The Cliff

It has been approximately one year since I last experienced the emotion of joy.

I don’t mean that I’ve been miserable non-stop, or even that I haven’t been happy.

I have a lot in my life to feel grateful for and to enjoy, from my kids to the weightlessness of water when I swim.

But if I want to think of a time when I felt unadulteratedly happy – truly joyful – it’s last summer.

I was sitting down with a friend and the husband of another friend (who is a sound technician) to record the audiobook of my novel. And my friend read the book so well, and it just made me so happy.

Things have really gone to shit since then.

For one thing, the book never got done. We almost finished it… but life started getting in the way. My friend returned to work after mat leave and it got harder to schedule times when we could record and she obviously wasn’t enjoying the sessions much so I just dropped it.

I’m not sure I did it fast enough, though – our friendship never returned to what it was before we started the audiobook.

I don’t even know if that’s related – my friend is busy as hell with work and motherhood, and sometimes people just get busy and don’t have room in their life right now.

God knows my life is full enough, so I know how it is.

But if you’re like me, and you have a history of pissing people off without even knowing why and finding out it’s because you said something and they thought you meant something else and so they just decided to, like, dump you from your life… well… you tend to fret over stuff like that.

It’s the kind of thing you chew over and get weepy about at two in the morning when you can’t sleep.

Or it is for me, anyway.

Anyway, I had bigger problems than audiobooks and busy friends.

…Which is probably one of the reasons why people are drifting away – my family has been in crisis mode for YEARS now and God, that must be exhausting for people. I can’t blame them for wanting to get away from it.

Anyway, PH’s depression was as bad as ever and his ability to do work around the house or look after the kids was pretty much nil.

I was obviously cracking under the strain so we made yet another call to my mother in law to please come out and help for a while.

In the past, my mother-in-law’s visits were delights because she is delightful. She genuinely seems to enjoy cooking breakfast for children in the morning, which to me is like walking on LEGO.

But this time was different.

My husband was sick of our kids sharing a room and he wanted our third bedroom, which we used as a book/computer room, cleared out and turned into an actual bedroom so Owl and Fritter didn’t have to squash in together anymore.

It was a noble goal, and between him and his mother, it was achieved. But it certainly didn’t relieve my strain.

If anything, coming home and finding the house upended, my mother-in-law exhausted from lifting more stuff than a woman her age should be lifting, and stacks of papers everywhere increased my anxiety.

Maybe if we had known, at the time, that I’m probably autistic, PH would have been more understanding about my stress regarding the total reorganization of the upstairs. But we didn’t, and I couldn’t seem to make him understand that this was the opposite of a vacation for me.

Rest, for me, is stability and lack of responsibility. This was neither.

Especially since when I tried to rest, PH would barge in and order me to help – please grab that stack of books and go file them, please order a pizza, because my mother has done enough work today. That sort of thing.

Plus, I absolutely couldn’t handle moving my daughter into a room that didn’t look like a BEDROOM so I insisted not painting it, which thankfully a friend helped me do.

When I did get time to rest I couldn’t really because everything was topsy turvy.

But they achieved the impossible and shifted our hundreds and hundreds of books onto shelves in other places and Fritter was delighted with her new room, so it was all in all a good thing.

Just… a really stressful thing.

And then my mother in law was gone again and I was worse than ever. PH, exhausted from the effort of rearranging the upstairs, went back to sleeping all the time, and we were at square one again.

I tried anti-anxiety medications – the doctor put me on SSRIs as well as my Welbutrin – but at first they made me worse. I lost my temper with the kids and shouted at them, which then made PH shout at me because he strongly believes that children should not be shouted at.

He’s not wrong, but it certainly added to the family tension.

Then when the SSRIs finally took full effect I ended up feeling… nothing. I wasn’t crying at night anymore but I also lost interest in… everything. I could barely bring myself to finish editing my book and get it published. I certainly couldn’t write anything new. I didn’t feel anything.

I certainly didn’t feel GOOD. I was still unhappy and anxious. Just… in a flatter way.

When my father died in February, I didn’t even cry.

That’s when I put the SSRIs away for good.

My father was the world’s sweetest man.

He was handsome, he adored my mother, and he adored me.

He was a successful banker who never really liked his job but considered it a necessary evil and he always did it to the best of his ability. When we moved to Curacao, he taught himself Papiamentu – the local creole – so he could speak with the local employees in their mother language.

I can’t remember receiving a single critical word from him in my entire life.

And when he died, I had no tears to mourn him with.

Mind you, that’s not all the SSRIs. Sure, they made me feel a little flatter, but Dad’s death was as much a relief as anything else.

His Alzheimer’s had stolen his ability to play guitar, then his ability to walk, and finally his ability to speak. He knew who I was – he could still manage a “goodnight, kitten,” when we tucked him into bed – but whatever thoughts were in his mind died mid-sentence. He couldn’t dress himself, use the toilet himself, or speak for himself.

Dad was always a vocal believer in euthanasia. He thought it was cruel to prolong the dying process, and he believed strongly in death with dignity. And yet I couldn’t give him that.

Eventually, he gave it to himself. He closed his mouth and stopped taking pills, food, or liquid. So we accepted his decision and let him go.

In the days after his death, it was hard for me to feel sad for him when I was also happy for him. And his presence was so strong in my mind – my memories of him as a younger man suddenly felt near and clear – that it was hard to accept that he was even gone.

I cried once – when they gave us his ashes and I held the box and felt the weight of my father’s skeleton, reduced to a fine powder, and they handed us his wedding band. I had never seen it off his finger.

That… that was hard.

We returned from our three-week-long trip to Nova Scotia in early March.

In late March, Beloved Dog died.

He was 14. He had heart disease. We knew his time was running out. But one day he was scrounging french fries on the beach, and the next day he was turning his nose up at food.

His kidneys had suddenly shut down. And when, after two days of IV fluids and anti-nausea medications, his kidneys failed to recover and his lungs began to fill with excess fluid, I took him into the vet clinic and did for him what I was unable to do for my father.

At least, by then, the SSRIs were out of my system and I could cry for him. My baby dog, who had accompanied me through my twenties, through two relationships, a marriage, and two children. He was a part of my identity, in a way. And now he was gone.

Then, in May, PH’s father died suddenly of heart failure.

My father in law’s death was the opposite of my father’s – he didn’t even know he died, it was so sudden. But that made it all the more terrible and traumatic for his family, especially his wife who was with him when it happened. While my mother spent years slowly taking on responsibilities as Dad’s disease progressed, my poor mother in law was totally unprepared to become a widow on a sunny day in May.

PH spent days and days going through his father’s study, looking for life insurance, while his eldest brother helped try to figure out the banking situation.

…2018 has not been a great year for us, is what I’m trying to say.

There have been bright spots, though.

Beautiful days spent at Cultus Lake, floating in the cool water and looking at the mountains.

A family camping trip to Leavenworth, where I could – and did – spend hours swimming in the Wenatchee River, absolutely blissing-out on the feel of the water rushing over and past my body as I swam against the current.

It wasn’t quite joy. But it felt very good.

Most days, though, that vice of dread is firmly in place around my heart and I live each day quietly suppressing the absolute terror that inhabits my every waking moment.

While I’m still not officially autistic – I have an assessment booked for November, so we’ll see how that goes – my autism is considered basic fact in our household these days. It actually solved a lot of problems that PH and I had with communication.

“Now I know that you really aren’t being passive aggressive when you say those things that hurt me,” he said once.

“But I always TOLD you that I just meant what I said and didn’t intend any of those arbitrary layers of meaning you kept slathering onto my sentences,” I said.

