Casey’s Birthday Allergy: A Story for Parents, Kids, and Everyone Else

Casey burst through the door, threw her bag on the floor, stomped up the stairs, and slammed her bedroom door.

“I hate birthdays!” she yelled.

Mum and Dad looked at each other and sighed. Dad went up and knocked on Casey’s door.

“I’m not changing my mind! No more birthdays!”

Dad opened the door and sat down on Casey’s bed.

“Tell me what happened,” he said in his serious Dad voice.

“I had to sit outside! They all played some dumb balloon game and I had to sit outside on the front step like a bad dog!” Tears streamed down Casey’s face as she looked down at her Superboy action figure in her hands.

“It’s like at Jason’s when all the kids did funny voices with the balloons, and Ashley’s birthday when they made elastic bracelets. I hate everyone!”

“It’s a bum deal,” Dad said.

“And I never get cake! Ever!” Casey sobbed into Dad’s shoulder.

“I hate allergies! And I hate birthdays!” Dad rubbed Casey’s back while her tears dropped down onto Superboy’s cape.

When they went downstairs, Mum made Casey a super sundae, their special treat after birthday parties. “It’s not fair,” Casey sniffed as she took a spoonful of fudge, “all the other kids get to do everything and I get nothing.”

“It’s no fun having allergies,” Mum told her, “but remember, other kid’s parties are for their special day, and it’s important that we honour their choices.”

“I don’t care, I’m not going to anymore stupid birthdays.”

The next day at school, Casey sat down in her desk and crossed her arms. She glared at Daniel when he handed her an envelope, and she stuffed it in her backpack without opening it. At recess, she heard him talking about his party and how they were going swimming in the backyard and how the cake was going to be amazing. She had to try so hard not to cry that she thought her eyes were on fire.

“I can’t wait until you come to my birthday, Casey,” Daniel told her at lunch, “it’s going to be amazing. It’s going to have Superboy everything.”

“Yeah, sure,” Casey replied.

“Hey, wanna come over after school?” Daniel asked.

“I can’t. I have to go home.” Casey turned away. She ran home from school and threw the envelope in the garbage before going to her room. She looked out her window and saw Daniel in his yard playing in the sprinkler. Casey turned away and sat on her bed.

The next morning, Casey saw the invitation sitting beside her bowl of cereal. She gulped.

“I know Daniel really wants you at his party,” Mum said.

“I’m not going.” Casey left without eating.

When Casey got home from school, Mum was on the phone. She made herself a snack and went to her room. Mum was excited when she got off the phone but she wouldn’t tell Casey anything about the call. The invitation sat on the kitchen table until the day of the party. Every time Daniel asked Casey about it, she just shrugged. On the afternoon of the party, Casey sat in her room looking out the window and watching all the kids arrive at Daniel’s house. She imagined the backyard filled with balloons up to the sky and everyone pushing her away.

Mum called from downstairs, “Casey, come down please.”

Casey wiped her cheeks and sulked down the stairs.

“I need to go out for a couple hours, can you go help Dad in the shed?”

“Fine.”

Dad was in his greasy shirt and big work gloves that Casey loved to wear. She liked to pretend she was Superboy, fixed the supership in preparation for the next mission.

“I need your help. I’ve borrowed all these from Daniel’s Dad and I need to take them back.”

Casey looked at the tools. “Can’t you go by yourself? Can’t we go somewhere else?”

But Dad said no. They walked across the street and into Daniel’s yard. Casey saw Daniel and all the kids from class.

“Casey!” they all yelled. Casey turned red like a beet and hid her face in her shirt. Daniel took her hand and led her inside.

“I didn’t know if you’d come!”

He showed her that Mum had made a cake safe from all the bad stuff. Casey saw her Mum in the kitchen, and Mum gave her a wink.

“And there are no balloons here!” Daniel shouted and showed her the whole house and yard, balloon free.

“Balloons are for babies anyway,” he told her.

