Tag Archives: children

I’m Sorry Boys, It’s Not On.

An open letter to every adolescent with a Y chromosome who is in, or even on the periphery of my son’s life … and of course my son himself.

The world has gotten a lot bigger for you all in the past six months. A lot bigger physically in new schools that span from one end of the Valley to the other – but also a lot bigger online. There are more of you. More people you are getting to know, and more people you may not really know, but sure pretend to know through social media. You are all trying to find your way. I can feel it everywhere I turn. And I can see it no where more clearly than online.

And I’m sorry boys, some of this behaviour that I’m seeing … it’s not on.

It’s simply not.

I know I will earn no respect saying it or revealing it, but I’m not here for your adoration. I’m here to raise a young man. And I’m here to care about other young men who are in his life, or even on the outside circle as classmates, teammates neighbours or old friends.

I understand you are all growing up in a world of social media. I understand you are “digital pioneers”, and that we have to raise you to learn to manage living in this new world.

I understand you have all heard, ad nauseum, about the dangers and pitfalls of the ‘evil online world’ of people looking to prey on you, of bullying, pornography and safety.

But today we are not talking about any of that. We are talking about the young men you want to be in this world.

I feel as of late, somewhere, somehow, an incredibly pathetic low bar is being set in your personal online world. And whether you admit it or not each of you are playing a role in keeping it there. Each of you.

The group chats that happen in the guise of team bonding, the snap chats that come and go so quickly you are lulled into complacency, the memes – some specific memes – that some of you think are hilarious because they only step “one” foot over the line in your opinion but not “two” … and the others that are clearly well over any line.

So here are some things I want to make perfectly clear:

Saying “But it’s not pornography” doesn’t cut it.

Do not set the bar that low for yourself or for your friends. Expect better of them. Or get better friends. Choose respect. Expect respect. Accept nothing less.

Saying “But I’m not participating in the chat” doesn’t cut it.

Even if you never post anything derogatory yourself … ever … just being a part of demeaning conversations normalizes them. The undertones are all too often sexist, homophobic, or at the very least elitist. It creates a sense of normalcy that is false and against the values you should aspire to. Just because you aren’t the ones saying the words or posting the posts, you are still choosing to view the conversation. And I know it’s because you are part of a team or a certain group at school. And I understand “staying” comes from a fear of speaking up and being ostracized. I do.

But remember – you become like the five people you spend the most time with. Online, at school, on the sports team. Remember that. REMEMBER THAT.

Saying “I didn’t understand what that meant” doesn’t cut it.

I get it. There are things out there that “I” don’t even understand online! But ask if you’re unsure about something. Ask an adult in your life. Be grown up enough to find out from people you can trust. We are your safe place. They are your safe place.

Saying “He’s not really like that in real life” doesn’t cut it.

This is real life. It’s ALL real life. And choosing who you are online is choosing who you are in the world. If he’s like that online, he’s like that period.

Saying “I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble” doesn’t cut it.

I adore loyalty in my son and his friends. But if you feel that you have to keep covering for people, or if you think our families expectations are too high, maybe you need to reevaluate some things.

I completely understand you all will make mistakes. I completely understand that in the most literal sense your brains are not fully developed yet and you will have an imegdula-hijack from time to time.

I understand. I do. There are no expectations of perfect. But everyone still has to be responsible for their actions. Both on a screen and in person.

To those of you who I have seen with my own eyes post degrading photos and memes about women … who swear in a way that is not expressive but degrading … who make jokes about being gay … who think you are so much better than people who may be struggling academically or those who may not be good at sports … some of you really caught me off guard. I am ashamed and disappointed in you. I am. And guess what – maybe we need to say that more often. Maybe someone needs to be disappointed in you. I’ll be that person if you don’t have one in your life or if their heads are in the sand.

And once again, to those who don’t post these things but are seeing them and not saying something … who are not standing up … I do know it’s hard … I do know that … I do know decisions to remove yourself from conversations and stand up will affect you for years at school. I do know it may mean not sitting at the cool table.

But make the hard decision.

CHOOSE the young man you want to be.

To those who care so very very VERY much about the numbers of followers you have and who don’t know everyone following you (but only know “of” them …) please be careful not to get caught up in that … you are better than that.

Popularity does not equal kindness. As a matter a fact it requires a sneaky exclusivity and disrespect toward others that is most often the opposite of kind.

Popularity is a slippery slope and you can find yourself at the bottom feeling alone all too quickly. Or you can hurt feelings and relationships that become irreparable. You are not better than anyone. Let me say that again. You are not better than anyone. Even if friends and even parents and teachers and coaches and all kinds of peers and even adults are silently telling you you are. You aren’t.

CHOOSE to be the respected young man – not the popular one.

And finally – I know many of you are revered in the sporting circles. I know you think you are on top of the pack ~ or want to be.

But ask yourself “what pack?”

Are the actions you portray on the court matching your actions on social media? At your round tables at lunchtime? Or in the locker room?

Really ask yourself this.

Are they?

I can tell you they are often not. I’m so disappointed in some of you. I truly am.

I’m sorry boys. I’m sorry Mark. I’m sorry parents, coaches and teachers, who may or may not have knowledge of this specific behaviour. I’m sorry world.

