Category Archives: Gratitude

Our Passion and Priority

I’m writing this on the Marine Atlantic Ferry from Newfoundland to Cape Breton, having just spent an eighteen day vacation with my family.

Soon I will return home and I will post an album (or two or three) on Facebook sharing our adventures. These photographs will be incredible memories of our time together – they will be filled with breathtaking scenery, smiling faces and new adventures. They will be many and they will be irreplaceable. Our family’s history, I often say, will not be written – it will be viewed.

But these photographs will not depict any of the “reasons” I purposefully choose to travel with my family as much as I do.  

In fact I can’t think of one of these photographs, from any of our 17 trips (wow!) that will show you why Craig and I work so hard to put travel near the top of our family’s priority list.

The following is a list of 15 reasons we are so dedicated to travelling both near and far with these human beings we happen to share some chromosomes with:

(1) So they can feel what it’s like to be a minority – even if it’s just for the shortest of moments.

Whether it’s a visible minority, a language minority, a cultural minority, or other examples, they each have had opportunities to experience both – if not for long periods of time, at least in situations in which they would not have had the chance to experience at home.

(2) For them to learn and practice compassion and confidence.

I remember being in Montreal when a gentleman with a probable mental health illness approached Mark and started talking to him. Often when we travel they are also learning how to confidently and compassionately interact with everyone in life.

(3) To understand how blessed they are.

Whether it’s travelling the villages in Cuba or the outskirts of Los Angeles, they have seen, walked through, and learned how lucky they are. No lectures or words needed.

(4) To learn new skills and foster strategic thinking.

While in New York City, after a few days, we made them each find our way back to our hotel by themselves – once with a map and once without, just learning how the city is laid out, learning to navigate, learning to think in a spatial manner. Learning to not rely on lazy digital fixes.

(5) To sit in the uncomfortable for awhile … and finally, maybe, become a little more comfortable there.

Period.

(6) To see, touch, and stand in history. 

They will learn so much from books as they go through school. But nothing can replace being there – digging for dinosaur fossils in Drumheller, standing where the Beothuk stood in Newfoundland, touring the many museums of the Smithsonian, sitting in the House of Commons while in session and watching the Prime Minister and opposition leaders debate. These experiences trump the written word for them.

(7) To make the world seem both small, and big, at the same time.

I want both for them. Equally. For the world to be grandiose but at the same time for them to feel its accessibility. 

(8) To experience wonder.  

“Wonder” is a funny thing. It’s not joy or happiness. It’s different for everyone, but you know it when you feel it. For me it’s that feeling when I stand at the peak of a mountain top and see the clouds below me. For my kids it will be something different. But chances are they have/or will come across it in their journeys.

(9) To build their relationship as siblings.

It’s difficult to describe the way in which they bond when they travel. The way they interact and count on each other when they’re together 24 hours a day, 18 days in a row, with no one else their age around. You would think they would fight. A lot. They don’t. It’s so much the opposite.  

(10) To spend true uninhibited time as a family.

There is nothing, NOTHING, for me, that compares to the conversations, experiences and laughter we share while on the road for an extended period of time. It is magical. It was part of the reason we upped the ante on the number of trips we make a priority to take.

(11) To laugh. 

The laughter that comes from their cottage bedroom. Because they always have to share a bedroom. The things they find hilarious. The things we all experience and then laugh for days about until they become “part of the trip”. That is the soundtrack to my life I love most.

(12) To create memories. New unforgettable memories.

Life is short. You are always guaranteed one thing when you choose to make travel a priority for your family – the memories will last forever.

(13) Trial runs for life.

Someday they will spread their wings and be off on their own. Hopefully these adventures will take them far and wide. Learning to read a subway map, or getting yourself from the airport doors through the logistical hoops until you board a plane, or managing the security at a sporting event in the largest arena in North America … all of these are trial runs for when they are doing these things on their own in the world.

(14) Nurturing passion.

There is a theory that ‘desire’ is goal orientated and controlled, while passion is wild at heart and free. Travel as a passion is a gift – one I want to nurture as their mother.

(15) To open their minds, and their hearts, just a little bit more.

Their lives can be so narrow as teenagers – the next soccer practice, the next performance, the next party, the next test. Travel shows them there is more in this life than the over scheduled days in a week. There is much more. And it can be never-ending. Near or far. As long as its a priority.

Sometimes I look at the money we spend on these adventures (as hard as we work to keep them reasonable) and I think – wow – we could have had the house paid off by now. Or that brand name wardrobe. Or that cottage. But no. Instead this is our family’s priority. And I’ve never regretted one moment of it. Nor do I think do they.

Where My Gratitude and Optimism Fail Me

My daughter Megan started her first real job this past Spring. You know – the kind where she has paperwork to fill out and the Canadian Government is aware of her pennies earned.

She was hired as a Swimming Teacher and Lifeguard for a local University, and as I dropped her off for this new stage in her life, like so many moments lately it seems, I thought to myself “How did we get here?”

But I didn’t lament this to her, instead I smiled, waved goodbye and headed back home.

She taught for five and a half hours and every minute that went by I thought about how she was doing. I couldn’t wait to hear all about it (note the artful use of “I” in that sentence. “I, I, I, me, me, me. Sigh …..)

The hours crept by and soon it was time to pick her up. There I sat in the Acadia parking lot waiting with eager anticipation.

Now keep in mind this isn’t my first time to the rodeo. Meg is 16 years old, quiet in many ways, and like many teenagers is used to being somewhat guarded with her feelings around her Mother (who only in the last year or so has started to gain some credibility as a real human being in her mind!)

And hey – I’m a 44 year old educated professional – I know all the ins and outs of effective communication – ask open ended questions – don’t assume – probe -but only gently.

Yup. I had it going on. One skilled communicator. Check.

Until I opened my mouth.

And the following sentence came out:

“So how was it?”

Now I know. I know what you are thinking. 

It’s a pretty damn good sentence. 

Honestly. It is.

Short, unassuming, conscience and open ended.

