A Few Quick Thoughts About Triggers That Trigger

15 Sep

One thing that doesn’t seem to get a lot of discussion is what happens and what we can do when two equal and opposing triggers meet.

We tend to often talk about a lot of triggers as if they are are universal and objective and, thus, avoidable by things like trigger warnings. But while it’s true that some things are widely understood to require trigger warnings – eating disorders, for example, or sexual assault, or violent scenes – the truth is that triggers are based on our own personal experiences and traumas. Some traumas (and therefore triggers) are more commonly shared than others – like the things listed above – but some are a bit more niche. And many people (myself included) don’t always know what’s going to trigger them until that train has more than left the station, which can obviously make dodging triggers a bit tricky.

But what I’d really like to talk about here is what happens when one person’s triggers set another person off.

Let me try to explain what I mean.

Imagine you’ve got two people, Jamie and Parker (two non-existent people with deliberately gender-neutral names), who are in a romantic relationship.

Jamie is haunted by fears of abandonment due to some kind of past trauma, perhaps from a close friend or a partner or a parent – it doesn’t really matter in this scenario. What triggers them is anything that gives them the sense that someone is leaving them forever.

Parker was previously in an emotionally abusive relationship. What triggers them is anything that gives them the sense that their personal boundaries are being ignored or they are being manipulated into feeling or doing something that is wrong or uncomfortable.

Most of the time Jamie and Parker have a wonderful, respectful, mutually caring relationship.

But every once in a while something happens that brings up all kinds of feelings in either or both of them, and then things get tricky.

In this case, let’s say Parker was thoughtless about coming home from a late night. They did not adequately communicate with Jamie what was going to happen – let’s say they texted that they might be “a bit late” but then stayed out until 3. Jamie was sending all kinds of texts, but Parker couldn’t get them because there wasn’t great reception where they were. Parker was having a great time, not realizing that Jamie was at home getting increasingly worked up.

By the time Parker got home, Jamie’s feelings of abandonment were in full force. And Jamie then said things that they don’t mean because they were very upset and wanted Parker to understand the full extent of how upset they were. So maybe Jamie then said, “You don’t care about me. If you cared about me, you would have known that this would upset me. You’ve never cared about me. You only care about yourself.”

Now, if Parker didn’t have the history they do, they might have recognized these words for what they were: a hurt person clumsily and inappropriately expressing their hurt.

But because Parker has a history of being emotionally abused by someone who would use similar language – “you don’t care about me, you only care about yourself” – in order to avoid responsibility and to pressure Parker into doing things they don’t want to do, they find themselves growing increasingly upset by what Jamie is saying.

At this point, both Jamie and Parker have their own respective triggers going on. Because of what those specific triggers are, the more upset each person gets the more they inadvertently trigger their partner. So the more Jamie feels that they are abandoned, the more clingy they become. And the clingier Jamie becomes, the more Parker feels that Jamie is deliberately trying to push their boundaries. And the more Parker thinks that their boundaries are being violated, the more they try to hold Jamie at arm’s length. And the more Jamie is held at arm’s length, the more they panic and scramble to get some kind of promise of love or commitment from Parker.

And so on. And so forth.

Ideally we would treat the words “I’m triggered right now” as if they are the end of a discussion; after all, if someone is upset then we do our best to minimize what’s upsetting them. But what do we do when a situation is upsetting to multiple people in multiple ways? And when those people’s reactions only serve to upset each other more?

If I had any answers to this I would probably write a real post for a real outlet that pays me real cash money. But I don’t have any good answers, and I’ve seen too many friendships crash and burn over two people who are deeply upset and feel like they are the One True Grieved Party and can’t or won’t see that how they’re reacting is triggering their friend just as much as they are triggered.

