Embrace

Last summer we took our kids to a waterpark. It was a stinkin’ hot day and we had a blast zipping down slides and cooling off in the wave pool. At one point, my husband and the older kids decided to try a toilet-bowl style ride geared for an older crowd, so my littlest and I stood at the bottom waiting for them to poop out into the basin below.

As we watched the riders happily splash down in front of us, little K pulled on my arm and pointed to a child exiting the water nearby – “Hey mommy, I don’t like that girl” he stated . “Why not?” I asked. I’d never seen her before. “Because she’s fat” he answered matter-of-factly.

I just about fell over backwards! Body image has been the monkey on my back for as long as I can remember, and I’ve worked hard to overcome my own insecurities and to foster an environment of acceptance and kindness within my own family. And goddamn it – no child of mine was going to shame someone because of the shape of their body!

I knelt down and spent the next ten minutes lecturing my son about the beauty in all body shapes and the importance of never, ever judging other people. Trust me, he got an earful. He listened intently, then ran off with his siblings to enjoy another slide. “Crazy kid” I mumbled to myself. I figured he must have picked up that nonsense on television.

Then a few months later I had dinner with a group of girlfriends- all of them brilliant, beautiful women with high-powered careers, incredible families, strong opinions and the passion and means to affect change in the world.

And yet. Our conversations that night kept coming back to the same thing – body image. We shared stories of how weight has impacted our sex lives, and contributed to feeling too physically disgusting to appear naked in front of our spouses – even with the lights off. We talked about caloric intake and the restrictive cleanses we’d endured – all the while feeling sick and deprived. We discussed our boobs (too small, too big, too saggy) and our butts (too big, too small, too saggy) – and we even dissected our individual diets and compared notes about what foods and drinks (or lack thereof) would help us achieve thinner, happier, sexier, less-wrinkly versions of ourselves.

As I laughed and commiserated and chimed in, something struck me: that friggin’ monkey is still clinging stubbornly to my back. Because for all of my lip service about acceptance and self love – a really big part of me still believes that being thin is equated with being better. And the fact that I have droopy post-nursing boobs and a squishy belly – in my own mind, ultimately means that I am losing at womanhood..and at life.

Then I came across a “before and after” photo on social media that changed my whole perspective. Taryn Brumfitt posted side-by-side images of herself posing with a muscular body-builders physique (before) and then with a softer, curvier body (after). It was revolutionary!

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Here was a woman actually showing off her curves, and rolls, and stretch marks. Proudly! Her impish smile belied the fact that she was actually HAPPIER with her less-toned and heavier body. My mind was blown.

I learned that Taryn had gone on a crusade to  uncover “why poor body image has become a global epidemic and what women everywhere can do to have a brighter future.” She turned her findings into a documentary called Embrace “A funny, touching, at times gut wrenching but above all, life changing documentary, the heart of Embrace is Taryn’s story. How she went from a body hater to a body lover. From being devastated by her perceived ugliness to proudly posing nude for the whole world to see.”

I downloaded Embrace as soon as it was released and sobbed my heart out through almost the entire thing. I could relate to so many of the women in the film who shared feelings of inadequacy and failure when discussing their bodies, and I felt inspired to make a change.

So can I do it? Can I move my body in an effort to be strong and healthy without obsessing over the calories I’ve burned, or whether or not I’ll be able to squeeze into my old jeans after a long run? Can I enjoy food without worrying about each and every bite? Can I show my children that I am a confident and fully-actualized woman no matter what size my body is? I honestly don’t know. But I am willing to try. And Embrace is the perfect place to start.

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I am beyond thrilled to be co-hosting a special community screening of the life-changing/perspective-shifting/monkey-on-back-destroying documentary Embrace – right here in Burlington, Ontario.

Please join me and my friends Sue Abell and Joelle Cooling on Thursday, June 1st at 7pm at the Art Gallery of Burlington . Tickets are $10 and are available for purchase by contacting me directly at lori@vaportek.ca, or by emailing Sue at sue@treadpowerfully.com, or by visiting Joelle’s clothing store at 457 Brant Street in downtown Burlington.

Come and enjoy a glass of wine, a bag of popcorn and an opportunity to fully love and embrace your body. Together – we can be part of a movement to create positive global change. Let’s Embrace!

