Saturday, September 17, 2016

short of breath

Today my breath comes short. I scroll through Instagram and I see photos of beautiful yoga postures and videos of freeing vinyasas, I see captures of inspired sewing designs brilliantly executed, I see paint applied with fingers in a frenzied need to express and relate through colour and texture. I see musicians and dancers, movers and makers, writers and dreamers. I see words and leadership and teaching and relationship.

My breath comes short. 

It is too much some days, this world. It is too interesting, too complex, too big, too beautiful. 

I am too young, too old, too limited, too small. I want to see everything. I want to do everything. And the knowledge that I cannot, that it cannot be done...

My breath comes short.

The magnitude. The magnificence. It is too much. I am 36 years old and I cannot decide what I want to be when I grow up, because how can I possibly say "That" when there is also this over here and that over there and oh, look at those, too... And so I spin frantically, wanting to see and do and be and end up frozen in place, seeing and doing and being none of the things I so desperately want.

It is all too much. 
It is all just so beautiful.

damsel fly in the corn maze

Friday, September 02, 2016


Ten months. This space has sat unused, dormant, for ten months, the longest I can recall that happening. After so long it feels odd to be writing here, like revisiting an old home or putting on old clothes that have sat unworn for so long as to become creased and stiffened with age. Do I still belong here? Do my words? Does this space continue to have purpose?

hoar frost
*these are random photos in no particular order taken over the past 10 months

I have considered leaving this space forever, moving onward to a new space and leaving this as a testament to the time that Was, the time With Her, whereas I now will travel through the time After Her. There seemed a beauty to leaving this space as a sort of time capsule to Who I Once Was. With her.

I must acknowledge that I am changed, forever altered by loss and absence. In the past year I have learned that that moment of passing was not hers alone but mine as well, passing forward into a phase of my life that she would not see, not affect, not comment on or witness and to which she could not directly contribute. Her contributions now are posthumous, they are only in the living she once did. I have had to reckon with that reality and it is by no means a comfortable or easy one. I must wrestle with and explore this change in myself and discover what it means to be me - this version of me - and become acquainted with it. At times, I'd really rather not.


Continuing to write here, frankly, makes me uncomfortable, which is reason enough to do so. Death forces us to face up to what is uncomfortable, what is unpleasant, and I have continued to face that discomfort in the last year and a half, not only with regard to mortality but to many things. Writing, sadly, is somehow no long comfortable. Perhaps it is the knowledge that she is no longer reading my words: I had never truly appreciated just how significant it was to me, that knowledge that she read every word, viewed every photo. I learned days after her passing that she often shared my posts around her office. Knowing this is a gift, a treasure, but it is a treasure with a challenging weight as well; I can no longer write for her, and I had not realized just how much I did, how deeply my awareness that she would read my words inspired me to write them.

St. Michael

It all sounds terribly maudlin, as though I am still consumed with grief and have failed utterly to move on. Fortunately, that is not so, and so I know the writing must continue. As my therapist noted - was able to deduce without my even telling her - I am constantly writing; I have an ongoing inner narrative that is unceasing. To refuse to write, to continue to keep those words internal as I have all these past months has done me no favours, so it must end now.

Mewy Chwithmath!

There is much to say, there is much living to do. There is still joy and love and blessing, perhaps thrown into even more stark relief by the knowledge of loss and Grief. Grief my companion, my awkward travel fellow, who reminds me of the great value of What Is through awareness of What Is Lost.
It is what it is

While I wrestle with what it is to be here, one thing I know is certain: it is so good to be here.


Saturday, October 31, 2015

The eve of All Hallows, when the veil is thin

Hallowe'en is an eve: the Eve of All Hallows Day, observed on November 1st. All Hallows is, traditionally, the celebration of the saints, those spiritual role models who have gone before. November 2 is All Souls Day, a day of remembrance of all our brethren who have passed from this world. These are two related, celebratory and very hopeful memorial days, days in which we mark the memories of those who have lived lives of purpose or sacrifice, of example and education. We think on them and their actions and consider how blessed we are to have known them, either personally or by virtue of our narrative tradition. 

