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Breaking the Ice with Words and Grief

Dear Sebastian,

Forgive me. I know you need some attention. You’ve been persistently reminding me for more than a year, but somehow I haven’t managed to sit down and contemplate you properly.

Last summer, your days were rushed into the beginning of Family Camp. I thought of you all the time, but couldn’t grieve or cry thoroughly. In response, I’ve found grief leaping up at me, unanticipated, all year long.

I clearly remember the summer you died, the way crying would insist upon happening (at inconvenient times)  if I didn’t deliberately fill a certain allotment of mindful grieving. The Crying Quota is a lot smaller now, but I’ve clearly been sidelining it too often. It persists.

There have been those random mornings when I’d be having a nice quiet coffee alone and suddenly find myself spilling tears on the table. Times when my mind would suddenly conceive, for no reason, that instant when your tiny heart stopped beating and your perfect soul broke away. Moments when I feel the phantom pain of your head pressing against my side, uncushioned by fluid, as it did for those last weeks.

There were also many reminders of your cherished existence in my heart – like you’re tenderly poking me from your place in the universe. Conversations I’d overhear – with weird frequency – about ultrasounds, sage tea, and even the salmon. And that day at school when I opened up a storybook I was given years ago, and caught sight of the author’s inscription for the first time since we’d received it: “To the Stephens boys.” It knocked the wind out of me for a moment… but it also made me glad. Proof of your realness.

Some days, I deliberately drive past the hospital on the way home. Which might seem strange. It’s a place I am tied to for its witness of the joyous births of your siblings, as well as the only time I spent holding you. It makes me feel closer to my babies. But sometimes that memory, of arriving at the dark street in front of the ER in unearthly pain, pops up more jaggedly than I anticipate – almost as if it were recent.

And while I try not to dwell on it, I can’t help but feel regret about that last morning. I wish I had kept you in my arms for longer – even half an hour longer. I don’t know why I wish this so hard, since it would change nothing, and it would all still be just as over as it is now… It was just too short. I know we usually want pain to be short, but in this case – I would give a lot to go back to that pain for a few minutes.

This grief is more than six years old now, but damned if I’ve figured out how to navigate it.

Another difficult time this summer was when our midwife died. We hadn’t seen her in a couple of years at least, and she had been working out of the province, but that didn’t make the news easier to accept. All our midwives have been excellent, but our primary midwife was a particularly amazing person and an expert in her profession. She was the one who was with us for the non-stress test where we last heard your peaceful heartbeat. She bravely broke the bad news to us the next day. She caught you and told us what a beautiful baby you were. She visited me for weeks postpartum, even though there was no baby to check on, just to talk and make sure we were managing. She vowed to help me deliver my next baby, who would be born healthy… and so she did. Having been through a lot of grief and pain herself, she was caring and empathetic and optimistic in a way that was inexpressibly reassuring. And she was one of a very small handful of people who met you in person. This summer, we grieved for her family and friends and colleagues, but also selfishly: it hurts to think that that handful is now even smaller.

In July, when Skye very gently nudged me about blogging (as she does when I haven’t written for a while), I was acutely aware that it had been more than a month since my last post, and that I blogged not a word about you on your days. The more days that passed after that, the more I couldn’t write – because it was your turn… But I needed to write you something real.

I tried breaking the ice some other way, nonchalantly. There were several attempts. I tried to make a post featuring one of your brother’s artistic masterpieces: an instructional page he created for your sister to teach her how to make fart noises with her armpit. The written steps are pithy and the diagrams utterly, utterly luminous.

But it wasn’t right. My blog even scolded me for this irreverence by refusing to upload photos. (Still not sure what that’s about… sigh.)

And now you won’t be put aside any longer. It’s the last weekend of summer before school starts. Life is about to go back to scrambly busy-ness. Here I am, still working on this post. And especially for the past few weeks, I’ve struggled with the confluence of love and grief – because right now, they’re seemingly inextricable. I’ve been weepy so many times – missing my kids when I’m apart from them, saying goodbyes to people I love, listening to my favourite music, seeing beauty, feeling the endings of many things… It’s all harder because you’re so present in everything.

