Friday, February 26, 2010

What I could possibly have in common with Stephen King

Besides the fact that I like to write (obviously not as well as he does in any shape or form), there wouldn't seem to be much that I have in common with Stephen King. Or so I thought.

I had been meaning to read "On Writing" for quite some time. I kept putting it in my shopping cart on, then forgetting about the shopping cart as I forget about everything in life except for feeding, clothing, driving, and being a circus act for my kids. I had almost given up reading until recently, and I've read 8 books this past month. One of them was "On Writing", which I finally got due to a request I put in at the library then promptly forgot about until they sent me an email that said it was there. I was surprised. So surprised that I actually paid the $17 I owed them for overdue fines (things go missing in my house all.the.time. I can't find my bank card or my camera, but I know they are here somewhere).

I took that book home and began to read it. Normally I read on my blackberry while feeding my baby, which seems to take endless amounts of time because he just really likes to eat. I had to dig out my head lamp so I could still read in the dark, because I got really, really, into this book. I can see why so many people recommend it. He talks about rejection and sucking at writing until you just gradually get better, and this is a mindset I can get behind.

Yet I never found any reason in that book to think I had something in common with Mr.King until I read the part at the end about his accident. Hit by a van while he was walking on the side of the road in Maine, he was thrown into the ditch and broken in many parts of his body.  When he described how the van hurled over him, how he was sure that it was going to land on him, how he lay in the ditch and all that he felt when that was going on?  Sitting there, in the dark, with my geeky headlamp on and my baby sleeping, I got a shiver that went up my back and made my hair stand on end.

Why you may ask? I was in an accident like that myself. No, I wasn't hit by a van. I wasn't really hit with anything.

What happened to me was this:

On a very hot, very windy day in Saskatchewan, I rode my bike over to my cousin's house. I'm not kidding when I say hot and windy. It was about 35 degrees and sunny. The wind was literally blowing so hard I found it difficult to pedal against it. She wanted to go 'learn to drive' with my Uncle in his brand new truck. I wanted to go along for the ride, so I kept pedaling.

Once I got there, we departed right away. The roads behind their house were all field, mostly unpaved. We drove around for about half hour, then turned on to a long stretch of road that was by the jail. Driving down that road for awhile, my Uncle turned up the music. Nazareth was playing. To this day, I will turn off the radio if a Nazareth song comes on.

Half way down that road, we passed a few small farms.  There was something 'washboard' on the road, which meant it had huge ruts from the grater dug into it. My cousin, who was 14 at the time and without even a learners license (this was common in Saskatchewan. We all learned to drive on dirt roads and fields long before we were legal), hit the gas a little more than necessary. Unfortunately, she hit it right when we hit a huge amount of washboard.

What happens next is very sketchy in my memory. I looked over at her, looked at my Uncle, he grabbed the wheel. At that point we were flying. Literally. I remember hitting the red roof of the truck, then putting my hand on the door. After that, I was out of the truck and then bouncing on the ground. I came to a stop on my side, curled up in a ball. Opening my eyes, I felt a shadow pass over me, but I couldn't see anything because it was a cloud of dirt and dust. I thought I might have died, I wasn't sure, so I just lay there with my eyes closed and waited for whatever came next. I don't remember being scared or that anything even hurt, I just remember the dust and how I was sure that the sun has disappeared.

It could have been 5 minutes, maybe 10. The cloud disappeared and I opened my eyes. I was lying in the ditch, about 15 feet away from the truck. The truck was on it's roof, the flat bed sort of angling away from it. My side of the truck was completely crushed. I heard my Uncle calling my cousin's name, and I tried to sit up and go over there. At this point I started to feel pain, and I crawled over to where they were. I think it took a long time. I remember noting that if I had been in the truck, I most certainly would be dead. There was nothing left of my side.

My Uncle had pulled my cousin out of the truck. I think about it now, 21 years later, and I still tear up at the image of this. He had found her half in and half out of it, her upper body was partially through the back windows, her head lay in the dirt of the ditch and covered by the bed of the truck. I'm not sure how we managed to completely pull her out of the wreck, but we got her beside the truck and tried to wake her up. She was breathing.