The only answer I can think of is to be willing to see a world wider than yourself where traumas vary and triggers aren’t always apparent (which I know from personal experience can feel impossible when you’re deep down in the feelings rabbit hole). And if we can’t do that in the moment, then at the very least we need to be willing to swallow our pride later, once the worst of the emotional reaction to the trigger has passed, and apologize for how we might have lashed out at someone else in the midst of our own pain. I don’t think that intentions never matter, and I think sometimes the way people behave in the face of triggers is more than justified, but I also think we’re all big enough and aware enough to apologize for hurting someone. Even if the hurt was unintended and inadvertent.

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Speaking of rabbit holes, here’s a cute one

 

A List Of Things In Literature, Music and Art That Are Actually Metaphors For Women

17 May

Did you know that sometimes when it seems like men are writing or talking or singing about something, often it is actually about a lady? Sometimes it’s a chick they want to bang, and sometimes it’s about a chick they have previously banged and now have bad feelings about, and sometimes it’s about how women in general are fickle and treacherous. I mean, they’re SO fickle and treacherous that men can’t even straight up say “yo, I hate women” without a bunch of shrill females getting their bloomers in a bunch.

Men had to invent metaphors so that they could publicly trash-talk their exes and then be like “Haha what? Noooooo, this song isn’t about you. It’s about a literal venus flytrap plant that eats literal insects. It’s not because you crushed my spirit like an ant beneath your shapely foot.”

Men love metaphors because they make them feel smart and sneaky, even when they are in fact neither of those things.

If you were every wondering if a man made wrote or painted something about you but tried to pretend it was about something else entirely, then a) probably he did and b) here is a handy guide to dudes’ favourite symbology of ladies:

1. The Sea

The sea is a good metaphor for women because it’s always wrecking shit that men love – boats, expensive cargo, the lithe bodies of beautiful young sailors. The sea is dark and cold and salty as fuck, just like a woman’s heart. Ask any seasoned mariner, and he’ll tell you that storms out at sea can come out of nowhere – one minute the water is still as glass, the next minute the heavens have opened up and you’re about to be destroyed by a ten foot wave. And if that doesn’t sound like a woman, I don’t know what does!

2. Ships

Any song about a ship is actually about a woman. Especially if it’s about a ship that sinks. You’d better believe that sinking ships are metaphors for women. Everyone knows bitches are always going down and dragging their men with them.

3. Anything Maritime, Really

Pretty much all things ocean-related are metaphors for women. Scavenging seagulls are women. Hidden rocks that ships wreck themselves on are women. Icebergs are women. Sea monsters can be women, but only in specific circumstances. For example, if a sea monster has long tentacles that it uses to clasp ships to its slimy bosom, then it’s definitely a metaphor for women. But if a sea monster resembles a triassic era dinosaur or some kind of shark, it’s probably about men’s potent sexuality or some bullshit.

Speaking of sharks, sharks pretty much always represent men, unless it’s a story about a shark eating its young. Then the shark represents Mommy Issues.

4. The Moon

You might think the moon makes men think of women because of menstruation cycles or whatever, but you’d be wrong. Men use the moon as a metaphor for women because it changes shape and is “inconstant” and always wants the last fucking word in an argument, am I right?

5. Cats

Look, I don’t know who decided that cats are feminine and dogs are masculine, but someone did and that idea has stuck and now we all just have to live with it. Cats are moody and unaffectionate and enjoy hunting small prey, which frankly describes more men that I know than it does women, but whatever. Cats are metaphors for ladies.

6. Birds

Birds that are metaphors for women:
– swans
– humming birds
– sparrows
– starlings
– anything sleek or pretty or shrill
– owls (but only if the author is describing the owls as spooky or weird)

Birds that are metaphors for men:
– birds of prey
– albatrosses, probably
– pelicans
– owls (but only if the author is describing their intelligence or hunting prowess)

7. Storms

I mean, they used to only ever named hurricanes after women. Because, again, women only exist to destroy everything you love.

