Knives and Papercuts

When I was fourteen or so, I was told that love is not a feeling, it is a decision that you make every single day to be kind, devoted, and faithful to another person. Sometimes it produces that feeling of ecstasy, where you get butterflies and feel the warm rush of affection, but most of the time, it’s an uphill battle. When I heard it, I nodded as if I had already known that and was so much wiser than the other teens around me. I didn’t really know it, though, until I experienced it.

Of course, I had my infatuations. I mean, after I turned fifteen, I pretty much dated non-stop until I was married. I cared for a lot of people and I learned a lot about what I was looking for in a mate. I don’t regret dating a single one of those people (well, mostly). I see the lessons I learned from past relationships in the relationship I have now. I hope they made me better.

When I fell in love, the infatuation was quickly snuffed out by all the trials we encountered as a couple. The butterflies were replaced by that steady, secure kind of love that perhaps isn’t as exciting, but is preferable to the rollercoaster of feelings in that the early honeymoon stage. I knew fairly quickly that this was going to be the man I married. For me, I just knew. Though I know for others, they had to discover that truth.

Since then, I’ve seen many marriages of friends and family members. Joyous occasions all. I’ve seen all the reasons for them too. The rushed ones because a child was on the way, the engagements that seemed to last forever while the couple scrounged for cash, the ones that were magazine perfect in every way, the ones that seemed destined to fail. And after a while, some of them do fail (though not necessarily the ones expected).

I’m no expert. I’ve been married for nearly five years. I like to think it’s long enough to feel like we know each other inside and out, yet short enough to remember what it was like at the beginning. We’ve been through quite a bit: the death of a parent, the birth of a child, living paycheque to paycheque, living with a moderate amount of money, going to school while both working, trying to maintain a marriage with one child and another on the way. We have been blessed in many ways, but we have also seen our share of hardship. We have both been betrayed, both been hurt in big ways and small. No one can hurt you the way a spouse can.

Which is part of what I have been thinking about lately. No, we are not thinking of separating or divorcing or anything like that. I’ll admit, it’s been a hard year. Hard and wonderful. Children change a marriage like nothing else. But I have understood better this year why marriages fail, which I hope helps me better steel myself against that ending. Maybe it will do the same for others.

Sometimes marriages end because a knife in the back. You know, infidelity, abuse, financial crises, lies that run so deep that the foundation of the marriage is riddled with holes. These are the obvious reasons that we all accept as reason enough to end a marriage. Of course, the knives are nothing to sneeze at. But they mask the more insidious, and I expect, more common, reasons that people decide to separate. I call these the papercuts.

My husband leaves every Saturday afternoon to play board games with his buddies. This is the way it always has been. I’ve bucked at this boys’ afternoon before, when Saturday was the only day both of us weren’t working or when I felt lonely at home. Lots of times I’ve accepted it. He needs time with his friends as much as I do. What’s wrong with having it scheduled? It’s not like they’re doing something bad. Besides, it makes him happy. The papercut happens, though, when I’ve had a long week with the baby while he’s working and Saturday becomes yet another day when I’m stuck in my house with a child who is sick or teething or screaming and he’s out enjoying himself. The times when it feels like I’m in it by myself.

Now it can end there. I can be a little grumpy about it, but then get over it when I realize that I’m happy that I get to have more time with Monkey. I know the time spent together, loving him, will help him be a better adjusted little boy. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t end there. I don’t let that papercut heal. I pick at it. I think of all the times I was left alone and unappreciated. I think of the guilt I feel when I leave Monkey home with his dad so I can get a prenatal massage and I blame him for making me feel that way. The cut gets bigger. It gets infected.

Then I cut him when he gets home. I make him feel like he owes me something for letting him leave the house. He gets a papercut and now he has to decide if he will let it heal or if he will pick, pick, pick at it. If he picks and becomes resentful, it’s easier to cut back. Soon, both of you are covered in festering papercuts and are filled with resentment. When you have so much practice cutting each other, it’s easier to plant that big knife in the other’s back.

I have learned that some papercuts aren’t worth picking at. Some you have to let heal on their own, others you have to talk about with your spouse (not with your friends and relatives so that you can pick at it together) to stitch it back together. Every day remind yourself that love is a decision and so is ignoring the superficial little cuts that happen.

Do you agree with my theory? Have you been in a situation where you didn’t let the paper cuts heal? Did it lead to a bigger knife? Let me know what you think in the comments!