Sure it is.

On paper.

But it’s me. Have you MET me?

Those four words in print are an entirely different beast when spoken out loud by Mamma Wilkie. Because they are, in my world, spoken with a vocal enthusiasm, optimism, assumption and gratitude that is unparalleled.

Always.

And let me tell you – it’s not always helpful.

So there I am with my high-pitched sing-song eager voice spouting those four words. 

So how was it?

Cue the completely unintended (but none the less present) expectation that the correct answer is “incredible!”

If dancing unicorns wearing rose coloured glasses could have flown out of my mouth they would have.

Oh my. OH MY!!!

I truly don’t mean to do this. And I so much don’t want it to be how I come across. But I have realized I often do. I have also realized that somewhere, somehow, the following happens:

Instantly the air is filled with an unspoken expectation. The bar is set. And we as a family are going to clear it. We are going to be the most thankful, optimistic, positive family this world has ever seen. Because we have been given everything. Everything. E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

We get to be the lucky ones. And so we give back 100 fold. We are grateful 1000 fold. We have perspective. We know what the most important things are in life. Period.

Wow. 

Hold on there Miss Karrie-Ann. 

That’s a bit of an unreasonable bar there isn’t it? Let’s take a minute.

It IS a pretty tall bar – and written all over that bar says: We are over privelaged people who are so lucky to live, work and play in this incredible life. It says positive energy attracts positive energy. If you smile the world smiles with you. The more thankful you are the more you have to be thankful for.

Yup.

That’s me.

Blah. Blah blah blah blah

As we would have said in the late 1980’s “gag me with a spoon”.

But you see … the truth is … my unbridled raw truth is this … i believe in it whole heartedly … almost as a religion. That positive thought, gratitude and energy. It’s real for me – not trite or disingenuous. It’s not trendy or “just a quote”. 

It’s me.

But the other truth is this:

It’s not fair. 

It’s not fair to my family – especially those teenage ones filled with a myriad of emotions so close to the surface.

We all need to be allowed to feel what we feel when we feel it. We are all allowed really bad days. We are all allowed to not be brimming with gratitude every moment of the day.

So I’m learning. I’m learning and I’m admitting to my biases.

I’m learning that even if I’m thoughtful about what words I say or what questions I ask – I also need to be thoughtful about my tone, my eagerness, my anticipation and my unconscious expectations.

Because while gratitude, positive energy and optimism are among my closest companions, they can’t possibly serve me or my family in every situation all the time.  

Otherwise I’m little more than a cartoon character named Joy in a certain Disney movie. (A movie which by the way, gets 5 stars in my books … she says with no irony what so ever.)

Two Days with Five Boys

 A self indulgent, terribly long, tongue-in-cheek post that waffles between the first and third person. Mainly to serve as a memory so that some day, far into the future, I can remember two days with five boys.

Remember when your kids were young and your childcare provider would give you a run down of their day when you picked them up?

This week I took five boys to the city for two days. Here’s my teenage boy version of that run down.  

Day One of Two

Leave at 9am. Stop at Superstore to let the boys spend $40 of my points on snacks for the weekend. They momentarily consider spending all the points on a large stuffed pink hedgehog to use as a mascot the entire weekend instead of food. Teenage stomachs overrule the brief sidebar and junk food it is. Surprisingly though some fruit and cheese are also part of the equation. Small wonders.

11:30 am we arrive at the Oval and rent skates. The boys request sizes that range from 5 to 13. Seriously. When else in life do you have friends that range so much in physicality? 

I learn that The Oval only carries one pair of size 13 skates. At all. Mental note to reserve them next time, and hope Matt doesn’t keep growing, otherwise we will have to rent a sledge to push him around with.

Put skates on and answer the question “do I have to wear a helmet?” Yes. Sorry. It’s the uncool part of the program, and I have big plans of bringing home all five of you with intact skulls.

Out they go onto freshly zambonied ice. (I know it’s not a word).

I immediately sigh with relief as I realize I’m not the only parent who hasn’t taken my child skating since Grade 5. I stand and watch as they look like a cross between drunk gazelles and baby deer. With the exception of hockey-player Daniel who glides effortlessly around the ice with his hands in his pockets like he is in a 1940s Black and White Film. I expect Audrey Hepburn to jump out of the bushes at any moment to skate hand and hand with him. He’s that smooth. 

Meanwhile some of my other flock have taken to utilizing the child-assist skating devices. I worry for a moment if they should be giving them to the small children, but quickly recognize that is a moot point – as the 8 year olds skate circles around my 13 and 14 year olds.

Time for Chris to return his skates and helmet. When asked what last name it was under he says Ann. My last name is not Ann. I have known Chris for 5 years. This will be the “bit” of the weekend.

Chris apologizes. Karrie-Ann threatens to take Chris’ fruit away if he keeps apologizing for things. Sweetest most respectful kid ever.

Leave the Oval. Justin trips over a stick and falls down. He lays in the ground a long time and looks to be injured. Crap. We are only 3 hours in to this weekend and we already have a man down. Damn it. Wait. Nope. He can’t catch his breath because he is laughing so hard. No harm no foul.

Load in the van. Give them choice of where to eat. Will drive them anywhere. They unanimously and excitedly request the food court at the Halifax Shopping Centre.

Huh?

Mental Note: Start taking kids out to places with more culture than food courts.

They proceed to spend two hours at the mall. This is new. The mall? Shopping? I guess they aren’t 10 anymore Dorothy.  

Watch as some girls watch the boys and the boys watch some girls.

Head to the hotel. We have only rented one suite for six of us. They will break some fire codes and “illegally” cram into the living room side of things to sleep on the floor, pull out sofa and “feel” like they have a room to themselves.

I ask three of them to come with me to check in, leaving two in the van. I have a flashback to when the kids were little and I would have never left them in a car by themselves. 

I wonder for a moment if someone might try to kidnap the 6’2″ children. 

Check in and go dump stuff in room. Try to discreetly go back downstairs and sneak remainder of “the children” through the side door.

