August 17, 2013
It occurs to me that as I enter my mid-thirties, only now am I really learning how to be alive, how to be strong, to be brave. Part of this is having children (two! can you believe it?) which changes the stakes, but a large part of it is also flaws in the cloth, flies in the ointment finally starting to turn up after three decades in which things like good health and general happiness could still be taken for granted. And I wasn’t even going to write about this, for two days imagined that I wouldn’t have to, but this space is such an outlet for me. It also seems very dishonest to document the truly lovely parts of my life but leave out the sordid bits. To let you know all my stunning achievements (yesterday I breastfed standing up on a ferry boat!) but neglect to inform you that I am once again waiting on biopsy results. “Biopsy”, which was once a terrifying prophecy but has actually become an idea as banal as is the actual experience.
I returned to my thyroid doctor on Thursday for what I hoped would be my final appointment, the one where he told me to return annually for lump-checks but all would be well, but discovered that my thyroid lump has grown again. They did a biopsy, and I tried not to cry, and in doing so, forgot to ask questions properly about the state of my lump and therefore now my imagination is taking me to terrible places again. Though not so terrible–my lump is mainly cystic, which makes the change not so surprising. As it was not cancer before, it is likely to not be cancer again (though I fear believing too strongly in this until I know for sure, for fear of being absolutely gutted by reality. Also, I was only reassured that it was probably nothing by the resident doctor, and I fear she was just trying to be nice. I liked better being reassured by the doctor himself as I was before, as he is devoid of social skills and therefore would never just try to be nice. See, all this worrying takes one down twisty, twisty roads). Even if it was cancer, it is a cancer that will not change my life significantly. Though not being cancer won’t mean I get off easy either–the fact that the lump is changing suggests that I may still require a thyroidectomy. (Initially I wrote “will probably require…” but changed it, as I don’t in fact know this, or anything, and wild speculations have taken us to stupid places before, so let’s not do that again.) And while I can console myself that life will go on after this, and I could have far, far worse problems, sometimes these consolations are not quite enough and I find myself feeling quite sad, hence the need to sit down and write this post here on my blog.
This may be the last post I ever write on this computer. I turned on my computer last night, and the system had gone haywire. It’s working properly today, but I think this machine is reaching the end of its life. (Harriet is confused by our insistence on talking about computers “dying” and “being brought back to life”. It is strange but not so surprising that we accord them such essential mortal characteristics.) 4 years ago, my computer “broke down in an altogether final sense” and I lost many precious things, learning a very important lesson about backing up my files and also that computers don’t last forever (a fact I still resent: they are so expensive!). Consequently, the loss of this machine is not a big deal and I have enough money to buy a new computer, which I think I am going to do today before driving this one completely into the ground.
However clunky and unpretty, these computers suit as a kind of metaphor. (Forgive me, but my computer really is an extension of myself.) The crash 4 years ago came on my 30th birthday, a few weeks after Harriet was born. I lost everything, which was sort of how I was feeling those days, the disclocation of self that came with new motherhood. I consoled myself with the opportunity of a blank slate, stories to be written in replacement of those I had lost. And I am proud of what I’ve made in the years since. This time, however, there has been no crash. This computer I’m losing not long after the birth of Iris has all its files back-upped elsewhere. Instead of being caught unaware, I’m averting disaster. And instead of being inspired by a blank slate, I’m just inspired in general, more ready than ever to build on what I’ve created in the last four years.
I was terrified at the prospect of another new baby, that after the progress we’d made in the parent-game of having to go all the way back to the beginning. But it hasn’t been like that at all. The biggest surprise of having Iris in our lives is how clear she’s made it that I’ve actually been in a stasis the last four years, a kind of limbo as we sorted out the question of a second child, whether or not to have one. And now she is here and it’s as though we’re moving forward, finally. I suspect that I am probably done having children, and now it’s time to look outward, to focus on other things. I am enormously excited to think of what lies before me, of the things I’m going to write on the new computer that comes into my life today. (I am also returning to the Mac life, I think, which will automatically make me a more physcially attractive human being).
And so it goes, flaws in the cloth. I’m finally learning how normal life is supposed to go. Oh, but how I do love the cloth, this life, right here in what just might be the very best summer (and believe me, I’ve known some excellent summers in my time). And I love this blog as a proper reflection of it all, the good and the bad, and I am so grateful for this space where take note of all the things that are important to me. And to those people who are reading.