“Yes, but now I believe you,” he said.

Similarly, if he had known I was autistic back during the Great Room Upheaval of 2017, he would probably have had more patience for the way I seemed more irritated and upset than grateful for all the hard work he and his mother were doing.

Autistic people don’t like change.

We like routine. We like stability. In a world where things often seem to happen unexpectedly or for no clear reason, we like as few moving parts as possible. It’s too much to track, too much to follow, too much to figure out.

…My life has a LOT of moving parts.

I have the kids and all of their stuff which they constantly move around and leave places and then expect me to know where that stuff is when they want it.

I have my dog training business which is an absolute snake’s nest of appointments and clients and emails and voicemails.

And then there are all of those basic adulty things that people are supposed to just be able to, like, do… like laundry and dishes and sweeping and cleaning the bathroom. And back when I didn’t have the moving parts of the kids and the dog training I could dedicate some time to those things although I did it poorly. But now it’s just like hahahahahahahaha no.

PH has been out of commission almost entirely for the last year or so. It’s rare, now, for him to be able to cook dinner or run laundry. He sleeps a lot, or lies in his bed and looks at his tablet. Whenever he tries to do more, his mood crashes and he’s forced to crawl back into bed.

He’s house-bound and often lonely. The only way he can socialize is if people come to him, and since all of our friends our parents now, they can’t come over without a babysitter, and that’s just too much trouble. Our house is too small – and let’s face it, filthy – for kids to play comfortably in, and we never had much room for social gatherings anyway.

So no one comes over, now.

I’m lonely, too.

It’s lonely to get up with your kids in the morning while your partner sleeps. It’s lonely to feed your kids dinner while your partner sleeps upstairs. It’s lonely to sit downstairs at night while your partner sleeps upstairs. And knowing that it’s because he’s sick doesn’t make it less lonely.

But when he’s awake, he’s a wonderful father and a loving partner. You just need to go visit him in the bedroom if you want hugs and a few kind words. The kids often “go visit Daddy,” when they want some special attention. Sometimes I’ll lie in bed with him and we’ll watch a show or something on his tablet – he can’t usually make it downstairs to the TV.

But without PH to stabilize my life – to put things away and tidy and plan – I live with gripping anxiety.

I’m dog training full-time now. I had to leave the vet clinic because my hours just didn’t work. PH couldn’t pick Owl up from school or take care of the kids until I got off work at six.

Some good friends were doing that for us multiple times a week. I got in the habit of simply going to their place for dinner and maybe a board game after work, but that often meant getting the kids to bed late.

Plus it meant putting a heavy burden on my friends. I couldn’t expect them to act as my unpaid after-school care providers indefinitely.  And the vet clinic simply couldn’t offer me hours that worked with a school schedule.

So now my primary income is the dog training, which some supplementation from my book sales.

Here’s the thing with the dog training.

WHEN I am training a dog, I enjoy myself. I often enjoy my appointments.

I hate everything else about it.

The training sessions wear me out. I’m emotionally exhausted from being “On” and active.

But worse – the training session are irregular.

*Cue horror music*

Every. Single. Day. Is. Different. From. The. Last.

It’s a nightmare.

One day I have two appointments. The next day I have one. The day after I have three. All are at different places with different people.

And who is booking those appointments? ME.

I have to carefully construct a schedule for every single day. Nothing is ever routine, or taken for granted. I have to build each day block by block, time slot by time slot.

It’s like a game of Super Mario where you’re jumping from one moving plank to another. You constantly have to look ahead and time each move. There’s nowhere I can blindly step knowing what is going to happen. There’s no routine I can lean into, no stability to take the burden.

For some people that might be annoying, or exhausting. For me, it’s terrifying.

It feels like I’m trying to make my way down a cliff. And if I don’t watch where I put my foot with every step, I’m going to fall.

And I get so tired that sometimes I just want to close my eyes and let it happen.

And there are voicemails to answer – God, I hate those. I ignore them for days, which is GREAT business practice I’m sure – and emails and texts.

I have to call people back and put their information into my invoicing system and confirm their appointments and calculate travel times and contact people and ask if I can move their appointment 15 minutes because my appointment before them is further away than I thought and I’m not sure I can make it from point A to point B in time.

I’ve turned off my google ads but people keep contacting me. And we need the money – GOD, we need the money, so I can’t bring myself to turn them down. I’m driving to downtown Vancouver one day and into the Fraser Valley the next.

I have Saturdays at home with my children.

That’s it.

Every other day of the week they’re being cared for by someone else. Monday through Friday they’re in school/daycare until I pick them up – which I can do, now, at least. On Sundays I leave them with a rotating schedule of friends so I can train dogs for people who aren’t available Mon- Fri 10-2.

I’m constantly – constantly – fretting about my schedule. Who has the kids this Sunday? How many appointments do I have? Can I fit in another one?

EVEN THOUGH I REALLY DON’T WANT TO?

And the pathetic part is it’s not like I’m even THAT busy. I’m still not really making enough to make ends meet. But unless I want to give up that one day a week with my children, it’s all I can do.

Every now and then I get a day where I have no appointments, and I aggressively do nothing for those precious hours when Owl is in school and Fritter in daycare.

But quite frankly, I need a lot of downtime to recuperate from the crushing anxiety of simply existing without a stable schedule and it isn’t enough.

Then there’s the house situation.

Mess REALLY bothers me. Clutter and disorganization eat at me – I fret about those books on the floor getting stepped on. I worry that those important papers will get lost. I wrinkle my nose at the smell of the garbage.

But can I do anything about it?

No.

So the books DO get stepped on and the papers DO get lost and it makes me FREAK OUT.

For someone who loves to be in an organized tidy environment I really really suck at creating organized tidy environments. I create mess constantly – as do the kids – and that same mess makes me so anxious I can’t relax in my own home.

Don’t ask me why I can’t just put things away, because I don’t know.

I know that I can and DO put some things away – if they have obvious places where they go. I take dishes that are clean and put them with the other clean dishes, for example.

But most things don’t have obvious places where they go and then I’m paralyzed.

Or things just get so messy that I don’t know where to start and I’m overwhelmed and just looking at the mess makes me feel like I’m being knocked right off of that cliff I’m clinging to.

So, basically, not only do I feel like I’m clinging to a cliff – often during an earthquake, when something happens to rattle the tenuous routines I do have – but rocks keep falling and I don’t know how to dodge them.

Dad and Beloved Dog were big, BIG rocks.

The constant clutter, the worry that my children will end up as messed up as their rooms are, the dirt, the emails, the phone calls… are a constant shower of scree from above.

There’s only one reason why I haven’t fallen off that cliff into utter breakdown.

Those same friends who were picking up my kids and feeding me regularly when I was at the vet clinic got used to me hanging around. They’ve adopted my family like we’re some stray kittens they found and got attached to.

When I’m too exhausted from smiling and teaching people how to stop messing up their dogs, when I feel like every single object in my house is screaming “PUT ME AWAY!” but I don’t know where anything goes and the thought of going into that house is just too terrible to bear…

…I can ask them, “what’s for dinner?” and they’ll say, “dunno, pick up some buns and by the time you get here we’ll have something figured out.”

And they genuinely seem to like me. They miss me if I don’t come over for dinner on a regular basis.

It’s weird.

Like… I’ve had a lot of great friends, but people have lives. And their lives can get really full. I know mine is.

But this family had room for us in their lives. They just added two kids to their number of children and added me as a secondary wife/mother and told me to pick up some buns on the way over.

That saved me.