Learning of the day: They are all too big and loud to try and sneak anywhere. Graceful and sleuthlike is not their forte.

Arrive in room. They hook up the XBOX to the TV. I never would have agreed to bringing a video game system on our mini vacay if it wasn’t for the pending storm knowing we could be stuck in the hotel room a good part of the day.

I learn later that night that there are screens and then there are screens. These games they play – they never stop talking and laughing. It’s very unlike screens when they are on their social media. 

Head to cineplex to beat the storm. Drop boys off. Go shopping. Worry the entire time if the storm will start early as I have four kids who are not my own with me. (The fact that I am literally less than five minutes to the hotel doesn’t seem to factor into reality for me).

Go to Boston pizza to pre-order pizza. BOGO on pizza. Score. We can eat supper for $10 each.

Return to find boys at the theatre arcade. Matt and Daniel are either incredibly skilled or incredibly lucky at an arcade game and receive an unusual amount of tickets to trade for bouncy balls. Which of course they must have. 

The dichotomy of this age is one of the things I love most. 

Young woman behind the counter becomes confused and somewhat defiant when the tall men-like creatures standing before her insist on acquiring all of said bouncy balls with their dozens of tickets.

Sadly Karrie-Ann (again Ann is not not her last name) must break up the conversation as she insists it’s time to go as a blizzard is forming quickly and we do not want to be stuck in the Cineplex with rude-bouncy-ball-lady for the entire weekend.

Eat the cheap pizza at hotel.

They go to the pool to swim. Return within 5 minutes. Too many little kids. (Be still my heart – they aren’t ‘the little kids’ anymore)

Return to pool after some serious gaming. Apparently have pool all to themselves later in the night.

Karrie-Ann chooses not to supervise them at pool – there is only five of them – letting them grow up and go. 

She instead spends the entire hour in room praying they don’t make stupid decisions to dive head first into the concrete bottom.

They return in one piece. Phew. Dodged that bullet.

Try to sleep.

12:35 am. Karrie-Ann quietly but meaningfully turns on her light and shuffles about her room hoping they can see the light from the crack under my door. She hears “shhhhhhh” and laughter. She makes a mental note in 10 minutes she will be less discreet and go yell at the boys that it’s time to settle down.

12:36 am. Karrie-Ann falls asleep. Who the hell knows what happens between 12:37 and 7:00 am. Bars and strip clubs perhaps.

Day Two of Two

Wake up and give thanks that a) it appears no boy wandered out of the hotel room never to return and b) we did NOT get kicked out of the hotel.

That’s how I’m defining success this weekend.

Inform boys next time there will be a morning curfew – no one out of bed until 8am. Matt and Chris agree. Particularly Matt who got elbowed by Daniel several times asking if he was up yet. No Daniel. He wasn’t up. Truth be told though it was Chris’ alarm and my early morning son and Jackson who started the sunrise fiasco.

Boys head down to eat breakfast and play a tournament of something on the gaming system. 

Karrie-Ann drinks two large cups of coffee. Without Baileys. Give myself pat on the back for not being inebriated around the children.

Somewhere around this time they call me on “a swear”. I called one of them a smart-ass. I love they think that qualifies as swearing. I love even more I never heard one disrespectful word from them all weekend toward me. Not one. And that’s the truth.  

Get ready to leave hotel for Get Air. 

Uh oh. Realization that a bomb exploded in the boys room. We may need a late check out just for them to clean it up. 

The sloth-like creatures do a reasonable job in an unreasonable amount of time. How the hell are they so fast on the court?

Arrive at Get Air. Everyone from Halifax and Dartmouth are there. No really. Everyone. People have quit their jobs to come here today. The line is nearly out the door.  

Finally get through. Boys go jump. I go sit and make small talk with other Moms I’ve never met before. Big mistake. I don’t have the energy for small talk. I should have went and sat in the van by myself. 

All five return after their one hour jumping session with no injuries and have apparently not jumped on nor injured any people shorter than them either. 

Once again – success.

Look for van in parking lot. We are all confused when it won’t unlock. Another mental note – pay better attention when renting a vehicle – memory consisting of “blue van” doesn’t cut it in the city.

Pile back into the correct van only to pile back out again after a vote calls for eating prior to leaving. 

Go eat. Sit away from them to give them space. I’m so tired my head feels heavy. Would it be conspicuous to lay my head down next to my quesadilla and take a little nap?

I realize what a long period of consecutive waking hours they have been together – usually they would have breaks in time when spending two days together. They have done very well. They are good kids and they make me proud – even though only one of them is mine – I’m so proud of them all.

Ok. All done. Time to go home.

The drives are always the best part. They chirp each other and make the stupidest jokes and try to one-up each other. They try and beat each other at some game I can’t pronounce. They fight over the back seats which is where they are most squished but still want to be.

There is one point as I’m dropping Daniel off to his house that I laugh so hard tears literally pour out of my eyes. I’m so so so tired. Why don’t I have a vehicle that drives itself?

Two days with five boys. 

Each of who unfold themselves from the van as I drop them off. Each of whom try and find their bags and pillows from the piled-high-Beverly-Hillbillies-Van. And each of whom holler a big and sincere “Thank You” as they drag themselves to their homes.  

Each of them exhausted, over tired and zombie like. They don’t exactly “look” like a great time was had. They are smelly from Get Air. Come to think of it I’m not sure I saw any toothbrushes out at the sink either. And certainly not a shower was had. Will their mothers ever let me take them anywhere again?

But even smelly and exhausted, I wouldn’t trade these two days or these five boys for the world. 

These are the moments.

Oh – and by the way – the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead. 

It’s an inside joke. Which isn’t so much a joke as a game. And which I wasn’t really on the inside of either.

But how thankful I was … to be on the outside of it looking in.

The Boy and the Girl Next Door

One year ago I stood and watched my childhood home burn to the ground.

It seems like a small thing now doesn’t it?

In the midst of world events. 

I guess. Maybe. But it wasn’t small to me, and it wasn’t small to my parents then either.

