Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Hostile Takeover of Me Inc.

A friend of mine recently reached a tough point: her young child, diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes earlier this year, cried at bed time asking her mommy why is she not ‘normal’ like other kids. Why does she have to live with the pain of needles for the rest of her life? 

My first reaction… Sending a giant cyber hug. Empathizing. Meeting them both right there, in the tough, tempted to join them in bargaining, who should get this instead. I worked for a while with Type 1 patients and their families, sitting at their kitchen tables, listening, grasping the magnitude of how much life changes in a single stressful day, when the pancreas in question can no longer squirt the life-sustaining portion of insulin. I observed how frightened parents immediately volunteered their well being, stepping in front of the firing squad of ultra-fine needle-tips and blood-testing lancets, to protect their offspring. My youngest patient was 18 months old. My oldest 74, just diagnosed with LADA, requiring multiple daily injections of insulin, therefore resembling “juvenile” diabetes. The question always seems to be the same: “Why me?”

This question is the toughest to answer when it comes to medical conditions. No-one purposefully sets out to contract diabetes, eating 6kg of sugar a day, challenging the pancreas to pump or die. Same goes for cancer, stroke or other diseases. 

Next on the "Why me?" list -- heartbreaks: left at the altar, left pregnant, left for the best friend or a distant cousin… The whole industry of Harlequin novels heavily depends on this drama! The wonderful Elizabeth Gilbert in her memoir Eat, Pray, Love gives an account of a refugee from a present-day genocide whose first confession, after boarding a rescue vessel, was that the boy she liked at the camp and who she thought returned those feelings, actually liked another girl.

More “Why me?” scenarios -- Financial crap: "I don’t have enough." " I’m drowning in debt." "I can’t afford a vacation." "I’ve been downsized." "I don't wanna pay child support any moooooore!"

My intention is not to undermine life’s real problems. There are many and they can be devastating. 

Instead, my idea is to try on another question - like a new hat - every single time we are tempted to say: “Why me?” No guarantees, but it just might work. I have tried it many times and surprisingly, it pretty much always fits better. More importantly, it also FEELS better.

It is simple: Why not me? 

And its variations: 

Why the heck not me?! 
Who else but me?!! 
It should be me!! 
Bring it on, Universe!!!

Simple wisdoms don’t come from self-help books. At least not as easily. My simple wisdom came from being a #Serbian, #Immigrant, #Single, #Mother - a chip I willingly sported on my shoulder for quite a while. I dreaded our first Father’s Day card decorating workshop in school. To the ‘limited’ Me Inc. this was an open invitation for awkwardness, discomfort or even bullying, my child would have to endure, that year and every year. So unfair. Why him? Why me?

Thankfully, my favourite sport has always been “400m hurdles - women” down at the Life-Pondering track. The little twist in that common yet loaded question came as a whiff of a rare, divinely-smelling flower: Why NOT me?

Who else would be better equipped to show this boy how to live abundantly and shatter all limits? Who better to demonstrate how to LMAO at adversity, using it as the perfect wave to surf to where I actually desire to be? Why NOT me to model that “all news is great news!”? Every time. Who better to show him how to play, like a pro, every single card I have been dealt in life? 
The message changed quickly to:

"I <3 being a Serbian Immigrant Single Mother. Watch me!" 

So what to do when sitting with those difficult questions about health, finances, lovers or all of the above & then some? 

Pull a HOSTILE TAKEOVER on the old, outdated You Inc. Its fearful, angry and unkind board of directors haven’t been serving the shareholders well and should be ousted in one fell swoop. Good news - you don’t have to wait for April, for the company’s next annual meeting. 

Do it now. 
Gather them up, then OUST them all! Oh, how I love that powerful word - OUST! It sounds like OUT on ssssteroids. Or for my Serbian crowd, МРШ У РУПУ!!!

To some tribes-mates who liked you better when you were frightened or miserable, this will look like a major disruption. A threat. Oh well…

But to the New You Inc.... Ohhh, the dreams! The possibilities! The deliciousness of pulling your own strings and showing the world and your children how it’s done! 

The time is perfect for it NOW - that’s why the original discomfort burned so intensely. 
To jolt you. To wake you up. 
Step one: go smother your self silly in kindness and hugs, forgiveness and appreciation. 
You did the best you knew how, up until now. 
Then look closely and you will find your superhero cape has been hidden underneath your shirt all along. Really, why not you? And by seeing how you do it, your kids will find their own capes too!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Art of Showing up Honest

The third summer we've settled in Canada, I took my then pre-schooler to the amusement park in Southern Ontario. The year was 2001 and I felt quite proud, as a relatively new immigrant, to be exposing my kid to more than just City of Toronto attractions, such as Toronto ZOORoyal Ontario Museum or Centre Island. The movie Blackfish would come 12 years later, helping me make a decision to never, EVER take my kids see the whales in captivity again. 

Few days after our outing, it was time to take Filip for a physical. The paediatrician, our wise Dr. G always wanting to involve the child in the yearly exam experience, asked:

- Filip, how old are you this summer?
- I am five and a half - he replied readily... then added - but last weekend I was four, when mama was buying tickets for Marineland!

There was no time for blushing as Dr.G bursted into laughter, clearly impressed with his little patient's verbal and observational skills.