But I’m not raising the popular kid, or a kid to “just get through four years of high school”. I want to raise a confident, strong, empathetic, caring young man and I want him to be surrounded by other confident, strong, empathetic, caring young men. Young men who can be proud of themselves and who consciously choose who to be in the world … and that includes the online world people! There is no distinction or definition there.

Please. Please. CHOOSE the men you want to be. And not just in the easy circumstances and not just around the popular kids.

And adults, it isn’t enough to just let these things pass by or not be aware of them because they are online and you may not see them because they are on Snapchat or have been deleted from Instagram or you aren’t looking.

Boys will NOT be boys.

I’m raising a young man.

It’s not on.

And I’m actually not the least bit sorry.


Post Script:

I wrote this about a year ago. Instead of posting it I used it as a jumping point to begin conversations with my son about behaviour I was seeing start to plant itself in and around his grade. They weren’t easy conversations to have and they happened over time. But I am so glad I started them.

Some won’t agree that I choose to randomly look at my children’s phones. Some won’t agree with this post overall. And that’s ok.

Within myself I am personally so happy with the conversations we have had that came from these actions. It opened my eyes. It stopped me from thinking “this person or that person would never do that”. Including my own kids. It reminded me of so many things I knew but needed reminding of.

Even more so I am incredibly proud of my son and the choices he has chosen to make over the last year. They were not easy choices sometimes. But I believe this kid had dug deep into choosing who he wants to be, which has sometimes meant stepping away from some old friends, some new friends, teammates or classmates and deciding what was more important.

I’m incredibly proud of him this past year. I tell him all the time. (And each time he rolls his eyes at me).

Finally, I wrote this as if I was talking to Mark and his peers. In retrospect I would like to add a note to each adult that touches these boys lives. And it’s this:

Popularity, privilege and being overly adored by adults and peers (including parents, teachers, coaches, mentors etc) is all too often where behaviour and thought patterns begin, that can later end in appalling behaviours (such as those by some Dalhousie Dentistry males a number of years ago.) Don’t have your head in the sand or be fooled by outwardly polite behaviour on the surface.

Remember not to equate popularity with positive behaviour.

It begins here. It begins now. And it begins not with “other kids”. But with our own.

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.

There’s a Big Difference


Dear Megan and Mark,

I love YOU so I will always happily do things for you.

But please know … I don’t always LOVE doing things for you.

Read it again. There’s a big difference.



Love, 
Mom



Last week I was driving Mark and Megan to school. Later that day they had soccer practice, piano lessons times two, a party, and a dentist appointment thrown in for good measure.

In the front seat I was going over the seemingly complicated agenda of the day. Who was picking up who from where, at what time and what they needed to have ready.

It was one of those days where there were four activities, only two of them and small windows to transition between each.

There are days when I feel overwhelmed by this, and days I feel energized and grateful. I’m lucky that most times it is the latter. I’m extremely conscious of how blessed we are to be doing all of this and how each and every activity is a choice made by us. No one forced these on us. It is what we want to do and what we choose to do. 

And although of course there are days accompanied with a big sigh and rolled eyes, because I’m human, this day wasn’t one of them.

So as we were going through the logistics of the day, Mark says to me, “And Mom you get a chance to read your book.”

Wait a minute. Excuse me. What?????? WHAT??!!!!??

Because it’s the way he says it. It is just so non-chalant.

He wasn’t being sarcastic or rude. He GENUINELY thought this was something I would love to do. 

Some “me” time. 

A little “gift” I would be receiving in the middle of the day.

A chance to read a chapter from my book while sitting in the drivers seat on a rainy day cramped behind the steering wheel waiting for him before rushing to the next thing.

It was a HUGE wake up moment for me.

And it dawned on me. He really and truly thought that I was having a blissful time as I waited in that car for him.  

Oh boy. Maybe I’m doing a little too good of job being positive in life. 

Because kid, let me tell you, given the choice, you will ALWAYS come first in my life. I love you. BUT don’t kid yourself that sitting in this car, or driving you places, or having to be somewhere at a certain time, or sitting through a band concert of newbie tuba players, is where I find my deep personal joy. I can list 82 places I do find that joy – but these aren’t any of them.

Watching you play a soccer game, or listening to you at a recital, or watching you in a theatre performance. THESE things all bring me IMMENSE joy. But all the thousand things in between that – to enable those moments to happen – well, just be aware that there in fact is a difference.

So while I love you and am happy to do things for you BECAUSE of that love – I am also a vibrant, passionate, multifaceted human being who has numerous things I’d rather be doing if you weren’t involved in this little scenario this rainy Monday evening.

So as long as we have that straight – which bears repeating:

I love YOU so I will always happily do things for you. 

But please know … I don’t always LOVE doing things for you.

As long as we are clear on that, and the difference that lies there, onward we go. 
We have a lot to do and a short time to do it. Because you are loved. So very much. 

Let’s hit the road. 

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.

Setting the Stage

Summer is here. And while it seems to have come in a late and lack luster manner, it indeed has finally arrived.

