Basket therapy, bits and pieces, and what we leave behind

I put together a couple of baskets this morning (well, rubbermaid containers that were supposed to be baskets) of donations for the women’s shelters in town, following my sister’s lead and rallying my friends to contribute. We had been asked to contribute essential and non-essential objects so that the women who received these baskets would feel safe and taken care of, but also treated. So, along with the cleaning supplies and dish towels there is chocolate and nice hand cream, candles and blankets. Well, somehow this exercise got me thinking about essential and non-essential items in my life, and this got me thinking about how my sister and I have been making fun of my mother for cleaning out her house and cleaning out her little baskets of memories. How we’ve tried to make her feel that, because she’s giving us her framed photos of ourselves as youngsters, she is somehow unsentimental. And then I started thinking about the little piles of rocks around her house, and the little piles of random objects that decorate my windowsills. I am shamelessly sentimental. Always have been, and it’s gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion. But I don’t buy school photos every year for my boys. I don’t save their work from year to year. I don’t have an outfit from when they were babies saved away, ready to be offered to them when they’re adults.

Absolutely non-essential items. But the art made with dried berries and wire, and the 'ring holder' made out of wood and a nail by my youngest are priceless to me. The brass pitcher that once belonged to my Nanny, and the crystal, yet to be hung up, given to me with a hug from one of my beautiful friends, are also in this pile-up, each of immense value to me. How would I put things like this in a will?

Absolutely non-essential items. But the art made with dried berries and wire, and the ‘ring holder’ made out of wood and a nail by my youngest are priceless to me. The brass pitcher that once belonged to my Nanny, and the crystal, yet to be hung up, given to me with a hug from one of my beautiful friends, are also in this pile-up, each of immense value to me. How would I put things like this in a will?

I save the weirdest things. And I have to wonder if those things will have value to anyone else when I’m gone. Likely not.

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Bits of bone and beauty, and stories told.

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Beeswax and boxes, and stones skipped by my son, who doesn’t concentrate on very much for very long, but who can skip stones for hours on end.

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Wood collected by my youngest that we both agree looks like a bird, sitting beside alabaster eggs that I know sit in a far-away friend’s home as well, memories of our climb up the Tower of Pisa and a wonderful get-away.

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Small round pebbles and slate shaped like daggers, and my youngest’s voice conjured up from years ago: ‘Mama, look how round (pronounced ‘wound’) they are!’

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Sweetgrass, sage, and healing.

Some of the things that have the most value to me have absolutely no monetary value to speak of, and likely hold little or no meaning to most people who would hold them in their hands.

This got me thinking about what we leave behind. What I will leave behind. What I came up with is that it won’t be things. I don’t have many things to give away that anyone else would value. The sad thing is that all of these treasures I hold so dear will likely, whenever I leave this earth, get put in a box or a bag and gotten rid of, because who wants to hold on to bits of wire with age-old dried berries on it, anyway? My kids will likely say things like ‘why did Mom have so many rocks all over the place??’ Or, ‘What’s with all the sticks standing up in corners?’ My estate will be very different.

Which is why I taught my boys how to dance the other night. I wish I had taken a picture of it; I couldn’t. I was busy teaching them how to put just-so-much pressure on my lower back, and how to hold my hand just-so so that they could lead. We had fun, and we will practise, and they will hopefully, some day, ask some lucky person to dance on a dimly-lit dance floor, and know what they’re doing. And they’ll remember that their Mom loved to dance. My Dad taught me to dance when I was young. It worked. I’m paying that forward.

Amongst the other lessons I learned this past week, because there seems to be something to learn around every corner these days, was how to teach my child how to say he was sorry. We had a rough morning last week. Someone woke up with his nose seriously out of joint, and I was tired, and it was early, and it was his brother’s birthday and he was really out of line, and so I jumped right into that fire and fought it with fire, big loud Mama voice, threats, consequences sentenced, escalation all over the place, tears, you name it. Totally pointless. I was exasperated, and wasn’t finding any files as to how to make anything better. I started reading. And what I found inspired something so simple, really. How do I teach my kid how to say he’s sorry? How does he learn what a real apology sounds like? How will he ever learn to recognize the difference between a forced ‘check-the-box’ apology and a genuine, heartfelt ‘I’m sorry.’? What a revelation. Model that sh*t. So I phoned my child at his Dad’s, because that’s where he was by the time this revelation struck. Asked him if he had a minute. Told him I was upset. That I had lost my temper and that I needed to apologize because I should have waited until we had both calmed down to address consequences for the poor behaviours. Told him I shouldn’t have raised my voice at him. Told him that I loved him. Asked him if he accepted my apology. Which he did.

And I thought there. That’s something I can leave behind. The essentials. They’re not objects, but there are some real essential things I want them to take from me. We’ll start this week with dancing and saying you’re sorry. And we’ll go from there. And I’ll continue to collect my rocks and memories.

Ribbons and rip-offs and rage (Or, whew. It’s #$%^ing November.)

I don't know who this guy is. He may very well want to support this cause. But his corporation is exploiting it.