- Trust me, I know... I have four kids... It's a total rip off!

Although I laughed with him, the only rip off I felt was in the pit of my stomach. There is a hash-tag for it... #PARENTINGFAIL 

What I "saved" at that gate that summer day had a value of about 35$. What I almost completely spent that day was the credit every parent has in their child's eyes. Up to that point, I was still the smartest, the prettiest, the "bestest" mama in the whole wide world. 

A day later, we visited Toronto Humane Society handing them a cheque for 50$. On our way there, with Filip in the booster seat, I showed up honest. It wasn't easy, hence the rear-view mirror trick. But it was an exercise in me coming clean in front of ME. I regained my respect for me. My boy simply continued loving me... Then he asked me to adopt a dog!

Money is no longer the most valuable currency - transparency is. One can hide from Instagram. Refrain from Twitter. Tune up Facebook's Privacy settings to the max. Delete the LinkedIn account to cover all traces of employment history. And yet, no amount of cyber-security expertise will ever help if one can not show up honest when looking at themselves in the mirror. 

Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome, Добродошли to the proverbial gates of "Marineland" (pun fully intended). What do you have to declare? C'mon, once it's done for the first time, it's easy! Then just keep showing up honest. Take care of any outstanding debts, of any kind -- one way or the other they are always paid in full. 

Later that afternoon @the home of Hasson's (it's been 14 years and I have a pre-schooler again!):

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Friend Like Who?

We've got it all wrong in the "greeting card" isle.

Wall after non-virtual wall in bookstores, pharmacies and bargain stores, blatantly profess' our only two options: Holidays & Occasions. The subsections go into listing of all religious and some pagan Holidays, including the commercialized-to-insanity Valentine's Day and the obscure Veteran's day (not kidding, it's posted on one of the major sites). Veteran's Day was yesterday, how many cards did you hand out? I thought so. Me too.

Then comes Occasions, with Birthdays, Anniversaries, Bridal Showers, Weddings, Babies, Congrats... For the most part, every single time I got one of these, they left me like a dead ECG, flatlining. When an occasion itself is joyous, what is the point of spending the time and money rummaging through the options, wrinkling the envelopes (I know who you are!), only to convey "Ditto"? Those happy days, I would much rather read an abbreviated text message, letting me know they know... Then, real people will get together to celebrate in real time. What about the mind-numbingly designed Sympathy category? Give me a hug instead. Please. If you can't say it yourself, say nothing. Silence is always more comforting than some dreadful brown flower and a convoluted font in stylish, burgundy.

When did we forget how to be real? How often is that card as meaningful as an unedited thought you would blurb to yourself? Calling it exactly like it is, brings relief. And relief matters most!

This week, a lot of my friends and colleagues went through the discomfort of being downsized. This is North America... it happens every day to someone. Still, there is no card for it. In the career section, there is allotted space only for Promotions and Retirements. As much as it sucks hearing those news, re-evaluating what went wrong as you hug that box with your desk belongings, looking down on your way out, likely calculating the next mortgage payment or rent... there is no "comfort" that a team of creative geniuses thought was worth the effort. Or ink. Career counsellors will tomorrow point out that this is now a fresh chance to evaluate what feels more like playing rather than working, taking into consideration ALL your strengths... But where is my card, dammit?

 My personal favourite: the BRIDE franchise! The "Princess-for-a-Day" hoax!

I confess, despite my fabulously rich track record of "I do's" I never had a Bridal shower. Excuses in chronological order include: It wasn't a custom in my home country / Sherif in Illinois was not up to it / There was literally no time between a mikvah and a chuppah. That's kind of a funny story for another time... Still, no regrets.

What I do regret however, was not having a marriage break-up shower, when my 'starter' spouse got mate-poached, leaving 10 days before I gave birth to our first baby. That's when I wanted my BFFs and Gal Pals, sisters, wise aunts and mouthy neighbours, to all crowd in around me, loud, opinionated and insightful, gifts and treats in hand so we can reset my profound sense of dumb-founded-ness, fear and shame. Have a swear fest (Serbians are big on swearing) until my water breaks...

I had enough! Today, me @FriendLikeMe, is inventing a brand new category named "Calling it like it is". In between two predictable "Happy Valentine's Day, honey!" one can receive a: "My bad! I behaved like a jerk. Please forgive me!" card. Or the numberless "Happy TOday to you!!!" card, cake is optional. In lieu of a Xmas card: "The right time to mail this card coincides with the right time to cut your credit card". In fairness, Hanukkah cards should clearly state: "Yup... no gifts, just calories. Mazel Tov!". Retirement: "For crying out loud, quit 5 years earlier and play, play play!".

This was an unusually stressful week for me and those around me. Besides the corporate restructuring, let me say it, as cryptically as I can, that the aforementioned mate-poacher was dissatisfied with the lack of respect for yet another attempt to justify why child support cheque was not deserved, by the student-step-son they have never met. This was expressed in two hefty volumes of epic rambling, no one had the patience to comment on in reply. At least until she achieves temporary sobriety.

Instead, I needed a card. Actually, no... I needed a postcard. I needed the 21st century's equivalent of the postal carriage, delivering a tiny yet publicly observable slap on that cheek, that is oh so deserved... or maybe not.

After all, it was just one rough week. Then, again I can always throw myself into Twitter!