The beauty of your day, momma

Hi Momma.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Today is beautiful – sunny, and warm – a day where the sky seems to stretch forever, and the trees all vibrate with a green one shade away from surreal.

The world always seems to shine a little brighter on your day.

Momma, it’s Mother’s Day and I am just past 7 months pregnant. I sometimes get really scared that I won’t know how to be a momma because you aren’t here anymore.

I can’t phone you when I’m worried about things (silly or serious) or ask you about pregnancy symptoms.

(At week 28 did it feel like someone did a wind-up soccer kick straight to your right groin?)

We can’t share stories, laughs and tears as I muddle my way through this wonderful and bizarre journey.

And you can’t come and visit me after this wee babe is born. To hold and to sing to them.

To continue to share stories, laughs and tears.

Sometimes I get so jealous of other women who are newly pregnant or mums themselves – both friends and strangers – who get this chance.

In these moments it feels like I have lightning in my belly and sand in my eyes and I want to scream, “You don’t know how lucky you are!”

What’s funny is that, in order to get myself out of this space, I have to do my yoga breathing (the yoga breathing you taught me to do, over and over and over again).

Momma, you are with me when I am upset about not having you.

That’s a pretty good trick you have.

Momma, it’s also that I am blessed to know so many amazing mums who are keeping close and showing me many beautiful examples of motherhood.

They also help clear the sand from my eyes.

Four of these mothers are also my sisters:

Jessi, who has the strength of a tiger, the endurance of an ostrich and the iron will of a wolf, so that no matter what is happening in the world – micro or macro – she leads and loves like a warrior. (I’ll let you guess which of these animals is also representative of her beauty.)

Kate, whose patience and calm floor me each and every day, whose quiet and understated, but never underrepresented, compassion and kindness has brought me back from the brink too many times to count, and who sees the gentle beauty and humour in everything.

Mel, whose big heart burns with such a tangible love, you swear you can see it colour the corners of a room – a magic only matched by her creativity and unique characteristics that leave her kids (and everyone else) is stitches.

Vanessa, who radiates a love and an authenticity so nurturing and nourishing, she makes it impossible to feel alone or like you’ve done something wrong. (She also brings this light to the world on a chronic lack of sleep, which makes her words, laughter and heart ever the more special.)

So there you go momma.

It’s Mother’s Day.

Thanks for helping me see the beauty of your day.

And the beauty of all mothers just a little brighter too.

Dear Momma, I’m pregnant and it’s a pandemic

Hi Momma,

As you might have heard, we’re living in unprecedented times. It seems like every day things get a little more surreal and I find it very hard not to let the waves of uncertainty and panic get the best of me.

You know – how it’s been for the last thirty-five years of my life?

I’ve really been practicing my yoga breathing, especially at night as I lie in bed falling asleep.

(I haven’t been so much practicing my yoga yoga, but in all honestly, with the way things are going, it’s very likely that I’ll be unrolling your mat and switching on YouTube so that I can start.)

I thought you would be so proud of me – signing up for prenatal yoga classes at my local community centre. They were to start in April and be my new Sunday morning routine, a new twist on my weekend workout.

A marker of how much I’ve matured over the past five and a bit months as this little babe has grown inside of me.

Yes, that’s right momma, I’m having a baby.

I’m having a baby during a pandemic.

Doesn’t that sound wild?

I really wish that we could chat on the phone. Just hearing your voice would be reassuring – a little break from our ever-churning news cycle.

We could talk about what’s happening in the Maritimes and our palpable relief that the US-Canada border has officially (or as close as we’re going to get) closed.

I know you’d also love our Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. She’s brilliant and badass, compassionate and calm. Sometimes I get choked up just listening to her, because she reminds me of you.

All courageous, smart and strong women do.

Remember how sensitive and emotional I’ve always been? Well, multiply that by about seventeen, what with all these hormones coursing about my body.

As much as my heart aches that you’re not here momma, there is a part of me that’s slightly relieved. I am so glad that you don’t need to navigate the health care system and deal with chemo appointments or rescheduled blood work, and the unease of heading into hospitals with your compromised immune system.

If something were to happen to you now, and Kate and I and our families couldn’t get to you, I don’t know what I would do. My heart is so sore for the families that are not able to reunite for those moments that I am certain that mine would shatter if put in the same situation.

I’m also trying not to let it bother me that Marc isn’t allowed to come to anymore of my appointments.

