Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas to All!

It's quiet here - the Reds are happily munching on waffles, Daddy's sipping a hot coffee and I, still in my pj's am feeling so very, very blessed.

Though we will not be visiting my parents as planned, as they've succumbed to the same bug that felled the Reds last week (Sorry, Mum and Dad!) we will be joining my in-laws later today.

Until then, I will enjoy these peaceful moments with my family and send love to you, dear readers. Thank you for reading and for being a part of this amazing, charmed life I am living.

Boys, being boys!

Santa's offerings!

Merry Christmas!
Bellymonster and the Reds

Friday, December 16, 2011

Tale of Two Sickies

The Reds have been felled by the 'flu. Here's the whole stinkin' mess, as posted on Facebook

Wednesday evening, having written my last exam:

Thursday morning, having been woken by Matthew shortly after midnight:

And then Luke woke up, crying and complaining of stomach pain:

 By late afternoon, we were all miserable:

Later that evening, blessedly alone and wishing for Baileys:

 Sigh. Even when they're sick, they make me snort-giggle:

Apparently I get a teensy bit twitchy when my kids are sick:

And finally....wait for know this one's coming......

 Apparently, I also get sick when my kids get sick:

And you? How do you deal with sick kids?
Are we friends on Facebook yet? Come and find me!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

PART TWO:On Resilience, Faith and Courage - Joe Clayton's Story

Part 2 of 3:

Joe Clayton was 12 years old when he walked through the cavernous halls of Rideau Regional Centre for the first time.

Essentially ejected from the foster care system, rejected time and again by those who were meant to protect and nuture him, he quickly learned to fend for himself inside the institution's walls.

In this overcrowded and  brutally depressing place, Joe spent his days trying to avoid the staff  - and his nights unsucessfully warding off the abuse heaped upon him by other inmates those who lived there, too.

"I was always scared," he recalled, years later, finally free and speaking to my DSW class at Loyalist College. "I always felt ashamed, like no one cared because of how I was treated. I was always scared for my life."

Joe had many reasons to be afraid. During the day, staff and orderlies tortured their young and vulnerable charges, punishing them for the slightest infraction. Joe spent many long hours scrubbing the kilometres-long hallways with just a brush, or banished to a "Side Room" where he would huddle naked on the floor, weeping.

More than once,  staff members grabbed the boy and shoved his head down the toilet, flushing even as he struggled to breathe. Or they'd wrestle him into a "monkey suit" (a straitjacket) and leave him trussed up for the day, just because.

The staff were our God, our mothers, our fathers.

Joe and the others were paid 25 cents an hour to pluck feces from the mountains of soiled linen used by the residents of Rideau Regional. It was dreaded, horrible task but one which Joe and the others were forced to repeat hour upon hour, day after day.

Even the nights offered little solace for Joe. As a resident on a giant ward, he had no privacy - beds lined every wall, spilling out into corridors and hallways. But his blankets offered little protection for the slight boy, for Joe was raped and sodomized almost nightly for 6 years.

In fact, years later, an examination revealed heavy scarring in his rectum - the result of repeated assaults. Beatings were regular and cruel and meted out by staff and residents alike. In the dorms, in the showers, inside the darkened doorways of the institution's long corridors, Joe knew mostly fear and pain.

Many times, Joe tried to escape, sometimes alone, sometimes with his friend, Freddy Sanderson. Joe says that the staff began to taunt him and Freddy, teasing them with thoughts of freedom:

"They played a game with us. They said, 'If you run away and don't get caught for three weeks, you'll be free.'"

Once, the pair almost made it to Montreal before they were caught and they spent several weeks in "Side Rooms" as punishment. After that, they were no longer permitted outside the Centre's locked doors. Besides, staff reasoned, where would he go?

Joe never received visitors at Rideau Regional. In fact, he was told that his family had all died. No one was coming to rescue him. He was alone, except for Freddy, his blood brother, his friend.

An terrible reality for a young boy who came of age inside a cage.

 "There was nothing wrong with a lot of us when we went in," he says, his voice shaking only a little. "But we were all of us broken when we left."

Part III coming soon...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

When Santa Calls...

Yesterday, wee Luke had a hard time listening to instructions. Specifically, he threw two decks of cards all over the floor and refused to pick them up. No amount of asking, cajoling or hollering was working, so, like many a desperate parent before me has done, I threatened to call Santa.

He begged me to hang up the phone and hurried to pick up, only to be distracted by dust motes dancing and hunger and Lord knows what else. Suddenly inspired, I posted this on Facebook:


Within minutes, my friend Jamie offered to make the call. This is how it went:

Luke: Hello?

Santa: Hello Luke, it's Santa! How are you?


Luke: Fine.
Santa: Are you having trouble picking up your toys? Are you having a problem? Mommy asked you to pick them up.
Luke: Yeah. But all I wanted was someone to help me pick up.
Santa: Did you ask someone to help you? Did you make the mess? If so  you have to pick it up. If you need help, ask Mommy.

Luke: Ok.

Me: If you pick up your toys Luke I will look into getting you that "Cars" guitar you wanted. You still want that right?

Luke: Yes.

Santa: Well then you pick up and be a good boy for Mommy and I will see about getting one to you for Christmas, OK?

Luke: OK.

Santa: You go clean up Luke and I will talk to you later and have a Merry Christmas.

In the meantime, Jamie and I were conversing madly on Facebook, hopping between a thread on my wall and one on his. The conversation on his had me howling with laughter, as Luke scurried about behind me:

Luke: Hello! Luke speaking.

Santa: Luke. It's Santa again. Did you clean up your toys?

Luke: Yep.

Santa:  Good boy. I knew you could do it. Now I will look at getting that guitar in the sleigh for you OK?

Luke: Ok bye.  CLICK.
My son had indeed hung up on Santa, but boy, was he proud of himself:

 The fun didn't end there. In between the picking up, hysterical laughter and mad Facebook'ing by me, Luke managed to jam his finger into the pencil sharpener, proceeded to sharpen his finger and then burst into panicked tears. In the midst of the ensuing chaos, "Santa" rang again:
Matthew:  Hello! Matthew McLennan speaking.

Santa: Hello Matthew! It's Santa! I heard you wanted to talk to me too?
Matthew: Yeah!
Santa: Did your brother clean up his toys?
Matthew: Yes.
Santa: Good, good. What happened to his finger? He tried to sharpen it? That's silly! You tell him Santa is bringing him pencils so he won't have to sharpen his fingers OK?
Matthew: ( giggling): OK Santa. ( giggling)
Santa: Now. you want a police man costume and drums?
Matthew: YES, PLEASE! 
Santa: Well I think I can get you the costume, but the drums are a bit big for my sleigh, maybe when you are older OK, buddy?

Matthew: That's what my Mom said too. So that's OK.
Santa: Because when you are older you get bigger things and I can make more room in the sleigh.
Matthew: That's fine.
Santa: Now you be a good boy and help Mommy and I will get you your presents OK? And tell Luke to stop sharpening his fingers! I will get him some pencils!
Matthew: ( Giggling again) OK Santa.
Santa: Good bye, Matthew and Merry Christmas.
Matthew: Bye! Merry Christmas, Santa.
 Proof, dear readers, that the magic of Christmas is all around us: all you need is a good friend, Facebook and a phone.

