Speaking of Dragonflies

Speaking of Dragonflies - Watercolour painting of a dragonfly

(reposted from July 2020 with an updated comprehensive guide to dragonflies from https://happydiyhome.com/)

In my experience, dragonflies have never posed a physical threat. I teased David once that he must have some Disney princess in him when a persistent dragonfly kept landing on his face and t-shirt while we walked in the woods one day.

They seemed to be a random but consistent theme for gifts for me and by me, dragonfly images in jewelry, pottery, a favourite tea mug.

When we joked that the new town we were moving to reminded us of Stars Hollow, the fictional setting for the Gilmore Girls TV series, we named our house the Dragonfly. And when my mom passed away, my brother and sister in law gifted me with a metal dragonfly sculpture for the garden in lieu of flowers.

Their prehistoric beauty weaves a magical thread through my life.

They are truly amazing creatures. Here are seven fascinating things you might not already know about dragonflies. And if you’d like an updated, comprehensive guide, you can find one here.

I hear my father’s voice most every time I see a dragonfly in nature. “They’ll sew your lips shut,” he’d say, and we saw them a lot. Someone had passed this piece of false folklore on to him when he was a young child. Well into his 60’s as we walked together, it had obviously left an impression, one that he handed down to me.

Years ago, walking in the woods along the north shore of Lake Superior with my nephew who was about 4 or 5 at the time, I remember the heat of summer rising up from the forest floor, the sun filtering through the trees, the song of cicadas heralding the approach of summer’s end, and dragonflies thick in the air. Their darting and hovering, the iridescence of their bodies and wings had always fascinated me.

“They’ll sew your lips shut Nonno says.” I suppose I made to pass on the story another generation. The nephew stopped in his tracks; I had to double back a bit when I realized this. His sunny expression had darkened as he quite firmly requested that I please not say that again, especially while walking this path.

Only then did it occur to me that the thought of an insect sewing one’s lips shut might be disturbing to a child. It had never bothered me, I supposed because I was most of the time a fairly serious child with two feet planted firmly in the ground, pretty sure this could not occur in real life.

On other topics I was more gullible. There was, for example, the few days I crawled out of bed on my hands first because I’d believed an aunt who’d told me that your feet would stick to the floor the next morning if you swallowed your gum. Kids choose which stories to trust; it’s random.

My nephew wanted neither my dad nor I to speak of dragonflies sewing your lips shut ever again. I wonder if he’d ever been as solid in this request of my dad as he had of me. I never told my dad that story; I wish I had. And I wish I had asked him how he’d felt as a child when whoever it was told him the dragonfly lie.

Because obviously the words had left an impression.

Until next time, with love,

Janine Bertolo (she/her)
Anti-capitalist crone and culture maker 
Trauma-informed somatic coach 

The Dynamics of Shame

the word "shame" in scrabble tiles on a red background

This is the story of a schoolyard bully, a conspiracy led by mom, and the dynamics of shame that can get stuck in the body.

Growing up in the 60s, we had a neighbour who lived across the street. He was a year younger than me, in my brother’s class at school.

And he was a bully. Over the years the incidents were countless.

I remember the bully raking his fingernails down my cousin’s face when she came to visit as we were playing together outside. Funny enough, when I asked her about it, she doesn’t remember a thing.

I remember him crossing the schoolyard to kick me in the shin so hard that I couldn’t walk, couldn’t control my sobbing, all because I’d complimented him on his beautiful new desert boots.

I felt shame that wasn’t mine, and when the teacher on yard duty hauled us by the arms into the principal’s office to have him deal with us. I refused to acknowledge the facts – that I had done nothing to deserve the kick, except stand in the schoolyard during recess enjoying the warmth of the late spring sun radiating off the brick wall.

I defended him. Said it was an accident. That nothing really happened, and could I just go back to class now?

The bully? He just kept wheedling that he hadn’t done anything wrong.

I just needed to hide, to retreat in fear that my name had been placed in “the book”

(What the hell was the book anyway? The fear of having your name in “the book” was real back then. Did all schools have “the book”?)

I returned home after school that day and could not face my family for the shame, going straight to my room until dinner and returning there afterwards until bedtime.

On the third day of this self-imposed punishment, my mother came to my room, sat down on the bed beside me to talk.

The bully’s mom had called my mom to let her know that her son was upset because of something that had happened in school a couple of days ago, and that I was involved. Of course, he had given her no details.

Witness the dynamics of shame.

Still I defended him, denied he’d done anything wrong, insisted it was an accident. I don’t remember if I ever set the record straight with my mom, though I doubt the incident left as big a mark on her memory as it did mine.

(And yes, she asked me if I got my name in “the book” – it wasn’t just a kid thing)

In any case, one day my mom, frustrated at hearing our complaints and pleas about the bully’s behaviour (and apparently lacking any other viable options for resolution) took a conspiratorial tone and set a plan in motion.

The next time the bully lashed out at us, she instructed me to pin him down while my younger brother beat him up.

The war to create peace approach….

Of course, as young children, this was viewed as free license to stand at the end of our driveway, taunting the bully from across the street until his rage reached the tipping point and he stomped over to deal with us.