This was long before cell phones, so the only option was for one of us to go for help. He wouldn't leave her, and it was up to me to go. I struggled out of the ditch. I remember grabbing at tufts of grass to pull myself up and out, even though I found out after that it wasn't that steep. I walked down the road, in shock and crying, until I came to a long driveway. As I was walking, a car pulled up beside me with what seemed to be a lot of people inside. They asked me if I was from that truck back there, I said yes, could you please go for help. They took off, and I continued to go down the driveway.

Halfway down the driveway, a dog came running out of the bushes. He was a German Shepard, big and mean, and he bore down on me, barking, snarling.  I remember yelling at him, yelling at the top of my lungs for help. I was terrified, but the farm seemed to be empty. No one was home, or they didn't hear me anyway. I turned around before I even got to the house and walked back up the road. The dog snipped at my heels, and he kept barking, snarling, trying to head me off and bite me, until I got to the end of the driveway. I think he might have actually took a swipe at my leg, but I really can't remember.

I walked back to the truck at this point, and found my Uncle holding my cousin in his arms. She was bleeding down her back. I actually thought she might have cut herself somewhere, but I had no idea. We didn't know what to do, so we grabbed some water from a canteen and dropped a little on her, trying to get her to wake up. She didn't react. I can remember other things from the ditch, but I can't make myself write them down.

Obviously the car full of people had called the ambulance, because they showed up. I don't know how long it was between the time they came and the accident. I remember someone covering me with a blanket and sitting me down on the side of the ditch. The police were there, talking to my Uncle. They took my cousin away, but after a general check over of my Uncle and I, put us in the back of the squad car. They drove us to the hospital, and I held onto him for dear life. The ambulance had pulled over twice to allow other paramedics into the back of it, but I had no idea as to why that was happening.

At the hospital, they let me out but kept my Uncle in the back. I found out later that they suspected him of lying about the accident, because he had said he was driving. They wouldn't let him into the hospital, wouldn't let him see her. They took me inside and down to an assessment room. Someone called my parents, my aunt.

I remember going for Xrays, remember them pulling glass out of my legs, my hands, my face. I remember my hair being covered in blood for some reason, and being covered in dirt.  I was covered in a white sheet and talking to one of my brothers when my mom and dad came in together. It was at this point that they told me that my cousin was not going to make it, that she was essentially on life support and wouldn't survive for much longer. After that, I don't remember much.

Back to Stephen King. The circumstances of the accidents were different, but the way he vividly described lying in the ditch, the dust, the air, brought me right back to where I was 21 years ago. He thought he felt the van pass over him, and I can't say I've ever read a description that ever rang so true. It completely described how I felt, how it felt.Yet another similarity? He bought the van that hit him and beat the crap out of it.  I had to have the truck where she died sit in my driveway for 2 months, covered with a tarp, until they could haul it out to the farm because my Uncle couldn't bear for it to end up in a wrecker's yard. Clearly my parents had no idea how to deal with Psychological trauma, or they wouldn't have done that. It haunted my dreams.

At the age of 17, I slept on my parents floor for months. I refused to go into my bedroom, refused to go to school, quit my job, and basically just tried to wash it all from my head. The only thing that saved me, I can honestly say, was writing it all down. Which I did, about 100 times over. I would stop and start, stop and start, and keep on writing. I wrote poetry about it, short stories, memoirs (although at that age I had no idea what a memoir was). It took years to move on.  I never wanted to be a writer at this point, never thought I could ever be good enough, but I certainly knew what would ease the pain slightly and I took to that with all I had.

I have been tempted to email Mr.King and thank him for so vividly putting into words what he went through, because it helped me to put into words what I went through. It wasn't exactly the same, but it was closest I've ever come.  What I wrote today is probably the most detailed account of what happened to me that day, and I never even set out to write it.  Writing is good that way, what comes just comes.

