My Big Fat Life RETURNS: Apologies, new ventures and the realization you can’t have it all

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, April 16, 2012


I have missed this – this beautiful and direct line to so many readers each Monday. I have been away, but have tried on a few occasions to get back here.

For four weeks I took an official break, letting editors know I needed some time.

When my break was over, I did send along a few things. One column was too late, one was too long, and one couldn’t be printed. I got discouraged, and took another break. I tried to write again, but there were weeks I was just too tired to write; sometimes I couldn’t come up with a clear focus, and other weeks I was just too busy.

I think this is the longest I’ve been away from the paper in the five-and-a-half years I’ve penned a piece here.

I am not sure I am able to write here as regularly as I used to.

I have come to the realization I cannot do everything I want to do.

My mother was right.

Like most kids growing up, I had a long list of “I wannas.”

I clearly remember I wanted to do so much and be so many things. The list, especially in my pre-teen years, was endless.

I was one of the first generations to see my future as something I could choose. Society began to tell me I could do anything I wanted to do if I tried hard enough.

I’d verbalize my dreams to my parents and many times my mom would tell me that sometimes you can’t do everything you want to do. Sometimes I understood her thinking, but other times I reasoned with inexperienced kid logic, believing her explanations were about what she could not do because she was a parent. I saw her as a woman with responsibilities, which meant she couldn’t always sit back, and read a novel when she wanted, or have a night out with the girls if she felt like it, or serve us potato chips for supper.

I didn’t realize that her warnings were about making choices – sometimes-hard choices – about what you have to leave behind in pursuit of a dream.

I am beginning to worry that this column may be something I have to choose to leave behind.

Many of you know I’ve been working on a new venture – a magazine about the people, places and history of New Brunswick. ( agelessNB has consumed all of my free time lately. My Big Fat Life has always been big and full.

My plate used to include my regular home responsibilities with my husband and children, my job teaching journalism at the college, my role on Woodstock town council and my writing. Now my plate also has heaping spoonfuls of busy lunch hours filled with phone calls and planning, early mornings where I rise before everyone else so I can write, evenings where, after kids are in bed, invoices are filled out and paperwork is completed, and weekends where hockey, church and cadet activities are intertwined with interviews, advertiser meetings and more writing.

That plate has also been filled with a lot of wonderful feedback. People like what I’m trying to achieve, and I really believe agelessNB can make a difference.

Peggy Martin of Woodstock called me last week. She had been wondering where my column had gone and discussed my possible whereabouts with friends. A neighbour dropped by with a copy of the magazine over Easter and it was only then she understood why I wasn’t in the paper.

She loved the magazine and missed the column. She called me her “Monday morning friend.” I felt elated and saddened all at once. I was happy that she loved agelessNB, but sad that I missed out on being with her each Monday.

Another ball dropped. I took a hiatus from the column and failed to let readers know.

Sometimes I wonder what kind of example I’m setting for my kids.

What my children see lately is a mom consumed. Some evenings I’ve missed bedtime tuck-ins, I’ve been absent at more than a few supper hours leading up to the printing of each issue, and I’ve missed spending simple, basic downtime with their dad.

I try and remind them this will (God willing) get better. Once the magazine is established further, once we cultivate contacts, once the word gets out, the hard work of distribution, advertising, and getting freelancers will be something that happens with little effort.

I really believe the goal of connecting people, of telling important stories and sharing our journey is something that will become important to many – not just this crazy, stressed, tired mom. But until then, the dream of success in this venture is far-off.

My father always told me that things worth doing are things worth doing well. But doing some things well comes at a cost, I’m discovering. What costs I’m willing to pay are obvious.

My kids and husband are the most important parts of my quality-of-life equation. My students are a secondary part, with the community and the magazine coming a close third. What gets ‘dropped’ in the future to achieve the goals I feel are important for my personal happiness and fulfillment will need to come down to what I can afford to lose and what I can’t.

As I struggle to find balance this spring, I hope that My Big Fat Life gets to be a part of my quality-of-life equation. If it isn’t, I am thankful that many of you – my beautiful readers – will understand and support me.

