The Cancer Principle: Depression is Okay, Abuse Is Not

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I joined a support group online for people with depressed or bipolar spouses. I expected to find other people who know what it is like to sit downstairs alone in the evenings imagining life after their husband’s suicide.

What I didn’t expect was to end up becoming a relationship counsellor.800px-Vincent_Willem_van_Gogh_002.jpg

Some people are angry and impatient with their spouse’s depressive symptoms. They use words like “lazy” and “can’t be bothered” and “selfish”. I have to remind them that depression is a disease and should be treated as such. They shouldn’t go around getting angry at someone for being sick.

There’s a difference between “won’t” and “can’t”. People with depression often CAN’T get out of bed, CAN’T interact positively and CAN’T pull it together for important family events.

Others are putting up with horrific levels of verbal and emotional and occasionally physical abuse, and blaming it on the depression/mania/addiction. They talk about how their husband tried to choke them and threatened to kill them and say “I had to call the cops. I felt so guilty, I really hate this illness. I know he won’t understand why I did it, either. He’ll think I am against him.”

I have to remind them that depression or bipolar disorder is not a get-out-of-abuse-free card that gives someone carte blanche to emotionally damage their loved ones, particularly their children. You shouldn’t stay with someone who abuses you or puts your children at risk physically or emotionally just because the person is ill, especially when that person keeps insisting that this is all somehow your fault.

But how, people are always asking, do you know what is okay and what is not? Why is okay for my wife to sleep through our daughter’s birthday party, but it isn’t okay for her husband to swear in front of the kids?

So I have developed a litmus test to tell what should, and what should not, be tolerated from a spouse.

The Cancer Principle

Since depression is a deadly disease which causes a wide range of known physical symptoms, I find that cancer makes a good analog because it is a deadly disease without the stigma that comes with mental illnesses. Depression is one of the leading causes of death in the world. Like cancer, some cases are worse than others, and some kinds are more curable than others.

Really, though, you could use any illness that is serious enough to put someone in the hospital. The point is to consider it from the point of view of “my spouse has a serious disease” and not “my spouse is abnormal”.

So, when your depressed husband or wife does something that makes you angry (and they will – it’s hard NOT to be angry when they suddenly sleep through an important event, or leave you scrambling for child care at the last minute, or snap at you for no good reason), ask yourself this:

Would this be considered acceptable if they had cancer?

For example – I go out for a walk with Owl and Perfect Husband is perfectly fine, watching football. I come back and discover that he has crashed in the hour that we have been gone. He is now in the throes of a suicidal misery. He snaps at me twice, then removes himself to the bedroom because he realises that he is growling like an injured bear.

Would this be considered acceptable if he had cancer?

I conclude that the answer is yes – if he had cancer and he suddenly started to feel sick or his pain medications wore off and he became very painful, it is understandable that he would become snappy and then retreat to the bedroom to be alone.

On the other hand, if he had gone onto a verbally abusive tirade calling me a “selfish whore” and threatened to hit Owl, that would NOT have been okay, no matter how much pain he was in.

For example – Perfect Husband agrees to watch the baby while I go to train a puppy. When the day arrives, he has been unconscious for two days and is clearly going to sleep through today as well. I have to cancel the appointment and reschedule it with apologies.

Would this be considered acceptable if he had cancer?

Yes! He was feeling better and thought he could handle it, but then he had a relapse and had to take medications which made him very sleepy and unable to take care of his child. If that was due to cancer, that would be totally understandable.

So I was not angry with him.

On the other hand, if he had agreed to watch the baby and then went out partying with friends and didn’t come back until 5 am, only to fall on the bed dead-drunk, that would not have been okay whether or not he had cancer, so I would have had the right to be angry with him about it.

For example- I watch Breaking Bad. Walter White’s wife discovers that her husband is manufacturing and selling meth, and his contacts with the drug underworld is putting himself and her family in serious danger. He has cancer. Does that make his behaviour okay?

No!

The Cancer Principle. It works every time.