A note on my cousin. Her name was Stacey. She liked music videos, Bon Jovi, and Archie comics. She and I were very similar, bookish and introverted. To say that her dying has changed my perspective, my entire life, would be an understatement. I am sure anyone going through something like that would say the same.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

In honor of the Vancouver 2010: Common misconceptions regarding Canadians and Canada

The Olympics are here! As a lower mainlander/valley girl, we can feel the long and dirty arm of the Olympics reaching even way out here (at least an hour away, depending on traffic and whether or not someone has crashed on Hwy 1 and the Port Mann again, in which case you can unbuckle and have a party on the side of the road because you aren't going anywhere). It is an exciting time despite the beautiful weather that is wrecking havoc on the mountains (and for which I am secretly thankful because if we would have had a winter like last year and I would be locked up in this house with 4 kids, WELL. That would have been the end of me) and the overall atmosphere is one of festiveness (but not festivus, that's another post entirely).

Now, more than ever, it is my sincere hope that the widely viewed telecast of the opening ceremonies has helped to dispel a few of the, shall we say, inconsistencies in thought that people have with regards to Canada and Canadians in general. I mean, didn't you see the whales swimming across the floor of GM Place? That should dispel any further myth that we all live in igloos. You couldn't program that technology in an igloo! The controls on the thingamabob would freeze up.

So if you are traveling in Washington state and are scared to put your pinky toe over the border of Canada in fear that a.) a beaver will bite you, b.) someone will jump out of the woods and slap a lumberjacket on you, or c.) your speech will suddenly elongate so that everything comes out with an extra 'ooo' as in 'aboot' (huh? I videotaped myself talking before and I do not say abooot. ever.) or 'doooode' (dude). Crossing over into Canada might net you a better breath of fresh air and a distinctly bigger dent in your pocket book if you plan on buying milk products, but that's about it. Other fun myths that I must dispel here:

  • The 'Gracious' Factor: Much has been said in the media about how gracious Canada is, how we say please and thank you for everything, how open and welcoming we are. This is a common belief, and it may also be true. I for one, find that I say thank you and please for absolutely everything. I will say please and thank you to people who don't even say hi to me at the cash register (but then I will think they are a bunch of cows). I didn't realize this was a Canadian thing to do until I saw it on NBC (thank you NBC, for the edumacation). The problem with this belief? It does not allow for the other side of the coin, which is that I am just as likely to say, kick your ass if you bother me for any reason, than I am to turn the other cheek and be polite. I believe this to be true of all Canadians. MYTH: We are simply polite, gracious, and welcoming   FACT: We are polite as well as angry, a wonderfully patriotic combination
  • Our money is weird: A little known factor about me: I lived in Marietta, Georgia for almost 3 years. I lived with my aunt, who was also from Saskatchewan originally. I stayed with her, went home for a bit, came back, yadda yadda yadda 3 years went by. Occasionally I would go home and bring back 'loonies'. These are the Canadian version of a one dollar coin. Eventually we as a nation also delved into the murky waters of the 'Toonie'. I will admit it must be strange for those from other countries to get used to our money, but after years of using these dollar coins I still have a hard time spending US currency at Disneyland. I believe I have taken $20 bills, thought they were $1 bills, and tipped many people in many different places. (No wonder Americans think we are polite, we have no idea how much we are tipping). I will also admit to bringing loonies to Georgia when I lived there and selling them for $5 a piece as souvenirs to my aunts neighbors.  MYTH: Our money is weird FACT: The looney is weird, but Canadians are fiscally intelligent as evidenced by my $4 profit on a $1 coin, which at that point in time was probably worth .50 cents.
  • Eh : Who started this anyway, and how is this any different from Europeans saying "Ya?" after every sentence? I had a freelance client last year who would call me and say "So this is what I want ya?" He was British. Have I said 'eh' before at the end of a sentence. Guilty. Do I say it as much as, for example, someone in the south says y'all? Nope. Myth: Good day, eh? Fact: How about those Canucks eh? eh? Wink wink, nudge nudge. 
Now that we've dealt with a few perceptions that are inaccurate, here are a few things about British Columbia (but can apply to some other parts of Canada as well) that are true:

  • It's beautiful -  Hell yes, it's beautiful. I've grown immune to it in many respects, but when I drive up to Whistler for any reason with the kids, I am in bloody awe of the sea to sky highway. I mean, the ferries, the islands, the ocean. Oh. My. Gawd. It's enough to make you pull over, set up camp, and never leave (but keep yourself away from the guard rails and what appears to be cliffs. It is a cliff, and you will fall down it before you know what happened). Once, when my hubby took my night skiing at Mt.Seymour, I had to sit my butt down in the snow because I was absolutely stunned at the view (not because I am crappy skier, although I am sure that I am. I don't use poles because I believe them to be useless. I am known for coining the phrase "Poles are for dancing" in relation to skiing). I've lived here for 11 years, and it still gets me. 
  • Our beer is stronger - Molson Canadian 5.19 % vs Budweiser 4.82 %. Yet, US beer is cheaper, therefore easier to drink. Good example: Bud light lime. Ding.

