Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Take What You Need.

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I found this note taped to a bank of mailboxes.

They are part of the scenery on the country road that I walk every day.

This is how I do lunch.

Take what you need, it said.

So I did.

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The next day I passed this same bank of mailboxes.

The note with the offer to ‘take what you need’ was gone.

Maybe it was just a one-day thing.

Like a sale at Walmart.

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For a second I was saddened by its sudden disappearance.

Then I smiled to myself and moved on.

Because I still have what I took.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Letting Go.

tom and boo on the rocking chairA few weeks ago I gave up. Surrendered. Let it all go. Threw a private tantrum. Held a pity party for one. Screamed silent rage.

What exactly brought me to this place? What triggered it? How did I go from, life is pretty good to life is fucking shit? Why did I switch stations? Which straw broke the camel’s back?

I don’t know.

I wasn’t exactly blindsided but I didn’t see the point tipping either. Nor the stubborn brick wall that refused to budge. I only knew that I was too tired and weary to figure out a way around it. Or through it. Over or under. The gloves were off. I threw in the towel.

I’m not talking about your garden-variety physical tiredness, the kind that takes well to sensible homespun cures. A long hot luxurious bath. Lazy afternoon nap in the sun. Curling up with a good book and a glass of wine. Or simply getting a good night’s sleep with nothing but candy-coated honeysuckle dreams.

I’m talking about a malaise that at times appears so dark and impenetrable. So suffocating yet seductive. Like a Dark Hero who feeds off the tiredness deep inside my soul. The relentlessness of daily life becomes intolerable. The path is overgrown with thickets and prickly thorns. Abandoned by my guide, I grope for a lifeline. I struggle to keep my head above water.

The dove does not appear with the olive leaf.

Little back story. Two things happened in my first year of University. I got pregnant. And I made a conscious decision to be a better person. Partly for my son’s sake, but mostly for mine. I wanted us to have a bigger life than the one Ma and The Old Man lived. This notion, along with a burning desire to prove that I wasn’t a total loser, fueled my passions. Colored my every move.

I was highly motivated. I became a triple, possibly quadruple, Type-A Person. I had much to prove. I was a driven woman on a mission to change everything about myself that I deemed unworthy. Nothing worse than that.

With this ambitious desire for self-improvement came a lifelong pursuit of all things spiritual. I not only walked away from Christ Lutheran Church but I kicked any form of Christianity to the curb. I didn’t walk away from God, just the institution of religion and all that it entailed.

I wanted a deeper, more authentic relationship with my higher power. I wanted something real and meaningful. Personal and gritty. Truthful. No holds barred. I also wanted to feel better.

I became a seeker. Not just of wisdom. But of peace and beauty and truth. And the cynosure, my everlasting muse, love.

Along the way, I discovered my personal gurus and motivational mentors. Everyone from pop-psychology writers to spiritual superstars. Philosophers to fiction writers. Kindergarteners to Doctorates. From famous television hosts to an intimate circle of girlfriends. Colleagues and classmates. Poets. Artists. Musicians. Healers and helpers. All wise, witty and wonderful.

I voraciously read the books. Listened to the audio tapes. Recited the positive affirmations. Attended the lectures. Filled countless pages with lists of things I was grateful for. Gave thanks for everything, and everyone, from Gandhi to Mother Goose. I kept careful watch over my thoughts. Fearful that any negativity might manifest some really bad juju.

Thoughts become things. We are the creators of our world.

I smiled serenely. Like Buddha. Bowed my head. Breathed in the good and let out the bad. Walked barefoot. Sat silently. Practiced yoga and meditation. Got in touch with my body, mind and spirit. I did the cha cha cha.

All these things helped.

But there are times when it is exhausting. Bloody hard work. Being good, and constantly striving to be better, possibly vying for sainthood even, is downright taxing. Every now again it makes me cranky. Just like the two-year old lying on the concrete floor in the middle of the frozen food aisle at Walmart, I throw one hell of a tantrum.

The fortunate thing these days, few witness the thrashing and kicking and wailing at the top of my lungs.

No. No. No. Life’s not fair, I whimper.

I don’t want to be good, better, best. I don’t give a shit about my higher self. I want to hang out in the Dark Side. Amongst the shadowy villains. Monsters and miserable men. Mess around with Lucifer and his gang.

I don’t want to play nice.

It’s at this humbling and spirit-siphoning dead end that I surrender all. Every last bit. I just let go. Hand over the reins to God, the universe, Mother Earth, my Guardian Angel Franny and her sister Zoe.

It usually takes about a week to release the sad, frightened, angry, resentful, jealous, lonely, toxic little child that sometimes grows insidiously within the grown-up me.

