Thursday, April 16, 2009

I find myself reading through the journals that I wrote during my mom’s illness when I least expect it. Like tonight. I came home after a long dance rehearsal and went to my bedside table to pull out a notebook to make some notes. But once I see those journals, I can never resist taking one out and reading. And the having a hard cry. A cry so hard that there is no sound.

Tonight I flipped to this entry:

“Thursday, April 16, 2009

Today when I got to the hospital, mom wasn’t able to show any facial recognition of me.”

And I thought, “That would have been tomorrow, 6 years ago. And isn’t that a shitty entry.”

I Was So Messed Up

I remember the first time seeing my therapist after my mom died. And I distinctly remember saying to him, “I should be more messed up than I am. Shouldn’t I be? I’m not messed up enough.” I wasn’t clinically depressed – I still got up each day and did normal expected things, like showering and eating and getting through the day. I returned to work and there weren’t any concerns with my performance. Nick and I found out we were going to be parents. Life was moving on…

But now that I am through it and can look back on those early years after her passing, I think to myself, “Holy fuck. I was messed up.” I was so broken that I didn’t even know I was. I was so consumed by it, I couldn’t even see it. I didn’t know how to be on my own without my mom. And I was searching to replace that role she was for me by something else. Anything. I kept searching, trying to find the source, and each time I thought I found it, I was disappointed when it didn’t give me what I thought it would.

My grief process had many steps to it, and I will always be grieving in some form, but it took many hard lessons for me to get to the point of being able to let my mother’s death go. And to not let her death define me anymore. And that’s when I truly understood what I needed to do. I needed to learn how to be on my own, without my mother. I needed to not search for something to fill the void of what she used to provide me with – I needed to find that within myself. And I have. In many different ways. I will always be learning how to do this and adapt to my ever-changing life, but the realization and acceptance is the hardest thing to do, and that I can check-off as complete.

I remember two close friends, separately, telling me how they could see how much I was struggling, but there was nothing they could do or say to make me see it and bring me out of it. I am so grateful and appreciative of their patience with me. And willingness to not give up on me and their faith that one day I would return to them. We have had conversations about this and me questioning the “What-ifs”. “What if” that didn’t happen, that didn’t cause that, that didn’t make me realize that? Would I still be stuck in that place? I am so thankful that I am not. And I do feel that my mom helped me out of it. Because she raised me to be independent and strong-willed and understanding of what life has to offer me and what I have to offer and be deserving of. She taught me how to eat at a restaurant alone and love books and eat popcorn for supper. All things I needed to find the enlightenment I now cherish. It took a very long time for me to get here, but I did. And I consider myself so blessed to be in this place now. And so appreciate for all of those friends and family that had the patience with me while I was in it.

I’m OUT! (Well, not like that. I am still straight.)

Unconditional Support

Something that I am very blessed to have had, and still have, is unconditional support from my parents. 

They showed me this by not interfering or pressing their opinions on me throughout my life’s decisions. They showed me this by saying the words to me, that they will always support me, even if they don’t agree with me. They showed me this by making me feel at a young age that I had control over my own life, but with that control came responsibility with those decisions. And I know I will one day be faced with the excruciating temptation to tell Arrine when I think she is making a poor decision. Or that I don’t agree with her and she should do something else. Just as I am sure my parents withheld, many, many, many times. Because it is her life, and she is in charge of the decisions she makes herself. And she needs to learn the consequences from those decisions, whether they are positive or negative. That is how you grow, become a strong individual, and can face further struggles when they are presented to you.

The other day when my dad and I went for lunch, we were talking about the upcoming burlesque show I will be in at the end of the month. He is of a “more mature” generation, and doesn’t understand my love of it, but he expressed how he wanted to come. Not because he loves burlesque (well, he is a man), or because he supports my decision to bare myself on stage, but because he supports me. Just me. That’s it. Whether he agrees with it or not. 

And for that, I am truely grateful. Love ya dad!!

Easter Nest

For as long as I can remember, I have been participating in an Easter Merle Family Tradition. On Easter, before you go to bed, you make a nest out of the clothes that you have worn that day. And during the night, just like Christmas Eve with Santa and your stocking, the Easter Bunny comes and leaves you presents in your nest.

As a small girl, I was surprised to learn that none of my other friends made an Easter nest out of their dirty clothes. But I didn’t care, it was a way to get awesome stuff from the Easter Bunny! And so the tradition continues. Arrine now makes her Easter nest for the Easter Bunny each year. And I have realized that even though this is a Merle tradition, I am the only Merle who is actually doing this. Meh. I love it. 

I have no idea how this tradition started. It was either a way for my Baba to find another reason to adore her two boys with gifts, or there just wasn’t money for an Easter basket. Because I know money was always earned by extra hard work in those days.

And what I loved about my mom, was even though I knew this was a weird Merle tradition, she accepted it, and executed it every year, as she too was a Merle Girl at heart.

Here is Arrine’s nest this year – Happy Easter from our nest to yours.  

