Coffee is hot. I’m in a warm robe. The kitten has probably got a sock of some sort. Regardless, as she bats that around, as our four youngest kids spend time with their respective other parents, I have the house to myself. It’s New Year’s Eve. Jan’s gone to work, and in a few hours I’ll go in, too. But for now, reflection. On a year closing. On a year my life completely changed, and yet stood still, simultaneously.
“Courage, my word,” sang Gord Downie. “I haven’t any courage at all,” cried the Cowardly Lion. Courage, I think. Courage should be the word of the year. It took courage. Faith, that too. Hope, yes. Courage sums it all. The hope, and belief, the steadiness and readiness to best a year we all didn’t know was about to call on the inner soldier in us all.
The year started calmly enough. I resolved to blog as often as I could. Initially daily, then I allowed it to wane to weekly. After the pandemic threatened each of us, I succumbed to the notion of “when I could” and eventually landed on weekly Mondays for my weight loss journey. I didn’t do a fully accurate count, but I think this blog is 108. I’ll take it.
The blogs I churned out during the top of the year were a delicate look at life and love in a new relationship, a new home, a new postal code. Jan and I started dating at the tail end of 2019, and despite the warnings of friends, family, years of relationship experience, we decided we could handle moving in together right away. And we did. Initially, we took up residence at my apartment, then together uHauling my stuff to his house out in the country. By January 1st, we were completely settled into our new life together. It was time to start getting to know each other, wear the burden of hating each other, and bravely learning to co-operate and love each other implicitly. It wasn’t easy. It took courage. We knew our backs were against the wall. He needed a secondary person in the house financially, I knew my son was moving to Kingston and I needed the space. We allowed our hearts and our rose-coloured glasses to supersede any rational thought about moving in. So we did, and things went exactly as these things do. As exactly how history tells us they do.
It’s interesting to note that while Jan and I were adjusting to each other, we were also forced to adjusting to our new normals, long before that word became a staple of the pandemic. Getting used to our new lots in life. Jan was now a single father, working at Gino’s Pizza and Spaghetti House, a step-father to three. He was no longer a journalist with the Whig. And his wrestling shows were largely on hold. His adjustment to me and the new life he’d carved for himself was like dense pressure into a submarine breaching an ocean front. For me? I gave up a quaint downtown basement apartment that I loved for life out in the country – far away from the nightlife and the people. My son was coming to live with us, and a month later, my daughter. This was the first foray into having full time kids again since having moved to Kingston. And I suddenly had two stepchildren both under the age of 10. Hadn’t I already played this role before? To sum, Jan and I made earth-shattering changes in our lives to be together. And then the pandemic struck.
As we forged ahead with our ways of getting used to one another, getting used to each other’s families and exes, and co-parents, and ways of spending our money, our nuances, my battles with my weight, his battles with his health – Jan and I were suddenly told by the world, y’all ain’t goin’ nowhere. Sit and stare at the wall. And strap in, this is gonna take some time. Seriously – what is the hardest thing to happen to a new couple who are already being tested living together? Lock ’em down. The pandemic told us we got to be each other’s friend, and no one else. No places to go, no bars to escape to. No travelling romantic endeavours. No places to dine out. It was time to just really get used to each other.
I want to point out that from the very beginning of the threat of COVID-19, Jan and I took the pandemic extraordinarily seriously. Back in March, I asked one of our Kingston buy and sell groups about where I could purchase some cloth masks, and was met with severe scrutiny for wanting any. I was mocked by several people in the group so badly, Jan and I deleted the post, left this so-called “care-mongering” group and privately purchased cloth masks off of a friend of ours. Lo and behold, it was mere weeks before the whole world jumped on the disposable or reusable mask wagon. I tell the tale, because our kids were outfitted with masks, hand sanitizer, and brought up to speed on the severity of the pandemic as early as possible. We knew this thing was going to be a big deal, and that we’d be in for the long haul. With me working in radio, and he in the restaurant business, we were both considered “essential”, and that was going to put us squarely into the heart of this beast.
It took — here’s that word again — courage.
Jan probably moreso than me, with going to work during a raging viral virus we were very fortunate in Kingston to have largely kept at bay. But he was stringent on the measures we took to keep our family safe. We saw no friends, we rarely shopped together. Jan typically took care of the grocery runs. I didn’t see any co-workers. I worked with KFL&A Public Health to get my daughter back to Kingston after her quarantine. (Yes, did I mention that my daughter was with her family in fucking Mexico when Canadian families were called home? Lemme tell you about that panic. Or Mama of the girls being so sick during March we feared she had the virus, rendering her incapable of seeing her girls for nearly a month? Yeah. The pandemic reality settled fast and hard over this family.)