What can I say? I’m a lover, not a fighter. The mechanics of war do not come easily to me.

Also, I’m slightly dyslexic and its effects are amplified under stress.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Here’s what happened: In the heat of the moment, I got flustered and I pinned my brother down instead of the bully.

My brother fought me valiantly, but I managed to keep him down.

I’ve always been physically strong, though I grew tired of doing all the holding while the bully was not getting his due.

In actuality, the bully was wailing on my brother with me complicit.

I can still see the righteous look of unfettered rage and frustration on my brother’s face when he muttered through gritted teeth: “You’re supposed to be holding HIM down, not ME!”

And in that moment, the jig was up.

The bully’s rage spell was broken on hearing those words, the unmistakable realization that he’d been lured into a trap gradually dawning on him. The rage left his body. He sagged a little, started sobbing and ran back home.

My brother and I retreated to our own house to play in the basement, silently steaming at each other over the failed coup. We didn’t bother to bring our mom up to speed on what had happened.

We heard the bully’s mom come to the back door, and the low tone she and my mom took in speaking to each other. We managed to eavesdrop and hear my mom claiming not to know what could have gotten into us and assuring her neighbour that she’d address it.

And address it she did. We creeped up the stairs to the kitchen after the neighbour left. Mom looked at us with a smile and a nod and a twinkle in her eye and said, “Good job.”

I felt there was no need to go full debrief on the incident and describe my abject failure in executing the plan. The end result was the same either way, right?

The bully got the message that his behaviour would not be tolerated. I like to think it was the beginning of a détente.

These memories bubbled up during one of my training modules for advanced coach training in trauma resolution. The instructor, Racheal Maddox, was speaking about the dynamics of shame, and how we are conditioned to take on shame that isn’t our own when traumatic events happen.

When we experience violation of some sort, shame causes us to retreat and hide and convince ourselves that we’re bad, that what happened was our own fault, how shame is a result of trauma in the social nervous system, and how shameful behaviour is more often than not the result of feelings of shame carried by the perpetrator.

I had forgotten about the schoolyard kick in the shin until then.

I also remembered a day before that, when the bully ran crying home from the schoolyard a block away because someone had bullied him. His father’s response was to place a stick of wood in his hands and urge him to go back to the schoolyard to beat the kid up with it. He followed down the street, yelling ‘encouragement’ while, obviously distressed, tears streamed down his son’s face.

Thankfully, our neighbour who lived at the next corner, intervened and the bully and his father returned home, rage deflated by shame.

I recognize that the bully and his father were raised by a system that values toxic and hyper masculinity. I can imagine they both felt trapped by that.

I realize that as a child, I felt the bully’s shame, the shame he was unable to express because it was too big, that allowed him to do something really shitty to me while defending his behaviour. Prickly defensiveness on the outside and the frozen heart inside.

“The traumatic event is in the past but if it’s not allowed to complete and release in safety it gets stuck in our bodies and nervous systems and affects the way we navigate the present.” Rachael Maddox

The memories and emotions around these incidents bubbled up freely because I’ve tilled the healing soil for stuck feelings to move and ‘complete’. My body feels safe and resourced enough to let them flow and let them go.

I hope that sometime in the past fifty or so years the bully and his family have been able to find some healing from the intergenerational trauma caused by toxic masculinity.

And I wonder if my brother has forgiven me yet.

I am a trauma-informed somatic coach who helps people tap into the wisdom of their bodies so they can heal and thrive.
More information here.

The Scent of Lilacs

My morning altar includes a bouquet of lilacs, my father's compass, and a crone modeled in artists' clay by my father many years ago.

The scent of lilacs on my morning altar sparks musings on ancestral memory and healing.

“All the eggs a woman will every carry form in her ovaries while she is a four-month-old foetus in the womb of her mother. This means our cellular life as an egg begins in the womb of our grandmother.

Each of us spent five months in our grandmother’s womb, and she in turn formed within the womb of her grandmother.

We vibrate to the rhythms of our mother’s blood before she herself is born, and this pulse is the thread of blood that runs all the way back through the grandmothers to the first mother.”

(When The Drummers Were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm by Layne Redmond)

This powerful bit of ancestral science comes floating back to me in morning meditation, as I breathe in the heady scent of the lilacs.

I remember hopping in the car with my dad and a pair of clippers to scour the countryside in the spring and find a stand of lilacs to cut a bouquet to bring home to mom.

That memory and a strong call to have the scent of lilacs nearby and close to me inspired my partner and I to store a pair of clippers in our car and find the blossoms sitting on my altar now.

My maternal nonna loved lilacs, as did her eldest daughter, my mother, her sister, and as I think of it, as do all of the women in my nonna’s lineage, and it’s no wonder that we do.

The scent molecules imprinted at a cellular level as she breathed them in have been passed on to us, in her womb, as she carried my mother and her siblings.

They synthesized in the eggs that seeded our birth, and they are passed on to our offspring, physically and energetically.

In the breathing, in the scent, I feel her love and strength flowing to me, with my mother as an intermediary on its journey through the generations.

