Congratulations on getting through the easiest part of your life?

Grads

The youth and I do not always get along well, it’s true. There are alot of things I just don’t understand about how they do their thang. Fake glasses with thick frames, when all I ever wanted to do with my glasses was get rid of them. All that eyeliner. High-waisted shorts. Man buns. Endless selfies under layers of filters. Texting each other when they’re in the same room. The strange popularity of obnoxious YouTubers. I will stop right there, as I don’t want to sound like a shirty old cuss. Now, if everybody will just get off my lawn and pull up their pants, I’ll get on with this rare post in support of young people.

It’s graduation season. All over the world, people are closing the book on one chapter of their life and moving on to another. Our darling Fiona is leaving the familiarity and security of her school of the past five years for highschool at Notre Dame. With the added fuss of end-of-the-year activities, including uniform fittings and a leaving ceremony (because apparently sixth grade grad is a thing), our June’s been ridiculously busy. She’s excited and nervous, all at once. Big changes are coming. Every spring, for several years now, my Facebook newsfeed contains at least one person sharing the following meme:

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It’s made me snicker every time, I admit. However, it’s not true. Being a kid is actually really hard.

Your personality is still forming – and so are those of your peers. This means that every day you make a conscious decision as to how to present yourself to the world, and that world consists mainly of people who are too immature to respect what you’re offering. Popularity occupies a disproportionate level of importance, and is based heavily on things that are beyond your control. Good hair. Clear skin. The right (i.e. trendy and expensive) clothes. Smooth moves. I’m pretty sure teenagers have not changed that much since my own teen years – which means smooth moves still elude many of them. You have strong opinions, but they are laughed at by many of your peers and dismissed by parents and teachers. What do you know? Talk to me again when you’ve been around the block a few times …. If you put out, you’re a slut – and guys like you while girls scorn you. If you abstain from sex, you’re a prude – and girls like you while guys don’t bother with you. If you’re queer, you face the heavy task of trusting people with that deeply personal piece of information – and they might not react well. Everyone probably assumes you’re straight. You’ve been alive less than 20 years, but people are asking you what you want to do with the next 30 or 40 years of your life. You are constantly being tested on what you know, even though alot of what you know is new – and there’s more of it every day. The results of these tests determine whether you can follow the career path you’ve told everyone you want to follow. You’re being evaluated by just one institution’s accepted metrics – yet you’re being told that you have to measure up or you’re going nowhere in life. You’re facing years of testing, development, uncertainty – and debt.

Not all of you are going to make it. Failure, bad choices, heartache, unintended pregnancy, mental illness, drugs, crime, and suicide stalk you like wolves. Your generation is the one that is most vulnerable to all of these things. If you’ve made it to graduation, fab for you – it wasn’t easy, and you should be proud of what you’ve accomplished. Here’s to your future!

 

My underwhelming return to Facebook ….

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I made it through Lent without Facebook. 40 days without social media. I accidentally clicked on the Facebook link a time or two, but then I walked my trespassing ass right back out of there. It’s been nearly two weeks since I came back to the fold – just after Easter began, in fact. “Began” you say? Yes, began. According to Catholicism, this past Sunday was the 7th Sunday of Easter. Easter is not just a weekend – apparently, it’s 50 days long!

Theology aside, I thought it would be difficult to be away from Facebook. I was wrong. It was peaceful. I didn’t have to subject myself to the boredom of being party to the minutiae of people’s lives. No fascinating updates like “traffic was so bad today” or “painting our kitchen” or “my little kid said insert totally-predictable-little-kid-statement here“. No pictures of what people ate for lunch. No political hoopla or look-you-guys-my-life-is-so-awesome staged pictures. Nobody felt the burning need to reassure me that they are #soblessed. No love-me-love-me-love-me selfies posted for the sole purpose of receiving compliments. I didn’t have to read the same ungrateful statuses from the same collection of whiners every day. The acronym FML fell off my radar. When crazy things happened, I didn’t have to listen to the analysis and processing of 50 different people. I could just quietly think the event through, maybe talk about it with a pal. And there was no pressure to craft and post exactly the right response.