All Hallows Eve, on the other hand, is an altogether different day, or night, traditionally. Today it is a time of make-believe, where everyone may try on an identity for an evening. But it is also a night of enjoying - seeking out, embracing - frights. A night in which we turn our gaze toward death and the gruesome - indeed, looking upon our own mortality - instead of shying away. It is, in essence, a night on which we look our mortality in the face and declare "You're not so scary."

Long ago it was believed that on the feast of All Hallows the veil between worlds was thin. It was a liminal time and space, wherein the division between the living and the dead became mutable and interplay between worlds was possible. On this day several cultures would entreat visits from the beloved dead with offerings and candlelit shrines. On the eve of All Hallows, however, it was protection from ill-spirits that several cultures sought, and it was for this purpose that jack o'lanterns were carved of squash and gourds, or more historically, turnips. The firelit faces would frighten and repel evil spirits from the homes of those awaiting the feast of All Hallows.

Autumn is a time to face death. The days turn colder, the plants are dying and we know that winter is coming. Not so long ago, it was a time of scarcity and difficulty for everyone; today, largely only for the ill-fortuned. Whether your spiritual beliefs hold with the idea of spirits and spiritual worlds, souls and the afterlife, and the intersection of worlds, we can all appreciate the challenge of acknowledging mortality and choosing to mock that inevitability rather than fear it, especially in the face of the pathetic irony of the seasonal change. As the weather turns colder and less sustaining of life our confidence in our own longevity may falter. Hallowe'en spurs us to stand boldly in the face of mortality, to live without fear of our fragile nature.

In this liminal space, this time of contradiction with the trees arrayed in beautiful foliage in defiance of the pending dormancy and death that comes with winter's cold, we look on our mortality and our fate and challenge ourselves to cast off our fear. And if the veil truly is thin, if the worlds do indeed collide tonight, perhaps we will find ourselves offered assurance from the other side.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Carrying On

Last Monday was my birthday.

And it was good. And it was...complicated.

And it was hard.

Naturally, I tell myself. How could it not be? She's not here. The person who bore me, who knew my birth, who brought me into this world wasn't here for this day. This was an anniversary I shared with her and today I celebrated it without her. And now I always will.

down by the bay
by the bay on a June afternoon

The day before she died, the day the surgeon overseeing her care in the ICU delivered the astonishing news that she was suffering not one but two cancers – in addition to the pneumonia that had landed her in the ICU – I went to the dentist. My dentist of about 15 years had a daughter who was a sunny, glorious, incarnate smile of a dancer at the studio and company where I danced, until she was taken from us in a car crash in 2006. Nine years after her death – to the day – I was sitting in her mother's office getting my teeth cleaned when my phone chimed, my stepfather texting me to tell me the surgeon really wanted to meet with the family after lunch. And I knew: nothing good would come from that meeting. Nothing.Visits to the dentist will forever be emotionally conflicted for me, now, a source of remembrance of these untimely losses, but also a point of connection.

gifts from across the sea
connecting over the sea: a received envelope of little gifts

Leaving we passed Laura's photo, her story hung on the wall so incongruously in a dentist's clinic and I touched the wall beneath, brushing it with my fingertips in my passing, her smile shining out of greyscale newsprint. And my eyes filled. Because the loss is great and the voids left behind cannot be filled. That is the wound and the beauty of their legacy.

It is a legacy that endures. It lives on in the people left behind, in the people who remember, who carry on bearing within them a piece of the shining star that was that soul. The power – the value – of memory, of remembrance – cannot be overstated. It is why I record, the genesis of the drive to write and memorialize for posterity: to externalize that memory so that it will not die with me, as so much of my mother's memory died with her.

But I remember her.

birthday pointe shoes
birthday pointe shoes

She never described to me how she felt when she danced, only that she stopped when the pain became too great to be suffered. I do know that she danced in pain for a long time before retiring, so much was her joy in that movement. And I cherish her humble pride in recounting that her Nutcracker, with her classmates, received an acclaiming review. “Our fight scene was livelier than the professionals'.”