The molecules in the air that I breathe are recycled, the atoms that formed them created when the universe began, indestructible and eternal.

Those atoms form the molecules our ancestors breathed for millennia, recycled and cleansed, exchanged in our lungs at the level of the alveoli.

Oxygen in, carbon dioxide out, in a regenerative dance with nature, whose trees and plants exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen, literally sustaining life.

As I inhale and exhale, in meditation and throughout the course of my life from first breath to last, I am inhaling atoms that were inhaled and exhaled by my ancestors, through generations.

They carry the imprints of ancestral legacy. Their energy, their knowing, their experiences, their pain, their trauma, their joy, their victory, breathed into my lungs and out, held in our bodies at the cellular level.

We are connected with our ancestors physically and energetically, each time air meets flesh in the act of breathing, air meets blood, an eternal exchange, receiving nourishment, expelling toxins for the earth and nature to receive for composting.

Every breath I take cleanses, restores, energizes, alchemizes the cells of my body that hold ancestral wisdom and imprints of ancestral trauma.

It is no coincidence that lilacs grow plentiful and abundant on old farmland, in regular rows. Before flush toilets were invented, lilacs were planted over outhouse holes after they were filled and the outhouse moved to a new location.

More poignantly, lilacs have been traditionally planted over burial sites for placentae and stillborn babies. I first read about it here.

As I breathe in the scent of lilacs, I flow healing and love back through the generations to my mother, my nonnas, my ancestors. I wonder at what experiences, joy, sadness or trauma imprinted the scent in our collective memory.

What other ancestral experiences, joy, sadness or trauma have imprinted and affected me in the way I navigate life? I know my grandmother experienced two miscarriages after my birth. Were there more? How did they affect her?

I wonder if the reactions and responses I have to life situations that feel like they’re not really mine, but feel real nonetheless, stem from incidents and experiences before my time, passed on in my ancestral lineage.

In all the wondering I become more committed to my own healing, and know I am contributing to collective healing in the doing.

I am a trauma-informed somatic coach who helps people tap into the wisdom of their bodies so they can heal and thrive. More information here.

Ancestral Lullaby

Lately, I have felt the deep pull to connect with my lineage, to learn more about ancestral healing of intergenerational trauma.

There is evidence that memories and experiences are passed on through generations in our DNA. The study referenced here speaks to it.

I feel grief and deep regret at not having asked for more stories, more family history, more insight while my parents and grandparents were here with me.

What were their experiences, their struggles, their victories, their spirit wounds, their trauma? What stories and experiences from their parents and grandparents shaped them?

As I fell asleep last night, I asked for some insight, how to connect, how to feel the presence of my lineage, and wondering what my ancestors might tell me.

A song came to me at about 3 a.m., a haunting melody, familiar and beautiful. I woke, distressed and inconsolable, because I could not remember the words of the song.

I soothed myself back to sleep with trauma-informed somatic practices I’ve been learning, and later in the day after waking, I looked up the lyrics of the song that haunted my dreams:

“When the rain is blowing in your face, and the whole world is on your case, I could offer you a warm embrace, to make you feel my love, to make you feel my love

When the evening shadows and the stars appear, and there is no one there to dry your tears, I could hold you for a million years, to make you feel my love.

I know you haven’t made your mind up yet, but I would never do you wrong. I’ve known it from the moment that we met. No doubt in my mind where you belong.

I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue. I’d go crawling down the avenue. No, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do, to make you feel my love.

The storms are raging on the rolling sea, and on the highway of regret. Though winds of change are throwing wild and free, you ain’t seen nothing like me yet.

I could make you happy, make your dreams come true. Nothing that I wouldn’t do, go to the ends of the Earth for you, to make you feel my love.

To make you feel my love”

It’s a song from Bob Dylan. You can listen to it here.

My ancestors spoke to me. They answered my request for connection by singing to me in my sleep.

And if you know anything about my lineage, that will come as no surprise.

There’s always a song in my head. From here on in I will pay more attention to who’s put it there. And why.

House Hunting with the Ancestors

We’d been talking about it for a while when we saw a house for sale that caught our imagination. We called our agent to see about the possibilities. The market was hot he told us. Houses were selling in our neighbourhood quickly and over asking.

There was no possibility of even looking for a new one until ours was sold because anything we saw now wouldn’t be on the market for long, and in a sellers’ market, offers with conditions of sale of present home or financial approval aren’t considered.

This house had never felt like a good fit for either of us, having taken plan B. We’d sold our previous house, and the one we’d planned to buy failed inspection with huge foundation issues, creating a bit of urgency.

In addition, the pandemic and my effective retirement from a 9 – 5 life changed everything. We no longer need to be within a short commute or have access to public transit with both of us working from home.

It seems the pandemic is driving a housing boom as well, with people wanting to move from densely populated apartment buildings and condos to single family dwellings with a bit of a yard to enjoy without exposure to other people who might carry the deadly virus. Them that have the resources are buying up houses like ours in droves.

We craved moving back to the country and a little bit of acreage, where the market is not quite as hot. It felt like the universe was offering us a real opportunity. So we decided to take the risk of selling without knowing where we’d end up. An exercise in trust.

