A New Season

We are now several days into the official start of fall, and I suppose it is time to say farewell to summer. This summer was a good one- one of the best in recent memory. We spent a lot of time outside, the weather was sunny and warm, and we even got in a little cottage getaway at the end of August. It was very nearly perfect, and I am sure that as time goes on, the memory of hearing, “What are we going to do now, Mama?” fifty times a day will fade and I will remember this summer only as a happy, blissful time in our lives.

Some highlights:

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And now here we are, nearing the end of September. We have entered into a new season. Charlotte is in French Immersion now; in a class that doesn’t include her nearly lifelong partner in crime, Vera. These two changes combined made me very nervous about the new school year. Unsurprisingly though, these changes were probably harder on me than on Charlotte. She is now spouting French phrases around the house (“Regardez moi!”) and she still plays with Vera every day before school and during their outdoor play times.

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This is a new season for Penelope, too. She is now attending a home daycare with the most lovely caregiver I could have ever hoped for. She has adjusted to this change beautifully. Penelope has two new playmates in the toddlers that attend this daycare, and she adores it. I love the fact that she is out in the world, with her peers, and enjoying herself. She has made so much progress recently- she seems to be understanding phrases and directions and she is pointing and communicating more. She still doesn’t have any words yet, but she makes herself known. She pulls to stand easily now, and will cruise for a few steps along furniture. And speaking of steps- she can now crawl up stairs by herself! There is no doubt in my mind that she will walk one day- she is one determined girl.

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Having fun at her caregiver’s house

Anyone who knows me well knows that I do not enjoy change. AT ALL. So all of these changes occurring simultaneously made September a bit of a difficult month to navigate. In addition to the changes, I have been working a lot more- nearly twice as much as I was before- and trying to balance the shift work with family life is exhausting at times. Things are more settled now, though, and I am breathing a bit easier. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t still wary of what the future has in store, but I am trying to focus on the present. Right now, life is good. Everyone is happy and healthy. This new season is a good one so far.

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One Year and Seventy Pounds

I did something today I haven’t done in about ten years: I wore a bikini. At a public pool. I bought this bikini in the spring, hoping that I would be able to work up the courage to wear it this summer. A couple days later, I went back to the store and bought a tankini top as a back-up, which is what I have actually been wearing all summer. But it was so hot today, and my tankini needed to be washed after a few days at the cottage, and I really wanted to take Penelope to the pool. So I dusted off that bikini top, and we headed out to cool off with a swim.

Best selfie I could manage. I'm thinking I need a millenial to give me some selfie-taking tips.

Best selfie I could manage. I’m thinking I need a millenial to give me some selfie-taking tips.

I wish I could say that I tore off my tank top and shorts, and jumped into the pool with a victorious, “Look at me now, bitches!” cry. I may have parked us behind a tree because it had lots of “shade” (ie, I could shed my clothes in relative privacy and take a few deep breaths before venturing out to the pool). But I wasn’t as nervous or self-conscious as I thought I would be. Part of that stems from the fact that I’ve lost about seventy pounds over the past year or so, though my body is far from what most women’s magazines would classify as “bikini ready.” Thanks to two pregnancies and multiple cycles of weight gain and loss in my lifetime, my stomach will never be flat again. I have stretch marks and flab and I just love ice cream too much to ever be a size zero. And of course, breast-feeding did a number on my boobs, so I’m no longer as perky as my twenty-something self. I am healthy and strong now, though, and that knowledge gives me the confidence to wear and do what I want.

One year and seventy pounds has made a huge difference in my life. I don’t shy away from activities because I am unfit or ashamed of my body anymore. I used to spend my summers covering my body in as much clothing as I could get away with in the heat. I used to avoid doing things like going to the beach or to the splash pad or even just for a long walk, because I knew I would be sweaty and gross and out of breath and I felt terribly ashamed of myself. It would take me forever to get dressed to leave the house, because I would have to try on many different articles of clothing to figure out what made me feel the least hideous. This has not happened to me even once this summer. I wear tank tops and shorts most days. I have gone to the pool and the park and on many long walks with the girls without even thinking about how I would look or feel during these activities. I can get dressed in about thirty seconds (once I track down whether my clean clothes are still in the dryer or the laundry basket, waiting to be folded). I’m just living my life, without those seventy pounds weighing me down, physically and emotionally.

