Dear Teacher

Dear Teacher,

Now that the first weeks of school have shifted from excited anxiety to routine, I wanted to take a moment to welcome you back. You may be happy to be back at work, or you may not, and I get that. Nobody wants their holiday to end, and I don’t expect you to be different from the rest of the workforce in that regard.

Yet, I have high expectations of you while you are at work. You see, the most precious part of my life is now in your care again, for seven hours each day, five days a week, for the next ten months. She’s with you now more than she’s with me. That’s a big responsibility, multiplied by more than 20 kids.

Oh, I have such respect for you, dear teacher, because I know I couldn’t do what you do. I barely have the patience for my one child sometimes, never mind a full class of them! I can only imagine how hard your job must be at times, and I just want you to know that I understand if you get frustrated occasionally. I hope at those times, you have some personal coping mechanism that works for you, like taking deep breaths and counting to ten (ten times, if necessary) that doesn’t hurt a little person’s feelings or discourage her in any way.

Now, this next part may sound a little odd, but stay with me. As you begin this new year with a new class of fresh young minds to stimulate, I wish for you blindness. Yeah, I knew that would sound bad, but what I mean is — I wish for you to stay blind to my child’s gender and race. I don’t know you and as I do every year with a new teacher, I’m hoping you are the kind of person that doesn’t treat boys in the “boys will be boys” fashion, nor treat girls as less intelligent in math and science. I’m hoping you are the kind of teacher who isn’t colour-blind to my child’s race or any other child’s race but instead is fully aware of diversity in a good, positive way. I hope you notice my child is Black and are aware that sometimes other children who aren’t may use that to hurt her feelings and make her feel like she’s not as valuable as someone with lighter-coloured skin. If that happens, I hope you treat the situation with the seriousness it warrants. I hope you ensure that all children are treated with equality, dignity and respect. I’m not accusing you of doing anything differently, because I don’t know you , but I’m aware of what sometimes goes on in classrooms and on the playground. I hope you are too and you strive to do better.

I’m going to contradict myself now, as I often do, and also wish for you a special kind of vision. The kind that notices children in need. Some need a little extra attention, while some just need a hug. I hope you are a hugging teacher even though the craziness of society has deemed that as questionable behavior. Some unfortunate children may need you to keep a box of crackers and some apples in your desk so they have something to eat each day, and I hope you are the kind of teacher who notices such things and does so. Some need a little extra help with their learning, and some need a little encouragement or push to challenge themselves because they are bright but bored. I don’t deny that with so many busy little ones around you all day, every day, it may be hard to see what each of them needs individually, but I’m asking that you please try. You probably know this already, but those small people in your class? They adore you, most of the time. You have a very big influence over them, and I know you’ll want to use that in the best possible way.

In today’s age of adults without kindness or manners, I also wish for you a strict but fair sense of discipline. I am not unsympathetic to the fact that your power to teach children right from wrong is diminishing every year, but I am strict at home and I don’t let the adorable precociousness of my daughter sway me when an opportunity presents itself for me to teach her proper interpersonal skills or moral lessons. I hope you are the same, dear teacher.

In fact, I know this is a fairly unreasonable request, but I’m going to make it anyway: I hope you are the same as me, but better. I am here for you whenever you need my support and I hope you will consider me a part of your team. I know you can’t be perfect, but those little souls sitting in front of you every day? They deserve the best you can give them. So thank-you in advance for doing exactly that.

Nature, In All Her Glory

A couple of nights ago as we were driving home from dance class, I noticed the stunning remnants on my horizon of those Fall sunsets filled with smokey blue, deep purple and a haze of orange. I pointed it out to Baby Girl with my compliments.

She studied it for a moment, and responded that it looked like a bruised eye. Undeterred by her pessimistic comparison and lack of appreciation for nature, I agreed that the colours indeed resembled those of a certain kind of bruise, but informed her every colour on earth could be found in both beautiful and negative things (orange, in the kid-friendly example I cited, could be the colour of vomit or a warm sunrise) and the negative items should not prevent us from appreciating those colours in their beautiful contexts.

