What a bad week looks like in midwifery school.

I have worked hard over the last ten years to get my head together and my feet solidly under me. When I say I’ve worked hard, I’m not overstating it – I have given so much of my energy and strength and time getting to stability, so I don’t take it lightly and I don’t take it for granted. Despite how solid I’ve been feeling for the last few years, the events of this past week have showed me that it’s still a precarious status – that midwifery school has the capacity to undermine and unravel the scaffolding that supports my mental health.

The week starts off well.  I meet one of my fellow students on Tuesday morning to work out at the gym at school. Hurray for sweat and endorphins and feeling strong and committed. Then we’re off to our first class and the subject is hard. Inferential stats. I’ve never been afraid to speak up and ask for help when I don’t understand something, but this was the wrong situation for questions. I’m trying to stay with the prof but I’ve lost her… I can’t get back into sync, either. The class is shouting things at me in an effort to make me understand, and my brain has shut off. I am floundering, desperate for the attention to go somewhere else. The prof keeps saying the same information, asking me questions I can’t answer. Everyone is staring at me. I cannot get my brain to sort out what’s happening so I tell her that I’ll try to learn it on my own time, and that I feel like I’m holding up the rest of the class.

The prof asks if we should move on. From the other side of the room comes a slap – an acidic, dismissive “Yes!… please!” from one of my classmates and my face turns red. I am not a stupid person, but in that moment I feel completely shamed and humiliated. How dare I show up to this class with my ignorance on display and make it everyone else’s problem? How dare I.

I want to go somewhere and cry. I want to quit. I want to scream a big EFF YOU. But I do none of these things. Instead, I rush home to make dinner and get ready for my 2 year old’s birthday celebration. We wear hats, we open presents, we blow out candles and eat some key lime pie. Then, when everyone’s in bed, I start studying for tomorrow’s mid-term. Anatomy and physiology. I’m not strong in sciences so I work extra hard at this. I’ve been studying for hours each day. I am determined to get this one right.

The next day, I consider skipping my first class. It’s kind of fluffy – an elective. Perhaps it would be okay to stay home and study instead. But I can’t. I can’t have saved and spent $6000 on this year’s tuition to just not show up. So I go. And it’s a mistake. The class reminds me that during our last time together, I cried and blubbered while learning about a family who is blogging through their 3 year old daughter’s terminal illness. Some of the students in the class are angry that the guest speaker showed their blog. They left the class rather than stay and be subjected to it. But the little girl’s family did not have that choice. They don’t get to get up and leave when it gets too intense. They need to hold vigil with their precious girl in her last moments on earth, and I feel like I owe them that respect too. I can’t leave, so I cry, imagining their pain. But it’s the wrong thing to do. I am a spectacle.

I feel very small, sitting there in the classroom, trying to convince myself that my value is equal to their value. I want this to be true. They’re stronger. They get mad about things I don’t even think about. Why does this translate as “more important” to me? When did all this self-doubt start creeping in?

It’s Wednesday night. Time for my mid-term. I have studied all afternoon (interrupted for short crying breaks over the week’s earlier events). I am ready for this test – I feel it. But my brain is my enemy – my memory does not work well. And my logic is toast too. Where did these questions come from? Didn’t the prof say she would only test us on the stuff in the slides? I’m guessing now, and I know I’m guessing wrong. I’ve never seen this stuff before. I don’t know how to figure out the answers…

In the hallway afterward, I make comments about not acing it. One student says to me, “Did you think you were going to?” And I realize how arrogant I sound. I didn’t mean it like that. I didn’t mean to come off that way… more wedges. My scaffolding it collapsing, one piece at a time. It’s crumbling. I cannot believe that no matter what I say or do, it’s the wrong thing. My sense of self is shot through with holes. I am suddenly in grade 9 again, wanting desperately to fit in but knowing that I don’t have the right kind of clothes, that I am too fat, that my stories are too dumb.