When I’m at their place, dinner is served and dishes are washed. Fritter is told, “come sit over here so your mummy can eat in peace.” My friend’s husband hands me a Diet Pepsi. The kids all run off to play with each other. The grown-ups complain about Trump or play board games.

My own contributions are things like wiping the table or setting up a game of Dominion. Small, simple responsibilities that I can handle. And if I can’t, that’s okay, they’ll do it.

It’s not my home, not my stability, not my routine, but it is still the most stability and routine that I have in my life right now and it’s the thing that catches me when I start to slip.

These people are my safety net.

So that means I also live in fear of losing them, fear that they’ll get sick of me and drift away like so many people do.

And then there’s my husband to consider

In order for me to go to The House Of Rest, I have to leave PH behind. Don’t get me wrong – he’s welcome there because they, like pretty much everyone who has ever met PH, adore him. But it involves leaving the house and being exposed to other humans and their children and PH just… can’t.

So I always feel like I’m choosing – do I choose to be home with my partner but swamped by overwhelming responsibility and chaos, or in someone else’s home, surrounded by routine, being cared for?

Do I live my own life, or mooch off someone else’s?

I’ve been treading water for years, now, while the Sharks of Sudden Change constantly circle around me, and I’m both scared and exhausted from trying to survive it.

My adoptive family provides a lifeboat when I need to rest, but it’s only ever briefly. Next thing you know it’s time to take the kids home to bed and it’s splash – back in the water.

There are a lot of things that I love about my life.

I love that I train dogs for a living – just what I dreamed of as a kid.

I love that I’m a writer, with fans. Also what I dreamed of as a kid.

I love that I have a boy and a girl, and they are awesome and I like them both as people.

I have an adoring partner who tells me that he loves me often.

I have an amazing support system of friends, and even more friends who I may not see regularly but who I know would – and have – come rushing to help if I called them and said I needed them.

I’m not unhappy with my life. Not from the big picture.

But I do miss safety. I miss security.

I miss relaxation.

I miss joy.

And I’m exhausted and scared as hell that I’m going to fall off of this damn cliff because at some point, surely, I will fall asleep and something terrible will happen.

People Give Me Funny Looks, And Now I Know Why.

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Do you ever get people looking at you in a certain way after you’ve said something? And their look is telling you, “you are not normal and your experience is not my experience”?

I do. All. The. Time.

I wish I had a witty name for the look that people give me, but I don’t. I just think of it as That Look.

It’s a little wide-eyed, and there’s usually a glance to the side – as if the looker is uncomfortable with aiming it directly at me. Sometimes it’s accompanied by a little smile – that’s the amused variety. It comes in several flavours, you see.

Besides That Look (amused), there’s also That Look (amazed), That Look (oh come on), and That Look (this chick is seriously messed up).

I don’t get it from friends and family… much. When it does happen, they often look at each other while they do it, which is extra special.

Mostly it’s from strangers, but only in certain settings.

I never get That Look from clients at work. So whatever it is about me that prompts That Look, it doesn’t happen when I’m in a position of knowledge, educating others about their dog’s behaviour and/or health.

No, it happens when a friend has a birthday and invites a bunch of her friends out somewhere and I find myself chatting with a bunch of perfectly nice and funny ladies. I start talking about something I find interesting and then bam – there it is. That Look.

It also happens in clinical settings. Back when I was in my Generalized Anxiety Disorder group, for example. I got it several times from the leaders of the group. In that case, it was a flavour of (amazed) followed by the words, “that is the most elaborate justification of anxiety I have ever heard.” The second time it was the rare and highly prized (impressed) variety, followed by, “what an excellent metaphor. Yes. Exactly.”

In every case, it happens when I’m either talking about something I have been thinking about, or describing my actual thought processes themselves.

I know I’m a thinker.

I even know I’m an over-thinker.

What can I say? I live in my head, and as I grow older I have become more and more uncomfortably aware that my experience is not the same as most other people’s experience.

Mostly because of That Look.

I’ve often tried to describe to others how I see the world, though I’m not sure how successful I have been at it.

Here is a couple of ways I have used in the past:

My Head As A Room

Imagine that you are in a comfortable room. There’s lots to do in there so you aren’t bored, but if someone needs to talk to you, or if you need to look outside for any reason, you need to talk through the one window in the room, which is uncomfortably over your head. You need to stand on your bed and balance on your tip-toes to look out properly, and talk to people outside or interact with the outside world. This is nice, of course, but it does get tiring after a while. What is especially annoying is when you do get tired so you start sitting down on your bed for a rest but people keep rapping on your window and making you stand up again.

My Head As Underwater

I also sometimes envision my head as being underwater. Sounds are muted, I’m comfortably floating, and I’m in my own world. When I have to interact with the outside, I have to swim up to the surface and tread water. It’s cold out there and I’m exposed to the elements so whenever I get a chance I sink back down.

I like this metaphor but I don’t think it works for other people because a lot of people associate underwater with drowning, and that would make my above metaphor sound bad. So then I try to reverse it, with having to put my head UNDER the water to interact with the world and getting increasingly desperate to come up for a breath but you can’t because everyone else is pulling you down.

That is probably a more accurate picture for most people even if it feels backwards to me.

That’s the problem with metaphors, though, isn’t it? An extrovert listening to my room analogy might think of the room as a prison and the pestering people at the window as rescuers, and that isn’t how I feel at all.

So maybe that’s why I feel like I never successfully conveyed to anyone quite how it feels to be me. But I have always had a nagging suspicion that other people don’t experience life quite the way I do.

That Look is only one of the reasons.

Certain adjectives tend to come up a lot when people talk about me.

“Obsessive” is a common one. People have called me “obsessed” and “obsessive” since childhood, and I’ve embraced it. I get obsessed with stuff. I get fascinated with something, whether it is Harry Potter or dogs or babywearing or whatever. I research the hell out of it. I spend hours learning about it, reading about it.

“You’re obsessed with animals.”

“You’re obsessed with wolves.”

“You’re obsessed with that guy.”

I heard it so often that I took it for granted. Yup, I’m obsessive. And it’s that obsessiveness which often prompts That Look, because I’ll know far more about a subject than anyone would expect or consider normal.

I’m also incompetent.

To be fair, I’m the one who applies that adjective to myself. But I can’t help it. I can’t even put my underwear on properly! I find everyday tasks that others seem to perform effortlessly to be complicated and tricky.

Even Perfect Husband, who routinely applies adjectives like “amazing” and “wonderful” to me, has taken to blowing his top lately over my little idiocies.

He came downstairs once to find me stuffing more fish in an already-full pot of water until the water overflowed and hissed into steam on the hot stove.

“What the HELL did you think would happen?” he raged in exasperation.

For years I’ve shunted stuff like that off, blaming baby brain when I microwaved my yogurt, or stress when a hallucinated adding cornmeal to my shopping cart. But I’m not pregnant. I’m not nursing. And while I’m anxious and overworked and stressed, I don’t think I can blame that forever.

The fact is that while I barely had to study for classes like Radiology or Cytology, my friends in Vet Tech school had to spend hours – literally HOURS – helping me practice folding surgical towels and gowns because I could NOT get it right.

The fact is that I found it easy – no, enjoyable – to forgo all other forms of recreation, giving up television and even my beloved reading to write and publish a 200,000 words sequel to my book over the last year… but I still can’t find a way to make myself wash the dishes on a routine basis.

I’m a mess of extremes, unable to do anything by halves, either sucking at it or excelling at it with very little in between.

And it makes people give me That Look.

And whenever I get that look, it reminds me that I am Other. There’s something about me which is not quite normal.

