How I parent: Treating children with respect

I’m now six years into this parenthood thing. Like most other parents I know, I’m pretty much making it all up as I go. A lot of my parenting choices, however, are based on my experiences as a child, and the philosophies and methods my own parents had. Many of those methods are solid, useful ones — after all, I turned out reasonably okay, all things considered. But there are also of things I’ve chosen specifically to do differently from my own parents.

I am the product of my childhood; of my parents’ beliefs and actions, and of my own experiences as an extremely sensitive child. There are a few specific incidents and situations in my life that shaped me into the kind of parent that I am today.

My mom and stepdad had a difficult relationship. They married when I was a toddler, so he was always a part of my life, and was always my dad, but as I got older their issues became more apparent to me. Between various mental health problems that went largely untreated and the problems they had communicating with each other, I learned a lot about how not to manage a relationship (although early on I made a few of the exact same mistakes, of course).

There were times, when I was a teenager, that they would fight. I can’t remember anymore what the fights were about. I don’t imagine it really matters. What I do remember was the effect that those fights had on me, and the atmosphere of the place I called home.

Sometimes… often, even… my parents’ tactic for resolving fights was to stop talking to each other. Not for an hour. Not for a day. Not even for a week. Sometimes they would refuse to be in the same room as each other for a month or longer. The house would be tense and uncomfortable, full of subtle and unsubtle jabs and attempts to win kids over. Because I was my mother’s daughter by blood, and because my stepdad had suffered through issues with my older sister when she was a teenager, he would include me in his refusal to talk to my mom. So basically, if he was mad at her he was also mad at me. If he wasn’t talking to her, he wouldn’t talk to me.

It was devastating. He was my dad. He had been my dad for as long as I could remember. And I was punished for not being his real daughter. It hurt. So I promised myself that if I ever fought with my partner, the children would not become a target for my anger and frustrations.

Once there happened a month-long, epic, no-one-is-talking-to-each-other battle during my early teen years. I got frustrated, tired, and saddened by the situation, so I took a piece of paper and some pencil crayons and I drew a stop sign. I coloured it in, and I wrote the word ‘please’ underneath the sign, because I was hurting and I just wanted my parents to stop fighting and maybe talk to each other and try to work things out. I left it on the kitchen counter for my dad to find.

The next morning I was the first one up. I found the paper sitting on the counter where I’d left it, flipped upside-down. Written on the back in my dad’s handwriting was this: “Mind your own god-damned business.”

I picked up the paper, tossed it out, went back to the basement to my bedroom, and I cried for a while. I was not emotionally equipped to fix the problems my parents had with each other, and I hadn’t claimed that I could. I just wanted them to stop not fixing them. But I also felt that, after a month or more of people in the house refusing to even be in the same room, it had become my business. They weren’t even trying, and it was affecting my life directly. I felt like that made it my business.

At any rate, it didn’t help. They kept fighting a lot. Eventually, a few years after I moved away from home, they divorced, to no one’s surprise and much to my relief.

None of your business

But I thought often and deeply about my hamfisted attempt to break through and communicate with my dad, and about his response to it. I knew what was going on, and I knew that it was an unhealthy situation that was affecting everyone. But he believed that the fights he and my mom had were not my business — the dancing around subjects, not talking, pretending that none of it had an effect on me or my life since I was just a kid — so I couldn’t possibly understand it. I understood plenty. My teenage years were riddled with depression, although I didn’t have the right language to know that that’s what I was going through.

I thought about his belief for a long time. And I decided that he was wrong.

I still think he was wrong. And that decision became a core belief that I have as a parent myself.

Children are people. They understand what’s happening more than they get credit for. They are affected by the things that go on around them. And they deserve a level of communication about the things that go on around them, and the things that affect their lives. Not talking about serious or important issues does not go unnoticed. Hiding things or pretending everything is normal when it isn’t only creates distrust and frustration.

We explained my cancer to Lyra — we told her what cancer is and that it can kill people. We described what chemotherapy was going to do to me. She came to the hospital when I was getting my chemo treatment and got to see them administer the drugs. She was aware of why I had to go into the hospital for three days when I got sick before Christmas, and came to visit every day.

Her Great Grandmother passed away a few weeks ago, and we talked about it. She doesn’t remember meeting her — the last time she saw her Great Grandmother was when she was three. But we talked about dying, and about family, aging, and Alzheimers, and that her Dad was going to fly to Ontario to help his own Dad and support him in his grief. These things affect her family — they are as much her business as the decisions about whether she is going to take swimming or gymnastics classes.

So if her parents were to have a huge fight that lasted a month or more, yes, I think it would be her god-damned business.

My mother had a different approach. She talked to us about things. She treated me like a person, and was willing to discuss things with me as though I understood. Which, generally, I did, and the times that I didn’t our discussions helped me to. I wasn’t stupid, and youth does not equal disconnect from reality. I appreciate her honesty and willingness to treat me like another human being, and not like a baby that had to be protected and coddled.

In the years since they split up when I was 20, I’ve spoken to my stepdad three or four times, and seen him twice. Maybe I was too much like her. Maybe he never saw me as anything but a child who shouldn’t be involved in the decisions of her elders. I don’t think he forgave her for leaving, and I know he was angry about it for a very long time. The times that I did see him, he made it a point to tell me how much he hated her. I refused to deal with that kind of toxicity in my life, so I stopped trying to see him, and he never made any efforts to reach out to me.

Respect

For me, it’s about respect. I respect my children as people. I will protect them from the things that they should be protected from, but I will not shield them from the dirt and the badness that happens in our own lives. We have open discussions about the challenges we face, on a level that we consider appropriate. They deserve to know what’s happening in the family because they are part of the family and are affected by everything. Even if they’re children, I don’t talk to them like they’re stupid or need to be protected. They can, and should, hear truth from us their parents — because if we are willing to tell them the truth about our lives, then they will learn to feel comfortable telling us the truth about theirs.

And because they are human beings who deserve my respect.

Someday they will be adults, and I hope to have conversations with them about our separate lives. I hope that they will talk to me about their problems, and that they’ll want to hear about the things that happen in my life, good and bad.

At 38 years old, I am not a kid. My mom doesn’t treat me like one, either. If she did, I’d probably get frustrated with the situation and avoid talking to her, because no one, of any age, likes to be talked to as if they’re a dumb kid. We have respect for each other, and our relationship is stronger because of that. When I see people talking to Lyra in simple terms, skirting around issues, I can already see her mentally discounting them, as though she’s categorizing this particular adult as someone who sees her as a little kid, and not someone who respects her as a person. She hates being talked down to.

I don’t blame her. Doesn’t everyone?

Kids
Kids always know when something is up.

Adulthood: An exercise in unfairness

This last year has been unfairly difficult. At a time when my six-year-old daughter is obsessed with fairness, or rather, the unfairness of the world, I’ve found it harder than usual to come to terms with the same thing myself, lately.

Things aren’t fair. We all learn this at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later in our lives, so that we can also learn how to deal with that fact and move on with life in a productive and happy way. Dwelling on unfairness into your adulthood just sets you up for a life of disappointment and frustration. Life is not fair.

It's just not fair!
It’s just not fair!

Sometimes it’s pretty much impossible for me not to list all the unfair things that have happened in the last year, even though I know it does me no good. Right off the top, of course, there’s cancer – also known as life’s big Fuck You to fairness. No one can tell me why I got cancer. Every so often, when I can’t sleep at night, my brain starts listing all the possible things that might have caused it, like childhood exposure to contaminants, or adulthood exposure to contaminants, or maybe I dyed my hair one too many times, or maybe I ate too many pesticides, and the list goes on and on and on. There is no smoking gun, but I somehow got cancer, and it wasn’t fair. And so far I have beaten cancer, which, of course, also isn’t fair, if you happen to be someone else who isn’t as lucky as me.

And sometimes I think about how my kids are growing up without much contact with our extended families, and without that family tribe that I see around me in other people’s families, and it makes me sad how that’s unfair for them. Or I selfishly wish I could just leave the kids with their grandparents for a night so I can have a tiny one- or two-night vacation with my husband wherein we can sleep and recharge and maybe ride bikes together, because that’s one of those things that only grandparents can do… but no. Not an option for us. Difficult year or not, we are not able to recharge without asking far more of our friends than we are willing to. I want to be six and stamp my feet and slam a door and yell about the unfairness of it all. I try not to.