Art is my therapy. Finding my voice – truly – in my 20th year pulled me through depression and self-injury. Some fifteen years later, standing – often with tears streaming down my face – in the organ loft on Sunday mornings singing out anthems and hymns (oh, how the hymns destroy and heal me) has kept me on my feet through these shifting sands of loss and grief, mourning and existential confusion. And so, after a solid year of encouragement from the woman who runs the studio where my daughters dance – a dancer, teacher, friend and sage – I put the shoes back on. And last week, three months after I returned to the floor, my little family took me to the west end and I bought my first pair of pointe shoes. It seemed a ludicrous dream, that I could ever get on pointe at my age. I had abandoned the thought, until, in one of my earliest classes this spring, my teacher looked at me and said “I'm back on pointe: if you want...?” And so I have them. My shiny pink satin dreams. They'll hurt, and they'll blister, and my feet will be tortured, but no longer will I think “If only...” Because I will have.

I wish I could share this with her, wish I could tell her. Instead, it is a touchstone, a point of connection I have to carry me through, to keep her with me. I dance, and in some moments I am distracted and in others I can think of nothing but her. I don't dance so well, then, but I stumble on, losing my balance and losing my way until I recall myself and pull in, stretch out, take right steps. It's like living. Looking ever backward I lose my way but looking ahead, pushing myself through those motions I move onward, ever onward. As she would have me do.

I am learning that life after is emotionally fraught. There is an inordinate amount of inner conflict. I have learned that to embrace the bittersweet is both healthy and helpful. Every reminder of loss, every moment of sorrow represents an instant in which she who is lost is again foremost in my mind. It hurts. It crushes. But there is joy in it as she is never gone entirely if she can be so easily recalled in a sight or sound, in a movement, in a visit. She is gone, but also present, hovering just outside my peripheral view.

By late afternoon there was a strawberry cake in my kitchen – awaiting dinner and the dear and thoughtful gifts from Jon and the girls – as well as a preoccupying feeling that I had neglected to do something important before I realized it was the phone call that never came. And as gutting as that was, there was something reassuringly familiar in it, as well. I have felt that hollow thud of realization innumerable times since January 10th, and I will feel it innumerable times more. This is a sensation I know. It is not a comfortable companion, but is a familiar one, it's presence a reminder.

That I remember her. I carry her within me.

Thursday, April 02, 2015


Here's the thing: I don't know what I'm doing. Parenting, educating, all of it: I really don't know what I'm doing.

Here's the other thing: no one else does either. That is not to say that we're all utterly clueless, but we are all of us, to some extent or another, making it up as we go along. We're guessing.

This is what I keep coming back to when I think about choosing homeschooling and selecting curriculae and what I will and will not do with our children. We're all guessing and none of us have flawless foresight. I am making my best, most informed guesses, but guesses they most assuredly are. And that's fine. That's just normal.

It's comforting to think we "know". I know that Ontario public schools are, generally speaking, pretty great places to be. I know that there are scores of devoted, enthusiastic teachers out there in those schools. I also know that many are hampered and restricted by ministerial guidelines and that staffing cuts for budgetary reasons have left many schools with insufficient staff to supervise kids closely enough to deal with bullying and social issues. Maybe my kids would get fabulous teachers and have no social issues, or maybe they'd get a burnt out teacher and be tortured by bullying classmates. Maybe I'll be a fantastic home educator and my children will blossom in ways they wouldn't in a school environment, or maybe I, too, will end up burnt out and we'll all be miserable. 

Who knows. I sure don't.

We're guessing. Making deeply, painfully thought-out choices with as much information as possible, but we're guessing. I take my comfort in knowing that whatever we choose from one day or year to the next is still guessing.

So when it comes to computer and IT literacy, I'm merely making informed guesses. I recently read a blog post written by an unschooling mother who argues in favour of immersing children in technology, lest they resemble the uncomfortable octogenarians she references at the beginning of the post who cannot parse the phrase "Just Google it."

I can't say I agree (and I'm intentionally not linking to her post since I have no interest in beginning some sort of blogging flame war).

Her argument that this is the necessary language of the future is absolutely correct. Social media skills, technological literacy and an ability to learn and adapt to new interfaces will be invaluable as we and our children move through the coming years. With that in mind, I should definitely be handing my three year old a tablet, shouldn't I?

