Sunday, August 3, 2014

One, Final Love Letter

When I started this blog in 2008, I had no idea what I was doing. 311 blog posts later (312, if you include this one) I still don't, but oh, what a fun, fun ride it's been!

Six years.

I have been sharing the "view from here" for six long, glorious years and I am so very, very grateful for all of it. My sons and I have grown enormously during that time and so many wonderful people have entered our sphere, through this blog.

Thank you all for reading and crying and laughing and sharing. There is nothing quite as satisfying as knowing that my words, tumbled onto these pages, have reduced someone to tears or made them snort coffee from their nose.

My heart is full up with the love I've known here at Life With Bellymonster. And yet....

And yet.

I have struggled, this past year, NOT to write the stories that fill my heart and mind. Struggled with knowing that even though *I* consider oversharing my special gift, my children may not. They are growing older, wiser and I need to respect that my journey as their mother does not necessarily mean that theirs need to be shared, too.

I've been chewing on this for months now, trying to find the balance between my needs and theirs.

I've also been thinking hard about the other children in my world - the ones whose faces and stories have taken up much space in my head and my heart. And whose stories I cannot share here. Or anywhere, really, without betraying their trust and their confidences.

It's a conundrum. And it's a sign.

I don't know what I'll do next, darling readers. I imagine that I'll build another blog, though its content and purpose isn't clear yet, in my mind. I cannot imagine NOT writing, oversharing, inducing coffee-snot and tears.

 I am choosing to trust that it will be, though, and that it will be a glorious work-in-progress, like this one has been.

Like I am. Like we all are.

In the meantime:

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for allowing me to share my world with you and for offering me such wonderful, poignant glimpses of yours in return.

Be blessed. Be good. Be the good, beloveds.

Much love,
Bellymonster (and the Reds)

Bellymonster and the Reds, 2014

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Dear Student...

Dear Student,

In the Fall, before you knew me and before I met you, I thought I knew everything.

Well, maybe not everything, but a lot.

And I thought that a lot of what I knew was very, very important and that you would see my wisdom and be very, very grateful.


Turns out, I was wrong, thinking I had it all right.

And now, as summer draws closer, I want you to know a little of the whole bunch of stuff that I never knew - until you taught me:

I am, as you now know, not a patient person. I am sort of loud, a lot bossy and prone to talking too much.

But you showed me to be quiet, so that you could think before you spoke.

You needed me to wait, without fidgeting, while you mentally chose the best  - or the least number of - words to explain what you needed. And it was hard and I didn't always get it right, but when I did, it was always worth the wait.

You taught me that there is room and cause for bossy, but that  sometimes, kids just need to let loose and do some dancing, shake their sillies out, run amok in an empty gym simply because it's there and it's empty...and that's OK, too.

In sharing tidbits of your life outside of school, you taught me to listen hard for everything you weren't saying but softly enough that I didn't miss the importance of what you did.

You made me a better mother. You gave me reasons to gather my own children into my arms at day's end and weep into their hair, thanking God for them and their good...and thanking Him for you and yours.

Thank you for your trust and your ears and eyes and your defiance and your determination.

Thank you for letting me colour in your lines, for forgiving me my dismal math knowledge and pathetic basketball skills.

For laughing at my jokes, my dancing and stuff that's sort of gross, actually, but I like watching you laugh, so we're good. (Except for showing me loose teeth. That's just plain mean.)

Thank for taking my hand, accepting my word, appreciating my efforts, giving me the best of yours and for encouraging me to bring my best to the table, every. single. day.

 Without you, I wouldn't know all of this stuff and it's very, very important.

I am very, very grateful.

Mrs. McLennan

Monday, May 19, 2014

Birthday Letter for Bamboo

Dear Bamboo,

Happy Birthday! You would have been 36, if you were still here. Maybe you still are 36, up there beyond everything.