Yes, I would like to own my home…

Last year we nearly decided to buy a townhouse. We shopped, we looked at places, we even put in an offer on a place, but when we sat down to go over the actual monthly costs of home ownership over renting, when considering expenses like the depressingly large amount of money we spend on daycare, we realized that we could not afford it.

Between us Adam and I make what could be considered a very reasonable income if we lived almost anywhere else in the country. The kind of income that, on paper, means we are perfectly capable of home ownership. But due to a combination of unfair things, like the cost of homes in the Metro Vancouver area (the perfect 3-bedroom townhouse for our family is listed at around $400,000) and the extremely large chunk of money we pay for childcare, it’s out of the question, at least until daycare is no longer such an expense.

And here’s the (unfair) kicker: when daycare is no longer an expense, there will be a brand new skytrain in our neighbourhood, which will effectively drive the housing prices of our current area, the one we want very much to stay in, outside of a reasonable price range. It also means that buying now would be a good investment, because the skytrain is going to drive prices up. But we can’t. At least, not and be able to continue to do fun things like eat food..

Most days I am serene and calm and have come to terms with that. Some days I am just depressed about it.

But the most challenging and unfair thing I’ve had to deal with in the last year has been completely unexpected, and unfair in ways I never could have imagined.

Relationships – They aren’t fair

It’s a part of the promise you make in any serious relationship to take care of each other, even (and especially) when one of you is sick. We certainly had to call on that promise last year when I was going through chemo. As rock-solid as I was mentally and emotionally about the whole thing, I just wasn’t physically capable of a lot of things, and Adam had to step up and take over with much of the day-to-day running of our house. What had been a partnership tilted in one direction for a while. It wasn’t fair, but that’s what it was.

And then, sometime in March, I started to feel human again. I was finished chemotherapy. The effects were starting to disappear and I could feel my energy slowly coming back, along with a new sense of ownership over my life. I was so happy to be returning to normal, and the entire cancer experience had me actively evaluating my life down to the tiniest detail: Is this worth doing? If yes, then why not just go ahead and do it? If no, then abolish it completely. My willingness to commit to things I wanted to do had skyrocketed, and I wanted more than anything to get out in the world and DO ALL THE THINGS.

While all this was happening, Adam was going through unexplained, undiagnosed, mystery abdominal pain. It left him often incapacitated, exhausted, and unable to function at a normal level. There were many nights when I’d come home from work and send him away to lie down while I handled kids and dinner. There were weekends that we stayed mostly close to home and made no plans because we never knew if he’d feel up to doing anything (and usually he didn’t).

Chronic pain had taken over his life, and the fact that doctor after doctor couldn’t tell him what was wrong pushed him over the edge into some bouts of anxiety that just made everything worse. He went through the fear of cancer, gallstones, kidney stones, heart problems, ulcers, digestive issues, and every other abdominal issue he, or the doctors, could come up with.

It started in January, before I was even done chemo. It continued on into February, and then March. By April, I was starting to feel like I was at about 80% of my former energy levels, and he was in too much pain to function as a partner for a good portion of the time. We had effectively switched places on the see-saw of relationship balance: I was doing my best to keep everything together, taking on more work at home and with the girls while taking care of him. None of it was fair.

By May and June he wasn’t doing any better, and doctors still told him that they didn’t know what was wrong with him. He wasn’t happy being the mystery abdominal pain patient. By that point, though, he had at least come to terms with there not being something life-threatening wrong with him, and he wasn’t going to emergency every few weeks. But he was still in pain, and it was still giving him a lot of anxiety, and making him exhausted almost all the time.

I was still holding the fort, and still feeling more driven to get out and do things. I managed it okay most of the time, but sometimes the unfairness of it all came back and hit me hard, and I broke down. It happened more than once, and it made life hard. All the while I just wanted to get on with living, and I felt like I couldn’t because I was being held back, taking care of someone who should have been living it with me.

I can see, now, something that I’ve never really been able to see before. I always took for granted that of course we would take care of each other if we were sick. Of course we would. Because we love each other and that’s what you do. And when I was going through chemo last year, Adam took care of me. And when he was hit with chronic pain issues, I took care of him. Unfairly, his chronic pain has been an ongoing problem for longer than my chemo was.

I can’t speak for Adam on this, but what I realized in the last few months, while trying to keep everything together and feeling so keenly how imbalanced we were, is that this is much more difficult than you ever expect it to be. Of course we take care of each other. But when the imbalance goes on for a long time, you start to wonder how long you can actually do it. When you don’t have other family around to help you out, you wonder how people manage. And then that corner of your brain that likes to throw intrusive thoughts at you (you know, the one that screams inside your head brutally inappropriate statements that should never be heard by any human being and make you ashamed that you even thought them) for just a moment breaks through and tries to suggest that everything would be easier if you had fewer variables in your life. And by variables it means people. And then you beat it into submission for even suggesting that you’d think that, because no, you will not be abandoning anyone who needs you, dammit! Even writing about thinking thoughts like that is difficult. I don’t want to admit to that sort of self-perceived weakness…

But now I get it when people have reached that point, when they’ve had too much unfairness, when the imbalance has gone on for so long that the intrusive thoughts aren’t intrusive anymore. And then they have to leave, for their own sake. Where I used to think, “how could anyone leave someone they love when they need them so much?” I now understand. I’ve only had the smallest taste of that feeling of overwhelming imbalance, and I know that it will end, and that there will be more times in the future when Adam takes care of me, and when I take care of him. Relationships are not static. Sometimes, though, when there’s no end in sight, I can understand why sometimes people have to leave. I get it.

I can see the end of the imbalance now. He’s been feeling better, mostly, for the past month. They have ruled out all the major abdominal problems that could have been the cause, and are fairly convinced that it’s probably muscular, in the abdominal wall, and exacerbated by stress. Of which he’s had NONE in the last year, am I right? And his bouts of anxiety have lessened, although it’s certainly been a good lesson in the impact anxiety issues have on individuals and their close family members. But we’re coming back towards the centre, when we both contribute in different but mostly equal ways to keeping our family running.

I keep thinking that there will be some kind of marker, a turning point, something I can look at and say with surety, “This is the end of our year of suck.” This year hasn’t been fair. I’m ready to be done with it. But maybe instead of a specific point in time where the sucking ends, it will just kind of fizzle out and our lives will be normal, happy, and uneventful for a little while.

In an unfair world, that’s the most I can ask for.

After chemotherapy ends: Where’s the kaboom?

Chemotherapy has been over for a month now. I’m in a strange post-treatment world. Chemo ended, I’m effectively in remission (complete response, I think?) and there is no fanfare or acknowledgement of it other than within my little family. The oncologist will see me in a few months to see how I’m doing. I had my post-chemo PET scan on Tuesday, which was uneventful. There’s nothing else to report, and I’m supposed to go back to life as normal.

But life isn’t playing fair, I guess. Not that I believe life ever plays fair.

This week has been particularly difficult, and I have struggled with writing about it. I’m not sure why, since writing about things helps me deal with them. But that’s how it is.

I’m still not fully recovered post-chemo, even though my last treatment was February 11. I am still more tired than I normally would be, although I feel better as time goes on. I knew this was how it would go, though. It might take a while until I feel mostly normal again. I’m just not there yet.

I’ve had a head cold since about Tuesday. Mildly irritating, but not a big deal. At least I can treat it and not be worried about getting a fever. It’s just a normal, annoying, run-of-the-mill cold. Lyra and Pandra both have the same one. Not that it’s really slowing them down at all.

Adam and Pandra
Adam and Pandra cuddling on the couch, with boots. Because that’s how she rolls.