I want to run back to my old world, my old life. The people there liked me. They found me competent and funny and enjoyable. My opinions mattered. I did my work well. I belonged…

Instead, I do my readings for the next day, late into the night. My eyeballs are aching and sandy so I give up. I climb into bed, desperate for some healing sleep. But at 2:30 am the baby wakes up and he won’t go back to sleep. 3 am… I go to him and nurse him for awhile before putting him back in his crib. I feel like he’s never going to wean and our nights are always going to be interrupted by his pleading cries.

Now I can’t go back to sleep. It’s all finally caught up with me. In the dark, quiet dining room I am sitting with a twisted gut and racing heartbeat. The daily headaches. Most of my skin has become inflamed and itchy with eczema. I hear the voices reminding me that I’m not good enough. I am not smart enough. I tricked them into letting me in, and now I’m going to let everyone down. I gave up my awesome job for this. I put the burden on my husband to carry us financially for this. I made the wrong decision and now I just want out… I don’t want to sacrifice my hard-won mental and emotional stability for this. I don’t want to damage my children with this. I want to quit and stay home, making cookies and bread and quilts. I want to cocoon in a little nest where no one can interfere…

I head back to bed, resolved to at least try to sleep. I’ve learned enough to know that tomorrow is another day and a new beginning. The wee hours of the morning are the scariest. They echo the loudest.

My husband rolls over and says, “everything okay?” And at 4 a.m., on a Thursday morning, his gentle nudge sends me over the edge. My first panic attack in 8 years. I am shaking and sobbing, trying to tell him how sorry I am for all of this and how I know I won’t make it. His voice is so soothing and strong. He holds on to me and tells me that I’m smarter than I think, that it’s difficult because it’s new and I’m still trying to figure it out. He reminds me that I’m hard on myself and a worrier by nature. He talks to me for a long time. I know that he is going to be tired tomorrow, but he stays with me for as long as it takes for me to come back down. He says calm things, loving things. I really try to hear him. I don’t need to be a drama queen anymore.

Then I ask the one thing that keeps plaguing the back corner of my mind: is it okay to quit? He says, “Of course it’s okay to quit. You can always get another EA job if this is not what you want.” The permission floods me with relief. I have a new sense of control: options. I have power again. This doesn’t own me. If I can’t hack it, then I don’t need to stay. I don’t need to sacrifice myself on the altar of proving to everyone that I can be a midwife.

It’s just what I need to keep trying.

And tomorrow is another day.

Posted in Compassion, MEP, MEP student, Midwifery | Leave a comment

I’m back. And I’m a midwifery student now.

I used to think I had something to say about changing the world. I had an idea that I could inspire people to be more careful, less indulgent, less entitled, kinder, more mindful… I’m not sure where that idea came from. Maybe from Laurie David who thought she could fix many societal ills by encouraging people to eat dinner together as a family. Maybe, yeah, maybe I thought she was on to something. And then I started yelling into the internet, from this tiny little space, and I thought that people might hear me. I don’t know why I thought that, or even, why I thought I had a right to try and make people behave better…

Except that, I guess, because I try really hard at these things. I’m not great at it at all. I fail all the time. But I’m trying. I really am. The thing is, even though I am trying, if my neighbour does not try, my efforts will count as nil because we will both be caught up in the same outcome. So yeah, I guess I am my brother’s keeper, to some extent. I can’t decide that I’m going to live on dry ground if there’s a flood, simply because I will it so.

Where am I going with this? I don’t know. Maybe it’s that I stopped writing things because I ran out of good ideas. Or maybe I ran out of idealism. And maybe that’s going to happen again in this next phase of life: as a midwifery student. Seriously. I somehow got accepted in the midwifery program at Ryerson and I am learning how to be a midwife. I can’t even wrap my head around this. I’m scared shitless.

Right now, I’m all bubbles and stars and hope and twinkles. I still believe anything is possible, because look at how I got into the midwifery program after a bajillion years of wishing it. But I know the darkness is coming. I know that we’re going to find ourselves scarily close to broke. We’re going to stress about childcare and not being able to find enough time to rest. We’re going to resent the midwifery program in a big way, and then, we’re going to have to push through it and hang on and keep going. Labour, it seems, is an apt metaphor for the midwifery program.

