Overambitious and Energized September

September! As I have written before, I LOVE September. Even though I have not been on a typical “school schedule” for many years, it still feels the most like the “Fresh Start” opportunity of the year. This year is no exception. As September approaches every year, I feel energized and excited and I start planning things I want to do. I may have gone overboard this year. I won’t bore you with all the kids activities, those I have actually managed to keep to a manageable amount. But my plans for myself may be a tad overambitious.

My plans for this fall include the following:

1. 8 week online course on Whole Food cooking (so excited to become inspired again in the kitchen. That has fallen by the wayside this summer).
2. 8 week “real-time” course on Mindfulness for Healthcare workers. Tim is joining me on this one, so it is kind of like weekly dates for 8 weeks, right?
3. Exercise – I have signed up for a friend’s twice weekly morning “boot camp” type classes
4. Micah – we are going to do an 11 week program with him that focuses on learning to relax and worry less

Hmmm….I know that listing it like that should make me feel nervous, but I still just feel excited. My secret personal goal is to be kind with myself when I discover the reality that I cannot participate in each of the things as fully as I would like to. BUT it is better to try rather than nothing at all, right?

I am not totally insane this fall, though. Today my colleague asked me if I would like to learn to play bridge with her club. The answer to the question “Robyn, would you like to learn to _____” is pretty much always “yes”. But I did recognize that I simply could not add one more thing and I said “no thank you”. And I feel pretty proud of myself. Ha! I would like to learn to play bridge sometime, though.

Growing up, I was always involved in many things, there are just so many fun things to do and learn. And I would frequently get overwhelmed and stressed and tired. And my dad would say “Robyn, you have bitten off more than you can chew!”. Then I would pause, think, and reply “well, but I always manage to swallow the bite”.

And so Autumn 2013, here we go! Happy Autumn to you all – I hope you have many wonderful plans and dreams for the season.


Back to School

Today is the first day of school here. Micah is an old hat at this now, starting Grade 3, but today is Ariel’s first day of school. She is more than ready. She is excited, she has been counting down the days, and she is READY.

Me? Not so ready. It is a funny thing, this little bit of sadness I have sending her off to school. I also felt it when Micah went. It is not a “teary on the school yard” type of sadness, just a little nostalgic sort of feeling. I have been reflecting on this a little over the summer.

Why do I feel sad? It is a right of passage, she is ready to go, and she was in preschool for 2 years before this! But I have realized that it feels a little like I am sending her out into the world and she is no longer just “ours”. We have to share her now. Intellectually, I know this makes no sense because she has been to preschool, to dance classes, to gymnastics, and, in fact, to all kinds of places without her family with her. But this feels different.

This feels like her beautiful nature is now out there. It isn’t our family secret anymore. She is out there now and will be influenced, positively and negatively, by the big, wide world. I remember having these exact same feelings when I walked Micah off to grade Primary 3 years ago. But I had forgotten until now. I know our children aren’t ever really “ours” but we can kind of pretend until days like today.

It feels like my own special gift has now been shared with the world and it won’t ever be mine alone again. 

Enjoy the world, sweet, smart, strong girl of mine. As I said to you this morning:

You are going to love school and school is going to love you!

A Child’s View of Tragedy

Grampie died peacefully earlier this week. Tim was at his side as the life left him.

In medicine, we often speak of good deaths and bad deaths. This is usually referring not only to the nature of the cause of death (for example, traumatic accident vs. old-age) but also to how well prepared the family was for the passing.

My Nanny, my mother’s mother, used to say “There are worse things than dying”.
My Granny, my father’s father, after the passing of her husband of 60 years, “It is very, very sad, but it is not tragic”.

Grampie’s death was a good death. And his extremely poor quality of life at the end, meant that there was some blessing in his passing. But it was still a tragedy. He was only 65. He had been ill and debilitated for the entire lives of his grandchildren. And it feels like he, and we, were a bit robbed. But Grampie himself, used to say long ago: “If I died tomorrow, it would OK. I have had a great life. I have seen my sons grow and be successful”. And so, Tim felt very sad, much sadder than he expected, but he was at peace with the loss of his father. It was time, he felt.

