Monday, August 6, 2018

Gwyneth - Part 1

I have finally come to that place.

The place where I think I can tell the whole story - start to finish, beginning to end. 

The story of Gwyneth Maude Rowan Campbell.

*     *     *

When I finally recovered from the shock of my third pregancy of 2010, I found myself in a strange place.

I had been through a lot in the previous four years. The previous twelve months alone were filled with grief, joy, despair, ambivalence, and hope.

While I was stunned and somewhat excited by the voicemail on my phone confirming this pregnancy, I knew that I could not handle yet another miscarriage. I remember that I refused to start writing in another journal for this next baby - whom I'd nicknamed "Little Gumdrop" - until I got through the first ultrasound. I thought, No way. I cannot let my heart be ripped from my chest and ground into pieces again.

And so I did not allow myself to be excited. I told immediate family so they could be there for us in case things went wrong again, but inside, I kept telling myself not to get attached. Not to be excited. Not to share this news with anyone. I couldn't do it.

*     *     *

Sometime in January of 2011, I went to my first ultrasound. 

You cannot imagine my near ecstasy when the technician told me to look at the screen, and I saw what I knew - without any explanation - was my baby's heart beating on that monitor.

It was a moment I will carry with me for all my days on this earth.

I was crying, I was laughing, I was elated and scared and amazed all in one fell swoop.

*     *     *

That heartbeat - it changed me. Little did I know it would change my entire life.

My "little gumdrop" was a force to be reckoned with from the word go. She made herself known in every possible way. I had nausea that kept me from eating all day - only after 8pm could I keep anything down. And when I did - what was happening?!? Somehow I had been imbued with her father's tastebuds AND his metabolism.

I could eat like a truck driver. It was nothing for me to pound back chocolate bars, bags of chips, hungry man breakfast orders, extra cheese on everything - I have to admit, being pregnant was the time of my life in terms of eating! (After 17 weeks I'd only gained 4 pounds).

But there were some oddities. I suddenly had cravings for rootbeer floats. Which I happen to think rank among the most disgusting "foods" in the world. But while pregnant, I loved them. I couldn't tolerate cooking meat of any kind, and I didn't crave pickles. It seemed like I was having a fairly normal pregnancy.

I saw my family doctor for one more visit, and then received a spot with the local midwives. I was excited - my dream was for an at-home water birth. I was fairly terrified of delivery, but my biggest focus was on breastfeeding.

*     *     *

I had been introduced to the guru of all things breastfeeding - Dr. Jack Newman of the Newman Breastfeeding Clinic in Toronto - by my midwife. He had written the gold standard book of all things breastfeeding - aptly titled, Dr. Jack Newman's Guide to BreastfeedingI jokingly began referring to the book as my "breastfeeding Bible." 

It was the ONLY book I read about parenting or childbirth while pregnant.

Not What to Expect When You're Expecting. Not any of the other many books my friends recommended. 

Just Dr. Jack's book. It went with me everywhere. I pored over the illustrations and diagrams and photos and dog-eared my loaned copy until it was wearing thin.

Here's the thing: I yearned for the closeness of nursing my child. It was something that had been glaringly missing in my maternal line. Everyone in my family had given up - my sister, my mom (I don't think my grandmother or great-grandmother even bothered).

I still don't understand what drove me to be so obsessed about feeding my baby. Perhaps it was to prove everyone wrong - the doctor who told me my breasts didn't have the right "design" for nursing. My mother and sister who told me it was too hard and not to worry about it. 

And so I read and read and read. I told myself I didn't want to read all the other books or blogs or articles. I didn't want to hear all the things that could go wrong. I just knew that breast-feeding was the one thing I had to do right.

*     *     *

In March, I took a week's vacation during my school break to visit my university roommate who lived in Colorado. I hadn't told her I was expecting. She too was pregnant, with her second, and I was excited to surprise her at the airport with my new t-shirt, which simply said, "Pregnant is the new sexy."

Kelli and I shared a wonderful week together with her husband Jack and their 14-month-old daughter, Ellie. We talked all things babies, shared our dreams and baby names, and I even convinced her to risk trying some sushi - rebel that I am!

Midway through my visit, Kelli shared some upsetting news from the Emergency Room at the hospital where both she and her husband worked as nurses. A woman had been admitted at 26 weeks pregnant, and her water had broken.

We were both sobered by this news. I remember asking Kelli, "Will her baby even live?"

"Oh yes," Kelli assured me. "I'm sure she and her baby will be okay."

It was the first I'd known that a baby born so early could survive.