Once someone argued with me, saying “I think there’s a caveat – if they aren’t seeking treatment. My husband sleeps all day and snaps at all of us and he won’t get help and that’s not okay.”

Okay, so then you ask yourself, if he had cancer, and it was making him sick and miserable and yet he refused to seek treatment for his cancer (not even palliative/symptomatic treatment), would that be okay?

No!

The Cancer Principle, man. It WORKS.

Quality Over Quantity

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With the progression of my father’s Alzheimer’s, his physical condition has become increasingly frail.

The man who never ailed a thing throughout my entire childhood now gets recurrent bladder infections and pneumonia. He moves at a slow shuffle, and falls easily. His cheerful tenor voice has disappeared and he can’t speak above a hoarse whisper.

  
We went for dinner at a neighbour’s house. Her son was home for the holidays, and he hadn’t seen Dad in years. Dad taught him how to drive and he has always liked my father very much. He spent half an hour carefully shovelling new snow off of the front porch and driveway so that it would be easier to get Dad to the car, but Dad still slipped and fell into the snow, causing a big kerfuffle.

“It’s embarrassing,” Dad told me later when I asked how he was feeling. “I feel like a sissy.”

Once upon a time Dad would have been the one shoveling the driveway, and clearing off the car. But now he falls in the snow and is hustled, shivering, into the car by the boy he once taught to drive, who is now a thirty year old man.

For the most part, he bears it without complaint. Alzheimer’s robs its victims of their faculties and dignity, but my father had so much dignity to begin with that somehow he still has plenty left, and my mother does everything she can to keep him feeling well and able to live at home.

He chokes on his food a lot, and they think that this is the cause of at least one of his bouts of pneumonia, because he inhales stuff. So they told my mother that he shouldn’t be allowed to drink thin liquids any more, or eat food that is easy to accidentally inhale. Instead of water, he should have smoothies, and so on.

They gave her a list of all of the risky categories of food. That list is two pages long and seems to encompass every single kind of food there is.

  
So, my poor mother now has the burden of finding foods that do not stick together, but also don’t NOT stick together (??) and so on. She also has to thicken his all of his drinks. They gave her a pamphlet on that, too, with suggestions like adding pureed banana, tasteless “drink thickener”, or even baby pablum.

For example, to thicken soda pop (I swear I’m telling the truth), they advise whisking the pop thoroughly and then blending in pablum until it is nice and thick.

  
Mmm. Tasty.

So Dad drinks a lot of smoothies now, since banana is a good thickener, and occasionally Mum lets him have some egg nog. He eats whatever she gives him to eat or drink without complaint, but I am sure he misses drinking water and milk like a normal person.

One night my mother poured me a glass of rosée, and my father came shuffling over. He pointed to the bottle and said in his new, husky, quiet voice, “don’t you think I should keep her company?”

“What’s that, dear?” my mother said distractedly, working on dinner.

He gestured at me. “It seems cruel to make her drink alone.”

“Oh, you want a glass of wine?”

“Just to be polite, you know,” he replied with a hint of a sparkle in his eye.

“Well, you’re not supposed to have that… I can get you some more thickened egg nog if you like…”

“Aren’t we going for quality of life over quantity at this point?” I said, exchanging amused glances with Dad.

“Yeah,” said Dad hopefully.

So Mum poured him a glass of wine. With no bananas in it at all.

Sometimes, it’s the little things in life.

Saying Goodbye To Old Times

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Our Christmas home in Nova Scotia felt sort of… final, to me, this year.

We plan to spend next Christmas here in BC because it is expensive to travel during the holidays, and it makes a stressful time just that much more stressful. Our next trip to Nova Scotia will probably be during the summer when more people will be free to get together with us, and travel is safer and cheaper.

Although the snow was certainly a thrilling novelty to Owl.

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My father’s Alzheimer’s is slowly progressing. He still knows who everyone is, and what is going on, but he is frail, and quiet, and easily confused. My mother has to help him shower, get dressed, and she puts him down to bed for naps and at bed time like a child.

