The simple joy of a long, hot shower in a completely empty change room after a freezing August morning spent teaching lessons at the outdoor pool is one of my favourite memories from lifeguarding during the summers in high school and university. We didn’t even know the luxury of having staff only showers, so the privacy and the silence were golden. So was devouring fresh cinnamon buns from Soups (way more often than we should have), reading People Magazine and Us Weekly on breaks, and writing our names on the big beams in the rafters of the guard room at the end of each season.
On the other hand, there are also a few memories that I wish I could erase, like having to remove dead mice from the skimmers in the mornings (I would hope & pray so hard that I wouldn’t find any of the little drowned buggers, but there they’d be), the painful sunburns, and the terrible job of cleaning bathrooms after a swim meet.
Most of all though, I remember the people.
I remember the three siblings whose Mom was too busy drinking and doing drugs to feed them, and who would come to afternoon public every single day just because the pool was a safe place to be.
I remember the little Sea Otter who swallowed way too much pool water and threw up all over me.
I remember the mom who would sit on the bleaches and scream at her kids to, “listen to the teacher” as I was trying to teach them.
I remember the morning lane swim crew, and their unique styles: the lady in the far lane bobbing up and down like a loon, another in a pink swim cap who only swam the breast stroke, and the one who slapped the water with his left hand, but not the right, while doing front crawl.
& I remember the ancient little man, who proudly told me he was going to go swimming with his granddaughter and her two small children, proclaiming that he was going to dive right in, to which I replied, “I really wish you wouldn’t. This is the shallow end,” only for him to dive in anyway.
I wrote the bulk of this piece last year, and it’s been sitting in a Google folder ever since. As I’ve been struggling with waves of exhaustion this past week, I was reminded to pull it out, dust it off, and add some polish. As a society we focus so much on new babies, that new moms and their mental and physical health often take a backseat, and my experience is a perfect example.
“And what about you? How have you been doing?” the doctor asks, turning his attention away from my baby for a moment, and swivelling around on his little black rolling stool to face me. His face is compassionate, and it’s the first time anyone other than my mom has asked me how I’m doing lately. Tired. I am so tired, I think. I try to explain to the doctor what I’ve been experiencing: the funny, fuzzy feeling in my head, and the spells where I suddenly need to lie down right now, but can’t, because I need to look after my six-month-old son. How my eyelids often feel droopy to the point where I have to fight to keep them open. The headaches that come on in the afternoons, and radiate through my jaw and down into my teeth making it difficult to concentrate. How my baby sleeps through the night, so I can’t for the life of me figure out why I struggle to make it through the day without desperately needing to have a nap. That I’m mostly still my productive and organized self, checking things off my “To Do” list, volunteering, exercising (I even ran a half marathon in May), and cleaning the house, but how much personal effort it’s been taking to do those things.
“We can send you for blood work, if you like,” he says. Most people I’ve admitted my tiredness to have shrugged it off with a laugh (and I know exactly what they’re thinking: of course you’re tired, you’re a new mom!) so I almost decline the doctor’s offer. It’s my people-pleasing instinct to be agreeable, to not bring too much attention to myself, to maintain the peace in social situations and to make everyone else’s day easier, but I know that something’s not right. I take a breathe, remind myself that I’ll continue to suffer if I don’t advocate for myself, and say yes. I take the printed lab requisition and go straight to the hospital. His office calls a few days later with the results; I have low iron.
“You need to take an iron supplement every other day,” they tell me. I am so relieved I could cry, and I almost do, even though I’m in the middle of The Butcher Block shopping for hamburgers. For weeks I’d been thinking something was inherently wrong with me; that I was lazy, guilty of sloth, one of the seven deadly sins, and I was disgusted with myself because I grew up in a family that so strongly believes in the importance of work that productivity is glorified above all else. My grandpa, for example, once bragged to me about working for almost two years straight without a day off during the oil boom in the 1970s, and casual daily conversations between my mom and grandma centre around what they managed to accomplish: cleaning out the deep freeze, digging all the potatoes in the garden, or taking down their Christmas decorations. This glorification of productivity also colored my understanding of motherhood, and I viewed good moms as possessing seemingly endless supplies of energy and patience; as tirelessly getting up at all hours of the night without hesitation, calmly rocking sick babies to sleep, making lunches, helping with homework, driving kids to practice, and doing it all without tiring, never needing a break or just some time to themselves. I mistakenly believed that their love for their babies should be so strong that it overrides everything else, even their own physical limitations. I grew up thinking that a mom should be some sort of superhero.
With that phone call from my doctor’s office, came some comfort. At least I knew what I am dealing with. More importantly, I finally had confirmation that nothing was wrong with the substance of my character. My love is strong enough to get up at all hours of the night without hesitation, to calmly rock sick babies to sleep, to make lunches, to help with homework, and to drive kids to practice, but I can’t do those things well if my own figurative tank is not full and functioning properly. After a few weeks, I’m still tired, but at least less so. It’s on one of these days, a Sunday in fact, that, I’m struck with a revelation. Just like when the doctor’s office had called the month before, I am so relieved I could cry.
Maybe, I started to wonder, I’m supposed to learn that I can’t be productive all the time; that it’s okay to rest when I’m tired. Perhaps I’m supposed to shift my perspective away from moms being superheroes, and to face the impossible expectations I’ve placed on myself so early on in this perplexing, complicated, and messy journey into motherhood. Maybe this situation isn’t all bad. Maybe my need to rush around, manufacturing a list of tasks to keep myself busy isn’t always the healthiest habit when I’m supposed to be grounding myself in the present moment to experience the small things that really are the big things: the giggles, the smiles, & the little chubby fingers reaching out for mine. Maybe, just maybe, this difficult situation has the important purpose of teaching me that to be a truly great mom I need to slow down and take care of myself too.