With love and thanks to the awesome Jamie Terry, for playing along and for letting me plaster his Facebook wall all over the place. Merry Christmas, my friend! xo

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Mark's Dreaming of a PINK Christmas...

Tonight's after-dinner conversation:

Matthew: Daddy! Mummy's making a Christmas Wish List. What do you want from Santa?
Mark: A d-a-u-g-h-t-e-r
Luke: A dog?
Liz: Ha! No way, buster. Uh uh.
Matthew: What does he want, Mummy?
Liz: A daughter. Ha!
Matthew: A daughter?
Luke: A girl?
Mark: I have two boys. Don't you think a little girl would be a great addition to our family?
Liz: (telepathically, to Mark): You. are. insane.
Matthew: A sister?
Liz: A sister for you and Luke. Would you like a sister?
Matthew: Uh...not really. I like being just Matthew and Luke.
Liz: Me too, Matthew. I don't want another baby, either.
Luke: No sisters. No babies.

Poor Mark. Another dream, dashed.

To Matthew, I whispered, "Tell you what, though. We can buy Daddy a baby dolly - a girl one. And that can be his daughter, OK?"

Matthew (laughing uproariously): Okay, Mummy! Let's buy Daddy a daughter!

"Welcome Home, Baby Emily"
An Ashton-Drake Doll

So, to the McLennan Christmas Wish List, I added two things:

1. Baby Girl Dolly
2. Vasectomy

Guess it's true, what the sign on our wall says:

"Remember, as far as anyone knows, we're a nice, normal family..."

Sigh. More fodder for the therapists, I say.

And you? What sort of crazy stuff is your family up to, these days?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

On Resilience, Faith and Courage: Joe Clayton's Story (Part One)

Part 1 of 3:

Some weeks back, a man called Joe Clayton came to visit the DSW class at Loyalist College.

Joe Clayton with some of my DSW classmates
November, 2011

An eloquent though soft-spoken man, Joe visits Belleville every year, speaking to students about his life in Rideau Regional Centre,  - an institution that was once "home" to thousands of mentally disabled Canadians.

His presentation brought to vivid, awful life the reality of institutional life. Rideau Regional was, in fact, a house of horrors and as Joe wove his tale, I could not help but feel three things:

1. Enormous shame that in this awesome country, there were are  places like this, where we treated  treat our most vulnerable citizens so very, very badly,

2. Awe and almost overwhelming gratitude for Joe, that he survived years of abuse - mental and physical - and neglect, only to emerge strong and clear and willing to tell his story,

3. Determination that I, along with my classmates, will be among those strong enough to help heal the wounds of men and women like Joe, who deserve the best lives, instead of memories like these:

       Joe Clayton was born in Pembroke, in 1953. In poor health, Joe's mother was unable to care for him and so entrusted him to a family friend. Sadly, the friend died and in 1958, Joe was made a ward of Children's Aid Society.

Remembers Joe, "I sat in the back seat of the car and then I got up and I stood and looked out the car window. My mom got farther and farther away from me and then she was gone out of my life."

Joe was five.

 His first foster family actually adopted him, but within six months, decided they'd made a mistake. He was too aggressive, they said. "Mentally slow," doctors declared.

And so began years of bouncing in and out of foster homes, where Joe was beaten, neglected:

"I remember in one of the foster homes where I was, we went to the beach. I was playing in the water and having fun. Then I was upset about something. The people who were taking care of me they got really mad at me. When I got home, they told me to go to my room. They came to my room and tied me up with a rope. They put my arms back and tied my hands and put a cloth over my mouth. They left me there like that on my bed for one day."

 The only bright spot came in the early sixties, when Joe  landed on the doorstep at his second-to-last foster home. The Polish man who opened his home to the young boy "treated me like a son," according to Joe.

Sadly, Joe's kindly foster father fell from a tree while cutting down branches and died, so Children's Aid Society sent Joe to Rideau Regional Centre.

(Photo courtesy of Joe Clayton)

 He was 12 years old.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Introducing....Matthew, at House of Leprechauns.

Matthew has his own blog. It's attached to mine and (for now) I do all his typing, but it's his and he is very, very proud.

This will either be the smartest parenting decision or the one I regret forever. Time will tell! In the meantime, head over and say "Hiya!" to my very heart:

 (Click on his sweet, cherub face to hop on over to House of Leprechauns!)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Lose the 'tude, Dude!

I need an "Ignore" button.


I wish I could set my brain to simply ignore - as in, not hear, not respond to, not let my blood boil about - certain things my family say or do.

Like this:

Matthew: Mummmmyyyyyyy? Can I have some candy? (Insert whiny, petulant tone pitched so high the dog moans and runs upstairs)

Me:  Not now, Bug. It's too early. After lunch.

Matthew: It's not too early.

Me: Yes, it is.

Matthew: Mummmmmmmy, it's not FAIR!!! (Insert scowling face, thrust out lip and crossed arms here)

On a related note:

Does anyone else out there have a child who whines while adding an emphatic "UH" to the last syllable? 

Like this:

Matthew: LuuuuukkkkkkUH! Stop doooooooooooinnnng thaattUH! Mummy! He's looking at me all weeeeeeeeeeeeerrriiidUH."

Or this:

Matthew: (Insert snotty, Lord help us, SUPER snotty tone here): I'm not gonna play with you anymore, Luke. I don't want to because because you're only  fourUH..."

Me: (Not ignoring, the way I likely should, but damn it, Luke worships Matthew. It's fine if Matthew doesn't play with him all the time, but there's no need to be mean about it): Matthew, if I spoke to you that way, how would you feel?

Matthew: I don't careUH!  (and then, turning to me, sticks out his tongue!)

*Brief pause for my brain to explode *

Me: (Furiously pointing to the stairs): Time Out. NOW!

Matthew: WhhhhaatttUH? I didn't do annnyyyythingUH!

Me: Do that again and I will smack that sass right off your face! 

(Yes, I am the same mother who sends the Reds to Time Out for hitting each other. I recognize the hypocrisy here, just don't know what to DO about it.)

Matthew: (Stomping toward stairs, his voice rising, filling with tears): It's not faaairrrUH!

I got nothin', people. This petulant "uh"ing is new for Matthew and for us. It grates on my every nerve and I'm pretty sure my ears are bleeding. Is this normal? Do ALL children do this, or just mine?

If so, the question is not whether the children will survive childhood. The question is, will I?

 *Bangs own head against deskUH*

And you? How do handle it when your kids ooze sass and attitude?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Lest We Forget...

Sometimes, blog posts seem to write themselves. Sometimes, in the very middle of a pretty ordinary day, extraordinary moments happen:

The Reds and I bought poppies today. As I was pinning them on, Luke asked what they're for. I told him that it's a way to show soldiers how much we appreciate the hard work they do, keeping people safe.