Arguable. But it is likewise arguable that there other skills my children also need to learn. Emotional literacy and empathy, the joy and appreciation of physical movement, mental math (she argues everyone carries a calculator on their phone all the time: true enough, but I've been known to forget my phone at home or forget to charge it; at least I can still add up my purchases without it). And then there's the importance of narrative, not only for telling a story but for grasping timeline and cause-and-effect, as well as the arts and cooking, not to mention the value of physical activity for health and wellness purposes. While all these skills and technology are by no means mutually exclusive, I also know that there are only so many hours in the day. And I know that shiny, new, exciting devices are extremely alluring. Maintaining variety in the spirit of moderation in all things is vital and a skill I - quite reasonably - do not expect my children to have fully developed at the tender ages of three and six years old.

So no, my children don't have much exposure to using technology themselves. They don't have a tablet, the closest to a computer game they've ever gotten is our six year old typing on a word processor, my phone has no child-friendly apps. They are almost entirely media-free, with movies largely limited to very rare occasions or when we are all down with a virus. And it isn't fear - which is the argument often made opposing our choice - that motivates us: it's priorities. There are, quite simply, other things that I want my children to learn first. Because if I am able to engender in my children a love of discovery and learning, a joy in new challenges and problem-solving without defeatism or fear, then I am confident they will embrace technology in all its avatars with aplomb.

But of course I don't know. After all, we're all just guessing.

Saturday, January 17, 2015


Every morning I drink my coffee from a hand thrown mug made to look like a scotch thistle. My mother gave me the mug for Christmas several years ago. It's My Mug. Around Christmas, I sometimes use a mug painted with a reindeer, with the name “Dancer” near the foot. My mother gave me that mug for Christmas back in high school. When I'm thirsty, I get a glass from the cupboard, either one of my glasses that came with Pom iced tea in it, or a glass with a picture of a pig on it. My mother brought me the two Pom teas when I was sick and Jon and I were living in Orleans. She gave me the pig glass for Christmas about twenty years ago.

My favourite socks are the warm and woolly socks she would gift me every Christmas. I have this silver bangle that she bought herself in Quebec City in her teens and gave to me for my thirteenth birthday: I've been wearing it essentially constantly ever since.

She is in every room of my home. From the Beatrix Potter posters she gave us when Glynis was born to the koala with a music box in its belly for my first Christmas, she is everywhere. She is always. That dance, music, literature, craftiness are a part of my being is her doing. She sketched the outline of the shape my life has taken.

Before she was ill, I spoke to my mother almost daily, calling her, interrupting her work – yes, I'm sorry, Sir Wil, but I was constantly calling her at the office – just to chat. To tell her things I was doing or things my girls had said or done that I thought would amuse her. To vent frustrations, knowing she'd have something good to say: not that she'd always agree but that she'd always have an understanding ear. Earlier this week I felt the impulse to call her, to tell her how hard all this is. But I couldn't.


Her delight in her grandchildren was so undeniable, so immeasurable it was inspiring. That she won't see Glynis's front teeth grow in, or hear Scarlet lose her toddler lisp, or watch them dance, or hear any more of their songs crushes me. She loved them so much, and I loved sharing our life with her. I loved seeing them through her eyes, through her adoration, knowing how proud she was of everything they are and do.

scarlet and gran
She is woven into every space, every day, every moment. She was the first thing, the first truth I ever knew. I never, ever doubted her love for me, no matter how hard things got. She taught me what it is to be a mother, not in her perfection because no one is ever perfect and God, she would hate for us to say she was perfect, but in her loving, her struggle, her persistence, her open ear. As I grew up and our lives changed, I watched and learned from her what it is to make a fresh start, the balance of the selflessness of motherhood and needful, healthy self-interest, the value of self-reliance, not because she didn't lean on others but because some things we must do for ourselves.

glynis and gran

Her fight, her determination, her willingness to put herself through any amount of struggle in an effort to have more time with us all was amazing and inspiring. She wore a bracelet engraved with the word "survivor". Given to her by her sister: she died wearing that bracelet. And she was a survivor. Because while her body was too broken to carry on, the example she set in her living will indeed live on with we who have been so privileged to have known her.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sunday morning

Mom slipped away gently, softly, slowly at 11:15pm last night, January 10. Just after 4 we met with her doctors and decided it was best to allow her to go in her time.
Her last hours were so peaceful. So calm and still. There was laughter at her bedside. There was music. I lay my head on her shoulder, taking my last comfort from her simply being. Just being there. Just being. And it was good, so good.
There was no struggle. After all those months of working so hard, it was a heartrending relief to see her peaceful. We told her it was her time to go.
And as she started across I smiled at her. I gazed into her face and smiled and told her it was ok, she had worked so hard and now her work was done. That we'll be alright. That we love her, we love her so much, and that it was time to go.
Even in her very last moments of her living she was a source of such joy. We joyed in her.
I was smiling at my glorious mother as she died.