I know this because of the laughter and splashes and hollers coming from the open window where I can hear Mark, Megan, Sydney and Josh having the most carefree day in the pool. The girls are taking on the boys in a fierce game of water handball, and I beleive by the indignant (on one side) and righteous (on the other side) screams that the girls are in the lead.

And the same thing happened yesterday on Canada Day and three days before that and again two days before that.  Yes summer is here.

Little brings me more joy than this. I know I’ve shared that before, but it remains so true. Hearing these kiddos be so carefree and jubilant in an unstructured setting. This is what summer is to me. Freedom from responsibility. Spontaneity. Days filled with an easy-ness that can never be replicated once they become adults.

But it’s not really as spontaneous as it all looks is it? 

All this summer jubilation.

As a Mom, I used to be in the middle of it. Literally.  I used to have to put on life jackets and be out in the pool with them, making sure they were safe, while at the same time suggesting games and playing with them.

But not anymore.  Now I sit here completely removed from all their activity. They are growing up and they are on their own with their friends managing their days.  They breeze in and out the door, fly to the basketball nets, race to the pool, meander downstairs to play air hockey or Xbox, plod to the kitchen to raid it for snacks … and I barely make an appearance, except to answer “Yes?” on the other side of a random yell of “MOM!!!!'” 

I’m no longer centre stage. I’m no longer even pulling them into the spotlight. They are fully there, and I’m not even a supporting character like I may have been a couple years ago. I am but a prop master. 

And you would think that would make me sad.  But it doesn’t. Not in the least. Especially not on days like today.

Because the thing is, I set the stage.

I set the stage for all of this to happen for them.  Blow up pool toys. Curse the one with holes. Go to Walmart. Buy new water volleyball. Take off cover. Turn on solar. Fix trampoline net. Change batteries in Xbox remotes. Shop for snacks. Double check with Moms or Dads to confirm plans are good to go. Make brownies (on the good days). Open a bag of Oreos (on the not so good ones). Clean the kitchen. Ask Mark find lost air hockey puck.  Clean bathroom. Just close the other bathroom door. Pick up friends. Make supper. Put down extra seats in 4 runner.  Drive them to movies. Pick them up. Wait until last friends father arrives. 

No, I’m certainly not in the play anymore. But I’m so happy to still have a part behind the scenes. And while it’s a part they never truly see, I do know that they appreciate it. And I also know that someday all too soon, even that part will fade away and become something else.

So I’m sitting here, on the periphery, listening to these four amazing kiddos splash and play, and all I can think about it is how privileged I am to have played a small part in setting the stage for them to have this day. 

For that, today, I am whispering thank you.

These Women

It’s April.  Although you wouldn’t believe it as I gaze out over a good five feet of snow.  It is indeed Spring they tell me.

I always look forward to April. In my household it brings with it a brief window of calm.  Or should I say calm “er”. Everything is relative of course.

You see at our house April brings the end of the ever-harried basketball season.  That season that begins in late September and encompasses both school ball and community league ball.

Unfortunately however, with the end of the running, the practices, and the games also comes fewer opportunities to see some certain women whom I’ve come to enjoy beyond measure.  Those other moms who gather together and sit on those benches beside me for the entire season. From the first meagre practice to the last nail biting game of Provincials.

We have spent the last six months cheering on our kids together. Encouraging their skills and sportsmanship.

To others looking on at us it appears we are a bunch of mismatched moms sitting on an uncomfortable bench performing our motherly duties. Educators, public servants, librarians, full time, part time, sommeliers, stay at home moms, accountants, dentists, country bumpkins and townies.  Some perfectly coifed and put together, but most in our sweats and sneakers having raced through the door after yet another commitment.

We didn’t come into this place having any pre-established friendships, bonds or ties.  And yes we can seem like a rag tag bunch with perhaps little in common on the outside. But that’s not what I see. That’s not what I feel.

These women have become an anchor in my world.  As I enter the gym I make small talk with people coming and going, I tease the kids and holler to my own about water bottles and sneakers. But all the while I am doing this I am looking out of the corner of my eye towards the benches and the bleachers … I’m not looking out of happenstance, but with purpose … I am looking for these women.

And when I see them there is a small part of me that smiles a little bigger, walks a little faster and thinks, “There you are. I would have missed you today if you weren’t here.”

These women who have become more to me than just other moms.  Some of us have been together four and five years now.  Driving our kiddos, watching them succeed and fail, watching them learn and grow.  Together.  These women have seen the best in my kids and the worst in my kids.

And over the years basketball is becoming less and less the topic of conversation. Instead we share news about our lives, ourselves, and this bond we have about raising these little humans in this crazy world. Our time together has become a great deal about supporting each other as women, and to in turn help our young ones navigate the world of adolescence, academics and social dynamics.

We talk about what a great group of kiddos they are. Imperfect kiddos, but kind and generous and inclusive and fun. And although we sometimes have difficulty taking the compliments ourselves, we are quick to heap the accolades on each other, reminding each other these kiddos didn’t become that way overnight, but in large part because of role we play in their life as mothers.

I’ve thought a lot about what has made these women so special in my life.  This doesn’t happen for me in every circumstance. The majority of time I very much enjoy the other parents I sit with at sporting events, music events, school events. But there is not always that connection or bond. There is something special about these women.  About the way we have come together.  The way our kids have come together.

