Monday, June 2, 2014


Most of my life is spent in a place of too much and not enough.

Too much to do, and not enough time.
Too much stuff, and not enough space.
Too much eaten, and not enough activity.
Too much spent, and not enough saved.
Too much stress, and not enough rest.

You get the picture. You probably live in this picture too. Most of us internet-trawling, Facebook-posting, smart-phone-clutching, Consumers-and-Users do. We don’t want to. We don’t plan to. We read and write and repost all sorts of things to avoid it. But, it’s the curse of modern life.

I suspect the subsistence-farming, factory-working, drought-surviving, war-enduring, HaveNots-and-MakingDoers are living their own form of too much and not enough. A far grimmer version. Perhaps, it’s the curse of human life.

This morning I gamely wrestled six bags, three children, a dented flute, a half-eaten muffin and a small plastic snailery (hastily fashioned out of an old pop bottle for Mrs Gander’s class) out the front door. We were running late. Again. With even the smallest chance of sunshine, ghostly white people like us must sunscreen before leaving the house. I always forget to account for this extra 5 minutes in my mad dash to all our various schools.

Fortunately we have very good friends who give the highschooler a ride everyday. The elementary schoolers were impatiently buckled into the van, the preschooler was crawling between the seats chasing a bug and I was checking one more time to make sure I had a good copy of my paper for my Creative Non-Fiction class. Even Mom goes to school these days.

As we pulled out, we began our not-so-beloved, but totally neccessary for Mom’s sanity, prayer ritual. Everyone pitches in a couple items, out loud, on the way down the street. And I remember that I actually love these little people and that life, and this day, is bigger than the latest version of yes-you-really-have-to-wear-that (shoe/sock/coat/sunscreen). It’s like a reset, as we face down another day. My favourite was the boy’s prayer:

Ah… God,School!!!

What more needs to be said, really? We arrived at our first stop, flush with success, just as the first bell rang. Of course the snailery was sitting on the porch by the front door. 

Of course.

Pack it back in, turn around, scoop it up, try again. Even later than ever. Again.
I used to think that this is where life is lived – in the doing: in the tasks accomplished and customers served. The bulk of my life - so  full of too much, so starved by not enough – is not a bad place, not really. I don’t regret it or hate it. I’m not willing to trade it in for another rendition. I’m not looking for a transformation or some fancy new system guarunteed to cure all my woes. Sure, I’ll seek a better balance, but I don’t imagine I’ll ever arrive.
Instead I’m changing my focus. I picked the word “Breathe” as my resolution this year. And it’s a strangely powerful one.

I’m as busy as ever, but that is not how I live. Not anymore. I live in the spaces between too much and not enough.

I live in the slight breeze tickling my face.
I live in the warm press of little bodies beside me at 6 am.
I live in the stretch of my legs on the trampoline during ‘ring-around-the-rosie.’
I live in the laugh shared over a ridiculous inside joke.
I live in the beat of a catchy tune, the blue sky as far as I can see, the smell of rain on the horizon…

I live in these moments that are just right and more than enough. There’s no trick, no equation, no escape needed. Life trickles into the gaps of everyday.It’s a gift. We just have to live it.


Be still and know that I am God.


So here’s me, the crazy person who thought an intensive May/June writing course (cram 13 weeks of work into 8) would be a great fit for our life. Maybe not, but I’m actually feeling a lot LESS stressed than expected because those technicolour moments of life are powerful. Who knew, I just needed to learn to breathe all these years.


Monday, April 28, 2014


It starts with my best face, my best chit chat, my best me. A brief warmth and pressure, hands touching, nothing more. Tentative, sanitized, easy.

Next, we test the waters. Lining up topics from lightest to heaviest. Basic information with hints of personality. I don’t always follow the rules, I overshare, I talk too much and listen too little. Did you really want to know about my day? Did I really want to know about yours?

If all goes well and life allows, we invest something. Some time. Some memory. Some effort. Venturing onto private property, dishes in the sink, lego on the floor… I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.

Time is the final ingredient. The yeast in the dough. Settling in, getting messy, sticking it out for the hard stuff. I’ll show you me, if you let me see you.

It’s not like it used to be. When “wanna be my friend?” wasn’t quite so complicated. When clicking “confirm” didn’t mean anything.

So here’s me, where making friends at 38 is different for a whole lot of reasons, but definitely worth the effort.


Monday, April 14, 2014


Somewhere between fact and fiction lies this story.