Saturday morning

So here it is. We've been rather private about this for the past year because we knew Mom didn't want to be a spectacle or worry anyone, nor have any fuss, but the scenery has changed dramatically.
A year ago, almost exactly, Ruth MacLeod was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. Her tumour was discovered on Christmas day of 2013 after she suffered for several hours with intolerable head pain. Surgery followed on the 27th, and the cancer diagnosis in early January. She was treated with radiation and chemo therapies, several rounds, until this summer when her body could no longer tolerate the chemo. We hoped for the best.
A few weeks later, her headaches returned. CT and MRI scans showed that the cancer had regrown, now in two sites. But Mom was determined: she was going to eke every last possible day out of this life she'd been given, and so when surgery with chemo to follow was offered she didn't hesitate to agree in the hopes that she'd get one more Christmas, more time with her husband, maybe more visits with her grandchildren.
While waiting for her surgical date, she developed shingles. The pain she experienced from the shingles was unimaginable: she suffered greatly. But still she was full of fight, full of determination. She had her second surgery on November 25th while still burdened by the shingles, and came through the surgery well.
Her recovery was stymied by the continued shingles pain. She spent several hours on Christmas day at my home, with Jon and our kids, her mother and sister, and of course her dear husband and his son. She got to see her grandchildren. She got to have Christmas dinner, with a piece of pecan pie.
Just before New Years she was admitted to the Elizabeth Bruyere hospital in the hopes that they would be able to find the right balance of narcotics to manage her pain but allow her to be lucid and functional for as long as possible. She had been fighting a cold for several weeks, but nothing seemed concerning until late Tuesday/very early Wednesday, when she began to have respiratory distress and was rushed to the Ottawa General where she was placed on life support due to a critical case of pneumonia.
As doctors at the General investigated the type of infection she was suffering, they discovered an e.coli infection in her blood. Following an abdominal CT scan to determine the source of the e.coli, it was discovered that my mother is also suffering colon cancer. It is stage 4 cancer, having metastisised. There is no possible treatment.
We have these last days with her. Her fight, her determination, her willingness to put herself through any amount of struggle in an effort to have more time with us all is amazing and inspiring. She wears a bracelet engraved with the word "survivor". And she is. Because while her body is too broken to carry on much longer, the example she has set in her living will indeed live on with we who have been so privileged to know her.
We love you, Mom.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The gift you didn't think you wanted

My mother has always been really good at gift-giving. She has a knack for choosing gifts I wouldn't have expected, wouldn't have thought I wanted, things that called out to her "she might like me!"

I'm sitting in my living room, drinking coffee (rather heavily laced with Irish cream) out of a mug she put in my Christmas stocking some fifteen years ago at least and thinking about Christmas. Thinking about my mom. I have gifts yet to buy, and twelve hours from now the kids will be in bed, the Christmas pageant at our church long over. I have Christmas baking to do and a lot of tidying and cleaning to finish up. Many things are decidedly last minute this year, a procrastinator's affliction that has rarely affected my mother. 

She gets her shit together in good time. Even last year, which, when you think about it, is amazing. All the driving and errand-running and preparations she did. And we had no idea, no clue what was happening, what was about to happen.

Christmas was odd, with her upstairs in inexplicable agony, us downstairs opening gifts and giving each other knowing glances, casting our eyes up the stairs, wondering, concerned. She was absent and later told me she had little memory of that day, but we had her prior thoughtfulness with us downstairs. Warm socks. Chocolate. Coffee beans. Her tokens of consideration that have long been my favourite part of Christmas morning: my stocking, now a gift bag as my stocking now resides alongside my husband's and our children's in our own home.