I was feeling philosophical and continued on preaching to her that some of the best things in life were free and right in front of our eyes, if we just took the time to notice and appreciate them, like the gorgeous hues of the sunset before us.
Her response?
“I get it. Like sticks, right? Sticks from dead trees are pretty amazing and I love them!”

Yep. Exactly like sticks from dead trees.

40 Thoughts on Celebrating 40 Years Without Cancer

Today, I celebrate my fortieth birthday.

Well, “re-birth day” is probably a more accurate description.

On June 10, 1975, I fell from a swing in my backyard. I was four years old.

The impact when I hit the ground caused an undiagnosed cancerous tumour growing in my left kidney to burst. I still remember the pain and having to run into my house doubled over from it, trying not to cry out because I didn’t want to disturb my sunbathing neighbour who had fallen asleep on her lounge chair.

The E/R doctors told my parents I had probably ruptured my spleen from the fall.

Boy, were they wrong.

When they operated on me, they found a kidney destroyed by cancer cells, and had to remove it immediately. I had been bleeding internally so much that I needed 24 bags of other people’s blood to replace what I had lost. (Thank-you, blood donors.)

“You have a very sick little girl. She will be lucky if she makes it,” was the first thing the doctor told my parents after they had waited three hours wondering why a ruptured spleen was taking so long to fix.

I guess I was lucky, because I did make it. I thrived. I’ve lived a full life which in my mind, is hopefully not even close to being over yet. I’ve got WAY too much living left to do still. I look at this date in my history as my second chance at life. Oh sure, I was too young then to appreciate it. I was too bitter and resentful wondering “Why me?” when I had to undergo the subsequent radiation treatments and chemotherapy to ensure the elimination of any cancer cells that strayed when the tumour erupted. I didn’t understand why I had to endure more pain and another surgery a few months later when scar tissue adhesions caused a bowel obstruction. I didn’t understand why all my hair fell out on my pillow overnight, or why the kids at school teased me for wearing a wig and tried to play keep-away with it one day. I’ve hated losing my fertility and healthy immune system all these years later, and often have felt so resentful for all of the permanent effects of that one day.

I’m not sure I understand it all even now, but I’ve come to accept that the “whys” of life sometimes have no answers and often don’t matter. The events of June 10, 1975 had a profound effect on my body and my character and it has shaped me in more ways than I probably even recognize.


I’ve learned a few things along this crazy forty-year roller coaster.

At the risk of sounding like I’m auditioning for the role of meme-creator, here are some of the more significant ones:

  1. Life is an amazing journey – sometimes it’s amazingly awesome, and other times it’s amazingly shitty, but those shitty times help me to truly appreciate the rest of it.
  2. I don’t have to be a superstar to matter. I used to worry that because I have survived so many trying times in life, I should really be doing something “spectacular” with myself. It’s only recently that I realized I am doing just that – I’m a great mother and stepmom, a good wife, a decent writer, a supportive friend and I love being all of those things. That. Is. Spectacular. Enough.
  3. My body is not something I need to use to impress anyone. I am still working hard to accept the parts of my body that I don’t love, but I’m much better at that acceptance now than I was twenty years ago. Anyone who has a problem with my body can kindly note the sprig of mistletoe hanging over the bootylicious junk in my trunk.
  4. Dying is not the worst thing that can happen to me. I’ve already lived through some stuff that I think might be worse than dying. I don’t want to die, but there is nothing I can do to stop it when the time comes, and I have no control over when that time may be, so worrying about it seems like a gigantic waste of time.
  5. Marriage is hard work. Motherhood is hard work. Friendship is hard work. Life in general is hard work, but DAMN, aren’t the rewards pretty fucking incredible?
  6. When somebody upsets or hurts me, telling them my feelings using “I feel…” statements is my best option to having my feelings actually heard and considered without the other person feeling defensive.
  7. Eating healthy and exercising are important. I suck at both of these, but I’d rather die ten years earlier with my mouth smilingly full of chips and cookies than eat kale and run marathons while wishing I was sitting with a plate of pasta in front of me. I don’t want to rush death because I have so much to stick around for, but balance is really about enjoying what I enjoy without guilt and respecting those I would leave behind if I wasn’t here.
  8. It’s ok to be selfish sometimes. Loving myself and making my own wants or needs a priority isn’t really that selfish. As I get older, the things I think I “have” to do or “should” do are becoming less and less, and that’s ok.
  9. I have what some would call “regrets” but I don’t dwell on them because I’ve yet to encounter a hot tub time machine.
  10. I don’t think forgiving someone means you have to allow them to continue doing whatever you are forgiving them for. Sometimes forgiveness means cutting people out of your life so that your hurt can heal and you can forgive and forget – about them.
  11. There is absolutely NO better sound on this earth than the belly laugh of my daughter. Nothing.
  12. Opinions are not attacks on character. Everyone has them. Sometimes they will be the same as mine, sometimes they won’t, but ones that are different than mine are learning opportunities.
  13. TV is overrated. Reading is underrated.
  14. If my kids get straight A’s, win awards, scholarships, sports trophies, etc. but are total assholes, I have failed at my work. I refuse to fail at that work.
  15. Sometimes natural consequences have a much bigger impact than me shouting or grounding or giving a speech.
  16. I live for the moments when my daughter’s arms curl around my neck and she kisses me and tells me she loves me without me having to chase her or beg her for it.
  17. Some people don’t like me. Sometimes that bothers me. Sometimes I truly don’t give a rat’s ass. Either way, *I* like me and that’s what matters most.
  18. I’ve screwed up some of this parenting business, and I will screw up some more, but I’m still a damned good mother and my kids will be just fine.
  19. Every day has good moments, even if it’s a really bad day.
  20. Every day gives me something, even if it’s just ONE thing, to be grateful for.
  21. I’ve learned to accept that perfection is knowing that something can still be mind-blowing and be imperfect simultaneously. Good enough is still good.
  22. I have been many things in my life and many people have different opinions of me, but I’m not boring. Gossip will never go away, and “You’re welcome!” to those I’ve given something to talk about.
  23. Change is the only way to keep moving forward in life and learning. There is always room for improvement, but not at the cost of dissatisfaction with yourself.
  24. No matter how bad things are, they could always be worse.
  25. My mom was right – I do understand now that I’M a mom.
  26. Nothing feels quite like someone you love caressing the side of your cheek with the palm of his or her hand.
  27. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” isn’t just the title of a book – it’s a recipe for life sanity. I’m not always good at this, but as I get older, I’m realizing how integral this advice is to my mental and physical health.
  28. If you don’t see my worth, that’s YOUR problem, not mine. I have given up trying to prove myself to anyone.
  29. There are all different levels of friendships, and that’s ok. Some friends are for life, some are not. Some have your back when life is kicking your ass, some don’t know what to do or say. I am trying my best to appreciate what each type of friend gives me and give back to them what I can.
  30. Sex is important. It’s not just to pump my ego, like I thought it was 25 years ago. It’s a physical release, but also an emotional connection.
  31. Actions do speak louder than words. I’m learning to listen better.
  32. People rarely change simply because *I* want them to. Change is truly self-motivated, but if you market it properly, some people are much more open to motivating themselves.
  33. Cancer sucks. I lived many years fearing that I would get it again, but now I just worry that all that negative energy will make me sick, so I try to not think about it.
  34. Laughing together with people I care about is my favorite soul food.
  35. I don’t have to stop loving someone simply because I don’t like some of their actions.
  36. Hate is not only a strong word, but a heavy burden to carry. Anger passes, but hate takes up too much time and energy and is rarely worth it.
  37. Animals are an integral part of my family and always will be.
  38. Love is love. There are no different kinds reserved for the “best” skin colour, sexual orientation, religion or gender. All humans are equal in every way. I am sad that this is not yet a universal truth, but I refuse to give up hope that one day it will be.
  39. Family isn’t only about genetics. I love mine. My parents are incredible people who always have my back, no matter what.
  40. Cancer fighters and survivors are amazing people. I was a kid and had no idea what I was dealing with, which makes it so much easier than what those who are fully aware of their situation must deal with. I survived through pure luck, but so many others survive by fighting with everything they’ve got. I bow down to them.

Happy Seventh Birthday To My Heart and Soul

12947_212396985184_849055_n[1]Today is my daughter’s seventh birthday.

Last year I wrote her this letter on my blog at

I’m saying goodbye to five.

The age of five, that is.