Sadly, that won’t make it any easier if I have to say goodbye.

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock. You can email her at, or join her group, My Big Fat Life, on Facebook. You can also follow her on Twitter @MY_BIG_FAT_LIFE


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My Big Fat Life: FEAR FACTOR has nothing on being a new Mom…

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, January 23, 2012

When my first child entered the world I was a young 20 year old and still in college. I don’t remember much about the time – things were so hectic that those first six months were pretty much a blur. I don’t think I suffered from postpartum depression because I don’t remember feeling down. I joke about not having it because I didn’t have time to have it, but really I think I was just lucky. Kristen was born in February and aside from taking care of her, my studies were first and foremost. I was lucky to have help from my parents, but that didn’t mean things were a cakewalk. There were extra pressures associated with school and catching up after being off for a couple of weeks and the constant worry of whether or not I’d have enough money to live.

Nine years later, finally married, settled and working, I get to experience and enjoy baby number two. James arrives while we are living and working in Iqaluit. While the labour is something I’d rather not reminisce about, the fact I was able to have a child normally after a c-section was a blessing. I felt better almost immediately after his birth – recovering in days rather than weeks.

But that didn’t mean there weren’t problems.

When James arrived my parents were more than two thousand kilometers away and I had never taken care of a newborn by myself; not without someone there, not without someone to answer my questions, and most importantly, not without someone to alleviate my fears. I was rusty at this ‘having a baby’ thing. Trying to remember details of events encapsulated in a sleep-deprived period is hard.

What I remember about those first weeks is that breastfeeding hurts if you don’t know how to do it, that people will help if you ask them, that it’s okay to cry, and that you’re not supposed to know everything. Thinking we are failing in those first few weeks because we can’t ‘read’ our child well is like thinking you should know a person well enough to marry them after the first date.

You’ve literally just met this person – this is new territory for both of you. Sure, you carried this wee creature inside of you for nine months, but they are their own person from day one, and it takes time, patience and a lot of trial and error in getting to know them.

I remember sitting in my living room crying while I was nursing James at some ungodly hour of the morning when he was about two weeks old. My breasts hurt with every suckle and I couldn’t control my tears. I wondered what I had done to our perfectly serene little life. I had brought a baby into this house and in doing so had disrupted everything. I was a frumpy mess of a woman who seemed to have lost her identity. I was a slave to this feeding monster who had not only ruined my stomach but was working hard at ruining my breasts too.

That night was probably the lowest point of those first six weeks.

That time remains a blur but memories of my mental state are very clear. I felt lost despite all the glorified images of motherhood that surrounded me. I wondered why I couldn’t be like ‘them’. I blamed myself for the messy house; I was a permanent witch for a couple of weeks, as I existed on little or no sleep. I ate more than I thought I should be – a side effect of your body producing food for another body – and I couldn’t seem to hobble together a meal for my family. The thing that bothered me most was my inability to follow through on what should have been very basic daily tasks, things like showering two days in a row or combing my hair.

And while my husband helped as much as he could in taking over other duties and making me feel better, unless he could arrange for the ‘breast-milk fairy’ to miraculously visit him in the middle of the night, the things I needed help with most were things no one else could do.

Four and a half years later we tempted fate again. Kathryn arrived in the middle of a house renovation in April – a project that was supposed to be completed well before her arrival. The child may have been different, but the story stayed much the same. I wondered what I had done, as I held this innocent child who single handedly disrupted our perfectly organized schedules. My inability to cope well in those first weeks caused by undue stress related to sleep deprivation once again made me angry with everyone and severely interrupted my hygiene schedule.

After surviving these horrible weeks, much like a wounded soldier, I vowed to share my story and let expectant Mom’s know that it’s not like the commercials and parent magazine images make it out to be. I don’t try to shock people, but ease them into conversations surrounding ‘the truth.’

I tell people to be prepared for feeling horrible, for feeling inadequate – that not everyone feels this way, but most of us do. Be ready for feeling like you’re ugly, that you’re fat, that you are the most unattractive woman with this ‘thing’ stuck to your breast 24-7. I remind them that every mother is different, that every child is unique, and that, God willing, they’ll become the women I curse – you know the ones; the ‘fit into her jeans the day after giving birth with a perfect baby who sleeps through the night after the second day home and is always happy and breastfeeds like a pro’ type mom.

