Dear Ellen…

You don’t know me (yet), but I was one of the thousands of people in the room laughing with you, crying because it’s you, and cheering at almost everything you said when you were in Calgary, AB this past weekend. I know you likely won’t actually see this, but I feel putting it out there into the universe can’t hurt.

Being able to see you and go to your show was a dream of mine. A couple of weeks prior to the show, my entire family (there’s a lot of us. Like, almost-need-to-rent-a-hall-for-family-get-together’s, a lot) , my husband and members of his family, surprised me with a beautiful hand-made card and two tickets for your Calgary show. I was shocked. Excited. And so incredibly happy.

Grateful
This is just after I received the tickets. I was overwhelmed with so much love.

July 25, 2018 will mark 25 years since the day my life changed forever. I was only nine years old and in a propane explosion on July 25, 1993. With 2nd and 3rd degree burns to 45% of my body, I was forced to live the rest of my life with scars. To celebrate my 25 year anniversary this year, I had decided to go to LA at some point this year and try my luck with getting tickets to your show. Although I still plan to do that, those who gave me the tickets to your Calgary appearance knew that would be just as amazing. They all made that dream come true for me. I will be forever grateful to each and every single one of them.

So you’d think with so many amazing people in my life I’d have a tough time choosing who to bring with me to the show. As much as I wanted to take each and every one of them, plus some others, it was a no brainer for me who I was going take. 25 years ago this summer my mom’s worst nightmare came true when the cabin I was in exploded. From the day she first became a mom (eventually there would be 7 of us kids in total), my mom’s first fear came to her – she never wanted any of her kids to get burned. She witnessed the horrible physical and emotional pain a burn survivor can go through when she was just a kid. Kids she grew up with next door were burned when someone threw a fire cracker into their tent. It scarred her in a different way, for life. I’m a mom now to three amazing kids, and I ache when they stub their toe. Despite her heart breaking, she stayed with me in the hospital. Her and my dad were by my side for every tear, every painful procedure, every laugh. Not once did I see my mom cry or show any signs of weakness. Years later when I became a mom and felt what unconditional love truly was, I asked her how she stayed so strong while I was healing. She looked at me and said, “Joy, you didn’t see me in my room before I went to bed”. That broke my heart. Of course, the explosion was 100% an accident. But that didn’t stop me from hurting for what my mom went through. And not just my mom – my entire family.  Their lives changed forever on July 25, 1993 as well. But that’s for a whole other blog – coming July 2018. I knew that my mom was the one who needed to be by my side when my dream of seeing you live came true.

Mom and me
My mom brushing my hair just before the surgery to graft my face – the doctors had to shave my head to take skin from my scalp for that grafting

So finally the day came. I dropped my kids off at my sisters, picked my mom up and we were off to Calgary. Part of me was still thinking that maybe this was all still a dream. I couldn’t actually be going to see Ellen DeGeneres, was I??

Kids and dream
My kids all pitched in and made a sign for me to bring to the show.

Now, anyone who knows me, knows I’m a crier. So it’s no surprise to them that I cried a few times that night. I wish I could say that the first tear I shed that evening was when you came out on stage. But that wouldn’t be true. Although you brought on the tears a few times with certain things you said, the first set of tears came during the last song that the Tenors sang just before you came out. I can’t remember what the song was called, but it was all about dreams. Believing in your dreams. It was beautiful – because I’m a HUGE believer in my dreams and working to making them come true.

So to the point of this blog/letter to you – I wanted to thank you. First, for coming to Canada and so close to my hometown. Considering it was your only Canadian show, I feel so incredibly lucky that I was able to go.  Second, thank you for being you. From the second you walked out on stage with a hockey stick in hand in tribute to the Humboldt Broncos and kissed it before you put it down, it was obvious to everyone in that stadium that you really do care about everyone, even those you’ve never met.

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Photo credit: Calgary Herald

There wasn’t a second of the show I didn’t enjoy. It was easily one of the best nights of my life, and I was so happy to have shared it with my mom. My only regret – not bringing a pen and paper. With almost everything you said that night, I was inspired even more to just keep chasing my dream (aka just keep swimming).  You are my inspiration.

Ellen in calgary
I only took two photos while you were being interviewed. I was too busy taking mental notes

So Ellen, I will see you later this year at some point. I’m going to let myself be greedy and see you twice in one year; I will still be planning a trip to LA to come see your talk show. It’s my gift to myself for surviving 25 years ago and living positively every day since that explosion, despite all the challenges I’ve faced having to live a “scarred” but beautiful life.