So maybe less “changing the world from the front porch” and more “watching the world from the front porch, hoping things get better”. Or maybe, “enjoying sitting still on the front porch”. Who knows. But right now, I’m waiting for my first birth to happen, and I’m trying to stay on top of my (many, many) readings, and I have to write papers and prepare presentations. And somehow, I have to find community, too. But the problem is, I have a big mouth. A big, let-me-impress-you-with-everything-I-think mouth, so it’s sometimes hard to do that. Step one: shut up and listen. Step two: be nice. Step three: host potlucks. I hope I can do this and that I will find my way.

As I was leaving my job, one of the directors said to me, “I’ve always liked that you’re a little bit righteous, Maryellen”. I don’t think she meant it unkindly. I think it was said to make me feel better about thinking I could influence the world for good by encouraging people to buy reusable produce bags. Anyway, I am quickly learning that a little bit righteous might just spell disaster for me in this phase, so instead, I come as a little bit humble instead.

Good night.

Posted in Community Building, Gratitude, Midwifery | Tagged | 3 Comments

There’s no telling what a bit of confidence will do.

Ever since I started learning how to cook in my late 20s, I’ve been amazed at what the development of that talent has (and continues to do) for my confidence. I have stopped seeing the world through the lens of “I can’t do that” and instead, more and more, I see it through the eyes of “of course I can do that! How hard can it be?” Granted, there are things I’ll never become awesome at (e.g., no matter how much I practice, I will never have the same artistic ability as my friend Sara) but I have come to realize that fewer and fewer things truly live in the “impossible” category. All because I started making soup.

When my mom died, I found the evenings incredibly painful and lonely. I didn’t know what to do with my hands, or my thoughts, so I picked up a carrot one day and wondered if I could turn it into something delicious (not that carrots aren’t delicious on their own, but there had to be a way to build on Mother Nature’s starting point). So I chopped it up. Then I put it in a crock pot with some onions and some celery, and then some tomatoes, some broth, some basil, some oregano, a little bit of salt and pepper… and suddenly I had vegetable soup. And I had something for my hands to do. Chopping, stirring, it all became a prayer for my hands. And at the end of it, I had something warm and nourishing for my body as well.

What I wasn’t expecting was my slow but steady development into a good cook. Once I realized that the food I made was not only healthy, but actually tasted good, I became much more brave in the culinary realm. Stews? Sure! Bread? Let’s do it! Sticky buns… wait, sticky buns? Shouldn’t I buy those at grocery store? No way, Jose. I can make my own sticky buns. I can make sticky buns up the wazoo (though, come to think of it, I don’t recommend that). And now that I feel capable and confident, I want new challenges. I want the hard recipes. I want to discover what else I can do.

I am discovering that confidence is less like a solid and more like a liquid – it doesn’t stay put in a little box, but seeps out and into other parts of my life. Where I would have given up on an idea and turned it over to a “professional”, I am becoming more and more interested in seeing if I can pull it off on my own. It’s opening up the world in ways I never could have imagined before. I feel like anything is possible – and not just in the kitchen.

That’s a very good thing for a gal like me, who’s done the same kind of work for 15 years, who’s never tried anything truly hard in school, who’s always chosen the “safe option” in most of life’s choices.  It’s inspired me to try and inspire others, too. Try something. See if you’re good at it, and if you aren’t, try it again, and then again. See if it doesn’t transform you and the whole damn world around you.

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Quickies – 10 of ’em.

I deleted my Facebook account, so I suspect no one is going to read this anyway (without the notice and my lag in posting, I think momentum is lost). So I’ll post what I’ve been thinking about for some time now for my own posterity, if nothing else.

