Facing my mortality

It’s a fact that I’m going to die someday. No one can deny that we are born, we live, and then we die – that’s how time works for us. This shouldn’t be a revelation to anyone.

For years I was envious of those who truly, deeply believed in some kind of spiritual afterlife. I could never bring myself over to the side of faith; it just didn’t seem logical to me, and those who promoted the concept in my younger years never seemed the better for their connection with spirituality. Eventually, I came to terms with most of my feelings around the issue except for one; the fact that someday, be it sooner or later, I would die.

Light through the trees
There is a light... and it's the sun

It wasn’t the dying that I was uncomfortable with. It was, rather, the same thing that makes me never want to sleep at night – I hate the idea that by sleeping I am somehow missing out on something vitally important or mind-blowingly exciting. I’ve stayed up all night many times in my life. I’ve even had a six-month period in my early twenties when I refused to sleep more than four hours a night. I usually didn’t miss anything, but sometimes fantastic things happened in those dark hours when the rest of the city was sleeping. On the occasions when great things did happen, it only cemented the feelings I had that when I slept I was missing out. On top of that, all of my best creative work happens after eleven p.m.

Death is the great period of missing out on things

Death is like sleep, only permanent, and there are no dreams. Now that I have a daughter, the feeling that I could die and miss out on everything – in her future and our future as a family – is stronger than it has ever been. Mortality becomes a bigger deal when you’re a mom, I think. You want nothing more than to see your child grow, learn, and experience the world. You want to be there to help when you’re needed and to take care of them until they can take care of themselves. The very concept that you could die tomorrow and not be there for them, not see them grow up, is sometimes a devastating one. It can make you more cautious than you were perhaps before you had children. I know it has for me, and for some other parents I’ve talked to about it.

So, like sleep, I didn’t want to die because I don’t want to miss out on anything. For nearly the past three years this has been a weight on my mind – not constant, but a thought that returns unbidden at random times. It’s unsettling, and frustrating, and sometimes makes my heart skip a beat in irrational fear.

I had to come to terms with my mortality

So how can a woman who doesn’t believe in the afterlife come to terms with the fact that her worst fear is missing out on something because she’s dead? Unexpectedly for me, it was through a television show.

A few months ago Adam (the astronomy geek of the family) and I started watching Professor Brian Cox‘s BBC astronomy series Wonders of the Solar System, followed by Wonders of the Universe. It was the first episode of Universe, Destiny, that blindsided me (with Science!) and helped me accept that I will die… and that it’s okay.

Destiny is about time. Brian Cox explains time and entropy in a way that is attainable – a way that I can understand it, even though I’m no scientist, and physics concepts often go way over my head. Watching this show was the first time I actually understood what entropy means – not well enough to explain it to anyone, but well enough that a light switched on in my brain and I finally got it. But that isn’t what helped me accept my mortality.

By the end of the show, Brian has brought you on a journey of time and the universe through his own eyes – and he has no problem expressing his childlike wonder at it all in an infectious way. When he dropped the bomb on us, the viewers, that time is marching forward inexorably, and that it it will end – the entire universe, and everything within it, will cease to exist – it was like I had been hit by lightning. The knowledge that someday, far beyond my own existence and beyond a time I can even imagine, the world, the stars, the galaxies, the universe, and time itself will no longer exist, suddenly became the most important piece of knowledge I had ever understood.

I sat in stunned silence after the show had ended, contemplating just what that meant.

I can’t miss out on something that doesn’t exist

When I die, I won’t exist anymore. But someday neither will anything else. Although I can understand why that might terrify some people, I’ve discovered that it’s the most comforting thought I have ever experienced.

A perfect May Day

We woke up this morning to sunshine in the form of a 2 year old demanding that we “get up, it’s morning, wake up now please, it’s time to wake up!” We rolled out of bed and stumbled to the living room, being pulled the whole way by a very awake little girl who wanted to watch videos, please. She had, after all, slept in till 7:45, so why were we being so lethargic?

Videos were watched as we, the so-called adults in the house, tried to clear our heads and figure out what to do with a sunny Sunday morning. We scrapped our original plan to catch a ferry to the Sunshine Coast and check out the MuddBunnies racing at the Sunshine Coaster DH, opting instead to either visit the petting zoo / farm on the north shore or take a bike ride with the girl and her chariot.

When faced with the options of checking out animals at the farm or going bike riding the forest, Lyra responded with an adamant and forceful cry of “Go for a bike ride!” so our plans were set. First order of business, however, was naptime. For everyone. For two hours. Lyra napped in her room, Adam napped on one half of the L-shaped couch, I napped on the other half of said couch, and Sera the cat napped on my head.