Perfect Husband says I’m obsessed (there’s that word again!) with figuring out what’s “normal”. But imagine one day, casually mentioning to someone how blue the sky is, only to get That Look from someone and hear, “The sky is pink.” And you say, “what are you talking about? It’s a lovely sunny day and the sky is blue.” And the person says, “the sky is never blue. Skies aren’t blue except maybe at sunrise sometimes. Are you feeling okay?”

So then you start telling someone else about your weird friend who is convinced that the sky is pink, but everyone you talk to assures you that the sky is pink, has always been pink, and that a blue sky sounds plain weird.

Now imagine that this happens to you again and again throughout your life.

Wouldn’t you start asking around whenever someone disagrees with you?

“So and so says I’m weird because of X. But doesn’t everyone do/think/experience X?”

“Uh… no…” they say and then they give you That Look.

Reality is a tipsy turvy kind of a place, and people are constantly trying to convince you that it’s something other than what you see or experience. I think it is understandable for you to become a bit obsessed with trying to figure out what is real, and what the hell everyone else is experiencing.

What it is about you that makes people give you That Look because sometimes, you don’t even know.

And then, one day last month, I read an article that sounded in me like a gong.

It was called “I Thought I Was Lazy” and it tells the story of a girl who just couldn’t figure out how everyone else did things like keeping their room tidy and getting their errands done. Therapists and counsellors suggested apps and time management tricks and none of it worked and no one could understand why, least of all her.

I bet she got That Look a lot.

Well, long story short, it turns out she’s autistic.

I’ve been interested in autism for a long time. I’ve read Carly Fleishman’s book and I follow her online. I follow Ido Kedar and Marco Arturo, too. I loved reading The Spark. When people talk about “lighting it up blue” for Autism Speaks, I go around posting articles explaining to people that Autism Speaks is considered a hate group by actual autistic people.

Just the week before I read that Establishment article I made a donation to ASAN, an actual GOOD autism charity.

But never have I thought I could be autistic.

I’m chatty. I look people in the eyes. I mean, when I was a kid I remember being confused by the direction to “look me in the eyes”. I was never sure which eye to look at. But I’m sure we ALL went through that, right? I mean, that’s just part of growing up and learning how to interact with others right?

Right?

Anyway, I understand and use subtext in speech like sarcasm and metaphorical language, too.

Okay, so Perfect Husband has always joked that I… well, I and my mother’s whole side of the family, are amusingly literal, and he has a couple of funny anecdotes to back it up

…And okay, so we do have one case of diagnosed Asperger’s on that side of the family, not to mention a couple of people who everyone knows is probably Aspie but get along just fine so what does it matter?

But according to the article I was reading in The Establishment, our classic picture of autism – Asperger’s or otherwise – is a masculine manifestation. After all, most autistic people are male. Autistic women are rare.

Or maybe they aren’t.

It turns out that women with autism are less likely to suffer from blatant social symptoms. They “mask” better, learning how to look people in the eyes and learning social interaction by rote instead of instinctively.

They are more likely to seek out friendships and while they have the sort of obsessions that autistic people are prone to, they tend to be more gender-acceptable things – dolls or celebrities… or animals.

Like me.

And unlike most autistic men, women are more likely to suffer from executive dysfunction – rather than being pathologically neat and tidy, they may be pathologically disorganized and chaotic.

Like me.

Not to say that there aren’t women who present with the classical “male” symptoms – of course there are. They’re the ones most likely to get diagnosed. And there are boys out there too who may be able to mask socially but suffer in other ways, and they may slip under the radar.

So this isn’t totally a sex-based thing.

But women are more likely to present in this kind of muted-autism that people don’t notice.

So I started Googling.

Holy crap, did the descriptions sound exactly like me.

High verbal skills, crappy life skills. Likely artistic or a writer, likely interested in animals. Great long-term memory, shitty short-term memory. Prone to black-and-white thinking. Finds interacting with other people to be extremely exhausting. Easily stressed. Freaks out if too much is asked of her. Loves to talk about her “special interests” (autistic for ‘obsessions’). Would rather engage in special interest rather than interact with friends or family. History of being bullied by peers. Childlike voice.

The lists go on and on and on and it’s ALL ME.

Maybe, when I stand on tiptoe to look out at the world and interact with it… maybe that is me trying to peer out from my autism.

Maybe I’m not just an uber introvert who has to exert myself massively to do the least thing – Maybe I’m autistic.

So I took the lists to Perfect Husband. At first, he was gently cautious, but he read the lists… and he started pointing things out.

“Look at this – overreacts to the slightest criticism. Hmmm!

“Yep,” I said.

Likes things to be the same day after day!”

“Uh huh.”

Ability to “hyperfocus” for long periods of time involved in the special interest.”

“Like the book I’m writing? Yep.”

He was as fascinated as I was.

“I don’t do this, though,” I would say, dismissing one.

“Uh… yes you do, love,” PH would reply.

Far from dismissing me, he became even more firmly convinced than I.

“Holy crap,” he said at one point. “You’re autistic. Suddenly the last ten years make so much more sense.

It was as big a revelation for him as it was for me. Maybe bigger.

Because for years and years we’ve had fights about how I said something one way and he took it another way. It had been coming to a head recently, to the point where he actually accused me of sighing passive aggressively. I kept insisting that I really didn’t mean what I said the way he took it, but he didn’t believe me.

I thought he was unreasonably touchy.

He thought I was incredibly bitchy.

And the word “autism” changed all of that in a heartbeat.

“You would complain about something or other – some NOTHING of a thing – and I would think that the only reason for you to do that would be to rub it in, because it was a thing I used to do, and can’t do now because of my depression,” he said. “But now I realize – it’s because, for you, it wasn’t nothing. It was a really difficult and scary thing.”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!” I said.

“But now I get it,” he said.

When I mentioned it to other people, though, people who don’t see me with my mask off, people who don’t see how hard I work to peer out of my little cozy room, they dismissed me. After all, lists like that are a dime a dozen. Isn’t that what astrology is based on? Vague descriptions that could be anybody?

But when I pulled out the list and started reading it off, none of the women I was in the room with could identify with the things that were ME OH MY GOD SO TOTALLY ME.

Besides, if you know me at all by now, you’ll know that I didn’t stop there.

I found rating scales, online quizzes, even long complex tests based on years of data.

Guys, on professional rating scales I come comfortably over the line for Autism/Asperger’s (Asperger’s no longer exists as a diagnosis in North America, so I’ll be referring to it as Autism).

34 on the Baron-Cohen scale (threshold 28)

126 on the Ritvo Scale (threshold 65)

And finally, I went on Tumblr (where all the autistic people be for some reason) and submitted a description of myself to an autism blog, asking, “Is this right? Could I really be autistic?”

The blogger responded that self-diagnosis is common and well accepted in the autism community since it is so difficult to get a diagnosis in adulthood. They said that based on my description I could well be autistic and it was okay to consider myself as such if I thought it fit.

And someone else chimed in saying that “if you can relate to an experience, you’re having the experience.

I showed it to PH.

“Yer an autist, Harry,” he said.

Yes. I think I am. I think I may have finally found the reason for That Look. I won’t stop getting it. But the next time it happens… at least I’ll know why.

 

 

For Worse

I went to my cousin’s wedding in Toronto recently.

The logistics of my attending her wedding included an awesome friend and her husband who took my kids for four days (driving them to and from school/daycare and everything), a second friend making herself available as a back up in case the first friend needed a break/something came up, my mother funding my plane tickets, and my Aunt booking a double room to share with me.