But when I think about it, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m glad you’ve been so close to me all summer. You were there in the forested Appalachian hills on our trip to North Carolina, and in the joyous cacophony of the family we visited there – especially the smallest people. You were there at Family Camp, just as much in the boisterous play as in the brilliant silences. You were there on our trip to the Ottawa River, in the crashing whitewater as well as the tranquil ripples. You were there at OELC, in the gathered voices of more than a hundred people, singing this beautiful song written for a beloved little son.

Thanks for the reminders, sweetheart. I needed them. Your heart and my heart are always together, thank goodness. I miss you always and love you forever.

Mama

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5-Day Artist Challenge, Day 1: Writing

Okay, 5-Day Artist Challenge, here we go! In true OELC iArts fashion, I shall dedicate each of the five days to a different strand of art, and I decree that writing shall be first. Because obviously.

5-day artist challenge journal writing fountain pen

If art is bread for the soul, writing is… let’s say sourdough. You get a starter of an idea, you let it ferment a bit. You feed it some nice floury research, wait some more, and eventually you’re ready to knead and craft something interesting out of it. Or occasionally you might get a starter that’s all ready and you just have to go for it. Sometimes it will flop, sometimes it will have a respectable grain. Not everyone will like the result, but some people will think it’s delicious.

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Image via bbc.co.uk

{My sister is the actual sourdough disciple. Through her, I have become acquainted with some different versions of her starter, Don Juan. Beth, do I sound convincing at all?}

Ahem. Yes. WRITING.

Writing is something I’ve done on a regular basis since my first diary was given to me on my seventh birthday. I really got going with the journaling in my pre-teen years, and was prolific throughout my teens and even university (as time permitted). I wrote compulsively about events I wanted to cherish, and even more compulsively about heartbreaking or awful or turbulent things I needed to process. Some hopes and philosophies, lots about friendships, and even more about boys.

During my grade-school years, I dreamed of being a professional writer one day (like my authorly heroines – Anne Shirley, Anne Frank, That Scatterbrain Booky). I was also homeschooled by my mom, who is herself a writer of poetry, stories, and historical novels. Her encouragement/bias is evidenced by the many stories and poems and not-at-all-historical novels I wrote during that time. (Her novels tended to treat actual elements of the British monarchy, and mine were about contemporary pre-teen girls with first-world problems. Amy the Dreamer; Remember Me? I’m Your Daughter; and My Friend Christie. They were twelve chapters each, written by hand on lined paper in duo-tangs. Full of my youthful feels, if not actual ingenuity. The Magic Chestnut was never finished.)

I remember submitting the painstakingly typed (and dot-matrix printed) Amy the Dreamer to Nelson Canada (it was kind of a homeschooling project, with a business letter and everything) and receiving a very nice rejection letter for it. I’m pretty sure I once had a poem published in Cricket magazine, and I won a few awards at my high school’s Literary Festival. My real accomplishment, though, was “Rainy Day Cindy,” my first (and only) fully author-illustrated short story – which you can view in its entirety on this very blog!

Then, in university, I wrote a buttload of essays, culminating in my 75-page mémoire (similar to a thesis) for my Masters in French lit. And that was enough of that.

My journaling, and actually my writing in all forms, dramatically tapered off when Sean and I settled down together. Naturally, peaceful love life = less fodder; real job = less time. It wasn’t until I started blogging that I realized how much I’d missed having that outlet.

I don’t really write fiction anymore. As a kid, I had no end of ideas, and felt absolutely entitled to write the heck out of them. Nowadays, I feel unqualified to make up stories, intimidated by the incredibly gorgeous and heartrending novels I’ve read. There’s a part of me that still wants to write a novel, or lots of novels. The trouble is, I don’t want to do so without a character who could steal your heart, preferably within a story that could blow your mind. I’m not confident that my imagination is up to the task.

But I do love blogging. I’ve heard folks paraphrase Dorothy Parker on more than one occasion: “I hate writing, I love having written.” For me, this is not the case. I relish the writing process, love finding and puzzling together the words to say what I mean. I even sort of liked writing essays, for the brain challenge. Writing soothes the itchy parts of my mind.

Thank goodness for you, lovely Di-hards. Just by reading, you validate my act of writing things. You motivate me just by your presence. You make it okay for me to keep this frivolous habit of committing my thoughts to words. I’m profoundly grateful to you.

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Possibly The Randomest Book You’ll Ever Read

On one of E’s earlier works, Daddy helped him with a short author bio in which it was conveyed that E’s goal is to make 100 books.

