Unmothered on Mother’s Day

I wanted to write this last weekend and didn’t. Every year on Mother’s Day I feel my mom’s absence, not because I remember how her voice sounded, or what she smelled like, or what her skin felt like. I don’t remember any of these things after 25 years. I only remember that I miss being mothered, even at 43. I think part of the reason why I feel her loss every year is because I am a mom myself and want to celebrate Mother’s Day just as a mom. And yet, every year my grief sneaks up on me and creates irritability and distraction.

My mental health is affected on these days, and while I know it’s to be expected, it bothers me nonetheless. I’m irritable and then feel guilty for feeling irritable, for not simply being grateful. Grateful for my family, my children and for my safety during a global pandemic. And I am grateful. But I’m also longing, longing to be mothered by own mom. Even in her all of her imperfections, all of her mistakes, all of her misfortune, I still have this longing for her. I doubt it will ever go away completely, it just continues to fade as the years go by.

My mom’s headshot, one of my favourites of her. Circa 1990

Perhaps if I’m lucky enough to live past 49, I will see my daughters graduate from high school, start their adult lives, support them in their education, value their choices, encourage them, help them to keep themselves safe and healthy. Things I didn’t have. I hope that when these days come, I will remember that supporting them is a privilege, that I don’t try to force what I want on them instead of listening to what they want. I hope that next Mother’s Day, my longing is a little less. xo Janet

Don’t we all just want to know what we’re worth?

So many of the conversations we’re having these days are really just about what we’re worth. Too often, those conversations centre around why others don’t value us the way we think we should we valued (bosses, spouses, friends, children, etc) but really, it is a conversation about how we feel about our own value. The truth is, many of us don’t value ourselves enough. We wait and hope for others to do it for us, to tell us what we’re worth. We look for our worth in our salaries, our work, our status, our homes, our children, our marriages, our stuff. None of this is going to do us any good.

The only thing I’ve learned in recovery is that our self worth belongs to only us. We may not have gotten any help from our parents with building our self worth but we’re the only ones who can dig in and figure out what we’re made of. The truth is, our worth isn’t contingent on external factors despite what our culture tells us. Our worth isn’t contingent on how good our children are, or how much we make. Our worth is our inner strength, our character, our resilience, our humanity. We are worthy because we exist. We’re worthy because we have thoughts, feelings, aspirations, goals, challenges, just for ourselves. This isn’t meant to sound narcissistic or ego driven. It’s a battle cry for self esteem, self love, self appreciation. So many of us put our worth into things we can’t control and when those things aren’t available anymore, we spiral down. Or accept less than what we want. Or make excuses for bad behaviour, ours and others. When we don’t love and accept ourselves for who we are, the good, bad and the ugly, how we will do that for others? For our children? For our partners or friends?

I stopped making excuses for myself only recently but I also stopped accepting the lie that I was somehow defective, broken, unsalvageable. I am broken and battered, physically worn down, sometimes unable to manage feelings of burnout. But that’s me. And I’m fine with that because I know what I’m worth, without the job or title or house or family. I’m just fine because I’m me. My self worth is a work in progress, it probably will be for the rest of my life. But I know that I’m on much more stable ground now that I was even two years ago because I don’t need the approval of others to know what I’m worth. And I hope you do too. xo Janet

Is there a higher power?

I had a really interesting conversation recently with someone who told me that they had found their spirituality through recovery. I admire the resolve, the belief that there are higher powers. I’m not a believer in a higher power, never have been. I just don’t get it. It’s a difficult thing to admit but I’ve been agnostic for so long that I’m not even sure what I believe anymore. Sometimes I think believing in a higher power would be helpful, particularly in the difficult times. But I just can’t get there, I’m not even sure if I’m motivated to.

I know people who have gone through recovery and found a higher power, a deeper meaning of life. I feel like this is a real challenge for me, a mystery. I wasn’t raised in a religious household and frankly for this, I’m grateful. I know that if I had been coming out would have been so much harder. I think being a spiritual person is a real gift for so many and I’m certainly envious. Maybe I’ll get there eventually; I’m more concerned with the here and now – my children, my family, my work.