Shuswap is my favourite summer place. We’ve been coming off and on for years, and I have so many wonderful childhood memories, especially of camping at the provincial park where we spent hours messing around with walkie-talkies, biking around Coho Lane (with no hands!), playing bocce ball at night, and hiding in the bushes to scare nice people just trying to use the outhouse. We’ve gone house boating, hiked Copper Island, shopped for local pottery, and made sure to eat at all the good spots, like Finz (or Finces, as my dad likes to say) and Moose Mulligans. I still love stopping at the floating store in the narrows to buy ice cream, tubing for hours on end until the outsides of my ankles are raw from rubbing on the tube as we bounce over the wake, and finding the trickling waterfall just up Seymour Arm so we can jump off the boat and swim right up to it, carefully climbing on slippery rocks for the perfect photo.
The past three summers, however, we’ve truly found our happy place, renting the same house in Blind Bay for a week. Not having headed to “the Shwap,” (another of the endearing terms my dad uses when he’s in a great mood from having taken his boat out for a good burn) this summer, I’ve been thinking about, and missing, something that may seem a little odd. I’m missing my yearly dose of inspiration that comes with seeing one of the world’s happiest people in his element.
In Blind Bay it’s become a bit of a tradition to attend the Thursday night outdoor concert, and each year I leave with such a full heart, but it’s not because of the music or the cinnamon-sugar mini donuts, as surprising as that may be. Instead, it’s because of an old dude named Cal with greying hair who likes to wear Bermuda shorts, Hawaiian shirts, and dance his friggen’ heart out.
The first year I was struck with awe when I noticed this man, who I’d later hear someone call Cal, dancing all alone on the grass in front of the stage where a band called The Elk Tribe was playing. While everyone else at the concert was sitting on blankets spread across the ground, milling about with their dogs in tow, or relaxing on lawn chairs and eating burgers from the nearby food truck, Cal was dancing with a seemingly unending source of energy, as if powered by pure joy and enthusiasm. I’d never seen anything like it before. He’d close his eyes, and just move with the music, being truly himself, not appearing to care one iota about any of the rest of us watching him. It was clear that Cal came to the concert to enjoy the music and dance, and that’s exactly what he did, bending his knees, spinning in circles, and nodding to the beat. At one point, while the band was taking a break, Cal’s wife appeared with his supper, a plate of steaming food from home. She never joined him dancing though.
And on each of the next year’s visits, I was delighted to see Cal, obviously a Blind Bay local, continuing to dance alone on the stretch of grass in front of the stage with his eyes closed, and a giant boyish smile plastered across his face.
For someone like me who lacks rhythm, Cal’s dancing is enviable. But Cal is also a yearly reminder of something more significant than my lack of dance moves; as someone who is often self-conscious and worried about what others may think, Cal represents a life free of those worries, and is a clear example of the freedom, and subsequent happiness, that comes with not giving a damn. Cal also reminds me of the importance of doing what you love, even if that means doing it alone.
So thank you old dude with the greying hair, Bermuda shorts, and Hawaiian shirt dancing with a giant smile plastered across your face. Thank you Cal, for the yearly reminder to follow your heart. Serious goals.
The RCMP’s search for fugitives Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky, that began with the murders of American tourist Chyna Deese, and her Australian boyfriend Lucas Fowler, as well as UBC lecturer Leonard Dyck in Northern British Columbia, and is now taking place in Northern Manitoba, has been big news around here this summer. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m completely and utterly fascinated by this case. I love a good true crime story, and this one is more gripping than any podcast, book, or documentary could ever be because it’s unfolding in real time, and in my own country. It’s shocking, sad, mysterious, and I can’t get enough, texting friends for updates, scouring news websites for new information, and following hashtags on Twitter.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been sucked down the true crime rabbit hole though. I spent a month in 2012 recovering from wisdom teeth surgery watching Investigation Discovery’s Disappeared, and wading through the vast world of Websleuths, where forums for specific cases and the missing exist along with evidence and a multitude of theories presented by citizen detectives. My gums throbbing in pain at 1 a.m., I’d find a case on Websleuths and start scrolling. Even now, years later, I’m still haunted by the Sumter County Does, an unidentified couple found murdered in California in the 70’s, and whose post-mortem photographs are forever seared into my memory: Jane Doe’s gaping mouth, and wide, vacant eyes cannot be unseen.
A few months ago I listened to investigative journalist Billy Jensen’s audiobook Chase Darkness With Me, and was struck by his keen insight into people’s fascination with the macabre world of true crime. Jensen explains the appeal this way:
When I heard this gem of information, I was instantly struck with a new, deeper level of understanding about myself. I thrive in environments of order and routine, and I certainly like having things thoroughly organized and “just right,” as a way to combat the anxiety I begin to feel when I can’t control my surroundings. In fact, after a busy, demanding day at school there’s nothing I find more relaxing than throwing on a true crime doc. and kicking back on the couch in my pyjamas with a fuzzy blanket and a giant bowl of popcorn to unwind.
When I engage with a true crime story, it’s not because I’m interested in the blood and gore, or get some strange satisfaction from seeing people suffer. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s the catching of the perpetrator, and the return to order with justice rightly dispensed, or at least the persistent quest towards such an outcome, that soothes me. Like a balm to my frazzled soul, seeing order brought back to chaos just seems right, especially when it’s something I’m constantly striving to bring to all areas of my own life.