8. Mines (Especially Diamond Mines)

Mines are dark and dangerous and liable to fill up with deadly gases at any moment – just like women. The further you go, the more likely they are to suffocate you – just like women. They take the best years of your life and leave you broken and penniless – just like women. Need I say more?

9. Soil

Any time a dude is waxing lyrical about soil or earth, you’d better believe he’s actually talking about a woman. Especially if he describes the soil as either “fertile” or “barren.” “Tilling” and “ploughing” are both euphemisms for sex, obviously. A “bad harvest” is when a woman friendzones or otherwise rejects a man. You’re welcome!

10. Sports Trophies

I don’t know, these probably represent women somehow.

11. Cars and Trucks

Vehicles are tricky, because sometimes they are stand-ins for a man’s sense of masculinity. But if a guy has a lot of gushy feelings about his pickup, he’s probably actually talking about a woman.

12. Plants

Flowering plants are women. Plants that happen to be deadly in some way are women. Anything with tendrils is a woman. Sorry, I don’t make the rules, that’s just how it is.

13. Food

Fruit is feminine. Any kind of baked good is feminine. Seafood is feminine. Chocolate is feminine.

Spoiled food is feminine, because women are always spoiling things.

Kraken

Guest Post: An Open Letter To Those White Pro-Life Parents Intent on Adopting Black Kids Just To Prove A Point

26 Apr

Guest Post by Aresa Jvon

Dear Aaron,

We’ve gotta talk about this Washington Post article that you wrote. You know, the one about how you and your wife like to collect cute black kids to live in your rainbow family. The one about how being pro-life means you should march into a fertility clinic and demand the blackest embryos they’re got. You know the one I mean

It’s bad.

It’s really, really bad.

It’s so bad that I’m trying to figure out where to begin addressing such a horrible article. In fact, even referring to what was published as an article is insulting to the hardworking and competent journalists out there who compose amazing and well thought out pieces on a daily basis. This was not an article, it was a seemingly never-ending shit fest in which each sentence was worse than the previous. I tip my hat to the author for being fully committed to the agenda no matter how ridiculous.   Consistency is key after all?

Let me first thank you, Aaron, for clarifying repeatedly that you and your wife are white, because that seemed to be a source of confusion for me. I was sitting at my desk desperately trying to figure that part out, but the reminder in each paragraph easily placed things into perspective for me. I can’t say “thank-you” enough to you two Great White Saviors and truly where would these po’ lil ole black embryos be without two highly privileged and painfully ignorant individuals such as yourselves?

And while I’m thanking you, Aaron, I guess I should probably show you some gratitude for this gem of a sentence:

“My wife, on the other hand, grew up in the delta of Mississippi and it wasn’t until she took a few trips to Haiti that the veil of racial prejudice was lifted from her eyes.”

What does this mean? Are you saying that she was racist as heck until she went to Haiti? Or that she didn’t think racism was real until she did some poverty tourism>

If it’s the latter, how amazing and privileged a life your wife has led, that she apparently did not encounter any racism in Mississippi of all places? I guess names like James Anderson  – who was the victim of a hate crime that made national news – likely won’t ring a bell to these two. Probably if you don’t see color, then you’re not likely to recognize racially-motivated crimes for what they are. In all seriousness, though, how can anyone say with a straight face that they grew up in the south but didn’t realize racism existed until they went to Haiti? Must have been nice for your to grow up in post-racial America. I just wish that people other than little white girls got to have the same experience.

 

But wait, it gets worse. At one point you write:

“There is something beautiful and enriching being the only white face sitting and chatting with some of my African-American friends as my son gets his hair cut on a Saturday morning. There is also something wonderful in the relationship that is built as my wife asks a black friend on Facebook how to care for our little biracial daughter’s hair.”