“I’ll be right back,” she told Daniel and ran home. She came back in her bathing suit and she was carrying a bag, which she handed to Daniel.

“This is for you.”

He opened the bag, and inside was Casey’s favourite Superboy action figure that Daniel had wanted since forever.

“You… are you sure?” Daniel asked, staring at Superboy.

“Yes, anything for my best friend. Happy birthday.”

10 things you might not know about chronic pain or illness

1. It’s not the same every day. Some days my pain is so low that I forget it exists for part of the day. I’m active and engaged with other people, looking to the future, and not revolving my life around rest and appointments. Other days I have no idea what a pain-free life would look like and I can’t get out of bed long enough to think about it.

2. It really does co-exist with depression. I’ve always hated the depression-chronic pain connection mentioned in every piece of literature about chronic pain, having felt that it somehow reduces the awfulness of the physical pain. But it’s impossible to lose the ability to do everything you enjoy without getting depressed. How do you get out of depression when you can’t go for a walk, can’t relate to others, and have no appetite for food you used to love? I don’t know. The physical pain has to go down for the brain to begin recovery.

3. Some doctors suck, and a few are awesome. I know there are some amazing doctors around but for the most part, they do a poor job of dealing with chronic nonsense. My family doctor ranges from ‘suck it up’ to ‘that sounds awful’ with little in the way of actual help. I have to pick what I complain about in order to get what I need, and that gets harder the longer it drags on.

4. When my life is busy with appointments, I can’t do any more small talk. Between physio, the lab, the x-ray, and doctors, I have no ability to small talk with a cashier or the other parents picking up their kids. It’s not like this all the time, but any time I have two or more appointments in a week, I’m unable to socialize. I hate that I can make people feel like I don’t want to talk to them when I really do.

5. Pain can make you selfish. Not on purpose of course, but when your brain is busy trying to make it up the stairs without falling, it’s impossible to think about making cookies for the kids or helping your spouse deal with difficulties at work.

6. Kids are awesome. My teens are a huge help by bringing in groceries, bringing me ice or water, or whatever I need when I’m too tired to get up. They will gladly help with chores in the morning so that I’ll have the energy to do something fun with them in the afternoon. They don’t pretend to know how to ‘fix’ me. It’s my job to make sure they become more and more independent so they can create a great life that doesn’t revolve around me.

7. “What would you give your pain out of 10?” makes me bat-shit crazy. Don’t ask me to rate my pain on a stupid scale and don’t pretend if it’s less today than last week that it’s because of you. I overheard another patient last week tear a strip off her physiotherapist when asked that question. We all hate it. Pain sucks, all the time. A smart doctor or physio can tell by how you react to movement how much pain you’re in.

8. TV is awesome. Chronic pain can suck your brains out as well as your body, leaving you unable to read, write, or do anything creative or meaningful. I’ve had periods of weeks at a time where showering is the most I can do in a day. TV saves me from going insane, especially if it’s watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine or Parks and Recreation with my kids. We have to laugh.

9. If there is a silver lining, it’s that I’ve learned that my time and energy are my most important commodities. Yes, I miss running. Yes, I miss my career. Yes, yes, yes. No, I don’t like having a nap almost every day. But if I spend time with you, know you must be very important to me.

10. It doesn’t get better with time. Being sick, in pain, having surgery, or being in the hospital get continuously harder to deal with. “I could never deal with that” or “I don’t know how you do it” is never helpful. I don’t have a choice but to deal with it, yet I’m grateful for every day I get to be on this fabulous planet of ours. Every day I know it could be worse and every day I’m glad that it isn’t.

These are my ten, I’d love to hear yours!