But he’s still Dad.

img_4313If and when we spend another Christmas in Nova Scotia, the person that I know as my father may have faded away entirely.

Christmas was always a big deal in our house. Both my parents love Christmas, and we used to have all sorts of traditions built up around it. The annual tree decorating was so idyllic that my high school friends used to attend it too, because it was just such a Christmassy THING.

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But many of the traditions have fallen by the wayside one by one what with my commitments to Perfect Husband’s family, and my father’s illness, and the fact simply that time is moving on and things change.

We did still decorate the tree this year. Mum needed PH to help bring the tree in and get it set up. The last time we were home, Dad could still do that. He still sat and watched us decorate while he sipped egg nog, but once upon a time he would have been the one pouring the drinks and sloshing too much rum into everyone’s nog.

The decorators this year were mostly Mum and Owl, with me alternately helping, taking photos, and watching the baby. It was the same, but not the same, at the same time.

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If that makes sense.

Meanwhile, the Christmas Eve traditions on PH’s side of the family are going to be changing soon, too. Their Christmas Eve family gathering had the same food, the same schedule, but less exuberance. My nieces and nephews are older now. The next youngest to Owl is already ten years old, and most of them are young adults in university and beyond.

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Our kids were definitely the hit of the show.

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We got a family photo of all of the “kids”, including Fritter, on the front steps. We don’t know when another group photo will be able to be taken as the grown “kids” start moving away and living their own lives.

I’m really glad we made it home this Christmas, because I felt like I was getting a chance to say goodbye to these old traditions and accept that things are changing.

Owl got to experience and explore these “old times”, and I got to make my peace with their passing.img_4393

And these changes don’t have to feel bad. But they will be different.

Maybe that is okay. Maybe it is time for us to build our own traditions, here, at home.

New Year’s Resolution: Don’t Pursue Happiness

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I have mixed feelings about New Year’s Resolutions. I feel like people make resolutions just to feel good for a while, and don’t really think about it. Most years I don’t give a thought to my resolutions until New Year’s Eve rolls around again.

But there have been exceptions.

Many years ago, I made a resolution to “SORT THE F&%$ OUT OF MY LIFE”. I was struggling in a relationship in which the same problems kept coming back, and no amount of arguments seemed to change or improve things. I was painfully aware of the fact that my best friend who lived on the other side of the country gave me more emotional support and interesting conversation than my significant other, and I felt that this was not how the world should be.

But I wasn’t sure how to change things. And as the year passed and I became increasingly worried about the fact that my life was NOT getting sorted out, I found the resolve to put down a foot, and say, “if X happens again, I am done with the relationship”.

It happened again. I ended the relationship.

I can’t say that it made me happier. Ending a long term relationship with someone you genuinely care about does not make life happier. It was painful and chaotic and I felt like my entire life had been turned upside down.

But I knew that nothing could get better until I did that. It was a necessary, if unpleasant, step.

Within six months I had started officially dating my best friend, and life was much better. It was unspoken from day one that we would get married. Sometimes you just know these things.

Things got sorted out, and I ended up happier in the long run.

So when I read this article about how the pursuit of happiness is a false God, it spoke to me. Specifically, it said this:

It’s the perpetual pursuit of fulfilling our ideal selves which grants us happiness, regardless of superficial pleasures or pain, regardless of positive or negative emotions. This is why some people are happy in war and others are sad at weddings. It’s why some are excited to work and others hate parties. The traits they’re inhabiting don’t align with their ideal selves.

The end results don’t define our ideal selves. It’s not finishing the marathon that makes us happy, it’s achieving a difficult long-term goal that does. It’s not having an awesome kid to show off that makes us happy, but knowing that you gave yourself up to the growth of another human being that is special. It’s not the prestige and money from the new business that makes you happy, it’s the process of overcoming all odds with people you care about.

He talks a lot about how people mistake pleasure for happiness, and how worrying about their own happiness can make them afraid to take important life steps which will, for a while, make them less happy.