If you are one of the lucky few who are visiting Vancouver in the next few weeks, tip back a few strong beers and get rowdy in the streets like the rest of the polite Canadians. Just remember to say please and thank you, and they'll never know the difference.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The intellectual females's guide to surviving motherhood

That's a great title for a book isn't it? It's too bad that I'm busy writing fiction and articles for other people.

If you use the dictionary standard definition, I am not an intellectual. Intellectuals have a high IQ (I do not) and are astrophysicists or biological engineers. I am just a simple mother who prefers to read classics like Gone with the Wind (wasn't that just the original Mean Girls?) over chicklit and can't stand to have my brain run dormant for any length of time. I am always thinking of something to do, someplace to be. I am never so happy as when I am writing on my computer or working through a complex computer issue. I taught myself how to code web sites, use PHP, portals, and any other software I can get my hands on. Not because I was smart, but because I was BORED and it seemed like a good idea at the time. There are a lot of moms out there like me.

I can handle being idle to a degree, but a mind that is involved in repetitive tasks day after day is mind that is BORED for me. Some days I play scribblenauts, just for a check up to see if the grey matter is still running. Other days I am ready to simply cry from boredom, and it literally weighs me down to the point that it's difficult to carry my baby because my arms and legs feel so heavy. The cleaning, cooking, etc. that I could be doing isn't appealing.  I spend endless hours playing with my baby, tossing him around because he loves that, carrying him around, cuddling him, tickling him. I make sure my kids are outside when it's sunny and entertained when it's rainy. I bake cookies on demand. If I can find a free ten minutes, I run to my computer for a peek into what other people are doing that day, because although I know my job is to be with my kids, I am sort of envious when I read that other people are out there living life.

I, like other mothers who get to stay home, realize that we are the lucky few that get to see them from birth until they start out on their own. I feel fortunate for that, and I am grateful that I saw them do everything from roll to walk, and that I was there when they learned to ride their bikes. Some of it is a blur, but I was there and am still here so that is all that matters.

What are some of the types of things that a new mom, one that considers herself an intellectual, can learn from someone who has been there and done it four times over?
  • Rethink your thought processes - Often I find myself standing in front of a crying baby and thinking "Ok, there has to be a logical way to go about this" but I cannot come up with a decent idea because my child is crying so loudly in front of me and there is no instant off switch. There is no logic anymore, unless you can find a free hour to sit down and regroup. You need to learn to think differently. A baby isn't like a complex computer issue, where if you try A and A doesn't work, B is sure to be the answer. Sometimes you can try A, B, and C, only to go back to A because A was the answer all along but the baby wasn't having any of that. 
  • You have no sounding board for brilliant ideas - I often think of Lynette from Desperate Housewives for this one. She'd often come up with some great marketing idea and tell Tom about it when he came home from work, only to have Tom squash her like a bug and tell her that it wouldn't fly. Then, he'd go into work the next day and tout the idea as his own.  Lynette was in a bubble surrounded by children. Tom knew Lynette was in a bubble, so the ideas she'd have would simply bounce around the bubble and never come to fruition. 
  • You have no time to act on anything - Unless you are Angelina Jolie with numerous nannies, you will not have the time to act on any of the brilliant ideas that manage to escape the surface of your bubble. Why? Because you have children. Children take up time. Yes, you can leave them with daycare or a grandparent, but if you want to be the one to raise them then you have to forgo ideas that would require endless hours away from home.  This is especially irritating because you end up seeing one of your ideas broadcast on television three years later, and you think "OMG, I thought of that." They have time, you don't. 
I have to stop here and cite an example of what I thought was a great idea five years ago. I told my husband that I thought there should be a toy vacuum, something to pick up the tiny pieces of junk that the kids lay all over the house. I even drew it for him, and showed him the filters that would shuttle the small, irritating polly pieces into a baggie for my child to put away. I thought it was an awesome idea, but he rightfully stated that it would be too much to produce it. I forgot about this idea, until I saw them mention it on The Office of all places. Husband burst out laughing. My mouth was hanging open. What are the odds?

