What our children teach us…

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Parenting is hard.  I have done a lot of things in my life.  I have worked 3 jobs to put myself through school.  I have gone through grief and trauma.  I struggled with infertility before finally being able to have my family. I have struggled with chronic illness.

But actually, being a parent, day in and day out, is the hardest job I have ever had to do.

I try to set a good example for my children, I think all parents do.  We all try to do what we think is right for our children – to teach them well, to instill a sense of integrity and morality.  But sometimes it’s hard to lead by example. Sometimes you want to yell and scream and fight back when people behave poorly.  This happened recently in my family and when it was all over, I had to thank my son for being wiser than I am. 

My son Adam played competitive hockey for 3 years.  We fell into it.  We were approached when he was 7 while playing house league and asked if he wanted to try out for a competitive team. We had no idea what we were getting into.  Neither my husband nor I ever played hockey and we can barely skate! But Adam said he wanted to try out so he did. He made that team and then continued to play for the next three years.

Adam is on the smaller side and is firmly a middle-of-the-pack player on his single A team. We had no visions of double or triple A for him but he worked hard, went to every practice, was always practicing on his off time and supported his team. But he isn’t a big kid and he isn’t an aggressive kid and those two things can’t be taught or practiced. This past year, he found a team that he really liked.  However, anyone who knows hockey in Toronto, knows the GTHL is full of drama, politics and deceit.  Naively, we thought we were passed all that.  The coach let us know that Adam had a spot on his team for next year and if things changed, he would give us lots of notice.  Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out that way.  There are many more details to this story but this is not a hockey rant – it’s the aftermath I want to focus on. 

When I told Adam we would have to find him a new team, he was surprised but I didn’t have to tell him what happened, I could tell by the look on his face that he understood. I told him not to worry, I had already contacted other teams and we would find him a team for next year, but he stopped me, looked at me and asked “Is this going to happen every year?” I told him, that yes, this would happen every year. Every year the top players move up to double A and the rest of the players get shuffled around to try to build better teams for the coming year.  It’s unfortunate but it’s how the league is run.  “Then I don’t want to play competitively anymore”.  His response left me speechless. I was stunned.  We spent hours at the rink.  We spent hours driving him to practice, to extra training, cheering on games and making small talk with other parents.  We were a hockey family.

I tried to dig a little deeper and he told me that he likes to play hockey but he didn’t want to be around the types of people that he had been around for the last two years. I explained to him that it wasn’t always going to be the same.  I reminded him of his first coach, when he started playing hockey competitively and how much he liked him but Adam’s mind was made up.  He said he would play the game for fun, with the community league in the backyard, he would play shinny but he wouldn’t go back to the GTHL.

As a hockey parent, this was tough. I love watching him play. I dedicated 10-15 hours a week to drive him to practice, games, shooting pads, and shinny. It was a part of my identity too. I thought he would change his mind, but he didn’t. Weeks went by. We got emails and phone calls from coaches looking for players (because in the GTHL, you never know who you can trust until the player cards are signed and the coaches aren’t the only ones that renege on backdoor deals– and remember these are 10-year-old boys and girls!).  One of the calls that came last week was from the top team in the division.  The coach was looking for a player and he had heard of what had happened to Adam – I tried to entice Adam to check it out, “It’s the best team in the division buddy, just meet the coach!” but he refused. He said he liked his life better without the stress of hockey. 

And I am beginning to see the wisdom in his decision.  All of this has been happening for over a month, and throughout that month, a strange thing has happened.  My family is more relaxed.  Both boys are going rock climbing together with their father weekly.  Adam loves rock climbing but could never go before with his busy hockey schedule. Yesterday they were playing Monopoly after school!  We have been going on family bike rides. I have been able to spend more time with my oldest son, who was often left at home, doing his homework or practicing violin on his own while we were at the rink with Adam.  Adam is running the upcoming Sporting Life 10k with us and is training with his dad. We have more time to play games and eat dinner together. Adam still plays competitive soccer so he still has the opportunity to be part of a team sport but there is no drama in soccer (at least there hasn’t been any drama yet!). We have already looked into skiing as a family for next Winter – something we could never do while Adam played hockey. 

It’s that age old adage “Everything happens for a reason”

Life is better without hockey for my family – but we never would have made this decision on our own. 

Our life is better now and it’s better because of the choice my son made. I never would have asked him to stop playing hockey.  I knew it took a toll on the family but I would have rearranged my schedule, drove him all over the city and spent the summer finding hockey camps to support him. When all of this came down at the end of March, I was livid. I was hell bent on finding Adam another team and if I had anything to do with it, it was going to be better than his old team and I would have succeeded!  That’s what I do. I don’t give up.