My Baby Girl is turning six this week, and reminds me every time I call her “Baby Girl” that she is NOT a baby, so PLEASE don’t call her that in public!

I don’t remember being six, and I’ve tried pretty hard. So, I decided instead to write my daughter a letter so that if she forgets what six was like, she can refer back to this:

Dear Darling (your sanctioned pet-name for me to use in public),

I wanted to bestow on you some kind of wisdom about how *I* felt about being six, and who I was at that age, but I guess at this stage of my life, mommy’s memory bank has purged some of the clutter to make room for other, more important stuff—like everything I can stuff in there about you.

So, I’m writing this letter to you to preserve forever who you are right now, as you turn six years old. I hope one day we can read this together, laughing and smiling as we remember what an incredible little girl you were and know from what I say here that you were always destined to become the amazing woman you will be then.

At six, my darling daughter, you still see the magic in the world—hold that tight for as long as you can. Keep asking all of your questions and continue finding the universe so full of wonder.

At six, you still love me the most-est and think that I am totally awesome . . . most of the time. Hold that tight for as long as you can also, ok? 

At six, you don’t know of the awful things that can and do happen in our world—I pray every night that you never learn of them.

At six, you are so full of confidence. You are the star of your own universe—and mine—and have no inner bully to contend with. I desperately hope that never changes.

At six, you are learning to read, and doing a damned fine job of it, especially when your father and I back off and let your fierce little determination force you to sound out your words independently. 

At six, you show very little interest in dolls of any sort. My inner Feminist is doing jumping-jacks. You prefer instead to savour your hour-per-day of iPad time playing Minecraft, or building towers with your blocks, or putting together train sets—but always doing all of this in some sort of costume that is usually a mash-up of lion-sporting-costume jewellery and a hula skirt.

At six, you still adore your big brother, but have discovered that he doesn’t always want to play children’s games with you anymore, because he is now a teenager. You have adapted by gaining his attention with pest-like shenanigans. I love your persistence and your ingenuity, despite the headaches the subsequent bickering with him causes me.

At six, you still don’t know what day it is or what time it is, and don’t really care. I know sometimes this frustrates me, but soon enough you will join the rest of the world in their obsession with time and its value, so for now I try to chillax a little and not let time control me so much either. 

At six, you are becoming funny, and I love it. Not toddler cutesy-pie kind of funny, but genuinely witty and intelligent funny. This thrills me almost as much as your spectacular reading does. 

At six, you are a messier eater now than you were as a baby. I have no explanation of why this is, but I have begun to buy stock in the various stain-remover companies. Sometimes your mucky face warms my heart and is super cute and I will kiss it no matter what goo is covering it. I’m sorry that at other times it frustrates me, but I know you will eventually (hopefully) become more tidy. You have no fear of getting dirty when you play, either, as your appearance demonstrates every day when I pick you up from school. Despite my grumblings, I’m actually proud that you are not prissy, like your mama.

At six, you are such an incredible dancer. Your love of moving your body to the beat shines through in your talent and the gigantic grin puffing those delicious cheeks every time you bounce off the sofa to bust a move around the room. 

At six, you still get really torqued up when you make mistakes, which simultaneously worries me and makes me ashamed because I know exactly where you learned to be a perfectionist. You don’t need to be perfect, my darling, you already are, even with your faults and mistakes. Go easy on yourself—this is what being human is all about. I hope that lesson comes sooner and easier for you than it has for me. 

At six, you are beginning to choose outfits that don’t make my eyeballs whine, and thankfully you finally understand that halter tops are inappropriate attire in January. 

At six, you are still learning that doing the opposite of what mommy or daddy asks does not mean you are in control. Conversely, mommy and daddy are also learning that control is not always necessary for good parenting. 

At six, you think that “pretty” means sparkles, fancy dresses, shoes, and a bow in your hair. I know you are so intuitive and observant that you will soon absorb the fact that beautiful is only partially about what you look like on the outside. I want you to continue knowing how gorgeous you truly are—inside and out.

At six, you are loud, but you come by it honestly—from your father. I have no idea where you get your shouty-ness from, but I love you even when my inner ears are numb.