Sure, it was strange not to wish Ryan a happy birthday on Facebook, or create a tribute to my father on the fifteenth anniversary of his death. I missed some people with whom I only communicate via Facebook. I was taking pictures, but I wasn’t able to share them with my dozens of Facebook friends. I just had to enjoy them myself, then print them for our family albums. Like people used to do with pictures. It was frustrating not to be able to share links to my blog posts. I kept writing through Lent – in fact, I published five posts. They didn’t get nearly as much attention as they usually do. Ten readers at most. However, this caused me to consider just why I feel like I need lots of people to read my blog.  Maybe I don’t. After a couple of weeks, the pleasure and satisfaction of simply composing a blog post was the same as if I were about to hook 100 readers.

I thought I would be excited to return to Facebook. Wrong again. After a few weeks away from it, social media looks more ridiculous than ever. I feel increasingly alienated from Facebook. I don’t bother to post nearly as much as I once did. I didn’t even share with the Facebook world that Ryan and I were going to New Orleans until I assembled an album a week after our return. I didn’t post a drippy Mother’s Day salute, either. Another precious little soul is going to be calling me Auntie Beth some day. I didn’t share that news. Occasionally, I think of things that could be fun to share – and then I don’t bother. It just isn’t as important as I once thought it was to give a digital audience a breathless update of my everything all the time. Moment of shameless honesty here: I love attention. Good, bad, laughing, shocked – I don’t care. One of my biggest fears is oblivion. But the price one pays for the kind of attention social media dishes up is starting to look rather steep.

Many days, I scroll joylessly, waiting in vain for something – anything – that cuts through the banality. Advertisements. Quizzes. Do you actually think you’re brilliant because you got 9 out of 10 right in the quiz-of-the-moment? Do you really believe that by sharing the result of four minutes of multiple-choice questions you will establish yourself as a genius in the minds of your digital acquaintances? Most of us are rolling our eyes so hard we have to stop scrolling until we can see again. Drama. Oversharing. If you took eight pictures of the same baby in the same clothes with the same background, we only need to see one. Maybe not even one if we saw a shot of the same baby yesterday.

Bullying. You can be anything you want on Facebook and nobody will bother you about it. Unless you’re religious. Or conservative. Or pro-life. Whatever you do, do not be openly pro-life. It will be a matter of minutes before people start piling up on your page, ferociously defending their right to kill their babies under any and all circumstances. You will get called names that would make a sailor blush.

And the ignorance …. Good gravy. A while ago, I fought openly with a blatant racist on Facebook. He is convinced that Islam is a religion of murder, and Muslims are inherently evil – and that one Muslim in Canada is one too many. Never mind that he is a redneck jackass from the arse-end of nowhere who’s never even met a Muslim – he is determined to make sure he never will, either. Sadly, he’s from my home town, and we used to be friends. Many people from Robert’s Arm are lovely, but not him. He is so hateful his Facebook account was shut down. I found out this week that he started another one under a new name, because he showed up on my “people you may know” list. The new account has been suspended multiple times. Apparently, he doesn’t care. He continues to spout evil and – much to my dismay – the asshole has 155 friends. How?

I was guilty of a few of the things I just complained about. I shared things that no one would – or should – care about. I said things that would only be entertaining for me and a handful of my friends. I posted three pictures where one would have done. I got a kick out of compliments on my pictures, even when I knew the compliments were knee-jerk reactions to my pictures by sycophants who just wanted me to notice them – and maybe compliment them back. I eagerly participated in drama (I loves me a good throw-down sometimes), and maybe there are people out there who feel I have bullied them. I thought this was all fine for the most part until I pulled away from it for a while. Surveying it all from the sidelines changed my take.

I don’t really know where this is going. Maybe I’ll quit Facebook altogether. Maybe I’ll go along with it for a little while longer, trying to find my groove. Maybe a thousand words is too much to spend on this subject. Either way, thanks for reading. I love it when you look my way.

Farewell, Facebook! (For a little while, anyway ….)