10 Ways to Be Nicer to the World that Sustains Us:

1) Reuse aluminum foil
For real, that stuff never breaks down – ever – and if you are gentle with it, you can totally reuse it for the next thing (e.g., cooking potatoes in the oven)

2) Pure castille soap instead of regular shampoo or body wash
The commercially produced stuff is full of sodium laurel sulfate and parabens (not to mention a bunch of other crap that is totally toxic and pollutes the body’s well balanced systems). Dr. Bronner makes a really good line (http://www.drbronner.com/) but you may have to just ignore the crazy “All One” faith rants that are posted all over the labels.

3) No plastic
This has been especially hard with little kids in the house, but I use the metal lunch containers now to send food to school or on trips (instead of the baggies or Ziploc containers) and for the baby, there are these really sweet silicone food containers that we love called Kinderville Little Bites.

OMG so sweet

4) No factory farmed meat
It’s too cruel. Even Hitler himself has got to feel bad about eating animals that were raised in those kinds horrific conditions. Pay a little bit more and support the farmers who are treat their animals with respect and fairness.

5) Reusable gift bags
As the holidays approach, we turn our minds to the seemingly endless wrapping that’s needed to turn all that loot into a mess of festive surprises. My solution was to buy some Christmas-themed fabric and sew up  different sized bags. We use them every year for our gifts under the tree.

6) AutoShare
This is a car sharing program that works really well in an urban centre. We made the decision to live close to downtown so that we wouldn’t be dependent on a vehicle to get everywhere (the suburbs are hell for this). We can jump on the streetcar or walk just about everywhere we need to go, but there are times when a car is useful (e.g., bringing home a grocery haul). In those times, we turn to AutoShare. It allows you to rent a car for a couple of hours at a time and the price (8 or 9 dollars an hour) includes gas, insurance and maintenance. Way cheaper than buying our own car, and 10 or so people sharing the car means that 9 or so cars are kept off the road.

7) Less Packaging
I buy loose mushrooms and put them in my cloth bag to bring them home. Good for two reasons: packaged mushrooms are massively wasteful; and the plastic produce bags are avoided (see earlier rant re: plastic produce bags from hell)

8) Bulk Laundry and Dish Soap
More on this “less packaging” idea… if you buy your soaps in bulk, you save money and you can reuse the bottles they come in. At Grassroots, if you take in your empty laundry or dish soap bottle, you can refill it over and over. It’s way cheaper than buying a new bottle every time.

9) Wooden Toys
The cheap plastic toys we buy from Toys R Us are made in China, with almost no environmental regulations or standards. That means tonnes of crap pumped into the air and water, and people working with toxic materials, that are shaped into colourful representations of vehicles, babies and other miniature goods, which are then shipped across continents back to us, so we can give them to our children (who will then put them in their mouths). This is crazy, but we don’t think about it because it’s so commonplace. Wooden toys are way lovelier (handmade ones especially) and they don’t leech chemicals that cause tumours.

10) Turn out the lights
This is really obvious, but it’s amazing how often we leave the lights on unnecessarily. We leave a room, but the lights stay burning away. Cut down on your energy bill, and save some energy from being wasted. This past summer, we went to the Exhibition where we saw a display on how much energy things use. To keep a 5 watt lightbulb shining, we had to turn a lever around and around spastically. Unbelievable. It really opened my eyes to how much energy we use in a day – and we’ve been on a mission to reduce that (our bank accounts will also be grateful).

Anyone else have any good ideas to share?

Posted in Eco-Living, Responsible Consumerism | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Boyes Christmas Greeting 2011

Boyes Christmas Greeting 2011.

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Teaching Friendship

My son turned six last Sunday. We had a great pirate-themed party, complete with a treasure hunt and (literal) buried treasure. A house full of hyper-active boys, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, one giant over-iced birthday cake, and unintentionally competitive games made the walls nearly burst with hard-to-contain energy. But it was such fun, and though we were all exhausted by the end of it, my son had the time of his life.

One of his guests wasn’t able to make it, though. His dad called to say he woke up feeling unwell on the morning of the party. His birthday is this month as well, but his mom told me that he wanted a party with his family only, rather than his friends. I thought that sounded lovely.