   

Ms. PM B*tch

I’m the only female Project Manager in my department at the moment. I am also one of the youngest, if not the youngest PM, so I really have two stereotypes working against me. Oh. And I am “white”, amongst a very cultural diverse work environment, so make that three things.

Every day, I feel my actions and decisions are being even more scrutinized by my peers. And when I don’t have an immediate answer or things did not go to my plan, in the back of my mind I am always wondering if my “failures” are being connected to my gender. It’s exhausting.

And then I got a breath of encouragement recently from two female co-workers. Neither I work with closely, but both had such lovely things to say. One is a draftsperson, about 15 years older than me, but I can see her youthful soul. She stopped me to tell me how excited she was when they hired me, as they hadn’t had a “young, modern female PM” before and how it was so encouraging.

Then for these past two weeks, there has been at technical lead replacing my current lead during his vacation. This is the first time she and I have worked together, but I could tell just seeing her around the office, she took charge. After her two weeks coverage was done last Friday, we had a little chat, and she said that she really liked my style, for four reasons in particular.

  1. She had sent me an email about prepping for a meeting with some great guidelines, and within a day I turned it over to the rest of the team for their follow-up.
  2. Some of our team members are notorious for showing up late to meetings. She commended me on marking down who was late in the minutes of our meeting.
  3. I had sent an email to the team asking for their input on a file with a deadline. After the deadline passed by almost a day, I went in and made modifications for those who did not review it. I then sent out an email letting the team know this, and to check what I had put down for them and made them responsible for.
  4. She told me how she liked my response to a lead telling me they wouldn’t meet a deadline because they didn’t have enough people to do the work with an, “I don’t care”. (I should clarify that I do care, and it wasn’t said to be malicious. But leads are responsible for resourcing. If they can’t get their work done because of it, I will support that challenge. But not doing anything about it and then using it as an excuse, will get a short response from me.)

What these examples show, is that my communication skills effing rock, and I don’t let my team mess with me. And to me, these are normal actions a PM should be executing. And I love how these things that are “normal” to me, pop out as extras to other team members.

She asked me if I felt added pressure being a female PM. And immediately I said, “YES!” She said lovely things about how I handle situations and how she really liked working with me. And I took those compliments in very high regard, coming from another strong female. I shared with her my PM approach: When starting with a new team, I have added patience and allow a bit more give and take the time to understand the dynamics of the team. But if the team doesn’t reciprocate the respect, I become less understanding and less forgiving. It comes down to respect. If they don’t respect me and my role, I take the hard lined approach. Which I always try to avoid. Because in my world, an aggressive, outspoken, “don’t mess with me” male PM is successful and excellent at his job. Where those qualities make me a b*tch.

Then call me, Ms. PM B*tch, please.

on one’s own

Every single moment, I feel alone. My mom was the person I called to share the exciting news in my life and she was the person I turned to when I was low and needed guidance. I don’t have memories of feeling alone before she passed. And now, that word, “alone”, is one I think of every day.

I. Am. Alone. And the advice I have been given, is that I have to learn how to be alone, and be ok with it. And I have over the years, but that doesn’t take away the desperate feeling of sadness, connected to being alone. And I think those feelings of being on my own, heightens other emotions I face, mostly rejection. When I feel rejection from my friends and family, those who I consider myself the closest to, it is that much harder to receive. Because I have to take that rejection on my own. I don’t have my mother to call and get comfort from.

But there are bits of triumph from being alone. When I accomplish something with no assistance or help from someone, it’s reassuring to know I can still survive through this. And then isn’t it funny, longing to share that accomplishment excitement, but had there been someone there, I wouldn’t have done it on my own to be excited about.

For the first time in years, I caught myself thinking, “I have to call my mom and tell her this…” I know her spirit will always be with me, and in that sense I will never be alone, but flip, it would be nice if her spirit could answer the darn phone!

When The Sun Hits Your Eyes (For Tara)

You know those moments of the blinding sun? When you are in your car, and the height of the sun is just so, that there is absolutely nothing you can do to shade your eyes from it? And you cannot see. No sunglasses, no visor, can make your visibility any better. You just slow down and hope for the best until those few seconds of complete sun blindness pass.

I think of Tara. Every single time. I think of her.

Tara was a beautiful friend. She had a radiant smile. A calming presence. The sweetest of hearts. And one evening, when the height of the sun was just so, she was taken from us. She wasn’t seen. And our community was thrown into a spiral of grief. She touched so many people, in the short time she was with us.

I was in grade 7 and at the park with a group of friends. That was our ritual. Meeting at Bready school, sitting on the monkey bars, just hanging out. And that night we were expecting Tara, but when she never arrived, we just assumed plans had changed.

I went home, got ready for bed, living my innocent life before I really understood death. And this is a moment etched in my memory. I will never forget the scene. It’s like I am looking down into our house on 18th Avenue, like a dollhouse, with the roof of the house in my hand. I remember how my bedroom was set up. And my mom coming into my room, her eyes red from crying. To tell me that Tara had died.