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Yes, I know – it’s been months since my last post. Christmas has been celebrated and packed away, January and February have been endured with varying amounts of grace. I don’t know why my blog has remained untouched by me all this time. Emotional ups and downs, the need to simplify life in order to keep up with it, plain old laziness …. ? I struggled to express all this to my lovely cousin, Charlene, over dinner together recently (delicious food and a thoroughly enjoyable experience at Khao Thai in the market). She’s been a great source of encouragement and enthusiasm for BethBlog, and she mentioned that she still checks in from time to time in the hopes that I will have written something new. A glance at my stats reveals that she’s not the only one. My appreciation to all who keep coming back – and my apologies for the prolonged cyber-silence. One factor in my writer’s block that I discussed that evening with Charlene is the avalanche of information that buries me regularly. There are many days when I feel like I’m being smothered by it – strangled by it – drowned in it. Bad news, good news, fake news. Quizzes, videos, how-tos, recipes, memes. And those ads …. I don’t want to put my girls in private school, rent a beach house in Jamaica, or enhance my sex life. I’d love to buy new dresses and shoes, but not online – and not right now. Where’s it all coming from? Facebook. I’ve been using Facebook for ten years now – I started using it when it was small. My, how it’s grown! What started as a handful of friends and private jokes has become dozens of voices all talking at once, and the resulting babel is grating and exhausting.

Whenever someone complains about internet content, there’s always a snappy, sanctimonious beauty ready to chime in with “if you don’t like it, don’t look”. I’m taking their advice, and leaving Facebook for Lent. As soon as the idea surfaced, I was excited about it. Imagine all that free time! All that peace! An internal clutter-bust! It will be like a long, soothing shower for my soul …. Facebook doesn’t make me a better person. It doesn’t improve my impact on the world. In fact, it makes me dislike people and the world more. Lent is an opportunity to examine our habits and hooks, and assess their impact on our lives. Why not see how leaving Facebook could help me?

Yesterday, though, doubts emerged. There are some family members and friends I only communicate with via Facebook. How am I going to know what’s going on in their lives? How will I know what they’re doing, or what their children look like now? How will they know any of that about me? My beautiful niece and nephew are growing fast – I’m sure I’ll miss some milestones and adorable photos.  I can’t remember the last time I received a party invitation through anything other than Facebook. What if there are lots of awesome parties and events going on and I don’t know about them? My primary form of communication with some people is Facebook. What if I lose touch with them because I’m no longer on Facebook? Sometimes, I see funny memes and videos on Facebook. Sometimes, Facebook tells me what’s going on before I find out from any other source. People on Facebook are all incredibly eager to express how a given death or split or news piece affects them, and that alerts me to the event in question. Facebook gives me ideas, meal plans, exercise regimes, decorating and parenting tips, movie reviews, conversation fodder. And then there’s me, the person I’ve become since using Facebook …. My first thought about quitting Facebook was “how many likes and comments will I get when I say I’m not Facebooking anymore” – and then I realized that I wouldn’t know because I won’t be checking. Can I have thoughts and experiences without sharing them with an instant audience of over a hundred? Can I take pictures without sharing them digitally – just take them like I used to, for the pleasure of capturing a moment? Can I cook or bake or eat someone else’s cooking or baking without taking a picture and uploading it to Facebook with a witty comment? Can I grow a plant without documenting its progress online? Ryan’s birthday’s coming up. So is my friend, Blue’s. Can I send them birthday greetings without fêting them on Facebook – would it look strange not to send them a public shout-out? On March 28, my father will have been gone for fifteen years. It seems strange to let that go by without saying anything on Facebook. Can I go back to the life I used to live, one without an audience? One in which what I did was for me and the people around me, and nobody else? We’ll see ….

I have a feeling I’ll come back to Facebook. It might even creep into my life, little by little, just like it did before – and have me in its thrall in a matter of days. But, for this small slice of time, I’m just me. In my world. Watched by nobody but the people who are actually there. Enjoying the silence …. (I know – awesome song!) Sure, I’ll miss some things. But I have a feeling I won’t miss them as much as I think I will.

My words seem to have dried up.

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I have a notebook that I carry with me everywhere I go. I pull it out of my purse often, to scribble – or build on – ideas for blog posts. When I use an idea, I scratch it out. There are many ideas in my notebook that have not been scatched out. Yet I have not written a post in a month …. Each time I try, something awful comes screaming to the forefront of everyone’s consciousness, and I can’t think of anything to say.

France.

Belgium.

Afghanistan.

Pakistan.

Iraq.

Bangladesh.

The Philippines.

France again.

Africa, all over the bloody continent.

Syria.

Russia.

America, America, America – and its cursed love affair with guns.

Trump.

Dallas cops dead. Black lives matter. All lives matter.

Plane crashes under mysterious circumstances.