Down here, we've spent some time getting ready to plant your garden - it's looking rather lonely, without colour and bright. Apt, really, since that's how it feels without you here on this glorious May long weekend.

Still, Dad cooked steaks last night and Mum made Caesar salad and in a little while, the Reds and I shall go and get cake makings because Mum only has fancy-cake stuff and frankly, you wouldn't like it. See how I just made that decision on your behalf, all bossy-like? I know, right? Some things just don't change.

The Reds asked about a zillion questions about you last week, when I told them that your birthday was coming up. I may have cried, especially when Matthew pointed out a black Blazer, remarked on its resemblance to yours (Seriously? He was 3 when you died, how does he remember?) and then announced that he's getting one when he turns 16. Right after he gets a motorcycle.Oh, yeah, he's your nephew, for sure.
Luke says, "Andrew looks cute like that! Mummy looks like a boy."

And that Luke - oh, Bam, you'd love him. He's ornery and hilarious, all at the same time. And a few weeks ago, he got into some tar. Yes, yes he did. And I didn't wash it off - well, not all of it - just so I could keep you close a little bit longer. Asshats, both of you. Ha!

Everyone's still sleeping here at the moment, except Molly the Dog, who is also an asshat but she's cute so I keep her. Mum says that she (Molly) reminds her of your Roxy and I'll be darned - she does me, too. It must be the Rottweiler in both girls. In any case, I'm glad that Molly is with us this weekend (though if that gets out, I'll deny it like crazy) as she has provided some comic relief and it's lovely to see her, roaming happily with the Reds. You'd love her.

Last year's planting session - turns out, pink and yellow are fan favourites...
Scratch that, little brother - the troops are stirring. I'm not the only one up and about now, which means, I'll have to sign off now. We've got flowers to plant and memories to share and of course, cake to eat. It'll be chocolate, in case you're wondering.

I love you, Bam. I miss you, more as the years pass, which I didn't expect, but there it is. I wish you joy and happy today and always.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Thousand Tiny Moments

This afternoon, the Reds were a stinky, filthy mess after the impromptu soccer game in our dog-poop and mud-filled backyard.

One after the other I tossed them into the shower, scrubbing away the dirt and listening to their happy play-by-plays. Sent them downstairs while I gathered up their wet things in a basket and contemplated the wisdom of throwing their running shoes into the washing machine, too.

From the bathroom, Mark prepared his own shower as I added his clothes to the mix, clucking and smiling at the fact that no matter how old boys get, they're happiest when they're dirty.

"Some boys came up the road while Matthew was showering," Mark said, conversationally, as I sorted and tossed. "Three of them, on bikes, in the middle of the road."

"Oh, yeah?" I stopped then, sharpened my gaze on his face, which was suddenly filled with something I could not place but now recognize as tenderness.

"They asked if Matthew lives here. They're friends of his from school and wanted to know if he could join them."

I stared at him, processing a flurry of suddenly overwhelming feelings and thinking hard.

Lowered the basket to my hip and took a deep breath in.

Blew it out.

"Huh. I guess it's about that time, eh?"

Mark smiled then, a gentle one, just for me. "Yep. It's about that time."

Another deep breath from me, followed by a sigh that came from the very bottom of my heart. "I guess this is the part where we trust him to make the right choices and be safe and ride off with his friends."

"They were all wearing helmets."

"Well, that's something, anyway," I offered him a tremulous smile of my own before gently closing the door to leave him to his business and his own thoughts.

Came down to start supper and think about how much I want to stop Time, for  just a moment longer.

Realized - though not for the first time - that letting go isn't a big, huge step.

 It's a thousand tiny moments, just like this one - when the world outside beckons my children to come out and explore, discover and job is to let go and trust them to do just that.

But I can't help but think, "Weren't they JUST born?"

Friday, March 28, 2014

Reading, Writing and...

I work as an Educational Assistant in a large school.