For me, the inevitability of this sort of change, and dread, and panic, and worry, and the opportunity to see friends and family stripped away – I fucking lost it. I remember so vividly being on the phone with Jan in my studio, screaming. Hot tears staining my cheeks. I don’t even remember the words I was using, but the panic had risen so high in my chest, I was shouting into the phone. Then calling my Program Director – I have to go, I have to go, I have to go and she putting me on two days of a mental health break. I think back and shake my head. I was fried. It was too much at once. It was all the things accumulated. It was my baby in Mexico, my son drowning in his isolation in our basement refusing to come upstairs because he missed his family and friends. It was my oldest being tucked into an apartment with her boyfriend for the first time, unable to go to school and forced to drop out of college. It was two little stepdaughters who were unable to see their mother for the first time in their entire lives. It was working with allergists, and watching my weight sail to well above 200lbs for the first time since I was on PTSD medication five years ago. It was going on the air and talking about anything that wasn’t pandemic related to everything that was, interchangeably. It was watching my partner get laid off. It was not seeing my sisters, whom I’d been driving down biweekly to see for more than two years.
It was everything and all of it.
It was trying to live with a man that I felt like I barely knew in a life I barely recognized during a year I hardly understood. The restraint of not losing it entirely was slipping away.
By the time my birthday rolled around in June, things had started to become a little more “normal”. A new normal. Bubbles began to expand. Jayda came to visit. She became part of my co-hort. I saw my sisters, and added them to our 10. We finally got a picture of the five of our kids together.
Jan and I had reached several breaking points in our relationship. The kind where we very seriously entertained whether or not we were going to stay together, or if I should move out. And while this sounds like we were fighting within an inch of our lives, I look back now and think – we were fighting for our life. The fact that we were having the horrible, ugly conversations meant that we were communicating. That we hadn’t shied away or tried to preserve each other’s feelings for any reason. We weren’t going tip toe around the fact that we were falling apart. We were going to scream at each other until we got it right and figure it out in the morning, even if that meant we were going to do it apart.
We were communicating. It took courage.
We tried other ways to pass the time and make the best of the time we were locked down together.
But then, there was me. And while Jan had to qualify his own feelings about me and the lockdown, his kids, his career, his lot in life, I had to come to terms with my own. Was I happy? With my partner? My kids? My home? My hobbies, my interests? My weight? Or was it time to start really reevaluating all that I thought I knew and come out of 2020 an entirely different person.
I opted for the latter.
I started drawing.
I went back to baking.
I honed in on playing my new piano. And knitting. And writing. And – ultimately – parenting. Becoming the woman I wanted the kids to see when they came home. Who I wanted them to see when we were all home together. I wanted to have a summer with these kids like they’d never known me before. Summer – literally and metaphorically – a break from the wildness of the winter that saw us locked down together like ants trapped on a farm without tunnels or ways to escape. Summer.
And so became mine and Jan’s reaffirmation to each other. The fact that we had had enough to courage to stick out and stay together after six months of proverbially chained to each other. We both knew that surrendering these shackles would mean that it was all for naught. And we weren’t prepared to give up now. Not with the battle scars we’d incurred. Not with the wounds that healed over. We weren’t giving up yet.
We bought our house this summer. Had campfires this summer. Drank tequila this summer, walked the Cat trail this summer. We found our way back to each other this summer.
And after I’d recognized that I’d wanted to keep pushing forward. It was time to make some cataclysmic decisions about who I was prepared to be when 2020 finally came to a close. And while I zoned in my hobbies and interests that kept my soul entertained during a time where I couldn’t concert, or festival, or bump rye and cokes at the local karaoke tavern, there was something else weighing down my heart. It started with this picture:
I love this picture. It sums everything up for me. No matter my size, no matter the suit. No matter the world surrounding it, I always take this picture and I post it. I may not love being in my size. I may not love how big my body has become, but what I do love is that I am proud of my courage to post the picture anyway. That despite how frustrated or angry or sad or aloof or listless I become, somewhere inside of me, I keep preserving this little spark that says – you’re worth it. Keep happy, keep living, keep doing. And this picture represents that I do – and we all do – deserve to wear two piece bikinis if we want. Or one-piece. Or shorts and a teeshirt. Regardless of how big I became over 2020, that has no render or bearing on the person I wanted to become. I was always going to have the right to be happy and love the world I was in while wearing this skin.
But I love the photo for so much more than that. Because it represented the pinnacle moment I decided I needed to do something drastic to take off the weight. And I did.
As many who have followed my journey since July, it’s not news that I’ve lost nearly 55lbs and 17″ off my waist. Looking back at the year of photos, I can see where I was at my largest and all things I attempted to do to keep myself confident in the mirror. Like good filters on my camera. Downward angles. Great lighting. Keep changing up hair. Defined eye make up. But when it was all stripped away, I can see how big I got. Bigger than I had with my pregnancies’. Bigger than what I gained with my mental health medication. At my top, I was 230lbs. And now, I am down to 177.