My twenty-week ultrasound was yesterday, and he was relegated to the parking lot as I got to see and say hello to our little one.

It will be the same for our midwife appointment today, and all future meetings going forward.

I’ve been trying to get him to feel the little kicks that have slowly begun to get stronger over the past week, but sometimes I think the babe is a bit of a trickster because they will immediately stop moving as soon as he puts his hand on my tummy.

Even now as I write this, I can feel them dancing about. I think they may be saying hello.

Momma, I also want you to know how well I am taking care of myself. I was so afraid coming into this pregnancy that I wouldn’t be able to move outside of my eating disorder and the unshakeable parameters that have ruled my life for so many years.

I’m so happy to say that it’s been the exact opposite.

For the first time ever, I get excited about preparing and eating food. I relish and take pleasure in nourishing my body.

I’m still exercising a lot, but purposefully. I’m always listening to how my body feels and modifying when I need to.

Turns out too, that the only way I was ever going to buy new workout clothing was to get pregnant. Should have learned this a long time ago, because man can a good pair of high-waisted leggings really set you off on a high.

I’m always learning momma.

I’m learning how to be a momma.

I wish you could see me.

I wish you could teach me.

I wish you could keep me safe and brush my hair and tell me that it’s all going to be okay.

I see you in today’s sunrise momma.

Thanks for telling me every day.

Hello, goodbyes.

I haven’t been home in a while.

It’s been a year and a half since I last landed in Halifax – which, when I think about it, is probably the longest I have ever been away from the city in my entire 34 years.

Sitting here in the desolate and utilitarian Ottawa International Airport, dining on Twizzlers and Tim Horton’s hot chocolate, I’m feeling nervous. (And twitchy from the sugar.)

I keep thinking about how my last visits, and now this one too, have been about goodbyes.

Last February, I flew home to spend two weeks with my mum helping her prepare for her third round of chemotherapy. When I hugged her on Sunday, February 25th, I did not think that it would be the last time I would hold her fully, tightly in my arms.

But I did cry the entire way home to Vancouver. I knew something was off – and I was feeling unmoored and panicked.

Three days later I received a frantic text message from my younger sister at 5:45 in the morning letting me know that our mother was unresponsive in her bed and that paramedics where on their way to the house to take her to the hospital.

A few hours later, I was on a flight back to Halifax with my sister, her wife, and their son. I sometimes try to remember pieces of that day, but everything is hazy in my desperation – how sick I was with sadness and fear. A soggy salad at a sports bar in Montreal.

Forgetting to pack socks.

Watching Battle of the Sexes on the plane because my mum had taught me about Billie Jean King as a young girl, and I believed somehow that this would bring her healing energy.

(I think this is what Joan Didion calls ‘magical thinking.’)

Instead, I just wept into a cocktail napkin and tried to stop my palsied body, shaking from worry.

She died eight days later. We said goodbye as I held her hand.

In May, I flew down for her celebration of life and to pack up her house. I was delayed leaving Vancouver, which made me miss my connection in Calgary, which then necessitated a further connection in Toronto.

I broke down to the man at the WestJet information table.

“I have to get to Halifax today,” I cried. “My mum died.”

He was visibly taken aback. “Oh dear, I am so sorry.” But he explained to me that there were no other flights, and that I would be stuck with my new route.

“She died,” I whispered. “And I’m tired.”

On the last day of the trip I told my older sister, “I am never coming back here ever again.”

We had spent the entire day packing boxes and moving furniture. I was emotionally and physically exhausted.

I felt like I had been hit by a truck.

As we drove to the Greyhound station to ship several pieces she wanted to send back to Vancouver, I told her that I hated the city.

“You don’t mean that,” she said.

“I do,” I replied.

I had already been to the station earlier in the day with two boxes of my stuff. As she sorted out her shipment, I bought a can of Coke and sat outside on a bench.

It was one of those perfect Maritime days – where the sky is too large and so blue, and the clouds are somehow both backlit and glowing. It’s a beauty that pierces. It stings, and it hurts.

And it breaks your heart in two.

Sitting there, I felt the warmth of the late spring sunshine on my bare arms and legs, and I tried in vain to catch the crumbling pieces of my heart in the palm of my hand.

And I said it again, aloud, to no one.

“I’m never coming back here again.”

A year and a half later, I’m still tired.

And yet here I am, waiting like I have countless other times, to fly back to Halifax.

To a city that I do love.

A city that is my blood.

A city that is my mum.

And maybe I’m just tired of goodbyes.