Anxiety

The first time it happened I was in Vegas of all places. My husband had a work trip in sin city and I tagged along to enjoy a little getaway from the usual chaos of life with small children. My girlfriend and her husband were there too and we were schmoozing and dining out and partying like a bunch of footloose and fancy free twenty-year-olds. I seriously hadn’t had so much fun in years!

After one particularly late night, my husband and I crashed in our hotel room long after midnight and fell into a deep sleep. Around 3 in the morning I shot up in bed. There was a weird pressure on my chest and I was having a hard time catching my breath. I immediately shook my husband awake and leapt up like a crazy person. “I can’t breathe!” I screamed.

He rolled over and looked at me. Perhaps I have just the teeny tiniest history of freaking out for no good reason – so he took a moment before he jumped to any conclusions. “You seem to be breathing just fine” he said sleepily. But I knew better. I was clammy and shaky and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. “I need to go outside” I announced, and I threw on my clothes and made him accompany me to the back of the hotel.

I felt a little better once I had some air, but it took a while for my heart rate and breathing to return to normal. My husband slumped on the sidewalk with his head in his hands and watched me pace back and forth on the pavement, as drunken revellers stumbled past us on their way home from the casino.

The next day, I felt better but I was totally freaked out. What if I’d had a heart attack? Or an asthma attack? Or a stroke? Should I call the hotel doctor? My husband checked the price of sending a medical staffer to our room ($500 US!) and decided that I was probably fine. He seemed completely unfazed by the entire situation, but I was really worried.

As soon as we returned home, I made an appointment with my doctor to check things out. He was stymied. My vitals were fine, my lungs looked good and I appeared to be perfectly healthy. “The only thing I can think of is perhaps it was an anxiety attack?” he suggested. I was taken aback. Anxiety!? But I was happy and relaxed. I’d danced and sipped wine and pulled slot machines until the wee hours of the morning. What the heck did I have to be anxious about?

I chalked it up to a freaky random incident (perhaps one too many glasses of wine?) and I put the whole thing out of my mind. Then it happened again.

Months later, I was in the middle of a wonderful 2-day workshop in Toronto. I’d been fortunate enough to be included in a session led by a well-respected expert from the States and I was happily scribbling notes and basking in the experience of being surrounded by friends and mentors. And suddenly, out of nowhere, my heart started beating quickly and my breath caught in my chest. The same damn feeling from Vegas! I didn’t want to make a scene so I beat a path to the bathroom and sat on the floor until I’d composed myself enough to re-enter the class. It was only ten minutes or so but it seemed like forever. I’d actually felt a bit faint this time and that was extra scary.

So back to the doctor I went. He read my chart and listened patiently to my symptoms and then turned to me with kind eyes. “Lori,” he said “I think this is classic anxiety.” Despite an immediate urge to launch an objection, I let his words sink in. And I knew he was right. I felt terribly ashamed of myself.

We chatted for a bit and he tried to comfort me by sharing how common anxiety is and how many things can be done to alleviate the triggers and symptoms. He offered me some literature and suggested I may want to consider possible medical treatments if the frequency of the attacks increased or became more intense. I left his office feeling like a complete failure.

Listen – to be honest, this diagnosis did not come as a complete shock. Anyone who knows me even casually knows that I’m a worrier. My resting face is basically a furrowed brow, and complete strangers have been known to ask me if I’m ok. But “worrier” sounded so much less dramatic than “anxious”. I’d taken things to the next level.

I knew I wanted to get better not only for myself but also for my children. My anxiety was affecting the whole family and I didn’t want it to completely consume my life. So I went to talk to someone. I read as much as I could on worry and anxiety. I began meditating regularly and working out. I practiced paying attention to my thoughts and labelling them without judgement – “Oh that’s a worried thought” “Hey that’s fear.” “Oh hello anger.” Somehow just noting them seemed to alleviate their grip over my mind.

When I opened up to friends, I was amazed by how many people shared similar experiences. It was comforting to trade horror stories of being in the throes of an attack (one friend passed out on the bus!) and to uncover what was working for other people. One girlfriend was trying medicine and seemed to be feeling better. Another was going for hypnosis, and another was working through her issues with a psychologist. Even just saying it out loud seemed to make us all feel better. We cried and laughed and learned from each other. It helped.

