who's your daddy - part 2

sometimes knowing what you don't want is all you got

At the urging of some people that I respect and at the behest of the ever-evolving situation we find ourselves in, I’ve made the decision to open up my subscription to a paid or free option. If you have the means and the desire to support my writing, you can click on the subscription button and go for a paid option. If not, for either category, just stick with the free version. They’re both the same content, either way. Should I ever move towards adding content only available to paid subscribers, I will let you all know first and I will always make everything I offer free to anyone that needs it to be so. No questions asked. Ever.

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While it seems somewhat self-indulgent to go back to my younger days (daze?), as a writer and a now-kinda’-older person, I figure I’ve earned it. While we’re on the topic of determining who our daddies are (read part one here), I thought it might be helpful to have a peek at the map that brought us to where we are on our little homestead with the goals, values, and views we have around our lives. If I had a nickel for every time I received a message from a younger person telling me how overwhelming the chasm between where they are and where they want to be is, and how it all just seems so utterly impossible, well… that’s a lot of nickels.

So here’s a retrospective road map, if you will. It’s not your map and who would want it to be? It’s my story and it wouldn’t have been one I picked out either. I mean now, in hindsight, I would have because it brought me to where and with whom I am with, but there is no way that at the time of living it, I would have recognised all of the winding, painful things that happened as gifts. No way. Now I do. Mostly, I see hardship in a different light, that is. I understand that as heinous as it can be in the moment it is always the way of honing and shaping our lives. An offer of a deeper resonance and profound insights. If younger me, the very young one living alone in a basement apartment in Winnipeg, had been shown the life I have now with the wonderful people I share it with, I’m certain she would have felt overwhelmed. She would have likely sat on the floor, head in her hands, thwarted by the enormity of the efforts and skills and knowledge that would have to be earned and experienced to make it all happen. She probably would have given up before she started. There you have it, the gift is that in surrendering to the unknown, we can let go of the reins. We don’t have to figure it all out in one go, we just have to show up with courage and grit, say yes to opportunities, and hold passion and conviction in our hearts.

So, that’s what I tell all of those motivated, but frustrated, young people out there. It’s not your job to know it all, it’s your job to know that you don’t and move, however incrementally, towards what you seek with humility and courage. My bet is that most of you will find smarter and quicker ways to do what took us years to figure out.

So, without further ado, part two of “Who’s Your Daddy - part two. Sometimes knowing what you don’t want is all you got when you have no idea what’s possible”.

I had a winding circuitous route to get to where I am now. That’s not so unusual, but I think it’s helpful to understand something that’s integral in the conversation we are now having in this time of collapse and creation. Why do some people, under pressure, choose one direction, while others start on a radically different path. It’s brought so much division and hostility amongst us. Group A wags their fingers, chanting their chorus of “shame, shame”. Group B shrugs and chooses the path of least resistance, not much caring either way. Group C digs in their heals, does an about turn, rejecting the narrative altogether. Of course, this is an over-simplification because we are humans, not homogenised groups. The nuance and details of one’s shaping into who they are tells the real, complicated stories of us. The simplification of labelling human beings into categories like the responsible, the irresponsible or simply the woefully ignorant is just another symptom of a superficial time. Anyone can fit into any camp, it just depends on who you ask. 

I suppose I’m a bit of an outlier to the inliers, a think-for-myself, nobody is coming to save me kind of gal. When I’m sick, I look to heal myself. When my children were sick, I learned what I needed to do to make them better. When my first daughter was born, I at the tender, young age of 21, knew not a thing of a thing. I had just moved to a new military base, thousands of kilometres from where I lived. I was alone with an infant, my husband in Somalia. I brought my daughter to a GP I had just found that would take us (family doctors are not so abundant and easy to find in our Canadian, socialist healthcare system). She was five months old or so and hadn’t yet received her vaccines. He vaccinated her. I thought nothing of it. Eight hours later, I was in the ER with my baby screaming a scream I had never heard her make and violently shuddering in-between spells of vomiting. Sounding more wounded animal than human baby. She was admitted to the hospital.

I refused to leave her so they brought me a cot. She screamed that haunting scream all night. Then all the next morning. She would scream and turn blue and shiver and collapse in exhaustion and then start all over again. I remember curling around her, singing to her, rocking her, nursing her (she kept throwing it up), and praying endlessly. A mean old battle-axe of a nurse would keep checking up on me, admonishing me for not keeping my baby in the crib. As soon as the nurse left, I took my baby back into my arms.

We were there for a total of two days. I had no family or friends and didn’t know what was going on. They couldn’t get her temperature down to normal despite the medications they were giving her. The screams and shivering continued. She wasn’t right. Every mama knows these things. She didn’t move right, her eyes weren’t right, her whole energy was different. There is no instrument in the world that can even come close to telling you what a mama can when she holds her wounded child. 