Some laugh…. and others give you that look – you know that look I’m talking about – the squinted eye look usually accompanied by a short giggle and then a sideways glance that says, without words, ‘she’s joking…right?’

But horror stories aside (oh, and I can tell those…. three kids, two over nine pounds, both of them born up north where you don’t have the comfort of pain killing drugs unless you’re having a c-section) there are many silver linings in these clouds, and LOTS of gold at the end of the coming rainbows.

Sure, you smell like spit up, and you hadn’t had the chance to shower today, but your baby smiled at you – she looked at you and beamed – you got to see this first because you were holding him while he was feeding for the 90th time today. You got that gift because she planned it just for you.

Sure, you don’t recognize your body anymore, but that body wants to be hugged by a little body over and over and over again, and that love, and the witnessing of that bond makes another body want you…. that partner who felt guilty in the delivery room, the guy who took all your insults and snapped sentences throughout those horrible times without saying a word still loves you, still wants you, and feels even more connected to you through the love you share for this tiny little person.

Sure, your house is a mess, and you can recite entire sections of Disney movies, and you’ve been known to use the word “poopie” in a sentence in public while adults are present. And yes, you’ve had in-depth discussions about things you’ve never talked about before – cracked nipples, stretch marks, diaper contents, spit up and snot colour – but you’re more aware and concerned for the world around you. You pay attention to what’s important, you feel more deeply about everything, you want to ensure the world is a better place for your baby. You’ve become a better human being.

And of course you are stuck at home on nights that other friends might be out; your social life has all but dried up, and some nights a ‘date’ could mean you’ve both been successful at showering that particular day and the child has fallen asleep before you have, and are briefly reminded that you are still a sexual being and loved as such.

But there’s more…. and it gets better each year. My kids are my favourite comedy channel, my kids are the best things about me, my kids make me proud, teach me lessons, remind me that life isn’t supposed to be perfect and my kids make up a big part of the person I have become.

These kinds of transformations happen for many, not just those of us who have birthed babies, but anyone who has helped parent a child, or who has fallen in love with a beautiful little person. It happens to any human who realizes that the birth of a baby offers hope for the world.

Children are worth it – but in those first few horrible weeks of getting to know a child, it can be hard to see beyond the sleep deprived, showerless life you lead with this little baby who doesn’t seem to understand how the world works just yet.

But therein lies the gift…. after those weeks are over you get to be their tour guide on the trip of a lifetime.


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My Big Fat Life: Looking back on the gifts of the year…

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, January 9, 2012

Many of us opened some lovely and beautiful gifts over the holiday, but many more of us have received some pretty amazing and important gifts all year long – many delivered without wrapping and bows.

Here are just a few of mine:

Gifts from my husband:

Stephen surprises me on a regular basis – but it’s not with anything bought.  Sometimes it’s a cup of coffee delivered to my desk on a day he has off and I have a full teaching schedule.  Other times he’s come home early from work so he can take Kathryn to hockey so I can have a break before I head to a meeting that is expected to last more than a couple of hours. 

Most recently he headed to a place where I was going to be conducting a series of interviews.  When I arrived he met me at the door.  It happened to coincide with the end of his workday and he wanted to stop in and say hi before he headed home.  As I made my way up the steps of the Hartland Arena, I saw him in the doorway smiling at me. I melted. I am a very lucky woman.

Gifts from my children:

My kids give me gifts every single day.  There are cute written and drawn ‘presents’ from my youngest.  She truly loves to write and draw, and I am the lucky recipient of many of her creations.  Some I have tucked away in her ‘school box’ to keep for her, others have made their way to my office, and some are kept in Mom’s special keepsake spot – like the note she penned last year.  She wrote that she loved each of us, listing our names and why she loved us, adding, “and even if they die like my cat Pepper I will still love them.”  