When the Flames won the Cup

26 years ago
Our Flames won the Cup
Game 6 against the Habs
They never gave it up

Series one against Vancouver
Was a tough one to get
We almost lost in overtime
But got one in the net

Series two against the Kings
Was an easy one for us
We took them in four straight
Sent them home on the bus

Series three against Chicago
Their arena full of noise
But we took them in game five
Better luck next time boys

That brought us to the final
The City was on fire
Me, a young inspired fan
And the players I admired

On the night they won the Cup
I was working selling cones
Of Baskin Robbins ice cream
With no live stream on our phones

We listened to the radio
For news of each Flames goal
I stood there shaking anxiously
Eating ice cream from a bowl

And then they won, and I freaked out
Cheering through the store
My Mum came and picked me up
I was cheering more

We drove home and honked the horn
Driving down the Trail
I barely slept at all that night
Our team did not fail

And now I get to tell the tale
Of my team and that day
I still wear my red jersey
And love watching my Flames play

“Housewife”

Last week I started physiotherapy treatment at a new clinic. I always feel a sense of dread when going to a new doctor or a new clinic, as if they’re going to find out that I’m lazy and useless by how I write my name. I dutifully pulled my pen out of my purse pocket, refusing to take one from the germ cup, and I filled out the forms on the clipboard, checking off the boxes and filling in my medications. I learned a few years ago to only check off the boxes that are relevant or they’ll write me off before they’ve met me. I gave the clipboard back to the chirpy woman behind the desk with the fluorescent red hair and sat down, pretending to read a magazine that is blurry because I refuse to take my reading glasses out of the house.

Then a young athletic guy calls me back with a “How’s it going for you today?” and I pause, not sure whether to say, “great, you?” or “I’m in so much pain that I can’t even dress myself.” I settle for a “good” and then we talk about the weather and the upcoming election and I sit up on a cushioned bench built for someone who weighs more than twice as much as I do. I try to correct my posture as I sit there with my legs dangling over the side, sure that I am being watched and judged for being so slouchy. I can hear hair-girl talking on the phone from the front, telling someone “see you soon, okay, b-bye” as if they are two years old. Then a pretty young woman walks over to me and introduces herself and reads my “chart” that I’ve just filled out. Did I put my pen back in my purse? Or leave it on the clipboard? Drat. She can read how old I am and she asks what my medications do and I wonder why they ask about medications if they don’t even know one that’s in commercials all the time.

“So what do you do?” she asks, with her pen ready. “I’m at home,” I reply and I put my head down. She writes “housewife” on the line. I cringe. I hate that term, ‘housewife’, as if I just cook and clean all day and spend the rest of my time watching soap operas. I want to tell her that I homeschool my kids, that every day I’m busier than I ever was when I was working, but I don’t. I just stare at the page: “housewife”. It’s happened before; I forgot to fill out the “Occupation:” line on my last passport application so I had to phone the 1-800 number and talk to a stranger about how I haven’t worked since my last application ten years ago. She too chose to write “housewife” on the line but I never physically saw it; it’s not like they print your occupation on your passport. The physio asks me more questions and then starts creating pain that causes me to almost faint. Now I’m a lightheaded housewife hanging over the side of the bench that can’t even withstand the initial treatment. She doesn’t appear to be judging me negatively but still I feel betrayed somehow. She hooks me up to the electric shock machine and leaves me to my crushing self-esteem and I want her to understand that I do so much more than cook and clean.

But then I realize that my need to defend myself is sinful and based on pride. When faced with false accusations, Jesus did not defend himself.

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. Isaiah 53:7.

The high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” But Jesus remained silent. Matthew 26:62-63.

Once I remembered what Christ had done for me, I felt terrible for feeling the need to defend myself, especially when I had no reason to feel defensive. God has given me a job to do. I was making assumptions based on a word that I happen to dislike but in reality, I have no idea how this young woman feels about it. Perhaps her mother was at home with her and she admires her for doing so. I was wrong to judge her. I tried not to cry, lying there on my back as I felt the wetness of the hot pack soaking my shirt. I looked up at the ceiling and tried to lose myself in counting the dots, thinking about how God is watching over all of us.

