Bad citizen

I have an anxiety disorder.

Yes, yes I am.

Yes, yes I am.

This means that I am an exemplary worrier, fretter, and all around ball of nerves. It also means that I’m medicated and that I’ve done years of therapy to manage the crazy in my head, because while pills definitely help, I need to be in charge of the runaway train of fear or it will definitely be in charge of me.

Simply put, I’m the queen of inflating any situation into a hypothetical nightmare. For example, if Ben is late getting home from work, I immediately envision him dead, I start freaking out about being a single parent, a widow, and the fact that I have to plan a funeral, get a job, and deal with everything forever by myself.

Welcome to my world, Ron.

Welcome to my world, Ron.

It also means that I have to be very careful, selective, and downright anal about what I consume mentally. Television shows, books, movies, even conversations, all have to be carefully monitored and I have to be ready to turn them off, shut my eyes, or leave the room if things get too dicey.

It’s a key to my self-care and my mental health, but in truth, it makes me a crappy citizen because the very tragedies that draw people closer, bring people together around water coolers and Facebook posts and Twitter feeds, are the poison that will derail my control over my nutty brain. For me, watching the news, reading online articles, following comment threads, delving into the gory details of an accident, a homicide, a plane crash, a suicide, a child molestation/abuse court case can make it too easy to go down the rabbit hole of the worst (and least realistic in my life) what-ifs out there.

This past week we had two tragedies in Canada involving our soldiers, where two servicemen, on our own soil, were killed with no war or battle or extremist circumstance near them. This is the stuff that makes our nation stand up, show solidarity, and inspires people to line the overpasses of highways to give a fallen soldier a hero’s return home.

So moving and fitting.

So moving and fitting.

It’s also the stuff that makes me curtail my online prowling and consuming so that I only view or read on the periphery, the barest of details, and avoid the in-depth commentary, the poetic waxing on the soldier’s sad dogs or grief-stricken little boy, and the replay of the security footage leading up to and including the murders. It makes me hide when everyone else is seeking insight and discussing the situation at every opportunity.

It gets even harder when something happens involving someone famous. Celebrities these days are uber accessible and prominent, and that makes any horrific or prolific situation involving them feel like it’s happening to someone we know. When Robin Williams died from suicide, I had to shut down my social media consumption extensively – everyone was talking about it, retweeting it, Facebook posting it, sharing and becoming a community of mourners. I had to halt the thoughts of how awful it must have been for him, how awful it must be for his family and friends, because had I continued to think about all of the horribleness of the situation, I probably would have found myself immobilized by a grief that wasn’t mine in the first place, or worse, in a position of wondering where my life fit on his spectrum for what’s unbearable and what I can live through. It’s a dangerous, dangerous thing for me.

And I’m not alone. This ‘don’t invite scary thoughts in your head’ tactic is used by many, many people who suffer from mental illness. It’s the first thing on the list of things to avoid when you’re suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety by Katherine Stone of Postpartum Progress, the world’s most widely-read blog on mental illness related to pregnancy and child birth. The Calm Clinic, an online blog specializing in anxiety disorders, states clearly that you should minimize your exposure to anxiety stimuli. What is more anxiety-filled than the evening news?

People are often surprised that I don’t know about current events, like the Ebola virus, or what the status is on those poor girls who were kidnapped, or the current war being fought. I’m a smart person. And I thrive on researching things (I’m the queen of googling). But when it comes to scary things beyond my control, things that will just worry me and fill me with paralyzing fear, things that I don’t have to deal with right now, or probably ever, I simply don’t think about them. I don’t learn about them. I don’t read, comment, write, or discuss them. Because at the end of the day, even if I am a bad citizen, at least I’m a healthy Julia, and that I can control.

~ Julia

Prayer for peace

We pause today to remember those who have been affected by the tragedies that have struck our country in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu and in Ottawa over the past week.

Photo by: Shawn Dearn

Photo by: Shawn Dearn

Our thoughts and prayers go to the families and friends of the fallen and the injured, the first responders, and all those who need to heal in the days and weeks and months and even years to come.

