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Apr 16, 2014

When the Going Gets Tough, We Stand Together

Yesterday, my nice, quiet, clean Canadian city experienced what the police have called “the worst mass murder in Calgary’s history.” Four men and one woman, all in their twenties, were stabbed to death at a house party where people were celebrating the last day of classes at the nearby university.  By all accounts it was not a loud or rowdy party, just friends getting together. People who lived on the same street said the students who lived in the house were good neighbours and never caused any trouble.

When I heard this all I could think about was how when I went to university we lived in a similar house in a similar neighbourhood and held parties like this nearly every year on the last day of classes.  It hits close to home. Almost too close. Those families are dealing with such a senseless loss. We are all holding the families and friends of the victims close to our hearts, and our community will be there to help them through this incredibly difficult time.  

And then it was reported that the suspect was a student himself, just accepted into law school, with a mom and dad and who knows how many other friends and family members left to wonder what the hell went wrong.

We are rattled - “shaken to the core” as the mayor has said – because there is so much about this that could apply to any one of us. We are used to this happening in other places to other people and now we are dealing with the fact that it can happen here. Our innocence has been shattered a bit.

But they say that in times of crisis, one’s true character emerges. What has touched me the most – the thing that reminds me that this city is still a great place – is the compassion that is being shown toward the suspect’s family and, in particular, his parents.

See, I think we’re shaken not just because we too went to house parties in university, but because we are beginning to understand that kids that do bad things don’t always come from bad families. In fact, it’s quite possible that this kid’s upbringing (he’s just 22 years old) was even pretty normal, whatever “normal” really means nowadays. His dad is a 33-year veteran of the Calgary Police Service and according to the Chief of Police, both parents are absolutely heartbroken and full of sorrow for the pain their son has caused.

I can only imagine.   

Our community is supporting these parents. When it might be easier to judge, instead we are supporting them and praying for them.

We are wise enough to understand that we can give them support without taking it away from the families of those who were murdered.  There are lots of people hurting right now, and there is lots of love to go around. Blaming them for the actions of their son will not make anything about this situation better. 

Every parent has moments of doubt that they are doing right by their child.  We fear that maybe we yelled too much or didn’t pay enough attention, or otherwise were the source of some grievous hurt and deep down inside we are a little bit terrified that if our kid ever messes up it will all stem back to that time we refused to let them play Xbox for an entire day.     

Raising a child “right” encompasses so many things. When they’re infants the requirements are pretty basic: clothe, feed, clean, repeat. As they get older it evolves into teaching proper table manners, making sure they wash their hands after they go to the bathroom, and making them clean up their toys. Most of this stuff can be categorized as, “Things they need to know so that if I ran away and didn’t come back they wouldn’t die.”

In between teaching them all of this every day drudgery, we also teach them the difference between right and wrong, how to think critically, and how to make good decisions.  Ultimately though, we cannot make those decisions for them, and sometimes they may choose to do the wrong thing.  

They may choose to do the wrong thing even if we have done everything we know how to teach them what is right.     

That - as a community - we appear to understand what “There but for the grace of God go I” truly means is so powerful. You know, we knew our city was full of amazing people when everyone came together to help our city rebuild after last year’s flood. It was incredible to see people taking time off work and giving up their own lives for a little while to help strangers find solace. And I in no way want to minimize those efforts because they were spectacular, but I also think it fair to say that that kind of altruism is easy; it is generally not difficult to find it within yourself to help people who have lost it all. Even if you physically weren’t able to help, you still wanted to.

But I don’t know anything that speaks more to all of the parents in this city, especially those in the thick of it, than to know that we live in a community where most people understand that for the most part, we are all doing the best we can (okay maybe not all of us, but most of us). We may not get the results we want, and we may all make different choices on how to get there, but we are trying. We really do have the best of intentions.   

I am sure that over the coming days and weeks, a better picture of what happened will emerge. We will get answers to our questions. More blame may be assigned.

For now, though, thank you to my community for giving everyone the space they need to grieve. 

Gavin at the Family of Man sculpture in downtown Calgary

Apr 7, 2014

A Dairy Sensitive Subject

One of the things I've always been grateful for as a parent is that my kids are good eaters with no allergies. They have their preferences, but overall their diet is pretty balanced. I know how difficult it can be for parents whose children have allergies - to have to read every label and be careful about every setting your child is in just to keep him or her alive. I also don't envy parents where the supper table is a battleground and you have to decide whether a strict diet of noodles, cheese, and bread with Nutella is your hill to die on. 

It just all seemed like so to me. You know?

Then Gavin developed this rash on his face and it didn't go away. It looked somewhat similar to a small growth he'd had removed from his right cheek a few years ago. That growth looked like a white head but was a benign collection of cells. It could go away on its own, or eventually develop into cancer (highly unlikely, but still), or just stay as it was. It didn't bother him at all, but all I could think about was how difficult it could be for him to have something like that on his cheek as he got older. In my opinion, the small scar left from surgery was a preferable option.

My vanity was rewarded when Gavin's left cheek developed this pimply rash. It started with one or two white heads that looked similar to the growth he'd had removed, but these ones acted more like "regular" pimples. Then there were smaller red bumps. It would flare up and die down. After a few months of this I asked our family doctor what it could be. She said it was probably just really dry skin, so we started using every moisturizer we could find on it. That was four months ago, and there's been no change.