It was awesome. And it was awful.

But mostly awesome.

My mother’s family is my tribe.Chapel.jpg

The oldest cousin and therefore the matriarch of that branch of the family, I watched these kids grow up. They were my playmates and surrogate siblings, even though I lived apart from them for most of our childhoods.

The bride is one of the youngest. I was eleven when she was born, I think, and her brother was seven or eight. So I barely know her. I barely know a lot of them – especially the younger ones, and the ones who lived overseas.

But when we get together, you’d never know it.

Family reunions are full of late night Risk games and heads bent over puzzle pieces. The adults indulge in their favourite debates, and the cousins drink and plot hijinks together.

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But this trip was really hard for me, too.

You see, the bride was the first cousin to get married since my wedding nearly nine years before.

wedding-kiss.jpgMy wedding was the last family celebration – when they all drank my health and cheered for me as I came down the aisle with my new husband. Perfect Husband gave such a touching groom’s speech that my uncle remarked afterwards to him, “Every man in the room is in trouble now, thanks to your speech.”

Now here I was, attending this wedding alone. My husband was too sick to join me.

But, as I said, this family is my tribe.

They pitied my situation, but they made no judgments. Everyone seemed to understand clearly that my husband is sick. I didn’t have to defend him. In fact, they repeatedly sent their love back to him.

Because in our family, once you get married, that person is family too.

There are no divorces on my mother’s side of the family. Some of her siblings married late, but when they married, they stayed married. One uncle never married – but he is finally engaged to his girlfriend of many years. If we aren’t sure, we don’t get married, even if it takes until age sixty to find that one person.

So my family knows that PH is my One Person. They know that he is worthy of love, because I love him and I married him. But still. I felt very aware that a lot had changed since my wedding day, and that I was not exactly an advertisement for marital bliss.

It’s hard to attend a wedding and not reflect on your own marriage.

The bride, my cousin, was so happy. The only person happier was the groom, who clearly worships the ground she walks on. I listened to them pledge themselves to each other, for better or for worse, and I couldn’t help thinking how few people really understand what that means.

For better is easy. It’s easy to love each other when you’re young, and carefree, and healthy, and life is good.

For worse is a lot harder.

I’ve been married for nearly nine years, and my marriage has had a lot more “for worse” than “for better” in it. I know people who think that I  have martyred myself to “for worse” and should get free.

But this is what I was thinking when I watched these two beautiful young people pledge themselves to each other, for better or for worse:

We don’t know what’s coming in life. Every life will have some illness, some tragedy, some hardship. Some people will be in car accidents which disable them, or have a child with cancer, or will lose their jobs. Life is precarious, and any one of us can fall at any moment.

When we marry someone, we are choosing a partner to go through life with. We’re looking for someone who we trust to catch us when we fall. And we’re looking for someone who is worth catching if they fall. When we get married, we promise to catch each other, even as we hope that neither of us will ever need catching.

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I bet that’s the real reason people cry at weddings. Because they know the fall is coming.

Maybe he will fall, and she will need to catch him. Or maybe she will be the one whom he has to carry. Maybe they will take turns at it, catching each other. But what we all know, when we watch two people get married, is that at some point, one of them will end up having to carry the other. We hope it will be rare. We hope it will be brief. But we know that it is going to happen.

My mother is caring for my father, who has Alzheimer’s. It’s hard on her. Very hard. But he would have done the same for her, had the cards fallen differently. In exchange for knowing that he was there for her, she is there for him. That’s how it works.

I am doing my best to keep family life running while my husband sleeps upstairs. But you know what? He would have done the same for me if our situations reversed. He would still do the same for me, in the future, if our situations ever do reverse.

When I see people martyr themselves to miserable relationships, I always ask them, “Would he do the same for you?” And if the answer is “no,” I tell them to leave. There’s no point in going through life catching someone who would let you fall. Go find a better partner.

When I was depressed, PH was there for me. His most recent fight with depression has lasted five years, and I am still there for him. If it goes on for the rest of our lives, I will still be there for him. Because I promised, and because he would do the same for me: and I love him for that.

He’s my One Person.

And it’s hard to go through life missing your One Person. Because I do miss him. Every single day there is at least one moment – usually many moments = when I want and need my husband, and he isn’t there. It’s like going down the stairs and missing a step, and it’s a daily occurrence that I can’t seem to adjust to.

When I get home, he is the one who needs me – trapped in the house, unable to do any of the things he used to love doing, PH needs my companionship, my conversation, my love, and reassurance.  PH is a giver by nature, not a taker, so it’s incredibly hard for him to be laid up in bed while his wife struggles alone. He can’t even lend me a sympathetic ear, because he sees my struggles through a filter of self-blame.

In his dreams, I divorce him again and again, because he feels so unworthy and unlovable.

But I don’t want to divorce him. I want more of him in my life, not less. Besides, then I would be truly alone.

As much as it may have felt like it, sitting alone at that wedding, and as much as it feels like it on days when I’m pushing through a migraine, juggling work and child care, or on days when my mental health feels strained to the breaking point – I’m not actually alone.

PH can’t catch me when I fall right now because I’m busy carrying him. It’s hard, because I know that if I topple off the edge, we’ll both be hooped. But no one ever said “for worse” was easy.

And maybe it’ll get better.

Maybe it’ll get worse.

But either way – we’re in it together. wedding hug.jpg

 

Dread

There are a lot of things I want to tell you about. I want to talk about Fritter’s birthday, and how cute she is. I want to talk about my father and his struggle with Alzheimer’s. And I want to talk about Outlander because HOLY CRAP did I dislike that book.

But I feel like I need to tell you this more, so you can understand why I haven’t talked about all of these things.

We went home to Nova Scotia for three weeks in March. My parents hadn’t seen the kids in over a year, and my father is deteriorating and I wanted to spend some time with him. Plus my mother is worn from care giving so I wanted to help in whatever minor capacity I could.

It was nice.

I mean, it’s always nice to visit home although it’s feeling less like home with every visit. It was nice to see that my father still knows who I am. It was nice to hug my mother and offer to run an errand for her or sit with Dad so she could run an errand.

But it was also nice to just be free of things for a bit.

For three weeks, I didn’t have to go to work. I didn’t have to stand for hours in a vet clinic. I didn’t have to drive an hour to meet a training client who lives far away. I didn’t have to suffer the financial anxiety that comes with an empty schedule or the social anxiety of having lots of appointments booked.

For three weeks, I had someone there at all times who I could turn to and say things like, “Can you watch the baby while I take a shower?” or “Do you mind if I go upstairs and take a nap?”

For three weeks I had regular meals prepared for myself and the kids, dishes were washed, and laundry was folded.

When staying with my mother-in-law, I would be feeding the baby in the morning and she would walk in, take the spoon, and say, “get out of here.” And I’d scoot back upstairs and sleep for like THREE MORE HOURS.

And then, halfway through the visit, I realized that I was halfway through the visit.

The dread started.

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In Which I Hide From Adult Responsibilities In Ridiculous Pipe Dreams

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I like to hide from reality.

I mean, my reality is mess right now. I never know when I get up in the morning how much work/parenting I’m going to have to do. PH’s energy levels vary from “practically functional” to “zzzzzzz”. I almost always do the morning diapers/breakfast/clothes/school routine (although PH did handle things this morning, giving me the first sleep in I have had in many moons). Evenings, though, vary wildly. Sometimes he cooks dinner and puts the baby down. Other times I cook dinner and put both kids to sleep.