However, as much as we adults can know about bad/good deaths, sadness vs tragedy, to children it is completely different. Our 2 younger children have taken this in stride. I am not sure they even quite realize what has happened. But Micah, Micah is sad. This is a tragedy in his young life. We learned, that to him, his relationship to Grampie was the same as with his other grandparents. Even though Grampie was never able to really play with him, read to him, chat with him, Grampie was able to LOVE him and that was all that mattered. Micah cried and laid his head on Grampie’s chest when we took him to say goodbye. Even though it made him so sad, he wanted to return several times. When I was talking with him afterwards, he told me that was so sad that the only grandparent that lived where we lived, was gone.

This was such a lesson about love for me. Children really do love purely and unconditionally. It doesn’t really matter what you do with them, as long as you show up and are present in their lives. For Micah, Grampie was present. He came to celebrations, he shared his favourite Aero bars with Micah, he love listening to Micah play the violin. Grampie was his Grampie.

Tim and I struggled a lot with how much to include the children in what was happening. Our own personal experiences with death came at a much later age. But Grampie was dying on a weekend, we were all focused on being there for him and for Tim. Relatives were coming and going and children are very astute observers. We decided that we should tell them the truth. And we didn’t want them to be afraid of death. And so we took everyone over to see Grampie, to cuddle him, and to say good-bye. They all did this. They all climbed into bed with him and spent time with him. They weren’t afraid, amazingly.

I think Grampie had a “good” death, if you can understand what I mean. And I think the children had a peaceful, non-threatening experience with it, I hope they did. If there was anything positive to come out of the loss of a grandparent at such a young age, perhaps it is this: Micah is sad, but not scared. And he has another memory of his Grampie and I have learned another lesson about love.

Fathers & Sons

Well, another unexpected hiatus from this blog has come and (hopefully gone). The spring was so overbooked with work and fun and family and combinations of those that I just kind of leaned into it and lived – somewhat mind fully.

But today I feel inspired to share. There is a lot going on in our family these days. Micah turned 8 this week. [8!!!] And Tim’s father is dying. So much joy and sadness all at the same time. Kind of like life in general I guess.

All of these milestones have filled my head with thoughts of parenthood, marriage, and even medicine. But particularly about fathers and sons. Tim’s dad has been ill for a long time. We have witnessed him transform from a tall, strong, extremely robust man, to a weak and frail man due to a progressive neurodegenerative disorder. And he is still young. It has been humbling, devastating, and poignant. Now we are on the cusp of the next phase: life without Grampy.

Tim has been the “man on the ground” helping his dad to manage all of this.
Grampy hasn’t had a wife or partner for many years, so this has been almost entirely on Tim’s shoulders. His brother has been a support, but lives far away and has his own feelings, family, and anxiety to deal with. And so it has been Tim who negotiated the health care system to get a diagnosis. Tim who arranged the nursing home placement. And Tim who has borne first witness to the deterioration. Tim has also been communication coordinator, spending countless hours on the phone with far away family and friends who want to know about Grampy’s status. The burden of all this (my word not his, Tim would NEVER say it was a burden) is greater because Tim is a doctor. Everyone wants to talk to him about it. Nobody is happy getting the information from any other family member because they feel they might not be getting all the details.

It has taken a great toll on Tim. I wish I could tell you I have always been a supportive wife, but sometimes I felt resentful of the time and energy his dad’s illness took out of Tim. This, coupled with the demands of his job, has left Tim with little inner resource for dealing with a wife and 3 small children. And, at times, I have resented this. I have wished things were different. I have been angry and frustrated.

But mostly, I have been awed. Tim and his dad have handled this so gracefully, so patiently, and with such dignity, that I can only stand back in the wings and admire them.

Grampy was a flawed parent, as we all are. BUT he did one thing better than any of the other parents I know well: he was/is his sons greatest fan. And I mean greatest fan. He truly believed they were the smartest, the strongest, the BEST at whatever they tried. His sons, of course, were embarrassed by this from time to time. They often had to stand on the sidelines listening to their dad tell embellished stories of their accomplishments. But I can tell you, I know they also secretly loved it. And I can also tell you, as the daughter of realists, that I also loved witnessing this grandiosity. This pure and unadulterated belief that his sons could achieve anything, was a wonderful gift he gave to them. They are both game to try anything: any sport, speaking any language because they believe they can do it! (for the most part, they can, they ARE impressive people, if I do say so myself).