Matthew: And they fight in wars, right?
Me: Yes, unfortunately, they do.
Luke: I'm gonna fight in a war one day, Mummy. I'm gonna be the first one there!
Me: I sure hope not, Lukey. I don't want anyone to fight in a war, but especially not you.

Matthew: Don't worry, Mummy! If Luke goes, I'll go too and then you won't have to worry.

An elderly woman approached on unsteady feet, leaning heavily on her cane. She peered down at the boys, stroked Luke's cheek, Matthew's hair.

"Sweet boys. Let us pray your mother never sees a day when she must send two fine lads like you to war."

She lifted her gaze to me and offered a sad smile.

"Three of my sons fought in the war," she explained. I nodded, sensing there was more.

"Only one returned to me."

"I'm so sorry," I gasped, hoping it was enough, knowing that it couldn't possibly be.

She gestured to the Reds, now proudly showing one another their poppies, mucking about.

 "Your sons. May God keep them with you always."

"Amen," said a deep, weary voice behind us.

It was a soldier, beret smartly titled on his head, poppy over his uniformed heart.

She touched his arm, the poppy and offered a watery smile and a whisper: "Thank you, son."

The soldier, clearly touched, lifted his chin and smiled back.

"You're welcome."

And you? In whose memory do you wear a poppy?

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Visit From Murphy...and Santa Claus

Murphy's Law
 Loosely translated and borrowing heavily from Finagle's Law

"Anything that can go wrong, will."

It's been a wild ride at ye old Bellymonster homestead. To long-story-short things, that dang Murphy  popped by for a visit, leaving an expensive mess in his wake.
It started with the furnace:

Furnace guy came. Shook head, sadly, eyeing our 42-year-old furnace. Whistled - in bad way - when he saw our chimney. Turned his palm up in an apologetic way and said he reckoned it'd be cheaper to simply start anew.


 I cringed, waiting for  the estimate to replace the furnace. Winced when it came. Mark did more than wince. In fact, I'm fairly certain I saw him wipe a tear from his suddenly alarmingly pale face:

We discussed things all weekend long, trying to figure out where we can cut back to see our way around financing a new furnace. On Monday, Mark called from work:


Yep. The WHEEL FELL OFF THE CAR! Thankfully, it happened as Mark turned into the driveway at work and not whilst he was sailing up the 401, but still. We were hoping to get one more winter out of the ol' girl. Alas...

Later that week, I received a second furnace quote - from a man who looked like Santa Claus (without the beard) and who immediately offered to bring some electric heaters by while we made up our minds.

That pretty much made up our minds, so I arranged to have an environmental audit done so that we could take advantage of government rebates, set to end in early 2012.

Spent the rest of the week bemoaning our crummy luck and waiting for the sky to fall.

Gah. Argh. Blah, indeed.

Murphy, in case you didn't know, also likes to sprinkle mischief in threes:

F*cked-up furnace? Check.

Crapped-out car? Check.

I waited. I fretted. I tweeted:

I prayed. But alas...

That Friday, the computer gave one last pitiful chug, a few coughs, a wheeze..

and died.

When Mark came home from work, looking exhausted and stressed out, I greeted him with a smile. But it was enough. He knew. Oh, he knew:

Me: "So, Murphy stopped by earlier."
Mark: "Computer?"
Me: "Yep."
Mark: "Fuck."
Me: "Yep."
Mark: "I need a drink."
Me: "Rye and coke?"
Mark: "Do we have any arsenic?"

Thankfully, we have an awesome friend who provided us with a new-to-us computer and amazingly  generous family, who've  loaned us a car, indefinitely.

On Tuesday, I called Santa Claus (aka. Brian from Rosebush Heating and Cooling) and gave the go-ahead for a new furnace. He cautioned that it might be a few days, as it's a busy time.

 20 minutes later, he rang back:

"My guys'll  be over in about 20 minutes."
Me: Uh, OK. I thought you said it might be a few days?
Santa: I did. I pulled them off another job. I hate the idea of your little boys having to face even one more day of cold.
Me: Wow. Thank you!
Santa: You take care of those boys, Mrs. They're precious.
Me: They are. I will. Thank you.

30 minutes later, I posted this on Facebook:

I called Mark at work:

"The furnace people just showed up!"
"Seriously? I thought he said..."
"He did! But he hated the thought of the Reds being cold and sent his crew here straight away."
"That's what I said!"
"I guess Santa Claus came to town early, eh?"


*And you? Got any Murphy's Law fiascos to share? Who's YOUR Santa Claus?*

Thursday, October 27, 2011

On Jelly Beans and Other Things...

Monday, after school, having a grape-eating contest - who can make the loudest crunch:

I tossed out a casual, "So Matthew, how was your day?"

Mid-crunch, my boy stopped and then looked away.

"I was the only one who used my accent," he offered, a little flush of pride lighting his face before his gaze dropped back down.

"Awesome! Do you mean your accent when you're speaking French?"


" don't seem happy about that, Bug. It's a good thing, right?"

"Well, yeah. I was the only one who was listening but Madame M. didn't give me a jelly bean."

"Do you get a jelly bean for using your accent, then?" I watched as his expression soured further, all thought of grape-crunching forgotten. In a low voice, he answered:

"No, we get jelly beans for listening, but Madame M. didn't give me one."

"Ah. I see. Do you think maybe she just forgot?"

A vehement head shake, tears glistening. "No. She never forgets. She just didn't want to give me one."

Mama Bear rose up inside me, roaring even as I struggled to tamp her down. Calm down, Mama.

I took a deep breath, reached out to take his hand. "That must have hurt your feelings, eh?"

Matthew nodded.

"Maybe she doesn't like me." Though he offered it as an observation, I could hear the question in his voice, wrapped as it was in resignation and defeat.

It broke my heart.

"I'm sure you're wrong, sweetheart. I can't imagine that she doesn't like you. I'm sure she just forgot."

Shrugs from Matthew. Helpless gazing from me.

And then...a memory.

"Let me tell you a story, Matthew. When I was in Kindergarten, I had a teacher called Mrs. Major. Every morning, she filled a plastic egg with jelly bean treats and hid it somewhere in the classroom. Each student was given a chance to search for the egg and eat those jelly bean treats throughout the day."


"It was. But I never got chosen. One day, I asked Mrs. Major when it would be my turn. But she thought I'd had a turn and put me in time-out for telling a fib."

"Really?!?" Matthew's eyes were wide with surprise and indignation. This sort of thing sets his Libra heart aflame. Thirty-five years later, seeing indignation flare in my son's eyes soothed the ache of that memory, long-buried but clearly, not forgotten.

I nodded.

"Really. I was very sad. I wasn't fibbing, she'd just forgotten. But it hurt my feelings."

We sat quietly, letting those hurt feelings - his and mine - settle around us. And then Matthew brightened.

"Mummy! I have an idea! We can get a plastic egg and fill it with jelly beans. Luke and I can take turns hiding it and then you can have your turn finding it! Would that be OK?"

Oh, my son. My sensitive, tender-hearted son. What did I ever do to deserve you?