It’s the eternal cliche, but time really does help heal and fade so many tragedies.

But today I’m looking back and I’m remembering that day, and it’s hard to believe sometimes that 365 days have since passed.

I could write about a million feelings and stories that spring from that day, but the one memory I always come back to – from the day itself – is the moment I turned around. Once metaphorically and once literally, to see the boy, and the girl, next door.

I was in Liverpool in the middle of a meeting when I got a phone call from my brother telling me the news.

It’s strange news to comprehend really. You’re not sure what to feel. Immediately the only thing that matters is that everyone is safe. So that is your predominant emotion the entire day/week/month. Nothing else matters.

Except. Somehow. It does. Maybe?

Because throughout the entire hour and a half drive from Liverpool to Nicholsville other thoughts start creeping in. What are they? They seem familiar. But wait a minute. All I’m supposed to be feeling is grateful. Everyone is ok. 

But there they come again. Those thoughts. They well up in my chest and start falling out my eyes. And they are coming in the spits and spats. They are coming in between the “what will my parents do now?” question on my head. And they sneak through the logistical “what a nightmare insurance will be” questions. And also they dive right through the sense of loss I immediately feel for both of my parents and selfishly myself.  

These images and feelings and thoughts I can’t seem to name just won’t let go, even among the other 103 things whirling around my head right now. What is going on?? 

And then it hits me. Somewhere around driving through Morristown. 

Oh. I recognize them now. It’s the memories. They are pesky little memories. Particularly memories of my childhood.

And bam. All of a sudden the only thing in my head (wait, no, make that my heart) is the one mile stretch of pavement between the Palmer Road and Victoria Road and a black house that sits on a small hill. 

For the rest of the day that was all my world consisted of. Which funny enough is where the fire trucks blocked off all traffic from entering. That one mile stretch.

When you grow up in the country you have a lot of space around you. Which means that you don’t have as many neighbours as you would in town. But the neighbours you do have take on a different role. The people I grew up with were “in” my life in a way that is difficult to explain. I called their parents “Aunt” and “Uncle” even though there were no blood ties. There was a comfort there that went beyond neighboours or friendship.

But ofcourse life, and people, grow up and move on. I had long ago “moved away”. And these people on this stretch of road become fond memories but no longer really “present” in your life. 

Because that just kind of how life is.

But as my brother and I drove up to Victoria Road and hit that threshold – that one mile stretch – the waves of memories with these people came crashing back.

I drive this road all the time still to come visit my parents. Why were these flooding back so significantly now?

And then we pulled up to the house burning. And there were Mom and Dad. And I became 10 years old again. And suddenly I knew why I was feeling those memories so strongly.

Because my entire childhood was on that road, in that house. It sounds so simple, but is so true.

And so we stood there for quite a long time watching. The four of us. My Mom, Dad, brother and me.

And to anyone watching us that’s exactly what it looked like. Just the four of us.

But it wasn’t.

Not for me.

I was somehow also haunted by all of the people who touched my lives while I grew up in that house.

And as I stood there watching, all of a sudden there was a tap on my shoulder. And there she was. The girl next door. Dawne Boates. Who didn’t really live next door – but in fact a mile down the road, and whose last name is no longer Boates, but there she was, and for a moment nothing else mattered. I can’t imagine wanting to see anyone more.

She hugged me, and that hug seemed to last forever. I can’t ever explain to her what that hug meant – how much was in it.

And then she did EXACTLY what I needed. She gave us a bag of clothes (oh my god those clothes were better than gold – my feet were so cold) told us she was there for anything we needed. Hugged me again. And then she left. Left us to be alone and deal with our emotions and grief. It was one of the most respectful, most needed things that has ever happened to me. Her action in coming. Her hug. Her gift. Her respectful leaving.

In those moments I knew how much she was hurting for us – how much she wanted to help.

And the rest of the day came and went – in loss and uncertainty.

But it did so with a little gentle help from another someone else from beginning to end.

From the boy next door.

Because there he was, Tim Palmer, the entire day. Tim, who had built a home next door to his parents and across from mine. Tim, who may have spent as much of his childhood at my house as his own. There he was. The entire day doing exactly what we needed him to do. Walking that very fine line of being present but not in the forefront. Respecting our family’s time together, and never pushing. But instead ordering an entire feast for us from a local diner, giving us shelter to come and go, warming up his truck for us to sit in, lending us clothes, talking and listening, stepping up and stepping back. His presence and his actions, were everything to me.

And so there it was. Who knew that on this awful day when I morphed back into a 10 year old girl, that my two childhood friends would reappear in my life like magic? 

Ofcourse it makes perfect sense. Who could understand my loss more than these two who spent so much time in those walls with me?

The boy and the girl next door.  

There weren’t two people I wanted to see more.

And I will forever be whispering thank you for them.

I Love that My Kids Don’t have a House

It’s the second day of 2017 and I am listening to the all-too-familiar sound coming from the basement of six kids “just hanging out”. It’s a great way to start off the year of course, and I am ever thrilled to have them here.

Over the holidays Craig and I were chatting about how many Christmases we had spent here on the Bluff, and it’s hard to believe we are in year eleven now. Eleven years ago we built our home; and we built it as we try to do so many things, with thought and purpose.  

At the time the kids were ages five and three, and teenage-hood seemed a long way off. But I am a person who is forever looking into the future, and I knew I wanted a home that the kids would want to bring their friends to. A place they could keep busy, enjoy being at, and feel welcome.

And so it began. 

We finished the basement ‘just enough’. Not so much that we had to worry about breakables or spills on high end furniture – but enough that they had a large space all to themselves on a separate floor. Later came an air hockey table, video gaming consoles, basketball hoops, soccer nets, hockey nets, a treehouse, a pool, a fire pit, a hot tub, outdoor movies, a trampoline. All on three acres of land that has seen massive nerf wars, fort building, snowball fights and some ominous sledding.

Phew!

Finally it was complete.

Our own virtual den of bribery.  