The listing went live late on a Monday afternoon and within an hour our agent received enough requests for viewings to fill the next two days, four hours in the morning, four hours in the late afternoon to evening; four visits an hour, for two days. 64 prospective buyers.


We needed to be out of the house that we’d staged according to convention – hiding trash cans and toilet brushes and Kleenex boxes, clearing countertops and table tops; eliminating all evidence of humans living messy lives, clearing the slate for prospective buyers to imagine themselves living in the space.

We were granted a four hour break mid-day to return home, rest a bit, pay the bills, get fed and watered without making a mess and evacuate for the afternoon and evening.

Tuesday morning came too early and felt difficult, not having slept much the night before. We piled into the car in a snowstorm and set out in pandemic times to fill the morning; with no restaurants or shops open, no place to pee, and feeling generally grumpy about the whole deal.

Never mind that the whole deal was of our own making. Texting a friend to express my grumpiness about being homeless while strangers were tromping through our house touching things, he LOLed and replied, “This is what you wanted!”

It didn’t help.

We pulled into a drive through for coffee and a breakfast sandwich I didn’t eat until it was cold. I had a zoom staff meeting to attend and driving while screening makes me car sick.

Tuesday, day one of the house-selling adventure, felt long and arduous and taxing, circling about in the car with nowhere to go and not much to do except not be at home.

At the end of the day, we returned to our house, still full of people who lingered past the designated viewing time. I watched them through the front window from the car, wandering around, taking cell phone photos, turning off all the lights, and TOUCHING EVERYTHING.

It pushed me from tired and grumpy to furious. If this is what I wanted, perhaps my desires should be reviewed.

Our agent texted to say he’d received three offers from the morning viewers.

“ good offers?” I texted back.

His reply: “ No 🙁 ”

Then after a pause “ they will go up 🙂 ”

My grumpy heart was not soothed by this. Nothing ever works out for me. Ever.

Except when it does, but when someone is texting you sad face emojis to dash your hopes for a new house with a real bath tub, it’s hard to remember the good stuff.

Wednesday morning came after a better night’s sleep. The storm had passed, the sun was shining gloriously. Even if the temperature with wind chill was -25C, the car was warm, we had a drive through breakfast with no zoom meeting, and another house for sale on the river to find and fuel the dream.

I’d also baked some errands into the day to fill the time. Online shopping and curb side pickup have become a couple of my best friends in the pandemic. I chose a store location on the outskirts of town to take up as much time getting to and from as possible.

Breakfast and warm coffee in hand, I set the car’s navigation system for the address of the house for sale and we set off down the highway. I remarked how much nav systems had improved over the years.

“You can say that again,” came a voice from the back seat.

My mom’s.

“Doreen, remember the system you had in your car when Janine and I visited you in Abbotsford in 2006?”

“Oh yeah,” my aunt laughed. “That thing was useless. She didn’t know what she was talking about. Didn’t we end up just turning her off? And we got to where we wanted to be anyway! That was such a nice visit. I’m glad you came.”

They leaned towards the front seat to take in the view and marvel at the size of the car’s video console.

I let David know my ancestors were on the drive with us and, to his credit, he didn’t blink an eye.

Which turned out to be a good thing, because his mom piped up from the back seat as well.

“What a beautiful day! Thanks for inviting me along!” David’s mom always loved a drive, and she’d also always preferred the back seat.

I was happy to think that my mom, my aunt and David’s mom had become friends. They hadn’t met each other in life.

In the afternoon, we decided to drive up through the hills to see a house we’d checked out previously. We wanted to see how well the roads were maintained after a heavy snowfall.

The ancestors didn’t join us for the afternoon adventure. Maybe they needed to rest up from the morning ride.

Wednesday felt fun and easy and light compared to the day before, and while we still would have preferred to spend the day at home, lives uninterrupted while people offered us bags of money to buy it from us sight unseen, we were okay with the arrangement.

Noodling to the curbside pickup, back through town with a stop for coffee at a shop we’d found the day before with open rest rooms and friendly staff, over to the opposite side of town for takeout dinners, left us with about half an hour to get home, just when the last viewers would be leaving the house. Perfect timing.

Our agent had texted us one more offer of a little over asking and a happy face. Even if it wasn’t as much as we’d heard other houses went for, we were pleased. We had one visit scheduled for the next morning and we were asked to be available at noon to meet with our agent.

Thursday’s client cancelled at the last minute and before we’d left the house, so we could relax at home, get some work done and wait for our agent to arrive at noon with offers to review.

I expected 4, that it would go quickly and quieted my hungry tummy by telling it we could make lunch when the agent left.

He showed up with a pile of offers. Twelve. Fourteen if you include the amended bids from people who’d upped their offers. Some buyers had included persuasion letters, written to pull on our heart strings and edge us into accepting their offer. Each one needed to be reviewed, considered, sorted and signed, one on the “accept” line and the rest marked “refused.”

More than ten years living in Quebec has taught us everything involves paperwork – a lot of paperwork.