Maybe it’s the age the kids are. Maybe it’s the age we are. Maybe it’s that we all seem to have expectations for how they treat each other. For who they are in the world. Or maybe its that we are all so tired and run so ragged that we cling to the nearest person who reminds us a little of ourselves. Haha!

But I’ve decided it doesn’t matter. What matters is how lucky I am to share this part of my life with them. I would happily sit here and watch my kiddos perform underwater basket weaving. I’m a mom. That’s what I do.

But these women have made the sitting, the watching, the running, so much easier and richer with their conversation and laughter and sharing.  I have come to count on them, as I hope they have come to count on me.  I actively seek them out, and so very much enjoy their company. They have become my friends.

I will miss them immensely now that the season is over. I will miss that easy-ness that come from being with them 2-3 times a week.

But even though I will miss them I continue to whisper thank you for them and their presence in my life.  It has been so appreciated.

Plus … you know … soccer season is just a month away …. (wink).

A Broken Christmas

It’s the end of November and I’m unpacking my Christmas totes, asking myself how another year could have come and gone so quickly.  Wasn’t I just doing this? I’m pretty sure I was.  No really. I was standing in this same spot just yesterday.  Sigh.  What is it with time as we get older?

As the kids and I unwrap decorations from crumpled newspaper, Megan comes across a set of white ceramic angels.  As she unwraps them she laughs and says “Oh Mom – the angels got broken again this year.”  I look at her and smile.  Sure enough, once again the girl angel’s wings are hanging on by a thread and the end of the boys’ has come completely off.  She sets them down with care and I remind her how long we have had them, smiling.

It’s then that I look around at our Christmas decorations and realize how many of these things have been broken over the years.

There’s the Rudolph Snow Globe.  Mark loved this snow globe so much when he was younger.  It’s musical and plays – obviously – Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  This was his favourite song, bar none when he was a little boy.  I remember when he was three I showed it to him for the first time.  He was enamoured by the falling snow and the song playing in the background.  He asked me if he could pick it up himself.  “Of course you can honey.  Just be careful.”

On the inside of two minutes it went crashing to the ground.  The glass shattered and water and fake snow were everywhere.  He cried and cried.  But I told him it didn’t matter. Rudolph still sang and was still intact. And we could watch the snow fall outside as it played.

I also unpack four ceramic letters that spell the word snow.  We have always put them in our hallway, and promptly each year our dog Ginger rushes to the door to greet a holiday guest, wags her very large tail, and knocks over one, or two, or on a good day even three of those letters.  And every year we glue them back together, and laugh at her enthusiasm.

And there’s the wine glass.  My best friend has always been one of my very favourite people to shop for. I adore seeking out a perfect gift for her.  Nine years ago when I moved away from her and came back to Nova Scotia I found this stunningly decorated Christmas wine glass. I bought one for her and one for me. I sent it to her with a note to open before Christmas, saying that I had bought the exact same one and we could think of each other doing Christmassy things while drinking out of the same glass and we wouldn’t seem so far away from each other.    Off went hers safely to be opened.  While mine fell off a kitchen window sill and broke its stem completely in half.  Sigh.  But I didn’t part with it – instead I put in a small glass container and use it as a candle holder.  It really is beautiful.

Then there’s the hand-painted mug we bought when the kids were born for Santa to drink his milk out of.  It matches a cookie plate.  I looked high and low for this set and adore it.  Sadly the mug got put in the dishwasher by a well meaning guest one year and now says “Mil or anta”.  We keep saying we are going to paint the other letters back on. It never happens.  But we laugh when we open it and put it in its place of honour in the kitchen none the less.

There’s also the broken red star on top of the green ceramic Christmas tree that sits in my living room. The one my Mom gave me 10 years ago, which is the same one I grew up with in my own home when I was younger. How I loved that tree when I was a kid. Putting the lights in it each year.  And how I love having it in my living room now with my own kids as they put lights in it – broken star and all.

And of course there’s the giraffe ornament that’s missing his legs because one of the kids little trees they keep in their room fell over; the Disney ornaments that came unglued; the eye that has fallen off a Christmas stuffed animal; and the VHS tape that went hurling down the stairs with our favourite Christmas movie on it.

And finally there’s those angels. Those white ceramic angels.  We’ve had those with us the longest.  Before the kids.  Even back before we got married, when we were living together.  They were the one thing that always followed us from back then. No matter where we moved – what house or three Provinces we were living in, those angels followed us around and made their appearance from dusty boxes each year.

I remember thinking they are “us”. Me and Craig.  They are leaning over getting ready to kiss each other. I remember when they were brand new and perfect and so white.  I remember when they got their first mark on them. It was black and wouldn’t come off. At first I was devastated but then I thought “they are like us … just a little worn”.

Then one of their wings broke, and I thought that’s okay. We are still together even though we don’t look like we used to.  And then another wing broke off.  And each year we would get the angels out and each year Craig would glue them back together.  And each year I would think how they resembled us more and more – a marriage of many years with its hard knocks and ups and downs.