It was on the morning of the second day of our hospital stay that the old, salty nurse and I got into a wee little row that would have landed me in jail today. I insisted that I was leaving. Two separate doctors came to me and told me that I shouldn’t leave and by all rights, they could call child and family services. I broke down in tears with the second doctor, an older paediatrician. “I just want to go home and lie in the bath with her and sleep in our bed with her and I know she will be ok.” I pleaded.

I will never forget that kindly man. You know what he said? He sighed and said, “Okay, go home, go in a cool bath with her, keep her next to you. If her temperature rises or if she’s still sick tomorrow evening, come back. I think what you’re seeing is an adverse reaction to the vaccines she received. If I were you, I would not vaccinate this child again, at least not until she’s older. Go home.”

Now, I thought this fella’ was wonderful and I was elated to get out of that sick, miserable building, but surely he was a few bricks short of a load. All this from vaccines? I was clueless and had never even heard that such a danger could exist. Stick with me, this isn’t a vaccine bashing story. This is a mother finding herself story.

So, we left, had those baths, and I lied in bed naked with my plump little platypus. I sang and nursed her. We cooled off in water together when she was too hot and warmed up under quilts when she was too cool. We cuddled up together, skin against skin. We slept in silence. She woke up the next morning smiling. Just like that. 

That very day, I pulled out the trusty yellow pages (anyone remember yellow pages?) and started calling around bookstores, asking if they had books on vaccines. Where else was I going to look back then? This is one of the reasons why, now, in this great time of information censorship, I insist on books and hard copy information. I think we all have a duty to preserving knowledge and this is one of the most powerful ways we can do just that.

I called the bookstores and one unfruitful call led to another until, finally, someone recommended I go visit the “Singing Pebble” bookstore in Ottawa, a couple hundred kilometres away. I called them, they had what I was looking for and so, a few days later, I went. It was an alternative, granola-level-crunchy, bookstore that smelled of incense and had creaky wood floors. I had never seen anything like it. Crystals splashed prisms across the walls and chanting benedictine monks played from the speakers. 

And there, under the “health and healing” section were books on vaccines. “Health and Healing”, new concept to me back then. You were either healthy or you went to the doctor, why the need for all those books? I learned why as years went on, but that was later. I was there for the books on vaccines of which they offered an entire shelf. I flipped through them, tentatively, until finding two that seemed somewhat balanced and more approachable. I was still of the thought that choosing not to vaccinate my child was akin to throwing her to the sharks. I couldn’t understand what that doctor saw that I couldn’t, but it made me uneasy. Was what my baby experienced so different from what was happening with all of the other crying babies on that paediatric ward? I didn’t know. I didn’t have anyone to ask. I bought the two books, a big investment for us at that time. I still vividly remember that I had to borrow $20 later that week from my father-in-law just to buy diapers and some groceries.

I read those books with scepticism and curiosity. Admittedly, I picked two books that gave pros and cons, leaving final decisions to the reader. I wasn’t ready for much more than that. I learned about the horrible scream some children make and why. That was the hardest part, to know how close we came from the brink of no return. I found resources at the back of the books and mailed away to join a couple of different groups that would mail you photocopied newsletters. You see? There is still a way, absent the town crier or computer screen, where information can be shared and disseminated. 

There was a magazine back then, I found it at that hippy bookstore, called “Mothering”. It was bought out years later and evolved into garbage, but at that time, it was brilliant. They had articles on natural child rearing, offered supports and information on every topic you could imagine and gave the resources and books one could start with to find information off the beaten path. I subscribed to more newsletters. I read about other parents’ experiences with medications or vaccines, with discipline and nutrition. It was a world nobody else had ever shown me. I subscribed to more newsletters I found through their classified pages in the back.

Buoyed by the knowledge that I wasn’t alone, I started putting myself out there in a more meaningful way. I spoke openly about my decisions around my child’s health. When others shared a perspective, I included my own. I refined my approach, learning through observation, the difference between sharing and contributing and proselytising. I made real flesh and blood friends that challenged me and broadened my knowledge.

Soon, I was getting newsletters from all over the place. I even found myself involved in some covert group that was distributing photocopies of adverse vaccine reactions taken from US military ledgers - all of them hand written as things still mostly were then. Pages after pages of these records showed up in my mailbox from PO boxes from around the US. I remember, a couple of years later, receiving copies of these in relation to the anthrax vaccine which was an unmitigated disaster. So many young people that suffered needlessly for a grand, failed experiment. Years after that, I was active in a group that was working with a Member of Parliament to bring to light the experiments that the Department of National Defence undertook with our soldiers in Somalia - using them as unknowing participants in mefloquin drug trials. Anyone remember what happened there with soldiers? Oh no, the government would never use people to experiment on. Shh… go back to sleep.