I don’t dispute the faith of others, I don’t underestimate the value that belief in a higher power can have in their lives. I’ve just never had any reason to suspend my brain long enough to have a spiritual experience. Growing up, on Sunday, my family went to the church of the NFL and that was fine with me.

Maybe this is the point of meditation. But even in that I use it as a way of slowing down my thoughts, quieting the anxiousness I feel most days. I haven’t meditated in awhile, maybe it’s time to start again. xo Janet

Back to school

Me around age four or five.

Well it’s the first day of school for us and we’re all nerves. Our youngest is starting school this year and I’m a bit in shock that she’s school age. When people say that time flies when your children are young it’s true. I always loved going to back to school. It was my favourite time of year. I have the best memories of getting back to school supplies and clothes. I felt really special and full of possibility.

School was always my safe place, the place I went I went to feel the best about myself. That’s the problem with needing external validation, I put all of my self worth into getting the best grades. If I didn’t get the best grades I beat myself up about it and then lashed myself to try harder. It was a very self destructive cycle that culminated in a lot of burnout.

I was lucky, I had great teachers (except for one, I see you grade 4) and lived in neighbourhoods that had amazing schools. I had the opportunity to go to a private high school. I think we’ve covered how the social aspects of that high school weren’t great for me. But the academic life of that school was my life line, it kept me sane when everything else around me was crumbling. I used school and achievement as an emotional salve and intellectual buoy, keeping me afloat emotionally.

I think a lot of kids do this, use achievement to stave off anxiety or depression. The problem with this is that it ends up creating more anxiety, more fear. The hamster wheel gets going, achieve, work harder, achieve more, worker harder. The problem with this is that once that formula doesn’t work anymore and if the achievement isn’t possible anymore, the bottom falls out. When you have no sense of self outside of achievement, you have no sense of self. No identity. No compass. No direction. Without achievement, I had no idea who I was or what I was worth. It took me almost twenty years to disentangle my sense of self and worth from “getting ahead”. It was the most painful lesson I had to learn. I had to completely unlearn everything I thought I knew about myself and rebuild my sense of self worth from nothing. It was excruciating. This I hope is something I can share with parents as we send our kids back to school today. Striving to work hard is great, to apply oneself, to do well. But not at the expense of your kid’s sense of self, please. xo Janet

Pushing buttons

Being a parent means having a lot of your buttons pushed, unless of course you had a super amazing childhood and your parents were perfect and nothing bothers you. So, basically not me. My children are the loves of my life, I adore them. But they push almost every button I have. When my anxiety is high, when I’m stressed, when I’m overwhelmed, the irritants become many and my temptation is to tell them exactly how they’re being annoying.

What is really hard for me, and maybe for others too, is checking my own emotional response before I take my anxiety or stress out on them. I have a hard time disengaging, walking away when my buttons are being pushed. In any circumstances really, at work, at home, with my family members. I normally get sucked in. I normally take the bait, I can barely help myself.

I think this is what growth might look like for me. Not taking the bait, not always trying to win the argument or be right. Checking my emotional response before before I open my mouth or say something I’m going to regret. Or sound unhinged, which is the look our older daughter gives me when I’m giving her a hard time about the tv being too loud. She gives me this look like, “what is your problem”? And honestly I don’t know what my problem is.

Our oldest is almost nine and this is a tricky age: bossy, bold, strident, opinionated, sassy. So basically my doppelganger. The problem is, as a kid, I was never allowed to be any of these things. I could be sassy for entertainment, like a trained monkey, but not for real. Not to stand up for myself, not to be myself. I wasn’t allowed to talk back or shout or be rude. I wasn’t allowed to be bossy or strident or weak. I wasn’t allowed to express myself in any way that wasn’t completely and totally unobtrusive. So when Finley is sassy and rude, I take the bait. Every time. There is something deep inside my psyche that is yelling at me, don’t let her get away with it, she’ll turn into a monster! And then I take the bait. There’s a fine line between teaching her to be a polite, civilized person living in the world and being a total control freak about everything she says.