Maybe this time, I’ll be quiet.

Happy birthday momma. It’s a party.

Today is my momma’s birthday.

She would have been 70.

The last time I visited her, in February of 2018, I asked her, “what do you want to do for your 70th? Maybe we could do something as a family – like go on a trip together or organize a big party?”

I remember she was flossing her teeth – something she took very seriously. She paused before looking straight at me.

“If I even make it that long,” she laughed half-heartedly.

Her comment left me upended – as though I had just missed a step at the bottom of a staircase.

I had somehow kept believing that – despite the stage four metastasized breast cancer – she would live forever.

It was the first time I heard her acknowledging the opposite. Her words were like a knife to my heart.

“Of course you will make it!” I blurted out, wanting desperately to erase this subtle, yet momentous shift that had just occurred.

She shrugged and went back to flossing her teeth.

I went to bed dreaming of a birthday party abroad.

When I talk about my mum, which I do all the time, it’s always to marvel at and impress upon just how well, and how often she lived.

It’s why I had such a hard time imagining her dying – and why I have such a hard time remembering that she is dead – because no matter how sick she got, she never stopped.

She never stopped working, and she never stopped working out; doing yoga and volunteering; helping with her grandkids and with her daughters’ professional and personal pursuits.

She hosted the most brilliant and boisterous dinner parties, marched in solidarity with other women, challenged herself to know more about reconciliation and how to be a better ally. Debated her friends who held competing views. Loved and nurtured and believed in the incredibly unique and beautiful community that she built and that she held close in her heart.

It is these people who have consistently reached out to myself and my sisters over the past year. On Mother’s Day, Christmas, the day of her death. To tell me: I see you. I am hurting too. I miss her. I miss and think of her every day.

I get so angry sometimes, thinking of others who have remained silent and conspicuously so. I feel like I have been cut off, like a gangrenous limb. Severed from a family who no longer thinks or feels about her, or her daughters, or what it’s like to live every day without your North Star. And the painful journey of reorientation that reminds me every day: she died.

Especially on days like today.

But then I hear a gentle voice at the back of my head: a voice that pipes up, mid-floss, reminding me to hold close the community that she held in her heart. Because those are the people who held her.

And to celebrate today.

So happy birthday, momma. I know you’re somewhere beautiful.

And that’s it’s a party.

This moment. This.

When I was thirteen years old, I started going to bed with ropes and scarves tied tightly around my waist, believing that it would stop me from gaining weight in my sleep.

I would tie them so tightly that they would cut into my skin, forming a ridge of angry red scars along the tops of my hipbones and the small of my back.

I don’t know how my mother found out about what I was doing, but she did.

Obviously horrified and desperate to get me to stop, she was sensitive enough to know that depending on how she broached the subject, I might shrink further inside of myself.

So her approach was simple.

Instead of getting angry with me, or throwing out all of the things I used to harm myself, she would wait until I had gotten ready for sleep, and then gently knock on my bedroom door.

Sitting on the side of my bed, she would stroke my hair and softly ask if I had wrapped anything around my waist.

I would squirm and fight, never wanting to admit that I had, or confess how ugly and hated I felt on nights when I couldn’t bring myself to bind my skin.

Sometimes she would ask to see my stomach, although never in a confrontational or accusatory way. In a way that ached with a stark and simple love and sadness. The heartbreaking futility of knowing that your teenage daughter finds such monumental faults in the skin that you helped make and shape.

After I had either showed her my bare skin, or grudgingly removed the ties, she would take my hand in hers and ask me to tell her one thing that I loved about myself.

For many nights I dreaded this moment. A slight, cold sweat would break out on the back on my neck. I would push my face into my pillow and half-heartedly murmur something into its folds; gnash my teeth and force out a canned answer.

“The A on my math test,” was my garbled response.

But she would sit there, patient as a stone as I wrestled with the question, until finally, exhausted, I would whisper a truth.

“I love my hair.”

“I’m funny.”

“My friends.”

Even after I stopped going to bed with the scarves, my mother would come see me. Stroke my hair. Hold my hand. And ask me:

“Tell me one thing you love about yourself.”

As I grew older, I forgot about this nightly ritual. I left home, adopted new routines, and practiced new methods of self care.

But every so often, when my anxiety is particularly high, and I wake in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, I lie in bed, and breathe deeply.

And I imagine my mothers hand on mine, the tone of her voice, soothing.

And I tell her.

My hair.

I’m funny.

This moment.

This.