Ok, I digress, back to business.

I started learning more about the body and its innate systems of healing. I started considering the blunt tools of modern medicine. I looked at  the quality of the food we were eating. I found a tiny little health food store in the little town nearest us. It was attached to a traditional German bakery that made the most wonderful, true sourdough, organic spelt bread. If you went there on Wednesday mornings at 10:00, they would give you the bread in an open cardboard box as it came out of the wood oven, it was still too hot to bag.

The immigrant German owners of that bakery had a son in his thirties that studied naturopathy and homeopathy in Germany as a young man. I wandered into his shop one day, waiting for my bread, and we began talking. I left three hours later with a new friend. His name was Peter, Peter the Great in my eyes. He might as well have been on a stage at that initial meeting we had, unveiling world curiosities and mysteries for me like a magician. Only he wasn’t a showman at all, he was quiet and steady and kind. He became my friend and my guide. He gave me medicines from plants and medicines that I couldn’t hold at all.

Peter and I spent many hours talking in his little store while my toddler played with wooden blocks at our feet. He asked me questions I couldn’t answer, but carried with me for days and weeks after. We spoke of the healing power of food and of love, of how real medicine whispers and nudges a miraculous body to do its thing, it doesn’t stomp in and take over. Cracks began to form and spread throughout my understanding of the world. Light streamed in and illuminated ancient truths carried in my bones, things my ancestors knew but I grew up ignorant to

So much of what I was learning then was a new language to me. But Peter’s words resonated with an innate part of me that I didn’t fully trust or understand then. It was just “a hunch” or a “gut feeling” that there was truth in my midst. He taught me to listen to that instinct. That’s all I had and I am most deeply and profoundly grateful that even then, as a young girl with a babe, alone and separated from my people and a place I knew, I went with that. I had to learn to hear the messages from within and then have the courage to listen. I got better at that. And the more I aligned myself with that deeper resonance of knowing, the sharper my instinct became.  I was not a confident person, but I was stubborn. I think, sometimes, those traits culture tells us aren’t as favourable are often just because it makes us less agreeable and controllable. We can be kind without being nice. We can be tenacious without being narcissistic. We can be determined without being careless. They’re all good and bad in someway. It’s up to us to wield our gifts with care.

My German friend told me that all of the plants I was eating were not helping anything. A year earlier, I had started ‘plant eating’ in earnest, an unfortunate side effect of all of my visits to the granola bookstore, thumbing through their vegetarian books, and visiting the little health food store full of macrobiotic not-delights beside it, “You live in Canada, Tara! It’s cold, it’s like Germany! You need meat and cheese. You need sourdough toast with butter and eggs for breakfast!”

I wasn’t so sure, but the crazy diet I had been on - vegetarian(ish) had me only eating fruit all morning and raw vegetables most of the day. I had developed a nasty habit of recurring bladder infections and my frame was best described as skeletal - something I had never had or been in my life. Imagine, fruit from distant locales when it’s -30 outside! I listened to Peter and all of my budding health issues went away.

I will skip over the next few years, just touching down long enough to pluck out some highlights so the evolution of my approach can be better understood. I used homeopathy under Peter’s guidance until I took a homeopathy course in the basement of an old WWII style building on an obscure military base, and started learning, through trial and error, under the guidance of a knowledgable homeopath. I learned how to use those medicines on my own. I borrowed books from the library that spoke of herbalism and looked for the plants around me. I bought bulk, dried herbs from the health food store so I could make infusions and steams, tinctures and lotions for my baby as she grew. I met friends that shared the names of good chiropractors and farms that sold good eggs and meat. 

If, back in the day, when my baby was screaming and ill, I had gone home and googled “baby screaming after vaccine”, I would have been regaled with a litany of comforts telling me it was normal and she just had a sore arm. I most likely would have had a second set injected. Maybe, maybe not, given what the doctor told me. But, I wouldn’t have gone to that bookstore. I wouldn’t have seen those other books or smelled that earthy incense or spoken to the cashier about earth medicines, traditional medicines I had never heard anything about growing up under the model of allopathic medicine. I would have never had a need to join underground newsletters that came with handwritten notes offering up other mother’s home addresses for me to have someone to connect to. I would have never had those women as penpals, to help mentor me and connect with me when I felt alone. I would never have learned of our power to heal with whole, real foods and living in congruence with the natural world which means that I would have never got interested in nutrition which led me to an interest in how our food is grown which brought me to volunteer on farms which, ultimately, brought me to my mentor, to a relationship with the land, and to myself. I probably never would have started on my path at all.

We had three bigger health scares with our two older daughters. All of those ‘health scares’ had us sitting across from some expert who was telling us their grave diagnosis and offering up their solution of management with pharmaceutical drugs. It would be a lie if I told you that the absolute fear and worry of those decisions didn’t torment us. I was not completely sure of my decisions then, I always knew I could be wrong. Even now, a thread of uncertainty mingles with my convictions. I think that’s good, it leaves us open to other possibilities. But, those were my babies they were talking about!