So yeah, I wore a bikini today. And I know that’s not much of an accomplishment in the grand scheme of things- I mean, I wore a weather-appropriate article of clothing to a local pool, it’s not like I climbed Everest or cured cancer. It just speaks to how much I have changed over the years, and I think it’s a change for the better. I wore a bikini, and I survived. There was no laughing and pointing or “beached whale” comments (at least none that I noticed). Most importantly, Penelope and I had a fun afternoon without my body image hang-ups interfering. And that’s something worth writing about.

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My Mini-Me

If I had to describe myself as a little kid, I would say that I was a scaredy-cat people-pleaser. I was shy and anxious, especially in new situations, but I desperately wanted others, especially adults, to like me and to think I was a “good” girl. Charlotte most definitely inherited my “people-pleaser” trait, which I suppose is fine for now, but I don’t really think of her as a scaredy-cat. She runs around on the playground without fear, makes new friends easily, tries new foods, has little to no separation anxiety, and is in general a pretty adaptable kid. The other day, though, that scaredy-cat trait rose to the surface, and I had the somewhat unnerving experience of interacting with myself at five years old.

We are two of a kind

We are two of a kind

A bit of a back story is needed here. We enrolled Charlotte in swimming when she was about four months old. We wanted her to learn how to swim so that she could have fun in the water without fear of drowning. She stayed in swimming lessons until she was over three years old, and then we took a little break from the lessons so that she could experience other activities like dance and soccer. We figured we had laid the foundation for her enjoyment of the water, and a little break wouldn’t hurt her. We figured she would pick up where she had left off when she returned to the pool. We were wrong.

Not afraid of the monkey bars

Not afraid of the monkey bars

Somehow, in the year or so that she did not attend any swimming lessons, Charlotte developed a fear of the water. She panics in water that is deeper than knee-high. She refused to go in the pool at her sports camp in early July because she was afraid. Upon learning this, Mark and I decided that she needed to be reintroduced to the water. We enrolled her in a week of swim camp. The weekend before swim camp started, we had the opportunity to go swimming at my aunt’s pool. At first, she was terrified and in tears. I calmly swam with her and helped her and coached her and by the end of the day, she was swimming to the deep end of the pool by herself (with her puddle-jumper on). She was definitely ready for swim camp.

No fear at the splash pad, since the water is only slightly more than ankle-deep

No fear at the splash pad, since the water is only slightly more than ankle-deep

And by all accounts, the first day went well. She reported having lots of fun in the water that day. She needed a bath, though, after all that sunscreen and chlorine, so Mark got her in the tub. And somehow, the topic of putting her head underwater came up…and all her fear returned. She was clearly terrified of putting her head underwater, for reasons she could not explain to us. And Mark felt that the best course of action here would be for her to practice doing so in the bathtub. As you may have guessed, this did not go well.

I could tell that she was positively torn between wanting to make us happy by doing it but being absolutely terrified and unable to do it at the same time. She would look at us with those big eyes and sincerely promise that this time, she was going to do it, and then completely chicken out. We tried everything. I was holding her in my arms so that she would feel safe. Didn’t work. Mark dunked his head under water to show her how easy it was. Didn’t work. We practiced breath-holding and nose-plugging. Didn’t work. She just could not do it, and I swear, I was in the same situation as a kid. I was afraid of the water, my dad wanted me to just go under, and even though I really wanted to do it, my fear wouldn’t let me. It was so bizarre seeing my daughter exhibit the exact behaviour I had exhibited at her age. And now I am on the other side of it- as an adult, I know how easy it is to do and how much fun it is to swim underwater, and I just want her to be able to do it. But I also recognize how crippling that fear can be.

Part of me wants to tell her to forget it, she doesn’t have to do it, and to just cuddle her in my arms so that she forgets her fear. And the other part of me wants to push her to get over her fear, so that she doesn’t base her life around her anxieties. I know how terrible it is to make life choices out of fear, and more than anything, I don’t want her to take that path. Sure, right now, it is just a refusal to put her head underwater, but eventually, it can become a refusal to leave an unhappy relationship in her early twenties because she is afraid of being alone or a refusal to change career paths because she is too afraid of the unknown.

I know it isn’t realistic to expect her never to be afraid. I just want her to learn to overcome her fears- to know that, yes, she can be scared, but that fear doesn’t have to control her. And the earlier she realizes this, the better. I am thirty-four, and STILL trying not to let fear control me. I don’t want that for Charlotte. And so, I am going to push her, gently and often, to put her head underwater. And I know that one of these days, she will do it. And she will see a world open up to her, where she can do somersaults and handstands and try to touch the bottom of the pool and jump off the diving board and HAVE FUN. I hope she can make the connection that all that fun opened up to her because she did something scary. I hope she learns that doing scary things can have a big pay off. I hope she realizes how strong and brave she really is. Truly, I hope she is not like me.