Adam has been suffering from moderate to severe abdominal pain nonstop for the past week (at minimum – he’s had some kind of undiagnosable abdominal pain since January. Yay.) As of now, he’s been to Emergency a few times, talked to our doctor (who seems to think it’s in his head, which is oh so helpful), talked to another doctor, and has finally been referred to a general surgeon to discuss more diagnosing options. It might be a gall bladder issue. It could be a severe ulcer of some sort. Or maybe it’s both. Perhaps it’s neither, but instead something else that we haven’t thought of or considered. The Internet likes to tell us it’s Cancer (thanks, Internet, but we didn’t really need your opinion… you think everything is Cancer).

What we do know is that he’s in enough pain that he’s afraid to eat and has lost around 25lbs in two months, he doesn’t seem to be able to control it with diet, activity, or inactivity, and that it seems to come in waves of attacks, taking him from mild to moderate to severe pain with unknown triggers. If it’s gall bladder, it could be fatty foods. If it’s ulcer, it could be stomach acid. But the patterns aren’t settling into predictability, so it’s frustrating.

I worked from home on Wednesday to take care of Adam. Then he had a pretty severe attack the next day, which meant neither of us slept much on Thursday night, and I had a massive fail getting out the door with the girls on Friday morning, so I missed my train and was miserably tired. I stayed home that day too, but to rest; it helped some.

I also discovered, on Friday morning, that someone had rifled through the glove box and console of our car overnight. They hadn’t stolen anything though. Apparently CDs aren’t worth stealing anymore. Even if it was an opportunistic thing (they didn’t break a window, so it’s fair to say we forgot to lock the car that night) it was a bit upsetting. Good thing there’s nothing of value in the car, anyway, and they didn’t have tools or time/incentive to pull our nice-ish stereo out of the car.

Of course, with Adam in extreme pain for a good part of the week, everything else has become more complicated. It’s demoralizing to watch him and not be able to fix it, which I’m sure he understands after having me in chemo for months. On top of that, I have to be ready to drop everything and take him to the hospital at any moment, which means trying to secure someone to watch the girls if it comes to that. Finding short-notice childcare is a challenge when most of our local friends have kids of their own, or, you know, lives, like normal people. My friends are awesome. I have had to lean on them too much, though.

I am so very tired of asking friends to be on-call in case we need help. I’m tired of us needing so much help. I’m tired of being too tired to fully commit to anything I do. I’m too tired to proof-read.

And all the tiredness and the frustration and the needing support from friends and the illness and the inability to commit to anything is wearing me a bit thin. I’ve been kind of wavering between exhausted, extremely grumpy, and vaguely sad for the last week. I remember the vague sadness, and that dull tightness in my chest that makes me feel like breathing is harder than it should be. If I don’t take care of myself, it turns into something else. And while it’s been a long time since I’ve been depressed, I can recognize some of my own tells. I’m not — don’t panic or anything — but if I don’t pay attention, I might end up there. So I’m trying to pay attention.

Apparently having cancer and going through chemo can’t make a dent in me (or my hair, which is coming back in force), but being hit with a bunch of new issues right when everything is supposed to get better because ‘yay cancer-free’ is enough to make me just a little bit broken. I haven’t even had time to lament the fact that I haven’t felt any internal fanfare for my not having cancer anymore. Where’s the kaboom? There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom.

I wish I believed in karma enough to think that, after this last year of mostly crappy things (I checked; it’s been twelve months of predominantly crappy things with some nice things peppered amongst them), good things of equivalent value were due to happen to us. Sadly, I don’t. Not that I don’t think that things will get better; I know they will. But neither do I think we’re owed anything by the universe. Stupid universe, quit making me grumpy.

The year I nearly spent Christmas in the hospital…

Those two rough weeks I had just a little while back? They’ve been topped. Oh how they were topped.

Saturday, December 21st: The cold gets worse

I was having my usual low-energy-five-days-after-chemo sort of day, where I just wanted to sit around and do nothing much. My cough and cold I had picked up from the girls was pretty bad, so I mostly did exactly that, other than a short trip out to North Vancouver to buy a new backpack for Lyra and pick up Adam’s brother to bring back to our place for a visit. Even that seemed like it was pushing it, though, so we went home and relaxed for the night.

I felt worse as the evening progressed. My cold hadn’t been getting better — I had been coughing so hard my stomach muscles were killing me. But the doctor had told me on Monday to take anything I needed to for the cold. I took some NyQuil and went to bed, hoping I would feel better.

The first time I woke up was because I felt off. As I lay in bed listening to my body, it suddenly told me that it wanted to remove all traces of sushi dinner from my stomach, via the route it entered. I obeyed, and spent some time in the washroom throwing up into the toilet. It was unpleasant.

And then I started wondering if I had a fever, but was too out of it from NyQuil haze to really keep that thought in my head. I crawled back into bed with Adam, and went back to sleep for a little while. At least until I woke up again with the feeling of needing to puke again. So I did. And also had some diarrhea. It was even more unpleasant than earlier.

Adam took my temperature and confirmed that I did, in fact, have a fever. I curled up on the couch and coughed a lot and felt generally terrible, occasionally puking into a bowl. Adam phoned the Oncologist’s pager to find out if he should take me to emergency, and I guess she could hear me coughing in the background and I did not sound great. She said yes, and told him that the hospital near our house (Eagle Ridge Hospital) would be fine to take me to. We weren’t sure, because they don’t have a cancer unit there so they don’t necessarily have experience dealing with cancer patient care in emergency, but she said if they had questions they could call her.

I threw up at least one more time, had some more liquified poop fun times, and discovered that my period had started. Fun. I changed into the most comfortable clothes I could find with the expectation of staying in hospital for who knew how long, we woke Jordy up, told him he was in charge of the children until further notice, and Adam whisked me off to Eagle Ridge Hospital (one block away), where the ER was almost empty.

I felt terrible. Beyond worse than I can remember ever feeling. Absolutely at my lowest, and fighting some vague despair that had me wondering how people could keep the will to move forward through feeling so bad. I went away mentally for a while so I wouldn’t have to deal with the despair. It was the lowest of my low points.

I registered with the ER admissions nurse in a combined haze of NyQuil and feeling the worst I have perhaps ever felt in my life. Adam gave them my Bleomycin lung damage card (the one that says I can’t get Oxygen therapy because I’ve had to take Bleomycin for chemo) and showed it to every subsequent nurse or doctor who had anything to do with my care. I’m glad he was attentive, because I was not particularly. I remember thinking, and possibly articulating to Adam, that I felt worse than I had ever felt in my entire life, and I did not like it. Not one bit.

I got moved into a room in the ER, and IV’d up. They sent me off for chest x-rays and then installed me into a very small room in the ER. I drifted in and out of coherence throughout the whole thing, and was thankful not to be throwing up any more. At one point the doctor treating me said he was going to put me on an antibiotic and left the room to get it set up. He poked his head back through the door after a minute, saying “I’m going to put you on a different antibiotic because I looked one up that’s specifically for chemo patients, so that’s what I’m going to put you on, and you really don’t care what antibiotic I put you on do you?” I half-grinned at him and said “Nope, whatever you like”.

Adam updated Facebook with a message to let people know what was happening with me:

I’m starting to dislike feeling so at home in hospitals. Two trips to Eagle Ridge ER in one week for two different family members will attest to that.

Jenny spiked a fever and immediately started throwing up last night (serious stuff when chemotherapy is involved and the immune system is suppressed), right on the day of the lowest point in her chemo cycle. A quick call to her oncologist at 3am confirmed she was to report to the closest hospital ER immediately. Lucky for us Jordy was staying with us so I was able to leave him with the kids. I hadn’t slept all night as it was so was awake and pretty much ready to go.

4 hours later we’ve had a barrage of blood tests, an IV of antibiotics and she is finally asleep. I’ve snuck out of the room for a quick breather

Mission to stop the cold that ravaged my kids over the past three weeks from reaching my wife: Failed.

So far, not fond of Christmas this year. All I really want for Christmas is a return to some sense of normalcy, and about 3 weeks sleep.

This ceiling is starting to look too familiar.

I stayed in that little room with saline and antibiotics pumping in to me, drifting in and out of a very restless sleep while time stood still. They brought me a breakfast that I chose not to eat, because puking sucks and I didn’t trust myself not to do so. Adam sat with me and worried, I assume, but I think he felt better that I was at the hospital than if I was at home being sick. He didn’t sleep, and hadn’t slept much before we went in to Emergency. At some point a friend came to the hospital and sat with me in the tiny ER room, sending Adam home to get some sleep. He needed it.