My trip down memory lane this summer has sixteen lanes of traffic, on both sides. Interstate 5 stretches all the way from Canada to Southern California and it’s a road I know well. At every stop on this familiar road trip, I’ve been reading and re-reading an article written by Martha Gellhorn, about her memories of World War II. She was front and centre at some of the pivotal points in history, yet 50 years later she’s struggling to make sense of it all. With her memory fading, the coherence and purpose she once had now elude her. It’s frustrating as hell. How do we make sense of the world when we can’t make sense of ourselves anymore?

As I muscle my way across the lanes of traffic onto my exit, I try to focus on the mission at hand. This is difficult under a deluge of my own memories. I spent many blistering summers here in Eagle Rock, a relatively affluent suburb of Los Angeles. My holidays were punctuated by trips to the library, to the beach, to church, and to buy household items and underwear with my Grandma at the Glendale Galleria (which sounded SO much more glamorous to my childish ears than “mall”). Occasionally, a longsuffering relative would bundle some of us kids off to Knott’s Berry Farm or, on a really good day, Disneyland.

I angle my wheels toward the curb and pull on the parking brake, before clambering out with an armful of bags and papers and empty soda cans. I once tried to roller skate down this very street with my cousin Janis. Lined with palm trees, Hermosa Drive is just as picturesque as I remember, but seems even steeper and more dangerous to my adult eyes. What were we thinking?

But today isn’t a holiday. Nor is it time to wallow in nostalgia. Today, I’m here to work, reviving an old skill set for an important man. It’s been years since I coddled, cajoled and provided personal care to several elderly clients. It wasn’t a job I loved at the time, but it feels important in hindsight. At least I know what I’m doing.

The white house halfway up the block is a poor man’s Georgian mansion. What it lacks in size, and adjoining plantation, it makes up for in sheer panache. The four towering pillars at the front would seem pretentious on any other façade, but this house has the supreme self-confidence to pull it off. No longer pristine, it maintains an air of shabby elegance. The extra wide front door has an antique brass knocker on its brow and I’m thrilled to announce my arrival with a brisk rat-a-tat-tat. “Simple pleasures for simple minds,” my husband always teases. When no one comes after several minutes, I’m forced to resort to the doorbell after all.


Shifting from one foot to the other, I juggle my packages back and forth, sagging under the weight of old insecurities. As extensively as the family has briefed me on the situation there is still so much uncertainty. I’m not sure how I’ll be received.

When the door finally opens I am surprised by the blast of heat. It’s even hotter inside than out. An industrious Mexican woman greets me before bustling past.

“I will see you next week SeñorBob,” she calls over her shoulder.

The Señor is enthroned in a frayed green armchair on the other side of the room. Straight-backed, legs planted wide, with a cane in his hand like a sceptre, he scowls over the coffee table at me.

“Well… you gonna come in, or what?”

I’ve never encountered a more intimidating stranger.

I try to ease the heavy door shut, but the hot Santa Ana wind wrestles it out of my grasp with a resounding bang. I take a deep breath and paste a smile on my face. The key to confidence is: fake it ‘til you make it. I’ll pretend he’s glad to see me.

I try to make nice; the polite chit-chat strangers use to grease the wheels of introduction. “It sure is windy. I guess they don’t call the Santa Anas “devil winds” for nothing. I thought they were going to knock me right off the road. Is it normally like this? I see they’re filming a movie in the house up the road. Do you get a lot of that around here? Have you had lunch yet?”

Smooth. Nothing says “trust me, I’m here to help” like a nervous ramble.

He’s unmoved. Not a word; just a glare.

I feel less like an intruder when I notice the food stains on his white dress shirt and catch a whiff of his scent. Unwashed Old Man will never make my top ten aromas, but today it smells like a welcome. He does need me, even if he can’t see it right now.

Putting down my things, I excuse myself to the washroom, a genteel Canadian-ism which makes him snort.

“The bathroom’s in the back. Don’t touch anything.”

The washroom’s a study in pink. Someone loved dusty rose once upon a time. Behind the toilet a faded sign, written on the cardboard sleeve salvaged from a package of pantyhose, is taped to the wall. The feminine script reads, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” Ah yes, the classy prose of drought country. Before I dare to let anything mellow I help myself to a rag and give the whole room a wipe-down. It’s what my Grandma used to call a “lick and a promise,” but at least it’s a start.