And when I look back on it, the resolutions I have kept in the past were the ones that really mattered to me. The ones that were life changing.

And so, this year, I resolve to try to pursue my ideal self. I will try to make changes that align myself with the person I feel that I am inside, the person that I want to be.

Since that person is thinner, but dieting has never worked long-term for me, I am going to try to increase my exercise and make a conscious effort to eat along the lines of the diabetic diet I was on during pregnancy. I think that even if I don’t lose a lot of weight, I will feel better about myself if I am more active and make good eating choices more often. I will feel closer to my ideal self.

I think that losing weight would make me happier, but I am not going to make that a goal. I am just going to become the kind of person who COULD.

I am breaking out the old fit bit, and I am going to download Zombies Run onto my phone. I will listen to it while walking the dog, and we’ll see if that helps keep me moving.

Since that ideal self is also a dog trainer and a writer, I am going to focus on finishing and then publishing (through createspace if necessary) my dog training book, even if that means that I have to put my fiction book aside for now. Having that dog training book will help get me business, and help free me from the shackles of working as someone else’s employee.

Once I have done that, then I can play with fiction.

We’ll see how this goes. But something needs to change, and I am going to start now.

Thank You, 2015

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I have mixed feelings about the passing of 2015.

Some parts of 2015 really sucked. My husband nearly killed himself, I ended up heavily pregnant, with a bacterial infection, working and caring for our four year old who also had a bacterial infection, while he was stuck in the hospital and unable to help.

My father broke his hip and overall has deteriorated markedly in his health.

My relationship with my son deteriorated, as my capacity to tolerate his extroverted highjinks hit a new low.

I spent a significant amount of this year coughing, exhausted, diabetic, extremely stressed, half-expecting to become a widow at any moment, researching the potential cost of burying my husband, and wearing Depends because I kept wetting myself.

On the other hand…

This year also brought me the generosity and love of the friends and relations who came streaming in to help during these difficult times. There were friends who picked Owl up at daycare when I was stuck at the hospital, and friends who brought Chinese food so that I wouldn’t have to cook, or took Owl for play dates so I could nap.img_1840

There was my mother in law, who is terrified of flying and financially limited, flying in TWICE to spend a grand total of three months sleeping on our couch, just to help.

On the first visit she made me diabetes-friendly meals and arranged snacks for me at a time when I was working and exhausted and could never have kept up the dietary management that was expected of me on my own. She put my son to bed at night and made him breakfast in the morning, she read to him and joked with him and brought some humor and pleasantry to a home that was seething in stress.

On her return she cooked and cleaned, entertained Owl and then held the baby so I could shower, get dressed, eat meals, and spend some quality time with my son.

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And in between those visits, my parents flew in for four months. They took money from their nest egg to rent a place nearby, and my mother drove back and forth making meals and snacks, cleaning, and reading Owl bedtime stories.

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Not only did it bring me much needed aid, but I got to spend time with my father while he still knows who I am.

And this year brought me Fritter, who made a safe landing on the shores of time and gave us the gift of a colic-free fourth trimester. She brings me joy every day with her grins and chortles, and I wouldn’t change a thing about her.

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And with all of those months of support from our family, PH was able to retreat and rest and begin healing. While he is still very ill, I have seen more of the old Perfect Husband in the last three months than I have in the past two years. There are mornings when I come downstairs to find breakfast laid out for me, afternoons when he greets me at the door to take my coat and offer me a drink, and evenings when he rubs my feet and offers to run me a bath.

Whenever he has a good day, I feel like I could suffer another two years just for a chance at more days like that.

I feel like I could kiss 2015 for bringing me even one day like that, let alone as many as I have been gifted with these last few months.

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2015 also brought me maternity leave, which I love because I am a lazy slob. I love being home with my baby and watching The Walking Dead or writing during her naps. It’s way better than working. I’m sad that there are only a few more months left. I have a lot of writing to get down in that time.

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Yes, over all I am very grateful to 2015. I feel like it got handed a terrible set of cards but it played them all right.

