It’s not every day your young lady turns eleven

Birthday eclair for breakfast

Moira turned 11 on Monday. This makes a full 11 years of motherhood.

My girl is ridiculously sweet, sarcastic, funny and fiercely loyal to her friends – but can also be very caustic towards her sisters. She holds herself to a very high standard and has a hard time when other people don’t hold themselves to that same standard. People often comment about how much she is like me but, honestly, I think she is so much better and smarter than I was as a child. (And definitely better looking than I was in the fifth grade.)

It is hard to judge the person you were as a child. Recently I have been back in touch with people from elementary school (I am in the process of planning a reunion) and they have said they remember me as being “kind and funny”. I think that this could be the best compliment I could ever receive and I desperately hope it is true. I worry, I guess, that maybe there were times when I wasn’t as kind as I could have been and I feel like I have spent a lot of my adult years making up for this.

Every birthday the girls go through is bittersweet because I often wonder if it will be the last one I will be around for. I am, of course, ecstatic to be here but the lingering fear always hovers on the edges on the good days, and sits right on my (fragile) chest on the bad ones. Moira was seven when I was diagnosed and to still be here to see her turn 11 is pretty miraculous.

Eleven is such a great age. Sure, the hormones are kicking in and we have fully entered the tween years but the conversations are getting better (and she has always been a great conversationalist), the ability to do more activities together is increasing, and there is such joy in glimpsing the person she may become as an adult. I used to think that I had to leave all sorts of mementos behind for my girls when I died but having this extra time with them has made me realize that puts a sort of pressure on them (and me) they aren’t going to need when they grow up. Not everything from mummy needs to be infused with sentimental value that they feel compelled to cart around for the rest of their lives. I had once thought about writing a journal to each of them with my thoughts but that was a lot of work and what do they need something like that for? Instead I try and do things with them and give them memories – even if, in the future, those memories are vague and hazy – of being loved. My legacy to them will be that I was funny and kind and loved them fiercely. That we celebrated every birthday with the quiet honour it deserved because I was just so grateful to be their mother for whatever amount of time I am given.

These are the things I hope they remember.

Last night at a Wordfest event with our friend Jocelyn, drinking iced tea out of a wine glass and being both grown-up and not (sometimes the iced tea was drank through a licorice straw).

The view from here

I’m trying not to let my current state prevent me from getting writing done so right now laying in bed with the laptop on my lap. It isn’t comfortable but it isn’t as painful as sitting upright either and right now avoiding pain is what I am all about.

Yesterday I took a minor fall down the stairs which banged me up but, at the time, didn’t seem to cause any real damage. Except as the day went on an area of my ribs started to ache and by this morning it was full-blown pain. The chances that I cracked it are pretty good – after all, I have been know to crack ribs in my sleep just by laying on my side for too long. This is the thing with bone metastasis. It’s always there and always reminding me that it is there. Even when I’m feeling good and am considered stable my rib bones (where the cancer is) are still weak. I’ve spent the morning debating calling the oncologist but the last time this happened they told me to go to my family doctor to get a requisition for an x-ray and then I had to get the x-ray done and then the x-ray didn’t show anything because minor cracks and fractures don’t show up even though they hurt like hell. It showed up a month later though when I got my bone scan and the evidence of a recent fracture that was currently healing was right there. Honestly, just thinking about all those steps has me exhausted and I have to get out of this bed in 10 minutes to make lunch for my kids. There is nothing they can do for broken ribs anyway although at this point I would take any painkillers they offered because I don’t have any. Truthfully, the first couple days after a rib fracture I need the good drugs but I never have any on hand. This is something I’m going to have to fix at my next oncology appointment.

Anyway, I went into April feeling excited and focused (after weeks of the stomach flu going around the house). I have some pretty intense physio therapy exercises I am doing to try and fight the complications I have been having from my mastectomy last August and those are painful but at least they are helping me work towards a goal. With the rib pain I’m feeling pretty sorry for myself. I know it will pass but you know that feeling when the universe feels like it is conspiring against you? Yeah. I’ve got that feeling. But right now I’m trying to organize a reunion for my elementary school and I can do a lot of that laying down. Planning an Harry Potter-theme 11th birthday party that is being held in two weeks (and I haven’t started planning yet) is going to be more difficult.