They came to tell me they were going to move me up to a room in the hospital ward upstairs, and that they didn’t know how long I would have to stay. I didn’t like not knowing how long I’d be stuck in the hospital, and continued feeling pretty terrible. There were no windows in the ER, so I had no concept of time. I woke up sometimes and chatted with my friend Susan, but I wasn’t feeling particularly conversational, and kept falling asleep.

Sunday, December 22nd: My very own hospital room

Eleven hours after arriving at Emergency, they finally moved me upstairs to a room. I had seen at least two doctors who didn’t know what was wrong with me, had a couple of vials of blood taken for tests, and had no real answers about anything. But I was glad to be moving into a quieter, private space. It was 2pm.

This is Lyra's Dragon Hookfang. She thought he would keep me company while at the hospital.
This is Lyra’s Dragon Hookfang. She thought he would keep me company while at the hospital.

Susan was still with me when I moved, and let Adam know where I was when he woke up so they could exchange shifts. They continued pumping antibiotics and saline into me, and I continued feeling terrible. I hadn’t thrown up again, but I did have some more diarrhea, which was SUPER FUN when you’re dragging an IV around with you to the toilet. Plus I had my period to deal with, just to complicate matters more — extra cramping, general discomfort, and a nasty headache on top of all the rest. The nurse gave me some Tylenol for the headache, which helped, and Adam brought my hot water bottle with him to the hospital when he returned, which was good for the cramps.

I ate the first of my hospital meals — a turkey cutlet and some potatoes and vegetables. It was everything you expect from hospital food.

Adam left around 7pm after bringing me a dragon from Lyra to keep me company, and my friend Jenn came over at 7:30 for a short visit.  I had been going through some nasty nausea post-dinner and wasn’t sure it was staying down. Fortunately for everyone it did.

That night I slept in a few uncomfortable shifts, waking up because the IV was uncomfortable, or when the nurse came in to check my temperature and blood pressure, or give me more antibiotics. At one point I had a fever again, so the nurse gave me some more Tylenol to help bring it down again.

Monday, December 23rd: How long do I have to stay?

Jenny and Lyra in the hospital
Family time in the hospital bed.

I woke up to a hospital breakfast of scrambled eggs and moist toast and some more antibiotics that left a terrible taste in my mouth. I had not puked in a long time, but I still had liquid stools, which were really not much fun.

A doctor came in to see me, and told me that they still didn’t know what I had, but my tests would probably take another 24 hours to get all the results, so I was going to be staying for at least one more night, possibly more.

Adam somehow found people willing to help with the girls, since he had to work — and by somehow found people willing, I mean had people offering to help from all corners. Lyra mostly spent the day with him, since she could entertain herself as needed, but a friend took Pandra for the day (and then kept her for the night so Adam could get a real night of sleep).

Another friend, Steve, came to spend the day with me in the hospital, which was above and beyond what was necessary. I appreciated having company, though. It was nice to have someone to talk to in my little room. Adam and Lyra came by for a lunchtime visit, and then came by again at the end of the day to hang out with me before visiting hours were over.

I had Adam phone the other Hospital, Royal Columbian, to tell them what was going on with me at Eagle Ridge. My medi-port surgery was scheduled for the next morning at 9am, but I didn’t really think it was going to happen, all things considered. Royal Columbian called Eagle Ridge and spoke to my nurses and doctor, who then came and talked to me about it.

They told me that, if I wanted to go through with it, they could send me to RCH under a patient transfer, where they would take over my care. I didn’t much like the idea of moving hospitals, and my stomach was still not right. The more I thought about going through with a (albeit minor) surgery while still trying to recover from the cold and fever, the less I liked it. I told the doctor that I really didn’t feel up to going through surgery after everything, and he agreed that it was probably for the best to put it off.

Otherwise, it was a quiet day, filled up mostly with random conversation and really hating the taste that the antibiotics left in my mouth. You take the bad with the good sometimes. A few people joked about getting some time away from the kids to rest, and it was somewhat true, but they all knew as much as I did that I’d rather be at home.

That night I had a lot of trouble getting to sleep, and really started feeling like the antibiotic was messing me up as much as everything else. I still had the diarrhea issue, but no nausea any more, and no throwing up. I woke up often throughout the night, though, and it was not nearly as restful as one might hope for. I spent a good part of the night on the internet after failing to fall asleep.

Tuesday, December 24th: Christmas Eve

I woke up on Tuesday morning feeling almost human again and ate another hospital breakfast. I also hadn’t had a fever all night, which made me happy — no fever meant a higher chance of going home, and being home for Christmas.

We had completely missed our opportunity to do our last-minute Christmas shopping. We were going to go on Sunday, but my hospital visit threw that off. We got lucky though; friends ran errands for us, delivering groceries and some Christmas treats for the girls. But I was ready to go home, and be at home with my family, and I think they were ready for me to come home. I anxiously waited for the doctor to show up and give me an update.

He arrived around 9:30am or so and told me that they hadn’t found any C. Difficile in my tests, and no signs of any bacterial infection, so I could come off the antibiotics (yay!). He also said my bloodwork came back saying that my white blood cell count was really good, especially for someone on chemo. There were some other tests that would take about a week to come back — for different parasitic infections — but he didn’t think that would end up being an issue for me. So basically I just got hit, really hard, by a viral infection that gave me a fever. And fevers are bad for me while I’m on chemo, which was why we went to the hospital in the first place.

Since none of the tests came back saying anything really bad, the doctor told me I could go home any time. I thanked him and sent a message to Adam letting him know that I could come home, and he should come get me soon. He was as happy as I was, and said he’d be there within the hour, so I started getting my stuff together and cleaning up my room.

The happiest moment was when the nurse took out my IV. I was so tired of that IV. I was tired of the antibiotics making me feel crappy. And I was tired of hospital food. I wasn’t yet 100% better energy-wise — I was tired and still felt crappy, but not nearly as terrible as I had a few days before. When Lyra and Adam arrived to bring me home, I was glad to leave the hospital. They were really quite nice and treated me well while I was there — all the nurses were kind and friendly, and I never felt like an inconvenience, even though they had to put on extra protective gear (goggles and a paper robe and gloves) just to come into my room so that I wouldn’t get more sick from them. The doctors were also pleasant and easy to talk to. I would recommend Eagle Ridge Hospital to anyone who needed care.

And so I got to go home for Christmas Eve with my family, and was home for Christmas day. I wasn’t stuck in the hospital on Christmas day, and for that I was thankful. A lot of friends came through for us, either visiting me or helping Adam with the girls or delivering groceries or whatever else needed to be done, and they were awesome. It’s impossible to thank them all enough.

Christmas itself was quiet and laid-back. I still wasn’t feeling normal, so we kept things really low key. We had a tasty turkey dinner at yet another friend’s house on Christmas day. It didn’t really feel much like Christmas for me, but I did my best not to dwell on it.

Next Christmas, though, is going to be absolutely amazing. And there won’t be any hospital food.

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Parental self esteem

Full disclosure: I am in full-on muddy-headed post-chemo haze, so some of this might be rambly.

None of the parents I know, if asked, will tell you that they’ve got this parenting thing figured out. Not one of them. They all seem confused by their children’s actions on a regular basis, busy, and trying their best to do what’s right for their families, and especially for their kids. Myself included. We all seem to think that, somehow, we’re doing something that will screw up our kid. And, in some way, we probably are. But I’m pretty sure that the fact that we’re even worried about it is a sign that we’re on the right track, and that the amount and type of screwed-up our kids end up with will somehow be lessened over what it might be if we didn’t worry, if we didn’t care about our actions and their impacts on our children.