The teachers I work alongside are truly called to this work: they are engaging and enthusiastic and encouraging. When I took this job, I didn't expect to find all that they are to and for their students.

It shames me, actually, to remember how I was prepared to find them lacking in patience and compassion and empathy. How I was prepared to know better.

Nothing could be further from the truth of how it truly is inside these classrooms, where teachers give their all, each and every day, to help each and every student find her potential and surpass it. In classrooms full to bursting, these smart and funny women work to inspire, to teach, and to reach all of their kids, even the ones who could care less. Perhaps, especially, those ones.

While I have been assigned several focus students to work for over the course of each day and week, there are several more who have caught my attention and my affection. Technically, I support students academically - helping some to read, others to research and encouraging all of them to keep at their tasks when frustration or distraction loom.

But, as so often happens, I am finding that the greatest lessons? Are my own.

Every day, I carry them home in my heart - these children,  and these lessons. Even as I gather up my own kids to receive their hugs and kisses and listen to the chatter about their day, I am often thinking of the children - and teachers - who fill mine

These are some of the things that I am (re)learning, as a mother, alongside the students I am paid to help teach and it is both humbling and amazing, at the same time:

1. FOCUS: On the lesson, on the words we hear and the ones we don't. Yes, there is much to be distracted by - the computer, the window, our friends, the dishes, the bills, our fingers, our daydreams - but none of that helps us learn. Figure out what's most important and then do it. Finish it. Use your juiciest words, your best printing, your most-present-Mummy-face.

2. SMALL STUFF: Find and work on the small stuff and build from there - the word (world) is made up of small words (moments) inside the big words (stuff). The big stuff is easier to understand and appreciate if we break it down into more manageable chunks. Chunk your words. Savour the moments.

3. TIME MANAGEMENT: If we don't manage our time wisely, we have to stay in at recess or take work home. This means less play time and that someone else will likely have extra supervision duty or have to change their plans to make up for our procrastination. Frankly, it's just not cool.

In mama speak: Put the damned laundry away so that Mark doesn't trip over the basket in the middle of the night thereby kind of ruining your happy Facebook time with his grumbling and stomping the next day.

4. SING: We live in the most amazing country in the world - sing our anthem loudly and with pride. Sing about the sunshine, the rain, sing the alphabet, the Waiting Song and when your heart really doesn't want to. Make up your own words, your own tune. Share your song.

It's hard to stay mad or sad when you're singing, even if it's only in the shower or with the kids before bed. It's also kind of awesome if you can do different voices and a passable air guitar.

5. ASK FOR HELP: There will always be someone who knows more than you or who knows how to help you find what you need. Use the word wall, your dictionary, the Internet, a trusted adult, a wise friend. Ask for help. Ask for grace. Ask for support. Ask for love. Be gracious about giving it, too.

6. READ: Read a book. Any book. A real book, not a story on the Internet. A book-book. A story, a passage, a paragraph.  To yourself. To your kids. FOR your kids. Because of your kids.  Just read. A little bit - or  a lot - every day.

And you? What are the most important lessons you learned in school?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Joe Clayton: A Love Story

* While I was studying Developmental Services at Loyalist College two years ago, my class was visited by a man called Joseph Clayton.

Joe spent most of his formative years bouncing through the foster care system in our fair province before the Children's Aid Society finally tossed him into Rideau Regional Centre - a now-closed institution for society's most vulnerable citizens.

An adult now and free, Joe talks to students every year - he is, for so many, the face of institutional life and embodies the absolute best of the human spirit.

Joe's story is a chilling one and I don't think there was a dry eye nor a single sound during his talk.

Since that time, I have written twice about Joe, fumbling through my own telling of his tale. We have maintained a casual email relationship; I am always pleased to see his name in my inbox.

A few weeks back, he wrote to tell me that his brand-new wife, Cindy, has passed away from cancer. They married in June of 2012 and on November 30th - my birthday, coincidentally - she died.