(Insert evil cackle).

That was it. We were going to be “the house” all the kids would hang out at. I could feel it in my bones.

(Insert heavy dose of sarcasm and ironic humour). How little I knew!

But it worked.

Kind of.

Our home has seen countless kids, teenagers and families through our doors. I like to think they all feel comfortable here – not only because of the home we have created but because we all enjoy their presence here and we feel they enjoy ours. Everyone seems to want to come back.

Now certainly parts of this blog entry have been written very tongue in cheek. Ofcourse I wasn’t twisting my moustache every day sinisterly planning to be the only home my kids ever hung out at. But when your kids are young and growing up, “letting go” seems overwhelming, and there certainly was a small nugget of truth there in the sarcasm. 

Admit it. You know you used to talk about it. “We want our kids to hang here so we know where they are”. “We want to be the house on the block that all the kids come to”. I remember having this same conversation with atleast three of you over the years, haha, and I think it was true for many of us if we are honest.

And really … I mean come on. I certainly couldn’t have Megan and Mark hanging at their friends houses. There would be drugs and cigarettes and sex there. Not to mention the twenty-four hour parties, pornography and danger danger danger. Wouldn’t there? 

Ok – maybe that’s a little extreme. But even if the parents were nice and friendly, I still needed to be the main adult on the periphery of their social lives … didn’t I?

DIDN’T I???????

Well quelle surprise …

What I didn’t know wayyyyyy back then was how brilliantly and deftly they would choose the people they wanted in their lives. How incredible their friends are, and how ofcourse those boys and girls didn’t magically come from a stork, but from amazing families and homes – homes I want my children to be a part of. 

So it turns out there isn’t just one house I want my kids to be at. Not even mine. My kids are better for not having “a” house . They are better for it not being ours and they are better for it not being someone else’s. 

Each of them seemingly rotate with beautiful frequency. They have shared spaghetti eating and NYE memories at the Cederberg’s, hot chocolate parties at the dePutters, Tuesdays suppers at the Crouse’s, Board Game fun at the Richards, movie magic at the other Richards, etc etc etc. The list and the families go on and on and on.

The point is, how could I have known, when they were five and three, so tiny and vulnerable, that I wouldn’t want our house to be the house … but instead for it to be one of many houses … filled with warm welcoming families that make my kiddos lives so much richer for being there?  

Just as I hope our home and family does for their friends.  

So here’s to 2017, and the rotating door of teenagers – both in my home and yours and yours and yours – how lucky we are to have so many houses.

Why I Still Write that Obnoxious Christmas Letter

I remember about six years ago I was sitting around a table with some colleagues in our lunch room near  Christmas time. We were talking and laughing and sharing, and one of the women mentioned her disdain for a certain trend that some of her friends and acquaintances regularly took part in: The writing, printing and subsequently sharing of the not-so-original Christmas Letter. She revealed her exasperation of this trend while others nodded, chimed in, and whole heartedly concurred. The practice of summing up you and your family’s life into one too-perfect, very-fake, succinct little 8 1/2 by 11 page. How smug these people were, with their narcissistic bragging about their perfect children, their fairytale accounts of their lives.  

And so there it was. On the inside of 10 minutes, a concise yet firm degradation of the somewhat infamous Christmas Letter.

I wanted to crawl under the table.

No really. It was one of those moments I wish the floor could have swallowed me whole.

Because “I” was one of those narcissistic women who penned those Christmas Letters every single year. Only mine weren’t one page long. Mine were three entire pages. Often in the smallest font size that I felt was plausible for reading, just so I could fit more of my bragging onto the page.  

Yes I wanted to disappear that day. Because I was one of those women.

Oh wait.

I still am.

Yes. You heard me. I still am one of those self centred authors of said Christmas letter. The only difference between then and now, is that I no longer want to crawl in a hole over this little tradition of mine – but instead whisper thank you for my consistent decision to participate in it without fail each year.

I started in 1999. We were living in New Brunswick at the time. Our children were yet to be born and it was mine and Craig’s second year of marriage. We had just come back from three weeks in Europe. It was before the existence of any social media, and before stamps cost a small fortune. That first letter was less than a page long, and I safely, and with pride, tucked it inside each Christmas card I sent. 

As the years have come and gone I have written a Christmas Letter (I began calling them “newsletters”) for each one. As the children came, and as they grew, so did the length of my letters. They developed a feel and style all their own. I took great care in choosing what paper I would use. I had different “sections” that changed over the years. In a world of immediacy and conciseness, I took the time each year to be thoughtful about what I typed.  

I adored these letters. I adored writing them and I adored sharing them. It was before the time of blogging and memes and they gave me a chance to write. They gave me a chance not only to share our year, but to do so in a creative, heartfelt and funny way.

But then, a few years back, enter Social Media. I was consciously delayed to the game of social media, but actively embraced it probably five years back. Now that I was on this platform called Facebook, what was there possibly left to share in the form of an old fashioned Christmas Letter, on actual printed paper? For a moment, a brief moment, I considered stopping.  

And then something, or rather someone(s) hit me over the head, and I realized something that is so clear to me now, it’s a wonder I didn’t connect the dots before.

These Christmas letters I write aren’t for everyone else. Not really.  

Instead they are for four people. The four people who matter most to me. Megan, Mark, Craig, and yes, even me.

A few years ago, as I was wondering what the point of them was anymore, and as I was feeling a little narcissistic about writing them, I turned around and I saw my daughter pick one up from the past year. She finished reading it, and asked me when I was going to finish the one for the current year. And it was then it hit me.

These three pages I type each year are a summary of our entire lives together. They are our history. They are carefully chosen words by me, her mother, in my own voice, detailing the highs (and yes sometimes even the lows) of our 365 days together as a family.  

And it was then I really “saw” it. Every year her and Mark wait to read the Christmas Letter. None of it is new information them – but they can’t wait to read it. They read how proud I am of them. They read what an amazing life we have together. They read about their accomplishments – and mine and Craig’s too. And I realized – my heavens – what a gift these are to them now and in the years to come. Their mothers own words about our lives together. Written with love and humour and pride. 