With that out of the way, the whole family (minus Sera) piled into the car with our bikes and trailer to head to the Lower Seymour Conservation Forest, with a short coffee stop along the way. The winding forest trails in the LSCR are perfect for a couple of mountain bikes towing a double trailer, and the paved road trail into the woods allows for plenty of opportunities to go very, very fast. Lyra likes to go very, very fast.

We stopped somewhere down the paved trail past Rice Lake at a deserted little picnic spot. There was sunlight shining down through the break in the trees above us and a little creek called Balloon Creek right next to it. It was, in a word, idyllic.

We ran in circles and played chase with Lyra; we climbed down to the creek and threw leaves into it to see how far they could flow with the water; we swatted at mosquitoes too young to know how to bite us. The air was clean and the sun warm on our faces.

The three of us – Father, Mother, Daughter – lay down together laughing in the grass and looked up at the beautiful blue sky. As we watched, a bald eagle glided above us, and we agreed – at least Adam and I did – that we couldn’t imagine being, or living, anywhere else right now. We just assumed the same of Lyra, since she’s only two and has never lived anywhere else. We were together, surrounded by forest and mountains, with eagles looking down on us, and nothing could be more perfect.

Lyra seemed to agree, since the idea of getting back into the trailer and heading back to the car was one she was violently opposed to. When we told her that we’d get sushi with Uncle Jordy, she was more willing to leave. There’s nothing like bribing a toddler with the promise of her favourite uncle as motivation to move.

Fortunately for all of us, it was a promise we were able to keep. We turned our bikes around and raced at top speed back to the car. I may have mentioned before that Lyra likes going very, very fast, but to be fair, she comes by it naturally. We were back at the car in no time, and off to pick up her favourite uncle and get some fabulous North Vancouver sushi for dinner.

We topped off the evening with bubble tea for dessert, and called it a day – a perfect day. It seems that all we need for a perfect day are the following:

  1. Sunshine
  2. Casual, agile plans
  3. Good coffee
  4. Bikes
  5. Mountains, forests, and life around us
  6. Family
  7. Sushi
  8. Bubble tea

What makes your day perfect?

Watching someone become a person…

Lyra walking in Burrard Inlet
Lyra walking in Burrard Inlet

Every parent will tell you when you first have a baby to cherish every moment, because it goes by so quickly. You’ll hear it so many times that you’ll get sick of hearing about it, because you get it already.

Except I don’t think I actually did get it. I do now, or I’m starting to, but I still don’t want to tell new parents what they’ve been told a hundred times already, even if it’s true. It does go by quickly – far more quickly than you realize, until you look at the little person who used to be a baby, and notice that she’s suddenly outgrown those jeans that used to be unimaginably large, and that she’s got tastes and feelings about everything she sees and does, and is entirely willing to tell you all about it when she used to just take it all in without voicing an opinion at all.

It’s the becoming that really intrigues me when I watch Lyra, the similarities with either me or her father, and the differences. She has always been her own person, and it would be hopeless to try and form her into something she isn’t. She likes what she likes, and hates what she hates, and has full-blown emotions that she doesn’t know how to handle yet. We’re all discovering who she is along with her, and it’s probably the most interesting journey I’ve ever been on.

I don’t remember becoming who I was as a child. I remember when I became who I was as an adult – once I was finished school and off in the real world, I spent a long time trying to figure that out. I’d love it if she had a sense of that sooner than I did, and I’ll do my best to help her figure that out, but ultimately she will be who she is and will keep becoming herself forever.

Just like I am.

Lyra is almost three now and is becoming a feisty, independent, imaginative, mischievous imp. Embedded in that, though, she still considers most things very seriously before she acts, and is generous and empathetic for a 2.5-year-old.

I’m her mother; I’m bound to think the world of her, so of course I believe that she’s pretty much awesome. Every day I get to spend with her, discovering the world’s simplest complexities, feels like the best day yet, just like every age she reaches feels like the best age she’s ever been.

I don’t understand how it can be like this, but watching her become a person just keeps getting better and better. I can’t imagine it being better than it is now; but I felt the same way six months ago, a year ago, two years ago, and it kept getting better.

Soon enough she will turn three, and I’ll marvel at how fast the time has gone by since the sunny summer morning Adam and I walked to the hospital for her birth day. Newborn became baby became toddler became pre-schooler, and every second of it is full of wonder – for her and for me. It can’t possibly get any better.

And every time I say it can’t possibly get any better, it does.

Please sponsor my crazy bike commute in support of David Suzuki’s 75th birthday

There are a lot of reasons to preserve the environment. It’s good to have clean air to breath, water to drink, and healthy food to eat. I’m a big fan of these things.

