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.)

Have we reached peak parenting?

Current parenting win: I knit a sweater that a child is excited to wear. She even wore it to school this morning.

This morning I could hear Oonagh unloading the dishwasher while I was still laying in bed. She can’t reach the upper cupboards (even standing on a stool) so when it is her week to unload she leaves most of the dishes on the counter. However, when I came downstairs the dishes were all away which means one of her sisters helped her (it was Moira). The three girls were sitting at the table eating their breakfast and having a conversation as I sat all bleary from sleep and watched them. Then Moira announced it was time to get dressed and off they went.

This is not a typical morning.

Some days the dishwasher doesn’t get unloaded until after school no matter how many times I ask. Some days getting dressed is a fight.

But not this morning. The goal, I found out later, was to get ready for school so they still had time to play The Game. We call this “The Game” because there is always a never ending game going on – the toys and rules are different but its always The Game. Sometimes when I tell Oonagh it is bed time she screams at me “but we haven’t finished The Game yet!” And I laugh at her because The Game is never finished.

Anyway, my girls are hilarious and I love how they play with each other. They fight a lot too and dynamics are changing as people get older and the oldest of them is heading into puberty. But compared to my early mommy writings on this blog the old adage “things will get easier” is so true.

Part of yesterday’s game consisted of a fashion show where they barely wore anything but these handknits given to us by a friend, it was -25 degrees outside. They then got dressed in full winter gear and went and played outside.

This morning was easy – I even went to the basement later to get something and ALL THE LIGHTS WERE OFF.

In fact, it seemed almost a little too easy. I keep wondering if we have reached Peak Parenting? Years and years of little irksome issues that compound with child rearing to give you one perfect morning. (Made more perfect by the fact that no one is sick and they all went to school.)

I hope we get more than this one perfect morning. I should make something really challenging for lunch just to see if they will eat it. (Just kidding. Why would I want to jinx things?)



Birthdays and a Fast Fashion rant

Now we are Six – and the love of dinosaurs continues.

I had big plans to write a loving letter to Oonagh for her 6th birthday (which was on Friday) and something about World Cancer Day – which was yesterday – but things got away from me. We have had multiple illnesses in the family culminating in my own body deciding to purge everything yesterday. The answer to the question, ‘why is mummy sick?” I think can be easily explained away by the fact that I have had a sick Oonagh practically on top of me at all times for the last two weeks. Not every illness is about cancer even when you have cancer, but sometimes I wonder if I get hit harder because my body is so busy fighting everything else.

So instead of any of those things I’m just moving on and looking at today as a fresh start – like every day should be but I’m better at living in the past and wallowing in regrets even if they are minor.

I had my “Monday morning meeting” (with myself) this morning instead of yesterday. I’m building up my to-do list for the week and even managing to cross some things off of it. I’m pretty sure Oonagh had a good birthday. I knit her a beautiful sweater which she will most likely never where except for the one time I’m going to try and get a photo of her in it (which I haven’t bothered to do yet). She is going through a phase where everything is uncomfortable except one pair of black leggings and a Pokémon t-shirt and I’m not going to fight it. She is the third child after all and I have been down this road before.

I made her pants too but haven’t finished putting the elastic waist in because I suspect these pants will also be rejected so what’s the rush. It has been years since I’ve sewn an article of clothing and I had to re-teach myself so many things but managed to enjoy the process so I’m counting it as a win. Those pants were also made from fabric that has been languishing in my stash for almost a decade and it feels good to use some of it up. It is hard to compete with the cheap tackiness of stores like Justice with their cutesy unicorn-barfed-on leggings. The Justice website say they are “empowering girls” – and they mean that by way of slogans on their shirts – but have sketchy labour practices in countries known for not doing enough for workers rights. On their website they say they have Supply Chain Transparency but according to the Good On You app their labour rating is “Not Good Enough” because they “source from countries with high or extreme risk of labour abuse.” So, I suspect this “empowerment” doesn’t stretch to the girls making the clothes. (Duh.) Also, their environmental rating is “very poor” which doesn’t surprise me because the clothing is already falling apart before it even leaves the store.

Anyway, to end today’s post here is an oldy-but-goody of our birthday girl.

Kicked out of my own kitchen (because it isn’t just “my” kitchen).

We had a great weekend. I knit. I sewed. I even left the house and hung out with a friend (one of my goals this year: to say yes to invitations). Yesterday Miss Oonagh woke up sick so I got a lot of snuggles. Plus we had book club on Friday which means I am DONE with Us Conductors and never have to read the book again. (Why no, I did not enjoy it, thank you for asking.) Today Oonagh and I are home and I’m taking a break from snuggles to write. Also, what I have dubbed as my “cancer period” has finally started so I am basically hemorrhaging right now and can’t leave the house anyway. (Really looking forward to a nap!)

This weekend I also thought a lot about how important it is to empower your children.

On Friday Fionnuala made cupcakes. Saturday morning she made pumpkin pancakes and then planned out lunch for Sunday – which she also made: Oh She Glow’s Mac and Peas (It was delicious).

She’s eight.

