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Fences: a metaphor taken entirely too far

I used to live in an open field. Everyone could come and go as they pleased and take what they needed. I could see forever, but it offered little protection. Anyone could come to my door and there was no measure to stop people taking more than they were owed. I have a habit of giving too much away; making people uncomfortable instead of making them like me.

One day I looked in the pantry, and realized there was little left to give. Worse, there was barely enough for me to survive. I realized that I had been depending on visitors to show up with their arms full of wares, and I thought it was ok for me to take everything they had. To pick their pockets if I had to rather than go out into the world myself. But people don’t keep coming around when you do that. That is not how life works. It was high time I should fill my own pantry, be like my neighbors who seemed to manage to go out every day and bring home what they need. Protected within their walls, welcoming to glad strangers.

I went about doing normal people things, and bringing home what I thought I needed.  But I kept bringing home too much stuff, or not enough, or all of one thing, or all things cheaply made and discounted. And I kept leaving my doors unlocked, and the windows open. People didn’t want the things I had, or they were taking too much, and they kept coming at all the wrong times. I was not getting the hang of being like other people. I thought; I should build a fence. Other people have fences. A fence will help keep people at bay while I am busy filling up my pantry with all the right things.

The trouble was, I had never built a fence before. I had never learned how. I didn’t even know what the building codes were or where to get the materials. I just looked around and saw everyone else had them and thought it had to be pretty easy. Everyone seemed to be able to do it all on their own; I shouldn’t have to ask for help. I would build a pretty fence just like all the other fences. I didn’t realize that all those people who had built their fences had good teachers, consulted the right books, knew the laws, were born with innate fence building skills. I didn’t know that they had people who helped them brace it, noticed when it was looking a little worn and helped them mend it. I didn’t know what I didn’t know about fences.

I cobbled together a fence out of shit I had laying around. It was a janky fence that wasn’t anchored properly got knocked over in the slightest wind. Parts of it were too high, parts too shallow. Other parts had holes in them that people could see right through. It was easily tunneled under. I forgot to build gates. I painted it a garish colour so everyone would notice it instead of just jumping right over. It was uneven and nails were sticking out, and anyone who walked past would get caught on it. But I was proud that I had done it, even if it was the ugliest, most useless fence in history.

Most people didn’t notice the fence much, being as used to fences as they are. Some people were deterred by the lack of gates and stopped coming around. Some people thought the fence was ugly. Some people got angry that the fence was there at all, making them alter their regular routes around me. Some people came at it all Mad Max style and knocked it over and told me I wasn’t allowed to have a fence.

The fence wasn’t doing its job; it was keeping the polite people out and attracting protest from people who didn’t like fences. I started to panic. So I militarized. I built the fence higher. I dug it into the ground. I electrified it. I barbed it. I welded it shut. It now stood so tall that I could hardly see the sun.

I was safe; the good people couldn’t get in, but more importantly no one could get at my weirdly stocked pantry anymore. The trouble was, I had no way out. I could peek out, but it felt awkward to talk to people from a tall, barbed ledge. I didn’t have a ladder, so my arms ached holding myself over the top of it. Everything sounds like anger when it has to be yelled over the wall, when that’s the only way people can reach you. The bigger trouble was that my pantry was almost empty again, and now I had no way to fill it. I had no garden, no livestock, nothing except a giant fence I had put all of my time and energy into.

I rationed myself behind the walls. Counted days, waited for someone to rescue me. I thought if someone cared enough they would heroically scale the fence with all the things that I needed. I waited. I started to get lonely and crazy behind the fence. I wondered if there was anyone on the other side anymore. I blamed the world for forcing me in here, but the truth was really simple: I built it exactly the right height to keep everyone out. I picked the wrong tool to protect myself. I was guarding all that I did not have.

It is hard to take down walls and make yourself vulnerable to the world again. It is hard to disarm yourself against the people battering against you. We have to shield ourselves with the knowledge that we deserve, I deserve, to have what everyone else has. I had to learn to be solid enough in that conviction that I belong in the world, to have everything I need. I had to starve before I learned that I can unbuild and sit in full view of the horizon. Everything now is a little too loud and a little too bright; I am unsure of how to be outside again. But the sunrise feels good on my face, even if the glare obscures the road ahead.