Sometimes — often, even — I my fellow moms put themselves down for not being good enough at something, for not being able to follow through on something, or for wanting to be capable of doing things that just don’t fall within their field of knowledge, interest, or capacity. I’ve done it, but I’ve tried more recently not to. The ongoing cancer experience has really cemented that for me, although I started paying attention to it last year sometime. I see some of the other moms at Lyra’s school organizing things like group gifts for the teachers, and planning playdates, and going to PAC meetings, and I wonder if I should be doing that. I have friends that sew, and I

I see other moms choosing to stay at home and homeschool their kids, and I think that’s awesome, but it’s also something that I am really not interested in taking on myself, even if it were an option for our family (which it’s not right now). I would be a terrible stay-at-home-homeschooling mom. TERRIBLE. And I see other moms going super-eco crunchy momma, and I love the idea of so many things they do, but beyond that I know I would get irritated with the process of doing those things and ultimately hate it and be resentful of it. It’s not for me. Life is too short for me to take on extra work and activities that I’d be doing alone (because I would be, no matter how hard I tried to force the family to take part) when I could be having much more fun and interesting experiences that both me and my family will enjoy.

I want to have adventures with my family. Little ones, like bike rides and hiking in the woods and playing video games together on Saturday mornings and experiencing well-written cartoons and movies (and a few crappy ones, sigh). Big ones like traveling to new places when we can manage it, or visiting some of the tourist activities nearby that we haven’t gone out to yet, and plenty of things we just haven’t though of yet. Those are on hold until cancer is done with.

So there are a lot of parents out there, who do a lot of different things for their families. I admire many of them for doing those things. I am envious of their talents and abilities, and their drive to do things that I just can’t see myself learning or being any good at, and can’t find the energy or enough interest to learn how and follow through myself. Sometimes I feel bad about this, until I remember that I’m only one person, and I can’t expect to be and do everything that every other person combined is out there doing and being. My children are not going to be irreparably damaged by my inability to sew or can my own food. They won’t be disappointed in my preferring to take part in other people’s teacher gifts plans instead of coming up with something lovely, hand-made and personalized to give to their teacher each year. Not that I wouldn’t support THEM in doing that; but I’m not going to do it for them.

Instead there will be adventure days and Saturday mornings at home playing Ni No Kuni and spending time with each other doing things that we enjoy, and spending time not with each other doing things that only one of us enjoys. Because balance. And I won’t feel like I’m less of a mom than someone else is because they have different interests and priorities than I do. And I won’t feel bad about not doing things that the other parents are doing with their kids because it’s just something that’s done, especially when it’s not something we’re collectively interested in doing as a family.

If I think I’m a terrible mom for not doing what the other moms are doing, it’s bound to come through somehow to my girls. They’ll see me putting myself down for things that don’t make much sense. If it happens to much, they might start to model that behaviour, and I could start to see their self esteem drop because they think they need to do and be all things, as much as I think I need to do and be all things (and perfectly of course, because I like to be good at things I do). Right now they are young enough to be confident about most things, and I love that. I don’t want to be the reason they question themselves.

I just hope that the other parents I know that go through the same feelings of self-doubt and frustration at not being able to do all the things don’t wear themselves out with worry that they’re just not enough. Maybe having cancer and really connecting with life and time has given me some extra focus on my values and priorities. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the things I want to do when I’m not utterly exhausted from the chemotherapy, and none of them are the things that I sometimes think I should be doing to be more mom-like according to other people’s Facebook update standards. I’m okay with that.

I’m owning my so-called failures as a parent, because they’re not failures. They’re just priorities and levels of interest. And we’ve all got different ones.

Silver family
Because these people I’m with are awesome

Sometimes things get hard to deal with

Lyra and Adam at my chemo
It was nice to have my family hang out with me during chemo.

The last two weeks have been, to say the least, extra challenging. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so keenly the gap in our lives that exists because our extended family is four provinces and three time zones away.

Before chemo on the second of December, I could feel dread growing. In the words of the tenth Doctor, I did not want to go, and the sense of impending badness kept building. But I did go, of course, and Adam and Lyra both accompanied me. Lyra was curious about it, and I wanted to demystify the process a bit for her, so she came along and watched, and learned, and played with Adam while I sat in my chemo chair and felt my thought processes slow to a crawl. It was nice to have her there; but it was still the worst chemo session I had been through to date.

We went back home, and I proceeded to feel exhausted and awful for a couple of days. The highlight of the week was my work Christmas Party on Friday the 6th — you can’t not have fun at a 20s Murder Mystery. Adam and I were grateful for a night out without the girls, and we both had a good time.

On Saturday, things started to go downhill. I hit my lowest energy point in the cycle, and could barely find the energy to get up off the couch. I let Adam sleep as much as I could, so he could recover from the party, and played games and watched movies with the girls. And I ordered groceries online for delivery the next day, because we were running out of food and nobody had the energy to get to the grocery store.

Sunday morning the groceries arrived, and Adam took Lyra out for an Adventure Day at the Vancouver Aquarium while Pandra and I stayed home. My energy was still very low, but I could manage chasing a toddler around for the day in the house, even if she was a bit cranky. I basically didn’t leave the house from Friday night after the party until Monday morning, though, and it was not good for my health.

Chemo cycles and emotional well-being

I have discovered, after three hits of chemotherapy, that I have a definite mental health cycle that comes with it. I get distracted and start to dread going in for chemo a few days before I’m due for the next session — and it stresses me out. Right after chemo, I feel dopey, slow, and stupid which mostly just frustrates me and makes me a bit angry. But those low energy days that fall on the weekend after my chemo? Those are the worst.

Those two days become a strange emotional feedback loop. I don’t have any energy to do anything, so I sit on the couch and rest. This gets boring fast. Once I’m bored, I start to feel unhappy, and I know it’s because I’m bored. I try to think of something to do, and get overwhelmed at the thought of it, so I don’t do anything, and then I start to feel depressed because I am bored. And once I’m depressed about being bored, I get more bored and frustrated. And then I start to look for people outside of myself to talk to, preferably in person. Except that it’s the weekend, and it’s December, so everyone I know is exceedingly busy doing family/holiday things, and they don’t have time to just show up at my house for a cup of tea or to hang out for hours with no real purpose. So I feel more lonely, and send out a sad, basically pointless call on various communications channels for someone — anyone — to come visit me. i know it’s pointless, because those vague requests for visits have never successfully attracted a visitor. And then I feel sorry for myself on top of the bored depressed inertia.

I don’t like feeling sorry for myself, but once I’m there, it’s really hard to feel better. I start feeling worse about everything that crosses my mind. I have trouble imagining when chemo will be over and remembering how it feels to not feel as bad as I do at my lowest point, and it’s painful and demoralizing. I look at my daughters and wonder where I’ll find the energy to play with them, because there is no reserve left. I think about how it’ll feel to be able to think straight and write clearly and hold a fork without shaking again, and I get frustrated that everyday things are so hard.

All of this was weighing on me heavily. And then I started to think about Christmas.

I love Christmas usually. This year, though, it’s complicated. Mostly because of the cancer thing.

They’ve finally scheduled my IV port surgery. The original requisition got lost somewhere, so the hospital never called me. I was suspicious about that. Once they realized it had be lost, my doctor resubmitted a requisition and I heard back within a couple of days when my surgery was booked for: the morning of December 24th.

I’m looking forward to having the port for chemo, especially after my last session. My arm felt like it was burning for a week or more, and the chemo took an extra two hours just for the one drug that burns my arm, because they had to dilute it with lots of saline and then slow down my intake of it. I have crappy veins and I’m sensitive to the Dacarbazine. The port will make it better.

But I really don’t want to have surgery the day before Christmas. It’s a fact, and it can’t be moved up (my doctor apparently tried, but no luck). I don’t want to be sedated on Christmas eve. I don’t want to be recovering on Christmas day. And I didn’t really want my next chemo session (December 16th) to be without a port. All of these things added to my general unhappiness over the past couple of weeks. And then five days after Christmas I’m back in chemo. And I won’t see much of my friends because they’ll all be busy with family, and our extended family other than Adam’s brother is all in Ontario. I’ll be too tired or in recovery to do anything fun. I want to make the best of Christmas… but it’s hard, and thinking about it just makes me kind of depressed.

So this was all on my mind over my lowest point in my cycle, when I am most prone to loneliness, depression, and feeling weak and useless.

And then Pandra got a fever.