I’ve been feeling a little guilty about driving to work occasionally, so I’ve decided to offset it by riding in to the office. I used to ride all the time, of course – but that was before I lived over 30km and many hills away from work. That’s over 60km of riding to top and tail a full workday… and I’m out of shape.

When I decided to do some fundraising for the David Suzuki Foundation, I realized that I needed a goal to work towards – so if you sponsor me in support of David Suzuki’s 75th birthday this Thursday, I promise to bike to work – the full 60+ km – one day this spring. If it doesn’t kill me, maybe I’ll do it more than once!

The funds I raise will go towards the Foundation’s mission for a healthy environment – because a healthy environment equals healthy people. Pollution can cause all sorts of health problems like cancer and asthma; wouldn’t it be great if those issues went away at the source?

Please help me reach my goal and force me onto my bike this spring, and help support the work of the David Suzuki Foundation for David’s 75th birthday. Please sponsor me.

Every little bit counts, and thanks so much! If you aren’t able to sponsor me, you can heckle me into riding…

Who needs a job description?

It’s come to my attention that I have a tendency to get involved in projects at work that land outside the Web Strategy Coordinator title I have. Titles are really more of a guideline anyway, right?

According to my job description, I do web strategy, social media strategy, email marketing, web marketing, reporting, intern & volunteer management, and general web grunt work. I think. I haven’t looked at it in a while.

I also fill in the gaps whenever there’s something that needs doing. If I see a problem, I want to fix it. I like to sum up this part of my work by saying “I do things.”

For the past few weeks, however, I’ve spent a lot of my time working with one of our interns (another misleading title, I think) to create a documentary about the people and work of the David Suzuki Foundation. At some point she asked me for help on part of the treatment (kind of like a pitch document, I guess) for the film, which evolved into helping flesh out the script, which moved on to helping find the equipment we were lacking for filming, and finally to assisting with many of the actual film shoots themselves. I’ve done second camera, I’ve done boom op and sound engineer, and I’ve done all sorts of running around to various locations to shoot on-site some of the varied work and personalities that are part of the Foundation.

It’s been a whirlwind of activity, applying skills that I haven’t used in years and learning new ones. I don’t even know how to credit myself on this film – which might show up as a special feature on an upcoming DVD release of another film, if we do it right and the stars align. I don’t know enough about film credits to even know where to start.

I just do things.

Filming on the beach
Claudia setting up for the shoot with David Suzuki at Kits beach

My daughter doesn’t do sick quite right

Last night when I was putting Lyra to bed, I thought she seemed a little off somehow. I commented on it to Adam after she was asleep, and didn’t think about it again.

At two a.m., I woke up to a little body climbing in to bed next to me. This often happens in the morning, although usually it’s closer to five or six. Last night, however, was different – the little body was radiating enough heat for my sleep-riddled brain to start prodding my unwilling consciousness. Something’s wrong, I could hear whispering in the back of my mind, you should wake up and check the little girl’s temperature. I think I had an argument in my head for a minute or so before I hauled myself up and stumbled to around in the dark looking for the thermometer I hadn’t used since long before we moved.

When I got back to the bedroom, I asked Lyra to sit up. She complied without argument, so I switched on the lamp and stuck the thermometer under her arm until it beeped at me. I looked at it and thought huh. I don’t think 38.8 celcius is a good place to be. By this point Adam was awake too, asking me what was wrong.

I told him her temperature and then asked Lyra if she was feeling okay. The conversation went a little like this:

Me: Are you okay Lyra?
Lyra: Yeah
M: Really? Are you hot?
L: Yeah
M: Do you want something to drink?
L: Okay
M: Do you feel all right, do you have any owies?
L: Yeah. I have an owie on my hand. Penny scratched me. Can you kiss it better? (Penny is our friend’s cat – they had a small run-in earlier in the day)
M: Sure. I’m going to get you some medecine, okay?
L: Okay.

I got up and found the infant tylenol (tastes like candy!) and brought some in for her. She happily drank it. She was actually pretty happy throughout the entire exchange – speaking clearly and answering questions appropriately – not at all seeming sick or upset by anything.

She lay back down in my bed, and I tried to give her a lot of room so my body heat didn’t add to her already high temperature. We all lay there in silence for a few minutes, until we had another brief exchange.

Adam: Is she asleep?
Me: I don’t know… Lyra, are you asleep?
Lyra: Yeah.

I know fevers and sickness aren’t funny, but man… that was just funny.

Poor Adam was being pushed right off the bed by me trying to give Lyra all the space in the world, so he moved to the couch, where he didn’t get any sleep because he was worried about Lyra.

Lyra and I eventually fell back asleep around three in the morning, after I had established that the tylenol had brought her fever down at least a little bit, and then we slept through until 8:30. Adam went to work on his two hours of sleep while I kept Lyra home for the day.

