smart enough by then to know there was no option. I had a desktop computer at home and spent hours each night writing my own stories. A novel about a goldfish, a short story about an old woman being evicted from her apartment that my mom actually sent to the Toronto Star. A local newspaper wrote a story about me, an eight year old who was fulfilling her dream of writing thanks to the help of Easter Seals. They were absolutely right. My hands could never have kept up with my stories, my thoughts, and these ideas pushed me daily to keep at it, typing faster and faster to keep up with the girls I was writing about. Girls mostly like me, but always without a shake.

I moved to a word processor in grade 6 and then to a laptop in high school and carried it around with me from room to room, locking it up in a classroom at the end of each day. My grade nine typing teacher agreed from the first week that since I was already typing more than 100 words a minute that he’d give me 100% in the course and made a joke of it to the class. I don’t remember being embarrassed. My love of writing and increased speed of typing made for longer than wanted essays the teachers had to mark and exams that ended up being double or triple in length. When I got to university, I was the only one typing in classes (I’m that old) and I’d have to explain my situation to each prof.

Outside of school, I never thought much about it. My family decided early on I wouldn’t be able to drive, but I can and I do, having finally gotten my license with two babies in the backseat. I’ve always had friends to carry my meal tray and now a loving husband to carry my tea, dice the onions, move my game piece around the board and rub my arms for me at the end of a long day when my neck and left arm aches.

These days, as I reach middle age, the pain is worse. What used to be chronic neck pain is now pain in my back that I experience most days. I can’t deny the connection any longer. After so many decades of ignoring and joking away my CP, these days it’s right up in my face.

I never owned my CP or being disabled because it never seemed ‘bad enough’. People usually just think I’m nervous or cold when they catch my hands and arms twitching. As a kid I’d pour over Jean Little novels about kids with ‘real’ disabilities and sob feeling such shame for ever feeling sorry for myself. My hands shook, big deal, on good days I could just imagine it away and for decades I pretty much did.

In a gorgeous essay, Amanda Leduc, who identifies as a disabled writer, speaks to my feelings. She writes,

“When I call myself disabled, I am saying that the disability community is wide and bright and beautiful, and welcoming of all, and that we become stronger with every person who joins us. I call myself disabled so that others with disabilities across a wide spectrum might one day feel comfortable doing the same. “

And for me things are starting to shift.

I still feel like I shouldn’t make a big deal out of this, maybe it’s easier? That my shaking is so small compared to everything in the world, but then on days when I can barely get out of bed because of the pain, the toll my shaking has taken on my body my entire life I know I need to accept it (honour it?) rather than keep fighting it. I’m not sure what that means, but it probably stars with writing this blog to figure it out.

My jokes are really good though, I don’t think I’ll quit those just yet. 

Refresh

At the moment I’ve chosen to write instead of refresh. Refresh is definitely the wrong word for it, for the endless scrolling because I know the numbers come for the day come out in ten minutes. And I know I could be do something so much better for myself.

I could be writing, working on my story or my novel. I could go back to reading Jessica Westhead’s stories from her collection Things Not to Do. I could bug the three other people in my house who are all working on school work, either as students and one as the teacher. I could play with my dog. I could make another cup of coffee and sit on my deck. I could start reading a new novel. Or go for a walk. Or take a shower. Or bake a cake.

The numbers are going up, Waterloo is not doing too great. We’re pulling back on some of the things we’ve been doing, and that makes us sad and frustrated when we drive through town and see so many groups of young people, here now for university, not wearing masks.

But we’re ok. We’ve got a routine, we’re enjoying the cooler weather. Rory bakes us treats that are half cookie on top and a brownie on the bottom. The kids don’t love school but they’re moving through the days at home with optimism and I’m so proud of them. Scott wore a bear head in a video to keep his university students happy. I’m going to make Julia Turshen’s meatloaf tonight and keep watching Schitt’s Creek.

PS – I did check the case numbers before I finished this post and they’re high, but nothing around me in this moment has changed.

Sunday Morning

It’s my favourite time of year, early fall when the mornings are cool but it’s still ice cream and hammock reading in the afternoon. Campfires while wearing socks and hoodies at night are better now than when it was hot and we were a feast for mosquitoes. I love the yellow and orange of my neighbours gardens, a lowering of expectations. Things are feeling gentle and more forgiving than before.