Me in calgary

 

 

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My very personal review of the book, “Wonder” by RJ. Palacio

Freak. Monster. Alien. Ugly. Dirty. – My Review of the Book, “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio

Wonder

I stole the book “Wonder” from my daughter, because it was just collecting dust on her book shelf and I’d been told by numerous people that I need to read it (she’s not much of a reader, but I am trying to convert her). I saw the preview for the movie “Wonder”, and I couldn’t get through the preview without bawling my eyes out. Not only is it emotional to watch a child struggle through life, but it hit me hard because…I was that child.

I don’t want to give away too much of the book – if you haven’t read it yet, you should. But I was able to relate so much to the main character that I found it hard to put down, and not cry the entire time.

I wasn’t born disfigured. I was burned in a propane explosion when I was nine years old. The explosion left me with scars to 45% of my body – which included my face. In the book the main character, Auggie, was born with numerous birth defects. Some of which made his face look like he’d been burned. In fact, that’s what I thought had happened to him when I’d only seen the preview for the movie and hadn’t read the book yet. Some other characters in the book also assume he’s been burned when they first see him. This is probably part of the reason I bawled the entire time. He was a little burned kid entering school – that’s what it looked like anyway.

Even though he wasn’t burned, I found I was able to relate to Auggie in many ways. Besides the obvious – living life looking so much different than the rest of the world; Auggie also struggled with learning the answer to “why”. Why was he born like this? Why was I burned? It was a question that I struggled with for too many years. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I learned the answer and embraced it. The book ends before Auggie becomes an adult – in fact it’s only a year in his life, but I like to think that he too grows to find the answer as to why.

Auggie

Auggie had a hard time making friends. He held his head down a lot. He covered his face with a helmet or a hood or even with his hair. Here, I was unable to relate to him, but I was able to sympathize. Kids are mean. Adults are too. He was called numerous names. I was called names such as alien, monster, dirty, and the one that hurt the most was freak. Always by strangers. Kids or adults that I didn’t know. Who didn’t know me. The same was true of Auggie. Although most of the name calling and bullying occurred for Auggie directly in his school. I didn’t have to endure that, thankfully. I was surrounded by kids who knew what I had gone through, and even though I lost some friends and didn’t make others, the friends I did have had my back – no matter what. In Wonder, Auggie struggles making friends at first, but then when he finds himself in a bad situation with kids not from his school, he finds that kids who he didn’t realize were his friends, or even cared for him – also had his back. And the friendships started. And Auggie bloomed.

I loved that he would make jokes about his situation. Joke about how he looked. I did and still do, the same thing. I would make jokes with the nurses in the hospital. I joke about “blowing shit up”. You’ll hear me joke about my accident and scars before you’ll see me cry about them. Laughter is the best medicine. And if you can’t laugh at yourself, then how in the world will you handle when people laugh at you? Turn it around, and they’ll learn to laugh with you. And love you too.

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The end of the book did make me choke up. I won’t give away the ending (like I said, if you haven’t read it, you need to). The principal of Auggie’s school is giving a speech. And he quotes J.M. Barrie, “Shall we make a new rule of life…always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary?” The principal goes on to say, “What a marvelous line, isn’t it? Kinder than is necessary. Because it’s not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed…”

It is simply beautiful. And simple. And needed. The principal continues to explain what it being kind means and how do you know you’ve been kind. He quotes Christopher Nolan, “It was at moments such as these that Joseph recognized the face of God in human form. It glimmered in their kindness to him, it glowed in their keenness, it hinted in their caring, indeed it caressed in their gaze.” He goes on to say (and this part really hit me), “Such a simple thing, kindness. Such a simple thing. A nice word of encouragement given when needed. An act of friendship. A passing smile.”

kindness

So will I be going to see the movie? No. I will not be going to a theatre to see it. Why after such a raving review of the book would I say no to the movie? Well, I’m not saying I won’t watch it. I’m saying I won’t go to a theatre to watch it. I look forward to watching it in the comfort of my own home, with my kids surrounding me watching with me, and a box of Kleenex beside me waiting for the inevitable tears.

I do have one complaint about this book. It is written from the point of view of Auggie, his sister, and friends. I wish there was a couple chapters from the point of view of his parents. What kind of emotions and struggles did the parents experience? Hearing my dad tell the story about my accident is pretty incredible, he tells it with such pride. Pride that his daughter survived something so insane. Hearing what my mom experienced brings me to tears every time. Mostly as a mom myself but who really likes hearing that their mom is hurting or scared? I think having the parents point of view in Auggie’s story would have been very powerful. But maybe that’s just me. Sometimes, I like crying.

I highly recommend reading this book, and encouraging your kids to read it as well. And your adult friends. I’d like to wish adult Auggie all the best. Maybe there’ll be a sequel to this book of adult Auggie conquering the world and moving mountains. Because I know he will. He has the same stubborn attitude I have. And I’ve only begun moving mountains.

wonder judge