This is where I really had to get up and take a break from existing, and even considered cancelling my internet and cable services so that I would no longer have to suffer through this article. Is there a club or place at which I can sign up to be that one black friend and share in this delight? Wait oops, I work in corporate America and my membership is free with employment. Dopeness! A bit of advice to ole boy, it would probably be better received to collect material items you know like a Ferrari for instance instead of people as accessories for your delight so that you can share experiences with your token friends will NEVER be ok. Like ever, mmmk?

It would also be nice to have some answers regarding how one deems themselves pro-life yet can walk into an embryo bank and order the “black ones” only, as if standing in line at KFC to place an order for dark meat. How are you pro-life but likely walked into an invitro center and reminded them of your whiteness as you have done repeatedly, and placed an order for ONLY the black ones? I will answer it for you Aaron: it is because you and the subjects you wrote about are what we call benevolent racists. In your mind, the five piece dark special you have acquired makes you a savior and game-changer.

You know what would’ve been a real game-changer? Providing a black family struggling with infertility with funding for in vitro fertilization. You’d be accomplishing the same goals that you allegedly set out to accomplish, but in a way that isn’t going to generate a Washington Post story about how great you are. Which, frankly, is what seems to be the goal here: you looking good in national media.

I know I’ve said this already, but I really can’t emphasize this enough: Black people aren’t things. Black babies don’t exist for you to collect and show off as some kind of proof that you’re a good person. If you really care about black lives, make a donation to Black Lives Matter or attend a protest against police brutality. There are so many ways that you could support black communities; you say you’re ready to show that you mean what you say about being pro-life, but you don’t seem quite so interested in proving your commitment to anti-racism. Instead, you look like someone who wants some kind of award for being progressive enough to let black children into your home.

You make a comment in your article about the people you feel are judging you. You write, “There will always be the older white woman in Walmart who stared at us with sheer disgust, or the African-American mother who looked at us and just shook her head.” Did you ever think that African-American mother might have a good reason to shake her head? Did you consider maybe asking her what that was? Or are you just going to go on assuming that what you’ve believed all along to be true: that you, a white person, believe that there is not a single argument from any black person anywhere that will ever dissuade you from believing that you’re right.

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Author Aresa Jvon

On Ghomeshi, Memory and Trauma

24 Mar

Have you ever had a moment when you suddenly realize that your memory of an event is not actually what happened?

A few years ago I was talking to someone about a pretty life-altering event that happened when I was 13. I’m not going to describe it in detail because it’s not wholly my story to tell, but I will say that it was traumatic and was something that completely upended my life. Anyway, this person that I was talking to was also present for this event; not only that, but they were already an adult at the time and had access to information that I didn’t.

As we were talking, it became clearer and clearer that my memories were not accurate – my broader understanding of the event was correct, but large chunks of what I remembered were not. Some of my memories were distortions based on a teenager’s misunderstanding what was happening, some memories of key events were just plain missing and, most disturbingly, some memories were of things that just plain didn’t happen.

I can’t tell you how disorienting it was to realize all of this. Facts about myself that I had believed to be real were not; my life story was not the one that I had been telling and re-telling for over a decade. I felt frantic – if these things weren’t true, then what else about me wasn’t true? And how had I wound up with all these inaccurate memories? Was it because at my very core I was, in fact, a liar so brilliant and sneaky that I had managed to lie convincingly to myself?

No. I was just a fallible human being with a fallible human memory.

Trauma is messy. Memory is messy. At the best of times, the way we remember an event is like watching a badly pirated copy of a movie – scenes get deleted or happen out of order, nonsensical bits are added in, and most of the dialogue is wrong. Add trauma into the mix and things become even more confusing. None of us are credible witnesses, not even of our own lives.

And yet our judicial system relies around the idea that witnesses must be credible, especially in the absence of physical evidence. If a witness changes their story or neglects to disclose parts of it then the rest of their testimony will likely be disregarded – at best they might be considered unreliable, at worst someone who is deliberately committing perjury for their own personal gain.