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72(ish) Hours to Go

Well, May 10 is coming up rather quickly. Way back in February, when I signed up to do this run, it felt like it was so far in the future, and I was full of confidence. “Oh yeah,” I thought, “I can run 10k by May 10- no problem! Piece of cake!” Now that the moment is nearly upon me though, I am more nervous than I thought I would be, and not nearly so confident. Now, the fact that I have recently completed a 10km run is serving to reassure me, but my anxiety is still creeping in. What if I fall? What if I’m too slow? What if my body fails me somehow and I just can’t complete the run?

I am trying not to let these thoughts consume me. Deep down, I know I can do this. And I’m also trying not to be overly dramatic about it- for God’s sake, I’m participating in a 10km charity run, it’s not like I’m a neurosurgeon, about to open someone’s skull and operate on their brain. No one’s life is at stake here. It’s just a run. And all the support I have received from family and friends in this venture of mine has been amazing (check out my fundraising page– I’ve surpassed my goal!) and that has gone a long way to keeping me focused on my goal- to cross that finish line.

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So over the next few days, I will continue to attempt to stay calm and focused, and to psych myself up for Sunday. I’ve already got a pretty good playlist to accompany me- what are your go-to songs to get yourself pysched up for a workout? And how do you stay calm before a big event?

Oh, and if you want to see how I’m doing on Sunday morning, you should be able to search my name (Julie Steel) and track my progress through Sportstats. See you on the other side of that finish line!

This Is It

It’s official. My maternity leave is coming to a close, after eighteen months off work. A couple days ago, if you had asked me how I was feeling about my impending return to work, I would have told you I was a bit nervous about making the transition, but overall felt fine about it. By Saturday evening, however, my confidence in my decision had wavered significantly, and I started feeling increasingly anxious about this upcoming change in our lives.

I’m not sure what triggered the change in my attitude. One minute I was feeling great about all of it, and the next I was almost in tears at the thought of leaving Penelope with another caregiver. I just felt completely overwhelmed and stressed out by the magnitude of the situation.

What if I have made the wrong decisions? What if Penelope is unhappy with the change and she regresses? What if the chaos of the morning rush is too stressful for Mark when I’m working days? What if I’m not working enough hours for paying a nanny to be financially viable? What if, what if, what if?

Once these thoughts entered my head, there was no stopping the tidal wave of anxiety that followed. Every worst case scenario ran through my head, along with the memory of every bad decision I’ve ever made, which provided proof that I make bad decisions and that this would turn out to be a disaster. My favourite imaginary outcome involves Mark having a meltdown while trying to deal with the morning time-crunch, and the nanny attempting to sell Penelope on the black market. I did not get much sleep on Saturday night, and when I woke up to darkened skies and pouring rain, I felt that Mother Nature was illustrating my anguish.

As the day wore on, I sunk deeper and deeper into my funk. Mark tried to reassure me that everything would work out okay, but it felt kind of hard to believe him when he had difficulty getting out of the house to get Charlotte to soccer at 10 a.m. I felt lost, scared, and overwhelmed. Desperate for a distraction, I headed out to the gym once Penelope was down for her nap.

Honestly, the minute I started to feel overcome with anxiety, I should have headed to the gym. The workout completely changed my mood and my perspective. Somewhere in between sweating through my cardio workout and working on my core exercises, I became calm again. I could see that I was worrying too much about all of this. Not only are those worst case scenarios unlikely to come true, but even if things aren’t working out for whatever reason, we can always reassess the situation and find a different solution that will work for our family.

And so I will head into work this morning with relative calm. I will resist the urge to text the nanny every five minutes to find out if everything is okay. As most of you are reading this, I will probably already be at work, trying to shake the dust off my nursing skills.

I will miss these faces, though.

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Hypochondria

One day, when I was about twelve years old, I started having heart palpitations. It kept happening, and the longer it went on, the more freaked out I got (which I’m sure wasn’t helping matters). It got to the point where I was crying, convinced that at the ripe old age of twelve, I was having a heart attack. I made my mom drop everything and take me to the doctor. My doctor patiently checked me out, and then we had a little chat about dealing with anxiety.

I blame my adolescent hypochondria on reading those YA books by Lurlene McDaniel. The books were all about kids dealing with serious, often fatal, illnesses. For months, I was secretly convinced I had a brain tumour because I would sometimes get headaches and that’s how one of her characters discovered she had a brain tumour. As I got older, I grew out of this hypochondria. Certainly, nursing school extinguished any remaining flickers of that fire. When you start interacting with patients who are dealing with real medical problems, you pretty quickly adopt an attitude of “Meh, you’ll be fine” to anything short of profuse bleeding (NOTE: this attitude is only directed to myself and my family- patient concerns are always treated seriously).