*     *     *

On my second appointment with the midwife, at the end of April 2011, I completed a standard urine test to check for protein levels. Generally I had been feeling well - the nausea had mercifully made itself scarce at this point - but I was experiencing some swelling that was a nuissance but nothing more. I was five months along and was getting back to running a few times a week. Things seemed to be picking up. 

After peeing on my test strip, I looked at the chart and saw that my colour was a bit higher than "normal." This of course meant nothing to me - I'd never experienced more than ten weeks of pregnancy before, and everything was new.

My midwife made a note of the elevated level, but assured me there was nothing to be worried about. I asked her about my swollen feet and hands. "I thought that didn't really happen until closer to the end?"

She reassured me, saying, "I don't think you have anything to worry about. We will see you again in a month."

I went home and wrote the date in my calendar for my third midwife appointment: May 27, 2011.

*     *     *

. . . to be continued . . . 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Workout Wars

Hello, readers!

It has been a busy month in my world. As a high school English teacher, I have been mired in marking and report cards - but that tunnel's light is getting bigger. And so - time for me to get back to my blog.

Lately, I've been having a recurring experience when I engage in (the dreaded!) small talk with coworkers: and everyone seems to be OBSESSED with working out and not eating anything that might possible have a calorie in it.

Of course, that last part might be slightly exaggerated - but truly, if I hear ONE MORE COWORKER telling me about getting up at 5am to go to the gym or to hit the treadmill, I will likely defenestrate them.

I too have been getting up at 5am for the past two months - but not to work out. Not even to make healthy lunches or meditate.

I have been - yep. MARKING.

As much as I love all the unsolicited mom advice about getting my children to bed by 7pm, it just does not work in our house. In fact, every time we decide to crack down and really get this bedtime thing sorted, it ends the same way: we fight with the kids for three hours, and they go to bed an hour LATER than the usual 9pm.

So all this means that the only time I have to complete my marking is in the morning before everyone gets up. Most days, I try to mark from 5am - 7am. It's a drag, but it's the only way I've found to manage the marking load since having two kids and returning to full-time teaching.

As I've gotten into a better schedule, I have been able to spend that time doing something I'm a bit more passionate about - sewing! It always frustrates me to try sewing in the evening or on a weekend. My kids have their play area in the same large rec room of our house, but they are adamant about inserting themselves into my activities. Stealing my scissors, turning the tension dials on my machines, unplugging my iron - you name it, they fuss with it.

Add to this that I am usually completely brain-weary after a day at work or on the weekends, and this had led to quite a few epic sewing mistakes.

So 5am has become this very strange yet peaceful, productive time for me to complete some sewing projects. It means I have the room to myself; it means my husband doesn't feel like I'm ignoring him; it means the kids don't distract me; it means that in those two hours, I accomplish more than I might in five hours of "distracted" sewing.

Last week I was sharing with a friend my annoyance at how many women complain to me that they "can't sew anything" (or bake pies, knit, quilt, preserve, etc.). My frustration laid in the fact that all it takes is TIME: we can only excel at activities we spend time perfecting.

And then it hit me - these women WERE perfect at something I wasn't: BEING BEAUTIFUL.

Now, don't get me wrong. This isn't a fishing-for-compliments expedition or a pity-party.

But truly: if the women I know who spend 1-2 hours A DAY working on their makeup, hair, clothing, meal planning, and exercise spent that time honing a skill or developing a hobby - they too could accomplish what I do. I'm not doing anything that hasn't been done by women in every culture around the world for thousands of years.

The problem is, as women, we've bought the Kool-Aid: we truly BELIEVE that we are only valuable for our appearance. In our efforts to develop careers, break the glass ceiling, and earn our place in a male-dominated world, we have somehow lost sight of those other tasks that are valuable, even if they are "traditional." We've quit cooking or sewing or canning fruit because that's domestic work - work to keep women "in the kitchen."

But for most women, they are not replacing this domestic work with meaningful career work. Instead, they slog away at somewhat interesting jobs, work too many hours, still carry most of the mental load of a household - but without the fulfilment of ACTUALLY accomplishing something of lasting value or substance.

Yes: being fit and healthy and beautiful is something I have worked at in my life. But honestly? I finally had to ask myself some important questions.

When I die, will people remember me for looking good in a miniskirt and having a 26" waist, or will they remember that I baked them a delicious pie? Will my daughters eulogize my role as the "hot mom," or will they remember that I made them matching dresses and dolls clothes? When my students leave my class, do they remember me as the "cool" teacher, or the one who helped them love Hamlet?

When we're eighty years old, will the women who spend hours on their outward appearance have fewer wrinkles or chin hairs than I do?