I wasn’t going to write anything about the Ghomeshi verdict, but I’m here because I need to ask all of you a serious question: how on earth do you expect someone to reliably recall traumatic events from thirteen years ago? What his car looked like. How they wore their hair. Whether the slap came first or the punch. The exact date. The contents of their emails. What they said, what they did, how they acted and reacted.

If you were put on a witness stand today for something that happened to you in 2003 – something that for a long time you had no intention of disclosing or maybe even remembering – how accurate would your testimony be? If you had to tell the same story several times over an 18 month period, can you be sure that it would remain perfectly consistent the entire time? How would you fare when faced with a cross-examiner who has access to old emails that you long ago deleted? How well would you do when confronted with a highly trained professional whose only job is to make you look bad?

I keep seeing people calling the witnesses in the Ghomeshi case “liars;” I see people crowing that these women deserve whatever is coming to them, that this is what you get when you commit perjury. No. This is what you get when the justice system expects victims to have perfect recall of traumatic events that happened more than a decade ago.

I’m not a legal expert. I don’t have any brilliant suggestions on how to overhaul the judicial process. All I can tell you is that the system we have now is so fundamentally broken that survivors of abuse and sexual assault stand almost no chance of seeing justice done. Even worse, they can expect to see their lives picked apart and disparaged on a national stage, often by the very system they thought was in place to protect them.

The judge presiding over the Ghomeshi case wrote that this case illustrates the need to avoid the “dangerous false assumption that sexual assault complainants are always truthful,” and yet I have rarely if ever seen that assumption play out in court. Instead, our legal process is based on the idea that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty – which means that often the complainants are treated as if they’re guilty of lying unless they can prove otherwise.

I believe the women who testified against Ghomeshi. Yes, still. I also believe the other women who spoke up anonymously but ultimately chose not to talk about it publicly or press charges. I believe anyone who trusts me enough to disclose allegations of assault or abuse to me.

What I don’t believe is that this is the best our courts can do when it comes to violence against women.

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Symbol of law and justice, law and justice concept.; Shutterstock ID 140867215; PO: aol; Job: production; Client: drone

Guest Post: The Incredible Importance of the Ten Oaks Project

21 Mar

by Xeph Kalma

“Studies find that support from parents/the community help LGBTQ+ children!”

I keep seeing articles with titles like this pop up on my social media feeds and every time I read them I can feel this sarcastic smirk spreading across my face. Support helps people! How shocking! I would never in a million years have imagined that loving and encouraging youth rather than shunning or shaming them would be a positive thing.

Unfortunately, for some people this kind of non-judgemental support is a wickedly radical concept. Some people apparently need to read about these studies to understand that  things like having positive spaces, being surrounded by like minded folx, and receiving encouragement rather than shame reduce suicide rates among LGBTQ+ youth. But for myself, a trans woman of colour who only found the language and the courage to come out at the age of 30, the results of these studies seem so obvious that it’s almost baffling to me why they needed to conduct a study in the first place. I can only imagine the positive impact an LGBTQ+ friendly space for youth would have had on me when I was younger. I know for certain that if I’d had one my journey to where I am now would have been far easier, happier, healthier and less lonely.

The good news is that there is a space like that right here in Ontario called the Ten Oaks Project. Based out of Ottawa, the Ten Oaks Project is a grassroots organizations that has been helping LGBTQ+ children and youth find a safe place to flourish and be themselves since 2004. They operate Camp Ten Oaks, an amazing summer camp with programming based on the principles of modern social, design play and workshops. They also run Project Acorn, which offers a different experiences for those ages 16-24 with a focus on creating an empowering and liberating experience with workshops and camp activities. Both spaces aim to facilitate social interaction that encourages self-esteem rather than reducing it -something that’s incredibly important for LGBTQ+ kids and children of LGBTQ+ families – as well as work on building leadership skills and self-confidence.