Above all, we pray for peace in the wake of the violence, and wisdom for the decision-makers as they take the first steps to repair what has been broken.

~ The Sisterhood

What I learned on my summer vacation (from HELL)

My little family and I haven’t been on a vacation in YEARS. This is because of a variety of factors, mostly saving vacations to have babies and not having any vacation to speak of because of job changes. So, when the opportunity came up to go away for NINE days, I was MORE than excited (I even asked Mom, Did you hear that we’re going away? And she responded, Yes. Every time we’ve had a conversation.).

The plan was perfect (HA!) – Ben had the chance to play in a big game for his Ontario Australian Football League (crazy long story…essentially, Ben plays footie…which is like rugby, but not, and like football, but not) in Ottawa where Ben has family. We called up the relatives a month in advance, went over the plan, and voila! A vacation, six hours away (THREE WHOLE CAR MOVIES THERE AND BACK, as Sophie understood it), and relatively inexpensive, was planned. HOW AWESOME. And then, two days before we were supposed to leave, it all fell apart. The footie game was moved to Toronto (a boring ONE WHOLE CAR MOVIE away), and plans on the other end were cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. Cue giant, adult, unattractive, PMS-fueled temper tantrum.

And thus began the vacation-turned-staycation from Hell. Here’s the list of things I learned from my summer vacation, which, ironically enough, only lasted the first full week of summer holidays.

Do be flexible. Once I stopped being grumpy about our cancelled vacation, I got excited about our staycation possibilities. We started researching local attractions and destinations. Museums, zoos, parks, movie theatres, pottery painting, the beach – so many options, once you take out the accommodation problem. As we planned our week, with an activity for every day, we actually got really excited! Staycations RULE!

Do include local fun. We live close to a fantastic park. It has a playground, it’s in a quiet neighbourhood, and it’s shaded by beautiful, tall, old trees. It was the kick-off to our staycation – wake up, get sunscreened and dressed, and walk to the park. Lovely. Perfect. The only day that went anywhere near according to plan.

Isaac's FIRST swing! Loved it. Nailed it.

Isaac’s FIRST swing! Loved it. Nailed it.

Do include favourites. We love going to the farmer’s market about 40 minutes away. So, given that Ben’s mom, Nana, was going to buy local Ontario strawberries for jam-making, we thought we’d jump on that train and join her. It was perfect! The market was thriving after a horrible fire destroyed it last year, the produce was bountiful, and Sophie loved running around telling us what to buy. Who can argue with the kid who’s demanding fruit! vegetables! all of it! now!? No one. Also, there are some adorable bunnies and ponies that the girls love to check out every time we’re there. All in all, good fun.

The girls hanging out at the pony pen.

The girls hanging out at the pony pen.

Do spend time with those you love. After the market, we headed back to Nana’s, which is as close to a second home as we can get. Yummy lunch, which included market goodies, followed by an afternoon hanging out by Nana’s (kiddie) pool was just the ticket. And it was all fun and games, until Sophie got sick.

Leaf spa treatment in Nana's backyard, courtesy of Mlle Sophie.

Leaf spa treatment in Nana’s backyard, courtesy of Mlle Sophie.

Do be flexible. Remember that first rule? All Sophie wanted to do was puke or lie down (we’re going with too much sun). So, we alternated between sleeping on Nana’s bathroom floor and sleeping in Nana’s spare room…until she finally settled into a deep sleep in Nana’s spare room. We talked about how we should proceed…leave just Ben there and I take the other two crazies home, or we all have a sleepover. Giant sleepover, it is. Sophie LOVED that she was the reason we all had to sleep over. And we got to have fresh market blueberry pancakes and bacon for breakfast. Win-win.

Do try something new. We have a great children’s museum in a neighbouring town that I’ve wanted to check out. What better time, than on your staycation?! We had a rough start in the morning, which resulted in Lillian having a wonder of a temper tantrum that led to her having trouble breathing. I thought she just had knocked the wind out of herself (she’s the queen of throwing herself around), and after some deep breaths all seemed okay. We got to the museum and discovered that it was incredible and perfect for kids (Yay! We have those!).

