ICEBREAKER: DESCRIBE A TIME YOU GOT INTO BIG TROUBLE WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER?
I was always in trouble. And by always, I mean ALWAYS. No matter what happened in (or out of) the house my mother was quick to blame me.
Her favourite cocktail party story was about how I purposely tried to kill her during my birth. I was late, breach and forceps had to be used. The labour was long and arduous. There was a point the doctor came to talk to my father to tell him there was a chance he would lose one or both of us. To this day, I meet random elderly women who were friends with my mother, they look me up and down and tell me how I should be ashamed of myself for almost killing her. Seriously. These are women who themselves have been through the process of childbirth. What unborn child consciously tries to kill their parent? How ridiculous. It was my first experience with the concept that if you say something with enough conviction it is therefore “true” and people will believe it – it was not my last.
It was clear to everyone that in my mother’s eyes I could do no right. Certainly in the years when we (I have two younger sisters) were abandoned to the care of a stream of unqualified nannies (being British does not automatically qualify no matter how many books have been written), who used her disdain and some days hatred for their own shits and giggles. They were often awful to me and I could take it, but when they were cruel to my sisters I was duty-bound to defend them – verbally and physically.
All I know is growing up without maternal care is devastating and becomes a lifelong battle to find worthiness, love and acceptance.
For the other adults in the room: LISTEN TO THE CHILDREN. Unless you are raising complete sociopaths, they don’t have agendas – adults do.
GOING DEEPER: WAS THERE EVER A MOMENT WHEN YOUR LIFE CHANGED COURSE BECAUSE OF AN ACTION YOU TOOK? WHAT WAS IT?
Every time I made a move without a safety net my life irrevocably changed course.
It took a long time for me to take any actions that were 100% owned by me and not orchestrated by a parent. Control was (and often continues to be) a theme.
I broke free by moving laterally, from my position in Buffalo, New York to a position in Calgary, Alberta. It was within the “greater” company, but not necessarily a transfer. My two dogs and I moved to a new country, a new job with a new boss, a new area of “the company”, a new corporate culture, a new country/provincial/city culture, knowing no one. I was very good at what I did and made a lot of money for the company in every position I held. I learned I have very little patience for those who don’t think for themselves – I trained good people who challenged me and I challenged them, I have no time for robots or lazy. I learned how terribly women (especially when they leave to have children) are treated in a primarily male corporate climate. It was truly rewarding and challenging and frustrating and worth every minute.
I married a man every single person who ever knew him told me not to – from all of my friends to his family members, to his co-workers and boss, to his beer-league teammates, literally everyone. I can guarantee you ONE thing about me: if you tell me not to do it, I’m going to do it – do not presume to know enough to tell me what to do. As a result, I was blessed with my four children, a crushed spirit and devastated self-confidence, overflowing journals filled with life lessons, too many extra pounds (I usually call armour), a trashed credit rating and excruciating debt. I threw him out with no safety net. I learned that I can survive, and indeed thrive, in adversity.
I knew Bill wasn’t well when he came to see me and the kids in Fredericton in July 2015. I inquired and he scoffed it off as “nothing”. Five years later when I collected him from the baggage claim area at YVR I knew to my bones that he was sick, this time he agreed, but we thought it was due to the radiation required to beat cancer (which he did). My whole life changed course when I chose to let Bill and love and illness and all of it into my life – and there was a lot to let in. I said “no” the first 17 times he asked me to marry him and when I finally said “yes” I’ve never seen anyone so happy. I followed my heart and chose to have him for as long as I could and at 299 days it was not nearly enough. In the time he was with me, his kind and gentle manner encouraged me to be open to all of the things I knew existed but thought I wasn’t allowed to have: unconditional love, pure joy, acceptance, laughter, constant conversation, sharing of opinions and music and words we loved. Indeed, he continues to be ever-present and has been an integral part of my selling our home and moving to an unknown future – my guiding light.
Every decision made alters your course. The bigger the decision, the bigger the change.
But then again, you can believe “everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same” as noted by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa in his masterwork, The Leopard.