In a way - I feel sorry for the women who believe that their only value is in their appearance. Who don't develop passions outside of being beautiful or taking selfies. Who get career promotions or husbands or attention because of their appearance. I wonder if inside each of those women is a little girl who still hopes she can be "good enough" if everyone tells her how beautiful she is on the outside.

Beauty is fleeting, charm is deceptive, and we will all grow old.

But I can guarantee you this: when I'm 85 years old, I'll still know how to make the best pie you've ever eaten.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Talking Sex with my Six-Year-Old

Every parent's dream: a chance to share the story of the birds and the bees with your child!

I know, I know. We all *say* we will do it better. (Not the sex, the TALK! Clearly, I am amazing at sex.)

We will tell our kids things. We'll be more honest, more approachable, more comfortable with that talk.

And then... our kids ask us a question, and all bets are off.

Suddenly, it's facepalm-ingly obvious why our parents stammered, struggled, stifled, or just STOPPED talking to us about S-E-X.

It. Is. Awkward.


That's a question I've had for a long time.

You see, I grew up in a very unusual situation when it came to the sex talk. To begin, my own mother did not learn much about her body or how it worked until she got into nursing school. HER mother was a teen mom, and so she didn't really know much either. So, when my mom had me, she vowed that she would be sure her daughter didn't grow up with no knowledge of her body and how it worked.

I can remember being seven years old and PORING over my mom's books from nursing school about sexual reproduction. They were informative, clear, correct, and detailed.

There were pictures - and a lot of descriptions!

I have to admit, I read those books frequently and learned everything I could learn.

And then, it happened - my mom was asked to be the nurse to teach the sex education class in my school!

I often trot out this anecdote at parties or other social gatherings when adults are sharing their "oh you won't believe what MY parents did to embarrass me" stories. When I lead with, "Guess what? My MOM was my sex ed teacher in grade seven!" I always win the competition.

Truth be told, my mom had a tough time with that gig. I was attending a private religious school, and the school administration and board of directors were very clear on how little my mom was actually allowed to teach the students. Abstinence was the only message. Missionary position was (likely) the only position. No answering student questions that coloured outside of the acceptable lines of the Purell-ed Christian sex experience.

If that story doesn't win the prize, I move into regaling the guests with stories of the NUMEROUS occasions I walked in on my parents having sex. Yes. More than one time. My sister and I grew up in a household where we spoke openly about sex, we knew my parents were having sex, and while we were raised in that born-again era of "I'm worth waiting for," we definitely KNEW what we were getting after the wait!

Fast-forward to twenty-five years after my grade six sex ed class, and I was approaching that spring fever convo sooner that I might have anticipated. My oldest daughter has always been an extremely curious child, and her curiosity extended to the anatomy and function of mommy's body. Well, okay, she was curious about DADDY's body too, but Daddy is as private as an oyster clutching the pearl of great price when compared to Mommy's nudist predilections.

Gwyneth was naturally asking a LOT of questions about my pregnancy. How are babies made? Where does the baby come out? How long will it take for the baby to get here? How did the baby get into your belly?

When I came across the kids' book entitled It's NOT the Stork, I knew I had to borrow it from our public library for Gwyneth and all her questions.

She was instantly hooked - just like I was by my mom's medical books so many years earlier. We looked at the pictures, read the various chapters, and learned all about sex together.

That evening, Ian and I were doing the dishes in the kitchen when from Gwyneth's bedroom we heard a shriek: "WHAT is THAT?!?!?!"

I doubled over in stitches immediately - I knew exactly which page she had found!

"Well honey," I said carefully, "that is what a boy's body looks like when he is naked."

"But what is THAT THING between his legs?" she insisted, pointing to his penis.

And that's how we started talking about sex. I told her about boys' anatomy and girls' anatomy. I read to hear about sperm and eggs and intercourse (who SAYS that in 2018? Can we have a new word, please?). We talked about vaginas and penises and boys liking girls, girls liking girls, boys liking boys - we covered it all.

All of this learning struck a chord in my four-year-old daughter. While I was pregnant, she decided she should ask me if the baby was going to come out of my vagina. Great question - except for the fact that she asked it in the middle of a church service while the minister was praying!

The day Gwyneth asked if the baby was going to come out of my vagina.
Right around this time, the Ontario Ministry of Education took serious fire for their newly revised Sexual Education component of the elementary health curriculum. Parents across the province took up arms against the sea of troubles and tried to, by opposing, end the new curriculum.

I can recall reading that entire curriculum from start to finish. Gwyneth was in junior kindergarten, and I had a vested interest in knowing exactly what she would be learning. I also encountered MANY friends and church members who were adamant that this curriculum was a disaster for children. Parents were pulling their kids out of school, protesting, signing petitions.