She is so good at choosing gifts. I feel very much that I have failed to develop that talent at selecting small things that declare to the recipient "I thought of you" as every gift should. It is one thing to give a gift requested, a gift that fills a known need, but quite another to give a gift that fills a need unrealized, a need or desire the recipient did not know existed until the moment the gift is received and it shines a light on the need or desire it so instantly fills. 

To show someone that you think of them when you are away from them. That you carry them, carry their needs and their wants and their wishes in your heart always. That through your day you are thinking of them, considering them, wishing them well, wishing joy for them.

That is a gift.

It has me thinking about the greater Christmas celebrations in which our family participates. It's a challenge, as people who celebrate both popular culture Christmas, with Santa Claus and a tree and magic reindeer, as well as religious Christmas, with Jesus and Mary and Joseph and angels and shepherds and stars. How to explain to our children how one relates to the other? What, exactly, can they possibly have to do with one another?

And then I thought of my mother.

It's about the gift you didn't expect to receive, that you didn't know you needed, the gift you didn't think you'd want. An infant saviour? While under an oppressive and foreign regime? What use is that? 

It's the gift you didn't think you wanted. 

Monday, February 17, 2014


I wrote this post exactly one month ago. I'm finally ready to share it with you.

::   ::

I have to write it all down. I have to write it all down before it is lost.

I cut my dreads. After three and a half years, with my longest dreads reaching nearly to my waist, I cut them. I cut them just above my shoulders and then combed them out. I have loose hair again. My dreads are utterly gone.

To be frank, I had grown to hate washing them. They were, as I said, nearly waist length, and there were a lot of them, more than average - I have a lot of hair. They weighed a lot at the best of times, but wet? Oh, wet they were insanely heavy. I had neck pain every time I washed them, and they would be wet for 24 full hours after washing them. We've been having cold snaps and I would keep putting off and putting off washing them because the thought of having long, cold, wet dreads for a whole day when it's -30C outside and only about 16C inside was just intolerable. Practically, it made sense to let them go.

And then there's the whole thing with my mother's health. I have been intentionally vague in this space because it is a public space and because it isn't really my story, in the strictest sense, but hers. Suffice it to say that her health crisis has left me in an existentially considerate state, combined with a real inclination to avoid procrastination. Add into it that I found the thought of losing her before I had a chance to return to the loose, curling hair of my youth completely unbearable (I can't quite explain it, but there it is) and I found myself very devoted to the idea that it was time to lose the dreads.

But even so...I questioned it. I questioned whether I was just reacting to an impossible, insane, unfathomable situation. I debated with myself the value of releasing the dreads rather than just waiting, giving myself some time to adjust to our new paradigm. But every time - every time! - I would consider the possibility of releasing my dreads I would find myself thinking the same thoughts:

Who will I be without dreads?
How will anyone know that I am interesting if I don't have them?
What will make me special if I don't have dreads?
How will I be anything but boring if I don't have dreads?


I know that these thoughts are, at best, unfounded and, at worst, completely ludicrous. I know this. And I kept telling myself precisely that. That my dreads don't make me anything, that my dreads are not a sole source of interest or specialness or "cool". I told myself these things over and over and over again.

And I had a remarkably hard time believing any of it.

When I first started my dreads, I knew that they would look pretty horrible for a long time. I knew that there was a process and that I needed to respect or better yet embrace the process in order to get through that initial hard period before they started to really take shape and achieve a level of maturation that would make them finally look like dreads and not like a complete abandonment of personal hygiene. I prepared myself for that. What I was utterly unprepared for was the change that would take place within me. Within days of starting my dreads I Liberated. After years - decades! - of trying to make my hair conform, of worrying about fitting in and looking "right" and feeling like a giant failure in those regards pretty much all the time I found that, with dreads, I didn't care. Smooth, shiny, controlled hair? Impossible: I have dreads. Look like everyone else? Can't happen: I have dreads. Conform to the constraints of North American standards of beauty? Nope: dreads! So I was free of it. Free of worrying about it, of caring about it, of trying to achieve the impossible and, frankly, the totally unimportant. And it was glorious, glorious, I tell you.