She had a cold already. But sometime over the weekend, a fever developed, and she was absolutely miserable. She started waking up and not being able to go back to sleep because of the discomfort, and Adam was the only one who could take care of her. He took Monday off so he could do just that, since I need to avoid illnesses that include fevers. And then she was the same (or worse) on Monday night. And through Tuesday. Adam took her in to the doctor’s office, where they found that she had an ear infection in both ears. Her inability to sleep, and her obvious ongoing pain, became much clearer. Wednesday, she seemed to be feeling a lot better, and we were relieved to be thinking about sending her back to daycare on Thursday morning. But then Wednesday night her fever came back, and she spent more of the night awake than she did asleep.

Five days straight, Adam had to get up multiple times in the middle of the night, for hours at a time sometimes, to take care of a baby, and then miss work the next day to take care of a baby. If I could have taken over, if I had been allowed to, I would have in a second; the feeling of utter helplessness while I watched her feel so much pain, on top of coughing and crankiness and exhaustion, and not being able to cuddle with her or do much of anything to make her feel better… it just broke my heart. And watching Adam take on all that responsibility, and get more and more exhausted and delirious with lack of sleep, was beyond frustrating. There’s only so much SuperDad the world can ask from one person, and he was getting close to a breakdown. It got tense.

This is Pandra demanding that Adam get her dressed and take her out of the house. She was persistent.
This is Pandra demanding that Adam get her dressed and take her out of the house. She was persistent.

We kept her home on Thursday as well, and she slept some during the day. The antibiotics for the ear infections seemed to finally be working, and she was feeling better. Pandra hadn’t left the house since Friday of last week, and Adam hadn’t been out since Sunday — they were both going stir crazy. She finally bullied Adam into taking her out for a walk. She was feeling pretty much normal (if exhausted) by the end of today, and there was finally no sign of a fever. But Adam has already missed four days of work and his office Christmas party. We are hoping beyond hope that Pandra sleeps through tonight, and there is absolutely no fever to be found. And I’ve managed to catch Pandra’s cold (although not the fever) even though we tried so hard to avoid it.

So now I’m out of the depression phase, but I’ve got a cold, and I’m grumpy, and I’m starting to count down the days to my next chemo session with a growing sense of unease. Adam is exhausted and grumpy. Pandra is getting better. And Lyra just keeps on keeping on. Our friends are going above and beyond, doing things like bringing us dinner and delivering groceries when we need them. They are all beautiful people who we love dearly.

But I have to admit that this week is one of the times I’ve felt like having family nearby — family that could take Pandra overnight, or help us take care of her when she’s sick occasionally so Adam doesn’t have to miss so much work when I can’t pick up the parenting slack, or sleep over at our house for a day or two so we can escape to a hotel room and get a solid night of sleep alone — would make a world of difference. Usually we make things work. And we will get through this rough patch, too, with the support of our friends. But so much pain could have been alleviated with the help of someone who could make that extra commitment that you can only ask of family.

Most of the time I can accept that this is not something that we have access to. But this week, it’s been hard.

And life goes on.

The summer of transitions and change

Autumn starts officially in a few days. There’s a lot going on in my life right now, and I feel like there’s been a lot going on since June. This has been a summer full of change.

Pandra turned one on June 17th. I started to write about it, and ran out of time in between living my life and taking care of two children. This was all I managed to write before it became an abandoned document:

A year and a day have passed since I went into labour with you, Pandra. I was excited, anxious, and not quite ready for you to arrive, but arrive you did at 9pm on Father’s Day, and we were ultimately happy to greet you to this world.

In the last year you’ve grown and changed so much, and shown me just how different two little girls from the same parents, living in the same family dynamics, can really be. You’re brave and bold and willing to try new things — from climbing to random food opportunities — without a second thought. You move so fast sometimes I have to run to chase you down. You’re constantly taking in the world, ready to react to anything, ready to say “Hi!” to anyone who looks at you, and if they don’t notice you respond by saying “Hi, hi, hi, hi, hi, hi, hi! Hiiiiiiiiiiii!” until they do.

Your infectious smile still makes your eyes crinkle up, and you’re in the pointing-at-everything phase, which is more fun than I can explain. Apparently, in your eyes, everything is both new and amusing at the same time. Exploring how things fit into other things is one of your favourite pastimes; I can watch you play on the floor, moving from toy to toy, trying to stuff blocks into anything, then taking them back out over and over and over again, and you’ll do it happily for a half hour straight sometimes. Your focus and determination is impressive. I find blocks inside many things where they probably shouldn’t be — like in shoes, behind the ps3, in kitchen cabinets, and scores of other places I just haven’t had time to look into yet I’m sure.

Going round and round and round in a circle game
Going round and round in a circle game

And now, at fifteen months, she’s even more interesting. She’s obsessed with shoes, and she enjoys carrying around stuffed animals. She loves food, and she loves making noise, and she has replaced the constant hi’s with nonstop “daddy! Daddy! Daaaaa…dy!” Just today, she said her own version of Lyra (Yie-ya!). She loves books and being outside and sitting in the grass and eating and so much more.

We took a vacation – a long weekend excursion, really – to Seattle, where we went to fun touristy things and took in a Barenaked Ladies / Ben Folds Five show. It was my last fun weekend before returning to work, and it was a lovely getaway without being too far from home.

Lyra is growing up

And then, on July 9th, Lyra turned five. And I wanted to write something for her, but I didn’t have the focus or the energy to do it, and it never happened. We had a haphazardly planned birthday party at a local park and beach, complete with her requested Transformers scavenger hunt. There was chaos and children all around us, but somehow it all came together with the help of some wonderful friends, and the party was a success. And my little Lyra was five years old, and ready to go to Kindergarten in September.

We tried to fill her summer up with awesome, fun things like daycamp at the Vancouver Aquarium (she loved it!) and a trip to Cultus Lake Water Park (she’s now addicted to waterslides) and other exciting activities. By the end of the summer, she was completely wiped out.

And then there was my work

Somewhere in the middle of that, my maternity leave ended and I had to go back to work. Financially we were a bit messy because there was a four week gap between my last mat leave pay and my first back-at-work pay, but I planned for it and set aside cash and it worked out fine.

And then I was at work for about a month before I was offered a new job at a different organization – focusing on project management with a web and software development company that works primarily for non-profit organizations. There couldn’t be a better fit for me, and I would have been foolish to pass it up. And by that point I really felt like I had done as much for the David Suzuki Foundation as I could in the nearly seven years I had been there. It was time to move on.

But that transition between jobs created another pay period gap, and this one I wasn’t as prepared for. It still worked out fine in the end, but it was a challenging couple of weeks, and we’re still recovering from that on top of paying for full time child care for two children, which we hadn’t needed to do while I was on maternity leave. Plus, we had various days that our daycare was closed, that we realized was going to be hard to deal with, since we have no family leaving nearby who can help us out with the girls. Everything was a challenge, it seemed.

Life was complicated, but we were working through it. I was excited to be starting a new job, and happy with everything in my life. The challenges were nothing more than mildly irritating, most of the time.

Kindergarten is a different world

Lyra started Kindergarten at the beginning of September, with a gradual entry into full days at school. I had to learn how to pack lunches that she would eat, and how to get her and Pandra to their respective care facilities (nowhere near each other, of course) and still make my train on time to get to work. Adam’s mother visited from Ontario and helped us immensely with child care challenges for two weeks.

It was another series of transitions and upheaval, and it was not easy, but we kept working through it, because that’s what you have to do. I find it hard to believe that the beginning of September was really only a few weeks ago, and that this is only Lyra’s second week at school.

She’s loving Kindergarten. Today she told me that she has a friend, and she actually remembered her friend’s name. This is not a common thing for Lyra. Most days she doesn’t want to tell us about what she did if we ask, so I’m trying to learn the balance of showing her that I want to know about her day without pressuring her to give me a full report. She has to come to me with what she wants to talk about – there’s no getting it out of her otherwise. She’s practically a teenager already, sometimes, with the way she talks to us. “Mom, I don’t want to tell you about my day!!”

But she’s so happy going to school most days (when she isn’t having a super-tired morning) and she comes home happy. I’m just glad that school is such a good experience for her so far. I will continue to silently hope that it never turns into my school experience… but she’s much more confident a child than I ever was, so I’m hoping that helps.