The Ten Oaks Project is an inclusive space, so these programs are meant to be as financially accessible as possible. They believe that no child should have to worry about whether they can afford to participate in Camp Ten Oaks or Project Acorn. There is a fee of $900 per camper, but the charity works on a sliding scale to ensure that any who would like to attend are able to do so. 80% of the participants in these programs use the sliding scale fee, which means that the Ten Oaks Project is always in need of donations and volunteers.

Registration has already filled up for many of the age groups in the 2016 Camp Ten Oaks session, which will run from July 31st to August 6th at RKY Camp near Kingston, Ontario. At the time of writing there are 23 children on the waitlist, hoping another spot at camp will open up. It is the only camp of its kind in Canada, so children who do not get a space will have no option except to wait and hope for a spot next year.

This is where you come in.

If you are financially able, please consider making a donation to the Ten Oaks Project. You can pledge to give money monthly, or if you prefer you can make a one-time donation. They also accept in-kind donations, so if you have materials, supplies, items or services you think they might be able to use, please contact them at info@tenoaksproject.org. A $10 or $25 donation can get you some sweet camp swag. If you have time to give, please consider becoming a volunteer. Even just taking the time to share information about Ten Oaks on your social media platforms can make a difference!

The Ten Oaks Project is an incredibly important resource. Spaces like these can literally be life-saving for some kids. I know the whole “it takes a village” thing is kind of trite, but the truth is that we are these children’s village, and it’s our job to create a world where they can grow and thrive.

As I said above, I can only imagine how different my life would have been if I had been able to access a warm and accepting place like Ten Oaks – a place where I could be myself rather than being forced into a gendered group to which I didn’t belong. There is such a huge power in receiving positive messages about yourself, especially when you’re a kid who’s struggling to figure everything out. And knowing that there was a whole community out there of other kids who feel the same way as me? That would have been absolutely priceless.

You can help give these priceless experiences to kids. So please, if you can, make a donation. You have no idea whose life you might save.

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You Are Here

8 Feb

I used to think that my life would always move in a linear way, like an arrow rushing towards a target or a row of dominos collapsing in perfect order. I’ve never believed that everything happens for a reason, but I did think that someday I would look back on what I’ve done and some kind of clear trajectory or narrative would emerge – like the time I read 100 Years of Solitude and was mostly baffled by it until the very end when a few choice paragraphs made clear all of the book’s obscure patterns and themes. I keep looking for those types of paragraphs in my own life, the ones that will shine a light on all of my murkiest, most inexplicable choices and prove that everything has only ever been leading to this.

I’ve been struggling with writing lately. I’m treading the line between “can’t” and “don’t want to,” that funny no man’s land where it’s hard to tell whether you need to try harder or just give up. A few weeks ago Nathan took me to a dive bar, pulled out a notebook and pen and told me that we were going to think up ten story ideas together to prove that I could still do it. Several drinks later I was yelling that it would be to write novel about 18 year old Mary Shelley slutting around Geneva, exchanging caustic bon mots with Lord Byron and composing a seminal work of science fiction. But when I got home and opened a new Word doc all I could see was the huge blankness of it, which seemed to me to mirror exactly the blankness in my head.

I’ve always believed that writing, like any other craft, is one that you can hone through dull, persistent, non-stop toil. I told myself that work begets work, and dove into the frantic grind that is freelance journalism. I pitched publication after publication, and whenever I received a rejection I would just turn around and send the same pitch somewhere else. I auctioned off deeply personal stories because an embarrassing first person essay is worth a thousand well-cited statistics. When my deadlines began to stack up I felt excited instead of anxious. I churned out hot take after hot take, often just recycling the same general words and ideas while applying them to new situations.

I thought that I was learning to be a better writer, but mostly I was just learning to be faster, sloppier one. And then I hit a wall and couldn’t write anything, not even the same essay about reproductive rights that I’d written a thousand times before.