Out loud I said, " What a wonderful idea, Matthew!  Thank you. We'll get some jelly beans at the weekend and whenever you use your accent with me, you'll get a jelly bean, too, OK?"

"Sounds like a plan, Mummy." His own hurt feelings forgotten, Matthew leaped from the couch and began scouting for good hiding spots. I stayed seated a minute longer, trying to compose myself.

For want of a jelly bean, grace was found.

*And you? Who was your Mrs. M? Where have you found grace?*

Friday, October 7, 2011

Monitoring My Blessings

Tonight's post is brought to you courtesy of the baby monitor. (Yes, I still use one. Don't judge me.)

Matthew: 1, 2, 3, 4............94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99.......hmmmm.....Tenty. Tenty-One, Tenty-Two, Tenty-Three......uhhhh....ELEVENTY...Eleventy-One, Eleventy-Two.....Twelvty...Twelvty-One, Twelvety-Two...LUKE, there are Twelvety-TWO constellations on the ceiling!!!

Luke: Huh?

Matthew: There are TWELVETY-TWO stars and constellations. That's a LOT of stars. The reason you've never heard of that number is because it's so BIIIIIIGGG!

Downstairs, Mark and I sat rapt and  grinning as our firstborn counted himself sleepy. So cute, we said, puffing up with parental pride. But when he began winding himself into a number-counting frenzy, I urged Mark to go on up and settle him down - we have a big travelling day tomorrow and as entertaining as the show was, the boy needed to sleep.

Up Mark went, ushering both boys back into their respective beds, tucking them in. Matthew asked for "the Counting Game, explaining to Luke that "me and Daddy played this game when I was four, like you!"

Luke: Cool.

Mark: Two plus two equals?
Matthew: FOUR!
Mark: Four plus four equals?
Matthew: EIGHT!
Mark: Eight plus eight equals?
Matthew: SIXTEEN!
Mark: Sixteen plus sixteen equals?
Matthew: Uh.....Thirty-two?
Mark: Thirty-two. Thirty-two plus thirty-two equals...

And so it went until Mark got somewhere near 4000 at which point Matthew yelled, "Pi!!! That's my favourite part!"

Downstairs, I giggled helplessly, enchanted by the sheer pleasure in his voice and the fact that he and Daddy have a special Counting Game that I knew nothing about.

As soon as Mark left the room Matthew began the Counting Game on his own, getting stuck at 16 plus 16.


And again.

And again.

For almost 8 minutes (yes, I timed it) he counted from one - over and over and over again - struggling to get past 16, but never quite managing it. He ended up at 26, instead of 32, as he was - I imagine - counting on his fingers.

Finally, on the heels of one giant yawn, he proclaimed that 26 was indeed the right number.

Big pause.

Matthew: Yep, it's 26! 26.....yep.......26......I'll do 26 plus 26 in the morning, OK Luke? Right now, I need to get some rest. I'm a tired boy."

Bigger pause.


Downstairs, grinning through my proud tears, I thought, "For these moments, I am so thankful."

And then sleepily, from the monitor: "I am so proud of you, Matthew." (Matthew, deepening his voice to mimic Mark's)

Matthew: "Thanks Dad, I'm proud of you, too."

Downstairs, eyes welling, grin widening, I began counting, too. Counting my blessings:

"98, 99...Tenty. Tenty-One, Tenty-Two, Tenty-Three...."

And you? Have you counted your blessings today?
Happy Thanksgiving, All!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Words to Live By...

As many of you know, I have gone back to college and am studying Developmental Service Work. The two-year program will give me the skills necessary to support people with physical and/or intellectual disabilities and to say that I am excited about the future would be an understatement.

I am delighted to be meeting new people - even the cell-phone toting young students who fill up the back three rows of every class. Their enthusiasm is contagious and while their dependency on technology baffles and irritates me, I admire their compassion and open, trusting hearts.

I am also delighted and amazed at how my perception of the world is changing - and rapidly. When the course began, several professors warned us that we would discover biases within ourselves that we'd previously ignored. I scoffed then, thinking that I was without bias towards people with disabilities.

I was wrong.

Despite my own best efforts, I too have been harbouring bias toward those whose struggle to fit in is 10 times worse than my teenaged-angst ever was. Until this program, I wasn't aware that the very WORDS I use to describe someone, or something, showed those biases.

"Lucy's autistic son," for example, puts the focus and the whole of my impression of Lucy's son firmly on autism's shoulders. Better I should say, "Lucy's son, who has autism," or better still, "Lucy's son."

Some weeks back, I learned that the word backwards comes from the phrase, "in the back wards" and describes where not-so-long-ago, psychiatric patients were hidden from view. Tucked into the very back rooms of asylums nation-wide, those doctors deemed "mentally unstable" were destined to spend their days roaming about, hurting and virtually forgotten. Caged.

I began to wonder which other words I use - daily, without reserve, without thinking - that might show a bias I hate to think I've had or worse, shown. I didn't have to wonder long before I realized that my everyday speech is peppered with jargon I'd be loathe to have my new teachers or classmates hear.

Idiot. Spaz. Dummy. Schizo. Gone mental. Loonybin. Maniac. Crazy. You're insane.  Retarded.

Are you cringing yet, dear reader? I am, just typing them out and these are only the words that *I've* used, not the dozens of others we listed in class one day, most of us sinking lower and lower in our seats as each offensive and derogatory word got called out and written down.

Wanna know what's even worse? I've said ALL of these words in FRONT OF MY CHILDREN.

It shames me that these are words and phrases that I, a lover of words and the keeper of little boy hearts, have used use.

Too often. Too forcefully. Too without thought-fully.

So, I have been making a clear and conscious effort to rid my speech of language which could  misinform, misrepresent, hurt or worse, do all three. When I am at school, it's easier to remember to stand guard against my own tongue. Easier, but not easy as I am opinionated and given to speech-before-thought already. But, day by day, everything is changing.

As I listen to the language modelled by my professors, all of whom seem called to this work, it gets easier.

As I feel old thought-patterns and deeply-held biases fall off and melt away, it gets easier.

As I learn about the nature of disabilities and how vast and wide and broad the scope is, it gets easier.

And while I happily shed the skin of the person I have been, I am learning so many, many things.

I am being taught new words and concepts like inclusion and people-centred  and support and responsibility and community.

My new language is called "People First Language" and I am wrapping my heart around all of it.

Interestingly, by challenging my brain to substitute a different, more suitable word for "retarded" I've been given a real chance to stretch, both as a writer...and as a human.

And as a mother.

Because once I'd isolated the hurtful words I use every day, I discovered even more of them.

I found that on average, I call Matthew a "Silly Turkey" 15 times a day. It's an affectionate nickname, you say? Well, yes, it is. Except when last week, I wrapped it in venom and spat it out when he fumbled a chore I'd been nagging him to complete.

And it's not just the words I choose, it's the way I offer them to my VERY impressionable young mimics children:

I chide and nag and yell things like, "Seriously? Do you seriously believe that YOU are right and I, your mother, am wrong?" (Insert incredulous tone edged with blistering sarcasm. Aim it at frustrated and weepy five-year-old)

Yes, he nodded, miserably. Yes, you are wrong, Mummy.