My son has provided me with many gifts.  He’s the family ‘hug bug’.  He is our funny man who’s quick with a joke, loves to make you laugh, and is quite sensitive to the feelings of others – quickly assessing when things aren’t right and trying to make things better if he can.  He loves me and I know it.  Even when I’ve denied him something he really wants, he accepts my reasoning and doesn’t harbour a grudge.  It’s a hard thing to say no to your kids, but it’s a harder thing to have them hate you because of it.  I count him as a gift every day in the way he handles himself, the way he understands the job his father and I have in raising him right, and in how compassionate he is towards others.

Our beautiful daughter Kristen is a gift that keeps on giving.  She tested our parenting skills, our patience and our marriage in her teen years.  Now as she is about to turn 24, she is a wise and compassionate young woman.  She knows the sacrifices we made for her, she understands the tests she presented us with, and is grateful that our love never wavered.  Gratitude and understanding from her are gifts I get in ever phone call, every embrace, and every visit.  When she reminds us of our steadfast love throughout her pubescent rebellion stages, we remind her that our love and commitment to her never wavered because we clung to the memory of the sweet, loving, caring child we knew – that sustained us.  We had faith she’d return to us, and are thankful she did.

Gifts from students:

UNB professor Victor Hendricken once told me, “Students don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”  I take that to heart.  And while I consistently give to my students, they consistently give me so much more.  There is no better feeling in the world than seeing someone work hard and succeed.  I watch young people do this every single day.  Some workdays fill my heart with such pride I feel like my heart is going to burst out of my chest.  I love what I do.  But it’s not all joy.  Some days I leave work with a heavy heart.  When you truly care, students have a tendency to open up to you.  You can end up knowing much more than you bargained for – but many who struggle just need someone to listen to them, someone to nod in understanding, someone to see the person they truly are without judging what they’ve done.  But that confidence, their ability to talk to me about anything, has opened my eyes – to their world, the culture they live in, the struggles they face.  I think my students have made me a better person, and that is a gift I cherish.

Gifts from my readers:

I have been writing “My Big Fat Life” for five and a half years now.  That’s a lot of sharing.  But I get so much more out of this deal than you do – and I’m not talking about the small fee the paper pays me.  My readers are kind and sweet and some have become friends.  I get beautiful emails (to date nearly 12 hundred of them!) and letters and even phone calls.  I have received baked goods, sympathy cards, and knitted gifts. I’ve been hugged in malls, at the hospital, and in my driveway.  I’ve been stopped in restaurants, at the movie theatre and even in the women’s washroom at Chapters.  I have been blessed with beautiful people who connect, who share their own stories, and who thank me for taking the time to highlight some difficult subjects.  I thank each and every one of you for making “My Big Fat Life” a part of your Monday routine.

 And while I love the wonderful gifts I’ve received from my loved ones over the years, the gifts that can’t be wrapped are always the ones that are much more precious and so much more valuable.

 Happy New Year!

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My Big Fat Life: Taking time to really listen to one another is important

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, December 26, 2011

My early education of the Mormon and Jehovah Witness faith wasn’t the most enlightening.  I was being babysat with my brother at Nanny Blackburn’s home.  She lived at the very end of a little lane in the Johnson Trailer Park in Timberlea, Nova Scotia.

 The trailer’s location by the lake allowed us to view the entrance of the park, having a perfect view of who was coming and going at any given time.  When my grandmother got a glimpse of people, mostly young men dressed in white shirts and black pants, going door to door, she’d draw the curtains and make us sit quietly as they knocked on the door.

 When pressed about why she wouldn’t greet her guests, she felt she didn’t want to waste their time, and that she already had her own religion (we’re all Catholic) and wasn’t interested in hearing about theirs.  I didn’t question her thinking, believing that if my grandmother felt we should avoid talking to people who arrived on your doorstep unannounced and uninvited and peddling religion, then that’s what we should do.

 I was young then – maybe 7 or 8 when this first happened.  I remember my skewed thought process went something like:  these men would come to your door and sign you up to their church, so you had to avoid them so you could stay in your own faith.

I am older and wiser now, and have a better understanding of multiple faiths.  I embrace those who come to my door – some figuratively, some physically.