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Five

This boy is going to wake up 5 today.

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And so will this one.

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Technically, they were born mid-morning, but only for a minute will I have a 4 year old and a 5 year old and then 4 will be a memory. A fellow twin mom lamented how there is no time to think about it when it’s over; no going back when your second child reaches that age. No reflection. I never felt that more than this year, where I was just trying to keep pace with the relentless nature of four. Until this year, their needs were always fairly easily met; exhausting, but simple. An endless run of snacks, meals, drinks, diapers, and desperately seeking any form of socialization.

Then four comes and all that goes out the flipping window. Suddenly I am knee deep in shark puppets.

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Hiding treasure boxes.

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Conceptualizing dreams.

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Having birthday parties for angry birds

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And in between swimming, soccer, preschool, piano, snowboarding, dance parties, camping, and the library, there is the more mundane aspects of life. As we make beds, we are answering how babies are made, what happens when we die, and every question that can be made out of all permutations of words in the English language.

Doesn't this look like it ended calmly? It didn't. SOMEONE'S BUTT GOT BITTEN AND IT WASN'T SOMEONE I KNOW.

Doesn’t this look like it ended calmly? It didn’t. SOMEONE’S BUTT GOT BITTEN AND IT WASN’T SOMEONE I KNOW.

Suddenly, this year, I had to think about what would happen if a shark ate a turtle, or ate a people, or ate another shark, or ate a dead sperm whale, or if the shark died, or if people ate a shark, or what things eat in the abyssal zone. If I stopped to think too hard, if I had the time, it would seem to me that life is SO unfair, that things get eaten and die. But my four year olds, now five year olds, take this all in stride. Life is what it is, and it is their job to figure out what that it is.

We help them navigate daycare politics, but more often than not, I find myself just listening in on their conversations; clues to the things that are important to them. What I hear is secrets and jokes that they have with their friends; the first things that I won’t understand. I see a decade into the future; a world entirely their own. I know we’re on our way to that.

Life is big and complicated, and it’s impossible to keep up with little brains that never stop. Looking back at how much they’ve grown this year, it makes me also realize how much I haven’t; I am constantly trying to apply the same expectations and methods to boys who have clearly outpaced us. I’ve had a lot of failures this year, tripping over myself and my words, and letting my own feelings get in the way of being a good parent. Hopefully, all they see is that I tried really hard, tried to be present with them. But now, more than ever, I feel behind them. Constantly trying to catch up to something I’ll never grasp again.

Every year, on their birthday, our mayday tree blooms. For a few days before and after, our front yard has erupted in white. I like to imagine it is just for them, even though the tree long preceded their birth and mayday trees have been blooming for time immemorial. I tell them that it’s their birthday present, and we  stop to look at the flowers and the little ecosystem of bugs they host. This year, the mayday is a little late. Like everything this year. I hope it’s enough for you, sweet boys. I hope you don’t notice how far behind you the world is; just keep powering ahead and we’ll all catch up. Or maybe I’ll just stop for a bit to watch you blaze ahead; I don’t want to miss the streak you leave trying in vain to keep up.

What this photo mostly told me is that I need a new macro lens for my camera. My birthday is also happening, family.

Maydays just about to go. What this photo mostly told me is that I need a new macro lens for my camera. My birthday is also happening, family.

Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday. Your old mom loves you more than you know.

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The unicorn and his many “smile!” faces this year.. things that are important to remember.

Also, thank you to Brother Jon for the shout out. If you don’t read his blog, you really should. The internet needs more gentle, kind people like him. On the plus side, he’s also funny and goodlooking. And SMART. He even understands what engineers want sometimes.

Autism

1 in 68 children is diagnosed with Autism. Chances are, you know a family that lives with this unwieldy thing, and you know that comes in so many different shapes and sizes.