He was right.

I was wrong. Wrong in both concept and delivery.

So, a month into my new life as mother, wife and student, I have learned that...well... I have a LOT to learn.

And as always, it seems as though my children are my best and finest teachers.


We can change the world.

And you?
How do you react to learning unpleasant truths about the world?

Monday, September 19, 2011

This is NOT a post about politics, BUT...

This is not a political piece, but it does involve politics - mostly the small-town life, friendship kind. 

James Terry has been in my sphere for 20 years or more, as we attended the same high school and were - and still are - pretty friendly people. We've bumped into each other here and there over the years and I have always enjoyed our chats,had while chasing kids or loading groceries, or both.

Thankfully, with the advent of Facebook, Jamie and I have managed to chat quite often, albeit virtually. We don't always agree, but there is a genuine fondness, I think, between us. So, when Jamie decided to run as Durham Region's NDP candidate for the upcoming October election, no one was prouder than me.

(Well, maybe his mum and wife and kids, but other than that...)

I do not live in Durham anymore, and have already cast my mental vote for a candidate here in Quinte, but I am nonetheless awed and impressed that Jamie has taken this huge leap, politically-speaking.

True to form, my stand-up friend has put his money where his mouth is and instead of merely whinging about politicians and policies, like the rest of us, he got informed and then got involved. Regardless of your personal political beliefs, I think it goes without saying that if more people could find the courage to do the same, this would be a different sort of world.

Certainly, a better one.

In any case, I asked Jamie a bunch of questions recently (pepper 'em with random questions, is my motto) and he responded. And so, to honour our friendship and his foray into the political arena, I am very happy to introduce Jamie Terry: father, husband, brother, friend:

Belly: We met in high school, though I don't specifically remember how. Did we take classes together, drink together...was it YOU that I kissed that at Jackma....wait, never mind. This is a family blog.
OK. The REAL question: If you could choose, would you opt again for life in small-town Ontario or did the BIG City call to you, in your youth? What do you want for your children?

Jamie: I much prefer the old days of when I grew up in Bowmanville. I always tell people it was like Mayberry. You could walk downtown and know almost every person you passed on the street as well as the people that owned the shops.
What I want for my children is to be able to grow up in a safe happy environment. My youngest is always asking if he can go bike riding by himself and I hate having to tell him no. The fact is, the world is not the world I grew up in. But I hope that we can change that and make an even better place for my grandchildren to live.

Belly: What's the last book you read for pleasure? It's perfectly OK to admit to loving and reading the Harry Potter series. If your answer is indeed one of those books, can I please borrow Book 2? I've lost mine somewhere...

Jamie: I am currently reading "Game of Thrones" by George Martin. It is a series of four books and although I am busy with the election now, I still find some time to sneak in a chapter or two. I would like to read the Potter series myself. I loved the movies as much as the kids. So when you find your copy Liz, let me know.

Belly: Your daughter has autism. I am studying Developmental Service Work and will be learning how to support kids with autism (or other challenges) and their families. What advice do you have for me and for anyone else who might find themselves working with or for a child/person with disabilities?

Jamie: Patience and lots of it. You have to learn as much as the child does. Once we started to learn about Aspergers and Autism it really opened our eyes as to why she did the things she did. I would also tell parents that you will find that although autistic children may be "deficient" in some areas, they excel in others. In my daughter's case, she has an incredible memory and an obsession with maps and writing and drawing. She is exceptionally creative and she plays piano.

Belly: If you were to create a musical soundtrack to represent your life, what would it include? *Bonus points for anything by Journey.*

Jamie: Don't Stop Believin'! That was easy!

Belly: Since declaring your intention to run as Durham Region's NDP candidate in the upcoming election (October 6th, readers! Got that? October 6th...get out and VOTE!) how has your view of politics changed, if at all? What made you toss your name into the hat?

Jamie: My views have not changed. I took a long time to come to this point. I was not a life long NDP. But the more I looked at what their values were I found myself being drawn in. Our party's line on this election is "Change that puts people first". And to me, that makes great sense. We "the people" need change. This province went from a crown jewel to a have-not province. This is unacceptable and the NDP want to right the ship and get this province and it's people back where we belong.
My decision to run was sparked during the Federal Election in May.

(Belly: Dear Readers, I would like to think that my little piece about "How To Win My Vote" had a huge some influence here, but I digress...)

I have always been interested in politics and after helping on the campaign in May, I decided that this was it, this was my time. I truly believe that if elected I can help Durham and Ontario. Our party has put forth a platform that is aimed at those that need the help the most. This is not a shoot the lights out promise the world type platform. These are all attainable, affordable changes that have the people in mind first and foremost.

Belly: Who was your favourite teacher and why? If you could tell him/her how you feel in one sentence, what would you say? 

Jamie: This is an easy one. Mr. Bill Brunt. One of the nicest and dedicated teachers ever. He taught my mother, uncles, aunt and finally myself and my brother. He was an old school "Let boys be boys!" type by allowing rough stuff in gym. But at the same time he was dedicated to instilling academics in his students. He tutored me in math in grade 9 when I had difficulty and he sat there with me until I got it. He is the best. Every teacher should learn how to teach from Bill Brunt.I feel like a better person having been taught by Bill Brunt.

Belly: What's the hardest thing you've ever done?

Jamie: Watch my son shortly after he was born be hustled away to Sick Kids after complications. I did not know if I would ever see him alive. I still have bad dreams once in awhile about that day. That by far was the hardest thing I had ever had to do.

Belly: What do you want voters to know about you and your party's platform?

Jamie: I guess I would want them to know that our platform is geared towards the everyday working man or woman and their families. For far too long they have been ignored and now we want to help. Help by taking HST off home heat,hydro and gasoline. Put money back into the pockets of the people of Ontario. We are putting people first. That's the catch line and everything in our platform is aimed at just that. Jobs,health care, HST, you name it, it is all to put people first , and their challenges first.
As far as me? Well I am just one of you. Your normal everyday Ontarian. And I think I can bring some perspective to Queens Park, Many politicians "listen" to their constituents , but they fail to understand what Ontario families have and are going through. I think my experiences would be a great contribution in aiming the government in the right direction in getting Ontario back on it's feet.

Belly: Did you ever imagine that 20 years beyond high school, we'd be "virtually" hanging out? Seriously. Think about that for a moment - I was just a small-town girl, living in my lonely wor....wait, wait, that's not right... I guess the question is, of the teenagers we were and the people we've become, who do you like best? Why?

Jamie: Well people were different back in the old days - ha, ha! But then again I have run into some who still act the same way. I would have to say the people we are now would be who I like best. I think people like you and I have gone through many things and they have rounded us into pretty good people. Both of us have families and our kids drive us nuts and it all makes us who we are. And I think that's OK. We were pedal-to-the-metal teenagers and now we are shopping for walkers. But you have to slow down at some point and enjoy life. I for one am glad that I can stay in touch with old friends such as you, Liz.