This is but the latest in a lifetime of loss for Joe and my heart simply ached for him. I stutter-typed a message of condolence, knowing that it was woefully inadequate, feeling wrecked that no matter how kind my words, his wife would still be gone, his heart broken.

Joe, a man of quiet grace and humble gratitude, accepted.

A few days ago, he sent me their wedding photo and a story, written by someone in their community. With his permission, I share it here, so that others will be able to see what courage  -and love - looks like: *

A gentleman moved from Sharbot Lake to Kingston Ontario, in the Fall of 2008 to get a fresh start.

In Kingston, unknown to the gentleman at the time, lived a caring lady with a bubbly personality and a huge heart. Both of these people had had similar life experiences in their pasts including a variety of different jobs, previous marriages, and grown children.

They met at the Round Table Support Centre in Kingston. The lady smile and warm laughter. After they spent time together sharing all aspects of their lives with one another' celebrating that they found each other. They were amazed at how much they had in common and how many of their skills and attributes complemented each other. They fell in love.

The lady invited the gentleman to move in with her. In 2009, the couple moved back in his former community of Sharbot  Lake.

The lady' s openness and friendly nature was admired and welcomed by the community. The couple continued to learn about each other and share each other' s interests. They made a life together.

 In June 2012 the couple got married in a private ceremony with only their witnesses, the minister and the videographer present.

The newlyweds enjoyed a honeymoon in Perth Ont. In August 2012 they shared their union with family and friends at a wedding reception in the local community hall. The guests enjoyed a KFC banquet and the company of others while viewing the video of their special day in June.

Then they danced.

Joe and Cindy, June 2012

Within months of their marriage the lady' s medical appointment revealed terrible news: CANCER'. Their lives quickly became a series of medical appointments and hand holding.

Soon after, they both quit their part time jobs. The lady, because of her deteriorating health, the gentleman because he wanted to support his wife.

Then she could no longer drive.

In dealing with these changes, the treatments, side effects, and waiting the couple maintained open, honest communication. They recognized that the cancer may rob them of their happily ever after. They decided to remain positive, not give up, live each day as it came and embrace the time they had left together.

The couple adapted to accommodate the cancer but they never for a moment lost sight of what they had with each other. With the support of their family, friends, service providers, church congregation and the community at large the gentleman and the lady faced and fought Cancer.

The gentleman became his wife' s full time caregiver.

They had the tough conversations that most couples avoid having - D N R, final wishes, goodbyes.

 Nothing was left unsaid. The gentleman and lady came together quickly and loved deeply.

 After weeks of in-home nursing care the lady was moved to the hospital for palliative care. The gentleman remained by her side until she died November 30, 2013.

 This story is dedicated to Joe Clayton and the memory of Cindy Jones- Clayton, the gentleman and his lady.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

On Finding Home: A 5-Year Recap

FIVE years ago today, we moved to Belleville.


Can you BELIEVE that? Five awesome, terrible, heartbreaking, glorious, triumphant years.

Today, this city is home and I am proud and happy to watch my children sprout their wings from here, the place where we are rooted.

In remembrance, I have selected one post from every year - they are the posts which, to my mind, sum up all that was and all that I was, we were, as this place we were simply passing through, came to be ours:


1. A month after we moved here, to a strange city where I knew no one, my brother died. The shock of that - that he was just gone - and the rage and utter angst I felt throughout the rest of that bitter winter will always be tangled up with coming here.

My baby brother, Andrew.

Five years later, the rage has passed and while sadness remains, always, I believe that I have come to a place of peace. That Spring, I ventured out to explore my new city and to find some friends. My very first friend, Heather, opened her home and her heart to a sad, lonely stranger -  at the end of that long, cold Winter, she was the sunshine I needed and today, she is one of my closest friends.