To finish this business, I don’t go anywhere exotic. I don’t check into a hotel under an assumed name and have an exorcism performed. No bed rest nor hospital stay is required.

I just stop. Listen to the quiet voice within. Cut myself some slack. Then let go.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Weekend from Hell.

E singing and playing his bass.

E singing and playing his bass.

It was the weekend from hell. A topsy turvy terrifying roller coaster ride.  One moment we could see sunlight and the possibility of rosy days.  Only to be sucked into the uncertainty of the rabbit hole the next.  In between we did our best to breathe.  Keep our head above the icy waters that threatened to take us down.  Mostly we tried to make sense of this unforeseen mess that we found ourselves in.

The surgeon, who had performed the biopsy, sent E home with a prescription for painkillers and antibiotics.  In thirty years of practice, he’d never seen a reaction to a biopsy like this.  Lucky E.  One for the medical history books.  I was a little surprised that the surgeon wasn’t more curious to find out why.  Then I’m like a four-year old who asks ‘why’ about everything.  Except for why me or why us.  Life is a game of Russian Roulette at times.  Shit happens to everyone.  Good and bad.  So why not me.  Or us.

The painkillers did their job for short intervals, which gave him little pockets of relief throughout the weekend.  E spent most of the time hunkered down in his Man Cave watching TV or dozing off on the couch.  Deep regenerative sleep was elusive and interrupted by pain so severe it would have brought a lesser man to his knees.  But E refused to buckle.  Since his motorcycle accident at thirty, he lived with chronic pain in his hip and right leg.  He still felt unsettling phantom pains from the big toe that was removed shortly after his bike was t-boned and ended up in a gutter fifty yards away.  This pain was close to that.

During the interludes when the pain was tolerable we carried on with our regular weekend affairs.  Errands and chores mostly.  I was still doing most of the talking.  Acting as his interpreter.  Under any other circumstances I might have welcomed the quiet.  Instead I missed his chattiness and running commentary on life.

One of the things we managed to squeeze in was Christmas shopping for his sweet 94-year old Mama in Nova Scotia.  Every year he gets her the same thing.  A sweater and pajamas from Walmart.  E is a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to shopping.  But Christmas shopping takes this crankiness to new heights.  The fact that he does it at all is a bigger miracle than the Immaculate Conception.  We combed through the selection of sweaters and PJs to find this year gift, then made a swift exit. The pain was returning and his tongue was again thickening.  Visions of baby’s fists were dancing in my head.

Back home, E noticed that the rear license plate on the truck had been stolen while we were shopping. E called the Cops to report the theft while I did a rant on the nerviness of the thieving creeps.  How could they pull off something like this in broad daylight? In a crowded parking lot full of Walmart shoppers no less.

Drinking was unbearable.  Eating impossible.  The pain “was like I’ve bitten down on my tongue real hard and can’t let go,” E said.

Imagine a cruel relentless Vice Grip.

By Sunday afternoon there was no improvement.  Painkillers were painfully useless.  A fiendish joke. We had no idea what the antibiotics were supposed to be doing.  Apparently nothing.  E agreed to another visit to the ER.  Before we could do that I had to get new license plates for the truck.

Things went from bad to worse.  While E rested on the couch, M and I drove across town in her car to an insurance provider that was open on Sundays. This should have been a straightforward no-brainer transaction.  Wrong.  As the insurance guy was filling out the form for the replacement plates he noticed that E’s name was on the registration of the truck.  It’s my truck but E’s name was included as a formality.

“I’m sorry Ma’am, but I can’t finish this transaction without your husband being here,” said the soft spoken insurance guy.

“Whadayamean?” asked the impatient cranky wife of a suffering man.

“His name is on the registration and he has to be here in order for me to give you new plates,” said the soft spoken insurance guy.

“Are you kidding me?  He’s really sick. I need my truck to drive him to the hospital,” said the increasingly impatient cranky wife of a long suffering man.

“I’m sorry Ma’am, but there’s nothing I can do,” said the completely-powerless-to-do-anything insurance guy.

M and I stormed out.  Mumbling under our breath.  Christmas Carols were wafting through the outdoor shopping centre where the insurance  provider was located.  It was an irritatingly cheerful and festive juxtaposition to our dispirited foul moods.

Back home, I conveyed our frustrating story and lack of success at obtaining the license plates to E.  He was furious and raring for a good squabble.  And if not for his inability to speak coherently he would have been all over that.  To end things on a peaceful note, we went to a different insurance provider to get the plates.  Happy ending to that part of the story.