2015 for me was a year of defeat and renewal, of family and love.

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We survived it, and maybe it has made us stronger.

If 2016 can keep up with this upward trend, I think I can look forward to the coming year.

And if it can’t… well… Bring it, 2016.

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Another Chance At Christmas

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So far, this has been the best Christmas in years, and it isn’t even really Christmas yet.

I started celebrating early, since we’re going to spend a good two week chunk of time over Christmas and New Year in Nova Scotia, and there didn’t seem any point to decorating a week before we left. So I decorated in November.

  
We violated an old rule of ours and got an artificial tree so that when we went to Nova Scotia we wouldn’t be leaving behind a fire hazard. We aren’t proud of it, but it’s a pretty little tree and how else can you get a Christmas tree in November?

I also started our advent calendars early, counting down to departure instead of Christmas Eve. I took Owl to story time with Mrs Claus and a gingerbread house party.

  
Perfect Husband has shown frequent glimmers of his old self and has been helping me make lists of things to do, putting together Christmas music playlists, and generally being PRESENT in the household.

It makes a huge difference.

The last couple of Christmases have felt half-assed and lackluster. My miscarriage baby was due in December, so the Christmas that she (she was always a she in my thoughts) would have been due was particularly gloomy. All I managed that year was a single Charlie Brown Christmas Tree on the table.

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I vaguely hoped that people would think I was taking the message of Charlie Brown Christmas at face value and refusing all other decorations out of principle. At least that sad little tree reminded me that Christmas was not about glitz.

Last Christmas was a little better – at least I was pregnant! – but due to stress/pregnancy/anxiety I couldn’t handle basically anything. It also felt horribly ironic because I had always wanted to be pregnant at Christmas – I had imagined lounging with my feet up while adoring relations laid footie pyjamas over my belly and complimented my glow – but instead I was overworked, sick, and we couldn’t afford to go home so it was just the three of us.

PH ended up pushing himself way too hard to help out and I partially blame that for his crash in January.

I sort of feel like the last year didn’t really happen. It’s hard to believe that it is Christmas time again, because we actually haven’t finished cleaning up after last Christmas.

You see, when PH crashed, a lot of things went on hold. One of those was putting away Christmas stuff. And by the time things were looking up again, that Christmas stuff had stopped looking like Christmas stuff, and just started looking like part of the normal background of our lives. It felt strange to put Christmas stuff away in July, so it just sort of stayed.

  
Like the Christmas village, which has been boxed, but sitting under the side table in the living room for a year now. We didn’t set it up this year because we’re going to be away so it seemed like too much effort.

  
Or Beloved Dog’s “12 Days of Dog Christmas” quilt, which has now basically just become a regular blankie that has sat on his memory foam dog bed for 12 months now. I wonder if he would get upset if I took it away, now? I mean, look how he snuggles with it.

  

Or this Christmas angel, which has sat on the shelf for the last year without anyone really noticing it.

  
And when we needed the tinsel for the tree, we knew exactly where it was – on the DVD shelf where it has been for the last year.

Hey, I mean, it probably saved us valuable seconds in decorating for Christmas this year. The house came predecorated! Like how my parents just leave their Christmas lights up all year round and only start plugging them in again on December 1st each year.

It’s nice, really, to think that Christmas keeps coming around. And if one, or two, or eight don’t go as well as I would like, well, it’ll be back again before I even get around to putting away that dog-cuddling wooden angel thing.

And like I say, this Christmas is on the upswing. I think I’ll mark this year over-all a win. Especially since I finally have my Christmas baby.

  

A Tribute To Fritter

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Poor Fritter.

When Owl was a baby I posted constant updates on his many advances and progress, while Fritter has gotten almost no blog attention. But I promise that the neglect is only in writing. I enjoy her so much that it is ridiculous, and I want to really introduce her to you.

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She is seven months old now.