He’s right outside, when I’m done, leaning heavily on his cane, stooped nearly in half.
“Might as well show you around,” he snarls.

Waving his hand dismissively toward the stairs, “Bedrooms,” then nodding toward the front room, “Keep the curtains closed; we don’t want the furniture to fade.” As we inch our way through the dining room, “Fer company” is all he says. Apparently the kitchen is self-explanatory.

He lights up as he hobbles into the backyard. Rendered speechless, I’m impressed by its beauty: the charming nooks, the hidden paths to benches and bird feeders, the dramatic blooms and rustic gazebo. Then he starts talking. He shows me the system he’s rigged to open the back gate with the touch of a button. He explains the construction of each sprinkler. He points out the fruit trees and names each type of flower. Even the grass receives an extensive lecture. “St. Augustine’s the way to go. It’s not like most grass around here, but it’s tougher, better, needs less water. No weeds dare grow when it’s taken root. Ya see how low to the ground it is. It don’t grow much higher than that; it don’t need much fussin’.”
Sure enough, the grass is unlike any I’m used to. It’s prickly and barely gives way under my feet. It suits him.

He settles himself on the back patio; waiting, I assume, for his lunch. He barks out an order: “sardines and crackers.” I try not to gag as I put a tray together. Whether that’s the rather pungent main course, or my deep seated aversion to submission, I can’t tell. I don’t generally take orders well.

We sit in silence. Chewing. Eyeing each other suspiciously.

“Used to have a dog around here, a stray. Just showed up one day begging for food and wouldn’t leave. Huge slobbering mountain of a beast. Not a lick of sense. No use to no one, that mutt.”

“What did you do?” I wondered.

“Spent a fortune on him, got his shots, took him to the vet, fed him here on the patio.”

“So what did you name him?”

“Didn’t name him. He weren’t my dog. We just called him ‘Dawg.’ This one time he got hisself tangled up in some barbed wire the neighbour left out. Howled bloody murder; most awful racket I ever heard. I was in the shower at the time, but I hoofed it out here fast as I could to save ‘im. There I was, buck nekkid, trying to unravel that dumb Dawg, ‘til Doris comes screeching out, ‘Grab a towel, Pa.’”

The floodgates have opened. Suddenly, he’s talking about anything, about everything. About his wife Doris and how she was always the smart one. About “The Meeting” and serving the Good Lord and walking the straight and narrow. About his son and grandson, who lived in an RV on the driveway for more than a year. About the doctors who told them to put their daughter in an institution when she was born, and were surprised by their vehement refusal. About the time they got into the car to go on a drive and didn’t stop until Michigan.

With each mumbled story the picture of a different man emerges. He’s an old school patriarch living “in the world, but not of it;” rough around the edges, with an unexpected marshmallow center. Listening to him feels like coming home.

Sometimes he finishes a story before moving on to the next one, but not often. Sometimes he simply trails away, then jumps in with a new thought from yet another decade. His memory seems to wax and wane without conscious control.

Out of the blue, he turns to me, tapping his fingers against his brow, “I’m losing my mind, ya know.”
There’s an edge of panic to his voice, but the statement is made with complete resignation. This man, who proudly pointed out his workshop and many homemade inventions throughout the house, who spent years building his own equipment, who was the go-to handyman in every sphere, cannot fix himself. And neither can I.

Without the mask of hostility, his confusion is more pronounced. Even as he reminisced, his memories seemed to slip through his fingers no matter how tightly he grasped for them; not just what he had done, but who he was and why he was here. Gellhorn once asked, “What is the use in having lived so long, travelled so widely, listened and looked so hard, if at the end you don’t know what you know?” It’s frightening, and worst of all, so very pointless.

I came here hoping he would recognize me. I imagined a few meals and a good cleaning and a friendly face could hold back the tide of dementia a little longer. I thought that was the job. But I was wrong.
At the end, when memory fails and we can no longer make sense of our lives, it’s up to our loved ones to do it for us. That is how memory, and meaning, lasts forever. This is the job. I am here to catch those memories as they slip away and make them mean something in the world, to make HIM mean something. It’s all I can do.

I put my hand on his arm and leaned close. “Don’t worry Grandpa, I’ll remember for you.”