 Unlike the unwanted telemarketer who calls our home interrupting our supper hour and family time, these people, members of the Mormon Church, are taking a risk every day for their faith.  They wander neighborhoods’, literally on a mission, spreading their word, and fulfilling what their church believes should take place – a type of outreach. They run into many people, like my grandmother, who would hide and avoid answering the door, and they also get a few doors shut on them.

 But in my house some of the young people who new to our community, sent here on required ‘Mormon missions’, have been invited in and sometimes fed.

Some of the young men I’ve met over the years have been far from home  – some living on their own for the first time.  A few of these young men are shy, some have told stories of family members being sick at home and being unable to go visit, but all are kind human beings who just want to connect and be validated in their conviction.

Much has been written about the Mormon faith and, in particular, their ‘missions’.  Some have called situations cruel – a young son unable to go home to be with his mother when she died, another unable to go to his father’s funeral – feeling that they must fulfill their mission work.  I’m not here to judge, I leave that up to a higher power.

But I am here to mother.  I can’t turn that off.  Knowing these young men, many just 18 years old, are here without family and friends softens my heart.  I think of my own boy and what I’d want for him if he were living away.  I look at them differently because I know they’re here alone.

I talk to them, I provide them with a refreshment or a bit of lunch, and kind words.  One day two young men spent an entire afternoon on my back deck talking to my kids about Utah and geography, and water balloon fight strategies.  After hearing me talk about plans for cleaning out the storage area under our back deck, they arrived unannounced the next day offering help.

I teased they were wasting their time because we were practicing Catholics and are active members of the St. Gertrude’s Parish.  They teased back saying they can always hope, and that maybe lifting heavy things for me would change my mind.  We shared laughter over the moving of wood, a barbecue and a snow blower.

People have a right to choose religion in our country; people have a right to have opinions about other religions; people have the right to not answer their door too. What I think we fail to remember is that is that ‘people’ have faces – we aren’t just nameless ‘people’.  We are all caring human beings who should be treated with respect – no matter what church we belong to.

Just last week a woman came to our door, took one look at my husband, and asked for me by name.

We met once at the Hilltop Vegetable Market in Woodstock.  She introduced herself then, telling me that even though we hadn’t met previous, she knew me well – she read about my family in the Gleaner each Monday.

When she came inside she was holding a Watchtower publication.  We hugged, she quoted scripture, I asked her if she’d like to come in for a refreshment.  She declined the offer, saying her and her friend were with others, and had to get going.  She left me some literature and I sent her off with a copy of my magazine and a big hug.

We connected, but not in relation to her faith or mine.  We connected because we took the time to listen to one another and we cared enough to respect each other’s beliefs.   Religious beliefs aside, I think God would approve.

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My Big Fat Life: Forget Gaga: Theresa’s thankful her kids are fans of REAL celebrities!

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, December 19, 2011

As 2011 comes to a close, I find myself again counting my blessings.

I am grateful for many things in my life. I am blessed a loving husband and wonderful children. I am thankful for a good job, good friends, and a warm and dry home to live in. I give thanks for having enough food to eat, a job that provides for my family, and for my continued health and the health of those I love.

I am grateful for the kind and intelligent students I am privileged to have in my classroom, I am grateful for the opportunity to write and connect with so many people, and I am especially grateful for the beautiful people I get to meet in this capacity.

I count myself lucky to call His Honour, Lt.-Gov. Graydon Nicholas, and his wife, her honour, Beth, as friends.

I first met the lieutenant-governor at my church, shortly after he was sworn in. He came to a special mass at St. Gertrude’s in Woodstock, at the request of his friend, Father Bill Brennan. As he greeted some entering the church that day, I introduced myself.

“I know who you are,” he said, smiling, “my wife and I enjoy your articles in The Daily Gleaner every Monday.”

I remember turning red, and I remember feeling extremely humbled, and realizing I was a bit speechless in that moment.

I hope I said thank you in our exchange, but I can’t remember if I did.

After reading about the varied history of Graydon Nicholas when he was appointed our lieutenant-governor, I remember thinking how lucky our province is, having a man with such a strong background of caring.