It took a long time, and it soon became apparent to me that our agent had sorted the offers from lowest to highest. We hadn’t gotten a quarter of the way through the pile before the offer of a little over asking was reviewed. That meant the remainder of offers in the pile were higher. And there were a lot of them.

I met David’s gaze over our masks, trying to silently say, “can you believe this?!” with my eyes. His eyes let me know he couldn’t either. I was glad to be sitting down.

In the end, we signed an offer for more that we’d imagined, with no conditions of sale, and even an offer to extend the close date up to four months if we needed to take more time. Who does that?

Days later, I’m still sinking into the idea of abundance and possibility and choice that has opened up for us to pursue our soul goals together.

“Well that was fun!” my aunt exclaimed as we waved goodbye to the agent from the front porch. “Let’s get together again soon. We’re going to have to find them a new house. And the next one’s got to have a real bath tub.” She winked at me.

“I’d like that,” said David’s mom. “Is anybody feeling hungry?”

“Me!” my mom chimed in. “Where can we get some nachos?”

Martyrdom, Comfort, and Old Dogs

I have never been a friend of comfort, at least not as long as I can remember. But I have a feeling we might be able to get along.

I’ve internalized a voice that sings “Nothing comes easy.”

The complete soundtrack includes: “You have to struggle to get ahead.”

“You get what you pay for.”

“No pain, no gain.”

“You have to suffer to be beautiful”

and other hits.

I’m not saying there isn’t an element of truth in any of them, but somehow along the way my brain overgeneralized the concept and morphed it into the belief that I must be hard on myself, that it was somehow a noble thing, the way it should be done, the path to glory, and living your dreams. I embodied that belief with unequivocal convinction. I became a rock star at beating myself up.

Comfort might be an incidental side-effect, a reward for hard work and self-torment, but never ever something to be sought out.

That kind of internalized thinking takes its toll. It’s hard on the body, mind and soul.

(and now I’m rhymin’)

As I was typing this, an alarm went off to remind me to take some pain medication. I’ve had a flare up of acute pain over the last couple of days, a hat trick of dental chickens come home to roost as a result of procrastination and pandemic shut downs. The pain has been crippling, leaving me feeling like curling up in the fetal position and crying for my mom.

I have a deepened respect for people who live with chronic pain, and deep gratitude for my largely pain-free life.

I was able to see a dentist who assessed the situation and suggested a plan, including doubling the amount of pain medication I had been taking and timing doses regularly over a 24 hour cycle to keep it at steady levels in my system.

This strategy has been incredibly helpful. After two times, I am feeling little to no pain and able to function again. I was able to sleep deeply and through the night last night and woke up feeling like life might be okay after all.

But when the alarm went off just now, my first thought was “well it only hurts a little bit; maybe I should hold off on taking more drugs.”

It only hurts a little bit.

There is a difference between navigating pain as part of an intentional process, or because someone or something is causing you harm, and intentionally seeking it out as a reward for your efforts (also referred to as martyrdom).

Pain is a side-effect, not the goal, and it is most certainly not a reward.

I’m throwing off one of the remnants of growing up Catholic. Goodbye martyrdom. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

I already know from experience that I can take any pain life has to throw me and I hope that I’m able to do it again when it inevitably revisits.

But I’m through throwing pain at myself.

I’m writing a new song; “Comfort is healing baby” The title might need work.

I’m unlearning self-combat and replacing it with self-compassion, gradually, and with a lot of support and input from people are writing real self-love songs. To give my body, soul, and even my mind, some ease. To give my nervous system a break from the fight/flight/freeze and downregulate, to give the ego a rest so my soul can regenerate. Maybe they can be friends some day? I bet there’s something valuable in that Somatic Internal Family Systems Therapy book I’ve been longing to dig into.

What’s stopping me? Reading is comfort. Comfort is healing. Healing is my jam now.

It’s all part of the trauma-informed approach to healing. I am a shiny new student in the ReBloom trauma-informed coaching container kicking off this week with a 4 day workshop and continuing part time throughout the year.

As part of the preparation for spending 4 days online together (even a pandemic has a silver lining; this training would be much less accessible to me when offered in person on the other side of the continent in another country) it was suggested that we – gasp! – be intentional about creating ease for ourselves. This might include wearing comfortable clothes, eating healthy, nutritious and delicious food, drinking lots of water and comforting tea, and maybe having a hot water bottle on hand if you tend towards freeze as a response to trauma. (Hello, have we met? I’m Freeze’s Nonna)

I can’t remember if a weighted eye mask was suggested as well, but I’ve used them in spas and yoga classes before and love them. It just never occurred to me to buy one for myself because, well you know.

Meet my new best friends:


I’m off to read now.

Mom and Me (and a bowl of cereal)

Remember that Bee Eye Are Dee my mom and dad were thinking about getting for me for my fifth birthday?

Well, it turns out bee eye are dee spells ‘bird’ and that’s what I got for a present. He was a green and white parakeet and I named him Charlie. He lived in a cage in the corner of our dining room, next to dad’s chair by the window. The cage had a pull out tray lined with newspaper to catch Charlie poop and seeds he scattered.