Hadn’t this been enough for 2020? Reigniting my fire for losing weight, working my back to a relationship my parents, re-learning my hobbies and interests? Nah, not for a girl like me who refuses to standstill.
I also needed to quit my career in radio.
I liken it to when I had my tongue ring. Now before you roll your eyes and scoff at the comparison, hear me out. When I was in my twenties, and trying anything that was going to show I didn’t live at home anymore, I went and had my tongue pierced. It was cool, and indicative of the times. While I didn’t know it then, eventually I’d develop a cyst in the piercing hole and eventually take it out. But while I originally had it – I intended to wear it to my funeral. I loved that thing. And radio was the same. I wanted to be a radio host since I was eight years old. I would call the radio stations and talk to the Djs. I’d create my own radio shows from my bedroom by copying the songs to tape from the jocks I heard on the air. I’d make requests. I’d pretend I was a DJ and spin records on the cabinet I inherited from my Great-Grandmother. And one day – after years and years of schooling, and volunteering, and fighting to get behind a professional microphone – I was there. I was there announcing the artists, and spinning music, and chatting about all things informative and interesting and exciting.
And eventually it wasn’t enough anymore.
That was a tough realization. It was tough to realize that something I’d poured my entire life into was not something I wanted to do long-term. It wasn’t radio I’d signed up for. I wasn’t satisfied with the money I was making. With the lack of creativity stimulus I was feeling. I realized in the summer I had fallen out of love with radio. I wanted to podcast, and maybe do something on Sirius where I could imagine myself with a fatty bo batty blunt churning out the sounds and secrets behind Phil and Tom and Don and Stevie. When I realized this wasn’t the career for me, I had a good cry and a talk with Jan, and together, we planned my exit.
I skipped over to retail first after having left the radio station. A move a lot of folks found surprising. Even me. I’m treating those months (10 weeks to be exact, I think) like the lost weeks of 2020. It wasn’t for me. It wasn’t a good fit. With the support of Jan and our families, I left as fast as I swooped in, and so I’m not even cataloguing my time except to say that I’m thankful it gave me the courage to jump off the plane of radio. I needed something to push me out that door. I’m grateful for that.
It’s no secret I’ve been married multiple times. I’ve never shied away from the truth of it. But I do always sum that I was only every married between 18 & 29. Never in my 30s. And I probably never will in my 30s, however. In the decade since, I’ve spent time considering what it meant to commit and meant it for good. What does marriage mean, and what weight does it hold? What does it really represent to say for better or for worse?
After a long, arduous year of fighting for each other, swimming against the current, finding our footing, creating a life together, and never once giving up, Jan and I got engaged on our one year in October. Of all the moments that happened in 2020, this was my favourite. This is the one that defined the great in a year of uncertainty. This, for me, was telling the year that we would find joy, and light, and love, and hope, for a future far beyond the helplessness we felt in a year everything fell apart. While Jan and I jumped onto this crazy train with our giant heart eyes, we hopped every hurdle, obstacle, and barrier that threatened to derail us. Instead of worrying the parachute wouldn’t open, we leapt together.
Y’all, it’s December 31st, 2020. Some of us made it. Some of us didn’t. Some of us are worried we still won’t. But here it is. The dawning on a new year, and all that 2021 has to try and do is be better than 2020. It doesn’t need to try on anything fancy. It doesn’t have to even be all that great. It just has to try and do better than the year before. And for each of us, it’s going to take courage. Let’s just hope what we learned from 2020 is that it doesn’t have to go to plan for it to work out exactly as planned. This year, I was forced into really putting my life into focus. Who was I? What did I prioritize? Who did I want to be? Was I willing to let go? Was I willing to change? How did I start the year as an over-weight radio announcer who visited her kids on the weekends to a healthy-conscious full-time assistant for a restaurant owner, living in the country with four kids and a fiancée?
There are no answers. Just stars and planets and the universe that will do what it wants. And we can prep and say that we’re ready, but we’re all just moving balls of energy that adapt and flux to the world we’re offered. What we need is courage to accept what we’re given, make the best of what we have, and summon the determination to go after what we want. Your life is yours for the living. Your decisions and consequences will live far beyond, nestling into your legacy. We can either surrender to the unknown, or we can suit up and wear the armor that’s going to give us the tools to make it through another year. If anything I learned that’s for sure – 2020 taught me to slow down. Breathe it in. Look deep inside, even if what you find isn’t what you want to see. Find the very best in every thing, because that might be all we get for right now. Make the very most of it. And when you find love, capture it. Nurture it. For a desire, a passion, a career, a partner, a home, a life. When you see light, follow it.
Much love to you all for an incredible 2021.