Every once in awhile, though, I will notice some sort of physical anomaly on myself, and instead of just brushing it off, I will worry about it. Like when Penelope was about a month old, I discovered a palpable mass in my abdomen and was convinced that I had some sort of reproductive cancer. I booked an appointment for my doctor to examine me at the same time as Penelope’s two month check-up and I was legitimately terrified about what she would say. Of course, it was not cancer- it was only a hernia (apparently they are fairly common following repeat C-sections, a fact of which I had previously been unaware) and the only threat it posed was of a cosmetic nature.

And I am currently battling with myself over what must be a benign condition. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a bump, about the size of a quarter, on my forehead. It’s barely noticeable when I look in the mirror, but I can definitely feel it when I touch my forehead. Which I do all the time now to check if it’s still there and obsess over whether or not it’s gotten any bigger. It’s not painful, it’s not a pimple, there’s no skin discolouration- it’s just a bump on my forehead. I have been tempted to Google “forehead tumour” but I’m too scared to find out if “forehead tumours” are actually a thing.

So instead, I’m going to repeat to myself, complete with a Schwarzenegger accent, “It’s not a tumour.” And I will remember that there are plenty of people suffering from real medical conditions, and that I am not currently one of them, thankfully. But someone please tell me that I’m not the only one who does this needless worrying about harmless things! I can’t be the only recovering hypochondriac out there, so please share your stories so I don’t feel so ridiculous. I will enjoy reading about them whilst rubbing my forehead bump.

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I'm not one to let a little hypochondria interfere with selfie time!

I’m not one to let a little hypochondria interfere with selfie time with my girls!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fear and Violation

On Thursday evenings, I have started attending a strength-training class at the gym. This past Thursday was my second week in attendance. I felt great after the class, and was getting ready to head home. It was an awful night, weather-wise; pouring rain, thunder, lightning- the works. It hadn’t been raining when I left the house, so I didn’t have an umbrella or even my rain jacket with me. I was zipping up my sweater and steeling myself for going outside when my phone started ringing. I saw from the Caller ID that it was Mark.

“Hello,” I answered.

“Where are you?” he asked.

I was taken aback by this- he knew I was at the gym, and I couldn’t understand why he would be asking me this. Confused, I responded, “I’m at the gym, just getting ready to leave. Why, what’s going on?”

He paused, and he sounded as confused as I felt when he answered, “Well…we just heard the door open and someone come in the house. I thought it was you but then we couldn’t find you anywhere.”

My heart beating faster when I heard this. “Someone came in the house? Are you sure?”

“Well, pretty sure, yeah. I heard it really clearly and Barkley was barking but he’s settled down now, so there can’t be anyone here. I guess maybe it was next-door.” We live in a semi-detached home, and can sometimes hear our neighbours quite clearly, so it is entirely possible that’s what he heard. We talked for another couple minutes, and he asked me to pick up some washing machine cleanser from the grocery store on my way home and we hung up. I felt a bit unsettled after talking to him- I knew it was probably just our neighbour that he heard, but Mark was so certain that he had heard our door open that I really just wanted to get home and make sure everything was okay.

I ran into the grocery store that’s across the street from the gym. They didn’t have the washing machine cleanser in stock, so I texted Mark to double check and see if we had any- I thought there was some under the laundry room sink. A few minutes went by and I didn’t hear anything back from him. I decided to call and ask him to check. No answer. I found this strange, considering we had just hung up from one another about five minutes ago- why wouldn’t he be answering? I kept calling, with still no answer, and my imagination started running away with me.

Years of reading crime novels and watching shows like CSI, Criminal Minds, and Dexter caught up to me and resulted in my envisioning a frightening scenario in which Mark looks around the house to make sure there wasn’t anybody there but there IS an intruder and now my family is being held hostage in our home. The accompanying thunder, lightning, and pouring rain made it seem like all too real a possibility- it’s ALWAYS stormy when something bad happens in those shows. I left the grocery store and ran to the car, stepping in several puddles, soaking my feet, but I scarcely noticed and didn’t care.

As I was driving home, I kept thinking about what my plan should be. Should I have 911 ready to dial? Maybe I should call someone I know and tell them what’s going on and have a code word ready in case there’s trouble but I don’t want to tip off the intruder that I’m there or that the police are being notified? In the end, I decided to drive by the house first and have the emergency call button at the ready should I need it.