He is barrelling toward this goal, let me tell you. He’s kind of obsessed with my stapler.

Here’s a creation from this past week. I love how he’s unencumbered by the fetters of plot, theme, or common threads of any kind, swinging freely between the physical and the metaphysical.

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This is the title page. He’s really into stormy weather patterns right now. I’m pretty sure the circular one at the bottom is a typhoon.
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Only one of each – no need for overkill.
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These names come from his class list, hence the abundance of appropriate vowels.
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He makes jump tracks just like this. You’ll notice that spoilers are very important to him – as they are, verily, unto the world.
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This looks like he doesn’t understand food groups, but he’s actually been talking quite knowledgeably about them recently. Apparently the colour-code is the critical part.
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You have to have a Stuffies page.
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And of course you DOUBLE HAVE TO have a Dragons page.
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Spoiler alert… this Colours page might just lead to a spinoff book.
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I’ve always loved his plane drawings beyond all description.
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And the heart-pounding dénouement: CANDIES!

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In Search of the Wagon

Hey, lovelies.

Happy new year!

It feels weird, but REALLY good, to be writing this, after falling off that wagon three weeks ago and then skulking around the wagon trail pretending I might get back on at any moment but knowing in my heart that I’d never make it up into the jockey box with a heavy rucksack weighing me down.

The rucksack, if you haven’t guessed already, is “100 Happy Days.”

I love the idea of sharing images of the things – usually simple and ordinary – that give you a smile or a thrill in a day. I have loved seeing the things that my friends have posted as their photos for 100 Happy Days. But as of this writing, the last happy day I ostensibly had was Day 39, twenty-four days ago.

Which is part of why it’s taken me so long to get typing. It’s kinda embarrassing. I never would have pictured myself as someone who couldn’t hack one happy picture per day for three months… One of those quitters they talk about on the 100 Happy Days website who just can’t find the time to log my happiness.

Though, to be honest, the attitude on that website bugs me. The idea that the people who didn’t complete the challenge “didn’t have time to be happy” is inappropriately smug, and also, I suspect, bullsh*t.

It wasn’t true in my case. I have always been a person who deliberately savours things and moments and images. Sometimes you want to take a picture, and sometimes you want to just enjoy. Sometimes you’re smiling because of words or fragrances or endorphins that are not photographable. And sometimes you look at the curve of your child’s cheek and know you could take a thousand pictures and still never capture the bliss of it.

A few things I realized while NOT blogging:

  • An early setback really takes the wind out of the sails. I mean, duh, of course it does. But the thing about me is, the longer I work at something, the more stubborn I get about finishing. If I could have used my initial momentum to get the first thirty days legitimately done, then I would probably have kicked into stubborn mode and made it a lot further. But with my technical difficulties early on, and being behind before I really got started, the momentum and inspiration just ebbed away. Sigh.
  • It’s confirmed: I don’t blog to post. I blog to write. If I’m not carefully selecting and kneading and relishing the words, at least to some extent, then I’m not invested. While I love seeing other bloggers’ photos and photo-based posts, posting photos myself does not motivate me. (Clearly.)
  • Those seemingly simple photo posts took up just enough time each day that I never felt I could spare more for the wordier posts I wanted to write.
  • All those pent-up words I wasn’t writing were getting very antsy in my brain.
  • The longer I spent not writing or posting at all, the more upsetting it was to remind myself of my neglected blog. Where would I even start, after disappointing myself so, and subconsciously saying “screw it” to the whole process?

Well, that’s what the New Year is for.

Here’s my plan. For those of you who would like to see the happy photos I continued to take even though I wasn’t posting them, I will back-publish them in chunks. When I have time.

And just to appease the (large, insistent) part of me that hates quitting, I will say that my 100 Happy Days can happen whenever. I will post a happy photo and add it to the list when it makes sense to do so. My 100 days might take all year; so be it.

To you lovely di-hards who nudged me, letting me know you missed my posts, thank you. It means a lot to me that you noticed and cared.

And to you lovely di-hards who noticed and cared but didn’t mention it, thank you also – I appreciate that too. Since the person who nags me the most about this compulsive hobby is actually me.

To sum up: it’s 2015. This year it’s all gonna happen. Time to get over myself, stop being annoyed/guilty/self-critical and be awesome instead.