Matthew started Kindergarten in 2009. It was a bittersweet experience for me, holding out my first-born son to the world and asking for grace. He was blessed with an incredible teacher that year and while this letter was written for her in 2010, as school wrapped up for summer, it's really for all of the Reds' teachers. They have been so lucky, to have compassionate and wise teachers - it has been a true and real joy to watch them thrive and grow and learn.

In fact, the school they attend, their teachers and their friends are some of the biggest reasons we've chosen to remain here. We are settled, they are thriving. Everyone is happy.


Luke being...well, Luke.

This is one of my favourite posts about Luke, but it's also one of my favourite posts, period. I think that it's easy to get caught up in all the things our kids do that drive us crazy, instead of focusing on all the stuff they do that's good. Maybe it's just me. In any case, one day, I will frame this and hang it on Luke's wall and he will know how much joy he brings to my life.


Without question, 2012 was a challenging, illuminating year. Everywhere I went, it seemed, I was learning lessons - and not just the ones at Loyalist College, where I studied Developmental Services.

This is my most-shared post ever. At last count, it has been read by 1400 people - clearly, it struck a chord with friends and strangers alike and I am delighted to share it here:


Photo credit: Jerome Lessard

I graduated from Loyalist in 2013. It was a transformative two years and walking across the stage to accept my hard-won diploma, with my parents and my sons in the audience, was one of the proudest moments of my life.

From my classmates, my professors and from all of those I was blessed to support, I have learned some of the most important lessons. I have and will carry them, always, in all the years ahead:

And so...five years later, we have known huge love and huge loss. Bought a house, got a dog, lost our minds. We are thriving, we are growing, we belong.

At the end of the day, this last one is that for which I am most grateful. Here, in the city by the Bay, we have found our place, our people, our future.

I am home.

Friday, January 3, 2014

This Poop Shall Pass....


It's all I think about.

Molly the Dog's poop, that is. I realize that things are likely a bit confusing, since my last few posts have been about my friend, Molly and now I'm writing about my dog, Molly, the one I've never mentioned before, ever.

We just got her. Molly the Dog, that is. She was a Christmas Surprise for the Reds and the end result of much begging on my part and much receiving of favours on Mark's.

What? Oh, like you don't let your ovaries make poorly-thought-out decisions, too. Phfftt. You have kids, don't you? See? Ovaries win.

In any event, she's adorable and I'm utterly smitten with her gorgeous face.

I am not as smitten with her toileting habits and find that I am experiencing a ton of low-level anxiety about it. This is eerily similar to the script that played in my mind during Matthew's first few months of life:

"Is she awake? Should I play with her? Does she need a bone? We really should get home, the dog might be missing us. Did she poop? Is that poop? I smell poop. LUKE, DON'T STEP IN THE...poop."


In the week since she's been ours, I have gone through six rolls of Jumbo paper towel, one and half bottles of "Nature's Miracle" which promised to take the smell and the stain out of my carpets, but hasn't, a pack and a half of pee pads and one pair of slippers. Oh, and Matthew's tennis ball:

Molly and Matthew, playing kitchen hockey

I lost a pair of black leather shoes on Day Two, a snuggly grey blanket on Day Four and my mind by Day Seven.

Last week, she shat on the heating vent. It took me half an hour to find the poop because the heating vent is brown.

It's a good thing she's cute because I am becoming "that" person on Facebook - asking for direction from my friends and then cursing when all their advice conflicts and confuses me.

Today, I spoke to a dog trainer on the phone for TWO HOURS. Two hours, alternating between bragging about Miss Molly and threatening to throw her from the nearest window. Thankfully, the trainer talked me out of the latter.

Between Luke, who still wets the bed most nights and Molly, who wets, well, everything,  I feel like I am wiping and cleaning and drying things, all of the time.

I know it will pass. This too shall pass. THIS SHIT SHALL PASS.

But the sooner this shit passes OUTSIDE? The happier we'll all be.

Luke and his Molly.