How naive we were. Little did we know what hard knocks were back then.  The years went by and I remember one of those years Craig forgot to fix them. And although I could have done it myself I just didn’t have the energy to.  But then another year passed and back they got glued together.

I remember even one year her head fell off.  I’m laughing hysterically as I write this but it’s true. If you look at her closely you will see where her head was glued back on.  Honestly. This makes me belly laugh with such irony and somehow such joy!  We thought we knew what rough times were. We didn’t have a clue. But we do now. Do we ever.

I look at them now and once again they need repair. They need a little TLC and time and effort. But they always have.  And most of the time … not all of the time …. but most of the time, we make sure they are taken care of.  Maybe not like they should be – maybe not like if we took them to a repair shop – but in the best way we can, and could, during the times we were dealt.

So yes – it’s another year. And we will fix those angels up again and give them the care they need. Someday we may take the time to superglue them and put more care into what they look like and clean them up a bit more. But for now, we will to put them up on the shelf and be so thankful that they are still hanging out together, roughly in piece, to remind how far we have come.  To remind us of our perseverance, fortitude and love.

I am so thankful for all the parts of my broken Christmas.  Each one holds a strong memory and teaches the four of us that things don’t have to be perfect to be treasured.  I love that we don’t surround ourselves with pretty Christmas things that can’t be touched.  I love that we still put all of these broken things out, and in my less than perfect home they fit right in.  I think they are all my most prized Christmas possessions …  and I’ll stack my broken Christmas up against someone’s pristinely decorated perfect Christmas any day of the week.

These Boys

It’s pouring rain and Mark has a soccer game in Kingston today.

It’s not one of those warm rains either. It’s bitter cold and coming down really heavy.  In sheets.  The kind where you look out the window and you can literally SEE walls of rain.

Every part of me has been hoping and begging and praying for their game to be cancelled today. Not just for their sakes but selfishly for mine as well.  Kingston is almost an hour drive away. Although I’m always happy to play chauffeur for the many teams my kiddos have been a part of over the years, driving on the 101highway westward in a rainstorm, to then stand around for an hour and a half is not appealing to my sense of selfless motherhood today.

So I wait. I wait with baited breath beside my cell phone for the call, or text, or email, for it to be cancelled.  But it doesn’t come no matter how much I will it to.

So I somewhat begrudgingly grab my raincoat, umbrella and chair and head out of my cozy warm dry house into the freezing wet cold to his Middle School.

I arrive early as always and wait for Coach Jeff to tell me how many boys I am taking and who they will be. It always varies, and can be boys I’ve known since they were five or boys I’ve never really met before.  They can be boys Marks age, or boys three years older than he is.

Today I get a combination of all the above, and we trudge to the 4-Runner to throw backpacks and soccer bags in the back and off we go to hit the road.

As I speed up the on ramp I balance the part of my head telling me to be careful of hydroplaning on the infamous stretch of two lane highway … very aware of the precious cargo I am carrying … and trying to casually listen to the conversation between these boys as they talk about the upcoming game. This may be my favourite part of being a chauffeur – after about 5 minutes in the vehicle they all seem to forget I’m a Mom and somehow I magically get to be the fly on the wall – an outsider “listening in” to a world I don’t always get to be a part of anymore due to my “uncool 42 year old status” that being a parent behooves me.

An hour later we arrive safely in the parking lot and I whisper a little thank you as these boys pile out of the vehicle – grabbing their water bottles – not realizing how bitterly cold it really is and how fast the rain is teaming down.  Or maybe they do realize and they don’t care. I think that’s it really. Because off they run clearly with a mission, as I stare after them grabbing my umbrella.  As I lean into the truck to get my chair I feel a wet river of water running down my back and I curse a little (ok a lot) under my breath – feeling my selflessness drip away with each frigid drop that makes its way onto my bare neck.

I lock the truck and begin walking to the field. I make it about 10 paces when I turn around and reopen the trunk,  grabbing my stocking hat and mittens – realizing I will, without a doubt, be needing them this afternoon and thankful I stuck them in at the last minute.

Feeling fashionless in my rain boots and hat, I quickly find my friends … other Moms doing the exact same thing for their kiddos … taking time off work to play chauffeur and cheerleader. All of us huddled together to stay warm and dry, trying not to let resentment bubble to the surface as our umbrellas turn inside out from the wind, our socks get soggy and our fingers become numb.

We watch these boys … our boys … as they run and play their hardest … giving it everything they’ve got. We yell and cheer from the sidelines rooting them on – sometimes unsure of our place between overbearing mom and biggest fan.  We grab extra ponchos and mittens and garbage bags from our cars – getting other sons to take them over to the bench – each of us resisting the real urge we all have – which is to go wrap them up in a waterproof bubble, feed them chicken soup, and admit to each other that sometimes it sucks being the mom of a preteen or teenager … having to stand on the sidelines watching them get hypothermia and letting them do their thing.