20 years ago we would have been writing letters to one another probably, now we can chat in real time (When you figure out Facebook chat, that is) and I love reading your blogs.

 Belly: Top three things on your bucket list:

1. Red Sox game at Fenway Park
2. Visit St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh Scotland (My mother's family have a pane of stained glass in the cathedral)
3. Learn to surf.

He forgot to say, "Hang with Liz at the Cobourg Beach and buy her tea and candy," but that's OK. He's a busy dude. I am so proud of this man -a small-town boy with big dreams.
"The thing is, the decision to put your name on a ballot and go out there and be judged by the electorate is a noble act no matter what party you serve." L.R.

And you?
What are your dreams for the  future? Our country?
Any questions for Jamie?
What's on YOUR bucket list?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On Liebster Love and Passing It On...

Today was enough of "that" sort of day that I let the Reds eat supper in front of the TV, didn't scrape the dishes before shoving them into the dishwasher and Windexed the toilet instead of cleaning it properly. To sum up? I'm tired.

Tired and looking to zone out after supper, when, instead of herding the children into the bathtub, I pretended to forget to turn off the TV and logged onto Twitter.

To my surprised delight, I had received a neat tweet from Elena Aitken, a fellow blogger, a published author and all-around kick-ass chick. I also, in the awesome cool way of the 'net, consider her my friend, even though we've never met. (She likes mountains, I like mountains. We both have kids, adore her novel "Nothing Stays in Vegas" and cry at country music songs. She blogs, I blog. She runs marathons, I think about running marathons. See? Kindred spirits.)

Anyhow, according to her tweet, darling Elena had virtually presented  me the Liebster Award, which is given to bloggers whose follower count is below 200,  but whom the Academy presenting blogger thinks is worthy of recognition and shout-outs. (And more readership, so sign yourself up already, dear reader!)

Turns out, Elena thinks that Life With Bellymonster merits such an award and I am mighty pleased.

Oh, and grateful.

And chuffed and can't stop smiling.

This is just one of the many, many benefits of blogging - cool friends from far-off places who share my love of words, inspire me daily and send along virtual "kudos" for no other reason than because they can.

The NEXT best part of this Liebster Love-In, is that  I now get to recommend other bloggers whose site traffic doesn't necessarily reflect their awesome talent. It's like that "send a recipe" thing, only much, much better.

Before I list "My Five", I want to first shout-out to Elena for the award and for reading my blog - your support and friendship mean so much to me. How lucky I am. Thank you.

If you didn't click on Elena's name above, do so now.  She is wise and funny and she writes a mean book. And somehow, she also finds time to run, raise kids, blog and bike. I am exhausted just thinking about all that she does, but am delighted to shove you in her multi-tasking direction. Go on...let her inspire you to create change and adventure in your own life!

Now, without further ado, I hereby bestow upon these five bloggers, the much-coveted, most beloved, Liebster Award for blogging awesomeness:

1. Annie, from Six Ring Circus, holds a special place in my heart. Not just because she guest-posted here several weeks ago, but because she writes entirely from her own heart and it's pure joy to read. This mother-of-four tells it like it is with every post, but infuses her stories about life, love and family with such humour and genuine pleasure, I "visit" her several times a week, to bask in her warmth for just a little while. Visiting Annie's blog is like hanging with an old friend - it's good for your soul.

2. Also a fellow Canuck blogger, Larry Hehn is one of my favourites. He shares funny, pithy, wise stuff over at Christian in the Rough , bringing the Bible to wonderful, vivid life without a hint of "preachy." He's a man of conviction, of grace and of God and I, for one, look foward to his musings.

3. Pam Dillon - yet another Canadian blogger. Hmm... -   is the kind of Twitter follower everyone should aspire to both have and be: she is kind, supportive, funny and is great at retweeting my ramblings, which I appreciate immensely. I also appreciate her blog, Wratwords. Don't let the rodent name (and photo) scare you off - Pam's got a wicked sense of funny and a clear, ring-true voice. Get over there already, eh?

4. You know what? I'm just gonna go ahead and keep right on loving Canuck bloggers. I didn't even realize that I read as many as I do. How awesome to find so many incredible bloggers right here, in my own backyard. Erm...well, you know what I mean.

Take Shelley Cameron-McCarron, for example. She's a travel writer and her blog pieces regularly stir the wanderlust I've never quite managed to shake. I visit Shelley's blog, Hit The Highway Smiling, when I'm feeling wistful, nostalgic for places I've never been or need to dream bigger than the glorious country she writes about. Go on...have a peek!

5. Ok, so this last blogger isn't exactly Canadian, but he's cool enough to at least warrant "Half-Canuck" status. Besides, Mark Kaplowitz lives in Albany, New York, which is close enough. At the very least, he knows for snow and ice and hockey. That's good enough for me.

What's also good is Mark's blog, Schlabadoo. Each and every post is a sentimental journey of sorts, as Mark urges his readers to "Remember When...?" I often find myself nodding and grinning fiercely at Mark's words, delighted by his keen observations and quiet humour. Read him. I promise he'll make your day.

There you have it, folks. Liebster Love, passed on.

M'wah! Belly love to all!

And you? Which under-followed blogs inspire you, make you laugh, cry, think, smile, rage  or all of the above? Share 'em here, please!

Monday, September 12, 2011

How Technology Has Completely Altered the Post-Secondary Experience

I am going back to school.

Or is it, I have gone back to school?

I am once again going to school?

Whatevvvvvvveerrer. Pffffhhhhttt....

Point is, post-secondary education is not how I remembered it and here's why:

1. Everything is different.

The chairs have gotten smaller. Truly, they have. Or my ass has gotten bigger, which can't be so.

Either that, or students have gotten smaller. They've definitely gotten younger.

 At Loyalist College, they're like, 12. I kid you not. In fact, on Day One a pretty little blond in my class mentioned her hometown, which is next to mine. Jokingly, I said that I probably went to high school with her parents, as I'm old enough to be her mother.

Turns out the joke's on me because after quizzing her, I'm pretty sure I knew her dad, many, many years ago. Meep!

2. Technology RULES!

And I don't mean that in a good way. Well, not entirely, anyway.

The cool bit:

Most of my professors upload their lecture notes to something called "LMS" which is essentially a giant, electronic cheat sheet. Connected to the college's website, LMS contains my schedule, my grades, keeps track of assignments handed in, handed back and those pending. It features lecture notes, study guides, fun little "discussions" on a class-specific message board AND there's even a live-chat option.

It's a lot like Facebook, if Facebook were a message board and we got marked for logging on.

So, if I doze off during class (due to my advanced age) I can easily find out what I missed by logging on to LMS later. Later meaning after 8pm, when the kids are sleeping, lunches are made and laundry has at least been hurled into the basement. (Not the "after-the-pub-and-hookup" later enjoyed by some of my classmates. No, no...I'm not jealous. I'm not. I'm just saying...)

The not-so-cool bit:

Phones. Oh. my. GAWD.

Everyone - and I mean, everyone, has a cell phone. And not an ancient, flip-top-gizmo like the one I last week was forced to retrieve from the depths of the junk drawer, in case the Reds' school calls.