Then there’s work. I’m working part time at the vet clinic because I like a steady cash stream. But they’re always badgering me to work more. In dire circumstance, I agree, and then I feel guilty for putting more burden on PH. Other times, like today, I refuse and feel guilty and worthless for not being able to do my job.

On top of the clinic job, I’m supposed to be focusing on my dog training career. But I have extremely mixed feelings about my dog training. On the one hand, I enjoy teaching classes and helping people with their dogs privately… WHILE I AM DOING IT. The process of arranging appointments, booking appointments, calling back prospective clients etc etc fills me with crippling levels of anxiety.

So I haven’t been doing it much.

Instead of focusing on actually getting work, instead I’ve been focusing on a complete pipe-dream.

My book.

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Remember when I first starting complaining about Twilight, and I made my Rowling vs Meyer rants? Well, for NaNoWriMo in 2012 I wrote a book which I intended to be a sort of Twilight parody, featuring a strong female character named Stella and a gentle zombie love interest named Howard.

But as I worked on it, it stopped being a parody and became a unique book in its own right. I got attached to Stella and Howie, and I realized that in order for it to be a true opposite of Twilight it would need to have a complex plot, three dimensional characters and so on. So I spent years and years achieving that.

After years of beta readers’ feedback and re-writes and re-re-writes and obsessive editing, I’ve decided to finally publish the thing. And so, when I should be out leaving flyers for my dog training business or working more hours at the clinic, I’ve spent it getting my book published.

It’s scheduled to come out in December. I have an author website, and a Facebook page, and an instagram account. I have it available for pre-order on kindle, and it’s listed on Goodreads. I’ve arranged a giveaway on The Militant Baker‘s website on November 30th. I am setting up advertising. I have it listed on Netgalley for review (hopefully they’ll be gentle – Netgalley readers are notoriously tough). I have mailed copies to the big pre-publication review houses.

Whenever I get a free moment I spend it on promoting my stupid feminist zombie book.

Because the thing is, what I really want to do is stay home and write all day. Not call people back about their dogs (as much as I love dogs) or work at a vet clinic. I love writing. That’s what I want to do.

Or at least, I think I do. So far, I have only gotten rave reviews on my book. I’ve emailed free copies to strangers and they have replied with enthusiasm. A complete stranger, who reviews books harshly from what I can tell from his Goodreads account, said my book “far surpasses what it was inspired by” and called it a “masterpiece” and that MADE MY DAY. Another, a children’s author who has won a bunch of awards from her book, said she stayed up all night reading it. And man, that got me through another day.

But if a rave review can make my day, what will a negative review do? Because I’ll get them. It’s a book full of swear words and feminism so some people out there are going to HATE IT. I like to think that I’ll be okay with it as long as people hate it for the right reasons (feminism) and not because they think I’m a hack.

I think that when it is finally published and more reviews come in, I’m in for an emotional rollercoaster.

But in the meantime, I am living in this dream world where my book could be adored by everyone and I could become a famous author and stay home and just write in a white room with a lovely view.

That makes much more sense than just, like, dealing with reality, right?

Explaining The Silence

I’m sorry I haven’t been posting. It’s just that this was the place where I found the funny side to life. I used it to record loveable exchanges between myself and my husband. I used it to muse on parenthood and books. I posted silly chiding notes to self about inside out underwear and life with a baby.

But lately I can’t think of a musing that isn’t tinged with irrational bitterness. There’s no point in sharing exchanges that mostly involve apologies to each other – me apologizing because I have failed at covering childcare and housework and regular work adequately, and he apologizing that I have to cover all those things alone.

I can’t find a funny side, these days.

My notes to self are usually along the lines of “suck it up”, “get off your butt”, “those dishes aren’t going to wash themselves, you know”, and “no one has ever heard of a laundry fairy, so start folding”.

If I wrote a post now, it would be a nihilistic reflection on personal needs and how little they matter, or a thought about the irony of picking the man who I knew would be a truly equal partner, only to have a disease rob him of his capacity to function as one.

If I wrote a post these days, I would shed tears over it.

So I will be back, I hope, when life has me a little less stomped down. It’ll happen. Just not today.

In Which I Call Bullshit on “Me Time”

I see this turn up in my Facebook feed nearly every day. 

It is always, ALWAYS, shared by women. Mothers. It is shared by the women, and apparently there are many because different people keep sharing it, who give too much. It is shared by people who, like me, spend virtually all of their waking hours either working or caring for their children. It is shared by people who no longer have time to relax in the bath or read a book or even just take a quick shower. 
And I hate it. 

I HATE IT. 

…Why do I hate a picture that delivers an important message of self care to a demographic which is notoriously overworked and under appreciated? 

Because it doesn’t address the root problem. 

When I was in my early twenties, my best friend got pregnant. It was  unplanned. In fact, she was on birth control. But she had the baby and loved her and never once complained to me about the cards that life handed her, even when the father turned out to be utterly useless. She didn’t let it stop her, either. She went to school. She worked retail on weekends to help pay for room and board for herself and her daughter. She basically sacrificed every waking hour to the triple demons of child care, work, and education. 

But she didn’t find it easy. How could she?

So she sought out the school counsellor for advice, because she felt like she was drowning. Maybe there was a grant available so she wouldn’t have to work. Maybe there was a free daycare program that she didn’t know about. Maybe help was available somewhere. 

The counsellor asked my friend a lot of questions about her life, and then drew a pie chart showing the distribution of her waking hours.Work. Classes. Childcare. Then, when the baby was sleeping, homework. 

There was no time left over in the chart. 

“There’s something missing,” said the counsellor. “Where is the YOU time?”

My friend stared at her. 

“You need to make some time for YOU,” said the counsellor wisely. “Self care is very important.” 

She said this as if it was news, as if my friend was some kind of automaton who didn’t yearn for rest and recreation. 

Of course my friend knew that she needed rest and fun. She didn’t need to be told that she deserved it. She needed help in getting it. But the counsellor clearly indicated that for the single working mother, you-time is a you-problem. Another thing that you are responsible to provide for yourself, making it magically appear out of nothing. 

All the mothers I know fret about how to get their me-time. Do father’s do this too? Do men stand around and try to help each other strategize ways to get an hour here or there that isn’t taken up with work? And if they do, why aren’t they sharing that goddamn tea cup?

I don’t think it should be a woman’s job to find time to care for themselves. Women will rest when given the opportunity. When someone takes on the burden of child care or housework or wage-earning, they will eat or nap or go out for coffee with a friend. 

Instead, though, women are tasked with finding someone to take this stuff on so that they can have that time. Which just adds another burden of work into their plate. Now, on top of caring for the kids and cleaning the house and going to work, it is her job to go around asking friends to babysit or to coworker’s to trade shifts, so she can get some much-needed “me time”. 

Many women are too tired to go to all that trouble, and so they go without. 

Meanwhile, do Dads feel this way? Are the men so exhausted by their daily workload that they feel too tired to arrange an hour to themselves? Do men give up golf and an afternoon watching sports on tv or naps because they are too overworked to arrange the free time? 

(if you arent following Man Who Has It All on Facebook/Twitter, do so immediately.


If so, why aren’t we worried about me time for men? 

And if not, then why the hell aren’t they offering to take on some of the woman’s burden, like making sure that she gets an hour or two of recreation time every week? 

Why aren’t men being brought into this equation somewhere?

A woman I know told me about how she got asked to work late after a busy day. She asked her husband to pick up their daughter (normally her job). He did. And then he did nothing else. When she got home from an extra shift at work, she discovered that her husband had been playing video games (he got his me time! Good for him!) and their daughter still needed to be fed dinner, bathed, and put to bed – way past her bed time. 