At six, you are just starting to think about the hardships of your life prior to adoption, and the hardships that adoption may bring you later in life. As much as I wish I could, there is nothing I can do to stop the inevitable moments of sadness and anger that you will experience as you grow older and reflect on the circumstances of your life that brought you into mine. I promise to be here for you if you want to talk about it, or simply hold your hand, huggle you if you need to cry, and support you through any journey you need to take—emotionally or otherwise—to find peace with your adoption legacy. 

At six, you are a miracle, a spark, a gift. 

My heart expands with each of your birthdays. 

Happy Birthday my darling Baby Girl.  I hope you have your best year ever.

This year, I feel like that’s a hard one to top, frankly. Yet, I’m going to try.


My Baby Girl (yes, we reached a compromise that I could still call her that in private and online, just not in front of her friends),

You are now seven years old. While many of the things I wrote about you on your sixth birthday are still the same – your wit, your charm, your amazing reading skills, your messy eating, your beauty, your dance abilities – some things have changed.

You have experienced hardships this past year that I had hoped you would never know, yet you have shown your brave resilience in your triumph over these hardships. Thank you for putting your trust in me to guide you through and for helping me get through them with you.

You have also become aware of some of the horrors of our world – you have learned what guns can do, what murder means, and sadly, experienced your first taste of overt racism. My heart aches for the wounds these lessons have inflicted on your sweet and tender heart, while at the same time loves you even more for refusing to let these painful events shadow your brilliant sparkling light.

You have become even more adamant about standing up for yourself, which I applaud, even when you are standing up to me and making me silently wish you weren’t always so strong and independent!

You have learned about the birds and the bees this year. Oh, I know some parents will be shocked by that, but inquisitive, bright children who grow up hearing the words “birth mother” will obviously want to know what “birth” means sooner rather than later, and that explanation just leads to more and more questions. Thank you for being so mature about the discussion and I only hope you continue to trust me with all your questions about sex and relationships.

Your love of crafts, doing artwork and creating inventions astounds me. The creativity that flows from you is something I wish I had outside of my play with words, but I guess we all have creativity in us somewhere and I adore how you express yours.

Your conversations about adoption and your birth mother are becoming exactly what many of the books I’ve read predicted they would. I understand your very deep need to fantasize her perfection and your reunion with her. I don’t feel jealousy during these chats, only heartache for you and how heavy your burden must be.

At seven, I am seeing glimpses of what you will be like as a teen. Sometimes I am a little frightened, I will admit, but I also see a girl who takes my words about self-respect and self-control very seriously, so I trust you will keep those words in your memory when we are apart.

Just recently I let you attend a birthday party without me present. I don’t think you know how hard that was for me, but I am trying to accept that as you grow older, I will need to let go more and more. I want so badly to protect you from anything and anyone that could harm you, but I also know that taking that job too seriously can also cause you harm. I want you to have the freedom to experience the world in your own way, without me always standing in front of you with my sword drawn and shield thrust forward. You are so intelligent and brave, I know you can do things without me and be just fine.

Happy birthday, my darling Baby Girl, my Captain Sassypants, my sun, my moon and my stars. I love you to infinity and back, infinity times. xoxo

Photo: Christine Cousins Photography

Photo: Christine Cousins Photography


My Child’s Thoughts on Menopause


Yesterday, I was rushing around to get out the door by a certain time and as is usually the case when you’re stressed and time-challenged, the process made my body temperature increase. I removed the sweater I was wearing and said to Captain Sassypants: “Phew! I’m getting hot and sweaty!”

Her response?

“I hate to say this, mommy, but maybe you’re getting the HOT SHOTS.”

I knew immediately she meant “hot flashes” but tried to contain my laughter because I wanted to know if she knew what she was talking about. I asked her “What are the hot shots?”

“Actually, you probably won’t get them, because you know it’s when a woman has made a baby in her womb and the baby has come out and then when the woman gets older, she gets the hot shots? Well, you’re old enough to get them, right? But you haven’t made a baby in your womb, so you probably don’t need to worry about it!”

I like her thinking. Yes, I DO deserve an exemption from menopause because I wasn’t able to make a baby in my womb!

Who do I speak to about arranging this?

Not My Problem? Not Your Problem?


I’ve just finished reading a blog post about race.