Yesterday we went out for ice cream, a book pick-up, and a drive to a Waterloo Brewery to buy cider and radlers to celebrate. I’ve know for months that I was having a non-fiction story published in the Quarantine Review, a piece I wrote based on a blog post months ago about my Nana. It’s a piece I’m really proud of, especially since it came out of such a dark time. But what meant the most yesterday was seeing myself named as a writer without even knowing it was happening, the twitter post was a complete surprise and for a few hours I forgot everything; the despair of RBG’s passing, the climbing COVID numbers, how utterly exhausted I am of delivering hard news to my children. For a few hours the sun was perfect, the beer was cold and my new book, Emily Urquart’s The Age of Creativity awaited my full heart and attention.

Being OK

What does that even look like right now, being ok. In our house, we’re still home all the time. Probably if things were lighter for my kids, without anxiety, things would be a bit different, we’d be out more, walking. But where we live in Waterloo, there isn’t much to do in walking distance and where I’d love to walk the trails behind our home, no one else is up for it.

So we put in time. Yesterday things were desperate enough to let them tell me an alphabet of all the dirty words they knew, they are 12 and 15 and nothing shocks me anymore, well, not those words anyway. They’ve got some ways to go and as I’d guessed, it sounded more like a healthy sex ed class. And although it definitely did not result in me winning any parenting awards, they did laugh their guts out for almost an hour, so that’s something.

We’re in that weird place where we all stay up too late and don’t get up early enough in the morning. Each day I imagine waking up early and writing on my deck, but when I wake up my leg hurts so much still from stupid sciatica than another half an hour sleeping feels like a better choice. Anxiety makes sleep very difficult to come by for my oldest, and they’re too old to start going to bed very early and then the hours get lost. It’s funny how often motherhood falls into old patterns, memories stirred up, days and nights mixed up.

But at the same time, we’re incredibly spoiled. We ordered soaps and bath bombs from a local company for a treat, and I can’t even tell you the amount of books I have rolling in these days, by Black authors, to read and talk about and learn from. I ask the kids – because I know the answer – if the news makes things harder for them, they say no and it wouldn’t matter if it did. We are talking and learning together, in and around the video games.

I’m doing ok, as long as I stop floating around and above everyone here, making sure they’re ok. School lost momentum a while ago. It’s the guilt I’m struggling with, pushing harder but not too hard, too much screen, too much licorice, too many chips (that’s me). Our tiny worries and struggles which amount to nothing the minute you think past your home. But then there’s the new little bits that creep into your day and darken things, like Rowling – the one news story we’re not ready to share with the boys. There was huge article about it in the Star this morning, I saw the headline and picture just as Rory grabbed for the comics on the next page. I made up some stupid excuse and grabbed it back and he said I was being weird. He just finished reading all the books again, for the seventh time, for comfort. I’ve got a word document collecting the essays I’ve read this week that might help later on.

We’re ok, of course we are. The ups and downs can be intense and in the paper today Scott’s horoscope did say a family member could move out tonight, but we’re not too worried.

Bits

Weird new setting that puts my pictures into circles instead of boxes.

I have nothing to add.

It feels again like it did when this all began in March (how is it June 1st?) Checking twitter and the news constantly, reading and trying to make sense of everything. When something happens (I won’t say something ‘new happens’ because racism is not new) it’s so hard not to fall back on something easier, a memory, even though it wasn’t easy at the time. Like when #sourdoughfails was trending above all else.

I was emailing with a lovely new friend the other day and she reminded me of the gift we have as writers to be able to write in order to make sense of things – the news, the world, our thoughts. I’ve been writing 1000 words a day on a project and nothing else has helped as much to settle the rattling in me. Well, ok, let’s be honest – gardening helps, my hammock, the enormous stack of new books I’ve purchased without much worry to cost, taking baths, watching television, eating great food and ice cream and local takeout – knowing my family was safe. So many things I take for granted, because I am white, and privileged and have so very much to learn.

Our boys have been keeping up with the news, hardly something to congratulate ourselves for, they are more than old enough and if they weren’t what would that say. But I was worried they were hearing things in too many fragments – the stories, the pictures, the asshole tweets – along with my anger swirling in and around it all. We know how much it is. So Sunday morning we sat on the carpet in out living room in a puddle of sunlight and watched the Trevor Noah video on one of our tiny phone screens and his words and the coming together of all of those bits, felt like Church.