Our story. 

Maybe not in a book. Maybe not in APA format. Maybe a little too predictable in layout, and certainly not winning any writers guild awards.  But there it lies- our story – each year on the coffee table. Waiting for them. And they will have those forever.

This year (as the above photograph indicates) I caught Megan reading every single one. As she went back over the years I caught her laughing (and crying) and saying more than once “I didn’t know that.”

So yes. I do still write Christmas Letters. And yes, they can be narcissistic and a little ‘polished around the edges’ with a set of rose-coloured glasses sometimes. But every word is real. Every word is our lived experience as a family, a reflection of who we were, and tried to be, over the past years. And while none of it may be “news” anymore, it matters not. Because I’ve realized they weren’t really “news” letters to begin with. They are our history. And this year I am whispering thank you for every single one of them.

Celebrating … Well … Me.

This past Sunday I was standing at my kitchen counter washing dishes. Dishes actually aren’t a chore I particularly mind doing. I get to stand at my sink, which has a two large windows above it, and stare out at my panoramic view. There are worse things in the world.

The windows in my home happen to have wider than average windowsills, and atop many of them sit picture frames. A LOT of picture frames. Interior designers would cringe at my home – such as it is with photos perched, placed and hung in every direction. 

Yesterday I took particular note of the ones above my sink.

Two of them are from “Birthday-Eve” celebrations. And if you looked around my house you would find three more framed from different birthday years.

Each photograph is taken in a different location – a Vineyard, my favourite Mediterranean Restaurant, my Living Room, Blueberry Acres … etc etc.

And each one has something in common – I’m surrounded by girlfriends. Sometimes almost a dozen and sometimes as few as four.

To look at them you would think “What incredible friends she has – planning parties for her every year in different locations, doing different activities – wow – she is so lucky!”

And ofcourse you’d be right. About the incredible girlfriend part. Because I do and I am. Women friendships are among the most important things in my life, and I feel incredibly blessed to be surrounded by the many different groups of women I get to call friends.

But you would be wrong about one thing. You would be wrong that any of these soirées or outings or birthday celebrations of my own were planned by anyone other than little old un-modest me.

Yup.

Looking around at all of these “Karrie-Ann Birthday Eve Photos” I have to say – I planned them all.

I decided what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go and who I wanted to be with.

I sent the invitations, planned the food (and asked people to bring it), made people take photos, and generally asked them to come and celebrate me, myself and I.

Can you believe that???

The nerve!

The un-modesty!

The gall!

The narcissism!

The lack of humility and grace!

Well …. maybe.

But here’s what I really think. What I really believe. 

I deserve to be celebrated on the day I was born.

Yes. I said it.

And I deserve that day to be more than some “acronym-wish” posted on Social Media site because someone received a notification on their phone.

I deserve a little “hoop” and a little “la”.

Because you know what? If I don’t celebrate me … who will?

All of my girlfriends are amazing, generous, thoughtful women. But they are busy. They are raising children and managing careers and marriages and their own interests and pursuits. Just as I am.

We talk ad nauseum about time moving too fast and the importance of simplicity and spending time with those who matter. 

Well what better time for that than my birthday?

Why NOT celebrate that? Why NOT celebrate me?

Why wait for someone else to do it?

I remember once we were camping and one of our friends daughters was celebrating her birthday while we were there. 

I remember waking up that morning and going over to give her a giant hug and wish her a Happy Birthday. She was a little coy – not shy per se, but a little unsure about the fuss I was making.

I picked her up and stood her on top of the picnic table. I said to her this was HER day and she should shout from the rooftop (or the top of the picnic table as it were) that it was her Birthday and let the world know she was a force to be reckoned with.

So she stood there, spread her arms wide apart and hollered at the top of her lungs “It’s my birthday”!! And continued to laugh and giggle until she doubled over.

It was a joyful, uninhibited, innocent and beautiful moment. 

But as grown women we don’t jump on picnic tables. It’s not particularly socially acceptable I guess and maybe there’s just no time. Our lives are centred around everyone else. Centred around children or spouses or colleagues or parents.

Too often we are trudging through to-do lists and trying just to keep it all together.

So when I sit there on my Birthday Eve, surrounded by my girlfriends, for three or four hours – once a year – celebrating the day I was born into this world – I am not thinking how pathetic it was to organize this myself – or how socially unacceptable it was to do so.

Instead I’m always thinking how incredibly blessed I was to be born into this world “x” number of years ago. How lucky I am to share the day with people who mean so much to me. To be able to raise a glass with them and silently whisper thank you for this past year.

And quite frankly I deserve nothing less than that.

And so do you and you and you.

So stand on the picnic table, shout from the rooftop. 

Celebrate YOU. Take the time. Make the time. You deserve it.

You can bet on August 29th I’ll be “celebrating me” 😉.

The Women in my Daughters Life … Who Aren’t Me

I received a text from my friend Amanda yesterday. She sends me various texts over the course of weeks, checking in for this or that, or just saying ‘Thinking of You’ (she is great at that). Yesterday she sent me one asking my daughter Megan to babysit. 

Amanda has two kiddos younger than mine, and a few years ago she was one of the first people to entrust their care to my own kiddo on the occasions her and Brian venture out into the world as adults.

As we worked out times and details, I thought about her presence in Megan’s life.

I think many things help build a child’s character over the course of their lives. One of them I have seen for my daughter, and one I never underestimate, is the faith and trust that others have placed in her to care for their own children over the last number of years. 

 
Megan’s knowledge that Amanda, along with Mary, Jenna, Sesaly and Karen all think of her in that way – as a responsible, intelligent, caring, young woman of whom they can trust, has helped to build a confidence in her as she has grown from a girl into a young woman. She prides herself on the job she does, she adores the kids she cares for, and I see how important it is to her that other women think of her in this way to call her on a regular basis.