Hostages taken, used as collateral – and murdered while cameras roll.

Children abused, children missing, children murdered.

Each time some new, awful headline leaps out at me from the newspaper or the internet, I try to make sense of it. I think about how I might frame it – what I could say about it. Then, I think about how many ways I’ve said the same damn thing over the same damn things – and I wonder what’s next. Heavy-hearted and just plain tired, I shrug and move on, because there isn’t anything else I can do. I have no comfort to offer because I’m fairly certain the next spectacularly rotten failing of humanity is just waiting to extinguish whatever tiny flicker I can coax to glow. And I’m not about to join the ranks of slacktivists hashtagging memes and feeling like they’ve made a difference when all they’ve done is add to the noise …. I can’t see that being satisfying or even meaningful.

So I guess I’m taking a break from writing …. ? I’m about to hit the road with my three favourite faces – our road trip is just minutes away. When I’m on the road, I tend to stay away from the internet. I get the odd bit of news from the free newspaper that some hotels hand out with their morning offering of coffee and muffins (or stale donuts or decisively firm pastries or, if we’re far enough south, biscuits and sausage gravy), or the radio. Ryan or Fiona or Bridget might announce something to me. But I won’t be drowning in it like I am here at home, wave after wave of sorrow and cruelty crashing over me while I start to understand why so many people tune out and watch videos of kittens.

I’ll be back. Life is still beautiful – and filled with things for me to get ornery about, too. And I will, of course, have to report on all the crazy, weird and wondrous things I come across as we wander across the map of North America. In the meantime, I pray peace and compassion and good will for us all.

 

All parents come a little too close to the gorillas and alligators sometimes.

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It’s been a month since I last wrote anything more than a one-line love note or a grocery list. It’s not that I’ve been too busy to write, or that there’s been nothing to write about. It’s just writer’s block, really – or maybe plain old laziness. In any case, I’m back today because of two animals: a gorilla and an alligator. By now, the stories are well-known. A four-year-old boy visiting the Cincinnati Zoo climbed into the enclosure of Harambe the gorilla. The gorilla started dragging the boy around. Zoo officials made the heart-wrenching decision to save the boy’s life by shooting Harambe. A two-year-old boy visiting Disney was snatched by an alligator while wading in a lagoon. His father fought with the animal, but was no match for it. Divers recovered little Lane Graves’ body yesterday. The parents of both children have received harsh criticism – and, in some cases, pure cruelty – from around the world. These days, anyone with an opinion and an internet connection can say whatever they want to a massive audience in a matter of seconds. In some cases, of course, what people have to say is enlightening and uplifting. Other times, it’s as if we’ve handed a bullhorn to bullshit.

In all honesty, I am often quick to judge, myself. My first thought when I heard about these incidents was to wonder where the parents were and what they were doing. The more I thought about it, though, the more I felt the uncomfortable sensation of my own pointing finger turning back to me. There are no perfect parents. On our confident days, we just know we’re doing a damn fine job. Other days, doubts gnaw at the edges of our underslept, overstimuated minds, and we feel like we’re doing everything wrong. The truth is, as usual, somewhere in the middle.

If the mother in Cincinnati had caught her son by the back of his shirt as he was scaling the barrier, if the father in Florida had picked up his son just seconds earlier, they’d be just like the rest of us – laughing uneasily about a near-miss, and deeply grateful that nothing bad happened. Because it happens to all of us. A few seconds here, a few inches there, a last-minute detour – and it could have been us and our children. In solidarity with these parents, I present my own gallery of gorillas and alligators:

  • When Fiona was just days old, I accidentally dipped her face below the bathwater. My mother noticed before I did, yanked her out of the bath and pounded her back until she sputtered and wailed. Would I, inexperienced, hormonal and sleep-deprived, have noticed in time if my mother had not been there?
  • A few months later, Fiona rolled off the couch onto the hardwood floor. I just didn’t know she could roll yet …. What if she had landed on her soft baby head?
  • Strolling along on a sunny day, Fiona’s car seat (with her in it) was ejected from her stroller as I rolled it over a bump, because it wasn’t connected to the stroller properly. She flew through the air, landing face down, and I cried with gratitude when I saw that somehow she was ok. She could so easily have not been ok.
  • Fiona just about severed Bridget’s pinky finger playing a door-slamming game. (And can somebody, anybody, tell me what is so amazing about slamming doors? Every time the girls get together with their friends, there’s always some point where I find myself yelling at them to stop slamming doors.)  Blood everywhere, screaming, stitches – and where were the parents? Having a coffee in the next room. Yes, that’s right, we were in a different room than our 3- and 1- year-old daughters, relaxing – and one of them got badly injured while we were at it.
  • Bridget had not one, not two, not three, but four allergic reactions to eggs before we figured out that eggs were her issue.
  • Fiona once opened the car door on the highway. And it wasn’t rush hour, either, so we were going full-speed. Thankfully, she was strapped into her booster seat, and the wind quickly forced the door shut again.
  • I turned my back for the length of time it took to tell Fiona to put on her shoes, and Bridget fell off the toilet straight onto her face. She still has a small scar on her forehead from the edge of the trash can. I suppose it could have been worse ….
  • Fiona toppled over on an escalator, tumbling down a few steps and crouching in fear as she neared the bottom. She bawled while I hollered at her from my place at the top of the escalator, clutching Bridget, to stand up and get off the escalator when it reached the bottom – and I was petrified that her hair or clothes would get caught.They didn’t. She listened to my frantic, barking instructions, and stepped off unscathed, aside from a few nasty metal-teeth gashes.
  • Bridget tried peeling potatoes …. and peeled a deep strip of skin off her finger. She bled copiously, and I worried about potential infection from dirty potato skins for days afterwards.
  • Fiona recently had an anaphylactic reaction to …. something. Her appointment with an allergist is in November, so I guess we’ll know then. Her reaction was not recognized until her face was swelling up and she was wheezing – because neither Ryan nor I thought she was that serious when she said she was winded from her time at the park.

The girls have been left alone in the house, and in the car. There’s been carpet burn because we weren’t close enough on the stairs, road-burn because we weren’t in reach during bicycle incidents. We’ve arrived at our destination and seen that one or the other of our daughters wasn’t strapped in properly. We’ve found ourselves in a scary situation because one or the other of the girls is choking on a food they weren’t ready for yet – or crammed in too fast. Both girls have broken away in a parking lot or across a street. They’ve both disappeared in stores. More than once, I’ve scanned the horizon at the beach and waited breathlessly for their sleek, wet heads to surface. They go to the park by themselves, and I wonder while they’re gone whether this is a healthy part of their development or me jumping the gun for convenience. Both Ryan and I have been distracted while driving. In fact, find me one person on the face of the planet who has not been distracted while driving kids around! But we’re ok. The kids are still living, breathing, fighting, lipping back, making messes and eating money – by the grace of God, by the hand of fate, by a hair, by the skin of their teeth. What would the headlines look like otherwise? I remember my brother almost falling into the Grand Canyon, and my father catching him by the back of his overalls. Stupid family drops preschooler in the biggest hole on earth. I remember being on a trip to Florida with my family when I was a child, and parking beside a beach and dashing for the cool blue water. My mother lingered behind and read a sign that warned of the danger of a Portuguese man o’ war infestation. She called us back to shore, and explained that this was not a good place to swim. We moved on. Stupid family ignores warning signs, swims in infested water, loses child to venomous creatures ….

There are so many times when the outcome could have been horrendous, heartbreaking, crippling. But it wasn’t. We got away. These families didn’t, who knows why – and they deserve our sympathy, not our ridicule. Imagine the emotions of the mother in Cincinnati as she saw her child at the mercy of a 450 lb gorilla and waited helplessly to see what zoo staff would do. Imagine the desperation of the father in Florida as he fought off the alligator. His son was dragged into the water by a prehistoric reptile, never to be seen alive again. What punishment could be harder than that? Yet asshole armchair quarterbacks do not hesitate to add to the pain by blaming the parents, who were doing their best.

In as much as we are all Nigeria, Charlie Hebdo, France, Syria, Orlando …. we are also all that mother, that father. The only thing standing between us and them is the luck of the draw. We are humanity, and the death of one diminishes all of us. Love and mercy today. That’s all.