I’m thinking of the need to post pictures on Instagram when the space could be used for better things. I even feel doubtful as to the reason I’m posting here today. I guess it all goes back to that idea of having a little space on the Internet of good things, our stories. Maybe we don’t stop posting and writing, we just acknowledge that our space needs to be bigger, needs to better.

Nana and Good Things

Last night my family was enjoying watching television together. It was the end of the day, homework and dishes were done and we were relaxing. The last few days have been harder and I think it’s because we’ve hit a bit of a wall. As my kids say, every day is the same, the school closure has been extended (we knew it would be) and there isn’t a heck of a lot to look forward to especially since the freedom of summer is in question. When I tried to get them to list some things that are good right now (we are watching The Good Place with them after all) it was slim pickings for anything new that wasn’t also good a week or twenty ago. When my husband said how happy he’s been to be able to be at home spending more time with us, the kids balked and said nothing good can be recognized when so many people are sick and dying. Right.

So we slowly opened up a dialogue on the importance of finding goodness when it’s hard. We talked about having less pressure to go to school and work more at one’s own pace, so hard still, but a definite bonus! We talked about Rory having hours to dive deep once again into Harry Potter – those books are a balm for that kid and always will be. We said how much fun we’ve had planning fun pick-up dinners for the weekends to make them stand out and be special. How without school they can stay up later and we’ve gotten out our telescope and star watched and saw Venus this week. By the end of the chat, at bedtime, they weren’t entirely convinced because life right now is the Groundhog Day movie on loop (which us campers do all love but still).

When they get down, I need to do what I can to keep myself up. My own list is pretty good right now. All the books I’m reading (and ordering), the baking, some sunshine, more time for baths (mostly because I haven’t gone a day without pain in 6 weeks and my sciatica is calmed by warm water, but still) but more than anything, the conversations I’m having every day with my Nana.

She’s living right now with family in Orillia, far from her nursing home, where thank goodness no cases have been reported. Her birthday, 93, was right before this happened and we were sick I think with colds and sadly couldn’t visit. I sent her books for her birthday including the first in the Lane Winslow mystery series by Iona Whishaw, one of my favourites. One of my greatest joys of this lockdown – without doubt – has been experiencing her completely devour the entire series and talk about it with her each day.

My Nana has always been a voracious reader. She was the head children’s librarian in Whitby for years – during my early years so I was in very good hands. My birthday parties growing up were amazing – props and costumes and film reels and screens borrowed from her work, each year’s better than the last. I was the star of every Storytime, Bernice’s granddaughters were famous in that building. She taught me to read, introduced me to Harriet and Anastasia and so many other great loves.

She gave me my love of reading which I treasure above most things in my life. Reading has gotten me through so much and so has she, they both still do. To be able to share these books – this reading experience – with her now through such a hard and scary time when, my kids are right, some days it’s so tricky to find the good things, is more than I could ever have imagined.

So Thank You

I’m in the middle of so many things, we all are. Right now it’s a fight between getting some words down and not letting the grilled cheese sandwiches burn. Before it was trying to get some of my own work done while helping my kids stay on task with theirs.

But mostly, it’s these amazing thoughts that are ping ponging back and forth in my head nonstop. And not the practical ones (get school started, then laundry and dinner plans) but the way better ones that are stronger than ever and so surprising, if I’m being honest. I feel inspired and excited to create. I didn’t want to help my kids with school today because the story I’m working on and the blog posts I’m reading and the new books I had delivered to me from my independent bookstore are filling me up with so much goodness! OK, so maybe I’m as scatterbrained right now as the boys are, but I’m also feeling more productive and I know it has much to do with feeling part of a community of artists and creative women online right now who are brilliant and kind. And it’s their encouragement that is overwhelming and so appreciated. To go back to Tara Henley’s Lean Out, she talks about the importance of finding one’s tribe – those people outside of your partners and best friends. The ones who encourage and spark bravery and kindness and courage. So thank you, you all know who you are, for instance, if you are reading this, it’s YOU!

Pardon any typos, I’m just glad the sandwiches didn’t burn! And then back to gr 7 science.