I have covered court for many years in my career as a journalist, and I have also lived in aboriginal communities for nearly 15 years of that career. I have been blessed to know many a “Graydon” in that time span – men and women who fight for not only the rights of their people, but also work toward the understanding of their people by the non-aboriginal community. This constant drive for caring connection is beautiful to witness.

We chatted again at the Atlantic Journalism Awards luncheon, which he graciously hosted at Government House last year. Two of my student’s received awards, and after the luncheon he invited us upstairs to tour the art on display. My students, Graydon, Beth and I talked about wellness that afternoon, and my recent columns about suicide, bullying and mental health.

My nine-year-old daughter came home one day last fall announcing, “The Queen’s FRIEND was in school today!” She was referring to the lieutenant-governor.

And while her original interest was peaked because as lieutenant-governor, Graydon and his wife were able to meet Queen Elizabeth, her interest turned to really liking this man and his wife because of the role they’ve taken on in that capacity. We talked about the Nicholas’ most of that supper hour, and again before bed.

My family knows how much this couple means to me – how much I respect what they do and what they are trying to achieve. Like his mom, my 14-year-old son now follows what the Nicholas’ do – closely watching coverage in the newspaper, on television and on radio.

I knew James really wanted to meet the lieutenant-governor.

When I launched my magazine, agelessNB, we invited Graydon and his wife to the celebration. Earlier in the fall, the lieutenant-governor provided a story for our last page. He detailed the arrival of their ‘Christmas baby’ – his older son who came into the world on Dec. 23, 1969. Graydon really wanted to make the magazine kick-off, but had a prior commitment.

My son was disappointed but understood.

Then, a week ago today, we celebrated the National Aboriginal Day of Prayer at St. Gertrude’s in Woodstock. My daughter had hockey and my son had Army Cadet band practice. I went, but couldn’t tell James that Graydon would be present, knowing he would be disappointed again. Thankfully the mass went longer than expected, and my hopes increased. If the couple were going to stick around after mass, I could arrange a meeting. They were staying, and I dashed off. I was able to pick up James after band and bring him to the church for the reception.

When I told my son what we were doing, he was excited.

It was lovely. They chatted and my son beamed.

On our way home, James admitted this was a pretty special night – and it was.

James got to meet a man who has conviction; James believes the lieutenant-governor and his wife are special because of their beliefs. He likes them and follows what they do because they are trying to create something positive in everything they lend their talents to.

They are ‘celebrities’ to my children, but for all the right reasons.

So as this year comes to a close, I am also thankful that Lt.-Gov Graydon Nicholas and her honour Beth are my kid’s idols, and that this beautiful couple continues to care enough to use their ‘celebrity’ to make a real difference in our world.

I’ll take them over Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber any day!

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock. You can email her at, or join her group, Big Fat Life, on Facebook.  You can also follow her on Twitter @MY_BIG_FAT_LIFE.


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My Big Fat Life: The Attention My In-Attention Needs…

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, December 12, 2011

A long time ago my father asked me to ‘screw my head on tight and head in one direction’.

He was commenting on my constant changing of gears – whether I was trying to organize my house, do laundry, help my daughter with homework or engage in conversation, I could almost move in three hundred directions at once. Many times I would try and focus was on one thing, but would quickly be drawn to another.

I had a form of ADHD and didn’t know it.

I have been formally diagnosed as having ADHD–inattentive disorder.

My mother always knew I wasn’t quite as organized as most kids.  I remember in grade 8 or 9 when we went shopping for school supplies I always ended up with an agenda book in my bag. When I forgot something like studying for a test and made a bad mark I’d be reminded to use the day timer I was bought.

I had to be reminded about my agenda book and a lot of other things many times over the years.  Thankfully the ritual of always writing things down finally stuck.

Fast forward to college and I knew the only way I’d succeed is if I kept myself organized.   It was then that organization became an obsession.  I was the ‘paperwork, note taking, and organizational’ queen.  Anytime anyone missed a class they’d come asking for my notes.