Here's where my open-about-sex upbringing came into the picture: I can honestly say that I believe the curriculum is fantastic! It is age appropriate and addresses the issues that kids are asking about at each stage. Too often, the parents I've met or spoken with are completely clueless about their kids' interest in and curiosity about sex. Having taught high school for fifteen years before Kinsey was born, I knew how much kids already (thought they) knew by grade nine. Some parents were really upset that the curriculum discussed masturbation. I have to tell you: I know this is an issue that is challenging to talk about, but I hope I can address it if needed, rather than just relying on the school system to talk to my children about this topic.

A lot of what kids talk about is misinformation. They believe things like, "oh, having sex standing up means I won't get pregnant" or "you can't get pregnant when it's your first time" or "you can't get an STI if you only have oral sex."

There is SO much misinformation out there. The question I always ask other parents is, "Do YOU want to teach your kids about sex or do you want MuchMusic, YouTube, PornHub, and their equally misinformed friends to teach them about it?"

Parents, here's the thing: we cannot prevent our kids from finding out about sex. We can't stop them from being curious and exploring their bodies - or their friends' bodies! We can't prevent them from experimenting. We can only teach them the facts - honestly, openly, and unashamedly - and be there for them to support them as they grow into their sexuality. Will this mean they make mistakes? Yes. Will they make poor choices? OF COURSE. But we have to help our children to become good decision makers. As I've mentioned in a previous post, this means teaching our kids about the right time and place and partner for sex. It does them no good to tell them to avoid sex - in my experience, this leads either to sexual dysfunction and repression, or excessive and distorted sexual risk-taking behaviour. Or both.

I find it so strange how many people - not JUST parents - are completely disarmed and uncomfortable in the face of the human body. Grown men whom I work with refer to women's breasts as "boobies." The sight of bra straps causes an uproar in schools, where outdated - and decidedly inequitable and discriminatory - dress codes would keep women eternally dressed as Atwood's handmaids. The very THOUGHT that a person might see part of a woman's breast while she feeds her baby sends the oversexed and the prudish running for the formula aisles or a breastfeeding burqa.

The Handmaids from the recent television mini-series adaptation of Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale.
How many parents are disproportionately concerned about sex scenes in movies or on TV, yet have seemingly no qualms with their children watching scenes of disturbing and gratuitous violence?

Which is more natural - sex or dismemberment? A naked human body that is sexually attractive seems far more innocuous for my children's viewing than the alarming prevalence and normalization of violence in our North American media.

Last night, Gwyneth - whose birthday is in a week - told me, "Mom, soon I'm gonna be TEN!"

I replied, "Oh honey, let's get to seven first. Besides - once you turn ten, then soon you'll start releasing an egg every month and getting your period and needing to use pads or tampons! You don't want to rush that do you?"

Her immediate reply was, "MOM! I won't get pregnant until I'm fourteen."


"Gwyneth," I said firmly, "you'd better not even be having SEX when you're fourteen!"

"Well, I will be doing it when I'm a teenager, Mom."

Yes, I thought. You will.

"Just make sure he uses a condom, okay Gwyneth?"

At this point, poor Ian was finally shaken free from his interwebbed revery and dryly added, "Well, THIS conversation just got heavy."

No, my love. This is what talking to your kids about sex looks like.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

When Mother's Day Sucks

It's the Hallmark holiday of the year - the biggest day of profits for card companies, flower shops, jewellery stores and restaurants. 

And for the first six years of my marriage, it was the worst day of my life.

I know many of you can relate to this feeling. It's not that we don't have mothers of our own to love. It's not that we don't want to become mothers.

It's that for many of us, we have tried and failed to become mothers.

We have spent too many months grieving over another menstrual cycle.

We have gone to all our friends' baby showers and tried to pretend we were crying tears of joy for them. We eventually stopped going.

We have sat through church services listening to sappy sermons extolling the glories of motherhood and then walked out with a "gift for all the mothers" that wounded us afresh.

We have known the excitement of a positive pregnancy test, only to be destroyed by a miscarriage.

We have gone through failed fertility treatments.

We have endured the well-intentioned yet unbelievably insensitive inquisitions of friends, family, neighbours, co-workers and complete strangers: "So, when are you two going to have kids?"

We have buried our stillborn children. 

We have held healthy babies in our arms, only to bury them the next week. 

We have held vigil by a hospital bedside for months, and then been forced to make a choice to remove life support from the tiny body of our child.

We have longed for a perfect child and felt cheated when our child was born with brain damage or autism or Down Syndrome. We grieved the loss of what could have been. 

This is the reality of the thorny climb to the pinnacle that society calls "motherhood" - it is painful for many of us. It is harsh and unforgiving. It mocks us and rejects us and undermines us.