A Transformers Poem

My son loves Transformers
He plays with them all day
Optimus Prime and Megatron
Portrayed by Michael Bay

Bruticus has many parts
An arm and leg and chest
Those guys better get along
Teamwork is the best

The Decepticons want war
But the Autobots want peace
Starscream likes to fly around
Las Vegas like some geese

Energon gives them power
It comes from far away
But when you’re a Transformer
You can go a long long way

If I was a Transformer
I’d be a big black chopper
Like Blackout in the movie
But I’d sing like Cindy Lauper

They’d all hear me coming
And maybe shoot my blades
But Girls Just Want to Have Fun
So they’d leave and do their raids

In the end the sides would get along
With me as their boss
Decepticons and Autobots
No more robot loss

So if you see a robot
Walking down the street
Put out your hand and say hello
It might be me you meet

Alberta Voted

The NDP are here

Prentice shed a tear

At least I cast a vote

“X” in the circle I wrote

Now comes the fear

As plans go into gear

But I think we’ll all be fine

Rachel Notley isn’t nine

So please stop all your whining

Alberta will keep shining

Oil, mountains, and prairie

Our province is far from scary

We will shine through

Because of people like you

We’ve turned the page

No more time to rage

So support your MLA

Don’t forget to say:

“Thanks for all you do,

It’s okay that you’re new.

It’s great you’re there for me,

and our constituency.”

A Curling Poem

Curling is for rocks
Sliding to the end
Yelling “hurry hard”
A title to defend

Jacobs has it in the bag
But Gushue’s right behind
Who will bring the title home
A new champion we’ll find

Don’t count us out, Saskatchewan yells
We’re in the running too
Maybe we will be the champs
Over Jacobs or Gushue

Ah hem, says Morris, from the back
We’re quiet but we’re here
Our record is the same as green
Our skills you all should fear

Today we’ll watch from end to end
And see who’ll go for gold
We’ll yell and cheer for all the teams
On this great sport we’re sold.

the story of a young mother

I thought I would tell you the story of a young mother that used to yell at her kids so loudly that she wouldn’t be able to talk for hours afterwards. Her throat would burn and her head would throb like a beating drum. She would put her children in their rooms and sit in the hallway sobbing as she forced herself to not go in and throw them against the wall, over and over again. She would shiver and shake and cry until her clothes were soaked through, all the while visioning the violence. When she went to classes to get help, either no one believed her or they told her it was all her fault and she should just stop. Everywhere she went people said that anyone who hurts a child was a monster and should be locked up forever. But she didn’t feel like a monster all the time, just some of the time. The rest of the time she was a fun and caring mother that would take her kids to the park and make Thomas the Tank Engine characters out of construction paper. She didn’t know if she was really a monster inside or if she was really good inside; which was her true self?

If I was telling you this story I would tell you that one Tuesday afternoon this young mother put her kids down for a nap and turned on CityLine. There was a therapist on, Joe Rich, talking to Marilyn Denis about perfectionism and what it looks like and how harmful it is. It looked like drawings of her were coming out of his mouth, swirling around the stage, the TV, and then around her. She called her husband and her parents and asked if it was true.

“Of course you are.”

“You’ve always been that way.”

“It’s just the way you are.”

The young mother sat on the cold tile floor in the kitchen and cried. It was a different cry than her usual sobbing. Finally she understood why she was so awful. Finally she had hope that maybe the monster wasn’t her true self. She wanted to change forever right then but change is much harder than that. But day by day she worked on it. And day by day she got a little bit better. And one day she went to bed and realized that she hadn’t been angry at all that day. Another day she was able to be compassionate instead of angry when something spilled on the floor. And slowly she shrunk the monster. It will always be there, but thanks to that one Tuesday afternoon, the monster only comes out once in a while. At least that’s the way it would end if I was telling you the story.

Shakespeare on the brain

I’ve read articles claiming that reading Shakespeare excites your brain more than reading a novel, but I’m not so sure. I read three Shakespeare plays in high school and I hated all of them. Okay, maybe I didn’t despise Othello, but I read as little of it as possible. Instead of reading Macbeth, I stole my brother’s exam from the year before and studied that. Got an A! I avoided Shakespeare in university, choosing instead to meet my English requirement with poetry because it involved ‘less reading’.