So what is a mother to do? It doesn't appear to bother him physically. He's never mentioned anyone bothering him about it. Sometimes I feel like I'm worrying about it for nothing, that it is just vanity talking, but then I'll notice a pock mark and get upset that my six-year-old already has acne scars.

I turned to everyone's favorite information source - Google - and was met with the possibility that this rash is related to a food or environmental sensitivity. Maybe it's not - Google is not always the most reliable source - but because it's not a seriously, life-threatening allergy, it's unlikely that he would get in to see an allergist in less than a year so Murray and I decided to do some elimination tests of our own to see if they would have any impact. Dairy was first up.

Which is how I got here, with a fridge full of three different kinds of non-dairy milk (almond, coconut and soy) and wracking my brain for preschool snacks that don't involve yogurt or cheese. As I said to Murray tonight, "On one hand I hope that this is the answer and on the other I hope that it's not." Our family of four normally goes through around 12 litres of milk a week. There are four different kinds of yogurt in the fridge right now in six different containers. The kids think that cheese is it's own food group. If it is dairy that's causing him to break out like this, it will not be an easy transition.   

And then I wonder if just doing anything at all is ridiculous when it's not a serious, life-threatening allergy. He's never complained of the gastrointestinal issues that can be related to dairy. Part of me feels like I'm just buying into some fad. It's all just because he has a rash on his face and I don't want him to have a rash on his face. I am afraid that eventually his buddies will notice and start teasing him and I don't want that. I don't want that at all.

I want to be able to fix this. 

So that's why we've told Gavin that for the next two weeks or so dairy is off-limits. To his credit, he is being a champ about the whole thing and taking it very seriously. But it's hard to stay on that line where the rash is a big enough deal that we would take ice cream away from him but not that big of a deal that he should be self-conscious about it. Because that's the other thing that worries me; if the rash doesn't go away, I still want him to be the same confident, self-assured little boy he is now, the kind that thinks, "So what?" when people comment about it.

And honestly, I'm sure that most people don't even really notice and now I've done him a huge disservice by bringing this to the world's attention. Maybe it's because I'm feeling kind of lost about the whole thing. I don't know if I should worry, or if I should just let it be, but yet if I can do something about it, shouldn't I? All these questions that weren't in the parenting manual I never got.

I know that no matter what we'll be fine. He'll be fine. We'll manage it whatever it is. It's really not a big deal.

That is, as long as it's not gluten-related. That might break me.  

None of this in our house...for awhile anyway.
Image courtesty of DaniloRizzuti/

Apr 2, 2014

Spring Cleaning

According to the calendar it's officially Spring. I have to go by the calendar, because outside it's still winter. Seriously, it's snowed nearly every day in March. Today, I really thought we'd turned the corner. The sky was blue and the sun was shining. Then on my way home from work: snow. And then later, more snow.

I. Am. Done.

One of my resolutions for this year was to deal with the clutter that permeates our home. It's like one of those snakes where when you chop off it's head, another one just grows in its place. It's everywhere and it was starting to really tick me off. But I've also learned that I handle these things better in little steps. This means that rather than tackling big clutter projects (i.e. the garage), we've been starting small (i.e. the junk drawer in the kitchen).

But back to "Spring".

After making my way through a bunch of the smaller clutter magnets, I figured I might be ready to deal with an entire room. I know. It sounds terrifying to me too. But our office was a disaster. Paper and books everywhere. Random cords for electronics I wasn't even sure we still had. Kids' artwork. Just one big anxiety attack waiting to happen.

Are you weeping for the trees that were killed to make this mess?
Also: I realized that I had to do our taxes and I wasn't sure if I knew where all of the paperwork was. Time was - somewhat - of the essence.

So I told my husband that my weekend project was to clean the office. I gathered my provisions, went down to the basement and closed the door. I set up the iPad so I could watch The Good Wife on Netflix (I was almost halfway through Season 4) and got to work.

I spent nearly three hours in there on Saturday afternoon and it felt like I was on track, but there was still so much to do.

Part of it was figuring out what paper we needed to keep around what we could get rid of. I found this awesome article by Lifehacker that set out some pretty clear guidelines. I went through nearly every file in that filing cabinet. The third drawer kind of scared me so I more or less left it alone. But the bottom drawer was full of stuff that had to go. Manuals for appliances we had long said goodbye to. Envelopes with receipts for oil changes for a car we no longer owned. Newsletters from the property manager of the apartment we lived in 12 years ago. And on and on.

I didn't throw it all away of course. I kept the listing contract for the first house we bought and sold together. A note from my dad that set out all of our wedding expenses. I'm not completely heartless.

When all was said and done, it took me around ten hours - or the rest of Season 4 of The Good Wife - to get through everything. There were two bags full of stuff to be shredded, at least one big bag full for recycling, another smaller one with garbage (mostly dry pens) and several boxes of stuff to be sorted through at a later date (does anyone know what a second generation iPod will fetch on ebay?). If I'm being honest, this is all sitting outside the door of our office - though in a very organized fashion. Most importantly, the inside of the office looks like this (except not so blurry):

It was such a relief. It does, however, take a bit of an emotional toll to go through this evidence of the life you've lived and decide that a large part of it isn't worth the paper its written on. It's easy to see how people can become so attached. At the same time, my life is so much more than a bunch of utility bills and trips to the store. I have been around long enough to know that the likelihood of me needing this stuff "just in case" is pretty nil.

Now let's see if I can keep this least long enough for me to get those taxes done.