And of course…

If you’re keeping track of my recent posts, you already know about the exciting journey I’m taking through the Canadian health care system. And this comes on the tail end of what is probably the biggest series of changes I’ve ever been through in my lifetime. The summer felt long, and short. It was full of sunshine and smiles and adventure and change. My family grew older, and our ties to each other grew stronger, and we’ve had a wonderful time with each other.

On September 4th, just before all of the health issues came crashing down around us, Adam and I had our eight wedding anniversary. We were too broke to celebrate it, much like we were too broke to celebrate Adam’s birthday on August 12th. I’m hoping to find a way to celebrate both of these things around October 1st, which is my birthday, but we may not be able to spend any money around then either. We’ll just keep putting it off until we can manage it. It’s just not time yet, I guess.

And so, with the end of summer and the beginning of fall, I’m hoping to see a bit less transition and a bit more settling in to routines, figuring out how we work, and working on this lymphoma thing, if that’s what it is. For now I’ll just ride the big wheel and see what’s on the other side, I guess.

To my mother on Mother’s Day

My mom lives very far away, and I miss her. We’ve had all kinds of the usual challenging relationship moments that a woman can only experience with her mother, of course, but that doesn’t make me miss her any less.

My mom
This is my mom. She likes fixing things.

I miss her when I relax in the evening with a cup of tea.
I miss her when I want to complain about my stubborn eldest daughter.
I miss her when I want to show her the fun new baby tricks my youngest daughter has this week.
I miss her when I need to just have that one-on-one sort of talks about nothing and everything that you can only have with your mother.
I miss her when I want to rant about things that I don’t have control over but just need to rant at someone who won’t hold it against me.

And I miss her when I realize that for some things, when you’re dealing with your own daughters, the only person you can think of to talk to is your mother, because chances are good she had to deal with something similar from you.

Nothing makes you understand what your mother has been through better than becoming a mother. And while the way she did things might not necessarily be how you would handle the same situation, at least once you’re a mom yourself you start to understand just why she handled it that way. Because sometimes you do what you have to so you can survive the moment with as little fallout as possible. And sometimes you do what you feel is right, even if no one else thinks so, because you are the mom and sometimes you really are right, and everyone else can’t see all the sides that you see. And sometimes you just make mistakes and move on, because dwelling on them doesn’t help anyone, and there are children to raise in the meantime.

At some point you realize that you’re kind of lucky she didn’t just throw up her hands and give up on you, because you know intimately now — no matter how impossible and unmanageable and ridiculous and frustrating things get, there’s no quitting being mom. It’s not like you don’t know that before you have kids, but when you do have them, you understand it.

So I thank my mom for all the usual things you thank a mom for: being there, raising me, teaching me, helping me through stuff, letting me figure stuff out on my own. And I thank her for giving me her best, and for not hiding the hard stuff. I thank her for being real, and being herself, and letting me do the same. Everything she’s done has done more than even I know to make me into the woman — and mother — that I am today. So thanks, mom. I miss you and I love you.

Reasons given by my four-year-old when she wakes up in the middle of the night

It’s the luck of the draw. Sometimes you produce a child that sleeps. Sometimes you don’t. Our oldest is a preschooler now — and at four years old she’s almost as terrible a sleeper as she was as a wee baby. Her little sister sleeps far better at eight months than the older one ever has.

Not enough sleep at night leads to passing out on the couch for mommy. Not usually for Lyra, though.
Not enough sleep at night leads to passing out on the couch for mommy. Not usually for Lyra, though.

It’s a rare night that doesn’t find her standing beside our bed staring at us in the darkness or wandering out to the living room where we’re watching an episode of Doctor Who or playing video games; sometimes in tears, sometimes just waiting for the right moment to speak, standing and staring at us creepily. And it’s some of the things that she says that are the icing on the cake.

“Freckles fell off my bed” – she sleeps on a futon. Freckles the three-foot-long stuffed lizard toy half-slid off the futon. Apparently it was easier to get up, open the door, come in to our room, wake us up, make us retrieve Freckles and place him next to her on the bed again than it was to just reach over and pick it up herself. This has been used more than once.

“I have a bad song in my head and it makes me not sleep.” – In this case, the music from Super Mario Galaxy. Yeah, I get that. I told her to hear a Deadmau5 song instead. It only kind of worked.

“My pillow is too hot.” – Umm. What?

“I can’t find my Quetzalcoatlus” – Who can even pronounce that at 3am?

“I don’t want to use my pillow anymore.” – Then maybe just push it off the bed and go back to sleep? This requires an announcement?

“I have to do my pee.” – Us: You’re in the living room. Please go to the bathroom. No, don’t take off your pyjama pants in the middle of the living room… the bathroom is down the hall. Wait, that’s mommy & daddy’s bedroom… back up there. Into the bathroom you go. And done.

“I had a bad dream about tiny robots on the floor.” –  Curse you tiny robots. Curse you!

“My leg/arm/eye/stomach hurts.” – When asked to point to where it hurts, she either can’t do it or changes her mind to something else that hurts.

“Your game/video is too loud.” – Oops. We’ll turn that down.

“I’m sad.” – When asked why, she doesn’t know. Acknowledge the sad and move on.

“I lost my penguin.” – To her credit, she tried to find the penguin first; by turning on every light, dragging blankets and sheets across the room, and upending everything in sight. It was on her bed.

“My cars aren’t parked.” – Followed by a trip to the living room to park her cars, if she thinks she can get away with it.

“I’m ready to wake up. Is it time to wake up? I want to watch a video. Can I play games on the computer?” No. Just no.

“What are you guys doing?” – We’re sleeping. Or we were. Now we’re silently raging against the darkness, or crying into our pillows. We miss you, sleep.

 “I’m really, really awake, and I don’t know what to dooooo.” – For the love of all things good, please just go back to sleep. If you can’t sleep, read a book to yourself. But please let us sleep now, it’s 3am.

“I don’t have any company. You and Daddy get to sleep together, but I’m all alone.” – Heartbreaking, but you won’t fit in our crowded bed. When your sister gets older you can share your room and complain about it to her from the top bunk.

 “Daddy, you have to put the toilet seat DOWN when you’re done!” – After a bathroom break at 2 in the morning. Normally she goes back to bed right away. This time she had to come and tell us about her irritation with the toilet seat. She has a point, daddy. This could be my favourite one… who knew it started so early?

“I’m lonely.” – Actual translation: I’ve run out of plausible reasons to be awake and this is my last ditch effort to get you up. That doesn’t make you feel any better to hear it from your four-year-old daughter. When did she learn what lonely means?

I know that I’ve missed a lot of great excuses for not sleeping, but I’m generally too incoherent in the middle of the night to remember some of the amazing things she says to us when she wakes up. If we’re in bed it’s usually her dad that tucks her back in, because as soon as I move the baby magically knows that I’ve left the room and wakes up, and that’s the last thing we want in the middle of the night.

At least I know where she gets that feeling of ‘when I sleep I miss out on everything amazing that’s happening!’ I feel exactly the same way most of the time. I’ve just learned to ignore it, and have spent enough hours of the night awake, bored, and lonely to know that usually I’m not missing out on anything.

Happy new year and welcome to 2013!

Lyra dressed the family up as Butterfly Dragons for Halloween this year.
Lyra dressed the family up as Butterfly Dragons for Halloween this year.

The new year arrived for me with a terrible bout of the flu. I got sick on January first and spent the next week alternating fevers, chills, and whole-body aches. I even got Adam to stay home from work for a day to take care of the girls so I could just be sick. I should have made him take two days off, but I felt guilty so I sent him to work. Fortunately for me I have local friends who were willing to help keep Lyra entertained.

When I was finally on the mend, both Adam and Lyra caught it and were sick for days. Pandra caught a milder version of it; she only had a fever for one day instead of three, fortunately. In retrospect, she may have just been teething and had a mild cold. The rest of us suffered from all the usual flu symptoms — aches and pains, fever, nonstop chills, and a headache that didn’t go away for about a week.