But there we are – rooting and cheering and watching from the sidelines as these boys …our boys … go into … yup …overtime.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

It’s sometimes hard not to resent this stage in the kids’ lives. There is a lot of constant running here and there with sometimes little reward.  I am very much on the periphery of their lives in many ways.  When they were younger all the work I did was more tangible … and to be honest sometimes more enjoyable.  Making crafts with them and organizing playdates.  Planning birthday parties and baking cupcakes.  I was really good at that. I loved everything about that.  But this is a different kind of beast.  And the thing is – despite the last 913 words, I usually do relish it – this new world.  I try very much relish every stage they are in – I recognize how lucky I am to have them here on this earth with me – healthy and happy.  But on these cold, rainy, cold, overtime, cold, wet, (did I mention cold?) soccer days, sometimes it’s harder to do the “relishing”.

But then …

Then …

The winning goal is scored, and the game is over.

And these boys ….

Our boys …

Make their way across the field.  Each of them looking like drowned rats.  Simultaneously smiling and shivering because they are so thrilled to have won a hard fought game and so physically exhausted and cold they think they may never get warm.

And then four of these boys – these sopping wet, stinky boys climb into my 4-Runner. In they all go. Two of whom I don’t know extremely well – just from the last month –  one whom I know like my own – and the other who ofcourse I’ve known his whole life.

There is three years between the youngest and the oldest. That’s a lot of years between boys that young.  But I sit behind the wheel and hear them talk.  They are so kind and good and supportive of each other.  They were on the drive here and they are on the drive back.  They are encouraging and thoughtful and funny.  They talk about what went right and what went wrong, they talk about how they can improve their game and who they thought did really well and why. They are far from perfect, and their humour leaves much to be desired.  But at no point is there talk of putting anyone down.  At no point do they treat each other as less-than or more-than because of age or skill or social status.  I hold no pretense that they always behave like this – that they don’t make mistakes or can be rude or petty at times.  But right now … and from what I have witnessed both on the field and off … these boys … our boys … make me so proud.

And then to top it off – without prompting or reason – out of nowhere – these boys thank me for driving. And not only does the oldest thank me but he does it in a way that recognizes I could be doing anything else with my time and that I’ve chosen to do this.  And then another chimes in, and another, and another.  In the most generous and sincere way.  How is it that one little thank you  (make that four little thank yous) completely unrequested or prompted – can make all the difference?  Life is funny that way isn’t it?

I spend the rest of the drive home listening and reflecting, as they drink their hot chocolate, text, laugh and talk. This age – these boys this age – this middle school age of 11-14 – can be so challenging.  So many physical and emotional changes. They are all trying to find their place in the world of school and sports and social realms.  Trying to find their way and sometimes not making the best decisions – which is of course part of growing up.

But I sat there behind the wheel driving – these boys. These boys who are far from perfect but who in my experience are making decisions grounded in respect and character and gratitude. And I think to myself – these boys are the boys I want to continue to raise in the world. These boys make it easy to stand in the rain for.  These boys are on their way to becoming great men in the world.

I think back to four hours ago as I was letting my resentment and selfishness come to the surface. That resentment seems pretty far away now.  Because I realize how lucky I am to be a part of these boys lives. However big (as a Mom) or however small (as a chauffeur)

And for that I am so thankful.

There’s a Corn Boil Tonight

As you may have gathered by now there are two kiddos in this world who I am proud to say share my DNA. As of a week and a half ago, neither of those kiddos are in elementary school any longer.

Doh!

How did THAT happen?

For some this is a monumentous time. A time of growing up and leaving innocence behind. A time of blazing new paths. Many mothers grieve these days as their children grow into preteens and teens – getting ready to test out new waters.

I grieve it too … I do … but my history and experience dictates a visceral need to be rooted in the present. To be thankful that we made it to this place together.

There is some sadness to them growing up – of course there is. But read that last sentence. They are growing up. What a gift that is to be celebrated in and of itself.
So my thoughts today aren’t with them per se or their new adventures. It’s with their alma mater.

Tonight their former elementary school is having their annual “Welcome Back Corn Boil” … and would you believe … even though I no longer have any children in that school … there was no engraved invitation for me this year? No red carpet? No skywriter sent? I am utterly shocked and disappointed.

I but jest.

But there is a part of me that has the tiniest twinge of envy today. And I’ve been trying to shake it and trying to identify it. And then I realized. This place – this tiny little school of … wait for it … barely 125 children … was more than just a school to me … it gave me something I have always valued in my life … the strongest sense of community.

I’m not from this area. I mean – I’m from the Valley – but not “this” part of the Valley … and in the Valley – trust me – it matters exactly where you are from.

So when we moved here nine years ago we knew no one. Literally no one. We moved when my daughter started Primary and we had a little added burden on us at the time – so getting out into the community was not only difficult, it was impossible. But we had LE Shaw Elementary School. That was our world. Home. The Hospital. And LE Shaw. If it didn’t happen at those three places we weren`t a part of it.

During those nine years we found everything we could have hoped for in a school. When you are small you can either focus on what resources you don’t have, or you can focus on what you do have and build on them. That’s perhaps what I appreciated most about that place. The school – I found – shared my worldview. They focused what they had – not what they didn’t. They took pride in what they were able to do – not got stuck in what they weren`t. And I`m saying “they” but I really mean “we”. Because I always felt a part of something there. I always felt welcome. From the moment I stepped in the doors I always knew my presence was welcome.

