Talking to Kids About Anxiety (or, how to destroy The Clam)

When Puck was diagnosed with anxiety a few years ago, he drew a dark but beautiful picture to show what it felt like. The picture shows a dark, stormy world, and little Puck off to the side, trying to get to the safety of his home. It looked scary, and I felt sad when I looked at.  One thing I’ve learned about mental illness, though, is that what looks sad sometimes isn’t. And what looks funny and entertaining is sometimes scarier than you can imagine.

Recently, I asked him if it still felt like that for him. He thought about it for a minute.

“No,” he said. “It feels like I’m The Clam.”

“The Clam?”

“Yeah. The Clam costume,” he explained. “I feel like I’m in it all the time. I hate it. But I have no choice because that’s part of being at school. I’m trapped inside something I hate, but it’s all anyone can see and they think it’s who I am. I can’t wait to get it off and never see it again, but I’m trapped.”

At Puck’s school, the kids put on elaborate plays each year — plays they create themselves. They write the scripts, make the props, and choreograph the musical numbers. It falls to the parents, alas, to create the costumes for the sometimes odd characters the students develop. One year, Puck’s role in the play was The Clam.fullsizeoutput_27f

The Clam costume was a triumph of my glue gun and some craft foam. I was so proud to have created something that actually resembled a clam. Puck, however, was not thrilled. Being in a play was anxiety-inducing enough. Having to wear a costume in which he felt ridiculous made it worse. He wore it because he had to, but he was miserable. To this day, he despises any reference to The Clam. So when he said he felt like he was trapped as The Clam, I knew he has been feeling very miserable, indeed.Read More »

Spring, Starting Over & a Dog’s Love

Today, the sun is shining  in Nova Scotia and it’s a long weekend – a holiday about rebirth, second chances, and faith in the good that you can’t always see. That’s an increasingly important thing, in this world of ours.

Yesterday morning, I took my dog, Pippa, for one of our long daily walks, and I met a man who I haven’t seen in a few months now. It was a moment of renewal, as we re-connected and welcomed the spring together.

I wrote about this man on my Facebook page last November — a week after the US election. The story seemed to strike a chord with people, so I thought I’d share it again here, in the spirt of whatever holiday you might be celebrating this weekend.  I hope it shines a spotlight on a small part of the pain refugees experience. People fleeing war and persecution do it to be safe, and to have a better life than the turmoil in their country can offer. Canadians have welcomed thousands of Syrian refugees this past year, but maybe we don’t stop to think about the lives they’ve left behind — the careers, the friends, the homes, the treasured objects…and the beloved pets. Read More »

Life Skills 101: Juggling Flaming Bags of Poo

Waaaay back when I was a young thing in a “Frankie Say Relax” t-shirt and neon jelly shoes, we had to take Home Ec in school. One semester we took sewing, and then cooking, and the last was something whose name escapes me: Family Arts? Domestic Bliss? I guess it’s telling that I can’t remember.

I strongly feel Home Ec should make a comeback. Someone in this house, other than me, needs to learn how to cook (Banker Boy made me a bagel once, when I’d returned from having our child surgically removed from my abdomen). And someone should be preparing us critical life skills, like budgeting, career planning, and how to juggle all the shit life throws your way when you’re a reluctant member of the Sandwich Generation.

Let me introduce you to my son. He knows I write about him, but to maintain some modicum of privacy, I’ll call him Puck. That’s a name that captures both his love of hockey, and his resemblance to a mischievous and funny character from my favourite Shakespeare play.

Puck is eleven. He’s always been a funny kid, curious about the world around him. He loves hockey, animals, and airplanes. He wants to be a pilot. He loves to make people laugh, and is very concerned about the well-being of others.

Puck’s problems in school started almost immediately, and got increasingly worse through Grade Two. He’d rip up his work. Knock over chairs. Yell at the teacher, and cry inconsolably. That was not the same kind, funny child we saw at home. We had no clue what to do. We’d get phone calls from the school to come get him, as he was disrupting the class and upsetting the other children. I overheard other parents talking about Puck as a problem who needed to be dealt with. It broke my heart.Read More »

Don’t think about it. Just eat it.

My father eats gross things. Head cheese. Liver. Fried baloney. I never tried the first two. Baloney, however, was a lunch staple at our house, especially if my mum wasn’t home and Dad was in charge of feeding me. I didn’t like it, but I’d eat it, because I liked hanging out with my dad, and enjoyed the knowledge  that we were eating something my mother wouldn’t approve of.

I recall one day, standing next to him at the stove and reading the label on the tube-shaped slab of baloney. Dad slapped my hand away from it.

“Don’t think about it what’s in it,” he warned. “Just eat it.”Read More »