February 27, 2013
The problem, of course, with my resilient and cheerful “It’s just a cyst!” response to last week’s lump discovery is that when an ultrasound suggests it’s something more suspicious than that, being optimistic just starts to seem stupid. Which is why I’ve spent many of the last 20 hours crying, imagining myself having the rarest form of thyroid cancer that has no treatment and kills in six months, and why the poor woman who made the mistake of asking how I was this morning was met with me bursting into tears. If you thought I was planning my funeral last week, it’s got nothing on what’s happened since. And baby has been kicking away like a mad-fetus, is healthy as ever, but this isn’t really consoling, actually, because I just keep thinking, “You can’t be here without me.”
And so the fact of the matter is that yesterday’s ultrasound revealed suspicious results and I am being referred to for a biopsy. I am really scared, not of a biopsy or even surgery, but of more bad news that is the opposite of what I’m expecting to hear. I am also nervous because I know that being in the third trimester of pregnancy complicates things, and that I wouldn’t be able to have surgery until after our baby comes. I keep desperately googling various combination of terms in an effort to finally stumble on the site that says, “You, Kerry, are going to be fine,” but I haven’t found that one yet. Even though I know that there is a good chance the lump is benign, and that even if it isn’t, that it can be treated, and that the survival rate for thyroid cancer is 97%, and these are the things I keep trying to remember, but it is hard to stay grounded. I have always had this weird tendency to see worry as insurance too, and fear that being optimistic will only trip things up and make everything fall apart.
I picked up Ina-May’s Guide to Breastfeeding at the library yesterday, and thought, “How on earth am I going to find time to read this book?” And then I heard from my doctor and it all seemed more and more unlikely. How does anyone ever has time for any of this? And how do you bear the waiting, the unknowing, the uncertainty (which is basically what life is, usually we can fool ourselves into thinking it’s less precarious)? What is giving me a little bit of peace though is imagining the summer, our baby here, leaves on the trees, and I do suppose the whole “not being dead” thing is going to give the post-partum days a rather glorious perspective. In the meantime, however, it is hard to just wait.
February 21, 2013
I don’t imagine I touch my neck very often, but somehow yesterday while I was eating breakfast, I happened to discover a very large lump on my throat. “Something is not right,” I realized, in Miss Clavel style, and it was an interesting realization because I spend as much as any woman does examining my body for lumpy things, and being that bodies are quite lumpy in and of themselves, I’d always wondered how you’d know when you found a real one. But it’s like love, I guess, and orgasms. I got up from the table and announced that I had googling to do. I kept googling to a minimum as you always should whenever anything is actually wrong, and made an appointment with my doctor. She saw me later in the afternoon, and couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed the lump before. But then, as I’ve stated, I don’t touch my neck very often. The lump, she says, is on my thyroid, and feels more like a cyst than a nodule (and therefore, hopefully, less likely to contain nasty things). It is probably huge because I am pregnant, and pregnant bodies don’t do anything half way. She told me I am not to worry. I have an ultrasound next week which will confirm just what the lump contains. It is likely we won’t have to worry about what to do about it until after the baby is born. She said, “You’ve got bigger fish to fry anyway” (ie having a baby, who is, I am grateful to say, bigger than the lump).
I am writing about this here not be melodramatic, but because the more I’ve talked about it, the more ordinary and okay matters have seemed. It helped considerably when I realized that Betty Draper too had had a lump on her thyroid and that she was fine. (I also had a funny conversation with my mom about how we’d tried desperately to have me diagnosed with thyroid problems when I was a teenager, but it turned out that I was just fat because I went through entire tubs of cheez-whiz in a weekend. There was, sadly, no other excuse.) I am writing about this here really to be the opposite of melodramatic, because keeping my anxieties to myself would only make me crazy and because the likelihood of everything being fine is as such that being a brave, desperate martyr isn’t really called for. There is sort of a script for these sorts of situations, in which I start imagining my children growing up without me, planning my own funeral, and things being as they are, following this script would be more self-indulgent than anything else. We will save the panic and melodrama for when it’s really required. And while it’s easier to follow the script, really, because it’s a script, it’s not a useful script. It is always helpful to remember that one is not a character in a television drama. It is always better to face troubles as they are, as they arrive. To not jump so far into the future. To do otherwise is a waste of a life.
And so, onward. This post resonated with me”: “I want to be strong. I think I am strong. But sometimes I wonder, at what point does “strength” become “unwillingness to appear weak”?” But then we’re all constructed of various strengths and weaknesses, aren’t we? We’re all vulnerable, and sometimes that vulnerability is the clearest sign we have that the world and everything we love in it is real.
Update: It occurs to me that this is a situation for which Caroline Woodward’s and Julie Morstad’s Singing Away the Dark comes in handy.