Of course, I had to help her but I tried to step back as much as possible and just be near enough to answer questions. During the course of the weekend she learned to double a recipe, peel potatoes and get over her fear of knives. I was nervous about her being around the stove but tried not to freak her out by showing my nervousness. I didn’t always do a great job because at one point she told me I had to leave the kitchen. (Small child! Hot stove!)

Fionnuala, age six, cooking at the stove.

Years ago we tried to have a schedule where the kids helped out in the kitchen one night a week – but we aren’t that great with those kind of schedules in this house. Of course we have a rotating chore chart so they always have chores to do (and no, they don’t get paid for them – just like we don’t get paid for them) but the cooking thing never worked out and they were young. I find it works better for us if someone decides they want to spend time in the kitchen – like Fionnuala did this weekend. Initially it seems like a lot more work for me but it really wasn’t – I mean, one of us would have been in the kitchen cooking anyway because everyone still needs to eat. But my initial reaction when confronted with a child who wants to take over in the kitchen is “ugh” because that involves a lot of patience and guidance on my part for something I could just do myself.

My initial reaction to a lot of things is “ugh” but thing almost always work out well – I just need to get out of the way of myself.

From day one my parenting philosophy has been to raise people I can stand being around as adults. (The fact that I most likely won’t be around when they are adults isn’t lost on me but the goal hasn’t changed.) When I was first diagnosed we also knew that the girls had to become more independent because I just couldn’t be relied upon to do every little thing for them anymore and their dad still has to put in a full day at work. Unless I’m making porridge they all get their own breakfast in the morning. They can make themselves snacks (smoothies are popular). They have to make sure they are organized and ready for school because if they forget to bring a snack to school or their homework I’m not bringing it for them even if the school is across the street. This frees up a lot of my time and brain space – which I appreciate.

Also, I know so many people who reached adulthood and didn’t know how to cook (or do laundry, or clean a kitchen) and I just can’t imagine. I love cooking because I love eating. And while our whole foods, plant-based diet might seem strict or limiting to some it has felt like one big culinary adventure for me.

I will admit, however, that it is kind of nice being kicked out of the kitchen once in a while. Giving up control is hard but I am getting so much more back in return – and so are the girls.

Meeting of the Cancer Club

Image is from a walk we took in the fall.
“Mum, take a picture of me in this tree!
Now take a picture of me in this tree!
Oh wait, this one too.”

Yesterday there was an impromptu meeting of the Cancer Club – which isn’t really a club and only has two members in it: myself and my friend with multiple myeloma. Our daughters dubbed it “the cancer club” because we try to get together for our bone juice (bisphosphonate infusion) appointments every three months. But this month she couldn’t come because her cancer took an aggressive turn for the worse – thankfully it has turned back but her story isn’t really mine to tell.

What I do want to talk about is the discussion we had which seemed so normal to us but upon reflection might seem weird to others.

Here is the thing about Stage IV cancer – you can be ticking along stable for months and then gone two weeks later. That is always in the fore front of our minds. It has happened time and again to women I know with metastatic breast cancer. It isn’t always like this of course, sometimes it is a long drawn out process. Sometimes it isn’t. None of us ever know how long we are going to get top-side but some of us know we aren’t going to get as long as we would like.

Anyway, this friend had a book to recommend about raising teenage girls. She and her husband are reading it and as there is the very real possibility that he will be left alone some day raising teenage girls (their girls are already teenagers) she thought, especially after the recent health scare, that it was a good idea they read it together. And she thinks it is a good idea that Mister and I read it together because there is a very real possibility he will be left alone raising teenage girls. These are the things you talk about in the cancer club. You don’t always cry about them either – often you laugh (at least we do) because what else can you do? Do we want to leave our husbands – who are also our partners and our very best friends – to raise our children alone. Not at all. But this is our reality and the longer you live with it the more you come to accept it. Cancer club discussions also include showing off your recent war wounds, discussing what you want for your funeral and what you definitely don’t want, and telling your friend that it is okay she hasn’t organized 10 years of family photos because it will give her family something to do when she is gone. (I’m the friend in that scenario and I appreciated this advice SO MUCH but I will probably still stress about those photos.)

We also talked about making plans. Because you can never stop making plans – and I didn’t realize how hopeful this action was until I was giving my dad the break down of our summer plans the other day. Because I am a PLANNER our summer holiday is booked, the AirBnB is booked, the summer camps are booked and all that is left to do is live our lives until it is time to leave and hope that cancer doesn’t throw any road blocks in our way. But back to my dad. We were on the phone and he needed the itinerary (I am his daughter through-and-through) and he said, “you’re making plans – that is so great” and he sounded so happy for me and it wasn’t until that moment that I realized how important making plans was – not just for myself but for every one around me. It gives us all hope and, as a mom with cancer, I feel like that is a big part of my job. (A job made much easier when one is feeling well I should add – when you are constantly battling sickness things tend to get a lot darker.)

Our plan for the summer is to take the girls out of school a little early and go on a road trip to the coast – and then come home and enjoy our city. My friend’s plan is to take the family to visit family in Europe. Let’s hope we both make it.

My little treehugger turns 6 in a week. That’s a whole other post but I couldn’t resist sharing these photos.