Yes, the first two weeks of 2013 have been challenging. But we’re on the mend now — just working on evicting the bronchitis that followed the flu. We’re all nearly better, finally.

Although I’ve missed the standard beginning-of-the-year timing, this still seems like a great time for a family update. Welcome to the Silvers Year In Review!

Sporting the 'Vancouver Mom' uniform - babywearing rain poncho, baby, coffee.
Sporting the ‘Vancouver Mom’ uniform – babywearing rain poncho, baby, coffee.

Jenny

I’m half-way through my maternity leave and trying not to think about going back to work yet. The idea is scary, and the complicated future I’m looking at is just plain terrifying. My 1.5 hour commute is going to be awful with two kids in daycare, and then in September Lyra will be starting full-day Kindergarten, which means she’ll need after school care. I haven’t started looking for daycare options yet, but I realized this week that I must do so soon if I want to get this figured out. That means I have to think about work to some extent, because I need to know what the big picture is going to look like before I can sort out the little details. Thinking about it is overwhelming on the heels of the flu and bronchitis, so I haven’t dealt with it yet.

Otherwise, I’ve started to feel a bit too ‘stay-at-home-mom’-ish, so I’m trying to find all sorts of random web projects to fill the void. I’m volunteering some web work for a local mountain bike organization, I’m working on some rewrites for a friend’s website, and I’m setting up another friend’s new website to support her creative work. None of this is really fulfilling, but at least it’s something to pass the time and keep me a little bit sharp.

What I want is a creative project, but I can’t seem to come up with one that interests or excites me. I had one idea, but it required external input that wasn’t really forthcoming, so I’m abandoning it for now. Perhaps it will be revisited someday. In the meantime, I’m wracking my brain trying to come up with a creative, interesting writing project.

I’ve also decided to take up running, because I haven’t been able to get out on my bike so much lately. I’m doing it properly with a learn-to-run clinic, and hoping I don’t hate it too much because exercise is good for me. I’ve been out once so far, and ouch. I need to get on my bike more once the season gets better. I’m weak and don’t want to ride in the wet and cold weather.

Instead of exercise and creative work, I’ve been playing with children when they’re awake and playing Civilization 5, Red Dead Redemption, and Mass Effect 3 when they’re not. Perhaps not the most fulfilling use of my time, but it’s sure a lot of fun. Oh, and Lyra makes me play Bastion sometimes so she can watch me play.

Adam shares his joy at finding a remote controlled astronaut.
Adam shares his joy at finding a remote controlled astronaut.

Adam

Adam is enjoying his no-longer-new job. He’s been there for more than a year now, and it’s keeping him interested and challenged, so he’s overall pretty happy with the state of affairs. He’s also playing various games — Super Mario Galaxy and Zelda: Twilight Princess with Lyra, and MechWarrior Online.

He’s been avidly following all the space/science news, of course, with the Mars Rover and Canadian Chris Hadfield up in the Space Station, among other things. Lyra gave him a microscope she found at Value Village for Christmas. It’s fantastic; brand new in the box from 1971 or so. He hasn’t had a chance to really use it yet, but he’s looking forward to looking at very small things with Lyra’s help… once she figures out how to properly look through it.

The more Lyra grows, the more I think he enjoys spending time with her and sharing his enthusiasm about things with her. She knows the names of all the planets and can identify them because he’s shared his astronomy love with her. They bond over things like Transformers and video games they can play together. It’s lovely to watch him share these things with her, and watch her respond so enthusiastically. The two of them have a blast together. He’s a great daddy.

I’ve been making him put Pandra to bed more often lately, too, in the hopes that she falls for it someday. It hasn’t been entirely successful yet, but I’m stubborn. Unfortunately when it comes to Pandra, daddy means playtime, not sleeptime. We’ll just have to keep working on that.

Lyra and Swoop the Quetzalcoatlus have many adventures
Lyra and Swoop the Quetzalcoatlus have many adventures

Lyra

Ah, Lyra. Four has been a fantastic year for her. She’s clever and learning how to be effectively manipulative, as clever children do. Her current obsessions include dinosaurs (there are so many of them that didn’t exist when I was a kid, and she knows them all by name), Deadmau5, collecting realistic animal toys — the toy-like ones just aren’t suitable in her eyes — and playing video games. She has her own Chrome profile and can click on appropriate bookmarks to take her to her favourite games, or to Youtube to find good live videos of Deadmau5 shows.

It’s so much fun watching her learn language. She asks what words mean all the time, and sometimes we struggle to explain them. When she asked us why New Year’s Eve was important, we couldn’t answer her. It felt like a learning experience for us… Arbitrary dates are very hard to explain, and when we tried it became even more meaningless.

One of the funniest things she does lately is tell jokes. They’re usually terrible at best, or make no sense whatsoever, but that’s what makes it so awesome. Her first joke she learned from a cartoon dog on the PBS Kids website:

“Why do cows have bells? Because their horns don’t work!”

Everyone laughs when she tells this one, so it’s become a staple in her story-telling. We’ve heard it so many times now that we’ve begged her to learn new jokes. And that’s when she makes up her own jokes that don’t make any sense:

“When cats laugh water comes out of their noses!”

Still pretty funny, but in a different way.

I’ve made her get into the new My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic show because of my own love of My Little Pony. Fortunately for both of us the show is AWESOME, and provides some fantastic female role models and realistic situations in a magical pony setting. She enjoys it and has a bunch of the toys. Sometimes we play ponies together and I’m reminded of the times I spent fabricating a My Little Pony world with depth, drama, and endless storytelling opportunities. I still have those ponies in storage. I’m anxious to share them with her and her sister.

She’s grown so much taller in the last six months that people comment on it regularly. She’s now 43″ – close to four feet tall — and still the same weight that she’s been for almost two years, but stretching out and growing up.

Four is a great age. It’s once again the best age she’s ever been. She’s becoming such an interesting little girl.

Kitchen sink bathtime!
Kitchen sink bathtime!

Pandra

At six months old, Pandra is still developing her own personality. It seems like she’s going to be more active than Lyra, but I can’t be sure. She has an infectious grin that hints at mischief and always reaches her eyes. She’s comfortable being passed around to whomever wants to take her. Her favourite person in the world is still Mommy, but her big sister Lyra is definitely right up there and always makes her laugh. And she loves playing with her Dad, of course.

She’s on the verge of crawling now, and can hold herself sitting upright for a long time. She only topples over now if she’s reaching for something and forgets to keep herself up. As for crawling, she can get around by dragging her body across the ground, but she’s also up on her hands and knees rocking back and forth all the time — it’s only a matter of time before she gets it figured out.

As of this past week, Pandra has four teeth — two on the top and two on the bottom. Her newfound top teeth help her make the most irritating grinding sound in the world. I try not to let it bug me, but it makes me crazy when she clacks them together and grinds them against each other. Even thinking about it makes me shudder. But I can’t really blame her – a week and a half ago, there were no top teeth there. It’s all new!

She’s also just starting to copy things. Just today I noticed she was trying to wave back when someone waved at her. She understands when I make the sign for milk (and say milk) — I know because she gets crazy excited and tries to attack my shirt with her face until I make milk available to her once I’ve said it. She might even be signing it herself soon.

Pandra still looks like her sister did at the same age, but she’s got her own features too. She’s so much bigger than Lyra was — she even fits appropriately-sized baby clothing! Her cheeks, while still huge and ridiculously cute, aren’t quite as crazy as Lyra’s were at the same age. There is no question that these kids are related, though. Some photos make it impossible to tell which is which.

It feels like this time in Pandra’s life is going by so much quicker than it did with Lyra. Maybe it’s because I’m busier, keeping two kids happy and healthy instead of just one. Time is going faster. If I think about it too much I feel melancholic. But I love having this year off to spend with her and her sister.

2013

And so that’s the family as of the beginning of 2013. This year is going to be a lovely one. We have plans to travel back east for a family visitation. We’re hoping to get some camping in with the girls, and do some little weekend road trips to random destinations. We’re getting a puppy in the springtime. There will be adventures!

I don’t know exactly what’s in store for us this year, but we’re a happy little family unit and whatever we do together will be fun. Even if it’s just staying home and playing video games with each other.