It’s been over ten years since the incident in Vegas. Am I cured? Heck no!  In fact, just a few weeks ago I was in a movie theater when my heart began to pound and I felt a familiar tightness creeping across my chest.

But instead of leaping out of my seat and immediately freaking out like I would have done in the past- I try to handle things differently now. “Oh hey anxiety” I said in my head. “Are you trying to tell me something?” Boom, boom, boom – goes my heart. I fight the urge to panic. Breathe in and out Lori. In and out.

My rationale brain starts a familiar back and forth with my reptilian brain – “You are fine” versus “Holy shit – you can’t breathe!”. My meditation teacher suggested that our emotions are like beach balls on the surface of the water. The more we try to shove them down, the harder they’ll spring up in our faces. So I focus on relaxing, breathing and letting the feelings wash over me. It’s a struggle but slowly, I start to relax and the panic passes.

“Geez mom.” my little guy leans over in his seat and snatches a bag of popcorn from my hands. “Why are you making your worried face? This is the part in the movie when the water buffalo has a farting attack. It’s supposed to be funny!”  Leave it to a kid to put life in perspective. It also helps to have a sense of humour about yourself, I’ve learned : )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sting of Shame

My cockapoo Scooby Doo is kind of an asshole. He’s barky and anxious and prone to dragging his butt across the carpet (and licking his weiner obsessively but why pile on to the poor guy?) Trust me, I’m well aware of his shortcomings. In fact, we’ve had him to multiple dog trainers over the 9 years of his life and he remains the same stressed-out canine he has always been. My sister is convinced he was dropped on his head as a puppy and should wear a dog-sized medical alert collar with the warning: “Mental Problems”. And she’s right.

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As a sidenote- I should mention that he’s also adorable and super loving and gentle- and has never met a person of any age that he didn’t adore within minutes. And if you’ve got a treat he’ll be your best friend for life.

Scooby is also my running buddy. Bless his little doggy heart – he politely walks along beside me as I huff and puff down the sidewalk. Recently we were out for a run when I spotted a neighbour walking his dog up ahead of us. Although this man is not an acquaintance, I’d certainly seen him pass by my house many times. “Uh-oh,” I thought to myself “my jerky dog is sure to freak out.” Scooby is especially nervous around big dogs and compensates by barking his fool head off.

Anyhow – we crossed the road to avoid a scene. But true to form, Scooby started making a fuss. I smiled sheepishly and stammered out a lame apology: “I’m so sorry . He’s harmless, just hopelessly insecure.” The man literally stopped in his tracks, crossed his arms over his belly, glared at me and shook his head slowly back and forth. At first I thought he was joking but he locked onto my eyes and continued with the silent reprimand…and I swear even his majestic-looking golden retriever scoffed at the horrid behaviour of my ill-behaved Scooby Doo and his unfortunate/negligent/shameful owner.

For a second I was frozen to the spot. My face burned bright red. And then instead of saying a word, Scooby and I both hurried off with our tails between our legs.

By the time I returned home, my embarrassment had turned to anger. How dare he?! That old fart had some nerve criticizing me and my dog! It didn’t take long for my anger to turn to meanness and I launched into a full-on personal attack. My husband sipped his coffee with his head down as I raged against this smug/self-important/holier-than-thou dog owner.

After I finally calmed down I came to a sobering realization- the real reason I was so upset was because this reprimand from a stranger made me feel something I’d rather avoid – shame. If I’m being completely honest, I feel a deep shame at the way my dog sometimes behaves. I feel like a failure as a dog owner and that is really, truly embarrassing.

Yes we’ve had him to multiple dog trainers – but did my husband and I follow through on all of the things we learned? Nope. Did we heed the advice to make him sleep in a crate? Judging by the sight of his furry butt at the foot of my bed I’d say no to that one too. Did we spend the time teaching him how to properly walk on a leash? Or to not beg for food? No and no. And the list just goes on.

I recently overheard a friend talking about an encounter she’d had with another canine and how appalled she was that this dog’s owner would allow her misbehaved pooch to bark at her perfectly well-trained pet. I nodded politely but inside, I immediately felt a kinship with the other owner (I also silently wondered if the bad dog ever eats his own poop and decided I must track them down. I have a feeling we have lots in common 🙂

Certainly I’m not condoning bad behaviour – but this experience has made me realize how often shame and judgement (intentionally or unintentionally) creeps into our conversations:

“I can’t believe how much time that mom let’s her kids spend on electronics! We only let our kids spend 1 hour a week on their ipads.” 