There is nothing more demoralizing than to realize that every part of your body is designed to be a mother - breasts to feed and comfort, a womb to carry, an egg released every month just waiting to be fertilized - the form and function of our being mocking our inability to fulfill its destiny. 

For women who pop babies out like nerf darts, this is a foreign land. You mean well - you think it will help me if you tell me, "But at least you know you CAN get pregnant!" You ask me to hold your baby, because surely then my "mommy hormones" will magically make me pregnant, too. You tell me that adopting a baby will "definitely make you get pregnant with your own right after that!" You trot out pithy, poisonous platitudes: "Well, you can always get pregnant again, you know," or "You're not the only one who's lost a baby."

You are living in another universe.

You have not walked my path; do not presume to give me proverbs.

You are a mother - and I am happy for you - but do not minimize my grief.

I have known and grown to love many women who have walked these paths. 

I try my best to remember those dark days of longing to be a mother so that I will not become the woman preaching from my distant universe.

This weekend, I promise not to wax eternal about the ways I am honoured by my children. Not as a disservice to their love and sweet gifts and cards, but out of respect for you: a woman who feels a greater pain than can be measured every Mother's Day.

Know that you are on my heart, and that I too have cried bitter tears on this day.

*     *     *

Read my friend and fellow writer Jen Stewart Fueston's poem "Trying to Conceive" at Ruminate Magazine.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Our Daily Gruel

Bread, bread, bread.

I have in the past year made many loaves of bread - I treated myself to an intensive sourdough making course at a local bakery and spent four hours learning "how" to make bread.

I've spent the past fourteen months trying to emulate, perfect, and improve upon my bread making.

So what's the deal with bread? Nearly every culture eats some form or another of a carbohydrate, and often a type of bread.

Across cultures, religions, and generations, bread has been a topic of discussion. Take the following as a small sampling:

The Lord's Prayer: "Give us this day our daily bread."

Jesus: "Man does not live by bread alone."

The Quran: "Bread feeds the body, indeed, but flowers feed also the soul."

The Jewish Tanakh: "With the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, for you were taken therefrom, for dust you are, and to dust you will return."

Mother Teresa: "The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread."

Dante Alighieri: "You shall find out how salt is the taste of another man's bread, and how hard is the way up and down another man's stairs."

Nelson Mandela: "Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all."

Mahatma Gandhi: "There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread."

Ursula K. Le Guin: "Love doesn't just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new."

Viktor E. Frankl: "We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread."

D. H. Lawrence: "The human soul needs actual beauty more than bread."

*     *     *

*     *     *

So what's with the bread references?

I have to say that this week, I have been learning that my "daily bread" is feeling more like a "daily gruel."

I've been left high and dry by our daycare provider, and so between my husband and myself, and our mothers, we have been trying to care for Kinsey at home all week.

To say she's busy is an understated understatement.

I have never felt so exhausted and drained as I do this week.

My reserves are gone.

I am so far behind on my marking that I'm debating just giving everyone an A and calling it a year.

Proof of this lack of reserves? For the first time in seventeen years of teaching, I actually took my classes OUTSIDE before June! Normally, I wait as long as possible for that inevitable "work outside" day - it can be pretty tough to get the kids back into our routine if we start heading outdoors too early in the spring.

Yesterday, I decided to scrap my lesson plan with my grade nines (who wants to teach OR learn about Shakespeare at the end of the day when it's beautiful outside anyhow?) and instead, we went on a "nature walk" - a quick trip across the road and through the woods brought us to the playing fields at the local arena. The kids hucked aeration plugs at each other, collected large deadwood and used it for gladiator battles, played on the swings and climbers, stole each others' shoes and hid them, ran around the field, raced each other, and generally had a smashing good time getting to know each other better in the sunshine and fresh air. I made them all leave their cell phones locked up in the classroom. Not one of them complained! They even allowed me to take their photo on the climber and submit it to the school yearbook.

THAT, my friends, is the antidote to the daily gruel. That is what we need as people - we need more than bread. We need more than food as sustenance. We need LIFE. Sunshine. Nature. Even some mud (we took the wrong turn in the woods and we all got covered in black mud before finding our way to the drier path).

Backtrack to Tuesday: I was feeling a bit frustrated at having to stay home with Kinsey. I had a lot of marking to do and conferences that I was forced to postpone with my gr. 12 university English students (NOT that they were complaining, I'm sure!).

Yet in spite of that gruelling sense of urgency - the need to be productive, to get things done, to accomplish everything on my to-do list - I found myself remembering the simplicity of childhood as I spent the day with my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter.