Father-son relationships can be complicated in the same way mother-daughter relationships are often complicated. In my house, Micah doesn’t allow Tim to teach him anything. And Tim doesn’t have the patience to try different approaches with Micah. They often have trouble understanding each other, and Micah’s habits often annoy Tim out of proportion with what they would if it was not his oldest son doing them. There is love and admiration between them, but also expectation and frustration. As I said, it is complicated. But Tim had a great role model in his dad. And when it counts he returns to that as his guide for how to be with his own son. A gift from one generation to another.

We are witnessing the passing of a soul from this world. And we are witnessing as families and not as doctors. We are asking for advice and expert opinions on what to do and how to make decisions, instead of being the experts. However, our knowledge of life and death and realities of what can and cannot be changed, does help. I am struck once again how lucky we are to live this life with each other.

As we spend these days close to home, and close to Grampy’s side, I am struck by the opportunity to think about life and death and love and relationships.

Death is sad. The passing of your parent at a young age, is a tragedy. A long, protracted, degenerative illness can be an awful way to die, but it does allow for one positive: the people around you have time to be with you and to accept what is to come. Tim’s dad deserved to have his sons by his side as he died and that is how it is happening. He would have been proud of the way they are handling this. The truth is, he would have said that they were doing the best job anyone ever did of managing the death of a loved one. I know he would have. And you know, he may be right about his one.

F Sharp…Just Another Bad Word Starting with F


I haven’t written about our Suzuki violin experience in a long time, which is funny because it has sort of taken over our lives this year. On the afternoon of our second-to-last violin performance of the year, I thought it was appropriate to share a little about this year in music for us.

Our violin teacher extraordinaire, Kathleen, moved into our city this year and so started a full on violin program this year. This includes not only our weekly private lessons, monthly Suzuki group lessons, but also weekly beginner orchestra for Micah, and numerous performances.

Kathleen set about setting up programs and challenges to motivate families to practice more and commit more to learning their instrument. She added the memorization of poems to the tasks for us to accomplish. And perhaps most ambitious of all, she asked us to commit to trying a “100 Day Challenge”.

According to Kathleen, this challenge has simple rules:

No skipping days
You must play the violin for 5 minutes every day
IF the sun hasn’t come up, there is still time

So…we did the 100 day challenge. That is right, I want some applause. I successfully managed to force my children to practice the violin for 100 days without skipping a day. Although on Day 99 (!!!!), I was on call and Tim forgot and had to WAKE UP Ariel from a deep sleep to practice! (Otherwise she would have had to start over at day 1 and I wasn’t sure I had it in me). The result of the challenge was pretty incredible, I have to admit it. The progress was amazing. And after about 30 days, they were resigned to practicing everyday so there was no more arguing or negotiating to practice “tomorrow”.

Anyway, I could tell you (and likely will at a later date) about the benefits to my children, the community we have developed with other families, etc., but what I most want to share is how F sharp has become like another four letter word for me.

I don’t know why, but F sharp seems to be a difficult note to remember for the beginning violinist. Ariel has made incredible progress this year. Up until December, she couldn’t play a single song and now she is just flying through the songs. But there is something about F sharp. It is in the very first song you learn (Twinkle Star), the first scale (A scale), and repeated many times. She never remembers. OK, that is an exaggeration. But I feel like I am saying “F sharp. F sharp!, F SHARP!!!” about 100 times each practice session. I am totally annoyed about this. And I seem to forget that I am saying this to a, until recently, 4-year-old violinist!

The worst moment of realization came when I was trying to take a video of Ariel playing Twinkle Star, for Nanny. I took the video and then she wanted to see it. And there it was: recorded proof of horrible mommy-hood. My voice, sounding extremely bored, irritated, and annoyed all at the same time: F sharp. F sharp! F SHARP!!!!