I moved into a great career for someone with attention issues.  Journalism was a perfect fit.  I retained information surprisingly well.  I could spend a day or two on something and move on to the next thing.  With the organizational skills I had honed over the years, I became the keeper of the future file in many a workplace before the files went electronic.  Even then, I was the person who meticulously and religiously filled out all the information needed for archiving – ensuring we didn’t miss court dates or opportunities to do follow-up stories.

But I wasn’t perfect.  I missed the odd thing – or would forget a previous engagement if I was at a function and asked to do something on a specific date.  A few times I missed BIG things.  Without my day timer handy, I couldn’t recall a lot of things I had to do, or would wrongly recall what date I had to do them.  Sometimes when things got busy I would forget to refer to my day timer.  That caused serious problems sometimes.

On those days, I either got caught, or got saved.

Up until two years ago my husband was my crossing guard, my catcher’s mitt and my lifesaver.  I have, at times, called him my external brain.  When I really got myself in a bind he’d come running to my rescue – picking up kids, picking up items for pot lucks, covering my butt so I wouldn’t fall on my face, and consoling me when I felt defeated by my crazy, mixed up mind.

When my son was having difficulty at school we had him assessed.  I knew he had attention issues, but I never thought of myself as being like him.

He was really forgetful – losing backpacks and shoes, and hoodies and books.

“I’m not that bad…” I kept telling myself.

I was in denial.

I didn’t see how bad my situation was because I was only concentrating on his attention shortcomings.  I was catching his falls – my husband was catching mine.

When I read his assessment report, it was like I was reading about myself.

Everything, but his Dyslexia diagnosis, screamed my name.

I remember crying in my doctors office, I remember feeling horrible guilt that I put my husband through so much grief for nearly a quarter century, I remember feeling ashamed at how I treated my son in some cases.

Just like I couldn’t help my ‘forgetful mind’, neither could he, yet I would be at him to ‘remember’, when, in some instances, it was nearly impossible.

For years we tried everything to help our boy – agendas, organizational help with books and lockers, notes to teachers, emails flowing from both sides, positive reinforcement – you name it, we tried it.  For him, nothing worked – nothing stuck – and life got harder and harder for him at school.

The assessment told us to talk to our doctor about medication that may help him.  I remember the conversation with the psychologist well.

“I’ve spent years helping James develop the tools and the coping mechanisms to help him deal with his shortcomings.  I don’t want to drug my son… I’ve avoided this so far…”

“And how has that worked?” she asked me.

I remember being silent and then saying, “I don’t want my son to be a zombie.”

“The drugs are different now…” was how her response started.

She talked about the advances in medication, about the way his brain works and how certain chemicals, in some people, can help.

“It’s just another tool to try,” she explained.

“If it doesn’t work, you’ve tried something else, and you’ll move on to another tool.”

At first I felt defeated…. all these years of moving in one direction only to be sent back in the direction I most feared.

My doctor was reassuring.

“We’ll meet every two weeks while we try this out…”

If there were any issues I could call the office immediately and she’d squeeze us in.

We got his prescription, went through a few dosage changes, and something happened.

James was able to pay attention in school; James was able to remember some basic things like homework and writing notes in his agenda, James was feeling better about his schoolwork.

At the two-month mark his doctor asked him how he felt.

“Better.  I feel like I know what’s going on.”

When she asked him when was the first time he felt that way, his response made me cry.

He said he was in math class and his teacher was showing the class how to do something on the board and then got students to complete practice questions.  James said the bell rang, signaling the end of class, and he said remembered being amazed that he got the questions done and noticed he hadn’t looked out the window once that class.

It made me happy and heartbroken all at the same time.  I thought of all the years I spent  – my mind closed to even the suggestion that a drug could be considered a useful tool.  All this time I relied on the anecdotal observations of others – I wouldn’t even research the issue because of what I had been told.  All this time I thought I could provide enough support to enable my son to overcome his attention issues.  All these years I thought I was this open-minded person with liberal ideas and progressive thinking when really I was just a scared Mom who couldn’t look at things objectively because I loved my little boy so much.

I have a lot of guilt related to my decisions prior to his assessment and doctor’s help, but now I also have a lot of hope related to his progress to date.

I’m not saying drugs are the answer for everybody, but I am saying that drugs have made a difference in my son’s life.