She can roll around, eat solid food, and say “ba ba ba”. She creeps around on her belly but she still can’t sit up completely independently. Her growth is perfectly on the 50th percentile, making her much bigger than Owl was at the same age but nicely average. She actually wore 6 months clothes at 6 months, can you believe that? Some of the clothes are handmedowns from Owl, which he wore at 9 months.  She sleeps better than Owl did but still wakes up multiple times in the night.

But that’s all just data. It doesn’t tell you who Fritter is.

I love this ridiculous, derpy little baby.

Fritter is a people watcher. She especially loves to watch her brother’s antics, and she gets a big grin on her face when he comes into view. A game of peekaboo with him will have her laughing out loud.

She  doesn’t laugh out loud super often, though. Her laugh is a rare and delightful thing. Usually she just grins, or if you give her kisses or blow raspberries at her she chortles.

She loves dogs. My friend the Farm Fairy has a puppy who is only 2 weeks older than Fritter and they are great friends. I’ve taken her to a couple of dog training appointments, too, and she just grins at the dog and watches everything quietly.

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Her smile blooms.

It starts out just gently tugging at the corners of her mouth, and then slowly grows over her whole face, until the emotion overwhelms her and she has to hide it, usually in my chest if she’s in the carrier, otherwise behind her own arms or behind a blankie.

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She loves to cover her face and eyes. She rubs her “Sleepy Sheep” all over her face as soon as we hand it to her. She will cover her face with the sheep blanket, or a curtain, or anything she can get her hands on and wait for us to say “Where’s Fritter?” and then she whips it off of her face with a big grin.

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She is definitely shyer of strangers than Owl is, and she’s a little overattached to me. And by “a little overattached” I mean that she bursts into tears when I leave the room, or if I hand her to anybody, including her own father.

I think part of this is nature, and part of this is nurture. I think she is naturally a little more easily frightened. She went through a period when she was 2-3 months old where the slightest unexpected sound, even if it was just her father coughing or someone speaking when the room had gone silent, was enough to throw her into an angry pout followed by a protesting cry.

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This is an unfortunate situation when you have an active five year old and a dog in the house. Every bark, every shout would send her into a fit of fear-rage.

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Thankfully she has adjusted a bit, and now only does her angry pout if a genuinely startling noise happens.

On the other hand, she hasn’t been as well socialized as Owl in some ways.

Sure, she sees people more often  than Owl did at that age, since she comes along to drop off and pick up at school, and on many play dates. I didn’t have a car when I was on mat leave with Owl so I was housebound, but now that PH is home on disability I can take her out shopping and she is out of the house almost every day.

But she is always on ME. I am her primary and virtually sole caretaker.

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She is almost never held by anyone else except her father, and that’s only for short periods. We haven’t had a date night out since she was born, partially because we were unable to get her on a bottle and partially because PH has been unwell and has very little energy for evening shenanigans, so she has never been left with a sitter.

Owl, on the other hand, was FORCED onto a bottle and left with a sitter on a bi-weekly basis from a month old onwards. He was cared for by a rota of friends and I think he learned early that lots of people have the ability to care for him.

Fritter, on the other hand, probably thinks she will die if I leave the room because she doesn’t know otherwise.

Now that she is on solids we are working on this problem. Our first step is to get her to trust her father to look after her. Now that she’s past the screamy newborn stage he can play with her and put her in her high chair and feed her and she will learn that I am not the only person in the world who can feed and clothe her. Then we’ll start leaving her with other people.

Mockingjay Part 2  is in theatres now, so we consider this an emergency. We missed Mad Max and The Martian but we aren’t missing MOCKINGJAY.

Sorry, kid.

Now, let’s talk about her looks.

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Everyone says she looks just like Owl, and it’s funny because she does, and she doesn’t.

Owl has my eyes and his father’s eyebrows. She has her father’s eyes and my eyebrows. Overall she looks more like me than Owl, and people have noticed that.

That being said, there really is a resemblance, especially when I compare photos of them at similar ages and clothing.IMG_3140Happy Babby

No matter whose various body parts she has, her face ultimately looks like herself. I do love her little face. She gets such derpy expressions sometimes that it seems easy to underestimate her, but I think she’s actually pretty bright.