But then I had to listen to my child. Adam made his decision and refused to budge. I wasn’t  trying to change his mind because I wanted him to play (okay, maybe a part of me wanted him to play), I just wanted to make sure he was making the decision for the right reasons. I wanted to make sure he wasn’t afraid of being rejected from another team. I needed him to understand that this was not a situation  that was unique to him – there were many, many kids that were put in the same situation as Adam was. Parents and coaches just shrug and say “that’s hockey in Toronto” and so the cycle perpetuates itself every year. I needed to make sure he understood it wasn’t about him. Finally, after discussing it (to death, according to Adam…), he said “Mummy, I am fine. Stop worrying about me. I don’t need to play hockey so badly to deal with all the stuff that comes with it.  I love other things too, I want to do those things instead. Stop worrying mummy!”.

I looked at him and I knew he was telling the truth. He is better than fine. Sometimes you have these moments where you look at your child and you think you just might be doing this parenting thing right after all, especially when your child surprises you with the insight and maturity that you can’t even find in yourself.

So next year, you won’t find me freezing in a rink, drinking arena coffee, while checking in on my other son at home. Instead, you’ll find my whole family on the ski hills and in the chalets, drinking hot chocolate and enjoying some precious family time, all thanks to Adam 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your life can change in a second…

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Your life can change in a second.  We all know that.  But this past weekend I was reminded of this fact and it was a moment I will never forget.

We were in the kitchen on Sunday evening.  Making dinner.  The steaks were resting, the salad was on the table, the broccoli steaming.  I reached for the pot of pasta and I walked over to the sink to drain it.  My son was 2 feet away from me, at the sink.  As I walked towards him, suddenly, I felt the pot handle slipping out of my right hand.  The pot dropped.

That moment will forever be etched in my memory.

I screamed at my son to move but it was too late.  I watched, in what seemed like slow – motion, as the boiling water hit hisfeet.

That is the moment that will haunt me forever. What followed was chaos.  My husband and I scrambled to help him.  My youngest followed me around, scared and wanting to help.  My niece started cleaning the mess because she couldn’t figure out what else to do.  I cried.  I called my friend who is a physician and asked her what to do because in that moment, all of my first aid training went out the door.

We soaked his feet in water for 20 minutes and then made our way to the hospital.  My son sat in the front seat, feet soaking in my canning pot, stifling his cries of pain.  I sat in the back, sobbing.  At one point, my son said to me, “It’s okay mummy, I am going to be fine”.

We got to the hospital and as I wheeled him into the Emergency Department at Sick Kids, his body began to shake and he started to cry.  The hospital staff was incredible.  They had the physician sign off on pain meds before we were even in a room.  As the drugs began to take effect, we all settled in to see what the night would bring.  As my son’s body went numb from the pain killers and his brain started to focus on the movie he was watching, I fell apart.  I called my brother and sobbed and sobbed.

Both of my son’s feet are burned.  Fortunately, by soaking his feet for 20 minutes before leaving the house and then keeping them submerged in water on the drive, we were able to control the damage.  The doctors sedated him, cleaned the burns and bandaged him up.  We were told we would have to follow up in a couple of days.

That night, though he was still under the influence of the sedatives and pain killers, my son hugged me and I teared up.  He said “Mummy, I think you are hurting more on the inside then I am on the outside”.  My sweet boy.

We were back at the hospital to get the wounds cleaned and bandages changed on Tuesday.  More sedatives, more pain killers and serious drugs that no child should need but here we are.  Fortunately, he is not in a lot of pain otherwise.  We need to go back next week to repeat the procedure and, in the meantime, my son is milking the situation the best he can.  Unlimited Netflix, snacks inbed, homemade cookies and quite possibly, a new iPhone.

Since the incident, I have not returned to work.  I have these moments of nausea, where I feel this pit of anxiety in my gut.  How could I do this to my son?  But overall, I am okay.  I am thankful I didn’t drop the pot of hot water on his whole body.  Burned feet are bad but burned faces and hands are worse.  I am thankful that my physician friend insisted that we soak his feet for 20 minutes before going to the hospital, thereby limiting the damage.  I am thankful that I live 15 minutes away from one of the best hospitals for children in the world.  I am thankful that the hospital staff took such great care of my son and of me (they have a social worker on staff so that when these types of accidents happen, the social worker can support the parents through the shame and guilt they feel).  I am thankful that my son is not in constant pain and I am so very thankful that he forgave me so readily.