First, we took her big sister to school. Then, we went for a walk around the neighbourhood. Kinsey chased birds and wondered why they flew away from her. She picked up every stick she could find. She squished pine cones and bade them farewell after loving and leaving them. She scolded me for dropping a stick she gave me, and reminded me for the rest of the walk, "DON'T drop your stick, Momma, okay? Don't drop it!"

We watched a murder of crows nearly murder an impostor crow.

We went to Gwyneth's bookfair and spent WAY too much money buying beautiful, engaging, thoughtful books for our collection.

We ate lunch with Daddy.

We both had a long and satisfying nap in the afternoon.

Then, we picked up Gwyneth at the school and went over to a friend's house to play and visit until supper time. It was good for the kids to play together - ages seven, six, five, two and one - and it was good for me to spend time with my friend Amy, who is from China and often misses her family back home.

I learned that kids in China grow up digging tunnels to America in their sandboxes!

Not once did I think about the gruel on Tuesday. I enjoyed my life: I enjoyed the bread and salt and water and flowers and beauty of the world around me.

I remembered that love and relationships and friendships need to be made and remade.

I remembered that the hunger for love is strong in all of us, whether we are one or forty-one.

I remembered that to share bread - even if it's goldfish crackers - is universal across cultures and ages.

I remembered that one day, this daily gruel would end and I too would return to dust, from when I came.

It was good to have that day to remember. To remember that life is too short to let the gruel win.

And....if you want to read about my latest poetry, here's a link to my poem about food.

Saturday, May 5, 2018



Seriously - there is NOTHING that deteriorates the marital intimacy in my life more than my beautiful, amazing children. Who ironically are the product of that very intimacy.

I realize I am NOT the first "mommy blog" to talk about the topic of finding time for you and your spouse.

But I might be the most honest!

Hold on to your hats - and to my husband's mom (my most faithful reader) - you should probably skip this one, okay?  ;)

(SERIOUSLY. Stop reading this Mom.)

*     *     *

I remember back when we started dating. Do you remember those days too? When you first start to get romantically interested in another person, the chemistry is off the charts. Just brushing hands will send electricity down your spine. If he actually TOUCHES you on purpose - even innocently? Look out. I can remember feeling like I needed to install my own chastity belt and toss the key on some of those first dates!

Which of course, brings us to the very strange thing that is the Christian Dating Culture. Yes. The CDC. It's a worthy acronym to steal.... because honestly, in evangelical Christian circles, S-E-X might as well be a communicable disease.

You're not allowed to HAVE sex.

You likely should not know anything ABOUT sex.

You really should only even TALK about sex if you're talking about why you shouldn't have sex until you are married.

I realize for my readers who grew up outside of this bizarre environment, the very notion is absurd. Not have sex? Um..... what is that?

Now, the strangest part is that you spend an AWFUL long time trying not to think about / talk about / have sex, but then you get married and think you'll be doing the deed five times daily for the rest of your life!


Ultimately, the whole sex thing is the biggest joke of my Christian upbringing. 

First: just as many kids were experimenting with sex in my church cohort as outside of it - maybe more! (remember: forbidden ANYTHING is better, right???).

Second: while teaching abstinence seems like a godly and noble idea to the patriarchy running the church, it's purely about - well, some notion of PURITY. Remember the Puritans? Yep. The Victorian era? Yep. The whole "don't have sex till you're married" (or, to quote Josh McDowell - remember him?!? - "I'm worth waiting for!") is a farce. It's a thinly veiled attempt at controlling women and creating in them a sense of guilt and unworthiness. It is the most unrealistic expectation in the world, and it has the complete opposite effect: like I said, if you're NOT allowed to do something, it only makes you want to try it even more. I cannot tell you how many of my friends (Christian or otherwise) were disappointed in their first sexual experience... and I think that had a lot to do with overblown expectations. This is where honesty comes into the picture.

I think we have a duty to teach our children about sex. About how it works, and how it does NOT work. Teach our girls that sex is powerful, and how to use it properly. Not to abuse the power. Not to cry wolf. How to defend against unwanted advances. How to say no - or yes - and when each is or is not the right thing to say. Teach our boys that sex is about intimacy; teach them why pornography destroys intimacy. Teach them how to be respectful and loving, with or without sex involved. Teach contraception. Teach about sexually transmitted infections. Give our kids the HPV vaccine. Buy them a condom, for crying out loud. Help them learn that their sexuality is theirs to control and no one else's.

But I digress... this is about what did happen - not what should have happened.

*     *     *

Fast forward to my early twenties. After many years of working towards that increasingly difficult standard of being a virgin on my wedding night, I finally had just had enough (or... not enough???). I started experimenting with sex in a way that maybe wasn't very healthy, and I directly link that behaviour to those "church" expectations I had been instilled with from a young age.