These are but a few women who have come into my daughters life and played a role, perhaps unknowingly, in shaping who she is in the world. And this example of child care is but one instance where I see this happening.

There are also the women who actively build a relationship with her in a different way.

Women who in my own life I share wonderful rich friendships with, but who also have developed their own relationship with my daughter. It may be small and it may be infrequent, but it still exists all the same. I see examples and the results of it all the time.

It’s when Megan comes through the door in the middle of a party and races over to hug Sesaly or Dena. This doesn’t happen from circumstance – this happens because these women have gone out of their way to ‘see’ her, to take an interest in her life independent of their friendship with me. Megan feels that and she seeks them out. 

It’s when Kathy comes to visit from Ottawa and she carved out some special alone time with Megan, inquiring about her interests and activities, finding common ground and laughing and sharing stories. I see in Megan’s eyes the sense of respect and pride she feels with Kathy who takes a true interest in her life.

It’s when she is jogging over the road one day and feels an uncomfortable feeling that makes the hair stand up on the back of her neck – because a strange dog is following her – and she doesn’t hesitate to go to Amanda’s door to seek refuge – a place she feels safe, with a woman she is comfortable confiding in rather than being embarassed around.

It’s in the phone calls from both Amanda and Sesaly that came on June 30th. Phone calls where I pick up the phone and they ask for – gasp – Megan, not me – because they want to congratulate her on being named Valedictorian.

It’s Norah who never ever – not once – misses calling for her birthday. And it’s never enough to wish her a Happy Birthday, but she spends time talking with her about her day and her friends and her plans. It’s Norah who thinks far enough ahead to always have her gift here, on time, from a different Province, or who listens so intently to the small things Megan says that she remembers to ask about them months later.

And ofcourse it’s Nanny and Granny who are there for concerts and games and graduations, sitting in the audience as the ones who she sees as her family who she can always count on. Who play games together and surprise her with this or that. Who remember the big test she has. Who make a big deal of the little things. The things that truly matter.

These women in my daughters life – not girls – not people her own age – but women – who ‘see’ my daughter and who actively nurture and build a relationship with her are, without consciousness or purpose, creating a foundation for her. A foundation that has the potential to influence and grow over the years becoming something Megan can count on in years to come. 

So often we think of the people who influence our children’s lives as being teachers or coaches or others who are in obvious ‘helping’ professions, positions, or blood relatives. And while certainly that has rung true for Megan, I am filled with such gratitude for those women who are not paid, nor expected, nor in any ‘natural’ circumstance to influence her life. But instead these women who put themselves out there and ‘choose’ to be a part of her world – who each have their own different, personal, unique connections with my daughter. 

 
As a parent, it’s hard to realize you can’t be everything to your kids. There is a selfish part of me that wants to be. I’m embarrassed to admit that. I’m even more embarrassed to admit that sometimes I’m a wee bit jealous of these women and the relationship they have with Megan. They never have to be the heavy hand or the ‘Charlie Brown Teacher’ lecturing ‘woh woh woh woh woh’.

But my jealousy is quickly brushed aside, because I know that some day she will look for different perspectives and opinions … she will look for a friend and an ear … she will struggle with big and small problems … and although I hope more often than not she WILL turn to me, I am not naive enough to think there will not be times where ‘mom’ won’t be the first nor the most realistic choice. A time when she will need more ‘advice’ than friends her age can provide. A time she will seek out older women in her life she can trust and confide in.

I am beyond grateful that women in my life are building a foundation NOW that will help my daughter in the future. That these women want to – choose to – play that role in her life. A role that sometimes seems so small and random, but that I see helps build her character and sense of self in the world. Women who can be there for her in a way I can’t always be in the role of ‘Mom’.

I wonder if they know what a difference they are making in my daughters life, or the potential it will have to make a difference?  

I hope so.

I am so grateful for each and every one of them.

An Unexpected Gift

My best friend and I don’t get to see each other during the week of Christmas. And it seems the last number of years we don’t even see each other the entire month of December with busy family schedules. We live in different Provinces. And sometimes that really sucks.

It especially does over the Holidays when you want to be surrounded by your closest friends and family. 

Norah and I have been friends for 38 years now. She has been ‘my person’ for 25 of those. I actually ache for her during this time … these two weeks that I seem to define as the Holidays. Sentimental fool that I am. 

Phone calls abound, but I want her physically close to me where I can hug her and cuddle up on the sofa with her, and surround myself with her presence – more than just her voice on the other end of a receiver.

This year, I think in anticipation of that time, she gave me my Christmas Gift early. It was no ordinary gift. When she handed it to me I was like a giddy little girl. It was an entire basket full of perfectly wrapped gifts. An Advent Gift she said. One present to be opened every day until Christmas, beginning December 1st.

I know this is the place where I’m supposed to say ‘it was just a gift getting to see her for 4 hours’ in the city where we met and had a quick lunch together, but the fact is that it WAS really exciting to be handed an entire basket of presents and be told they were just for me.

It’s Christmas and I am a Mom. Nothing is EVER just for me! I spend months making sure everything is ‘just for others’.

So here I am handed a basket full of pretty presents … one to open every day starting the first of December … you better believe I’m a giddy school girl at that prospect!

And because I know my best friend so well, I’m vibrating with anticipation because I know each gift was meticulously chosen with me in mind by someone who knows me like no one else. Now THIS is exciting shit!

So I drive home on a November day, after a long four hour lunch with my bestie, basket safely tucked in the back of the Subaru.

When I come through the door, basket in hand, my kiddos are home and they look up at the basket. They know I’ve seen Norah and are naturally expecting the basket to be the ‘family’ gifts that we always exchange. And of course those family gifts are in the back of the Subuaru too … but I am quick to inform them (with perhaps a cat-ate-the-canary smile on my face) that these are all ‘just for me’. AND that I get to open one each and every day until Christmas starting December 1st.

Oh.

They don’t say it, but you can see the wheels turning in their heads.

Just for Mom?

All those presents?

Oh.