I’m also left thinking today about the friendships I made there. Alot of the friendships I have came from that school – from the parents – the shared experiences. And to be honest – and vulnerable – I think about whether or not those friendships will last. I know that sounds awful. Ideally what I should be saying is “of course they will”. But I am an “Optimistic Realist”. Friendships in these busy times of raising families are often based in convenience. Let’s be honest. They are. Our whole life is based in convenience. I hate that. Not a lot of people actually make much of an effort anymore if it’s not on facebook or at an extracurricular event `we happen to be at together“? It’s kind of true. I try and work hard for it not to be … but it often is.

But a sense of community is different from a sense of friendship. A sense of community is about something bigger – about a common purpose and a broader feeling. Of people coming together. People with different skills and knowledge and experiences – but all working toward the same outcome – in this case a goal so close to my heart – a positive place for our children to be raised while they weren’t under our direct care. A place where they could grow and develop and feel unique.

I am going to miss that so much. I am trying to cultivate it as we move on … I have a lot of hope this year. It is easier – more natural – in some places than others I think. But regardless, it takes work. I think it takes ALOT of work and consciousness and priority and leadership. But I’m ready to do my part. It may look different than it did. I’m not one who believes you can recreate experiences. But yes – I’m ready to do my part.

And finally, here’s the other thing about a “real” sense of community. I think that maybe it can stay with you. Because low and behold … didn’t that pretty cool Principal at a certain Elementary School call up both my kiddos and ask them to come and do childcare for the school after the corn boil tonight while Parent Orientation is happening …. and didn’t they STILL feel that sense of community.

So. It’s September 2014. There is a Corn Boil tonight … in a little tiny community … outside of a little tiny school … that gave my children, my family, and myself the most wonderful beginning. And for that … I am a little sad … for the changes … for the fact I won’t be setting up tables like last year … but I`m also whispering thank you … a hundred times over … for the beginning and the foundation it gave them in their lives.

Seaglass and Sandollars … Finding Our “Family Signature”

For as long as I can remember I have been conscious of the fact that creating a great family was not something that just happens.

I think most things in life fall on a spectrum – often dependent upon how much priority, time, effort and perseverance we put into them. We all have a ranging ability to create something great along that spectrum and I think family is no different.

It’s nice and easy to “sit back” and think that “love is enough” and is “what really matters”. Well … for me … as I’ve said before, it’s not enough. Particularly not the “sitting back” part. You see, love is a verb. And verbs require action.

The thing about actions and verbs are this – they don’t always have to be with a Capital A or V. Now I’ll be the first to admit that often times they are in my life. I’m guilty of being a “Go Big or Go Home” kind of girl … but truth be told it’s not the “big” that matters most in that sentence … it’s the “go”.

And it’s funny how we “go” about an activity on a regular basis, never really giving it much conscious thought, until one day, after literally years and years (in my case more than a decade) you sit back and you realize that you have cultivated a number of activities – of traditions – of events – that have shaped who your family is, how you interact together, and what sense of pride you have in each other as a whole.

Approximately a dozen years ago my family began, what I call, engaging in our Family Signature. I know that sounds like some dorky made up thing … and well … since I just made it up, and I AM kind of a dork, I guess that would be a fair assessment. But I don’t think it makes it any less true.

A Family Signature is I believe something that identifies you as a “whole”, and gives your family a sense of pride in being together. It is identifying in the same way a signature is, but you are identifying your entire family rather than one person.
Finding your Family’s Signature is not a difficult thing to do. Looking back I realized ours was there for years and years before I even consciously identified it as such.

For 13 years now we have gained such joy in doing something very simple – beachcombing for Seaglass and Sandollars. It is something we have done on a regular basis for literally as long as my children have been alive. We have photos of them growing up doing these activities; and our time together can be measured over the years by both of these things – little feet in the sand, growing bigger and bigger until their imprints are nearly as large as mine; years of searching for the elusive colors, the thickest piece, the perfect curve. I can mark our time together by little hands reaching down for that sand dollar – when they were so little that we used to “plant” them for them – until they got so big they became better at finding them than we are.

These activities are certainly not uniquely ours, but they are the two things that have followed us through the years – the things we have been very purposeful about making happen every single year since they were born, and I believe every year to come.
For those of you who may be still searching for a Family Signature here are a few tips and tricks to help find yours. Family Signatures often:

(1) Are A Purposeful Activity

– I don’t mean purposeful in the way of “Hey kids, we are going off to do our Family Signature activity now … get your shoes on …”. Please. My family have no idea I think of it in this way and would have no idea I coined this phrase. What they know is this: for as long as they have memory, we have been searching for Sandollars and Seaglass. They identify with it as something “we do as a family”. We do it purposefully, and it doesn’t “just happen”. We “make” it happen. They see us value it and we see them value it. Together. Consciously.