I’ve always asked two questions of myself in these tough situations. First, “To what end?” In other words, what is the goal of this action, where will it bring us, will it resolve the issue or just keep it festering under a band-aid? The second question is “Can we wait and see?” What is the harm in allowing a buffer of time to try to find the real cause of the issue and see if we might just untangle ourselves from the spell of a “diagnosis”, or seeming concrete determination. What if, instead, we focus on excavating the messages and meaning from the our so-called problem. What if we call on the innate, infinite wisdom of our bodies, of our source, of a stream of wisdom available to us all.

They told me that one of my babies was likely to be blind and mentally retarded by her third birthday. They told me that one of my babies had a seizure disorder and needed to be kept on anti-seizure medications that would, quite literally, change her developing brain. They told me that one of my children had a lifelong disease that could never be cured, but could be managed. My children grew to be robustly healthy without a single pharmaceutical intervention. I didn’t know then if it was even possible to live through those experiences and come out the other side. What could I do, what did I have to do to figure out what was going on with my children and then satisfy the calls of their bodies? I have learned that I had to live through those painful experiences, navigate the heartache, and get over my self to do what needed to be done. It was through these repeated hardships that I earned the knowledge and developed authentic faith in deeper ideas around health and healing. Into the very fabric of my life is woven the knowledge and instinct that my experiences have brought me. I, in concert with my Creator, am the authority over my life.

I don’t believe that anything is ever an “either/or” proposition. If you find yourself squeezed into a corner by such a suggestion, I contend that you’re probably just not thinking creatively enough.

I offer up this little piece of my history as encouragement. The things you seek live in the real world. They live in the knowledge of other people, in the relationships we nurture, and on the obscure paths we find ourselves bumbling along. Truth is tangible. It takes more work, and it may seem foreign for those of you that grew up with the internet, to get out there and connect with that tangible, but it remains. It’s harder, but I am seeing something that I have chosen to believe is a gift: all of this online censorship is necessitating clever runarounds. People have done this since the beginning of time - the sharing of a book, passed from hand to hand, or written documents moving quietly from household to household. Secrets whispered from one neighbour to the next. Stories told and then retold. Skills being traded and taught. Food and time and supplies being bartered. It’s all, slowly, returning.

Each of these things builds reliance and connection to community. The internet cannot do that - not in the same way. We can connect and share but we are far and spread. Maybe, while incredibly frustrating, we can see this time of censorship, so-called authority figures settling science, and the control of information on the internet and in our lives as an opportunity for us to hone our flaccid information gathering/community building/mentor seeking muscles. That’s where I’m at anyway.

If you just bemoan what is happening with no clear and decisive action to create something else, something better and resilient, you’re missing the plot of our time. We are never given the awareness of a void or a malady and asked to just sit there with it. That awareness is always accompanied by a nudge. They’re inseparable. And we are duty bound to honour that nudge. It’s the work of our lives, however it comes.

My point is that I couldn’t have designed my life like it turned out in my wildest imagination. I was just there for it when another door opened. None of it was easy and none of it is easy now. My life has been trial by fire, and that, started both metaphorically and literally when I was a young child and our house burned down. It was after that the fire stuck, claiming me in ways, a lifelong companion ever since. My friend, fire, always showing up, again and again, to burn me until it gets so hot that I finally pay attention. I’m better at that now, quicker to pull away and look around, no longer needing to be charred and blistered before I realise what the hell is going on.

So I say“yes” to the sneak peeks and “let’s see” when I can’t figure it out. It’s so much easier to be courageous than to be forced into decisions through pain. Still, sometimes you don’t get the choice. It’s the same for all of us. When we show up and notice those open doors, and then courageously walk through knowing nothing happens by chance anyhow, we are shown yet another unknown landscape. Endless, unfurling paths to places that tap into the unlimited cosmos instead of the confined known and the safety of our puny, limited psyches.

I don’t believe that anything is ever an “either/or” proposition. If you find yourself squeezed into a corner by such a suggestion, I contend that you’re probably just not thinking creatively enough.

All this to illustrate my point that who we were before this pandemic has a lot to do with how we are in it. As it is with all of the challenges in our lives. Heartbreak comes. Failure comes, Devastation and seemingly insurmountable hardship comes. Not for all, but for many. We can be little rowboats on tumultuous seas being tossed to and fro or we can row our asses off, get to that island, and start living an autonomous, robust life full of connection and meaning. Even if that island is just metaphorical, a divine, untouchable place within, it is ours to cherish. Our inherent birthright from an ever-loving God at the moment life was breathed into our beings. Do what you will, but take care with that sacred gift.

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