The challenge, when I first dreaded my hair, was to feel comfortable and like myself with dreads. And it most certainly was challenging. The feelings of liberation began within days of starting my dreads but I only really entirely cast off the shackles of conformity months later. It took a long, long time to reset my own self-perception, my own priorities. It was work. But once I achieved it, I felt more myself, more genuine, more true, and far, far more beautiful than I ever had before. I woke up every morning and looked at my dreads in the mirror and felt just plain glad to look the way that I did. For all I know, it all helped me survive the post-partum depression, because as much as the PPD told me lies about myself - that I was a failure, that I was a terrible mother, that I was worthless - I did at least feel like I actually looked like myself for possibly the first time ever.

At five weeks

At five months

At thirteen months

So for more than three years I felt challenged but comfortable, myself, beautiful, in large thanks to my dreads. I don't like to say that my dreads made it happen, because that's unpleasantly passive and takes away all the agency I had in making that change happen within myself. Instead, I like to say that my dreads created the opportunity, they created the space for that inward change to happen. They did for my outward self what my inner self needed, and the change worked its way inward. And it was awesome. Awe inspiring. And I am forever grateful.

But lately, oh, lately it's been another matter and it quite took me by surprise. I thought of releasing them because of neck pain - and, perhaps, because of a general sense of boredom - and then was met with a faceful of low self-esteem and lack of self-worth and self-identity thoughts. I was astonished, truly. And I told myself over and over how ridiculous such thoughts were but they persevered. I couldn't shake them. 

I realized that the freedom my dreads had originally afforded me had slowly transformed into a sort of dependence. Whereas when I first considered starting dreads, the nasty high school girl in my head said "But you're not cool enough to have dreads. Poseur!" when I began to consider releasing them I heard my own scared, high school-y voice whimper "But how will I be cool if I don't have dreads? I'm not cool enough to not have dreads!" My dreads had become both a crutch and a stumbling block. They were standing in my way.

Many people describe their dreads as a journey, and when I first began my journey I thought it was simply because they are a long process to get to mature, formed locks. Now, having walked that journey for three and a half years, I can honestly say that that is not the case. They are a journey because I began in one place and I have ended up in a very different, very wonderful place. I can look back and see my path and appreciate just how far I have come. My dreads helped me walk that path. But in recent weeks I felt that I had arrived at my destination, that I was standing in the dusty road outside the door but could not enter so long as my hair remained the same. My dreads were for the journey, not for the destination. I had to let them go.

Because I am special. I am interesting. My dreads didn't add anything to me, they simply created the opportunity for me to realize these things about myself and the minute I began to question my own authenticity was the minute I was finished with them. But because I needed to be finished with them, not because I wanted to be.


A photographer, fellow babywearer and fellow dreadie friend said she wanted to photograph them before I cut them. Friday afternoon she came over and we took photos in our living room and out in the fresh Ottawa snow. After she left I felt a sense of closure, that I had done what last needed doing before I could take my big step. We ate dinner. We put the girls to bed. I had a big glass of wine, my sewing shears, a giant bottle of coconut oil conditioner and some combs (including the comb I had originally used to backcomb my dreads three and a half years ago) lined up on the dining room table. I took a photo of them. Then I stood, staring at the table, playing with my dreads. I gathered them in my two hands and piled on my head and let them fall over my shoulders. I twisted them up into a big knot, one of my favourite ways to wear them. I held them and stroked them and marvelled at the twisted, chaotic mass of them, the softness of the loose, curling ends, the stiffness of them. And I loved them. I loved them

I started to cry. 

Jon stood across the table from me and I felt embarrassed because it's just hair, it shouldn't matter, my God, after the last few weeks we've all had why do I even care. He hugged me and I tried to explain - and I think I maybe succeeded - why I knew I needed to let them go but all the fear I had about what would happen to me after. That I would return to feeling unremarkable, feeling easily overlooked, feeling ordinary in the most pedestrian way possible. I cried and talked for a good twenty minutes. Maybe longer. Jon asked me if I needed help to cut them, and I said no; it was something I needed to do myself.

Then I picked up the scissors, walked down the hall to the mirror and started cutting.