No, sir.

 I mean, mini-computer phones, with keyboards and cameras and coffee machines and something called "Angry Birds" built right in.

Amazing little gadgets.

Now, I'll admit that I'm a Luddite and that a classmate had to show me how to turn the phone's ringer to "vibrate", but THIS kind of slavish devotion to tote-able technology is beyond me.

To steal a phrase? It's poppycock.

There is no way that anything of dire importance has occured during the two hours that we were in Psych. Memories of 9/11 aside, there is nothing that should compel any student to be available to the outside world at. all. times.

 So, turn the damned phone OFF!

And stop texting because even though you've turned off the sound, I can still hear the tapping of your fingernails on the keys and it's driving me craaazzzzyyy!!

Example: Right, smack in the middle of one professor's request that we turn phones off for her class, a cell-phone rang. That old-fashioned party-line ring, too. Loud. Obnoxious. Jarring.

(A sound that the phone's owner has likely never heard in its original form, unless visiting a museum. I wish I was kidding.)

Well, that student didn't even bat an eyelash. She merely reached into her purse without apology and - I assumed - turned off her phone. The professor continued, only to be interrupted a second time by the same phone, ringing! Again, the (12-year-old) student simply reached into her purse, utterly non-plussed.

Ask me if it happened a third time. Go on. Ask me.


 Can you freakin' believe it? THREE times that stupid cell-phone rang. DURING ONE CLASS!

And when the phones aren't stirring up lecture halls, they're being tap-tap-tapped upon as students snake their way through crowded hallways in between classes.

In the Tim Horton's line-up, no one (except me, as I always forget that I even OWN a phone until someone asks about the Reds and then I guiltily fire it up to see if there's a message) is without their phone. Side-by-side, but utterly disengaged from one another, students text rapidly, without looking up, without pausing. One-handed even.

It baffles me, this constant need to remain in contact, technologically. Even as I recognize how easy it is to become addicted to social media (Hello??? I started dreaming in 140 characters about a week after joining Twitter), this twitchy NEED  is...sad. And sort of creepy.

Seriously. When you're 12, what could you POSSIBLY have to text/tweet to your roommate that cannot wait three hours? Your BFF will likely not, like, die if you don't answer her right. this. second.

Do I sound like my mother? Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I'm recalling hearing her voice, "What could you possibly have to say to one another that you need to spend all hours on the phone, when you should be doing homework or something productive with your time?"

In any case, I feel a little better now, getting that off my chest. Thanks for that, dear readers. I really want you to know that despite my little rant, I'm positively delighted to be learning again, wandering the hallowed halls of knowledge, making friends and fitting in...

Now, if you'll excuse me, I really should study and to do so, I'll need to make some room for  the LMS site. (It's so weird, but once I've opened up Twitter, FB, my email addresses and this blog tab, there's not enough space left for the important sites - like the college "Blackboard Learning System" one.)

Oh, and I need to charge my phone for class tomorrow...

And you? Are you addicted to technology? Social media? This blog?
Share your secrets - and your best study tips -  here!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Letter to My Son...and the World

Dear World,

Two years ago, I offered you my very heart.

 Two years later, I stand, poised to hand you my soul - a little boy called Luke.

Cherub-faced and devilishly charming, Luke begins Junior Kindergarten next week and despite the years I've had to prepare you, I am not quite ready to let him go.

Luke is my youngest son, my last baby and he fills a space in me I didn't even know was empty, until he was born. He is headstrong and given to wild temper tantrums, I should warn you. But if you can see past the bluster, you will find a sensitive and kind little person, striving hard to find his own place, out of his brother's shadow.

You will hear him, World, long before you see him, especially if he is displeased. But, once the storm passes, you will be a better place because there is a sweetness, a goodness in Luke that will transform you, if you let it. He has transformed me.

These years with him have been an enormous privilege: I have been granted so much time to discover and unwrap the gifts he brings to my life and to you, World. And I am grateful. But I am also...sad. For even as we talk excitedly about school, new friendships and coming adventures, I am grieving the loss of this boy, no longer only mine.

Too, I am grieving the loss of these years  - gone so swiftly, I am utterly dazed - when a walk home from dropping Matthew at school could take hours, as Luke inspected every sidewalk crack and fallen leaf. I already miss quiet mornings when we had nowhere to be and so didn't bother to dress, but sat all day in pyjamas reading books and raiding the fridge for snacks. I ache for more time to snuggle before breakfast, before errands pull us out the door, before life beckons him - us all - further forward...and away.

Wasn't he just born?

Will he remember these moments that have made up our life together? Will he remember holding out his tiny hand and asking, "Mummy, will you dance with me?" and how we twirled around and around and around until we were both dizzy from it, but how neither one of us could bear to let go?

Will he remember how I scolded him so terribly when he ripped an entire strip of wallpaper off the wall because he didn't like the feel of it beneath his fingers, or will he remember instead that I fell apart laughing when he ate the wallpaper anyway, because he did like the way it felt on his tongue?

Will he know how much it meant to me that I was here for every single moment of his "formative" years and that I feel humbled and blessed and so lucky for it? How do I tell him, World, that without him, I would never have known the sweet pleasure of holding a child to my breast and growing him with my own body? How does one thank a child for the things that, at first glance, seemed like great sacrifices but turned out to be the most wondrous gifts?

I think - I hope - that in giving him into your care, World, that you will find a way to thank him for me. Thank him for showing me the person I could be, can be, am because he calls me "Mummy."

Give Luke great adventures, World.  Let him run with abandon and fling himself into all that you offer with joy and glee and without fear. Let him discover the value of being loud and the joy of silence and let him know what it is to be sad, but not resigned, down but not beaten, kind, but not pushed.

When I cannot be there, please give him a soft place to land.

Mostly, World, I ask that you let him know love. All-encompassing, enormous, soul-stirring love. Luke has much love to give, World, if you'll let him. If you're patient and lucky and very, very still, Luke will tiptoe in and grace you with his smile or a gentle pat and you will be both lost and then found, in a single moment.

Trust me, World. With Luke in your keeping, you will never be the same.

You will be brighter.




Saturday, August 27, 2011

Four Days Without the Internet - How I Survived It!

This week, by the numbers:

1. Successful shopping for "back to school" clothes. Me + my mum + her charge card = One VERY happy and nattily-dressed Bellymonster.

2. Times Luke peed through the bedsheets at my parents' house.

3. Needles I received in order to start school in September. Ouch!

4. Days I've been without a working computer, courtesy of a busted video card. Or so my husband claims. I think he's been surfing by questionable sites, but he claims not....either way, four days with NOT 'net was harder than I imagined, until suddenly, it wasn't.

5. Loads of laundry I washed, sorted and put away at the beginning of the week. Go, me!

6. Loads of laundry I REwashed, REsorted and added to because Mark discovered that I'd been "washing" everything in fabric softener, not detergent. Yes, I AM a domestic goddess. I'm just not a smart one!

7. Times I have decided upon and then cancelled plans for the Reds' birthday party. How the HECK did time get away from me like this and how do I claw some back?