This piece was published in the literary magazine “Louden Singletree” under creative non-fiction. 
What began as a composite character of all the clients I once worked with who suffered from dementia, evolved into a picture of my own Grandpa, as seen through the lens of my mom and sisters, my aunts and cousins, and those last few visits we had on the back porch of the Hermosa Drive house.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I AM ME: A Poem for World Down Syndrome Day

It’s me.
You can call me…
Call me…
Call me…
Call me friend.
I am me.
I am…
I am…
I am…
I am sweet.
I am me.
I have…
parents who adore me
sisters who tease me
a little brother who follows me around
I have…
grandparents who dote on me
teachers who are proud of me
friends of all shapes, sizes and colours
I have…
fears and dreams
favourite songs and movies
strong opinions about my own life
I have Down Syndrome.
Down Syndrome.
But I am not Down Syndrome.
iammeI am me.
So here’s my homage to the lovely “Lose the Label” campaign (@Lose_the_label). Because we are, all of us, more than our diagnoses and disabilities.

March 21 is World Down Syndrome (aka Trisomy 21) Day. You know, 3/21 for Trisomy 21… get it?
In honour of the unique and wonderful people we know, who happen to have Down Syndrome (especially the one we feed and hug and tuck into bed every night) I am posting a link to this tearjerker. I defy you to watch it and not get choked up:
Dear Future Mom…


Monday, March 10, 2014


When I had my own classroom last year, I had a poster hanging on the wall just like the one below.  I really wanted my students to think about the power of their words before they came out of their mouth. At the beginning of the year, we squeezed a tube of toothpaste and then tried to put the toothpaste back into the tube as an illustration that you can never take back words once they have been spoken.  We weren't successful 100% of the time, but I heard snippets of conversations from time to time where students would ask or tell each other, "Is that inspiring?" "Was that helpful?"  It made me proud to know that some of my students really took that to heart.

This year, since stepping out of the classroom into a leadership position, I've really thought about the words that come out of my own mouth and the power they have.  I haven't been perfect, not even close.  There have been days where I've said the wrong thing, but I've owned it.  There have been days where the words I spoke were taken out of context or misconstrued.  Only I know the intent behind those conversations.  But, I've really been pondering the way teachers speak.  Last year, I had the amazing opportunity to meet Ron Clark and he made a comment that jumped off of the stage and has stuck with me.  I know I won't get it exactly right, but he spoke about how teachers are the world's worst at tearing each other apart.  He gave several examples that I could really relate to…"Look at her working late.  She's doing it for recognition." or "Dressing up for costumes is just a way to get attention.  There's not time for that."  

I thought back to the many, many days I ate lunch in teachers' lounges, attended professional developments, etc. and heard those very same comments about teachers who are in the trenches in all out warfare for their students.  I thought about the teachers who made the comments and the teachers whom the comments were about.  It broke my heart and continues to break my heart.  Teachers should be bound together by a code, much like the Navy Seals.  They never leave a man behind, and never talk bad about one of the team.  They do everything they can to make sure everyone comes out of a mission successful.  

As teachers, we need to band together and lift each other up every where and in everything that we do. We should be knocking on the doors of teachers in our building and asking if there is any help that is needed and asking for help ourselves.  

We have a greater mission than of ourselves.  Those little guys, and big ones too, who sit in the desks in our classrooms deserve a "team" of professionals that value each other, learn from each other, encourage each other.  That positive energy feeds into our students, who then take it to each other.  If teachers model positivity, just think about what our students would do. 

Being positive or negative is a choice.  One that we must make many times in a single day.  But we have the power to choose it ourselves.  So, if you choose to be positive, pull up a chair beside me at the lunch table and let's talk about how amazing your students are.  If you choose to be the negative nelly - about teachers or students - I'd really prefer that you sit somewhere else.


Monday, March 3, 2014


It’s a nuisance. A distraction. A menace on the roads. A depressing sign of the times.
It’s also my window to the rest of the world. A handful of technological wonder in an otherwise menial and isolated day. A life, and sanity, saver.

Yes. I’m that mom. Smartphone never out of reach. The ubiquitous 5th child in my already busy brood. One more to keep track of, keep safe, keep an eye on at all times.

I’m not blind to the downsides of this strange love affair. I’ve debated each point ad nauseam, with the critic in my head. I can get downright philosophical about it.

Since humanity first harnessed the power of fire, split the atom and pioneered the worldwide web, we’ve shown an incredible capacity to use our fancy new tools for both good and evil. It’s in our nature. It’s in my nature.