Failure and success are a funny binary. A marriage can be a strong healthy relationship for a dozen years or more, but if for whatever reason it ends in divorce then we still call it a failed marriage. The same goes for failed careers, as if the choice to move on to something else eclipses any good times that might have happened. The way we apply these labels after the fact makes it seem like the whole enterprise was always objectively a big mistake. This, in turn, rewrites the narrative of our experiences so that they comfortably fit the model of failure/success – because if they didn’t, what would they be? Just a mess of good and bad that doesn’t make any rational sense.

I have spurts where writing comes easily and I’m able to produce essay after competent essay. When that happens, it’s tempting to believe that I’ve finally hit my stride as a writer; I feel the needle slip into the groove and I think this is it. But then I’ll go through dry spells where everything feels forced, my writing alternating between saccharine, adjective-laden prose and stilted sentences that refuse to have life breathed into them. And just like the good periods make me believe that I’ve finally made it, the difficult periods make me feel like it can only be downhill from there.

I’m trying to tell myself that I’m not failing, just taking the long way around. A little while ago a friend of mine said that he read somewhere that all artists have ten great years in which they produce their best work. “But,” he said, “what if those years are spread out? What if instead of one amazing decade, you get a year in your twenties, a couple of years in your thirties, and so on?”

What if. The idea was both comforting and exhilarating.

Beginnings are easy, or at least fun and exciting. And in some ways endings, with all their finality and clean lines, are easy too – at the very least they free you from worrying about when the end will come. What are much more difficult are the in-between times, the times when you’re adrift, rudderless and without a destination, in some uncharted sea. Do you try to paddle towards shore, even if you have no idea where shore is? Or do you sit and wait for rescue? All you can do is hold on. Or not.

Life does not move in straight lines. It moves in lazy detours; sometimes it loses traction and skids sideways, and sometimes it loops back on itself in ways that are confusing and maddening. Sometimes I don’t feel like I’ve gotten anywhere; I’m still the same scared kid I was at 20, spinning my wheels and praying for something, anything – except now I have the added burden of feeling like I’m running out of time. I still have so much to do and, frustratingly, I’m not sure I’m much closer to knowing how to do it. Six months ago I thought I knew; six months from now I might think I know again.

Have you ever looked at one of those maps they have in malls and museums and airports and felt a strange thrill of grace when you see the arrow that says you are here? Of course intellectually you know that someone chose this specific location for the map and then marked that specific spot on the map, but even knowing this I find it hard not to look at those words and feel like I’ve been saved by a stroke of luck. They found me! I was just standing here feeling lost and they found me!

I’m trying to learn to live my life with the idea that wherever I am – whether I feel like I’m moving forward or backward or standing still – someone somewhere could make a map that says you are here. And I’ll know that even if it’s not clear to me right then, there is a path on that map that leads to the exit and there is a path that leads to my departure gate and there is a path that leads to the food court. And no matter what path I choose, I will eventually find another map that, comfortingly, tells me that I am here.

Everything has only ever been leading to this.

And this.

And this.

And whatever comes next.

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Now You Are Five

19 Jan

Dear Theo,

Five is a big one, eh? Half a decade. An outstretched hand with every finger proudly displayed. 1,826 loops around the sun.

You look so grownup lately. You’ve lost what little baby roundness you had and now you’re all skinny legs and big feet. You don’t sound like a baby anymore, either. You pepper your conversations with big words and thoughtful observations. Sometimes your brain is going faster than your mouth and you stumble over what you’re trying to say, then complain that you can’t get it out – but you always do, eventually, once you slow down enough to put the syllables in the right order.

I’ve always wondered how much of our personalities are innate and how much are shaped by the circumstances in which we grow up, but looking back through your other birthday letters it’s hard not to feel like you’ve always been exactly who you are. The things I want to tell you about yourself haven’t changed much since the first letter I wrote to you when you were two – you’re still funny, still charming, still easygoing and friendly. You’re stubborn, and when you want to master something you don’t give up easily. You still hate sleeping.