But we learned this week that he did invite at least one boy from school to his party – and has really enjoyed taunting Josh about the fact that he hasn’t been invited as well. I began to wonder whether he backed out of the party as well… because he doesn’t like Josh.

This awareness is so hard. As a parent, you think your child is the loveliest, smartest, funniest, most exceptional little person and it makes no sense that someone wouldn’t enjoy them as much as you do. But then you send them into the cruel world of the school yard and discover that others don’t see them the same way – and then you have to watch as they suffer the effects of trying to establish a friendship with someone who resists, and not only resists, but enjoys resisting.

I understand this feeling all too well, and perhaps that’s why it hurts so much to watch Josh be excluded. His experience dredges up my own, both as a child and as an adult. The painful times you reach out and your effort is re-buffed. The attempts to connect and have your attempt shunned… As an adult, though, I have the ability to reason that someone’s exclusion of me isn’t the end of the world – and if they behave badly about it, well, that’s a reflection of their own character rather than my own.

But speaking of character, it’s especially hard to watch this happen to Josh because I’ve taught him, I’ve drummed into him, that kindness and respect are non-negotiable and that he must treat everyone with both, even if they aren’t behaving that way back. So I listen to him talk about the sing-song-y way the boy from school taunts Josh for not being invited to his party, and I want to tell him to defend himself, to call that boy a jerk and tell him he has no class… but I don’t. Revenge feels good; returning ugliness for ugliness feels satisfying. But that’s not the kind of person I’m trying to raise. I grit my teeth and take a breath and tell him to respond with kindness and respect, even if his heart is hurting and his face is red with embarrassment. I tell him to walk away rather than say hurtful things back. I tell him that someday, he will understand why being the bigger person is always better, and that it will serve him well, especially as an adult.

And then we get out a game to play, and make hot chocolate, and have some hugs, and I do what I can to take the sting out of the situation. But I know that this experience is teaching Josh something about the world, and about how cruel people can be. I just keep praying and hoping that it doesn’t turn him hard, or make his behaviour ugly. Because he really is the loveliest, smartest, funniest little boy and the others who don’t get that are missing out on having a really great friend. And no matter what happens, I want him to be a person of grace.

I keep learning my lessons by walking with him through his own.


Posted in Compassion, Generosity, Gratitude, Parenting, Selflessness | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oh hey, blog, what’s up?

Well, here I am, almost a month later, and I’m sheepishly returning to my poor, neglected blog. I fear I am going down the path that most bloggers take: they start up a shiny new blog with much vigour and vim, lots of forth-pouring ideas and regular updates… and then they start to drift. And drift. And the blog comes to mind occasionally, but not with any real gusto, and eventually, it dies a sad and lonely death.

Oh, Front Porch Revolution! I don’t want that to happen to you!

But we haven’t been revolutioning much lately, have we? There are few things as sad as a revolution that peters out. Especially in light of the recent revolutions around the world, it feels like one huge eye-roll to confess that I couldn’t keep it up. So I’m bucking up, friends. And giving it another shot.

To be fair to me, I have recently returned to work after a year of maternity leave. A glorious, luscious, richly-spent year, I might add. So much learning and indulging and drinking up life! But now, things are fairly frantic all the time, and when I do get a moment to stop, I want to stop. Like, plop down in front of the t.v., or go to sleep. I feel like in order to write something here, it has to be brilliant and thought-provoking, and meant to accomplish something. And that feels like it’s going to take a lot of time, which feels overwhelming, and so I just give up.

But I think if this project has meant anything to me, it’s that giving up is what causes bad things to win. As long as people are complacent, disinterested and demotivated, nothing changes. I need to remember that every time I feel like smacking someone who is doing something willfully damaging to the only environment we have to live in. I need to remember that every time I see big business screwing over the little guy. I need to remember that every time I watch people choose “convenient and cheap” over “fair and honest”.

Even if it feels insurmountable, never give up. Even if it seems impossible, never give up. Even if others mock the effort, never give up. Never give up caring, because if we do, we’re lost.

More tomorrow (or the next day).

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