“That school is such a dump – I would never let my kids go there!”

“I only eat organic food. As far as I’m concerned- people who eat non-organic are poisoning their bodies.”

“I could never get a divorce – it’s too damaging for the children.”

When we hold ourselves and our own choices “above” one other – whether it pertains to dog ownership or anything else- we creative a gaping divide between us that is filled up with shame. Can you imagine how much healthier our culture would be if we could meet each other with honesty, empathy and understanding when we talk about the hard and messy stuff of life – like parenting, relationships, careers, eating, exercising, marriage, religion, politics and barky dogs?

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A few weeks later, Scooby and I were racing down the street adjacent to our house when I spotted the man and his dog at the end of the road. I felt a bit nervous as we drew closer but our meeting happened to coincide with a neighbourhood search for a lost dog. “Hi.” I said tentatively as our paths converged. I gripped Scooby’s leash tightly. “Did you hear that there is a dog missing?” I blurted out. “If you don’t mind – would you keep an eye out for him on your walk.” I braced myself for another reprimand as Scooby started to growl – I was quite sure the man had been replaying our previous encounter over in his mind too and was ready to attack.

“Oh yah” he said “I did hear about that. I’ll keep a look out.” He sounded fairly amiable but by this time, Scooby’s growls had turned to barking. “Listen,” I said preemptively, “I get the impression that you are somehow annoyed with me and my dog.” He looked genuinely confused but I pressed on- “I realize he’s not the best behaved but I can assure you that he would never hurt you or your dog.” 

“Ok” he said dismissively – I could tell he was anxious to get on with his walk and away from Scooby and I. “You know” I said, mustering up my courage “It really hurt my feelings when you shook your head at me the other day. I know I’m not the best dog owner but we are neighbours and I hope we can treat each other with respect.” I had to force myself to meet his eyes and was surprised to find the man smiling at me. I half expected us to come together in a big bear hug…but he simply grinned and carried on with his walk.

Perhaps not the most cathartic of endings for me or you – but since then, this man and I have run into each other several times. And he always offers me a kind smile and friendly “Hello”. He even bent down to pat Scooby on the head on a recent run.

I don’t know for sure, but I half suspect that when I was able to be honest with myself about my shame, maybe he was able to release some of his judgement. Or maybe he forgot all about our first encounter and simply thinks I’m a crazy person with an annoying dog. Both explanations are kind of true really.

Will the “man” and I ever be best friends? No. But I feel like we have come to a silent understanding and kinship. I almost think he likes me and Scooby now. I’ll let you know if I ever get that hug ; )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pot In The Parking Lot

On December 23rd, after a particularly stressful few weeks, I left a stock pot containing a severed head and limbs in the parking lot of the Burlington Mall. It was haphazardly wrapped in an old grey sheet, and I glanced back only briefly as I drove away and wondered who would be the first person to lift the lid.

When I reflect on the days leading up to that incident – I know several things to be true:

  • I had abandoned all of the practices that traditionally help me stay calm and grounded. No working out, no meditating, no reasonable bedtimes, no decompressing on the couch with a glass of wine or meeting up with girlfriends. I was woman on a mission. Why you ask? Well…..
  • Despite promising myself every year that I won’t go overboard on the holidays-  I inevitably become this harried list-making uber-mom – searching fruitlessly online for “the trendiest gift for a teenager”, “the most thoughtful present for your dad” and “touching homemade gifts for your closest friends.” It starts small and before I know it I’m staring red-eyed at my computer monitor at 1am ordering a $250 curling iron from a website in California.
  • I also took on an obscene amount of work to be completed by Christmas eve.  Justified or not, I still feel a nagging sense of guilt over the years I spent as a stay-at-home mom, and the financial burden that put on my husband. So – the writing assignments kept rolling in and I decided I could tackle them ALL goddammit.
  • It was only after I dug in that I realized what an intense undertaking I’d agreed to. I was burning the midnight oil writing about time traveling zombies and war and violence in 14th century Europe. In once particularly gruesome show, a contract killer was sent into the forest to ambush two members of the royal family. After he’d completed his task, he returned to the local courthouse and dumped a bag containing their heads, hands and feet onto the tiled floor. Many nights I was up until 2 or 3 in the morning rewinding and re-watching these images over and over and inserting appropriate description.