So I sit my basket down next to the armoire in the living room. It’s only then that I really have the chance to take a good look at it. Each gift has a number on it. And the numbers aren’t just written on. They are fancy stickers placed on thick parchment like paper and placed on each gift. Every gift is painstakingly wrapped, and looking at them I would be happy to open just one. But I get to open 24! 

I get a twinge of worry that she has spent too much on me. But I know her and we are both really good at being reasonable over Christmas. She promised me she didn’t go over our usual amount – that it was like a long drawn out stocking. So I quickly drop that feeling of guilt and concentrate on my pretty present.

December 1st is fourteen days away. I’m like a little kid again waiting for Christmas Day. Only I don’t have to wait that long! Inside I’m a little embarrassed by how excited I am, but trust me that embarrassment disappears as the days go by and I’m run off my feet with Holiday to-do lists, and I really remember how much I do for every one else during the preparation of Christmas.

So there the basket sits. For fourteen days in the living room.

And then December 1st arrives. And what happens then, and over the next 24 days is a very unexpected side effect … and is, for me, and for my family, a gift in and of itself.

That morning I get up and come down stairs. It’s a particularly crazy day. I have a Board Mtg at work, Mark has a Volleyball Tournament, Megan has Piano and a test at school, Craig is away for work so I’m on my own. I’m running around making lunches, getting everything and everyone ready for another pretty normal day at the Wilkies. 

And then the kids look at me and say … with these excited looks of anticipation on their faces … “Mom!!!! It’s December 1st!!!!!! You get to open your first gift from Aunt Norah today!”

And I have to admit. I was a little taken aback at their excitement. Because this was not excitement ‘for them’ at all. They KNEW nothing in those packages were family related. Nothing for the minors in the family. And as for ‘their’ Advent ‘gift’, well – ever since they were young they only ever got those Advent Calendars that were like $1 from Walmart, with the dinky little chocolates (if you can call them chocolate) smaller than the size of a dime. 

So no. This wasn’t excitement for them. This was excitement they had for me. They were excited for me alone. They wanted to watch me open it, and had comments on what it was and what a great gift it was for me.

And so it went. Every day until Christmas Eve. They would excitedly remind me of my Advent gift for the day, and hoped I wouldn’t open it without them there.

And a few days into this selfishly lovely routine I realized what a beautiful side effect this gift my BFF gave me actually had.

For my kids got to see, in a very unique and somehow tangible way, how very much someone else loved their mother. And even better … someone not related to me. Someone who didn’t ‘have’ to love me. Someone who wasn’t related to them either.

They got to see the care and thoughtfulness put into something for their Mom … who is always the one ‘giving’ in their lives … always the one running and driving and doing and keeping it all together for them. They, as children, are always the centre of attention. They rarely get to see me receive anything except on days that ‘I’m supposed to’. And from someone I’m ‘supposed to’. No one ever does anything for Mom ‘just because’.

And that was pretty cool. For them to be so unbelievably excited just for ‘me’ each day; during a season that is so focused on them as children. For them to visually ‘see’ my worth through another’s eyes. To see how much time someone took to shop and wrap and prepare and think of ‘me’. For them to see me in a new way, and not just as a Mom.  

To see someone’s love for me in such a tangible and consistent way.

It was a very unexpected side effect of a wonderful gift … that was a gift in and of itself. And the entire experience, the gift and the side effect, made my Holiday that much brighter.

It was a gift I will never forget.

Sinking Deeper

It’s our last morning here on the Island. The time always goes by too fast. Another summer gone. We have been coming here, to this very same cottage, for 13 years now. This place has been a constant in our lives since Megan was a baby.  

And here we are, on our last day, again. So we make our way down to the beach for one last walk. 

I don’t know if I’m ever more consistently grateful than I am when I come here. Long ago we traded the kitschy tourist part of the Island for the easy, relaxing, unhurried and unplanned part of the PEI. We spend our days bicycling the trails that run seemingly non stop beside the ocean, walking the beaches looking for sea glass, making hodgepodge with Island New potatoes and treating ourselves to our favourite flavour of COWS ice cream.

I whisper thank you here so often. This place where we were always allowed to come. 

As the kids walk steps ahead of me I stop. And the ocean, whose tide is still high, sends its waves over my bare feet. I look down and take in the moment. I am, at the same time ready in my ‘mind’ to leave the Island, but I am still never quite ready to go in my ‘heart’.

I close my eyes and whisper, out loud, as I always do, these words that have become second nature to me. “Thank you”. And as I whisper them I feel my feet sinking deep into the sand. I’m standing on that soft sand that is at the edge of the ocean as the tide begins to turn from high to low. And I realize at that very moment, with that very metaphor, that is what this summer has been all about for me. Sinking deeper into myself.  

I love that feeling. A place and a season with fewer screens and sometimes fewer people. A place where I’m not defined by the outside world quite as much, but instead by the quiet moments both with myself and my family, that are sometimes never shared with the world at all. A place where I allow myself to completely unplug, both literally and figuratively, for an entire week. A place where we come … ‘always’ the four of us … but at the same time ‘only’ the four of us.

I’m so thankful for this place, for this season, and for this feeling of sinking more into myself. Of not allowing the outside world to be quite the priority I allow it to be during the other seasons or the other places. It grounds me and allows me the time, and almost the permission, to ask myself the bigger questions. The harder questions. The questions I never take the time for because I am too busy or too focused on other things. And in turn a time where I am more apt to listen to myself answer those questions.

This is so important to me. In a world where there is nothing but white noise – a place and a season where I can clearly hear myself. My own voice. My own heart. Without outside influence. Without en masse opinion or approval.

I look again at my feet in the sand. Completely buried now as the tide has ebbed and flowed again and again. Literally sinking deeper. Into the sand. Into myself. It’s the best feeling in the world. 

I breathe in. I breathe out. 

Soon summer will be over. 

Soon I will have to lift my feet out of this comforting sand, and get back to a larger reality.

Soon. 

Soon.

But, thankfully I whisper, not … quite … yet.