For breakfast most mornings, I’d fill my bowl with dry cereal in the kitchen and carry it to the dining  room table to add milk and sugar and eat.

One morning, when I was feeling a little sleepy and not quite coordinated, I tripped, knocking the bird cage and my cereal bowl onto the floor.

I guess mom wasn’t in a very good mood. Maybe on second thought, she was in a mischievous sort of mood. Parents are humans too after all.

Whatever, she took the broom and dustpan and swiped everything up, cheerios, bird seed, bird poop, feathers. She dumped it all back into my cereal bowl, slapped the bowl on the table in front of me with a bang and said “eat it.”

Time stood still.

I remember staring at that cereal bowl, a tiny parakeet down feather stuck to one of the Cheerios, wafting gracefully in slow motion in the breeze from my breath. And the smells of bird poop, bird seed and Cheerios.

I don’t know how long I sat there. It felt like forever. I remember thinking, she’s not really serious is she? Was this some kind of joke?

I like to think that this was followed by a second edible breakfast, but I really have no recollection.

My mom lived with cyclical depression and mental health issues. I didn’t really understand that as a child. I just felt that something was not right and, as children often do, I blamed myself. I learned to silence myself, my needs, in order not to upset someone else’s equilibrium. Most of the time that someone else was my mom.

I learned to put others’ needs before my own, and I used this strategy for most of my adult life.

All I knew back then was that my mom wasn’t always there for me in the ways that I needed her to be. I got the silent message that my job was to be there for her, to take care of her, and I took on that role with fervour and skill.

I was reluctant to shed the role of parent and go back to being a daughter in the times when she was feeling stable and well. As you might imagine, that in itself was a source of conflict.

I have the greatest compassion for my mom and the life she lived without adequate mental health resources to support her. She was a brave, incredibly strong survivor who did the best with the circumstances she faced. She experienced discrimination and isolation and judgement and shame because of her mental health issues.

My mom brought a lot of joy and music and laughter into my life. She shared a fierce and loyal love with my father that I held as my standard, unwilling to settle for anything less.

I know how much my mom loved me. I cherish my memories of the smile that brightened her face every time I showed up to visit unexpected. She thought I was the most beautiful daughter in the world. I know this because she told me often, and I believe she believed it.

Whenever I’d complain about the behaviour of a male colleague or co-worker, she’d reply “Well it’s obvious isn’t it? He’s in love with you.” Every single time, and there were many. I suffer no delusions about her accuracy of assessment, but it says a lot about the way she loved me, and I cherish that.

I am proud of myself for entering into a personal journey that allowed some healing of our relationship over the years leading up to my mom’s death in 2019. A couple of years before, on her 80th birthday, I thanked her for teaching me the meaning of unconditional love. I wrote it in a card and watched her read it across the room. I know from the light in her eyes and the smile on her face that she heard me.

Mom and me at 10 in 1971

I have learned to forgive my mom. I’m learning to forgive myself as well. It’s a layered process. I get the sense that mom learned to forgive me too.

I am resourcing that incredible strength of character and unconditional love I’ve inherited from my mom, and I am grateful.

I’m learning that putting my own needs first allows me to have something to offer the world. I’m learning to reparent my inner child and to walk more gently in the world. I’m learning to redraw personal boundaries. It helps to feel less alone. I’m learning to love myself and love life.

I can tell you, though, that at the age of almost 60 years, I’ve never eaten another bowl of cheerios, and most likely never will.

One day a while after the Cheerios incident, Charlie caught a cold and got all puffy and didn’t live much longer. I’ve never really felt the urge to have another bee eye are dee either.

Just sayin’

New Year, New Thing

On New Year’s Day, buoyed by the enthusiasm of my online community, I signed up for a 30 day yoga practice.

I appreciate the benefits of yoga for my body, and eventually even my mind and soul. It used to bring forth a LOT of anger in me, until I discovered (attracted?) teachers and practitioners who were more focused on true well-being and health rather than marketing, profits and spin.

I live in a large body, arthritic, menopausal and in a fair bit of inflammatory pain a lot of the time. Day 1 of the 2021 30 day practice left me feeling excluded, frustrated and sore.

It felt too fast for me and offered no adaptations for people with bodies like mine. I felt the shame creeping in. I “should” be able to do this, and if I can’t it’s because there’s something fundamentally flawed about me.

Not allowing myself to drop completely into the freeze and despair of shame, I remembered a week long introduction to Body Positive Yoga from Amber Karnes that I’d tried earlier in the spring of 2020.

I remembered feeling seen and heard with Amber’s practice and guidance. I was able to settle into poses feeling grounded, stable and strong, some for the first time ever.

So I looked up those practices and went back to yoga challenge day 1 armed with my own adaptations. There’s something about a square peg and a round hole that comes to mind here, but yep. That’s what I did.