Update 2: I am feeling far less morbid and dramatic a few days later. Looking forward to an ultrasound this week that will confirm that all will be well. And in the meantime, are people ever kind. Thank you for your kind comments and emails, for tracking down second opinions, and offering to refer me to your thyroid specialist doctor dad. I sure do have some fine people looking out for me. And it’s much appreciated. xo
June 23, 2011
Oh, there are words to describe yesterday, but they’re not very polite ones. They’re the words I was thinking as I hauled my hysterically tantrumming toddler home from a drop-in we visited in the morning, one that was so nice that apparently Harriet never wanted to go home. She was able to contort her body to become completely rigid (this kid would rock at planking) or to become a wet noodle, therefore rendering stroller get-her-inning completely impossible. She wanted me to carry her, and it was raining, and I couldn’t push a stroller, hold Harriet and an umbrella, so we got soaked. And then I could no longer carry Harriet at all, and that was all she wrote. It was horrid. And we won’t even get started on the whole “leaving the farmer’s market” meltdown in the afternoon, which was even worse, totally embarrassing and annoying. By the time Stuart came home from work, I was totally broken, and once again, considering putting Harriet up for adoption. “But tomorrow will be better,” I told myself, believing this to be somewhat naive, but it is June, mind you, and life is good in June, and indeed, better today has definitely been.
And it still would have been better had I not received this incredible surprise from my pal at Penguin Canada. A Penguin tote bag (which would be enough in itself) packed with 24 Mini Moderns. But it would not be possible to receive a package like this, and for a day not to be made. And yes, partly because we’re in our third week of a mail strike and I’ve been missing surprises at my door, and partly because these books are so brilliantly Penguinesque in their design and because I can’t wait to find a place where I can line them all up in a row, and because there are authors I love here, and others still yet to be discovered. But mostly because now I am totally assured that there is such brilliant possibility in never knowing what a new day might deliver.
May 15, 2011
We’re really good at delightful days at our house, mostly because our bad days get so bad that they border on comedic. Most of the problem today was probably my bad attitude, which is why my description of our gloomy Sunday probably won’t convey how awful it felt to be in the midst of it. The second straight day of cold rain and grey skies, Harriet being absolutely insufferable and my behaviour not much better. When she woke up early from her nap, I decided that only a tea party could dispel the dread, so I threw a batch of scones in the oven. Somehow, they managed to set off the upstairs smoke alarm five times (but not the kitchen smoke alarm once). I turned on the extractor fan to see if it could drive away the nonexistent smoke, and then when I turned it off, the extractor fan exploded! A terrifying boom, with sparks raining down over the stove. Cleverly, I considered flicking the switch again, chose to do so, it exploded again, and blew the fuse for the fridge, as well as inevitably some other outlets throughout our magically-wired house which we’ll discover as the evening progresses.
The tea party was good, but we still had to leave the house, even though no one really wanted to, but it was necessary for our mutual well-being. We had a cheque to deposit at the bank, so we went there, but of course there were no deposit envelopes to be had, so that was another lost cause. We went to the ROM next to have a quick tramp around the biodiversity gallery, but took Harriet in the backpack carrier, forgetting that the museum makes you check these. Not relishing the idea of Harriet wandering around untethered (or of parting with a loonie), we decided to explore the gift shop instead, which was fine because it really is one of my favourite parts of the museum, and that is saying something because I love the museum. (Have you read Margaret Drabble’s The Pattern in the Carpet, in which she writes about why museum gift shops these days are more like museums than the museums are?)
We’re short on cash these days, so exploring the gift shop was an exercise in wishing (which is not as sad as it sounds. Is there anything more hopeful than wishing?). In addition to wonderful teapots, this umbrella stand that I want so, so badly, and the globe plush toy, I found the three best books ever. The Encyclopedia of Animals, with its photography and facts, animals I’ve never heard of (racoon dog, anyone?) I think we will eventually own this one; The Pattern Sourcebook, each page a different world to get lost on (scroll down to see samples); and then Key to the Quaternary Pollen and Spores of the Great Lakes Region, just because I think the world is a better place for this book existing in it, and for there being at least three people who understand what it’s about.
March 25, 2011
You know, it’s all fine and well to be a stay-at-home mother, professional tea guzzler, book-reader with-her-feet-up, but factor a husband’s job loss into the mix, and the whole situation is a little bit perilous. So you can imagine that we’ve had a bit of a stressful day at our house, and there has been much back-and-forthing between triumphant, “Onward, new opportunities beckon!”, and me crying and asking, “Why can’t everything just be easy?” We’re sure counting our blessings though. That our vacation was last month rather than next month (and that it was as splendid as it was), that we both have quite a bit of freelance work in the pipeline, that he has two months to go before his contract ends, that we’d been too lucky anyway and were about due for a kick in the ass. And no fear: this does not mean that I’m going to be cancelling my Royal Wedding party, no way, no how. At least it’s springtime.