Luckily, my son will be okay.  But others are not so lucky.  This weekend, when you are with your friends and family, remember to be thankful.  Take a few minutes.  Count your blessings.  You never know when it could all change.

 

3 months later…

It’s been 3 months since I stopped seeing patients at Sage Naturopathic Clinic.   The decision to leave Sage was agonizing.  I thought about it for several years before I finally walked away.  I loved practicing at Sage.  The patients, the community and my colleagues energized me, challenged me and helped me form lifelong relationships.

But sometimes we have to walk away, even from the things we love, and sometimes that includes people we love (but that’s another blog post!).  It was hard to recognize the toll that the commute was taking on my health, on my husband and our children.  We managed of course.  We had help.  We out-sourced – a lot!  In my mind, my work in Kitchener wasn’t a big deal.  After all, it was only a couple of days a week.

Those days however, were very long.  Trying to fit in patients and admin work while trying to give my colleagues the face to face time they deserved was exhausting.  I would get home totally fatigued.  The day after I got home, I spent recovering, usually struggling to get out of bed.

That wasn’t fair to anyone.

Even worse, I often felt like a hypocrite.  While advising my patients to make their health a priority, I was neglecting mine.  I wasn’t getting the rest I needed, and my MS symptoms were getting worse.

When I was diagnosed all those years ago, in my mind, it was like someone set a timer.  I had limited time to do all the things I wanted to get done.  I kept waiting for my symptoms to get worse and for my mobility to decrease.  I started living my life with a sense of urgency, trying to cram it all in, just in case I wouldn’t be able to do all the things I wanted to do in the years ahead.

Three months since I stopped the commute, I am a little embarrassed to report that I am still exhausted, but now it’s because I go to the gym more, cook more, spend more time with my children.  I still run my practice in Toronto and do much of the admin work for Sage too.

I guess I am still trying to cram it all in….

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A Year to Reflect

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After the craziness of 2015, I decided I would take this year a little bit easier.   I wanted to cut back at work and spend more time doing the things that I love.  It wasn’t easy because I really love what I do too, but I felt I needed to turn inwards and reflect on the life I wanted to live and the impact I wanted to have on the ones around me, especially my children.

By May 2016, I had discussed selling half of my clinic to my colleague, and though the papers still haven’t been signed, having a partner in the business has afforded me fewer commutes to KW and more time at home.

So what did I do these past months?  I basically hibernated.  I focused on my home.  I cleaned out every closet, storage room and drawer.  It was cathartic.  I redecorated and found out I am actually pretty good at it.  We got our basement finished.  I started experimenting more in the kitchen and have bought a breadmaker.  I started walking a lot.

This last one is a big deal.  I kind of always discounted walking.  I didn’t walk for exercise.  I ran or lifted weights.  Walking didn’t count in my mind as physical exercise.  In the past year, I have changed my tune.  Walking is less stressful than driving in Toronto.  It also allows me to soak up the sun, listen to podcasts and get some movement in my life.  I have learned to love walking so much that this week, the boys and I chose to walk or take the TTC instead of driving to school and activities.  The goal was to assess whether or not we could be a one car family.  The thought of giving up my car is so very liberating and I am so excited to do this.  Now I just have to make sure it is practical and that the boys will be able to manage.  Week one was a success, but we are going to try it out for a couple months before we finally kiss my car good-bye.

Generally, I have also said “no” a lot this year.  No to working extra shifts, no to doing extra lectures, no to doing anything I didn’t really want to (and that included writing for my blog for awhile).  Instead I travelled, reconnected with family, hung out with the boys, read books, cooked, baked (mostly healthy) and tried to figure out what my priorities are.

I can’t say I have all the answers yet, but this past year has truly allowed me to reflect on what matters in my life and what I need to give up.  It continues to be a work in progress but the process so far, has been quite a worthy journey for sure.

100 Days of Happiness

Since one of my closest friends died on October 14, 2015, it has been hard to be positive. She left behind a young daughter, a husband, devastated parents and countless others whose lives she touched. Mubina was a light in the life of many. She had stunning eyes and an infectious smile. She put you at ease and made you feel like an old friend within minutes of making your acquaintance. It is hard to come to terms with the fact that she is gone and that her light, at least as we knew it, is gone.