There are many more examples I can cite here about the challenges that someone who has the gift of an overactive mind will face, and how to overcome these obstacles. Unfortunately, my timer has dinged and I am being summoned to play. Have a great day!

Friday, February 5, 2010

I'm not surprised: Postpartum Depression hits the media again

The news about the mother in Millet, Alberta who murdered her children on Monday and then attempted to jump off a bridge in Edmonton was all over the Canadian headlines this week. Originally from Australia, she was involved in a custody battle with the children's father. News reports are saying that she suffered from postpartum depression. I'd hazard a guess and say it was more like postpartum psychosis. has a very simple definitions for postpartum depression and psychosis, although I don't think that postpartum psychosis is as rare as they say:

Postpartum depression can begin anytime within the first year after childbirth. If you have postpartum depression, you may have any of the symptoms of depression listed above. Symptoms may also include:
  • Thoughts of hurting the baby
  • Thoughts of hurting yourself
  • Not having any interest in the baby
Postpartum depression needs to be treated by a doctor.

Postpartum psychosis is rare. It occurs in about 1 to 4 out of every 1,000 births. It usually begins in the first 2 weeks after childbirth. Women who have bipolar disorder or another mental health problem called schizoaffective (SKIT-soh-uh-FEK-tiv) disorder have a higher risk for postpartum psychosis. Symptoms may include:
  • Seeing things that aren’t there
  • Feeling confused
  • Having rapid mood swings
  • Trying to hurt yourself or your baby

My heart just aches when I see news stories about children being hurt by their own parents, and the sad fact of the matter is that I am not surprised.  In the middle of an Alberta winter, broken up with her husband, day in and day out of just caring for two small children. Yes, it can take a toll. I've been there, maybe not in the cold of Alberta but in grey, rain soaked confines of Vancouver. I know you can crack up from it. I've had many a breakdown while taking care of my children, especially when they were babies and you are completely confined. What this woman did was completely heinous, and there is no excusing that. Maybe though, the blame should be spread slightly onto the people around there that didn't acknowledge the depression in the first place. Like the brother in law who saw here deleting photos of her children and giving away their toys. Didn't alarm bells go off? Was there a conversation about why exactly she was deleting photos of her kids? I have a hard time believing that she didn't want people to know what was going through her head, and this was her way of telling them. She probably didn't think it would end up the way that it did, so if she told someone how badly she was feeling she might lose her children. Damned if you do, damned if you don't, and stuck someplace in between.  Like I said, I'm not surprised this has happened, again.

Andrea Yates drown all 5 of her children in a bathtub. She was then accurately diagnosed with PPP.  Susan Smith drove her two sons into a river and left them there, then claimed she was hijacked. She is serving a life sentence, but also has been diagnosed with PPP. Maybe the media and lawmakers have scorned the diagnosis of postpartum because then it would look like these women had a free ticket to killing their children. As I said before, there is no excuse for harming your children and these women are rightfully in jail. I just feel that it's unfortunate that it had to happen at all.

Brooke Shields wrote the book "Down came the rain" about her experience with PPD, and although she did gain a small amount of publicity for postpartum, it certainly wasn't enough for mainstream media to put a proper label on other celebrity moms who had public nervous breakdowns. Britney Spears for example,  began to show her mental state when she was photographed sitting outside her house talking to everyone, crying. Two days later she shaved her head. She then hands over control of her life to some man she barely knows.  In all of the original media coverage about Britney going crazy, not a single one mentioned postpartum depression. Yet, this woman had just had her children 13 months apart and was recently separated from her husband. Two babies in 13 months? I'd say that qualified her for PPD about 10 times over.

The problem with postpartum depression is that there is stigma attached to it. Motherhood is what you are made for, it's the happiest time of your life. I'm thinking a man came up with this somehow, so that he could go out every weekend to the pub with no guilt. The consensus seems to be that it's a stress response, but not a big deal.  That really needs to change.