By the time we got back home, it was early evening.  We decided to have dinner and then go to the ER.  M and I devoured our meal while E forced a few tablespoons of mashed potatoes past his raw cheeks, over his swollen tongue and down his throat.  It was excruciating to watch.  I can’t even imagine how it felt.

We never did go to the ER that night.  E wanted to see his own doctor in the morning. He may not have been able to swallow.  Nor speak clearly.  But he was still capable of making decisions that concerned his body.  We went that.

When I left for work the next morning he was sleeping peacefully.  The plan was for M to drive him to the doctors.  As I was driving up the long and winding country road that leads to the Agency, I was finally able to achieve some clarity.

This thought hit me like a ten pound hammer.  E had barely eaten nor drank anything since Wednesday night. How long could someone last before their organs started to shut down?

The second I got to my desk I phoned M.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Why I Never Liked Halloween.

Daughter #1 makes fabulous costumes like this Mummy for my grand daughter.

I hate Halloween.  There I’ve said it.  I’ve come clean.  No more pretending.  Putting on a false face.  Wearing a polite mask while the rest of the world gushes fanatically about how killer Halloween is. I think it stinks.  Truth is, I’ve always hated it.  I can’t think of one happy Halloween memory.  It terrifies me.  Even as an adult.  I’m intimidated by complete strangers dressed in costumes and wearing masks or bloody makeup knocking on my door.  Even the small ones make my bones chill.  Nothing more sinister than a teensy weensy spider.   Some would say that’s kind of the point.  But not for me.  Before you call me the Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge of Halloween, in my defense, there are some spellbinding reasons I feel this way.

Little back story.  I grew up in a small town in Northwestern Ontario.  Winters were cold there.  Very cold.  And very long.  Bleak at times. Some years the first snowfall came as early as October.  And the last one could come in May.  May, for God’s sake.  In between the snow was relentless.  Some years it felt like perpetual winter.  Perhaps that was just the teenage me in a bad mood.  But still.

This foul, malicious mean-spirited weather played a major roll in shaping, if not permanently blackening, my recollections of October 31.  I don’t even know what to call this thing.  Is it a holiday?  An event?  A special occasion?  A celebration?  Festival?  For me, it’s none of these.  But it truly was, and always will be, a night of horrors.

Here’s the blood-curdling, hair-raising reasons why.

The Halloween before Ma died my youngest was everyone’s little princess.

1. I was a shy kid.  This made knocking on the doors of strangers difficult at best.  Okay, I’ll admit these were all neighbors’ doors.  But every year on October 31 they felt like complete strangers to me.  Creepy visitors from another planet.  They just seemed weird.  Not like themselves.  I particularly feared the ones who invited me in to retrieve my treat.  Then asked me to sing or something equally humiliating.  This was painful.  It scared the Bejesus of out me. You’d think they were handing out million dollar bills instead of a lousy peanut in a shell.

2. I didn’t have any siblings close in age to trick or treat with.  This meant The Old Man or my older sister, who was practically an adult, had to take me from door to door.  It was lonely.  And sad.  I felt like an outcast.  A loser.  There’s nothing more pitiful than a lone trick or treater. Not nearly as dreamy as the Lone Ranger. Not even close. This also brought out the green-eyed monster in me. I envied the rowdy screeching C kids from across the street who paraded around the neighborhood in their clannish cluster of clever costumes.  Their mother was off her rocker at the best of times but this zaniness came in handy when constructing costumes. She was an artistic genius with an imagination that knew no bounds.  Her costume making skills were unrivaled.  Having said that, it might not have taken a whole lot of talent to out-costume the rest of us.

The yellow crayon costume. I was proud of this one at the time.

3. The options for costumes were limited. Nothing like it is today. You couldn’t go to Walmart and buy one.  Nor could you order one online. There weren’t any pop-up costume stores.  There were no tickle trunks. None of that.  You were left to your own devices.  Make do with what you had on hand.  At our disposal at 204, and for most families of the era, were sheets with holes, black shoe polish, raggedy old clothes, chiffon scarfs, square bandanas, bed pillows, worn-out cotton house dresses, broken brooms, fake cowboy hats and silver cap guns from Kresge’s or Woolworth’s.  This mundane collection of household odds and sods gave birth to the likes of Aunt Jemima, Roy Rogers, various uninspired ghosts, bums, witches and lesser famous cowboys, the odd pirate, gangster or something vaguely resembling an animal.  That was it.