Many years later I went back to school to start an English degree. I only declared my major after combing through the course list along with my credit requirements and figuring out with certainty that I could finish my degree without Shakespeare. As I finished my second and final first year English course, I emailed my tutor to ask him what I should take next. He replied: “Shakespeare Tragedies”. I said no. Again he replied: “Shakespeare Tragedies”. He told me Shakespeare was necessary to read, and he was a brilliant man, and no one else compares, and so on. Blah, blah, blah. So, kicking and screaming, I signed up for the course last summer.

It was an online course, and my books came in the mail: A big stack of seven (seven!) Shakespeare plays for me to read and understand in four months. I had a panic attack. And then I had another one. I didn’t even cut the plastic wrap around them for days. It couldn’t be done, there was no way I could read that much Shakespeare and live to tell about it. But by not wanting to waste $100 by dropping the course, I decided to start. The course began with Richard II, a play I had never heard of until I saw it in my stack. And it was good! Richard was so pathetic but he was also hilarious. Why didn’t we get to read histories in high school? This was not the Shakespeare I remember. I could look up real events! These were actual people!

Next was Henry IV, Part One. Loved it! Again I could look up the people and the history but it was less necessary to my understanding than it had been with Richard II. I fell in love with Hal and Percy and Falstaff’s nonsense. How did I graduate from high school and university without knowing these people? While searching online for help with particular passages, I came across The Hollow Crown and of course had to write a paper about Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal. It was glorious. I’d never enjoyed writing a paper more. After that came five tragedies, without Romeo and Juliet, and I enjoyed them all.

Our local Shakespeare Company put on a brilliant production of Othello a few weeks after I finished. The best part of it all was having my sixteen year old enjoy Shakespeare too (he still talks about that production of Othello), and that was a big deal considering how much he hated reading Romeo and Juliet for school just a few months earlier. He has fallen in love with Hamlet, which he gets to study for school starting next week. We will watch David Tennant’s portrayal of the tragic hero for the third time and maybe I’ll grab a copy of Kenneth Branaugh’s version as well. I am now reading Shakespeare for fun – finishing the King Henry plays and then onto the next histories because The Hollow Crown is doing a second series. I emailed my tutor to say thanks, and to say that I loved the course that I never would have taken without his push. Of course he knew that would happen. As for my brain, it is enjoying reading Shakespeare almost as much as it enjoys watching Tom Hiddleston play one of his characters.

Learning to Program

Yesterday I started my first Coursera course – Programming for Everybody (Python) with Dr. Chuck. My first impression is that I can’t believe it’s free! I took a MOOC a couple years ago in Python but it was difficult to follow because it used a variety of free online tools that required me to jump around from website to website, reading a bit here and doing a bit of programming there. I quickly got lost. What a difference it makes to have videos and a syllabus and people there to answer questions. It is awesome how different computer programming is from writing. I feel like I’m using a completely different part of my brain.

Today in a writing Facebook group I’m in, someone is asking a question about what metaphor works for birds, while in the programming one someone is asking about running the command line in Windows 10, which I didn’t know existed yet. When someone says something stupid in the writing group, they tend to be ignored but when someone says something stupid in the computer group, at least three people tell them they’re stupid and to stop posting. Not that writers are better people, they tend to ‘like’ sad and tragic posts like “having a bad day dealing with devastating news”. The programmers are also far better at ‘liking’ and giving positive comments to those that are just looking for validation. The writers tend to ignore those posts. What’s really funny is that the programmers correct grammar and spelling far more than the writers do! I figure if writers and programmers can get along and be allowed to marry, why do we have so many wars between religions that all started in the same place?

My advice to anyone starting to program in Python is to not type “Python” into YouTube. You will get a lot of large snakes eating things from chairs to people. My finger couldn’t scroll through them for fear of being bitten so I changed my search criteria to “learn python”.

Dr. Chuck’s book, “Python for Informatics” is available free online.