So back to the pot. On December 23rd, I dragged my little guy to the mall to retrieve one last “perfect” present. I knew I was overtired and strung out – but the end was in sight!

After we me made our purchase, we trudged back to through the lot. The first thing I noticed as we hiked back towards the van was that the back door was ajar. Odd. But I figured my son likely hadn’t closed it properly or had wedged a pack of goldfish crackers in the runner.

I opened the door and spotted a lump covered in a wrinkled grey sheet wedged between the back seats. “Buddy – was that sheet here when we left the house?” I asked warily. “No mommy. I’ve never seen that before.” My little guy answered. I nervously peered under the sheet and could see that there was a stainless steel pot underneath. I tried to lift it and found it was unusually heavy. In a flash I knew immediately what it contained – either a severed head or dismembered body parts. I had absolutely no doubt in my mind.

Then the question became what should I do next? I didn’t want to open the pot because I didn’t want the contents to frighten my young son. How would he ever recover from seeing such horror?

So – I did what any rational person would do. I lifted that pot out of my van and set it down in the parking lot. “What are you doing mommy?” My son asked. “You know what – I think this belongs to someone else so I’m going to leave it here and that person will come find it.”

He accepted my answer at face value, I set the pot down in the parking lot and we drove away. By the time we got home – the usual chaos of dinner prep was in full swing and to be honest, as odd as it might sound, I kind of forgot about the whole thing.

The next night I was snuggled up in bed reading with my son when my husband popped his head into the bedroom. “Hey hon – do you know what happened to Lisa’s chili pot?” he asked. “I left it in the van and I can’t seem to find it. It was wrapped in a sheet. Did you see it?”

I felt the blood drain out of my cheeks. Chili?! Chili!? Holy crap! The pot was full of chili. Not a head. Chili. My mind started racing – how was I going to explain what I had done to my husband? He already thinks I’m impulsive and overly anxious. What would he think if I told him the truth? He leaned in a little farther – “Did you see it?” he asked again.

“Mommy left something at the mall.” my son offered helpfully. “It had a sheet on it.” My husband met my eyes. I raced through a few different scenarios in my mind then decided I had to fess up. “You what?!” my husband said incredulously. I was hoping he’d see the humour – perhaps view it as proof of my adorable whimsical nature. But he just shook his head and drove back to the mall to see if the pot was still there.

In the end, he found the it but the lid was smashed and the sheet had blown away.  And a few days later, I had to sheepishly show up to Lisa’s house with her dinged-up pot and explain why the lid and sheet were no longer part of the set. Thankfully she has a forgiving heart and a great sense of humour.

Looking back, I keep trying to figure out why I didn’t just lift that lid. It makes me kind of uneasy that I so quickly jumped to such a rash conclusion and acted so impulsively. It took me a few days of pondering to refocus on what I could learn about myself from this experience.

I learned I need sleep. I need to go easier on myself. I need to stop taking on so freakin’ much. I learned that when I don’t have “time” to do the things that ground me – I absolutely, positively need to make time right that very moment – or chances are good that I will get a little loopy! (or a lot loopy ; )

I learned that when I try to be the perfect mom, the perfect hostess, the perfect writer – I only end up leaving a trail of wreckage in my wake…. and a severed head in a parking lot.

A Day In Silence

“Mom, there is no way you can stay quiet for an entire day!” – my 13-year-old daughter 

I like to talk. And day-to-day my life is full of words. Not only do I love chit-chatting, but I also use my voice to make a living as a narrator and voice over actress.

So when I found out that one component of my Mindfulness Meditation course was to participate in a silent retreat, I had mixed feelings. How would I handle a full day without saying one single word from 9am to 5pm? I mean without me- who would pepper my children’s day with gems of wisdom? Who would tell my husband what jobs need to be done around the house? Who would shriek at the dogs to stop barking?

I approached the retreat with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. As much as I relished the idea of not being responsible for anyone but myself for the day (a true luxury for a mom of 3), I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle it and would blurt out something inappropriate. I had a vision of myself surrounded by serene people seated in lotus position with their eyes closed and me screaming out “I can’t freakin’ do this!” and bolting crazily from the room.