So this is my full disclosure post, my “man, this kind of sucks” post, but once we’ve undergone the necessary period of uncertainty and anxiety, I have no doubt that he (and we) will be in a better place than before. And sometimes it’s nice to know that your worst problems are the ones you can still be sure have happened for a reason. We’re so lucky to have friends and family who support us as avidly as they do, and we’re also so lucky to have one another.
September 30, 2010
Dear Mr. Stackhouse [Editor of The Globe & Mail],
I wrote to your paper when you cut your books section down to nearly nothing, and I received a kind reply thanking me for my input. I am sure this message will elicit a similar message, if any, but please do allow me to say how saddened I am that Tabatha Southey will no longer be writing her vibrant, brilliant, relevant, smart and hilarious column in the Saturday Globe. Reading it aloud was a Saturday morning ritual in our family, and between the column’s absence and the now-tiny books section, it’s clear to me that you’re not that interested in me being one of your readers. Which is a shame, because I’ve been a devoted one, who understands the importance of a strong national newspaper, and relishes print for print’s sake. The whole thing makes me very sad, and I think we’re all going to look back on this time in journalism with a great deal of regret. I do already.
[And seriously– no Tabatha Southey & Karen Von Hahn in The Globe, no Katrina Onstad in Chatelaine– these are publications that are killing themselves. It’s totally stupid.)
March 3, 2010
I am only one of many people upset at the news that the Association for Research on Mothering at York University is set to close at the end of next month. (This is particularly devastating, coming on the back of more bad news for the Toronto Women’s Bookstore, which played such a big role in my discovery of feminism via the magazines I bought there that I’d never seen anywhere else, ever). Though I’ve only been a mother for nine months, and my relationship with ARM has been peripheral, I can honestly say the two books I’ve read from their Demeter Press (which is also to close) have done more to enhance my understanding of my new life than anything else.
Mother Knows Best: Talking Back to the Experts is the very best book on motherhood I’ve ever read. I’ve been a smarter, more confident, more open-minded and better parent since encountering it in November, and have been much better equipped to deal with the onslaught of other resources constantly undermining my authority. Mothering and Blogging: The Radical Act of the MommyBlog has played a fundamental role in helping me to address my ambivalence toward mommyblogging (which in some ways is an ambivalence toward motherhood in general), and got me engaging with ideas I don’t think I’ll ever be finished with.
And though these were both scholarly texts, I devoured them. And not just because they were telling me things I needed to hear at a trying time in my life, but because they taught me things I need to know, and they challenged ideas I thought I knew. These two Demeter books were incredible, and to think there will be no more of them is an enormous cultural loss for everyone.
Please read Ann Douglas’ blog on more about the ARM closure, and plans afoot to try to do something to stop it.
December 10, 2009
If I look tired here, it’s because I am! It’s been a hard, hard, hard few weeks. I think I’m blaming it on teeth, as there are two teeth apparent but remarkably sloooow at coming in (it’s been two weeks now, and they’re just creeping past the gums). There’s been a lot of screaming all the livelong day, and a lot of not sleeping all the deadlong night, and now I’ve just learned the joy of pushing a stroller along snowy sidewalks that people don’t shovel. Today I was a lesson in pathos as I shoved my stroller up over snowy curbs, the rain cover ripped and flew up in my face, my boots were leaking, buttons dripping off my coat, and I got splashed by a taxi-cab. The whole thing was very sad. And I won’t even get started on the middle of last night, when the baby would only stop crying when she was throwing up in my bed.
Motherhood is not always as romantic as I dreamed it would be.
There are good things: wonderful books to read, of course. I’ve been doing ongoing Christmas baking. I’m knitting Harriet a Christmas stocking. I finally completed a short story for the first time since Harriet’s birth. My short story contest win. Friends to spend afternoons with. Yesterday’s visit to the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books. That Harriet’s intensive lessons in waving hello and goodbye are starting to pay off. Advent calendar fun at every turn.
Speaking of, I’m loving The Advent Books Blog. I love reading the recommendations for books I have no intention of reading even, I love that different kinds of books that readers are so passionate about, and I like the linky places the recommenders’ biographies are taking me.
I love this post about Christmas shopping at the library. DoveGreyReader on readers vs. critics. Maureen Corrigan on passionate books for the holidays. Rebecca (delightfully) on names and naming. And I found this old interview with Allan Ahlberg, which was interesting. (Peepo is a favourite around our house.)
Now must go eat… something. And begin reading An Education by Lynn Barber.
UPDATE: For those who care, the second tooth is finally in, and we’ve got a bit of peace around here. Hurrah! I’ve also found a cheap second-hand jogging stroller online that will make my pedestrian life a little less pathetic this winter.