When her nose started bleeding around 9:30, I got a little more concerned, so we went out to the walk-in clinic. A fantastic experience, the walk-in clinic – I was told it would be a 1 hour wait, so we got on the list and walked off to get a coffee and ‘special treat’ for Lyra.

Lyra’s version of a special treat is apparently Lava Cake:

Lava Cake Girl

We went back to the clinic, since an hour was nearly up, and waited in their waiting room. Time passed.

More time passed. An hour became two, then two and a half. Just after the three hour point, Lyra was starting to hit a high fever again, and was spending her time cuddling in my lap and singing songs to herself and her giraffe:

Toddler with A Fever

We were finally admitted in to the exam room, where we were left to our own devices for another ten minutes or so. We spent some time looking at a diagram of the digestive tract, which Lyra thought was absolutely amazing. She actually talked about the digestive system a bunch of times over the rest of the day. Apparently she’s very interested in the way food moves through the body.

The doctor came in, spent around five minutes with us taking Lyra’s temperature (38.5 at that point) and checking her ears, nose, throat, heart, and congestion. Conclusion: flu. The nosebleed was just an added bonus due to dryness in her nose.

We got home at 1:30 (nearly four hours after we left the house), ate some lunch, and she went down for a nap without a complaint. When she got up, she wanted nothing more than to sit happily in my lap and watch videos while I worked on the computer.

I have never seen anything quite like my child with this sickness. She’s cheerful, talkative, and polite. She gets excited about the same things she would normally. She didn’t have any meltdowns, even with 3 hours of waiting in the boring doctor’s office. She spent the evening laughing and chatting with us like normal. She ate a bit less than usual at dinner, but then downed about ten little carrots and a slice of bread.

She went to bed tonight a bit early and fell asleep after stories and songs, again without a complaint.

I swear I’m more worried that something’s wrong with her because she’s shrugging this flu off so easily on the emotional level… but I’m going to just accept it an be glad she’s not a screaming ball of headache and crazy. I’m lucky. But it’s very, very strange.

Am I dreaming?

A dream I once hadI may have dreamed this scene at some point. When I first took the picture, the moment had that other-worldly memory to it, like it had happened before.

I also know it’s a common scene played out in movies and television all the time – the dream of a child just at the edge of your perception, running away from you, and the feeling that it’s vitally important for you to catch her, to keep up, to see where she’s going or protect her from harm. It’s almost archetypal.

But there I was, following my daughter as she ran through Park & Tilford Garden ahead of me, wondering if I had done this before in a dream, and if it would happen again. I’m glad to have captured the moment and the memory in a photo.

It’s not just a phone

I’ve been taking photos – a lot of photos – with my cellphone. The SLR snob in me is a bit annoyed, but the practical side of me has to face facts: with a 2 and a half year old in my life, carrying around ten pounds of camera gear just isn’t an option the way it used to be.

Last year I got a new Android Nexus One to replace my ancient cellphone. It’s nearly as powerful as my 5 year old laptop, and I’ve discovered that with a good camera app (namely, Vignette for Android) it’s a pretty powerful photographic tool. I’ve captured some shots with this phone that I’m very happy with… even proud of.

These are a few of my favourites:

It’s not so friendly, if you ask me…

I turned the last corner on a lovely walk from my home to the mall down the road and saw this building and its inviting sign. Behind the run-down fence covered in mildew and rust was the least appealing series of row houses that I had seen in a long time…. I felt sad for the people who lived behind that fence.

Friendship Place

Wading in the shallows at Rocky Point, Port Moody

My daughter, Lyra, is almost fearless. A warm autumn day and clear skies brought us out for a walk at Rocky Point park in Port Moody, where we discovered a ramp down to the water. In seconds she had waded in far enough to fill up her rubber boots, but she didn’t care – splashing around made her happy. When she’s happy, I’m happy. I’m glad I got a photo of this moment.

Wading in the shallows at rocky point

Kitsilano sunshine in spring

On my lunch break at the David Suzuki Foundation, when the weather is nice, my team will get sandwiches from the local Safeway and sit in the grass behind the store to eat them. Third Avenue is a piece of what makes Kitsilano beautiful – overhanging trees that throw dappled shadows on the road in the early spring, cherry blossom snow for that brief time in April when they’re blooming and magical, and on the occasional Vancouver snowfall they shine like the mountains themselves. It seems to me that this is sometimes overlooked next to Kitsilano’s more obvious charms – the beach and its view of the city and mountains, the shopping, the culture. This simple overhang of tree branches is my favourite thing about Kits.

My lunch spot behind Safeway in Kitsilano