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She was reaching for things early, and she studies how things work. She studies my reactions, turning to search my face for clues about what is happening around her. As I have already mentioned, she will initiate peekaboo and listens for a specific verbal cue before whipping the blanket off of her face.

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It’s hard to explain but I just have this creeping feeling that there is a keen intelligence behind that cabbage patch face. Maybe I’m just being a doting parent. We’ll see.

In the mean time, I am just enjoying her babyhood. I can’t stop cuddling her like she’s a stuffed toy and kissing those chubby cheeks. And even though I know that I need to get out to see Mockingjay, and that she needs to feel comfortable with other people, I have no real desire to pass her off to other people.

She’s my last baby, and it goes so fast.

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Incredibly Belated Halloween Awesomeness

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Sorry I have been so absent. Life is actually going fine, it’s just… full… and the blog has fallen lower down on the priority list. But I miss it so I’m catching up.

Look! Cute Halloween pictures!

Owl wanted to be a skeleton. Well, actually, at first he insisted on a cute Dia de Los Muertos dress costume with a pink frilly skirt (you know how he loves those).


I eventually caved to the demands with reluctance, not because it was a girl’s costume but because it was still three weeks until Hallowe’en and he has all of the focus and determination of a light autumn breeze.

I kept the receipt.

Sure enough, two weeks later he spotted a green skeleton costume and immediately changed his mind.


I was annoyed but also relieved, because the girl’s costume had me concerned – he was supposed to wear his costume to school for the Hallowe’en parade and I didn’t want to expose him to misogynistic kids teasing him for wearing a girl costume.

I found a skeleton costume for the baby and I turned a kid’s skeleton t-shirt into a cover for the ergo and cuteness ensued.



Why Yes, Our New Prime Minister IS Sexy, But That’s Not Why We’re Excited About Him.

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trudeauSo, in case you live outside of Canada and don’t have Canadians on your Facebook, we just elected our version of JFK Junior to lead our country.

We’re really happy.

The funny thing is, even people who didn’t vote for him are happy. Like me (of course, no one in Canada directly votes for a certain prime minister, but I have already I ranted about Canada’s broken electoral system and our split-left years ago during our last election).

Why am I so thrilled even though I don’t vote liberal? Let me explain…

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In Which I Unravel The Secret of Meditative Tasks

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So, colouring books for grownups. That’s a thing, now.

It happened so suddenly. One night, my mother in law told me about an article she had just read about how colouring can help depression and anxiety, and how they were making special books designed to soothe one or the other. The next day – the VERY NEXT DAY – I went to our local drug store and BAM, those same books were there.

  
The next time I went into Chapters I saw even more, with even fancier, more intricate designs.

I was intrigued.

You see all of those pictures and they seem to just beg to be coloured. They are beautiful, and all they are missing is your own artistic touch.

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(As a random piece of trivia, I won a colouring contest when I was a kid and it netted me a $100 gift certificate to Toys R Us. Unfortunately, I let my mother talk me into giving HER the gift certificate to use as needed for gifts for friends’ parties. My mother gave me a verbal IOU of $100 which I was hypothetically supposed to be able to cash in on an as-needed basis. Eventually, after much wheedling, I managed to convince her to part with $40 of it for a stuffed porcupine puppet. Then we moved to Curacao where there was no Toys R Us so I called it a loss.)

I tried colouring along with Owl in one of his books one day, too, and it was pretty fun, even if I did feel like I was showing up my five year old.

Then reports started pouring in from friends. One with anxiety says she really enjoys it. She finds it helps give her focus, takes her mind off of her anxieties, and refreshes her a bit. Another friend has actually set up a standing date with one of her other friends to colour together. They love it.

It seems like there’s good science behind the fad, too. Colouring seems to inhabit the perfect space between “too challenging” and “not challenging enough” to create a near-meditation state. You can focus on the task while letting your mind wander. Instead of thinking about your breathing or something, you think about your picture.