(2) Requires Little Skill; or the Skill Level of each Family Member is Equal
– Our family has a number of things we enjoy doing together … but I think the thing that makes a Family Signature different is that everyone enjoys it, and in turn has the ability to do it, equally. For instance, biking has always been a favourite family activity of ours. But my son both enjoys it much more than my daughter does, and is also more skilled at it physically than she is. We certainly don’t drag her along per se, but we all enjoy beachcombing for Seaglass and Sandollars with the same fervour and skill equally (provided I have my prescription contacts in)

(3) Allow for Anticipation and Joy
– You can never underestimate the importance of anticipation. It helps to lengthen the joy brought to the activity and therefore allows that activity to become much more than the time spent actually doing it. It becomes about the conversation and anticipation before it even happens. “I wonder what we will find at this beach? Will someone find a ring top again? Who will find the first piece? Who will find the smallest sandollar? Will there be as many as last time?” When we all know we are going beachcombing we are all waiting with baited breath to find the next treasure and love talking about it with each other.

(4) You Participate All Together & Support Each Other
– Looking for Seaglass and Sandollars is something we never do individually. We always … and I mean always … do it as a family. Some of my favourite moments together have been on those beaches when someone finds something unique and we are all genuinely excited for them. When we find a new piece we are excited to share it with each other – a new color or shape – a unique size or texture – and we rush over to show everyone.

(5) Encourages conversation
– One of the reasons I love this so much is that we are able to talk. We are walking together – and although we may not always be right next to each other there is nothing that impedes a natural conversation that happens between us. No electronic devices, no noise, no friends, no commercialism. Just us and the ocean. Our family of four. And nothing to do but walk and talk and seek.

(6) Does Not Cost Anything, or Very Little
– If I were to take a vote many people would say that our Family’s Signature would be travelling – and a big part of that is true. But I’m very conscious that travelling – even locally – is dependent upon monetary circumstances. I want our family signature to be something we can do no matter what our circumstances may be in the future, or have been in the past. Regardless if we lose our jobs or life throws us a curve ball. I never want to say “we can’t”.

(7) Is Timeless
– Our family is going to change and grow – be it physically, emotionally or literally. What if we move? What if, what if, what if? Your family’s signature should be able to change with you.

(8) Have a sense of Simple-ness and at the same time Special-ness
– It’s the “doing”, not the “size” of the doing. And it shouldn’t be something we do everyday – otherwise it becomes routine and loses that sense of being special and unique. I know our family is not the only family to go hunting for Seaglass and Sandollars. We love talking to others on the beaches who are doing the same thing that we meet over the years and sharing our finds. At the same time when my kiddos go to other peoples homes it’s not something they see around “everywhere” they go, and it’s not something “everyone” has been doing since they were born. We feel a sense of specialness about it, and I think that’s important.

(9) Offers Something Tangible
– I don’t think this is necessary. Come on … let’s be real … none of this is necessary. It’s all me talking! But I will admit I love that our family has Seaglass or Sandollars in seven different rooms in our home. I love that we all look at them throughout the year and are reminded of the times we spent together, the years we spent together. I love that we pick up pieces and say “remember when”. I love that we are taking the time to display them differently and I love that we take special care not to break them and treat them as if they matter. I think even pictures can provide this – taking photos of your family’s signature and framing them around the house. Anything that can provide a sense of memory and pride about what your family chooses to do together – just you. Which leads me to my last tip.

(10) Are Selfish
– Although we have certainly been with others beachcombing – friends and family – most of the time we are in a position that we are just the four of us. We rarely call up a friend and say “let’s go hunting for seaglass” … it is something we hold special just for us.
– Secondly, although I self identify camping or playing cards & board games as a Family Signature for us as well, the fact is that we are so very often camping or playing games “with others” – with hoards of family or friends – not just the four of us. This has gotten more so as the years have gone on. And in order for me to feel that sense of pride and that sense of belonging, I need it to be something where the four of us … and just the four of us … carve out special time together – with no other influences. Where we can engage each other in a meaningful way. Our world is so full of other people … this … this time … needs to be just us.

I can think of many families that have their own Family Signature but may not recognize it as such. I see families who travel around to all the fireworks shows in the area (I LOVE this!), families who hike to waterfalls together, families who take in local sports games together, who go fishing together in their boat and who go to their cottage together. Families who collect rocks together, or who create all kinds of art together, or who run together. I know one family who chooses a different charity each year and “give back” together throughout the year with different activities they organize.

These families may not all identify these things as their Family Signature, but I would be willing to bet if asked, they are activities that their families take pride in and are purposeful about. They are activities that have grown with their families over the years, and are activities that they “make” happen.

And I know so many of you are sitting reading this going “Karrie-Ann. For crying out loud. I barely have time to brush my own hair in the morning let alone give any thought to something called a Family Signature. Enough already.”

And I get it. I get that feeling. I live that feeling so many days. But when you break it down, this post isn’t about its title, or its tips and tricks. It’s about being conscious about making time for your family – real time. And doing so in an active way with something your family can take pride in doing together – just the core of you. It’s about not allowing ourselves to get 100% caught up in running around in different directions with sports and activities or social media or all of the other people in your world. It’s about taking a little bit of time to be purposeful with the people who matter most in your life.

So I’ll leave you with this.

What is your Family Signature? What has followed your family over the years? What can mark your family’s time together? Do you have one? I’m willing to bet you do.

And if you don’t … it’s never too late to find … no scratch that … to “make” … one happen.