The girls and Daddy building with giant foam blocks.

The girls and Daddy building with giant foam blocks.

Isaac checking out the padded toddler area.

Isaac checking out the padded toddler area.

Do be flexible. Until Lillian had trouble breathing again. Only this time, no amount of deep breathing was fixing it. After about five minutes of scary time in the bathroom with our whole family (spending time with the ones you love!), we decided we needed an ambulance. Ben went out to get the museum staff to call, thinking they would be helpful. They were not. Thinking the ambulance would be speedy. It was not (they were told there was a three-year old having a temper tantrum in the bathroom). Thinking the ambulance attendants would be helpful. They weren’t at first, until they realized it was a breathing problem. It didn’t help that Lillian had passed out from exhaustion by the time they showed up. Eventually, we convinced them it was an emergency and not a parenting crisis, and off to the hospital by ambulance we go. (Wee!)

Do make the best out of the worst situations. We got seen pretty quickly at the  hospital, but still had to overcome the temper tantrum on the intake form. The doctor was a bit of a jerk until he understood we’re not that brand of crazy. Just the kind that needs help in a strange place when your baby is having trouble breathing. Then he was cool and helpful. He took x-rays of Lillian’s chest to confirm no broken ribs (my thinking…assuming the breathing problem had come from the throwing of the body Olympics temper tantrum from earlier) and to make sure she hadn’t choked on anything (his thinking). We were both wrong, but there was some shading on her lungs, which could mean pneumonia. He didn’t feel it was conclusive enough to prescribe anything and she was doing okay at this point, so we left it and had a picnic lunch in the hospital’s Tim Hortons, followed by a trip to Chapters for some retail therapy.

All hanging out in the hospital post-crisis.

All hanging out in the hospital post-crisis.

Do something new. We’ve never taken the girls to see a movie in a theatre before. Couple of reasons. One: Sophie was never old enough. Two: When Sophie got old enough, Lillian showed up. Three: Lillian’s hearing – how will her hearing aid/cochlear implant deal with such a loud environment. But it’s our STAYCATION! And we want to have FUN! So, we decided to go see How to Train Your Dragon 2, since both girls LOVED the first one. We secured a sitter (my mom, Grammie) for Isaac and we got ready to have some fun watching a movie on a screen BIGGER THAN OUR HOUSE. Then, Sophie got sick. She complained of a headache, threw up, and generally was miserable. No movie for us.

Right before bedtime, she asks, Can we go to the movie now? Yeah, no.

Right before bedtime, she asks, Can we go to the movie now? Yeah, no.

Do get out of the house. I work at home. I’m a stay-at-home mom. My entire life is at home. I NEEDED to get out of the house, just for one night. Just for a day. Just for something. Just so that it was different. We tossed around the idea of going to a beach for a day, staying the night in a nearby hotel, then going back to the beach for a second day, but after watching both of our kids come down with heat stroke, we decided it just might kill us (especially with our luck so far on this vacation). We did some looking and decided on an indoor water park (Fallsview Indoor Water Park, to be exact) – all the fun of a beach without the annoying sand and the evil sun! And just for fun, it would be in Niagara Falls! We booked it. We packed. We were going.

Did I mention the Hershey store? The one FULL OF CHOCOLATE??

Did I mention the Hershey store? The one FULL OF CHOCOLATE??

Do enjoy the journey. While we were waiting for our check-in time, we explored Niagara a little bit, including finding a giant Hershey store full of chocolate. We had lunch at a cafe, and made it back to the hotel in time to drop off our chocolate so it wouldn’t melt, and get everything organized to go spend a couple of hours at the water park. We had no illusions about getting a full bang-for-our-buck experience with three young children, but we were out of the house, DAMMIT.

The giant bucket of water that scared the pants off of Sophie.

The giant bucket of water that scared the pants off of Sophie.

Do be flexible. Within five minutes of getting inside the ‘special beach’ as we were calling it, Sophie got freaked out by the giant bucket of water that kept dumping. And Lillian was too short to go on any of the water slides. And Isaac got something in his eye and spent the entire time sleeping or crying on our shoulders because he just couldn’t get it out. So, we spent a ton of money to play at the tiny, toddler splash pad indoors. Fantastic.