And being so young, at the time, I never really thought how Tara dying would have affected my mom. Because as children, we see our parents as resilient. It wasn’t until I read this poem that my mother wrote, for me to think about how the loss affected her, and how she felt as a mother, for Tara’s parents. And how as a mother, she had to tell her daughter that her friend had died.

http://ammerle.ca/amms-story/published-work-updated/tara/

Tara, I think of you often. Especially when the sun is shining it’s brightest.

Time For A New Tagline

I saw my old tagline today, and felt it was time for a new one. I never even saved the last one – it was something like, “Red heels, rock concerts and being a mom without a mom. And OCD.”

I updated it to:Death No Longer Defines Me. Now Onto New Levels Of Growth.

Because looking back, when I was so consumed and identified myself with her death, I had no where else to improve myself upon. There was no room for growth. I was living without really living. But now I am. I am constantly finding new ways to improve myself and finding things I need to change. It’s so refreshing and exciting and rewarding. So I wanted a tagline to reflect that.

Stick Around. I May Do Something Brilliant.

Ok. We all know how much my mom effing rocked. And I mentioned this story once under the amm & Parenting section. But the other day, while I was having a shower, just thinking random mom thoughts, I remembered this one. And wanted to write about it more.

The Scholastic Book Fair time, was one of my favourite times throughout the year. Because I always knew I would be able to order something from the brochure. Remember, one of my mom’s best quotes was, “There is always enough money for books.” And we didn’t have a lot of extra money. Two kids in dance and golf and hockey, with two parents as teachers, didn’t leave money over for yearly vacations or fancy extras. But we could always buy books.

One time I chose a poster. It was of a Maine Coon cat, surrounded by a few paint cans of the primary colours. The can lids were off, and there were paint paw prints, all around the white background. The caption read, “Stick around. I may do something brilliant.” Why did I have to have that poster? Who knows. But I loved it.

I loved it so much, that one day, my mom arrived home with paint and a red poster frame. She announced to me that we were going to paint our little downstairs bathroom all white, then cut out a cat paw stencil from a sponge, and paint cat paws in red, yellow, green and blue, all over the walls. And then frame the poster and hang it in the bathroom. And we did just that.

Why did she want to paint a bathroom like this? It sure looked great to little me, but as I grew up, I thought, “This looks awful from an adult’s perspective. Why did she choose to paint it like this?”

I guess because it was a fun project she knew I would love. And that was the focus of it, not on what the bathroom actually looked like afterwards. And what’s the big deal? It’s just a little basement bathroom.

So many lessons learned from my mom, in just a single afternoon of painting a bathroom…

Don’t Touch Me: Mantouching

What’s the big deal? A guy passing behind you in the bar touches your shoulders to let you know he needs to get by? Isn’t this normal interaction in our society? It’s an innocent act of touching for him to express himself? Or is it his deep routed programming, to assert his masculinity on a female, showing his dominance?

I really started thinking about this more after a new dance friend of mine shared this article on social media:http://www.dailydot.com/opinion/mantouching-john-travolta-joe-biden/. And only within one week of me reading this article, there have been two times that I have experienced man touching, now that I know the definition of it. I know it has happened to me on a regular basis, really, my entire adult life, but now I am significantly more aware of it.

1. My girlfriend and I were out for drinks last weekend. We went to a pub style restaurant, and were standing at the bar, waiting to be seated for supper. Two men, I would guess late 30s and mid 40s, were next to us and leaving, so brought over their stools for us. A kind gesture. Until the first man placed his hand on my lower back when he spoke to me. I had not even looked this man in the eyes and now he is touching me. Then the second came up and did the same to me. And even asked for my hand to kiss it. Two men that are complete strangers to me, I showed no interest in speaking to them at all prior, and both touched me. So, is this just normal behaviour that is acceptable in our culture? Had I told both of them to please not touch me, I am sure they would have been surprised by my response and considered me a bitch for saying so.

2. There is a man I see on an almost daily basis, due to our similar schedules. He is almost 20 years older than me and we speak only on occasion. The other day I was wearing a looser, large necked top and he thought he saw something on my shoulder and actually reached out to pull down the neck of my shirt to look at my arm. A man I know has a family, but don’t know him well enough to even know their names. I grabbed my shirt and stepped back and said, “Don’t touch me.” And he just continued speaking to me as if I hadn’t even said anything.

So, what is this? Women overreacting? Men asserting their dominance over us? Innocent interactions? What I do know, is that I can not remember the last time I touched a male friend, or male stranger, in any way. Except the time last year at a music festival where a drunk guy fell into me, used my butt to steady himself and I chest pushed him off of me.

I also know that the last paragraph of the article describes how I felt, that night out for drinks with my girlfriend.

“You might not think a pinched cheek or a shoulder caress is something to lose sleep over. But the next time you see a man put his hand on the small of a woman’s back, look at her eyes. Look at her smile. If you’re looking closely enough, I bet you can see her faking it. I bet you can see how painful it really is.”

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