Our family knows Autism intimately. Eight years ago my cousin gave birth to her second boy; a curly headed chub with big blue eyes. He was so unlike his brother; his brother entered the world loud and gregarious. T was quieter. We would laugh about how he would put himself to bed at 8 p.m. no matter where he was, without fuss. His ways were ordered. His younger sister came quickly after him, and in the midst of all the chaos of 3 kids, all under 5, my cousin and her husband noticed that T wasn’t hitting his milestones. That his ordered ways gave way to meltdowns when they weren’t observed. That he couldn’t be coaxed out of his moods. That he liked certain textures. Once you saw a list of symptoms, there was no denying that he was on the spectrum.

My cousin and her husband wasted no time. T was diagnosed as soon after his second birthday as they could get him to the doctor. T was born in a town and a time where resources were scarce, and the only certainty they had was that the sooner therapy starts, the better. There was a flurry of finding aides, setting aside rooms for therapy space, educating family, joining advocacy groups, googling, reading books. We developed a new lexicon for behaviours. There was worry about what the future would bring. Some people criticized them; some people were afraid. I hope most people were supportive and kind, but I would venture that most didn’t understand all the challenges. And on top of managing everyone else’s emotions, there was the rest of their life; two other small kids who had birthday parties and skating lessons and play dates and all the rest. There was a business to run and a house to keep and an extended family to tend to and vacations to be had.  Life only accelerated for them in the wake of diagnosis.

And yet, it all worked. They made it work. T worked hard, his aides pushed him, we all adjusted. His parents doggedly maintained a life for themselves and their other kids. And somewhere along the way, things started to click with T; his speech came along, he started to hit milestones. There was lots of hard days in between, but he made progress in leaps and bounds. I still remember the pride when T gave me a high five for the first time, when he was 5. I felt like I had been invited into his club. Now, I can hug him and joke with him. He goes to school, he’s got friends. Life is not without it’s challenges, but so much has happened already that we were never certain would. And yet, the goal is not to “fix” him and make him neurotypical; it’s to help him live the best life he can. It is the same goal we have for all of our kids.

This is what we have learned of Autism; it brings out the very, very best in families. It is so hard, but the successes are so much more. When our kids are all together it is mad chaos, but autism centers us; we temper our schedules because T needs us to. It gives me perspective raising my own children, reminding me that life is uncertain but you can deal with anything that gets thrown in your path. Mostly, I see T and am reminded that he is a person; he was the same baby we giggled about going to bed at 8 p.m., the same kid who loves to play Lego and Super Mario. He is a kid; he is not Autism. His needs are a little different from the rest of ours, but that doesn’t exempt him from all the love and respect in the world.

Autism is not a terrible affliction; it is a different way of seeing the world and we are invited to try and understand it. To choose not to is to miss out on all the gifts that individuals with Autism have to offer. For me, that is watching T light up talking about something he loves, or giggling with him over silly jokes. These are relatively normal things with most kids, but from him they feel like a really big present with a bow on top. My cousin’s family lives three hours away, so this isn’t my daily reality, but I am glad to be a part of T and his family’s life. I am grateful for the resources he has and the support they get from their community. I am so grateful that T has a brother and sister who love and support him. I am grateful for our extended family who have rallied around him. And mostly, I am so grateful and filled with admiration for his parents; who are T’s greatest champions.

So today, on World Autism Day, let’s celebrate families who share their kids’ struggles and get them through. And let’s celebrate everyone on the spectrum, because they aren’t problems to be solved, they are people to be loved.

To learn more about Austim, and how to support individuals with Autism, please visit Autism Speaks.

Making Halloween Happen

Kind of.

My four-year olds are totally enthralled with costumes, and I have had occasion to dine with a unicorn, giraffe, lion, or Captain America. Batman helps me pick out tampons at the drug store (complete with drawn out and loud discussions about female anatomy), and a jellyfish has had a fit about buying pancake mix for some indeterminate point in the future instead of setting up shop in the homewares section like some insane Top Chef challenge and making them RIGHT NOW. This is just our every day life. When it comes to Halloween, I feel like we have to up the ante a little.