You see these moms in malls, on playgrounds, and driving to school. They have deep, dark circles under their eyes because they might have had an hour or two of uninterrupted sleep the night before. Maybe they were chatty at one time, but they aren't anymore. They might not set up playdates or want to come over for coffee. You wonder why, but you have a busy life right? Enough on your plate as it is. Shrugging it off and thinking that yes, it's hard to take care of little babies, she'll come out of it eventually is just the wrong thing to do.  After something happens like it did in Millet, and everyone is trying to make sense of it all, they'll stop short of asking themselves if they saw signs. Unfortunately for them, they probably just didn't want to see what was right under their noses. She failed her children, but everyone around that mom failed her too.

In the USA, there has been strides to lessen the stigma of maternal depression such as the law signed by Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey mandating a Postpartum awareness day on October 20th of each year.  The MOTHERS Act has recently passed the US Senate. This act provides education and screening, if desired, for postpartum depression. There appear to be some who oppose such an act, if only because it serves to make mothers look as though they can't handle the hormones, the rigors of childbirth, breastfeeding, sleepless nights, and the roller coaster that your body takes during the first year after birth. Sure, supermom, you go ahead and handle all of that on your own so you don't look weak. I'll take the help, thanks.

Until women stop trying to be superheros, until people start seeing things for what they really are, until law makers and politicians draw more lines in the sand, until, until, until...We will keep seeing tragedies such as the one this week in Alberta and we'll feel horrible, but we won't be surprised.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

This is me at 39

Not sure how it happened, but I have entered my 39th year of life. This May, I will officially turn 39, and even looking at the numbers written there I cannot believe it to be true. Fortunately for me, many people say that I don't look 39 (liars) so that warms the cockles of my heart but it does not change reality.

I could lie about my age, but my kids would just announce it to anyone who would listen anyway. They love birthdays, and will celebrate them for me with a cake I baked and ice cream I can't eat (lactose intolerance) with as much enthusiasm as if I was celebrating myself. Woo hoo *sob sob* 39. Blech.

There are so many things that I thought I would accomplish before I turned 39, so I thought I'd check in on my "Things to do before I'm 39 Bucket list" and see where I am at:

  • Marriage - Ding. September 2000, 10 years this year.
  • Kids - Ding. I have that taken care of, four times over.
  • Richness - I thought I would be rich. Not stupid I-have-a-butler-rich but rich enough to think, I'm well off, I can buy that iPad TODAY if i want it and who cares? Instead, I seem to spend as though I am rich, which is counterproductive actually. Not sure how I planned on getting rich, but the thought was there. 
  • My name on a book - I've written eBooks for other people, and hundreds of articles without my name (and a few with), but I have not had an actual paperish book published. I'm working on it. 
  • Living in California - Nope, I live in Vancouver, which is on the same coast but about as far away from California as you can get while still being on the same earthquake fault lines. *Opens up Umbrella because am stuck in torrential sideways downpour.* I wanted to live in Cali for the sunshine and the access to Disneyland. I am a Disney freak, and I am proud of it. Which leads me to the next item on my list.
  • Annual pass to Disney and the means to use it - Given that I have four children, I'd need to have scratched #1 off my list before I was able to do this, so I dream instead. I look at Disney blogs and I view Disney photos of days when it's empty and I LONG to be there. I've converted my kids into small Disney animals as well, which drives my husband insane as he refuses to be brainwashed. I've told him to get on board the bandwagon because there are several dating sites available for Disney people to find other Disney people, but he ain't taking the bait. 
  • Working at something I love - This I actually have covered. I am a freelance writer and I think that's awesome. My only issue is time, because I could write more if I had more time.
Not on my bucket list but something I have acheived anyway:

  • Deep furrows between my eye brows from frowning, yelling, spending too much time on the computer, and from the never ending fatigue headache between my eyes
  • A constant twitch due to the above mentioned yelling and lack of sleep
  • More experience with web sites than I ever thought possible and which I have put in the back of my head to access, um, never. 
Yes, time will pass and I will turn 39 this year. I'm ok with that, because the alternative is to stop living and I am NOT ok with that.

Happy Wednesday (is it Wednesday?)