On the way to finding the intro to body positive yoga, I came across Amber’s post on Accessible Yoga Training website: “Stop postponing your life until you lose weight.” I recommend reading it in its entirety, but this hit home:

“Dominant culture teaches us that there is a hierarchy assigned to bodies. Beauty standards (who is considered “beautiful” and who is considered “ugly”) are based on this foundational belief: that some bodies are inherently more valuable or worthy than others. Thin bodies are valued over fat bodies, white bodies are valued over black bodies, able bodies are valued over disabled bodies, young bodies over old bodies, and so on.

All this is predicated on an extrinsic lens or external gaze: other people’s perceptions of your body and where you fall into that hierarchy.”

The crack where the light gets in was almost audible in reading that post.

Why the hell was I trying to force myself into a body box that doesn’t fit or serve me? Or follow it with making myself feel like shit because I didn’t measure up to a standard I DON’T EVEN VALUE.

Because for all of my life, I was never able to accept or love my body just as it is. Too curvy, too bulky, too tall, too short, too wide, too thick, too slow, too stiff, too feminine…

I’m pretty sure I wasn’t born thinking that way. Like many of us, I’ve internalized arbitrary standards of health and beauty imposed by systems and those dominant cultures that have nothing whatsoever to do with health, inclusion and love, and everything to do with control, and exploitation.

And because I’m pretty good at whatever I take on, I internalized those voices and made them my own; I made myself my own biggest enemy.

I embodied everything predatory, judgemental and exclusive about the systems and cultures I was raised in and rebel against, and turned that artillery on myself. Hiding, covering up, and not participating in places or activities where I didn’t see bodies like mine. And resenting every second of it.

Even if they were present, I could not fathom how anyone who looked and moved like me could love themselves. I was envious and jealous of them that could. That envy and jealousy has transformed into appreciation.

Why didn’t I just join the Body Positive community last spring when I did the week long intro and felt so good?

It wasn’t about money. Because I can tell you that between then and now I spent at least the cost of a year’s subscription on quick fix programs that triggered my shame and promised “results” (and yes, I have slipped into beating myelf up about that as well.)

Why didn’t I just sign up for what felt good? Why couldn’t I offer myself that gift?

Because I saw it as giving up, giving in, admitting failure at not being able to someone I never was, never even wanted to be, at the same time as feeling inadequate and imperfect and wrong, at the same time as hating myself.

If you’ve stuck with me this long, you’ve probably guessed that I unsubscribed from the first 30 day challenge and joined the Body Positive Clubhouse.

I’m continuing to practice with my friends who are doing the original 30 day program, but I’m doing it in a way that fits and serves me – not just my body, but my mind in heart that are in need of healing as well.

Interesting: when I shared how the program wasn’t working for me, a couple of friends said they felt that way too, for different reasons. So we’re committed to supporting each other for 30 days in the practice that works best for each of us.

It’s a small step towards learning to love myself, just as I am. A little more than two weeks until I turn 60. About time.

When I was finishing up the practice I chose for myself today, I felt like there was just too much quiet in the video towards the end and opened my eyes to look at the screen. I found this:

And I knew I was in the right place. For today, it feels good, and I’m in for more of that.

A Christmas Wish

In this very strangest of years, Christmas time has come feeling – well, feeling more Christmassy – than any other has felt for me in a very long time.

No decorations, no parties, no fancy dress (and let’s face it, maybe not even a shower). No mad dash shopping, no lights, no tree.

I don’t know about you, but we just didn’t have the energy or capacity for any of that this year.

We are spending the holiday in isolation, after bringing a kid home from university, wearing masks in our home and eating at separate stations for the time being. Hibernating.

These are indeed strange times, destabilizing and traumatizing, and enduring longer than we expected or hoped.

And yet, I find myself feeling more love, more contentment, more joy and more peace.

I think perhaps there is a gift here, the gift of slowing down, of placing focus on what’s really important – relationships, love, caring for each other. Rekindling dreams and passions.

ghosts of Christmas past

It’s a season for rekindling relationships, even if that’s happening on a screen instead of in person.

It’s a season for taking time to write cards and notes to put in the post; for preparing treats and meals to be dropped off curbside and contact-free; for spending time in real conversation with the people we care about the most, and with new friends and acquaintances. A season for appreciating each other.

It feels like an old-fashioned Christmas to me; it has nothing to do with the trappings, even if they are present, and everything to do with slowing down, spending time with each other, appreciating each other, holding each other closer than we have in a very long time.

It’s a season for doing all those things I couldn’t find time or capacity for in my previous beforetime life because, like most of us, I felt exhausted and depleted before the holidays ever rolled around,

All those those things are really what life is all about.

Connection. And Community.

It’s ironic that we’re managing to rediscover and create that without physical contact, with masks that cover our smiles and fog up our glasses.

If I could give you any gift this season, it would be the gift of feeling warm and safe and content, knowing that, despite all evidence to the contrary, all is well.

I wish you knew how delightful you are. Right here and now in this very moment. Just as you are.

I wish you the knowing of how incredibly resourced you already are.

I wish you the knowing that you have everything inside you to that you need to thrive.

I wish you the knowing that there is no one in the entire universe like you, that you are unique and amazing and wonderful.

I wish you the knowing that you don’t need to compete or struggle or hustle or climb over anyone to find that.

I wish you the knowing that there is room enough and abundance enough in this universe to support you.