8. Times Luke used the phrase, "Mummy, stop it. You're freakin' me out!" when I leaned into kiss him goodnight.

9. Times I have said, "I am grieving the loss of these halcyon days," when asked how I feel about the Reds both being in school next week.

10. Days until Luke starts school (note to self: step up the potty-training efforts, slacker!) and I do, too.

And you? How has your week been, by the numbers?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

On Old Friends and The Gifts of Small-Town Life

Saw an old friend today. Several old friends, actually.

I have not seen Kristian for close to 20 years. Until today, that is. Back in Ontario for a month-long visit, he recently sent a group email to as many old friends as he could find and presto, a reunion was born.

Today, a handful of us gathered at Cobourg's Victoria Beach, our towels and children and memories in tow.

Kristian was one of my best friends throughout high school, living as we were in a tiny village - a hamlet, really - in Middle Of Nowhere, Ontario. Though we attended different high schools, we rode the same yellow bus and despaired of life in the boonies. We shared teenaged angst, confidences, pilfered beer, stolen cigarettes, romances-gone-bust, gas money and most importantly, friends.

His shock of red hair on a lanky frame made Kristian easy to spot in a crowd, on a soccer field or hiding behind the tallest tree in my parents' yard, as he, Jen and Rob waited for me to sneak out, long after dark. Throughout long, hot summers we would scramble into the night, tripping over ourselves and each other as we made our way to the park, just because. There we would play, like the children we were, swinging, sliding, laughing and chatting until the sky lightened or we grew weary of our games.

Memories like this assailed me as I drove to the beach this afternoon. I had forgotten those nights and all the days in between that made up our teenaged years. Today, remembering, I smiled, pleased that I'd had such a good friend in Kristian.

When high school ended, we drifted amicably apart - I went off to university and Kristian headed west, seeking his future. He landed in Alberta, where he has been ever since, building a life. He is a husband now. And a father of two. A contented, settled and confident man.

Today, I watched as Kristian dealt gently with his tired little boy - patiently coaxing him to sleep under the shade of a beach umbrella. Was touched, though not surprised, to find that he is an engaged and attentive father. The oldest of three boys, he was the same way with his brothers way back when, though he doesn't remember it the way I do.

"Did you always want to be a dad?" I asked, because suddenly, I couldn't recall. Kristian considered for a moment and then smiled at his wife, Ann.

"I don't know.Yeah, I suppose. I just didn't know for sure, until Ann."

 We spoke for a long while about where our lives have taken us, how differently things have turned out, compared to our dreams of  long ago.

 "What the heck did we know, anyway?" Kristian laughed, remembering. "We knew nothing!"

Indeed, we knew very little but that was part of the magic. We were children then, simply pretending.
20 years later, we watched each other's children frolic on the sand and splash through the cool lake water - their own kind of magic. Dreams we didn't know we had, come true.

Around us, chatted other friends  from our separate and shared lives. All of us asking each other, "Are you still in touch with So-and-So?" and "Whatever happened to Whatshername?" Slowly but surely, with lots of laughter, we filled in the bigger gaps left by time and distance.

Sarah and Becky, Kristian's prom date and once-upon-a-time-crush, respectively, have been in my life since grade school. Our stories are woven together in strange and beautiful ways and even though we  communicate mostly through Facebook these days, I believe that we will always be connected. At least, I hope so.

Nikki and Katie went to high school with Kristian and while neither was part of my circle, I was on the fringe of both of theirs. Katie, as warm and friendly as her younger self, is in touch with practically everybody, it seems. And what she didn't know, still vibrant and funny Nikki did. T'was a delightful way to catch-up on the goings-on around town.

Sitting with them all, I realized that this is the real gift of small-town life: that there will always be people who knew you before you knew you.  That old friends are the best keepers of childhood dreams and that it feels good to spend time in the past, especially if  you spent it with good people.

And I did. Then....and now.

Thanks to Kristian, Sarah, Becky, Nikki and Katie for the gifts of time - past and present - and of friendship - then, now and in the future.

 Let's not let another 20 years go by between visits, OK?

And you? Who do you miss?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On Unexpected Joys and Blessings (A Guest Post)

Annie blogs over at Six Ring Circus - where she spends her days raising four - count 'em, FOUR! -children. Frankly, I think she deserves some sort of medal for that, and not just because she's funny and wise and blogs it all so beautifully, either.

I am delighted to feature her mad writing and raising-of-little-people skills here at Life With Bellymonster. Annie is a gifted writer and an awesome mum. Best of all, she is also my friend.

Here's Annie:

The Day My Baby Became a Preschooler

The phrase “Monday my school?” has been my 3-year-old’s obsession this summer.

Taz can hardly wait for his first day of preschool and is convinced every tomorrow is a Monday.

Early one morning, before the sun peeked through the curtains, he came to my side of the bed and whispered, “Monday my school?”

I didn’t even try to explain how it’s not. He doesn’t understand what Monday is, or how long a summer lasts. Instead of arguing with him I simply agreed.

“Yes, sweetie. Monday is your school.”

“I need to color my paper,” he whispered and I saw a gleam in his eye. He padded back
to bed. I think he must have been dreaming about it. All his anticipation and dreaming can finally end.

Preschool started this month. On a Tuesday.

I gave him the traditional back-to-school haircut. I watched the soft white fuzz fall on his shoulders and remembered how it stuck up all over on his head when he was born.

On Tuesday morning I cheered, “Finally! Monday My School is today!”

Taz grinned and quickly got to work preparing for his morning away from mommy.

He eagerly packed the mandatory change of clothes in his Lightening McQueen backpack. As I helped him, I wondered if I should feel a little heartbroken. This is the fourth time I have sent a child off to preschool and this will be my last.

I’m giddy. I’m ready. I’m dreaming of all the things I will accomplish in 3 hours of alone time. The deep cleaning and organizing that has taken a back seat to the baby and his three siblings can finally be tackled. The storage room might just get organized and I might make a dent in the scrapbooks I’m behind on. I’m hopeful, at least.

My baby is ready to spread his wings, too. He is happy and anxious, thrilled to become a Big Kid and have his own school just like his siblings. He knows his teacher and he loves her. She’s taught all of Taz’s older siblings. She’s practically part of the family, an extension of us.

As we drove into town I thought back to the baby Taz was, all chub and drool. His cowlicks created a spike of wild hair on his head. I blinked and he became a little boy,with bruises on his shins and a mouth full of tiny white teeth.

I’m happy in this moment. Every stage of life is full of blessings and challenges.

Embracing Taz’s enthusiasm, I joyfully walked him to the door and snapped a few pictures. We find his cubby and hang up his backpack. I turn, anticipating a final hug but he is gone. He is off to play and explore, secure in his role as preschooler.

I wave goodbye and slip out the door. The door shuts quietly but firmly. I feel one chapter ending and anticipate all the unexpected joys the next chapter will hold. A pool of happy tears well in my eyes and threaten to spill over.

 I feel blessed.

* * *

And you? Which blessings have you counted, lately?