4. I was often sick on October 31.  Fever.  Cold.  Body aches. Runny nose.  Headache.  Stomach flu.  The shakes.  Just overall malaise. The change of season brought with it the usual run of childhood illnesses.  Mine seemed to start right around Halloween.  I would drag myself from door to door in my Aunt Jemima costume, scarlet freezing hands clutching the white pillowcase I used to collect my treats, uncomfortable wooly winter jacket left open because it wouldn’t close around my stuffed-pillow belly, the ground slushy, slippery, uneven and hazardous under my brown rubber galoshes, snot and tears pouring down my black polished face as the wind fought for possession of my sack of treats.  It was abysmal.

5. Most of the candy was as ghastly as the night.  Just downright disappointing too.  Molasses kisses.  Tons of them.  Everyone, Ma and The Old Man included, doled these out by the fistfuls.  They were cheap and adults liked them.  There was an abundance of the regular old suckers as well, mostly grape, which I hated.  Just plain bad luck that I ended up with so many in this loathsome flavor.  There was the odd BB Bat, which I loved, and Double Bubble which I could have eaten by the carload, and one or two Tootsie Rolls, which I seriously considered trading The Old Man for.  There were also apples and weird nuts.  Nobody ate those even back then.  Razor blades and poison could be hidden in anything.  Besides as far as I was concerned, healthy treats had no place in my pillowcase.  After all, this was Halloween.  The one time in the year where you could stuff your face silly with sugar.  Even if it was in the form of molasses.

This Casper costume was a colossal fail.

So there you have it.  I traipsed around the neighborhood with The Old Man, frozen, sick, exhausted, pretending to be the woman on a pancake box, terrified and lonely.  Only to get home to 204 to find a pillowcase full of disappointing and lackluster treats.  Of course, this did not deter me from eating every last morsel by the middle of November.

I stopped this torture when I was 11 or 12, and no longer “went out.”  Back then you didn’t wear your costumes to school, nor were Halloween parties widely embraced.  I was off the hook.  Also, decorating your house was unheard of.  If there was a carved pumpkin on the front steps you were possibly over-the-top and an extreme Halloween celebrator.  It wasn’t the festive occasion that it is today.  Not by a long shot.  At best, it was a blip in the radar on the way to the best holiday of the year.  Christmas.

There was a blissful decade where I avoided all things Halloween.  And then I had children.  Don’t misunderstand, it still wasn’t something I embraced, nor got enthusiastic about.  My costume making skills hadn’t improved with adulthood either.  My imagination in this area appears to be stunted or nonexistent.  I always liked the notion of a tickle trunk but just never got around to creating one. I was a terrible costume maker despite my Seamstress chops. I could make an evening gown for Ma but for the life of me I couldn’t stitch together anything interesting for my kids to wear for Halloween.  No fierce animals.  Nor mythical creatures.  Nothing regal nor royal. Otherworldly.  Nor conjured. Nothing evil.  Nor good.  I was hopeless.

My oldest daughter is a living doll in this costume.

Over the years I made two feeble attempts at fashioning a costume from scratch. There was the yellow crayon I made for my oldest daughter.  She graciously wore this felt tube a couple of years in a row. The first time it was a full length crayon.  Ankles to neck.  The last time it was more mini.  Knees to neck.  The other atrocity was the Casper the Ghost costume I made for my youngest daughter.  The head piece was a complete fail.  It looked more like a brain on steroids than poor Casper’s head.  Thank God she was only three at the time and unaware that the costume was a hot mess.  And that her mother was responsible.

This brings me to reason number 6 for finding Halloween horrifying. This has nothing to do with the child from 204.  This is all about the adult me.  I feel inadequate.  Ineffective. Incapable of making a good costume. A lifetime sewer and I can’t stitch together a single idea that works.  I have been a complete and utter failure at all things Halloween.

Despite all of my Halloween trauma and agony, it appears I have not passed any of this anxiety and distress onto my three children.  Well, perhaps a little onto my youngest daughter. Maybe this has something to do with the Casper costume. Let’s just say, she’s seen pictures and leave it at that. They fully embrace the holiday-occasion-event-spectacle.  They dress up.  They’re gifted costume devisers, especially my oldest daughter.  They have fun.  They hoot and holler. They go boldly into the spooky night.  Unlike their mother who cowers in the corner waiting for the night to be over.

My son as somebody from Star Trek.

Footnote to this story.  A few years ago I wore a costume to work for Halloween.  Some of my colleagues were dressing up for the day and I wanted to be included in this group of “fun” folks.  I went as Cindy Crawford.  The costume was simple and understated.  I drew a mole just above the outer edge of my lip.  It was identical to Cindy’s.  That was it.  The rest of the costume looked like I always looked on Halloween.  Dull.  But I did have a great time that day getting my colleagues to guess who I was.  Best costume ever.

I also love molasses kisses now.  So there’s hope.