But despite her diagnosis and despite the short life she lived, she was always positive. She never once gave in to the “woe is me” attitude that we all would have expected and understood. Instead, she appreciated every last day. I can remember our last conversation when she was cracking jokes and laughing. It is one of my favorite memories.

There is very little we can do now that she is gone. We carry on. But to honor her memory and preserve her legacy, her friend Salma and I have chosen to take on the 100 days of happiness challenge. This is a challenge that Mubina herself took on after her diagnosis of ovarian cancer.

100HappyDaysMJThe challenge is simple. Every day starting December 1st, 2015, post one thing that makes you happy, that makes you feel blessed, that reminds you of Mubina or that just makes you smile. It can be your favorite Starbucks drink, a photo of your family, a fresh manicure….you get the idea. Use the hashtag #100HappyDaysMJ and get your friends and family involved.

For the next 100 days, let’s remember a beautiful woman that we lost too soon but let’s do it with love, happiness and gratitude for being able to have had her in our lives, however brief the time may have been.

But then we lost her.

When my best friend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer 2 years ago, I tried to be hopeful. I knew the prognosis was bad and I knew we would never grow old together, but I hoped for the best anyway. I thought we had several years ahead of us to celebrate holidays, blow out birthday candles, and watch our children grow older. In that time, I tried to be positive. I wrote blog posts about making changes in my life, about being grateful and counting my blessings. We spent time together. We laughed, we cried, we traveled.

But then we lost her.

She was 37 years old. She left a 3 year old without a mother. She left one of the nicest guys I have ever known without a partner. She left her parents to grieve their only daughter. She left my children without the godmother they adored. She left me without the one person that knew my darkest secrets, my most annoying habits, and yet chose to love me anyway.

It is hard to be grateful after that.

Truth be told, it is hard not to be resentful and bitter. For the past month, I have been buying groceries, baking muffins, pumping gas, seeing patients and Christmas shopping and in the back of my head, there is a nagging voice that keeps asking me what the point of all of it is. I have moments of grief that come out of nowhere. These moments are familiar. I have experienced my share of loss and tragedy. But somehow, it seems worse this time. It seems even more tragic, even more senseless and even more devastating.

It seems unfair that life goes on. It doesn’t seem right that we buried her and then we still go to work, check instagram and make holiday plans. I know we have to carry on but it doesn’t feel right. It seems that with her passing, a part of me died too. The part that tried to see the good in everything is gone. The optimistic part of me that always believed things happened for a reason no longer exists. Afterall, there is no good reason to lose someone so young, so beautiful and so vibrant.

So the days will become weeks and the weeks will become months, and the months will become years. We will live our lives because that is what we do.

But in the end, we will never be the same without her.

The Tortoise and the Hare

These last few weeks have been trying. I like to consider myself an optimist but these days, the glass appears emptier and emptier. I think that I play fair. I try to always empathize with others. I have tried to approach all of my relationships, professional and personal, with integrity. Both my husband and I have, what I consider to be, a strong moral compass and we try very diligently to instill this in our children. We are not perfect. We make mistakes and we haven’t always made everyone happy, but we always try to be firmly grounded on the side of the good.

But these past few weeks, I have been wondering if it may have been wiser to take some shortcuts at times.   In my work, I would never sacrifice patient care to take the easier road but in some of my relationships, it is beginning to seem that the value I have placed on truth, honesty and integrity has not always been reciprocated. Pride and money are powerful incentives for a lot of people. Friends become foes and family becomes enemies when dollars and egos get involved.

The cynicism was beginning to settle in. Last night, my boys rented a movie for $6. I said to my husband that we really should start streaming movies for free like everyone else. My husband, true to his character, replied “If everyone else is doing it, does it make it okay?” This made me think. He was right of course. It doesn’t make it okay. It was the same point I have been trying to make with my children for years. I told him how I was feeling disillusioned with always trying to do the right thing. That it was exhausting and people didn’t always appreciate your actions or give you credit anyway. Sometimes, they even took advantage of you and left you feeling exploited. He, in response, told me to think of myself as the tortoise. The hare may make it to the finish line but in the end, the tortoise wins. Slowly, but surely, the tortoise keeps following the path he believes in until finally, he wins at the end while holding his head up high and never giving up to search for the easier way.

So I am reminding myself that the race is long. The good guys can’t possibly finish last. I refuse to believe that. There may be hurdles and it may seem like it would have been easier at times to stoop to the levels of those around you, but at the end of it all, as Mary Schmich says, “the race is long, and in the end it is only with yourself”. I want to stand tall at the finish line. Just like the tortoise.