I have a lot of buttons to push and they’re not that far from the surface. I want my girls to know that having buttons is normal to push. That it’s not unreasonable to feel irritation, annoyance, anger, frustration and sadness. But what I’m really hoping to learn, and to teach them, is how not to take their shit out on other people. xo Janet

Our wedding

Taken at a friend’s wedding in 2008, we’re wearing our wedding outfits.

I’ve been thinking a lot about our wedding recently, not only because it was our anniversary on Monday but because I see so many images of same sex couples in bridal magazines and now I can buy a same sex couple a greeting card at Chapters if I need one. 13 years ago, when Meg and I got married, that definitely wasn’t a thing. When we got married, it felt a radical, political act because it was one. Same sex marriage had only been legal for a year. One year. 52 weeks. 365 days. We were the first of our group of friends to get married and it even though we were both 29, it felt like we were charting unknown territory.

LGBTQ2S people have been in relationships for hundreds of years, it has just mostly been in the shadows. Emily Dickinson famously loved her sister-in-law, something I just learned about from the Molly Shannon movie. In the last 13 years, I have gone from seeing no one like me getting married, to a whole bunch of people like me get married, then get divorced, then get remarried. I see two brides in Brides magazine get married in wedding gowns, something I still don’t get because a white wedding gown was supposed to be a sign of a bride’s virginity. But hey, you do you.

Meg and I wore beautiful pant suits which is a little cliche for lesbians but we both looked amazing. I was so nervous that day that I had a total meltdown at the hair salon about my updo, it was way too poofy and I freaked out. I was so disconnected from my feelings and my experience of my anxiety that I honestly thought I was freaking out about my hair. Now anyone who knows me knows my hair is very important to me. But a little too much hair spray sent me into an emotional tailspin. Pre-wedding jitters one might say, or just rampant, unchecked, unbridled anxiety. Take your pick.

That day was honestly the best day of my life up until that point. I have never felt so special and probably never will again which I’m just fine with. I got to marry my most important person. It was a really special day with our friends and family there, we were so proud of ourselves, we felt so grown up. I look back on that now and think how little we understood about what marriage really means, what it takes, what makes it work. Neither of us had a clue frankly, but we did it anyway. Lots of people don’t get married and that’s great too, whatever works for you is the right thing. We have far too many conventions about what one ought to do when becoming an adult, the timelines, the expectations. It’s all bullshit.

That day I felt like by doing something so conventional like get married, I was radicalizing my life. I was standing up for my rights, I was marrying the woman I love in a ceremony in front of people who love and care about us. I was making a public declaration of my love and commitment. I was telling the world that I didn’t care about their conventions and edicts, about how I should marry a man instead. I think it was the first time in my adult life that I could honestly say that I wasn’t doing what people expected of me and it felt amazing. Still does. xo Janet

Lucky number 13


 Meg and I at Toronto Pride around 2005 or 2006

This is a big week around here  – we’re getting our house ready to sell, I got to do my first real photo shoot on the weekend which was amazing and yesterday, Meg and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary. By celebrated, I mean I stayed home from work so sick I could barely get out of bed, Meg ran around getting stuff sorted with the house, painting walls, talking to the painters who were here all day and keeping Lenni occupied and happy. That’s what August 19th looked like for us this year.

Now to be fair, we went out on Friday night and had a really wonderful evening eating out, meeting the amazing Vanessa Vanjie Mateo and seeing a fabulous drag show. We were out way past out bedtime and it was great.

Pride this year is very special for me because I’m part of the Wheelhouse community and they are doing some amazing things in support of the queer community in Ottawa. If you’re not following them on @instagram, you’re missing out.

It’s also special for me because it’s the 18th Pride I’ll be celebrating with Meg. 18 years of anything is amazing; 18 years of celebrating being queer and proud with a woman I love so much, who teaches me something every day, who is an amazing person and mom, is really something. There’s no secret to a being with the same person for a long time if that’s your thing. You have to do the work on yourself and your relationship, you have to keep showing up, keep choosing that person. Don’t take them or the things they do for you for granted. And if you do, say you’re sorry and mean it. Change your roles. Change your expectations. Manage your expectations. Remember that they’re flawed and fallible too and don’t hold it against them or throw it in their face. Be kind to yourself and them. Happy pride everyone and honey, happy anniversary. Xo Janet