Lived-In

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A sign I pass several days per week really irritates me. It’s an advertisement by Alterna Savings on the main level of the building I work in – for loans, I guess? I don’t even know, because I don’t want to dignify it with a detailed look. It says “your living room shouldn’t look lived-in.” For one thing, the ad is playing on a weakness common to many people – the desire for shiny, new, different, perfect. For another, the ad is implying that your living room (and, by extension, everything else in your home) is an exhibit. A thing to look at and admire rather than use and enjoy.

Our living room is a lovely place to be. It’s got two big, comfy couches and a blue armchair. None of them match. The armchair is a little rickety. We don’t know how old it is; it was salvaged from the area surrounding the dumpster in the basement of the building I lived in 13 years ago. I have always hoped that nobody died in it …. In spite of its dubious origins, it’s a favourite of Ryan, and his father, too, when he visits. People who like to sit in corners like this armchair – it is placed just-so. You can see everything that’s going on but you can’t necessarily be spotted right away yourself. We bought the checkered couch shortly after we were married. The arms of the couch are somewhat smudged from fingers covered in oil, chocolate and newsprint, and the cushions can no longer be turned over to hide stains – the stains are on both sides. The cushions are a little woolly. But that couch gives me amazing naps. Sleep has never come easy to me, but – for some reason – that couch embraces my body and eases my mind. The red couch is enormous. We bought it when we moved to our current house. It’s a bit too big for the living room, and almost got sent back to the furniture store, but then we warmed to it. It’s got plenty of room to lounge, to stretch out – and plenty of room for several people to squeeze in. There are lots of plants for the daytime and candles for the evening. A big window lets in generous pools of sunshine during the day and features a glowing street at night. There is a scuffed set of coffee and end tables. There’s a fireplace with a cracked grate and at least one loose tile. There’s a battered piano and an overflowing bookshelf. Several drawers stuffed with craft supplies, and a well-scribbled set of table and two chairs, for when inspiration strikes one of our budding artists. It’s definitely lived-in – in the best way. When we are there, we feel a richness Alterna Savings wouldn’t understand.

The terribly frightening, sad stories coming out of northern Alberta over the past few days does nothing to lesson my ire with that sign. Nearly 90,000 people made a harrowing escape from the burning city of Fort McMurray, with flames leaping behind and alongside them, taking with them only what they could fit in their vehicles. None of the survivors interviewed appear to have mentioned what’s new and expensive. They’re talking about the parks where their children played, gardens, photos, wedding dresses and baptism gowns and baby booties, World’s Best Dad mugs, homemade birthday cards with crooked lettering, beloved views and trails, church picnics, school plays. Memories, lived-in and loved ragged. Watching their painful ordeal, feeling the heavy loss of what these people will never get back, has given my own life a sudden preciousness. It has given that sign a heightened vulgarity.

Today, I attended a choral celebration. Several elementary school choirs came together to sing for their teachers and families at Notre Dame High School’s auditorium. Bridget and her choir have been practising for weeks for this. As with any children’s performance, there were lows. Two choirs appeared to be composed entirely of tone-deaf kids, in fact. But there was so much heart in each school’s offering – and there was a wonderful feeling in the air. At the end, all the choirs joined in singing “Dona Nobis Pacem” and “It’s a Small World”. Every surface in the auditorium is scuffed and scratched, and the chairs don’t match. Like every high school I’ve ever been in, it smells like sneakers, hormones and dust. But the music, and the sight of all those earnest, happy faces, filled me with joy. I was lifted to a higher place. My eyes welled with tears and I let them fall unchecked. As I drove home along the lumpy spring pavement, past sidewalks with weeds pushing through the cracks and construction and graffiti, and pulled in next to my scruffy lawn, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of my lived-in life. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

The gift of changed plans ….

I have been living on the mainland for nearly fifteen years now – long enough to have been domesticated, or (at least) naturalized. It was my fortune – and misfortune, depending on how you look at it – to have grown up in rural Newfoundland. My friends and I ran wild along the beach and over the hills and through the forest, and we spoke a strange variant of English. We were raised by everybody in town and, consequently, we were watched by dozens of pairs of eyes – yet our parents would have been hard-pressed to say where we were at any given time. Our education was somewhat substandard, due to the perpetual lack of funding and interest by young teachers in travelling to the arse-end of nowhere to work. However, I caught up with everybody else, and every time I tell people where I am from, I get a hearty slap on the back, and am regaled by stories of all the wonderful Newfies they’ve met. And, yes, I’ve been asked a time or two if I know so-and-so from wherever. I never do, but that never deters them.