Want to join me?

Here's my representation of the awesomeness about to start (i.e. Dilovely is messing around with Procreate).
Here’s my representation of the awesomeness about to start (i.e. Dilovely is messing around with Procreate). My next artistic attempt will be greener.

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100 Happy Days + NaBloPoMo – Day 2: Super Mom

I did not have to wait long for the sequel! Dad is not the only Super one, folks.

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The Adventures of The Super Mom
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Chapter 1: A Breakout. One day, Super Mom was going to a big race. When they were racing suddenly there was a breakout.
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Chapter 2: A Big Party. It was Arwen’s Birthday. It was a big success. (“I <3 U,” Wow,” “I <3 U 2.”)
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Chapter 3
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I had a party too. It wasn’t as big of a success.
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The End.

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NaBloPoMo Meets 100 Happy Days – Day 1

{Hi everyone! This is yesterday’s post. It was honestly ready to go on the appropriate day, but I have been having major technical difficulties with my blog. So I’m going to sneakily attempt back-publishing it – here’s hoping this silly post will actually post. And there will be Halloween photos – but the technical difficulties extended even unto those, so they will be unfashionably late.}

NaBloPoMo is here! And at this stage of my life, the prospect of writing a real post every day is really daunting. So, inspired by some of my friends, I’ve decided to do 100 Happy Days and practice my pithiness.

For today, I thought you’d like to see this thing that made me grin hugely, courtesy of my charming five-year-old.

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The Amazing Adventures of Super Dad
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Chapter 1: Flying. Once upon a time there was a Super Dad.
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He was flying happily along when he saw a giant monster.
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Chapter 2: A Monster. So he tried to fly away but it was too late. The monster had already got him. “I’m hungry.”
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Chapter 3: The Amazing Adventure. Today Super Dad was going on a adventure.
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The End.

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Writer’s Flood Paralysis and the Blogging Shame Spiral (a.k.a. excuses)

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Nice apple-blossom photo = shameless attempt to pretty up this post.

What the Sam Hill… I haven’t posted since April 22nd??

Lots of bloggers complain about writer’s block and lack of inspiration. (Fortunately, lots of other bloggers offer solutions for both.) I can imagine getting blocked, if you’re a niche blogger. Some days you just might not have that kicky recipe or new fitness tip or fashionably retro decorating idea that you want to share with the world.

Dilovely, on the other hand, blogs about any damn fool thing she feels like, so there’s no chance of writer’s block. Instead, her ideas for stuff to write about pile up like laundry until she hardly knows where to begin. (She currently has no fewer than twenty-four draft posts already started, and that doesn’t count the extensive list entitled “Blog ideas” on her phone.)

For the purposes of this post, I’ve dubbed the phenomenon “Writer’s Flood”. I hereby admit that it often has a paralyzing effect on me. I might only have a few minutes to write on any given day, and with so many topics banging around in my head, pestering to be written about, I end up avoiding my Dashboard altogether instead of sitting down and just getting some words out – even though I know the latter would ALWAYS make me feel better.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve been known to do the same with laundry. (You know, just sometimes.)

That’s when you see ten-to-fifteen-day gaps, followed by flighty, materialistic posts with excuses in them. The longer the gap, the more self-reproach comes into play, the harder it is to jump back in.

If you find that the following Gripes actually seem a bit like excuses… Well… touché.

Gripes (have to come first because who wants to put the kvetching at the end?):