I instantly regretted it. But I was committed. And yet...there was a teeny glimmer of something in that moment when I felt the shears sink into that first dread, a tiny spark of something strong and astonishing. It was powerful. I felt powerful. I stood there, hating what I was doing but with a complete sense of conviction that it was what needed to happen and a true feeling of pride that, despite desperately not wanting to do so, I was doing what I knew in my heart to be the right thing.

Still, I wept. And I mean it, I wept audibly. As the pile of dreads at my feet grew I expected to feel more calm, as the sense of inevitability grew from getting further and further into the process. But I wept harder, realizing just how impossible it was to undo what I had done. I got no sense of relief from the knowledge that there was no going back. 

But then, another glimmer. As I dropped the last dread at my feet I looked at my short, choppy dreads objectively. "Actually," I commented to Jon as I stared at myself in the mirror, "it's kind of cute." 

A big part of me still wishes I had stopped there, just left them short. I wish I could say differently, but honestly, I do.

But I didn't stop there. I slathered my short dreads up, one by one, with coconut conditioner and started combing. I sat on the couch with my glass of wine and combed. I combed for three hours Friday night.

I combed for seventeen hours Saturday. I took breaks to eat and refill my cup of coffee. Seventeen hours. And then I combed for another ten hours Sunday.

Twenty-nine hours. By midway through Sunday afternoon I was rather wishing I had just hacked them off at the roots and been done with it, though realistically I know that I would still be crying today if I had actually gone that route. Ultimately, I am very glad that I have the length that I have.

Today is the fourth day post-cut. I still feel raw. In a way I feel rather exposed, naked, vulnerable, which to my mind is just further evidence that I was hiding behind my dreads, or wearing them as some sort of armour, or using them as a sort of crutch. I was depending on them in a way that wasn't contributing to my being free and liberated anymore. I think a large part of my aching for my dreads boils down to a sense of failure: had I only been able to cast off those feelings of inadequacy without dreads, that sense of my dreads being what really made me interesting or special, I could have kept them. I could have had more time with them.

I suspect that a lot of the tears were not just fear or sorrow over letting go of my dreads, but catharsis from the past month's madness. I hadn't really let myself release everything, I hadn't allowed myself to experience my feelings. Even in cutting them, in ending my dreadlock journey, my dreads served to create a healing space, an opportunity for me to let those feelings out. Amazing.

I haven't yet adjusted to how I look now. I still feel a certain sense of shock that I actually did this. But my hair - hair that has only ever been washed with baking soda and vinegar and water and natural conditioner - is in remarkable condition. It is incredibly soft, not at all frizzy as it used to be. It turns out that all those years of struggle with frizziness could have been avoided by simply foregoing commercial shampoos and what I am left with post-dreads is soft and lovely. My daughters are already enjoying playing with my hair, and perhaps most helpful is that they aren't reacting to the change in my appearance all that much. It's reassuring: I am still me.

Releasing my dreads has thrown into stark relief some of the matters about myself that I have avoided examining. I find myself left with a feeling not of conclusion but of a whole new work to do. It's good work, valuable and worthy, but work nonetheless. Before I released my dreads I found that I kept visualizing standing in the path outside of a town gate. I felt that I had to release my dreads in order for that door to be opened to me. But now, I find that beyond that door is not a destination as I had imagined but simply another stretch of path.

The journey is the destination.

|| All watermarked photos care of  Amy Jay Photo

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

it's been real

I have a cold. It's my second sinus cold since the beginning of the new year and while it's hardly terrible, it's inconvenient. My joy in winter is wearing thin between repeated deep-freezes and repeated colds. 

Nine years ago today, Jon and I married. But I'm sick, so to celebrate he stayed home from work. He worked a bit this morning, made lunch, took Peanut to dance class this afternoon. We gave Bubby a bath. Peanut was in a foul mood through much of the day.

It wasn't the most romantic or special day, but it was real. Life is real. It's beautiful and it's ugly and it's wonderful and it is hard, hard, hard. It's colds and meals and loads of dirty dishes and stretched budgets and petulant kids and brushing tangled hair and cleaning up all manner of bodily messes and wet dogs and frustration. And it's toddlers sharing your pillow and long cuddles with a 5 year old who hasn't yet grown into her feelings and witnessing beautiful little people growing up and having the privilege of walking this road together.

Nine years. It's been real. Here's to decades more real.


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