“Boys'” Toys

This week we visited great aunt and uncle’s house to celebrate my grandfather and my great aunt’s birthdays. There were lots of little cousins around, which was great for my Monkey, who doesn’t get a lot of time with other kids. During the celebration, Monkey found a toy that he liked: a pink My Little Pony with glitter in her hair.  The sparkles enthralled him. Keep in mind, Monkey isn’t even a year old yet. Anyways, a family member came around and commented on the fact he was playing with a girl’s toy. The comment wasn’t spiteful or disgusted or anything like that. It was more of “I swear there are toys for boys around here somewhere so he’s not stuck playing with a pony.”

Now gendered toys have always struck a weird chord with me. When I was a little girl, I was more of a tomboy, which wouldn’t have bothered me, but my sister was a girly girl down to her core. She played with Barbies, had long Barbie hair, loved dresses and make up. I played with hot wheels and Beanie Babies. No one ever discouraged my play, but somehow I always felt like I was doing it wrong, being a girl wrong. I think I secretly longed to be the girly girl, but my sister was just better at it (that and I wanted to make sure I was different from my sister so I sneered at the Barbies).

Now I’ve got a baby of my own and as he enters toddler-hood, the toys are getting more and more distinct between what’s considered for boys or for girls. And, more than anything, I want Monkey to choose for himself what he enjoys rather than imposing a role on him. But, I’ll admit, I’m struggling.

It’s not just toys that are different. My husband and I went to pick out a laundry basket for all of Monkeys bibs/face cloths for our kitchen (so the clothes that are kept downstairs are separate from bedroom clothes). The one we found was purple and I spent a good minute looking for one in a “boy” colour. Brian ended up asking me why it mattered since it’s a hamper, not a dress. He was right. We bought the purple one, but I felt weird about it.

Then today, I went to buy plastic bowls for baby food (since I had a fun episode of Monkey grabbing the regular one I was using to feed him and nearly shattering it against the table). There were only packages of pink/orange. I considered for a moment waiting until they were restocked. But they’re bowls! Why does it matter? Who cares if Monkey eats goldfish from a pink container? Why does it matter if he wants to play with pink toys or dolls or trucks or dinosaurs?

I wonder if I’d feel the same if he were a girl. Would I care if the only colours out there were blue and green? Probably not. Is it because I have always preferred blue to pink? Is it because boys’ toys are considered “normal” while girls’ toys are the deviation? Or is it because the colour pink has negative connotations no matter who is playing with it? If pink is the colour equivalent of female and all that is feminine, why do I despise it so much? I embrace other parts of being feminine, but can’t get over the pink. To me, pink is juvenile, weak, and flaky, and I don’t want my kids (no matter their sex) to be those things. But is pink inherently anything? It’s a colour. Like seriously.

Flowers are pink. Flowers that can grow through anything. Flowers that make the world a little brighter and help sustain ecosystems. My skin is pink-ish. It protects me from the world and holds my pink insides together. The sky as the sun sets and rises turns pink, breathtaking against the everyday blue. Pink isn’t evil. Pink also isn’t inherently female. It’s a colour, not a person. But I still have to force myself to let pink into my house.

What about you? How do you feel about “gendered” toys or toys coloured to indicate they are for boys or girls? Is it a non-issue or is it something that needs addressing? Are you a pink-advocate or do you despise it?

Being Thankful

Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadians out there this weekend!

This is the weekend each year that we set aside to remind ourselves of how lucky we are to live so privileged. And we have a lot to be thankful for. This year, Thanksgiving falls a week before our federal election and I’m asking for you to be thankful for something very specific this year: religious freedom.

We should always be thankful for the food on our table, the people around us, and our health. We are told to be grateful every day for these things. And rightly so. There are millions of people who don’t have enough to eat, are isolated from their loved ones, or are dealing with health issues. You might be one of them. I don’t mean to downplay those issues. They are huge.

But the election this year has brought something up that seems to have emphasized an ugliness in our hearts, especially us white Christian types. Somehow we started a debate regarding wearing a niqab (a veil worn by some Muslim women that covers the entirety of the face except for her eyes) to a citizenship ceremony. Then the debate grew to why do we allow Muslims to enter Canada and not assimilate into our culture. And it’s been ugly.