This is Mommy’s security blanket. The smooth contours nestled perfectly in the palm of my hand. A solid, sure weight in a tumultuous world. A little piece of control safe in my pocket, in the place of honor at the top of my purse… if all else fails, tucked under a bra strap next to my skin, inches from my heart.

iphone pocket

In the course of a day it is my trusted advisor, personal assistant, teacher, counsellor, biographer, court jester, emergency response system, flashlight, calculator, alarm clock and immediate connection to friends, family, help, encouragement, entertainment, poetry, news and much-needed-perspective.

Sometimes, it’s a hero. When our son choked on a cookie this weekend, it was my iPhone that I turned to; typing ”foreign object aspiration” into the search engine to find out what to do now. I had weather forecasts, road conditions and a friendly GPS voice on hand to help me around heavy snowfall and road closures on the way to the ER. It kept an anxious Daddy and sisters in the loop, worried friends apprised of the situation and a miserable, scared little boy distracted with games and movie clips. I can’t imagine living through that day without it.

But, it can be overwhelming, so much information and connection hovering in the background. Reluctantly I pry my fingers off my friend from time to time. Pull the curtain. Focus on the here and now. Find silence and solitude again.

Until life and family intervene. The punishing momentum of needs and routines and our very own brand of chaos. A world within a world.

So I reach for Mommy’s best helper. 4.9 ounces of synthetic comfort for the modern woman.

This is my favorite thing.


Monday, February 24, 2014


This feels deeply personal, and a little strange to post. But I’ve enjoyed reading and learning from the other letters in Amber Haines’ Marriage Letters link-up. So, I’m jumping in with a letter on this month’s topic: Once Upon a Time.

Dear Glen,

Remember once upon a time, when we lived to be together? Starry eyed teenagers… with a smug certainty of our own importance and bright future… with a mix-tape blasting cheesy love songs through the speakers of your Volkswagon Rabbit… with plans growing, morphing and changing in all aspects except one – we’d be together.

We weren’t wrong about that.

I got to know a lovely young woman in my last writing class. She’s 19, the same age I was when I chased our happily-ever-after down the church aisle in my white dress. She’s in love with Mr. Wonderful and they’re making plans. She assured me that their happy ending wouldn’t dare start until they had finished school, established careers, built a nest egg, and put a down payment on a reasonably-priced nest in a good neighborhood.

The Sensible Mom in me was pleased. The Romantic Teenager in me sighed.

It wasn’t easy, getting married as young as we were. But we were too
stupid naïve, too thrilled with our new-found freedom and togetherness to care. Remember the hideous second-hand couch we were so excited to receive? It was SO uncomfortable! But we threw a green sheet over it and decided we were really grown ups now. At our age uncomfortable seating didn’t seem like such a big deal. Besides, it was just temporary. Eventually life would get easier, better, more secure.

Somewhere along the way we stopped scrambling for every penny. We added meat and the good toilet paper to our grocery list each week. Acting like grown ups stopped feeling like a thrill. We faced losses and victories, created homes and packed them into boxes, had children and buried children, changed jobs and sizes and styles and beliefs. We bought ourselves a huge brown sectional, big enough for a family of 6 to stretch out and watch American Idol together.

It is SO comfortable!

And crowded.


All along, we’ve expected things to get easier, better, and more secure. Someday.
I don’t think it ever has. The things we planned on - careers, moving away, having children… are harder than we ever expected. The things we hadn’t planned on – grief, changing goals and ideals, special needs… are more than we could have anticipated or prepared for. In many ways, those early years were the simplest ones.

The only thing we got right was that we’d be doing it all together. And even that isn’t as easy as we expected.

So I told my young classmate that. That I didn’t regret our years of eating ketchup sauce on noodles and going to the library as a “date.” That there’s no way to skip ahead, past the hard stuff. That as much as I’d like my own kids to take an easier road, I’m not sure it’s the best road. Or that it even exists.

She laughed at my jokes and nodded her head at my advice. But she didn’t really understand. Of course not. No one does. Not until they live it.

Growing up is hard. It’s been 22 years since you held my hand in the halls of our High School. We’re not the people we were then. In some ways we’ve grown together, in others we’ve grown apart.

Most days we feel old, and tired, and a little bit overwhelmed. This life stage is tough. I want to believe that it’s going to get easier, better, and more secure. I want to believe that we’ll be finished growing up and have life all figured out eventually. But I doubt it.

Maybe the only realistic goal is that we’ll face it together.

After all we’ve been through… that’s good enough for me.

Loving you more than ever,



So here’s us.