Wait! Before you roll your eyes and move along to something else you’d rather read, I have a confession to make.

I read articles and blog posts every day about race. That’s not my confession, but I just need to frame my admission so you understand the full effect.

As a white parent of a black child and a member of humanity, I take my responsibilities to her and them very seriously. I do whatever I can to learn as much as I can about racism and to understand what being black is “really” like, if there is such an explanation.

I cannot give my daughter “blackness” (I apologize if that term offends some) because I know nothing about being a person of colour and how those differences play out in my daily existence. I’ve come to feel that I don’t just owe my daughter my support and understanding; I owe it to all of the men and women who deal with racism. So I read and learn. I keep my mind and my heart open.

When this particular blog post was shared in a trans-racial adoptive families group that I belong to, I opened it with the same curiosity and interest I do with most articles about race.

Except this one was different.

Not in the content – oh no. Sadly, I’ve read many posts about micro-aggressions similar to this one, and even worse, more overt racist words and actions.

Nor was the writing or the author different than others I’ve read. Some posts are angry, outraged bursts of indignation – as they should be. Some posts are sad, quiet, introspective pleadings for change – also as they should be.

This post was different because it caused me to have an epiphany:

Twenty years ago, I would not have understood what the problem was in the situation that the man encountered at the cafe. I might not have even read the post, but if I had, I certainly would have dismissed it with a casual “that’s HIS interpretation of what happened” in the same dismissive way you invalidate your partner’s feelings during a fight by saying “Well, that’s YOUR opinion!” AND I STILL WOULD NOT HAVE CALLED MYSELF RACIST. 

That’s called white privilege, for those who don’t recognize it. It’s not something I’m proud of, yet society raises most white people with a blanket of blindness to their own privilege and ignorance. I still have so much to learn and understand.

Now, I share this confession with you not because I’m looking to pat myself on the back in a “look how far I’ve come in my racial awareness” way, but because after I finished reading the post, I realized that so many other people will read it and have the same reaction that I would have had 20 years ago. Some of them even left comments saying so.

So what is my goal here?

I guess if I can encourage even ONE person to look at their own responses and recognize their own white privilege and see past it to validate someone else’s experience, even if they have never experienced something like it themselves, I’ve accomplished something.

Go ahead and laugh. Mock me, if you want. I still won’t give up on the concept that one day, hopefully in my daughter’s lifetime, we will live in a world where people are not judged by race, gender or sexual orientation.

“I don’t want to become a hashtag.”

This line from the post slayed me.

How many white people worry about that?

Awareness is the first step towards change.

Justify Myself


I went to a movie alone today. In the middle of the day. On a Friday. I’m not sure why, but this makes me giggle to myself. It feels a bit…decadent, almost.

Despite my giggling, for some reason on the way there, I felt like I needed to convince myself of reasons why it was perfectly acceptable to do what I was doing, so here they are:

10.  I didn’t really want to do my “To-Do” list today anyway.

9.  The movie was only showing at one set time today, so I didn’t have a choice.

8.  There are fewer people at midday movies. In fact, there was only one other girl in the theatre with me, which completely eliminated her as a Suzy Seatkicker candidate . Bonus that she was a front-row sitter, as I am a 2nd- last row sitter, so I didn’t even have to listen to her snarf her snacks. She was also thankfully not the type to talk to herself, because annoying chatter during the movie really pisses me off.

7.  I was craving popcorn for lunch.

6.  I needed to get out of the house. There are only so many conversations I can have with three cats.

5.  The novelty still hasn’t worn off of how many varieties of diet pop are available to me in those funky self-serve pop machines at my local theatre.

4.  Ok, I admit it – I had nobody else to go with. Not that I tried really hard to find someone, but I did ask my brother who works nights and sleeps during the day.

3.  I needed a reward for cleaning, purging and organizing my daughter’s toys and books almost all day yesterday.

2.  I like seeing movies alone. I don’t have to worry about someone asking me dumb questions, laughing at inappropriate times in the movie’s plot, singing along loudly with the soundtrack or worse – trying to initiate a conversation with me during the movie.

AND, with a Letterman-style drum roll, please: the Number One reason why I went to a movie alone in the middle of the day on a Friday?

Because I could.