Heavens knows I need something to help me get into a meditative state because I’m not doing too great lately.

So I have been seriously thinking about colouring, but there was something that was holding me back, and it has nothing to do with Toys R Us gift cards.

The honest fact is that I’m not very interested in colouring. I mean, it sounds fun, and it looks fun, and I think I would like it if I were on vacation and just wanting something to do. But I’m not on vacation, and I have a long list of recreational activities that I would rather do when Owl is either in school or asleep and Fritter is sleeping.

Writing is pretty high on that list, as is reading and binge-watching The Walking Dead alone or watching QI with Perfect Husband (by the way, if you enjoy intellectual British humor, rare trivia, and Stephen Fry, but you haven’t heard of this show HIE THEE TO YOUTUBE THIS INSTANT).

When I have some semblence of mental energy, I write. When I don’t, I collapse in front of Netflix or I read. Colouring would be ignored in both instances. I certainly wouldn’t want colouring to take up potential writing time. My writing, no matter what it is, feels productive. Colouring wouldn’t. Like Netflix, it would be purely recreational.

So I put it on the backburner.

Then, last week, I was visiting my friend the Farm Fairy at her knitting store, and she was pushing me, yet again, to try knitting.

She is always trying to get me to knit, and I always say no. I’m not good with my hands. My fingers aren’t nimble. Maybe it’s because I spent my childhood galloping around on four legs pretending to be a horse instead of dressing dolls. Maybe it’s my poor spatial skills. Maybe it is because I am left handed and my mother is right handed and when she tried to teach me knitting left handed she got all confused and gave up.

“The thing is,” said the Farm Fairy, as her puppy licked my baby’s face and Fritter chortled and pulled on the puppy’s fur, “I took a break from knitting to prepare for this big trade show, and when I was able to start again I realized how much I missed it. It’s sort of meditative, because it’s repetitive and you need to pay attention a little, but it’s also the sort of thing you can do while watching TV or chatting with your friends. It’s something for your hands to do, and I realized that I worry about things a lot more when I don’t knit.”

plinko

 

KNITTING!

After all, the colouring books aren’t a unique way of de-stressing. Psychologists have observed the same effect from other repetitive, only-slightly-challenging activities, like playing Tetris. They all lead to “flow”.

In fact, I bet that was why everyone got obsessed with Flappy Bird.

PH likes to clear-cut things in Minecraft. Talk about repetitive tasks. I don’t know why, but he will spend hours in Minecraft simply demolishing huge mountains. But more on that in another post.

Anyway, my point is that knitting is just as good an activity as colouring. It is repetitive, mindless, but also requires a certain level of focus.

“Think about it,” said the Farm Fairy. “What happens to dogs when they don’t have enough to do?”

“They bark, destroy things…” I said.

“Spin in circles, chase their tails, suck their flanks… they develop stereotypies, right? Destructive ones. People aren’t so different. They need something to occupy them, something repetitive to do just to keep their hands busy.”

She makes an excellent point.

Plus then instead of just instagramming my colouring pages, I can actually have THINGS that I could MAKE for people.

And the nice thing about being able to make people gifts is that they have to cherish them no matter how crappy they are because I MADE IT FOR YOU.

Besides, the world is full of nerdy knitting projects that I would love to be able to recreate. If I could do that while watching The Walking Dead I would actually be improving my productivity!

darylknit

What about the fact that I’m spatially impaired with poor manual dexterity?

Yeah, there is that. Well, you don’t know until you try, right? And the Farm Fairy is a good teacher.

So I had my first lesson last week, and it IS fiddly and difficult for me, but I spent all this week knitting while listening to QI. I feel like I’m able to focus more on the dialogue while I knit. My mind doesn’t wander as much. There’s no room for mind wandering. The knitting and the conversation eat up all the brain power I have.

Plus in the end, I would get a square, blue dishrag. So my evening productivity was already going up.

I finished off my first knitting project, the dishrag, today. Here it is:

IMG_3654

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s beautiful.

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