I don’t know who this guy is. He may very well want to support this cause. But his corporation is exploiting it.

I remember one day last year during the month of October when my rage at the pink ribbon campaign began. The day I almost lashed out at a very well-trained clerk at the grocery store, who of course had no idea why I was wearing a pink wig, or why, when he asked me if I wanted to contribute to breast cancer I had to take a moment to compose myself and chomp firmly down on my tongue so that I wouldn’t let the I’VE ALREADY CONTRIBUTED MY BREASTS AND A YEAR OF MY LIFE TO BREAST CANCER THANK YOU come flying out of my mouth. I was enraged on two fronts: first, grammatical. Seriously. Would I like to contribute to breast cancer? How should I do that? Should I hand you a BRCA gene? Some estrogen? Booze? Smokes? Stress? Pollution? The question is Would you like to contribute to breast cancer RESEARCH. Or it should be. Which brings me to the second front. What they’re actually asking is would you like to contribute to this corporate monster, the pink ribbon campaign.

I get it. Pink ribbons are comforting. Warm and fuzzy. Girly. Pretty. And the motivation behind the individuals who choose to purchase pink ribbon paraphernalia is pure and good; of this I am sure. But breast cancer is not a barrage of pink ribbons. It’s not warm and fuzzy and oh-so-feminine. It’s quite the contrary.

Breast cancer sells products. Corporations link themselves to this marketing strategy in order to make money. Slap that pink ribbon on your product, tell a story about how much money will go towards breast cancer research (actually very, very little proportionately speaking), and sell, sell, sell.

Candy's great for breast cancer! Wait...

Candy’s great for breast cancer! Wait…

Take a look at the NFL gear. Ask yourselves why these football players began sporting pink shoes, decorating themselves with pink ribbons on wristbands. Why? Because they diverted the attention from the accusations of misogyny, domestic and sexual violence against women, low pay and poor working conditions for cheerleaders that the league was dealing with. Slap a pink helmet on a team’s head and bingo – look how selfless and generous they are – they love women! Breast cancer is great PR. And guess what? It works! The NFL makes nearly 10 billion a year selling this schtuff; however, approximately only 4.5 million of that goes to actual breast cancer research. Does that sound right to you? Not me. Do the mushrooms I buy at the grocery store need to have a pink ribbon on their cellophane wrap? No. Does that pink ribbon you see on products mean that the product is healthy and won’t contribute to breast cancer? Nope. Car companies are even buying into it. Perfumes, full of endless chemicals, sport the pink ribbon. Does that pink ribbon mean that part of the profit made from that purchase goes to breast cancer research? Nope. Not necessarily. Any company can slap that ribbon on their products, because it’s a marketing strategy.

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Where there were once coalitions of women who marched in the streets and demanded to have money put money into science to figure out why breast cancer was on such an alarming rise, angry women who wanted answers, who wanted attention paid to what was changing their bodies, there are now ribbons. pink cars. pink mittens, monuments lighting up pink for the month of October. I believe Niagara Falls even took part. (?!)

I should have said this sooner. I should have made my feelings on the matter clear right at the time of diagnosis. I am so thankful to each and every person who has bought something pink with me in mind. Your good vibes and warm thoughts have carried me through many dark times. Unfortunately, if you thought your actions were making a big difference in the grand scheme of things, they probably weren’t.

What has actually happened in my house is that several months ago I actually went through my drawers and sweater chests and threw out everything I owned that was pink because I was so tired of seeing it. Only recently have I begun to re-introduce it into my wardrobe – mostly because I ordered a pair of really cute boots online thinking they were a lovely dove grey colour, and they were in fact blush pink. I’m trying to make it work.

What I actually feel when I walk, well, anywhere during the month of October and see pink ribbons vomited on every possible product is frustration. Resentment. Kind of taken advantage of. Exploited. This machine has attempted to take a really shitty disease and make it pretty, and profitable. And I’m not okay with that.

We do need a sisterhood. We do need to support each other. And the support and love that comes pouring out of the runs, the walks organized around this campaign are absolutely crucial to women who are dealing with breast cancer diagnoses. We desperately need to feel like we’re not alone. We need to ride on some sort of wave of support. I just really, really wish it didn’t have to be cloaked in a corporation-driven campaign.

If you want to contribute, give it some thought. Do your own reading. Check out organizations like Think Before You Pink. Do some reading on the Susan Komen fiasco. On the NHL story behind their pink gear. And if you’re still okay with what you know, then by all means – pink away! Just not for me, please.

If you want to help someone who is dealing with breast cancer, spend some time with her, because she probably could use a friend. Go for a walk with her, because exercise is really really good for her. Bring her random dinners, because she’s probably more tired than you know. Give her a hug, because she needs it. Rub her shoulders, because they’re probably sore. Be willing to talk about her new reality, because it’s scary, and she needs to talk. And if you want to contribute financially to breast cancer research in her name, my two cents is write a cheque, and bring it to your local cancer centre.

Thank the gods it’s November.