  • April was a month characterized by illness at our house (I know we’re not alone here). Sean and I both got knocked out by a crazy bug that made me sicker than I’ve been in… I honestly don’t know how long. Maybe ever.
    • Felt like strep throat but wasn’t.
    • Took my voice away for two full days.
    • Missed three days of school in a row (unprecedented, at least for sickness), because just as my voice was coming back, I got double pinkeye (mmm, sexy).
    • Copious amounts of congestion, plus coughing that I thought would at least leave me with chiseled abs, but didn’t.
    • Oh, and there was a really bad neck-kink in there that kept me from turning my head to the left for a couple days.
    • Meanwhile, Baby AB got an ear infection, and E got a localized rash we’re still trying to figure out.
    • Then we thought we were out of the woods and Sean suddenly backtracked with a sinus infection.
    • If what WHO says about global antimicrobial resistance is true, then we are in serious trouble, because between the four of us, our family has been on antibiotics no less than six times this past season. Or was it seven?
  • Remember when I was kinda freaking out because I have so much to do in a strict timeline, necessitating my becoming the Duchess of Organization? Well, becoming the D of O whilst blowing bucketfuls of crap out of your head through your nose (mmm, sexy) is actually really difficult. So I’m still trying to get on track there.
  • Likewise: working on that strong and bendy issue I mentioned. Sigh.
  • There is also a phenomenon, when you’re a teacher, where you’re really wanting to cover lots of material and be really efficient (as befits a Duchess of Organization), and certain students… it’s like they sense it. And are instinct-bound to thwart it. A bunch of those kids + spring fever = endless classroom management. That’s my job right now.
  • And even the spring fever is only quasi-exhiliarating, because it is now MAY and frankly, it’s still mostly dead chilly out.

Hypes (because I want you to know I do possess some fraction of a positive attitude):

  • Although there are no leaves on our trees yet, at least our grass is green, and we have daffodils.
  • Even better, my Hubbibi has found his inner gardener all of a sudden (he comes by it honestly – his mom is a wonder with plants) and our front yard and gardens have never looked so immaculate in seven years.
  • We got to see a very well-done community production of the musical Rent last weekend, and oh, it still ROCKS. (Yes, I was a Renthead once upon a time, and it’s possible I still qualify because ALL the lyrics were easily called up from my brain-files.)
  • Sean finally put up the bird feeder my parents gave us (a shamefully long time ago), and now we are wishing we’d had it up all this time. Seriously, we are SO POPULAR all of a sudden (among little feathery and furry things), and we had no idea how much of a pleasure it would be to watch the birdies. It is just a lovely, simple, peaceful thing to do. The kids love it too – AB gets all excited when she sees a goldfinch (calls it a “goldfish”), and the other day, E correctly identified a house finch (as Uncle Ben taught him). If you don’t have a bird feeder, y’all should totally get one.
  • Our kids, despite all the illness, are incredibly entertaining. E’s behaviour is gradually improving (knock wood), not that I could really say why… but it’s quite a relief to have more cooperation and fewer meltdowns. And AB is just hilarious. She’s a talker, like her brother, and still babyish enough that everything she says sounds cute. Even when she’s mad and/or aggravating and/or trying to use her imperiousness to boss us around, she’s an adorable munchkin. It’s her lot in life right now.
  • And… I’m gonna put this in, even though I hesitate, because it was a highlight for sure: Friday before last, I had an amazing conversation with someone I’d just met.

Let me explain.

I’d sort of already met her, via email only, thanks to my midwife… and it wasn’t really the conversation that was amazing, it was how it felt. This person happened to be supply teaching at my school that day, and she recognized me and introduced herself – kind of in code, because it would be odd to say, “Hi, I’m that other mom you sorta know who also had a stillborn baby at 35 weeks’ gestation.”

We chatted for the rest of the lunch period – 20 minutes or so – about our kids (all of them) but also lots of other things. I felt immediately connected to her. It wasn’t an intimate conversation, and yet it was. I can’t even describe how simultaneously calming and invigorating it was to talk face-to-face with someone who intrinsically understands what it is… to be this. A normal person carrying around an invisible child, all the time. There was a point in the conversation where we both had tears in our eyes, with absolutely no explanation or reassurance or apology needed.

I know can talk to people about Sebastian; I have friends and family members who would want me to call if I needed a shoulder to cry on. I appreciate this fact immensely. The thing is, I don’t often need an official shoulder. I rarely blog about Sebastian now, as you know. I don’t grieve deeply every day. But I do think about him every day, many times. I do miss him and acknowledge him and remember him – but mostly just to myself, because as supportive as my peeps usually are, bringing up a dead child in conversation is hard for everyone involved. If I were to get teary-eyed in the middle of a chat, people would probably sympathize, but it would still be awkward (if only for me). Sometimes I’d rather keep him inside, just for me, than bring him out and make things weird.

That’s the great thing about blogging, I guess. If I inadvertently get somber in the midst of a flippant post about procrastination, and you’re still reading and it’s suddenly awkward… tant pis. I’ll never know.

(If you are still reading, thank you.)

And that’s my story for now. Cheers to getting the words out already.

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