It turns out that one aspect of parenting I am not terrible at is costumes. I discovered this when the boys had a recital at daycare. The kids had to dress up as various animals, making costumes out of “inexpensive household items”. I made this instead:

They were supposed to sing a song about animals, but they mostly just stood staring out at the sea of iPhones recording them. The Unicorn yawned throughout.

They were supposed to sing a song but they mostly just stood staring out at the sea of iPhones recording them. The Unicorn yawned throughout.

To be fair, a lot of other parents went kind of over the top too, but I can safely say that I went the most over the top by a wide margin. A lot of glue was involved while I cracked the whip over Mr. Giraffe to custom paint the costume while I fiddled around getting the eyes right. I am still not satisfied with them. I am still finding bits of foam everywhere in our house.

Halloween prep started shortly after this. Angry Birds are the order of the day here, so Angry Birds it would be. The Engineer wanted to be Chewbacca Bird and the Unicorn wanted to be a Slingshot.

*scratches head*

Uhhh… ok, let’s roll with that.

Plans changed when we found amazing Yellow Angry Bird and King Pig masks at good ol’ Wallyworld. Mr. Giraffe was tired and I think vaguely optimistic that we’d just achieved a somewhat easy holiday.

It should come as no surprise at all to you that a month later I found myself finding Angry Birds templates for pumpkins, buying eavestrough joints, and hoarding boxes and cardboard to “just add a little something” to Halloween festivities.

I am a busy woman, so I left the eavestrough at my dad’s house with instructions to turn it into a slingshot for Yellow Bird. I think he thought I was insane, but he totally made that shit happen, and made me completely envious of the fact that he 1) owns tools, 2) knows how to use the tools, and 3) is retired. The final product was better than I would have ever been able to achieve and happened with very little input from me. It worked out so well I am going to see if I can outsource a lot of things now (See: aforementioned tampon and pancake mix purchasing).

In retrospect, I wish we’d stuck with his original vision and just gone with the slingshot. That thing is a work of art.

Two days before Halloween, Mr. Giraffe excitedly messaged me to ask: “Are we making Halloween costumes tonight?” I was confused by his enthusiasm and participation until I realized the subtext was “Are you going to be knee-deep in cardboard shavings, hot gluing your fingers together for the next two days?”

Indeed, I was.

King Pig needed a TNT box.  Parents out there can attest to the fact that diaper boxes are the most useful byproduct of child-rearing, and they proved their worth again here. As my dear friend Sara noted later, I was going balls out. I couldn’t half-ass this with markers. No, I was going to make a 3D textured TNT box that looks just like real life. Except, you know, the 2D cartoon version of real life. Or something. I think I have my dimensions confused. Anyway, it was going to be epic.

The first night I thought really hard about how I wanted to achieve the box. I even cut 3 strips of cardboard and a head hole. Feeling really good about my progress, I rewarded myself with as many rounds of Candy Crush as I could manage (5. DAMN YOU CANDY CRUSH, I WILL NOT SPEND MONEY ON YOU) and went to bed, confident that I would be able to complete my project before bedtime on the 30th.

I did, in fact, complete the costume before going to bed on the 30th. Or rather, four hours past my bedtime at 3 am on the 31st. At 6 pm on the 30th, my parents came to deliver the slingshot. At 7:30 pm, the groupthink and yelling about how to attach the slingshot to the Unicorn’s body was accomplished, as was the total and complete defraying of all of my nerves. At 7:35, Mr. Giraffe had delivered the kids to bed, and wisely disappeared, not to be seen by the rest of the night. At 9 pm, I had a bloodied hand and 3 Angry Bird themed pumpkins that had to have various parts of them hot glued back together.

It occurs to me that Halloween pumpkins are sort of like those Buddhist sand drawings, except that I don't achieve any sort of spiritual ascension and no one dresses up as a sexy hot dog to celebrate sand drawings.

It occurs to me that Halloween pumpkins are sort of like those Buddhist sand drawings, except that I don’t achieve any sort of spiritual ascension and no one dresses up as a sexy hot dog to celebrate sand drawings.