Don’t get me wrong – they haven’t solved everything – he still forgets and he still needs to keep writing things down, but he has progressed in school because he’s now able to concentrate better.

James’ formal assessment and his new tool has not only helped him improve his marks, it has also helped his self-esteem.  Seeing him smile and feel good about himself and his schoolwork makes Mom smile and feel a little less guilty about her past decisions.

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My Big Fat Life: Able children, young drivers and (hopefully) a lesson learned

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, November 28, 2011


My 14-year-old son called the police last week.

He did this on his own – without my prompting, without my permission, and without me there.

He walks his 9-year-old sister home from school each day. From Monday to Friday she catches the bus to his school, and then they make their way home from there.

Last week my daughter was nearly hit by a car.

An 18-year-old driver was going a little too fast along the entrance road to our civic centre’s lower parking lot. It had been snowing and the young man hadn’t reduced his speed. When he tried to stop at the end of the lane his car started to fishtail. His car swerved close enough to Kathryn that she raised her hands to cover her face and nearly fell into the ditch. Kathryn was walking in front of her brother at the time. James estimates she was about 5 feet ahead of him. When James saw the car start to slide and slip, he shouted her name. That’s when she looked up and saw the car’s side rear-end aiming right for her. James estimates the car missed her by a couple of inches. Kathryn said she ‘felt the car’ and thought it was only about a hand-length away – her hand length. My heart stopped when they told me the story.

James checked if she was okay and made his way to the civic center office where he called the police. He had the sense to look at the license plate at the time and repeated the numbers to himself as they made their way up the hill.

He called the police and recounted the story. The police later called me and said they would visit to the young driver and use this incident as an education tool – explaining that had things gone badly, his visit would have been much different.

The officer commented on how mature my son was, but that while he was looking for justice (James wanted this young man’s license suspended) that nothing actually happened, and the officer hoped I would explain to James that they did take this incident seriously and that they would talk to the young driver. He also wanted me to thank James him for calling and doing what he felt was right.

I was very proud of James, and very thankful for my daughter being spared injury that afternoon.

I momentarily thought maybe I should change my rules – that maybe I should be picking up our kids each day after school. But that thought quickly left my mind. I can’t protect them at every moment of every day and I really don’t want them to think I can, either.

Call me crazy, but they need to know how to handle things on their own, and they need to know they can be trusted, to some extent, with their own safety. They need to know the world isn’t perfect and that Mom and Dad can’t fix or prevent everything.

My son’s ability to handle this situation correctly gave me a feeling that maybe, just maybe, I’m doing some of this parenting stuff correctly.

This is the second year I’ve made my children walk home from school each day. Unless there’s a blizzard or a thunder and lightening storm, I make them walk the ten-minute route to home. They’ve been equipped with umbrellas, proper clothing and they’ve memorized contact numbers. They take the same route each day and call Mom as soon as they get in the door. They are home together for about 50 minutes before my workday ends.

This is a non-negotiable item in our family. Sadly my making our kids walk is unusual in my neighbourhood. Look at the traffic lineups at the schools each day and you’ll know why. Most of my friends and neighbours drop off and pick up their kids from school each day. Very few kids who are not on a bus-route actually walk home. That’s not to say all of my friends and neighbours kids get lifts – some do have to walk – but many aren’t made to walk.

I had to walk to school. I trekked to and from school, no matter the weather. For seven years, minus the first month of kindergarten, I did this. Day in and day out I walked to and from school. Thankfully nothing happened to me. But I learned a lot and developed some problem solving skills. I found ways to deal with arguments among friends, I learned how to navigate traffic, I was able to figure out what to do when my brother hurt himself in Grade 4, and I remember those walks being a pleasant end to every day. Those 20 minutes I had to walk home represented a winding down, a bit of exercise at the end of a day of mostly sitting, and a chance to breathe some fresh air.

I want my kids to have those same things. I want them to be able to navigate life, and fall once and a while, without me around, so they know how to pick themselves up.

Last weeks heart stopping experience gave me pause for thought, but also gave me comfort that my children will be okay in this world, with or without me by their sides.

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