Without going into a crass delineation of my every sexual experience, suffice it to say that when I met Ian, I initially turned him down flat. 

I turned him down because I wanted to have sex - and I knew he wasn't that kind of guy. Somehow, even just from chatting briefly online, I could tell he was going to be the upstanding, large "c" conservative kind of guy who thought he was forgoing sex because he was respecting women or being a good Christian by doing so.

I honestly figured I would destroy him if I dated him. I was very much interested in being sexually active, and I thought he was a great guy who didn't deserve to be jilted by someone like me. So I gently said, "Thanks but no thanks" and carried on my merry way.

About a year later, we did go on a date (I promise I will write a blog about it eventually, Mary!).

And I was right: he definitely thought we should NOT be having sex. Like - at all. 

It was a pretty difficult time for me! At that point I didn't care about what some minister or youth leader told me - I wanted to share everything with this man I was in love with. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G.

During those times of struggling about whether or not we could or should or would have sex, or how "far" we might go down that path and still be considered "Christians" (ugh, I cringe even now), I could not imagine a time when we would be fully "allowed" (I can't believe I even typed that word) to have sex and yet find it nearly impossible to make happen.

Yes - that's where being a MOM comes into this story (and you all thought I was going to tell you whether Ian and I "did it" before we tied the knot!)

*     *     *

I swear, I would do just about ANYTHING to get my kids out of the house for an afternoon or evening or even half an hour so that I could get naked with my husband.

Wait: revise that. At this point, half-naked and ten minutes would be fantastic.

It is SERIOUSLY difficult to raise children, work a full-time job, manage a household, watch my weight, exercise my body, AND find time or energy for sex. (I'm sort of a bit surprised we even MANAGED to have a second child.) 

I have tried sending my kids away for the night. It would be a brilliant idea, except no one wants to take my youngest (see: previous posts about no sleep). I try to explain that just taking one child - and the easier one to manage at that - defeats the purpose.

So now I have resorted to Ninja Sex Warrior tactics.

With my "Latin Loafer" (his term, not mine) working in the same town as me now, it has become a tempting possibility to run home for "lunch." So far, that has NOT worked.  (yes, I'm laughing as I write this, OMG.)

I tried sending the kids to daycare on a recent school closure day and greeting my husband wearing perfume and a Pashmina. Yes. JUST perfume and a scarf.

That also did not work. 

It turns out that shovelling five inches of compacted ice and snow for several hours makes sleep more exciting than sex - for both of us.

Honestly - it is not for lack of trying.

But when one kid refuses to go to sleep until nearly midnight, and the other wakes with nightmares at four am, and the alarm is going off at six am... well, it really limits the opportunities to enjoy sex. Or sleep. Or life: really, who am I kidding?

When you spend all weekend working on household projects and marking and laundry and errands - falling into bed at the end of the day is definitely more urgent than sex.

So today, I became the above-mentioned Ninja Sex Warrior.

I went out shopping this morning with a friend, while our kids played at her house.

Ian got some time to himself to unwind and get his list of "stuff" done.

When we got back from shopping, my friend offered to keep my oldest for the afternoon. I left her with her friends and brought Kinsey home for her nap.

And then I told Ian to GET. INTO. THE. BEDROOM. NOW.

I was definitely ready to get busy - and then, it hit me.

This would ABSOLUTELY be the time that our doorbell would ring. 

It would be the girl from down the street wanting to play with Gwyneth. Or the mentally ill fellow who rings our doorbell once a week and wants a pop and some cash. Or my mother. Or my MOTHER-IN-LAW who so help me is likely having a coronary if she's still reading this (STOP!).

There was no way I was going to let someone wake up that sleeping cherub in the next room.

Hence, my sign taped overtop of our doorbell.

All I can say is, thank God for friends who willingly take my kid for an afternoon and for a two-year-old who won't sleep at night, but naps like a champ.

And thank God for tubal ligations, because I am NOT having any more interruptions to my booty calls!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

Notting Hill.

Most would say this isn't the best Julia Roberts film - or the best Hugh Grant film, for that matter. It's cheesy, cliche, and perhaps somewhat narcissistic in that it portrays Roberts as a film star who is hunted down by her adoring public and just wants to escape from the fame that ... well, made her famous.

The movie remains a favourite of mine. Perhaps it's because I was in university when I first saw it, and it struck a chord on many levels. I could envision myself living the quaint life of bookstore owner Will Thacker (Grant) in Notting Hill. I could in my youth also see myself being the glamorous Anna (Roberts), the movie star who needs to get away from it all. My roommates and I would hold our breath, waiting for her to utter her famous line, "I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her."