Pumpkins achieved, I turned my attention to the TNT box. At 11 pm, I ran out of hot glue, and narrowly avoided impaling myself with a box cutter, then remembered there was a bottle of wine in the freezer. At 11:01 the top of that bottle shattered while I was trying to reef the cork out with all my might. At 11:03, I strained the glass shards out of that wine and drank the hell out of it.

True story

True story

Without the benefit of hot glue, I had to hold the pieces together while watching nine episodes of Duck Dynasty. Those dudes are really wholesome. I think I would get along with Uncle Si. I had a long time to think about this. Finally, I had the genius idea to hold the glued pieces together with my hair band, and called it a night. It was 3 am.

At 3:04, I discovered that the Unicorn had an ear infection. At 7:30 am, I had a complete mental break where I believed that “just ten minutes” of sleep would carry me through the day, and I was at risk of murdering anyone who told me otherwise. At 7:42 am, the Engineer declared that he wasn’t going to wear the TNT box because it hurt, and I had an aneurism, while I simultaneously wondered if I could somehow squeeze my middle-aged carcass into it instead.

YES. YES. YES! My vision come to life! Brought down to earth moments later by kiddo shenanigans. I am not enough of a narcissist to force him to wear a costume just because I made it. Just to be clear.

YES. YES. YES! My vision come to life! Brought down to earth moments later by kiddo shenanigans. I am not enough of a narcissist to force him to wear a costume just because I made it. Just to be clear. He wore it later entirely of his own volition, and promises that his candy haul would be improved if he had a really good costume.

At 9 am, I was at the walk-in clinic with the Unicorn where he was crying so loud and so hard that they let him in ahead of a lady with a spurting head wound.

The Unicorn would have gotten into the doctor faster than this guy. (image from delvedigger.com)

At .. oh fuck, I don’t even know. Later in the day, we found ourselves wandering around the drug store. The Unicorn laid down in the aisle. He was curled around a discounted stuffed Angry Bird, and it appeared to be the only thing keeping him alive. We purchased that bird: who was I to say no? I lamented that Angry Birds came into our lives only during moments of weakness; like when we hand over the iPad because we’re tired. This had delivered me directly to this moment, scarred up by Angry Bird costumes, undone by my own weakness There were a lot of surprisingly complicated thoughts going through my head given the fact that I could not form complete sentences and had to have a nap in the van before I trusted myself to drive home.

At 6:30 pm, everyone was properly propped up on ibuprofen, and we were out trick or treating with the neighbors. I made hot chocolate and Baileys for the adults. When Mr. Giraffe inadvertently spilled my drink all over me, I made lemonade out of lemons.. or rather, skipped the hot chocolate, poured whisky out of the bottle, and drank an entire mug, and made excuses twice to run back to our house to refill it. The boys had a grand time, and I am pretty sure I was unfit to parent by that point, so thank the Great Pumpkin Mr. Giraffe was out too. Maeby dressed up as a bee.

This was not at Halloween; this was at a Meadery.

This was not at Halloween; this was at a Meadery.

The End.

Lesson Learned: STOP DOING ALL THE THINGS, STUPID.

The Rollergiraffe on Mommy Shaming

It’s been a rough week, folks. This parenting gig is hard shit sometimes, and we have had some doozies this week. Just this morning my dog ran away while the children were having a meltdown and then daycare continued its Fatwa on my parenting style (read: continual experiment in trying to get some sleep). I need a reminder that I am ok at this junk, and I suspect some of you do too.

the rollergiraffe

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Little girl

Tonight you were playing with my boys in the playhouse at the store. I noticed you were watching me more than playing. You kept asking me questions, pretending you didn’t understand what my boys were saying to you, why they weren’t speaking English. I laughed, and feeling conspiratorial, commiserated about how crazy they were being. But I secretly wanted to get on with my shopping and end this long day. Then you popped your head out the window of the playhouse and shattered me.

“You remind me of my mom”

I smiled, and was about to turn away.

“You remind me of my mom. She died.” Then you popped back in the house.