So not only did she do more work at work, but she still had the usual work waiting for her at home. 

And the worst part is that this isn’t an unusual story. 

I hear a story like this from a woman at least once a week. 

Then they share that god damned tea cup. 

No. 

No, it should not be up to you. 

If a woman is feeling like an empty cup, then something is severely out of balance in her world and chances are that inspirational images won’t fix that. 

I often feel like that empty cup. But knowing that my cup is empty doesn’t change the situation that I am in. 

I have a disabled husband.

 He is not the kind of husband who would play video games while our kid went without dinner. He is not the kind of person who would leave laundry or dishes for me and then complain about the lack of clean plates and underwear. 

He takes good care of the kids and the house… When he can. 

But the fact is that most of the time he can’t. His cup has a leak in it.  As it is, he is pouring from an empty cup when he needs to pick up Owl from school and Fritter from daycare on days when I work. He is pouring from an empty cup when he puts the kids to bed on nights that I train dogs. 

So I can’t very well ask him to pile another night of putting kids to bed while I go to a movie with a friend. I can’t even get him to go out with me. Our eighth anniversary, like our seventh, has passed uncelebrated. 

And it isn’t for lack of support. We got two gift cards to two different nice restaurants. One of our friends offered to take the kids. But we didn’t go because my husband’s cup is so empty that he can barely get his pants on most days.

So it doesn’t matter that his idea of a terribly draining day is my idea of a vacation (only deal with the kids for a few hours after school? I can sleep in and spend the day alone doing whatever and then someone will come home and put them to bed for me? Hot DAMN! I haven’t had a day like that in a year at least!). Because both of us are just doing the best we can and this is how it is.

 I could share that picture of the tea cup every day and it still wouldn’t make a solution magically appear. 

So I call bullshit on Me-time memes. I’m not failing at self care just because I haven’t pulled the time and money for a day at the spa out of my own ear. In fact, my husband even gave me a gift card for a massage but I haven’t used it because you can’t get gift cards for free time. 

So I will pour from that empty cup, condescending meme. WATCH ME DO IT. I refuse to blame myself for my own difficult circumstances right now. I will survive them and then I will get some me time and I won’t die in the meantime. 

So there.

Life and Death – Meyer Gender-Reverses Twilight And Still Somehow Manages To Be Sexist

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I found out recently that in her 10th Anniversary Edition of Twilight, Stephenie Meyer basically re-wrote it with everyone’s gender being reversed, and called it Life and Death.

So of course I had to read that.life and death cover

As you probably already know, I have had a few things to say about Twilight, especially when it comes to sexism.

So I was intrigued by the idea of a gender reversed Twilight.

if you imagine a domineering, aggressive female love interest and a pliable and clumsy male love interest, well… Twilight would still be badly written and promote abusive relationship models, but you couldn’t call it sexist any more.

So I picked up a copy. Used. Because I’m not giving money to the publisher of this drivel.

Aside: Yes, that’s right, it’s the publisher I blame. I don’t hate Stephenie Meyer, or wish her ill. She is a mom who wrote a book, just like me, and she struck the jackpot. Good on her, and I should be so lucky. It’s just the message of her books that I don’t like, and her writing style, and basically everything. But I wish her all the best and I envy her, I really do. 

Aside Aside: On that note, my non-sexist, body positive, zombie-romance rewrite of Twilight is almost ready to be published. If you visit my author website before it comes out, you can sign up to get a free kindle copy of the book when it comes out. It’s like a preorder. But free. I’m not looking to get rich, I just want people to read my book. 

“Why are you reading that?” my husband asked when Life and Death arrived in the mail. “Why do you torture yourself?”

“Because – I will bet you money that even with all of the genders reversed, Stephenie Meyer will still find a way to make this book sexist,” I told him.

“Well, if you go into it with that attitude, you’ll find something,” he said. “Confirmation bias.”

He was absolutely right. and it’s easy to assume that every change I spotted was made for sexist reasons. Take this one:

Twilight:

‘Well, Billy’s done a lot of work on the engine – it’s only a few years old, really.’

Life and Death: 

‘Well, Bonnie’s had a lot of work done on the engine – it’s only a few years old, really.’

What, women can’t do work on their own truck’s engine? WTF?

But here’s the thing: I really wanted to be wrong. I did. I wanted to believe that Meyer had produced something that really stood out. I wanted to believe that I was holding the cure to the ills of the original story.

And you know what? It sort of worked. I think. Life And Death is a vastly superior story to Twilight. It is also a vastly different story.

I had been led to believe that Life and Death was just Twilight, with the genders reversed. But it isn’t. The two books are wildly different. Meyer didn’t just go in and do word-replaces. She changed a LOT of stuff, and a lot of that stuff made for a better story.

However, I can’t decide whether she changed it because she knew that it would make things better, or if she changed it because she’s really freaking sexist. 

Let me describe the changes, then you can decide for yourself.

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Eight Years

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Yesterday, we were sitting around watching Stephen Fry’s Q.I. on Youtube when Perfect Husband sat up straight.

“Oh, SHIT.” He covered his mouth. “I forgot!”

“What?” I was alarmed. I wracked my brain. Were we supposed to be doing something that night? Was there something vital that I had let slip through my calendar?

“I have to call a prostitute right away! It’s my last chance for the seven year itch!” he said.

I leaned back on the couch and stuck out my tongue.

Eight years ago, we were married. 0143

Eight years ago, he was my rock, my prince who made me feel like the luckiest person in the world. I couldn’t believe that I was getting to spend the rest of my life with this man who worked so hard to make my life better.

He was the kind of person who cooked dinner and then washed the dishes, while insisting that I sit and rest. He was the kind of person with whom I could talk for hours and never grow bored.

The best part of it all was the fact that he thought he was the lucky one – he actually felt lucky to be with this socially anxious awkward girl with weight problems who loved to take care of pets and babies but also desperately needed to be taken care of by someone else.
Ten years ago, I started dating my best friend. I avoided it for so long, because it sounds like such a terrible idea, but within days we knew that this was it.

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We knew that we would move in together. We knew that we would get married. We knew how many kids we would have and what their names would be before he even formally proposed.

Sometimes you just know.

Eleven years ago, he emerged from years of crippling depression, and I discovered that the man who had always been my best friend because even better when he was free of his chains. The man who had always been willing to talk for hours about books or argue with me about hypothetical situations, who had always been willing to give the shirt off of his back to help a friend, stepped out from under the clouds so I could really see him in his entirety. He turned out to be a sunny optimist with a can-do attitude that I found deeply attractive.

Twelve years ago I stopped him from committing suicide. Even then, I knew that I couldn’t live without him in my life. Even then, he was part of the furniture of my mind. Even then, I was willing to sacrifice his happiness to keep him alive. Even then, his pain mattered less to me than the continued beating of his kind heart.

Thirteen years ago my parents met him for the first time, and they thought, “that’s the one.”

“That boy is in love with you,” my father told me later.

“Yeah… we don’t talk about it, though,” I replied, and my parents wisely kept their mouths shut. But they told me later that they knew from the first moment that they saw us together that this would happen. That he was meant to be their son in law.

His parents have said the exact same thing.

Let’s face it, Perfect Husband has said the same thing. “I knew it was just a matter of waiting,” he said.

Show offs.

Fourteen years ago, I sang a Lorne Elliott song with one of the actors in the production of Hamlet that I was stage managing. Almost no one knows Lorne Elliott and we were both delighted to find someone else who did. Almost no one else has read Gordon Korman, but he had, and we talked about it for an hour. He liked Who Is Bugs Potter. I preferred I Want To Go Home.