As I slowly drove past our house, I could see that all the lights were on, but couldn’t tell anything beyond that. I pulled into our laneway and parking spot, heart racing, hands shaking; nervous about what would happen next. As I turned off the car and gathered up my things, I could see Mark through the back window. He was in the kitchen and everything appeared to be okay. Still, I kept my phone ready just in case.

Of course, everything was fine. Mark had turned on all the lights checking through the house to make sure there was no one there (there wasn’t). There were no wet footprints in our front entrance so given how rainy it was outside, it was unlikely that anyone had been in there. It seemed that the door opening and footsteps had come from next door. He had left his phone upstairs and didn’t hear me calling as he was putting Charlotte to bed.

And so, mystery solved. The culprits? An overactive imagination and the acoustic eccentricities of a 90 year-old semi-detached house. Case closed, and I will never have to think about this again, right? Well, sort of.

Fast forward to the next morning. Friday mornings are always very busy around here. Penelope and I need to get to our group across town, Charlotte needs to get to school, and Mark needs to get to work. This particular Friday morning, Mark had a meeting in Scarborough, and so my father-in-law was coming over to take Charlotte to school. And then, to further complicate matters, the guy who was supposed to give Mark a ride to the meeting cancelled at the last minute, which meant he had to find alternate transportation. The atmosphere was a bit chaotic. Anyhow, it was getting close to the time Penelope and I needed to leave, so I went out to bring the car around to the front, so that it would be easier to get her loaded into the car. I approached the car and stopped dead in my tracks. All of the debris that had been in the side pocket of the driver’s side door (you know, pens, paper scraps, granola bar wrappers, parking receipts, etc) was spilled all over the ground beside the car.

I couldn’t recall anything dropping to the ground when I was getting out of the car the previous evening. I reasoned that it was possible that something got caught on my bag and caused everything to spill to the ground and I just failed to notice. And then I opened the front door and saw that the contents of the glove compartment were strewn all over the front seat. There was definitely no way I had accidentally done that, and I started to grow uneasy. Maybe Mark had come out to the car late last night, looking for something, and didn’t realize what a mess he had left in his wake?

I asked him about it when I came back inside, and was quite dismayed to hear that no, he had not been in the car last night. Which meant that a stranger was in there, looking for something to steal from us. And since the car alarm hadn’t sounded in the night, it meant that I hadn’t locked the car like I usually do. I went back out to the car to assess things and discovered that all the loose change from the cupholder was gone and our GPS was also missing.

I felt sick. Not because what was taken was so valuable (it wasn’t) but because of the violation. Someone had been in OUR car and had taken OUR things, just because they could. Now, I can understand that someone who would do something like this was probably in pretty desperate circumstances and badly needed the money (or maybe it was just a kleptomaniac who gets a rush from stealing things) and so I am not even angry about the theft. This incident, though, left me feeling unsafe, especially in combination with the scare I’d had on Thursday evening, and I was shaken up. And again, my imagination burst onto the scene, making things worse, thinking about what could have happened. What if the thief had broken into the house instead and hurt our family? What if they come back and come into the house this time and hurt us? I know how unlikely that is- this was a non-violent crime of opportunity- but it is hard not to feel anxious after something like this. I’m sure that if these two incidents hadn’t occurred so close together, I wouldn’t have been so upset- but they did, and I was upset.

I felt “off”, rattled, all morning. My in-laws were due to come over in the afternoon to stay with Penelope while I went to the gym. I thought about cancelling with them, because I felt uneasy about going out, but in the end I didn’t, and it was the right choice. A good workout helped me to clear my head and I sweated out all my anxiety. By the time I came home I had calmed down considerably and had put things in perspective. Nothing very valuable or irreplaceable had been taken, and no one had gotten hurt, and that was all that really mattered.

So, lessons learned from all of this:

1. Things can be replaced.

2. Always lock the car (which I am usually hyper-vigilant about but was not in the usual frame of mind on Thursday night when I got out of the car).

3. One can clearly hear in our basement when our next door neighbour comes home.

4. A good, sweaty session at the gym does wonders for anxiety.

5. I am nowhere near ready to start watching even mildly scary TV shows or to read scary books (I had to stop with any frightening forms of relaxing diversion after Charlotte was born because the fear it created in me about something happening to her or to me far outweighed any entertainment value it formerly possessed).

A scary face from Charlotte is close to the maximum amount of fear I can tolerate

A scary face from Charlotte is close to the maximum amount of fear I can tolerate