But despite my fears, on a beautiful sunny day in November, I joined 18 fellow meditators at a studio along the shores of Lake Ontario. We were equipped with yoga mats, pillows, blankets, water bottles and lunch bags to fortify us through the experience.

To my surprise, the day flew by and the hours unfolded in strange and wonderful ways. Our teachers had led many previous retreats and confidently steered us through the hours with ease. We transitioned through gentle yoga moves and guided and silent meditations with the soft “ding” of a bell. We sat in chairs and on the floor, reclined on our mats and wandered through the gardens surrounding the studio.

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Now don’t get me wrong- there were definitely some uncomfortable moments. My leg fell asleep during a cross-legged meditation and I kicked the man across from me when I stretched it out. A lady seated next to me ripped a fart part way through a “loving kindness” meditation and it took all of my strength not to burst into hysterical laughter. And a passerby asked me for directions as I sat on a bench eating my lunch and I had to gesture like a crazy person to try to help him out (despite my prowess at charades, the poor guy ended up shaking his head and storming off angrily. Sorry buddy!)

At the end of the day, our instructors had us break the silence and invited us to share our reflections. And as you can imagine, everyone had a different take on the experience. Some had really struggled and others said it was the best day they’d had in ages.

For me, the day shone a spotlight on how rarely I take the time to really pay attention to my thoughts, my body and my surroundings. What an opportunity to immerse myself in things that normally zoom past in a flurry of activity.

I noticed the feeling of my butt on the hardwood floor, and breath moving through my lungs. We were encouraged to pay attention to our steps as we wandered around outside and to savour each bite of food as we ate our lunch. I stopped to gaze at flowers in the garden and spider webs hung in rafters of an old art gallery on the property. I paid attention to my arms and legs as we stretched and contracted our muscles. And I watched as thoughts came and went – some old tapes that I’ve been noodling around in my brain for years and other new ideas that popped up unexpectedly.

I drove away from the retreat feeling renewed. I secretly wondered if my family would look at me differently when I returned home – if I’d radiate an ethereal glow from dwelling on a higher plane of existence for the day.

I burst through the front door and the dogs started barking, my youngest was fighting with his sister and the sink was piled with dirty dishes. “Mom-what are we going to do for dinner?” my oldest asked. Nope, apparently not hovering on a higher plane. But I took solace in the fact that I did it – eight hours and not one single word was uttered from my lips (in your face 13-year-old daughter!) Namaste. : )

 

 

Tell Me A Story

As we head into a brand new year, I’ve been reflecting on how I want to shape my blog moving forward. When I started back in 2013, my impetus was only to kick-start a personal creative practice. At the time, I was a full-time stay-at-home mom with a burning desire to honour the inner voice that was declaring a need to express more than just breast milk : )

I have always wanted this to be a space where I could share not just recipes and quick fixes – but also the real nitty-gritty of everyday life. My favourite blogs are always the ones that tell the truth about the tough stuff. The brave people who write about the messiest and most vulnerable situations with a sense of humour.

This has led me to memories of my sweet Grandma Mary. She was the kindest women I have ever known. Sadly she passed away when I was only twelve years old, but in those twelve years she made an indelible imprint on my life.

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Grandpa Ken and Grandma Mary

Aside from her killer baking skills (ginger snaps and homemade donuts!), the loving relationship she shared with my Grandpa Ken, and her gentle disposition, the thing I remember most was her passion for storytelling. She would literally spend hours snuggling in bed with my sister and I while we listened with rapt attention to the slow cadence of her voice.

I never once felt like she was in a hurry or that she wanted to be anywhere else in the world. She just seemed so perfectly content perched on the side of the bed sharing the tales of her childhood- anecdotes of her life on the farm with her many siblings and the misadventures of her dog Tupper. And when she had exhausted her reservoir of memories – she’d even recount the plot of a recent episode of The Littlest Hobo or sing us a song when we begged her for “just one more”.

Grandma Mary offered me a precious gift in those simple moments – the gift of stories. She showed me that one of the most important and powerful things we can give each other is the truth of our experiences.