Fourteen years ago, I found a new friend.

So here we are, fourteen years in, thirteen years in, twelve years in, ten years in.

Eight years in.

I don’t have a photo of us, now. He doesn’t want his picture taken. He doesn’t want to remember this.

Life is different now.

The depression is back and has been raging for years. Most days, he isn’t the sunny prince that I married, but he is still the best friend that I couldn’t live without.  I have met this side of him before and I married him knowing I would probably see it again. So it doesn’t scare me. He is still kind. He is still my best friend. He is still the man that my parents knew I would someday marry.

We have two young children that demand almost all of my time. I feel a constant gripping anxiety based on the fact that I want to work more, because we need more money, but I also want to work less, because I feel overburdened as it is, and I can’t afford to shift too much of that burden onto my husband, and I really can’t afford to pay someone else to take on some of that burden.

I struggle constantly to hide my stress because he blames himself when it emerges. A stray tear, wiped away too late, and he will be pestering me, asking what he can do, beyond the impossible. He thinks that I will blame him, or should blame him, for this.

I don’t.

I was there, you see. I saw how he couldn’t make himself wake up and go to class. I saw how he sometimes backed out of plans because he couldn’t face a social scene. I knew him. I married him.

Yes, I miss the man who pampered me and spoiled me. Yes, I miss feeling like he was someone that I could lean on. Yes, I miss feeling that he was someone I could come to with my problems, instead of someone that I needed to shield from them. Yes, I sometimes feel envy when I meet people who can just get their husbands to take the kids at a moment’s notice, no problem, or who can go out with their friends or on date nights on a regular basis.

Then again I know people who have husbands that are perfectly well and are just giant dicks, and then I feel very grateful. He may be asleep a lot, but he’s not a dick.

Besides, I knew he was sick, and what that meant, and I said the words, “in sickness and in health”, and I knew what I was saying when I said them.

“You could still run away, you know,” he whispered before the vows started. “Now’s your chance. Look, there’s a door just there.”

I looked out of the side door near the altar. It was open to let in cool breezes. The dandelions swayed in the old cemetery where couple after couple lay side by side. Then I looked back at him and shook my head, “no.”

“Now is YOUR chance,” I told him.

Sometimes I think he should have run. He isn’t equipped to handle the stress of caring for small children. I see how just our presence in the household raises his stress levels. I think about how much  of his time is spent on blaming himself for my own stress and misery.

Sometimes I feel like we are Albatrosses around his neck.

And I know he feels like an Albatross on mine.

We keep telling each other that we have no regrets. We keep telling each other that we prefer this to the alternative.

Maybe one day, we’ll finally believe one another.

Because let’s face it: If there is such a thing as fate, we are it.

So let it be. If we are lucky, we’ll have another thirty or forty years together. And I can’t speak for him, but I would still sign up for that in a heartbeat.

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The True Hallmark of Mother’s Day: Taking What We Can Get

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Every year we are flooded by media about Mother’s Day from all of the retailers hoping to sell stuff to us. Radio ads urge husbands and sons to buy diamonds. Chocolates and flowers grace the most prominent areas of the grocery store, and everyone posts old photos of their mother or pictures of their own children with glowing social media boasts about love and being blessed and that sort of crap.


But under that, there is a current of disappointment. The people whose mothers have died and hurt to be reminded, the people whose mothers were just… really terrible at being a mother, and not really worthy of being honored, the people who wish they were mothers, or were ALMOST mothers, but aren’t…

…and the mothers of young children who face a day like any other – but with the added bitterness that comes from the contrast between their lives and the Mother’s Day commercials.


I am sure that some mothers out there got the Hallmark Card Mother’s Day – they got breakfast in bed and spent the day with guilt-free leisure while their usual jobs were done by others.

But I don’t know any of those mothers.

Every mother I spoke to – mothers of small children like I am – said that they had a good Mother’s Day… really… I mean, yeah, it was mostly the same as any other day, but there was something good about it.

A friend of mine got breakfast in bed. I mean, she had to buy the bacon and hashbrowns the day before, and she had to poke her husband and tell him to go make them for her, and he didn’t actually cook the hashbrowns, but she got bacon and eggs in bed and she figured that was good enough, really.

Another friend of mine had a nice barbecue at the house of a good friend of hers. And sure, her husband didn’t want to go at all and complained loudly about having to go – or maybe he didn’t go at all in the end, I don’t remember. Anyway, she went because she wanted to and she had a nice time, although she was annoyed about having to have a relationship fight in the process.

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And as for me, well the baby slept until 9 am and PH dealt with Owl before that, so I got the best sleep in I have had in months, and then after the kids were in bed at night I sent PH to get me some pasta from my favourite restaurant, and some wine, and then I ate it at 9:30 pm while watching Mythbusters. So that was good.

During the day, I met up with another friend of mine (who had all three of her small children with her all day because her recently separated ex had decided to spend Mother’s Day cooking breakfast for other mothers at a Kinsman event and so was not available to help or do anything for the mother of his own kids) and we went to the beach.


The beach was nice, in a visiting-it-with-ungrateful-children sort of way. First they complained that they were cold. They refused to go near the water. They didn’t want to play in the sand. They wanted to go home and play video games.

But we, being experienced mothers, informed them that we didn’t give a tiny rat’s ass (not our actual words) how they felt, and we settled down on the sand anyway.


Fritter loved the beach. She ate sand and then when I carried her down to the water she happily splashed in the surf. She got covered in sand and thought it was fantastic.

The boys eventually warmed up to the beach. When they stopped whining about video games and claiming to be hungry despite having JUST eaten lunch, and when we put an end to their stick-based warfare, they finally started discovering crabs and sea shells and sand castles.


So our last hour there was quite peaceful, watching the kids dump sand into a puddle on a rock while Fritter followed them and tried to help, grabbing handfuls of sand in her tiny fists. We listened to the surf and smelled the sea air and looked at the mountains and enjoyed the sunshine and it was lovely.


At least until the boys started hitting each other with sticks again.

Of course, no Mother’s Day would be complete without a child asking the annual littany of  “why isn’t there a BOY’S day?” to which all of the present adults must answer in chorus, “EVERY DAY is BOY’S DAY.”

I’ll give this to Owl – he accepted the point of Mother’s Day very well. When I pointed out to my friend’s son that he got breakfast made for him every day, and that he got taken care of every day, he just argued that he couldn’t do those things yet. And of course I agreed but told him that that is why it is nice if, once a year, someone does those things in return for the mother who normally has to work at caring for other people and rarely for herself.

My friend’s son looked unconvinced but Owl took my side. Lord knows the poor kid hears me complain all the time about how much work I do looking after him.

In fact, he reiterated it today on the way to school. “Mother’s Day is when you get people to take care of you, instead of taking care of other people, right? But you did take care of me yesterday.”

And I told him that yes. While he is small, I don’t really get a day off. He can’t cook me breakfast, and he still needs me to make him dinner, and put him to bed. Daddy helped with some of it, so I got a break, but not the full Mother’s Day that you see in commercials. No woman with small children that I know got that. When the kids are this age, we take what we can get, because we know that Mother’s Day or not, they still need their diapers changed, and they still need to be entertained, and they still want dinner, and they don’t really give a damn how we feel about any of that.


But I do think that in a few years Owl will bring me breakfast in bed.

And in a few years, Fritter won’t need diapers changed.

And in a few years, things will be even better.

And I think that, considering the age of my kids, and life being what it is, yesterday was a darn good day.