Your teachers tell me that you’re doing very well socially – there isn’t a single kid in your class who doesn’t consider you to be their friend. You have a fluidity that lets you move between different groups of peers with an ease that makes me envious. I ask you every day who you played with at school, and I always get different answers – sometimes you’ve gone tobogganing with R, or played house with E and U, or built a pretend castle with M.

One of your classmates says she wants to marry you, but you say you’re never going to get married because you’re going to be a farmer.

This past September you started public school. Downtown. In French. In a class with 23 other kids you’d never met before September. This was a big change from your tiny, homey daycare in Forest Hill, and it certainly wasn’t without its challenges. I kind of approached with the attitude that if we threw you in the water, you’d probably learn to swim – after all, that’s what I did when I was your age, and I turned out ok, right? We had some rough patches this fall and I don’t know if I’d make the same choices again, but I’ll be damned if you aren’t pulling through with mostly flying colours.

We’ve gone through some difficult times this year. One night – maybe the worst night – I was trying to talk to you about your behaviour at school for what seemed like the millionth time and I started crying.

“I just want you to be a good listener,” I said.

You started crying too, and I was sure that you were about to apologize or promise to do better.

Instead, you said, “I just want to be able to do whatever I want.”

I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry harder.

You’re not as easy for me to understand these days. You’re more opaque; I can’t always figure out what you’re thinking or what motivates your behaviour. I know that babies always think they’re an extension of their parents, but for a long time it felt like you were a sort of extension of me, or maybe another iteration of me – I knew you somehow, just like I knew myself. That’s slowly changing, and I know it’s very normal and healthy. You’re moving away from me and becoming your own person with private thoughts and desires and that’s exactly how this is supposed to happen.

But I do miss those moments of communion where I wasn’t sure where my self ended and yours began. Those aren’t exactly the right words, but they’ll have to do for now.

I love you. I love the way your eyes get so big and blue when you’re excited about something. I love your wild imagination (and all the bizarre things I overhear you say when you’re playing pretend). I love your empathy and your thoughtfulness, how you like to pick out presents for people and you always seem to know what they like. I love how you practice French pronunciations in your room, rolling your Rs over and over until you get it just right. I love the moments we look at each other out of the corners of our eyes and burst out laughing just because. I love that your life goal is to get me a spacesuit that matches yours.

Remember earlier when I said you were very much the same person that you always had been? Well, that’s kind of true and not true. I used to always joke about how little interest you had in art – in fact, I mentioned in last year’s letter that you kind of suck at drawing – and all of the sudden now you’re all over it. You love drawing all kinds of things, but your favourite things to create are blueprints and assembly guides. We got you a loft bed and put a little table and chair set under it and now you call that space your “invention dimension.” You’ll happily spend hours under there “inventing” things like a poop factory or a robot that picks up garbage.

So I guess that as much as personalities might seem set and innate and unchangeable, we probably all have the capacity for change, eh?

I feel like this year you’ve taken your first steps in the grownup world. It’s been scary, and it’s going to keep being scary for a while, I bet. I’m helping you choose your path, and that fact obviously carries a lot of weight with it. Lots of times I don’t know what I’m doing and all I can do is make the best decision possible based on the currently available data. But we’re figuring this out, you know? And I’ll keep running along behind you, acting like your training wheels until you can finally steer this thing on your own.

Happy birthday, Theo.

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A sketch of our apartment building with a secret fort on top and also two spy planes and a pet frog

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Assembly instructions for a robot

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Baby’s first Jays game

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Baby’s first jazz show

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When you fall asleep playing with your dinos

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Practicing his nurturing skills

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Still really into My Little Pony

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Dressed up as a vampire pirate for Hallowe’en because honestly why should you have to choose between the two?

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Blowing out the candles at his fifth birthday