So yes, my 2 older kids are fairly accomplished violinists now, having played at many solo and group recitals having survived the 100 day challenge. And it all looks so pretty and nice from the outside. But in the background, is some kind of tiger mom yelling F sharp. And thinking many other four letter words in her head “why can’t she remember that note!!!!”.

And so we are off tonight to the orchestra concert….

On the Eve of her Fifth

My daughter is almost 5. Like, we are hours from the 5th anniversary of her entry into the world. It is a cliché, but time really is passing by so quickly.

I always wanted a daughter, even when I wouldn’t admit it to anyone, I wanted to have a daughter. I love little girls, I love women, I love old ladies, and I love the relationship I have with my own mother. And so, I always wanted a daughter.

People will tell you to be careful what you wish for, you never actually know what you are going to get. I guess this is true in some areas, but not in motherhood. In my experience, what you get far exceeds what you wish for.

When she was 3, my daughter was a BIG challenge. She was difficult MOST of the time. And then one morning, she woke up and declared that was “going to be nice now”. Tim and I were incredulous: who just declares they are going to change their behaviour and then actually does it?! Apparently, our daughter. Don’t get me wrong, she is still her strong-willed, knows her mind self. But she is also sweeter, more patient, and loving. (We won’t even think about the possible day when she wakes up with a another declaration….)

My daughter is my second child. She was born of a reasonably quick labour at 3 am. Truth be told, I hadn’t really cared about gender the second time around. With MIcah, I secretly wanted a girl, but then I LOVED being a mom to a boy, that I thought it would be amazing to do that again and have 2 boys – brothers! But the she arrived – our beautiful, feisty, stubborn, full of happiness and life little girl. I was DELIGHTED. I was SO happy with her. I was SO delighted with my baby (girl) that I thought everyone should have a second baby, just to experience this joy. This feeling of love and contentment, free from the worry of the first time parent.

We brought her home and her brother promptly put her in the back of his Tonka truck and drove her around. It was their first hilarious and sweet sibling moment. I thought she was pointy looking and she had birthmark on her forehead, I didn’t care. She was MY DAUGHTER and I loved her so much.

And now she is five. And she is full of life! And she is full of love! And she likes all things girly and princess and also all things her older brother likes (Lego and mine craft and basketball). She is a glass half full little girl. She is a tempest in a teapot (apparently just like her mother was). She is strong and stubborn and beautiful. She has strong views on many things. When she is angry, she tell us, her family, that we are ANNOYING her and should leave her alone. When she is excited, her whole body shakes and her hands flutter. Her eyes light up and sparkle and her whole body is alive with energy.

My daughter loves ballet and learning to play the violin, and working outside with her dad, and riding her bike, and dressing up fancy for no occasion. When she grows up she is going to be a dancer, a dentist, and a doctor for children. She loves playing school with her baby brother, who figures prominently in all of her games. She loves to work in the kitchen with whoever is cooking there.

To say my daughter has exceeded my expectations would be an understatement. My smart, stubborn, beautiful, bossy, loving, happy girly girl is more than I ever could have hoped for in a daughter. I cannot believe she is five. I am so lucky to be her mother – what a privilege.

Happy Birthday Sweet Girl.

Mindful Moms


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On this Mother’s Day, I am reflecting on all of the wonderful mothers I am lucky enough to call my friends. About 9 months ago (haha – the same time it takes to make you a mother!) I sent the following email to 4 women:

Hello Ladies – old friends and new,

I am emailing with a bit of confession and a “no pressure” invitation.

First, the confession:

So…I lead this blessed life (I think) with healthy beautiful children, a spouse I love, financial security, a rewarding job, and wonderful friends. And yet, I often find it HARD. I struggle to enjoy the many daily beautiful moments that make up my life. I am constantly thinking or worrying about the next thing: the next meal, the next task, the next thing on the to do list, etc. And I feel a bit like it is all passing me by and soon my kids will have moved on and I will look back and wonder why I wasn’t able to enjoy it all and soak it all in. And I wonder why I find it hard, when so many others have it so much harder!

I embarked on a bit of a personal journey (about 5 years ago) which involved learning more about mindfulness, meditation, and kripalu yoga. My goals were to become a more peaceful person, mother, friend, wife. I have had some success. I am much more aware of my anxieties and distractions. But the old issues keep on creeping in. When I am struggling with something, I turn to books (I know, but once a nerd, always a nerd).