Also, whenever I am bed-ridden my children freak out because they remember what it was like when I couldn’t get out of bed at all and then the mommy guilt takes over. (Another thing pain does is make one grumpy and, in my case, slow and stupid. It has taken me most of the day to get this blog post out there – my children have long since gone back to school from lunch and I wrongly posted this earlier and it didn’t show up and it took me a while to figure out what I had done wrong.)

Art by Elisabeth Alba on the Everyday Witch Tarot deck by Deborah Blake.

In less than a month I’m traveling east to go on a road trip with my sister Amandato Salem, Massachusetts. We are both really excited about this and get to bond over our love of all things witchy and historical. We have rented an AirBnB for five nights and then don’t have anything planned for after that which is taking me WAY out of my comfort zone (I’ve had all our summer vacation and activities planned and booked since early January) but my sister is more adventurous than I am so I’m relying on her to figure things out. (It’s not like I need *everything* planned. I just like to know where I am sleeping and that I will be able to make food instead of eating out a lot.) We also hope to stop in Concord, MA to visit the home of Louisa May Alcott.

Anyone else been to Salem (and area)? We are open to suggestions for things that might not be listed in the touristy guidebooks.

A random Monday in March

Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree. Except this tree isn’t lonely and gets birds in it all year no matter how cold it is because Canadian birds are TOUGH!

The weather has turned and spring feels like it is on it’s way. Of course, this could be a lie – I do live in Alberta after all. A conversation I often have with my children is, “mummy, can it really snow in every month of the year here?” The answer is yes and then I tell them about the time I was at the Canmore Folk Fest over the August long weekend (to see Janice Ian – but they don’t know who that is) and we had to sit in our sleeping bags while getting snowed on to listen to the music.

However, it is supposed to be +9 degrees today which means things are getting warm and slushy. Last week it was so cold the kids were still having indoor recess (-20 or colder with the windchill calculated into the decision).

Saturday night I went out for dinner and to the theatre with a friend and came home with a stomach ache. I thought maybe the food I had at dinner was too heavy but I hadn’t been feeling great before. That stomach ache turned into a full blown bout of stomach flu and I’m still feeling weak and shaky and afraid to eat much. Sadly this coincided with the Mister’s birthday yesterday. I got up long enough to watch him open his presents and then went back to bed for the rest of the day. Even now, as I write this, I turn around and look longingly at my bed knowing I will be back in it soon.

At least today I don’t feel as though I have puked up all my brain cells but it probably isn’t a good day to start ripping apart any stories or starting any major (and not major) projects. So, because my body is forcing me, I’m going to rest and read and maybe watch a movie with the Mister who is home today and not feeling so great himself. Ah, stomach flu – it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Have a great Monday!

What we are reading lately.

I love Fridays. I love Mondays too because the girls all go back to school and I can get back to a routine. But I also love Fridays because the girls don’t come home until 12:30 – and even though they have the afternoon off, that time difference gives me almost an extra hour to myself.

This extra time means I can tell you about this book series we are currently reading:

The Wells & Wong Mysteries by Robin Stevens. (Series is called Murder Most Unladylike outside of North America.) Agatha Christie-esque middle grade detectives set in the 1930s. Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are best friends who attend boarding school together. Moira and Fionnuala are loving these. So much so that I find I’m reading long after my throat has gotten sore. Also, they couldn’t wait for me to finish Poison is Not Polite – which we were reading together – and they both read First Class Murder, the book that comes after it. Now we have finished Poison is Not Polite and I am being forced to skip to reading Jolly Foul Play aloud and read First Class Murder on my own. This is very frustrating when I like things to GO A CERTAIN WAY but I certainly can’t let my stick-up-the-bum-mommishness ruin their enthusiasm about a book series. In fact they are enjoying it so much that they are on the hunt for second hand copies for us to keep and to give away to friends.

Hazel Wong is Chinese. Her family is rich and from Hong Kong. Robins often touches on how Hazel is treated by 1930’s British society. Hazel considers herself a proper English girl – mostly: dad was educated at Eton after all. Her best friend Daisy Wells is from an old aristocratic family that have title but little money (by aristocratic standards – genteel poverty as opposed to real poverty). But of course it is Hazel who often gets mistaken as a servant. I’ve mentioned the series to a couple of friends whose daughters would like to see more representation of themselves in books. I don’t feel I am qualified to make a judgement whether this is well done or not from their point of view. I know we all love Hazel. She is the smart and astute Watson to Daisy’s Sherlock.