Do trust your gut. We wrapped up the ‘special beach’ experience and went off in search of dinner. We found a buffet that was crazy expensive, but with our deal that we got with the hotel and the fact we came during the kids-eat-free hour, it was actually reasonable. Except, none of our kids wanted to eat. Everyone was tired. And Lillian was shutting down again. So maybe this rule should be, Do get room service. We limped through dinner and made it back to the hotel where Lillian was having trouble breathing again. Or she was sleeping. We couldn’t put her down on the bed in the girls’ own room (which they LOVED…so maybe it should also be, Do just go to a hotel – it’s like giving a kid a present and they only want to play with the box. Sophie couldn’t get over the fact that we were sleeping in a building FULL of bedrooms. And Lillian LOVED the fact that she could reach the lamp switches. Seriously. We should have just got the room). Lillian slept on Ben, Isaac slept in a crib in the girls’ room, and Sophie, Ben and I played farmyard bingo until it was reasonable to put Sophie to bed. She’s a rock star sleeper, so it took nothing for her to be out. But Lillian was doing awful. Awful awful. So we had to make the decision – ambulance or drive to the hospital. We figured we could make it to the hospital, so at 10 p.m. Ben and Lillian left to go find the hospital in Niagara. And I got to wait in our hotel room and worry. Best time ever.

Do give in. Ben and Lillian returned at 1:30 a.m. Lillian’s breathing was still crap, but better. She was talking and alert, not passed out or in distress. This ER doctor took one look at her and took care of her. After oxygen and Ventolin and more x-rays, pneumonia was more than conclusively decided on. They gave her the first dose of antibiotics so we wouldn’t have to track down a pharmacy in a strange city, and they gave us our little girl back. Lillian promptly asked to go to bed. And she did. On her own. Ben and I also went to bed. Isaac partied for most of the night with me, so I got zero sleep, but we gave in. This part of the vacation was over. We just had to finish the night out, get the free breakfast, and go home. We made it.

Chilling Sophie

Chilling Sophie the day after we got home.

Chilling Lillian the day after we got home. (Isaac was napping upstairs in his own bed).

Chilling Lillian the day after we got home. (Isaac was napping upstairs in his own bed).

Do rest and recover. The day after we got home from the Niagara debacle, we took our sweet time doing nothing. We were all in pyjamas until lunchtime. Naps were had. Rest was gotten. Chilling out happened. We took the day. We needed the day.

Do have low-key fun. We weren’t cooking, because seriously no one had ANY energy. At. All. We decided we’d either have a picnic in our park, or go hang out with some grandmas. My mom was studying and Ben’s mom was game. We picked up some KFC and had a picnic at Nana’s house. It was restful. It was glorious. It was low-key. Until the babies got tired and cranky and nuts. Then it was crap and we went home.

The calm before the storm.

The calm before the storm.

Do explore your neighbourhood. We decided we’d walk down to the library on our final day of ‘vacation’. And then go for lunch in our little downtown. We never have the chance to do it, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to really enjoy our neighbourhood and have some fun without anything too nutty. The library was a hit, as usual. The girls played on computers and Isaac ate blocks and bedtime books were selected and fun was had. Then we had to go find lunch. We settled on a small cafe with a big patio we could park our wagon and stroller.

Such a pretty little lunch space!

Such a pretty little lunch space!

Lillian settled on hitting her wall of ENOUGH. She was tired and cranky and unwell. The pneumonia is sneaky – sometimes she’s normal, and other times she’s a mess. This was the mess. She fell asleep on Ben’s shoulder and refused to eat anything more than a few French fries. The food was good, but the service was slow, and Lillian was worrisome. We finished fast and booted it up the hill back home, where we put people down for naps and called it. Our vacation, our crappy, horrible, awful, no-good vacation was OVER. We were all done trying. Because in the end, that was the biggest lesson:

Do know when to fold. 

~ Julia