Good stories afford us a place to laugh at ourselves and to share a good cry. We can marvel at the wonders of brave adventures, learn from mistakes made in the past and develop deep empathy by being invited inside the journey of another person.

So that’s where I plan to focus my writing in 2017. I want to share my stories. The ups and downs, the struggles and victories, and even the epic fails……and trust me, I’ve got some doozies for you!

To honour the memory of my beloved Grandma, I invite you all to snuggle up while I tell you a story. Stay tuned. Happy 2017!

 

Animal Poison Control

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My husband was at a work function and I was home with the three kids. As soon as they were happily entertained, I snuck downstairs to do a bit of work. No sooner had I plopped at my desk then my oldest yelled down “Mom – get up here quick! Velma is sick!” I bolted up the stairs two at a time to find our 5-pound shih-tzu retching on the living room rug.

Poor Velma was heaving over a gooey pile of half digested green tomatoes. My husband had unearthed the plants the day before to prepare our garden for the winter and dozens of unripe tomatoes had fallen into the soil. It hadn’t occurred to any of us that the innocent looking pup could ingest her body weight in spoiled fruit.

 The kids were hysterical. “Mom – is she going to die?!” “What are we going to do??” “I wish dad was here!!!”

I desperately wished my husband were home too. While I have perfected the art of the “instant freak-out” – he is famously the calm one in any given situation. The world could literally be crumbling around us and he’d be holding up the house with one hand and the kids in the other while stating “Easy now, I don’t think this is the time to panic…” In fact, in almost 20 years of marriage the only time I’ve seen him visibly shaken was the night Wayne Gretzky retired from hockey. (I won’t harp on the fact that he wept more that night than on our wedding day or at the birth of any of our children. Nope – I’m not bitter about it at all!)

Immediately a rush of anxious feelings overcame me accompanied by a burning stomach, shaky legs, dry mouth and a head reeling with a familiar message- “I can’t handle this! I can’t handle this!”

But the kids had their eyes glued to me and I knew I had to step up. I combed through my brain for any gems of wisdom I’d gleaned over the past 8 weeks at my meditation seminar and one particular piece of advice popped into my head – “Respond don’t react.”

My instructor had recently spent an entire class focused on how many of us live our lives in a purely reactive state. And it really hit home. Instead of taking the time to consider my responses – I frequently rush right to panic mode.

But weeks of faithful meditation with my butt glued to a chair and determined efforts to quiet my busy mind have helped me recognize my conditioned responses and I’m working very hard to reprogram the looped tape stuck on “worry, worry, worry”.

Back to Velma – after about 10 minutes she stopped throwing up and I scooped her up in my arms, took a deep breath and turned to the kids: “Let’s call the vet and find out what we can do.” I spoke to an emergency vet who told me that green tomatoes are in fact poisonous to dogs  – who knew?! And they had me call an Animal Poison control hotline to get protocols for handling the situation. Yes there really is an Animal Poison Control Hotline and I have the number if your pet ever decides to indulge in green tomatoes or another toxic delicacy.

In the end – the puppy was fine and the only real victim was the rug that is now permanently splotched with light green circles.

Afterwards, I saw that the kids were still shaken, so I invited them to tell me how they were feeling. “My stomach hurts,” my youngest said. “I’m shaky,” said my daughter and my oldest admitted that he felt twitchy too. I used it as an opportunity to connect with them and to share some of what I’ve learned- how pausing, taking a deep breath, recognizing your physical symptoms and challenging your thoughts can transform a stressful situation into something much more manageable.

That’s right, ME – the panic queen – was able to turn the entire event into a teachable moment. I showed them a breathing exercise that helps me (breath in on a count of 4, hold for 7, then breath out for 8), I taught them a mantra I frequently use (“I am calm, I am capable, I am grateful”) and we even brainstormed strategies for handling stress and anxiety (ok maybe my youngest suggested that we keep dad home more often – but 2 out of 3 ain’t bad!)

That night as I was tucking my 15-year old into bed, he met my eyes – “Geez mom – I thought you’d totally freak out today but you actually handled it pretty well.”  Hot damn! Not only do I have the direct line to Animal Poison Control, I’ve also gained a modicum of respect from a teenager. Booyah!

I allowed myself a moment of pride, then I kneeled down, took a deep breath and began scrubbing barf off of the living room rug. I am calm, I am capable, I am grateful…..