I’ve really been enjoying mysteries lately – whether they are genuine old mysteries of Ngiao Marsh and Agatha Christie or the more modern Lady Julia Grey series and Veronica Speedwell series of Deanna Reybourn. We have taken to getting older BBC Agatha Christie DVDs out of the library too (the ones staring Joan Hickson). So far I haven’t been able to play my favourite game “spot the Harry Potter actor” while watching any of them though.

All this mystery reading has me wondering if I could write a mystery novel for the girls but I have so many other things on my plate to finish first. I did what I set out to do this week – submit my completed (or as completed as I can get it at this time, is anything ever really finished?) picture book manuscript to an agent. Now I’m trying to put it out of my head for a while and work on other things.

Other things I am reading:

Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women, by Harriet Reisen. This is in preparation for a trip I am taking in May when I hope to stop off in Corcord, MA.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. I’m listening to this on audio while I knit (almost done the third owlet sweater). It’s unusual that I would watch something before reading it but I finished the TV series recently and wanted to know more. The book is answering a lot of questions.

Anyone else watch A Discovery of Witches on TV? And are you a Miss Marple or a Hercule Poirot fan? I’m a Marple fan.

Never gonna give you up

People every where are giving up things for Lent (which starts today). Various friends have told me they are giving up chips, chocolate, coffee. Moira asked me what I was giving up and I joked “swearing” which is an f**king lie and probably impossible anyway – although I am quite good at not swearing in front of my children.

My real answer to Moira was this: I feel like cancer has made me give up enough in this life.

I thought this year instead of giving up something for Lent I would add something. Except usually once I set myself a hyper-specific task like “you will blog every day for 40 days” my inner-rebel immediately starts looking for ways to sabotage my efforts. But as I try to build up a writing practice maybe this isn’t such a bad idea? Who says all blogging has to have something illuminating to say anyway? Sometime it can be just a brain dump. And I rarely talk about writing on here but maybe I should as a form of accountability. Maybe what I need for Lent is 40 days of accountability. Of course, it doesn’t have to be for Lent. I’m not even a Christian. But it is -24 degrees out right now and we know it will probably be 40 days before Spring really arrives so maybe this is my waiting-for-Spring project.

I’ve almost got my first children’s story ready for sending out on agent queries. I know that this is going to take a long time and I’m prepared for that, but the agent research is overwhelming. I keep wondering how I can make the story better but at this point I think changes can only come from the outside. It’s that first step that is so terrifying. But I will be happy to get it out there into the world so I can say I have done so and then put it aside for a couple months (waiting for the rejection letter) and move on to my next story – which is almost finished as well. I know rhyming stories are not popular in children’s literature these days but I don’t care. The second story is about a little girl who is a mathematician in a family of witches and I love it even if no one else ever wants to publish it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about inclusivity in my writing lately too. How do I, as a cis-white woman, make my work accessible to all children? I think it is easier (for me) when writing picture books because I just provide the words. In the story that is going out to agents this week it is about a neighbourhood and, in my eyes, the possibilities for representation are endless – just like in a real neighbourhood. For my witch girl the same thing. I have given her a description because that is part of the rhyming scheme but the rest of her family and friends can be anything. My stories are usually about family or community dynamics with a twist – and every one has a family or a community (or they should). Once again I lament my lack of drawing skills because I can’t put my vision down on the page – but I can provide the words.

I find myself noticing that Representation Matters in little ways these days. A couple months ago one of my closest friends was in town visiting with her daughter. My friend is white, her husband’s family is from the Philippines. Their little girl was playing in our basement and found one of my daughters’ dolls that had pale skin and dark hair. She played with it for a while and then lost the doll (because honestly what she loved the most was the giant spider in our basement which she kept kissing and hugging and it was freaking adorable and I love her) . She picked up another doll, this one identical but with red hair – and stared at it for a moment and immediate threw it away and went looking for the dark haired doll – the doll that looked more like her. Subtle, but so important.

My babies (so many years ago) with their babies.

Also, I thought I would mention that Moira has trouble falling asleep a lot but lately I’ve had her listen to the Sleep Stories on the Calm app and it has been super helpful. Instead of going to bed worrying about how she isn’t going to fall asleep (and then keeping me awake because I’m worrying about how she can’t sleep – I never said she didn’t come by this problem honestly/genetically) she now looks forward to bedtime because she knows she gets a relaxing story. (In addition to me reading to them every night because I’m never gonna give that up.)