Last March, my oldest friend and I were lucky enough to go to a 3 day retreat on loving-kindness meditation. One of the leaders mentioned she was going to speak at a group called the “Mindful Moms”.

So….you can see where I am headed. I started thinking that maybe this is what I want to try to create. A community of women who meet and support each other and help each to be more mindful in their daily lives, to practice enjoying all those little moments that are so fleeting and so beautiful.

I have had conversations with each of you, at some point, that have suggested to me that you might also be interested in such a thing. I have been trying to read this book:

Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting – by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn

I figured a book written by an expert in using Mindfulness practice to reduce stress and treat depression, might be a good place to start. He wrote this book with his wife and it appears to be full of wisdom and anecdotes. The problem is, it is dense. I have only made it through the introduction and I can tell I need some help.

I sent this email out with an invitation to join me in reading the book – to meet monthly to talk about it. I was SO nervous! And I was incredibly moved to receive overwhelming positive responses. Since that time we have grown into a group of 8 woman – some with children with special challenges, others with marriages with special challenges, and all of with the common desire to do better in appreciating our lives. And a desire to be more mindful of our many, many blessings.

It has been energizing getting to know these women and reading this book together. I know I am more mindful with my children AND with my husband – the effects roll out to all areas of my life. I admire these women so much and I have learned more than I thought would be possible just from spending time with them.

I am so grateful to these women for compassionately reading my confession and accepting my invitation. It was a turning point for me to write the email that confessed to myself and others how I really felt about my life and how I wanted that to change. I am grateful to be in the regular company of these mothers who inspire, nurture, love and try every day to do even better for themselves and their families.

In fact, I am so grateful for all of the women in my life, both those who live near and those who are far away, who continue to support, inspire, and amaze me. Thank you for your continued presence in my life. It is difficult to express just how important you are to me, but I hope you know it anyway.

Love to all of you today on Mother’s Day.

Through the doors…

In the OR suite where I work, there are 2 big sets of double doors that patients must pass through to get to the corridor where the operating rooms are. They say good-bye to their parents just outside the first set. Both sets of doors are automatic doors, so there is a brief interlude where both sets of doors are open and families can watch their children walk away from them toward the operating rooms.

Recently, I have started noticing these moments. They are beautiful, sweet, sad moments all rolled into a few seconds of actual time. Luckily, most children coming for surgery are well, they only need a minor operation and will be on their way to happy, healthy times. Of course, some are not well, and may never be healthy again. But for families that moment of saying goodbye and watching their child walk away is so very, very hard.

As a mother, my heart hurts for them as I think about what that would be like: sending your child into the unknown with a stranger…it would just feel wrong. But so many families do this time and again and they do with strength and grace.

As a doctor, I am struck by the sweetness of the moment. I watch as a nurse walks slowly through the doors holding a small hand, chatting with their patient and pointing out all of the interesting thing that are painted on our walls. This is a beautiful image. A child trusting this nurse enough to walk with them and chat and hold their hands on the way to their operation.

Of course, not all children come so peacefully, some are crying, some are fighting, some are just yelling angry words. But all the nurses are calm, and tender, and doing everything they can to sooth and reassure the patients. Surprisingly, most of these tumultuous children calm down as soon as the second set of doors close and they can no longer see their families. It is as if they realize that this is a new world, with different people in whom to put their trust.

Oh, one more reason I love my job: watching people go through the double doors. And better yet, being the person who gets to hold that small hand or carry the small baby through those doors. Lucky, I am very very lucky to work in this environment.

May the Month of May be Experienced Mindfully

The first day of May. Wow, this year has gone fast. One of my best friends returns to work today after one year of maternity leave (how I miss the access I had to her during this year!). My daughter will turn 5 next week – 5! I know it is a cliché, but how did this happen? She is almost entirely a “big girl” now instead of my “tiny daughter”. And we have more fun things planned during this month than any family should have planned!

We have visits with grandparents, long-awaited dinners out with friends, violin solos and group concerts, field trips, a trip away each for mom and dad, and very good friends coming to visit us for the first time, and my annual homage to running: a 10K with great friends.