I was at first convinced you were just being morbid, as kids sometimes are, and I looked around for your mom. Then your head popped out the window again, after gaining a bit more courage. “You have hair like hers. They had to cut it off when she got sick and then she died.”

It popped out of your mouth with the blunt matter-of-factness only a 5 year old can have. There was nothing delicate about it, no adult’s finesse to soften it. You were telling me something important and sacred. I don’t know what I said in return. Something wholly inadequate. Something like, “you must miss her a lot, I am so sorry.

You turned away and carried on playing, your moment of remembering over. I saw you later with your dad, I saw you watching me again. I wanted to be your mom. I wanted so badly to just be your mom for a minute, and I wanted to scoop you up like your mom would have. To bury my face in your neck like I do to my boys and swing you around until we were all giggling. I wanted to be a shape shifter, a mind reader, a mystic, whatever it took, so I could be your mom for a minute and do that.

I wanted to do that for you. Obviously, your world is upside down and it is on your mind enough that you want to talk to strangers about it, enough that you are seeing your mom in places she’s not. That’s as normal as it gets in this mess. You are coping. Children are resilient, and not afraid to feel out loud, no matter how loud it is. But I wanted to give you a moment of relief, and that cocooned, snug, safe feeling from Before It Happened.

But more, I wanted to do that for your mom. I know she didn’t want last time to be the last time she did that. I know she wanted to be the one you peppered with questions as she shopped. I know she wanted so much more. I know she’s glad to be remembered by you, and to see you out in the world. Little girl, your mom is everywhere in all the good things in this life.

I wanted to reblog this today to celebrate the fact that so far no one has vomited today. ENJOY!

the rollergiraffe

We got flooded at Thanksgiving last year and then we had bronchitis and other family disasters at Christmas time. We’ve endured a lot of complicated living situations and crud, so I figured a really fun Easter might turn things around. I was prepared; I had the eggs, the Easter baskets, enough chocolate to put us all in a diabetic coma, adorable Easter cards made and photos taken. I talked the kids into being excited about the Easter bunny, or at least remembering that there is something called an Easter bunny, which they only understood in a vague way. This was going to be the best motherfucking Easter ever. (just like the best motherfucking Christmas ever.. sigh, I should have known).

Then on Wednesday night just as I was drifting off to sleep, early for once after weeks of being an idiot watching episodes of Mad Men all night long…

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I haven’t blogged in a while, but I hope you don’t mind me reblogging this post about my Uncle Norm. He recently changed my life again, more than eight years after his death, and I miss him more than ever. I’d give anything to while away another lunchtime playing crib, Norm.

the rollergiraffe

My great uncle Norman owned a cattle ranch out near Elkwater, where my dad spent a lot of his days as a young boy riding horses and exploring. Uncle Norm spent his whole life building up the ranch and figuring out the best way to make millions. None of us could ever really figure out why, as he lived fairly simply rarely buying himself new clothes, driving second-hand vehicles and eating at cheap restaurants. He remained a bachelor and as Norman got older he spent more and more time in town staying at his sister’s (my grandma’s) house. He was a regular fixture at the Medicine Hat casino and if you ran into him there he’d plug a slot machine full of money for you to play while you chatted about the weather and his latest get rich quick scheme. Over the years he invested in a perpetual motion machine, diamond mines, and a million other crazy things; always…

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Bloggers for Movember

It’s November, yo! The time when you were likely to grow facial hair anyway because it’s freaking cold outside and you can’t find your balaclava. So why not put your money where your mustache is and blog for Movember? Raise some cash for dudes, their prostates, and their mental health.

Walrus

From the American Mustache Institute Style Guide. For real.

Go to A Clown on Fire to learn more about Bloggers for Movember. 

Most importantly, remember to DONATE. Or grow a mustache. Or just generally be awesome about getting a prostate exam. All these things are going to get you laid, guys. I promise. By someone. I am pretty sure. Don’t hold me to that. I can’t be responsible for that kind of thing.

I am going to plan Friday posts about men’s issues for the rest of Movember. If you have any suggestions or anything topical, please send it my way.