When you move from the coast of a huge country like Canada to the interior, you encounter many differences. One that stands out to me today is the abundance of snow days in Newfoundland as opposed to the paucity of them here. Oh, sure, we have dirty weather here in Ottawa – an awful lot of it, in fact – but, in all my time here, I can count on one hand the number of times its been declared a snow day for anyone. People battle through sleet, hail, snow and fishtails to get to work, whatever work is. You’d think we were a city of continuously engaged brain surgeons, so great is our dedication to getting to work even if we have to dig our way there. We’re actually civil servants, which means that we probably could take a break in the name of not ending up in a ditch – but we don’t. Back home, though, snow days are scattered generously throughout the calendar. Yesterday was one such day. Yes, yesterday, April 20 – and that’s not all that crazy on the Rock. I have a distant memory of snow falling on my birthday. My birthday is in June.

So, at a time when people in Ottawa were dusting off their golf clubs, reseeding their lawns and hitting pub patios for lunch, many of the people I grew up with were shovelling snow. A wise and witty friend of mine, Marsha, posted this on Facebook:
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I sympathised. My-friend-the-optimist responded that it was already starting to melt – “and we had a relaxing day home yesterday, so it isn’t all bad”. It made me think back to the handful of snow days we’ve had over my time here in Ottawa. On one of them, I learned how to open a pomegranate without making the kitchen look like a murder scene, and we all made a snowman on the lawn. We made him facing our house instead of the street, so we could see him smiling at us through the living room window. On another of them, after we got stuck multiple times on the way home, after Ryan had helped neighbours out and the girls were red-faced and wet from the exertions of the day, I made hot chocolate for everyone. We did something we hardly ever do: all of us sat on the couch together with no fixed time for swinging back into action. Fiona smiled at me, and then said “look, everyone, Mommy’s actually relaxing“. Yes, I was – and it felt good. This is a very rare occurrence for me. Usually, I’m the opposite of relaxed – a whirlwind of tightly wound plans, activities and blunders. The thought of these plans going awry fills me with dread, and frantic thoughts of replacement plans, and all the awful things that will happen if I don’t get to do those things I think I have to do. In reality, though, what a gift: changed plans.

Last spring, Ryan and I went to Vegas with friends of ours for a long weekend of glittery fun – and we had exactly that. Our flight home, though, was a fiasco. It was delayed, so we were moved to a different flight so we wouldn’t miss our connection. The plane we were switched to filled up with smoke before it even left the ground, and we deplaned. We stood in line for over an hour trying to find a place on another flight. We got that, but it would be nearly twelve hours later. We would miss work the next day, our kids would miss school and spend an extra day with their grandparents, I was supposed to have dinner with my cousin and I couldn’t because I would be in the air somewhere between Chicago and Ottawa at that time. The airline shuttled us to an off-the-strip hotel called South Point. It was lovely. The room was clean and comfortable, and the hotel had five different restaurants, a pool, a theatre, a spa, a gift shop. We were given a book of coupons for free drinks and discounts on meals, and all the servers were very friendly. The receptionist looked us up and down when we said we were checking in for only a few hours, and carefully stated that we could have the room for all night. We thanked her, and reiterated our request for an airport shuttle in a few hours’ time. I can only imagine what she imagined. We had a wonderful afternoon there. We’ve talked about going back sometime. We were forced to delay jumping back on the treadmill after our vacation, and we soaked it in – and it was beautiful. Changed plans.

Changed plans used to be an occasion for tight knots in my neck and shoulders, worry over what wasn’t happening, wondering how I was going to make up for whatever had been scuttled, frustration over my lack of control. These days, though, I’ve been making more of an effort to embrace the gift of changed plans. Some of my best memories are times when things didn’t go the way I thought I wanted them to. Unexpected guests, five for dinner instead of four, last-minute invitations, wrong turns, heartfelt confessions, people needing me and me needing them, days off – and days on – it’s all life. I’m blessed in ways I could never have predicted because of missed connections, changed plans and serendipity. I’m learning to lean into – and be thankful for – the curves, and I hope they keep coming.

Apparently, Marsha has learned to embrace changed plans, too. Check out what she did with her out-of-the-blue day off:

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Some shockin’ good, me ducky! Fist bump from afar ….