Perhaps more than the predictable happy ending, it was the soundtrack that captured my attention for this film. The playlist includes Motown classics from Bill Withers and Al Green, country-flavoured crooning from Shania Twain, boyband vocals from flash-in-the-pan groups like 98ยบ and Boyzone, and an unlikely ballad from Elvis Costello.

This was the soundtrack of my life for a few years. I remember listening to many of the songs on repeat, languishing in the melodies and memorizing the lyrics. I recall driving my father insane when I included the whole first verse of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone" on my answering machine. He complained that he didn't call long distance to Vancouver to spend three minutes listening to music before he could leave me a message.

So what exactly was it about this film and its soundtrack that spoke to my twenty-something heart with such power? 

It wasn't the cheese-factor, although I admit, I was sucked in by Anna and Will's love story.

I loved the goofy roommate, but he wasn't the draw.

Really, when I listen to the songs now, even most of those are stuck in the late-90s in terms of style and musicality. Think: too much synthesizer and a lot of hair gel.


It was the sheer angst of the love affair that sucked me in and kept me captive. The man and woman who both clearly wanted each other, but couldn't find a way to make it happen.

I admit: at this point in my life, I have a lucidity that recognizes true love doesn't need to be difficult. When it's right - really right - it's not encumbered or laborious. In this, I disagree with Shakespeare, who wrote that "the course of true love never did run smooth." Not true, Will. Not true.

Hollywood wants us to believe that truly GREAT love affairs must only happen through some great miracle. There must be frustration and initial dislike of one another; there should be constant bickering that is but a veneer covering secret adoration. Neither party should be willing to admit love for the other, let alone attraction or a desire for a relationship. True love should be wrought from agony and tears and desperation. True love should only come from broken hearts that somehow magically find healing when both parties see the light and come to their senses.


I've been through that love. It's not love. It's hell. It's the constant second-guessing, wondering if you are losing your mind, questioning your senses, never knowing what he'll say next. Will he talk to you today? Will he ignore you? Will he bring you flowers for no reason, or forget your birthday? 

No. True love does none of those things. True love IS none of those things.

Somehow in my youth, I was misled by the Hollywood version of love. I believed the movies that told me true love would come from heartache. I believed the lie that not getting along with another person was a clear indication of "sparks" and a secret connection.

And so, for a time, I let the sentiments of this film and all it stood for dictate how I looked for love.

Recently, I had been feeling in a bit of a "love slump" you might call it. In my selfishness, I had somehow forgotten that true love is a constant current - a wave that comes and goes with the tides, but is predictable and reliable. I had perhaps been lulled into believing that what I needed was a spark, something new, something exciting. I started questioning whether there was even any love left between my husband and me. Things seemed monotonous at best, and downright frigid at worst.

I began to think that love could be found elsewhere.

I am not proud of these feelings. I'm not proud that I toyed with the idea of walking away from my love, my marriage, my children - that I seriously considered how amazing it would be to start over with someone new who appreciated me and found me interesting and exciting. Sometimes, that constant current of love can feel more like an undertow, dragging you down and drowning you.

I felt that way. In those months, I felt convinced that I could find meaning in the Hollywood version of love. Love that was hard, impossible, perhaps even unrequited. That the chase, the courting, the conquest was what I wanted. 

As I write this today, I am thankful that I have people in my life who can speak truth to me when I need to hear it. 

I am thankful that I didn't allow the lure of the sirens to drag me onto the rocks of infidelity.

I am trying to figure out how to ride the waves of love, even when they threaten to drag me under and drown me, or when they lull me into believing that the light of love has been extinguished.

I suppose in that sense, Shakespeare did have it right: the course of true love never does run smooth. It runs hot, cold, intense, distant, smoldering, explosive, high, low, and everything in between.

Here's to you my love.

May we weather these waves together.

Al Green - How Can You Mend a Broken Heart? (listen here)
from the Notting Hill soundtrack (1999)

I can think of younger days when living for my life
Was everything a man could want to do
I could never see tomorrow, but I was never told about the sorrow

And how can you mend a broken heart?
How can you stop the rain from falling down?
How can you stop the sun from shining?
What makes the world go round?
How can you mend this broken man?
How can a loser ever win?
Please help me mend my broken heart and let me live again

I can still feel the breeze that rustles through the trees
And misty memories of days gone by
We could never see tomorrow, no one said a word about the sorrow

And how can you mend a broken heart?
How can you stop the rain from falling down?
How can you stop the sun from shining?
What makes the world go round?
How can you mend this broken man?
How can a loser ever win?
Please help me mend my broken heart and let me live again