I look at the month ahead and I feel so many things: anticipation, excitement, nervousness, and also fatigue and worry. I worry because I know that I do not usually weather a packed schedule gracefully. I easily become overwhelmed with the constant need to stay on schedule, not waste a minute, and plan ahead for the next event. This takes it toll on me but more importantly it takes it toll on those around me. I become irritable and impatient. I start wondering why people can’t hurry up: can’t they see we have to be efficient or we will never make the next thing happen!

Oh yes, a jammed schedule does not a happy, mindful mother make, even when the schedule is jammed with wonderful, fun things. And the result is a tired, cranky mother and an unhappy household. And then we miss the fun of all the things we did.

So I am pledging to myself to try harder to do it differently this time. Here is my pledge:

I will be mindful of the wonderful activities we are doing WHILE we are doing them.
I will remember that my children did NOT make the schedule and do NOT understand that they/we are short on time.
It does not matter if we are late sometimes.
It is OK if a few things slide during the month of May…like violin practice and eating green vegetables every day.
I WILL go to bed early on the nights when that is possible (just add sleep deprivation to the jammed schedule and I am embarrassed to admit the bad behaviours that can occur).
I will be MINDFUL for at least a few minutes of each wonderful thing we do.
I will be MINDFUL.

I repeated that last one a few times because I am pretty sure it is the key to all of the rest.

I want to relish and enjoy the month of May, not just try to get through it.

Wish me luck. I wish you a beautiful month of May.

Boppy vs. Blankie vs. Blanket

Well, after many weeks I have realized (again) there is no good time to sit down and write and so if I have 10 minutes before a teaching session I should just go for it! I am back…hopefully with renewed inspiration to just write when I can.

All 3 of my children have beautiful homemade baby blankets that were crocheted by my mother. Micah has a white one (didn’t know his gender) AND a blue one, known as “blue blankie”, that was made to be a back up. Ariel has 2 pink ones, we wised up and had Nanny make 2 at once to try to avoid the disaster of losing a blankie. And Kirby has 2 cream coloured ones (we knew he was going to be a boy, but Nanny felt like crocheting with cream coloured yarn, I guess) AND a white one he stole from Micah.

The colour is not important, but the lacy crocheted patterns are. They allow a little one to put their fingers through the holes and pull the blanket up over themselves or just enjoy the feel of the yarn between their fingers. All 3 of my babies did this from a very young age. I am convinced there is something soothing for babies to have their fingers through the holes and wiggle them. The blankies are the only way we diverged from the recommendations to protect against SIDS. We let the babies have their blankets in their cribs. They LOVED these blankets – the blankets are the only must have item at bedtime.

Poor Micah lost BOTH of his blankies this past year. One didn’t come home from a summer trip and the other was scooped up by laundry when were at Disney World (that was decidedly NOT magical). His blankies lasted almost 8 years, and while he weathered the transition quite well, he still wistfully brings it up occasionally.

They all do different things with their blankets. Micah always wrapped his blue one around himself like a cape when he was sleeping. Ariel has always sucked on hers both when falling asleep and while sleeping (gross: the edges are all brown now no matter how often blankie is washed). Kirby drags his everywhere, like Linus in the Charlie Brown cartoons, which means we have a family wide hunt for “Boppy” before bed each night.

Ah “Boppy”. That is what Kirby calls his most favourite blanket. And while he also wants blankie and blanket in bed with him, Boppy MUST be in bed with him. Now to the untrained eye, there is VERY little difference between Boppy and Blankie and Blanket (the cream coloured blanket he stole from Micah), Kirby can always tell the difference. Even in the dark, he will touch a blanket and pull it to his nose and say “not Boppy”. It is really quite amazing.

And so the nightly hunt for Boppy continues in our house because bedtime routines cannot continue for anyone until Boppy is found. And while I frequently I feel exasperated by this nightly delay in bedtime, I am also aware of how fleeting is. Each night when I make my “rounds” to look at the children sleeping, I love to see their blankies and boppies with them. As we learned with Micah this year, this won’t last long. As always with children, beauty goes hand in hand with exasperation.