I wish you the knowing that we hold the power to change the world together.

We have been challenged to face our fears as our health and safety and livelihoods have been threatened, to be creative and pivot while feeling the real trauma of the times that just makes me want to crawl back into bed a lot of days.

The times have caused us to recognize privilege and abundance of resources that are not accessible to everyone because of the systems that have shaped us for generations – colonialism, capitalism, racism, and the patriarchy.

We can find ourselves holding all of that reality, all the hope for transformative change, all the despair and all the love, all the fear and all the joy, all at once.

It’s a lot.

It doesn’t mean there isn’t room to grow, or work to do in creating a better world. It doesn’t mean we can’t wish to gather in person and hold each other in long hugs again.

It means that we have all of it in ourselves to create.

Feel Free to Touch

We signed in at the first stop along the tour, providing our contact information for tracing purposes, and sanitized our hands. The woman who greeted us inside said “Feel free to touch anything that catches your eye. Texture is a big part of my work.”

She explained her process of using tubes of liquid clay in different colours applied to the pottery piece before firing to create the design and texture.

“Just bring me the piece you’ve picked up and I’ll wipe it down to return to the shelf for the next person.”

She had the kind of eyes that left no question that there was a smile underneath her mask. I tried hard to communicate my smile with my eyes, but in truth I was fighting back tears – tears of relief at being invited to engage my senses in the experience, and tears of grief at the strangeness of times that made this whole conversation and process necessary in the first place.

The past couple of weeks have been difficult and stressful – in my family, in my social groups, in my community. As we face the reality of a second Covid wave, navigating life and how to be together has been exhausting. Without having really recovered from the numbing fatigue of the first wave, the additional spectre of winter approaching feels almost insurmountable in determining how to gather and visit outdoors in order to keep everyone safe.

Even the welcome sight of Orion, winter’s mythical hero of the sky, shining through my bedroom window at night hasn’t prevented a couple sleepless nights battling existential angst.

The thought of sitting through one more Zoom meeting the day before had been almost unbearable. Self-care in the form of a nap and meditation beforehand, and the promise of a screen free weekend (well, almost screen free – there was a new episode of Star Trek Discovery waiting for me) a weekend engaging all the senses, reconnecting with nature, with myself, and with others again. Even if it meant wearing masks, exaggerating eye contact, and endless hand sanitizing.

We set off in the morning for a studio tour, a bi-annual local event whose spring offering this year had been cancelled as a result of the first wave lockdown.

Ever since I discovered them in the early 80’s, studio tours have been a source of joy and peaceful pleasure for my soul – traversing the countryside with a not quite to scale brochure map, discovering new artists and meeting them in their natural habitat, tasting, touching, seeing, smelling their wares and selecting the best of treasures to bring home. A feast for all the senses.

“Feel free to touch.”

Sometimes it’s not possible to fully acknowledge how much you miss something so vital until what has been withheld is offered to you once again. In this strange new world where touch holds the very real potential to spread illness and kill, the offer came as blessed relief.

The spectacular views of the countryside in autumn in the river valley along the escarpment, the colour and vibrancy of the artwork, provided visual stimulation that was more than satisfactory.

The smell of woodsmoke from firepits surrounded by socially distanced seating adjacent to outdoor kiosks with unidirectional traffic flow and sanitizing stations on entering and leaving.

Even the most reticent of us uncharastically chatty at the first opportunity to socialize and gather since the spring, regardless of not being able to see each other’s faces or stand closer than two meters apart.

At our second stop along the way, I purchased a pair of silver and citrine earrings. Citrine is a mineral whose properties promise to help with anxiety, depression and those seeking a new purpose. It attracts self-worth and dissolves emotional blocks. I’ll keep you posted.

As we disembarked the car for the last studio on the tour, I stopped to take a photo of a glorious maple that had managed to hold onto its foliage when most of the trees here have already dropped their leaves.

A flock of Canada geese passed overhead, their honking to each other in whatever conversation geese have in flight filled the air.

Touch, smell, sight, sound….

Only one sense remained unengaged.

We made one more purchase here – partly from the desire to support the artist who commented on how grateful she was for this show as it had turned out to be her only sales opportunity of the year, partly because it was a beautiful functional piece of pottery, a pedestaled serving plate.

I remarked that I was anxious to go home and bake something just to serve up on the plate and was invited back to share my wares the next day.

We found coffee and cookies in exchange for a donation there. My partner, either out of optimisim or desperation for caffeine, chose the coffee. Having been fooled into drinking watery coffee on one to many occasion before now, I chose the grocery chain cookie option, and while neither of our taste buds were entirely satisfied, all our senses had been engaged.

Having fulfilled the objective of the day in less time than anticipated and having (as usual) overshot the studio tour budget, we returned home to further engage the senses with books, a dish of risotto and a glass of wine left over from the night before, me to my Star Trek episode and my partner to his book.

In these very weirdest of times, where the ordinary feels extraordinary and precious, where we are forced to be creative and innovative in navigating life in a world that presents very real challenges to our physical, emotional and spiritual health, it was a good day.