From “Stay the hell where you came from” to labeling them as terrorists, I’m sure Canadians who are Muslim have heard it all. And a lot of that hate is coming from my home province. I’ve definitely pared down my Facebook friends list because of it. Alberta is a hotbed of racist remarks probably because of the fact that many of the people in Alberta (specifically small-town folk) haven’t met a Muslim person in their lives. It’s easy to call a group of people “other” when you haven’t met someone belonging to that group. And when you’ve classified someone as “other,” they begin to seem less human to you.

I want to go back to our topic today: thankfulness. We, most of us, are immigrants here. If your ancestors are from Europe, there is a good chance that they came to North America to escape religious persecution. Europe in the 1700s believed that a society had to have uniformity of religion to survive and that the government had to enforce that uniformity. Anyone not following that area’s specific brand of religion could be arrested and killed as a heretic. So many people left and came to North America so they could practice their religion in peace.

Fast forward to Canada in the twenty-first century. Since the people who are most vocal about their distaste of Muslims in my experience are Christians, let’s look there first. How many different branches of Christianity are there? Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Unitarians, Methodists, Presbyterians, and the list goes on and on. Each practices Christianity in their own ways. And we are thankful for that, right? You are thankful that you get to pick a church, or not pick one if you don’t want to, as you please. Whatever fits you the best. And the government stays out of it (except, you know, enforcing Christian religious holidays on everyone and other topics I don’t want to discuss here).

Religious freedom and keeping religion and state separate is part of why our ancestors came here. It’s been such a big part of our culture, we don’t know any different. Somehow, though, we seem to think we are the only people who “deserve” it. Part of it has to do with racism. And, yes, part of it has to do with the conflict in the Middle East (though we exaggerate this second part to downplay the first). And part of it, in my opinion, has to do with controlling what a woman can and cannot do with her body (because we aren’t debating turbans or kippahs or hoods).

Whatever we tell ourselves, we have got to stop this. We need to stop dehumanizing people based on their religious beliefs. Let’s remember that religious freedom goes two ways. If we expect Muslims to be restricted in their freedoms as Canadians, there will be people who expect Christians to have the same restrictions. Let’s just not go there. One of my favorite religious quotes is “You can’t evangelize and antagonize at the same time.” And, granted, that pastor was talking about how the church treats homosexuals, but I think it’s true of ministry in general. You want Canada to be a wholly Christian nation? Evangelize. Share the love you were shown. Show that Christianity is a place of refuge, a place of forgiveness and love. Show the scars of the life you lived before and how you were healed. Make Christianity a place of redemption, not rules and regulations. We are not a bureaucracy, we are a living body of Christ. And where does that start? With thankfulness.

Writing Through Distractions

As  a pregnant wife, mom, and dog-owner, sometimes finding the time to write is a daunting task. Add that to a cell phone that pings whenever it’s attached to one of my many social media accounts and a computer that is connected to the internet plus being an avid TV/movie fan, it’s a wonder that I ever get a chance to put word to page.

Before becoming a mom, I needed very specific conditions in which I could write and the list of those conditions was extensive. It needed to be quiet, dark, and accompanied by a delicious beverage (white chocolate chai latte in the cooler months and an ice-cold Coke in the summer). There should be no mess in the room I was working and a candle that smelled delicious would be appreciated. I must have eaten something in the last hour so that I wasn’t burdened by the need to eat. And that was just the beginning. I clung to every excuse I could muster not to write (which I’m sure many of my writer friends completely understand).

While I was pregnant, I imagined the year of maternity leave to be wonderfully absent of things to do and I would have all the time in the world to pen my great Canadian novel. Oh, how wrong I was. Now, I’m lucky if I get an hour a day that I can spend doing my own thing, though I can stretch that if I decide that showering and chores aren’t worth doing.

Now my writing time is whenever I can get it and with whatever conditions are there at the time. And do you know what the strange thing is? I have written more now than I ever have (school assignments aside). While I have no illusions about being able to participate in NaNoWriMo, I know that I can hammer out this novel I’m writing or those short story ideas in my head in no time. It seems that the excuses evaporate when you have a deadline.

My deadline is that floating question of “When will Monkey wake up from his nap?” which is usually expedited by the fact that he seems to be able to hear me typing from a mile away and needs to make that noise stop no matter what. Not knowing how much time I’m going to have today makes me use that time more efficiently so that I’m not stuck with half of an idea on the page when the first murmurs of “mum-um-um-um” come from the bedroom next to me. Which, of course, is happening right now.

So tell me, fellow writers, what excuses stop you from writing? And do you notice a difference in your writing when you have lots of time compared to limited moments?