Tag Archives: Family

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.

Every Year I Forget

Every year I forget. I forget that this place has a tangible feel to it. I forget that that feeling begins at the curve in the road, about ten minutes from our destination, and that it grows from there … when I see Crescent, and then the general store and finally the sign. And even then I forget how tangible it really is until I step out of the truck and breathe in that air. That sometimes-foggy, often-cool, but always-salty sea air. Yes. I always forget. But at that moment, as I take a deep breath in, every single moment and memory seems to come rushing back to me all at once. And I remember.

I think we all have a place like this. A place that is not home, because home is of course unparalleled; but also because home brings with it laundry, and calendars, and dirty dishes, and broken porch steps, and to do lists, and responsibility.  

I think we all have a place where we breathe a little easier and become less burdened from the very moment we arrive. A place that seems to be waiting for us; and when we arrive seems to say ‘I’m so glad you are back. I’ve missed you.’

I’m lucky to have two such places. Today I’m spending the weekend at one of them.

This place has a memory to it. It has seen so many versions of myself, and they all come flooding back the moment I step on that white sand.

There’s North Rissers where Melinda and I thought we had the world by the tail as 12 year old girls, giggling and exploring while tenting with my parents. There were the beach days with Sean, my head-over-heels first love (could have that time been any more “beginning of Grease? Haha!) There’s my first girlfriend road trip in my 1980 Thunderbird with Julie, Tonya and Jennifer, setting up tents … thinking that summers would always be this easy and fun. There were summer cottages with my parents as I got older, where the door was always open; and as we came and went we always returned with seemingly half the beach on our flip flops and towels.

There was camping with Michelle and Dave in Site 28 during that time as young couples in our 20s when we only had to be responsible for ourselves. And of course there’s the place on the boardwalk where Craig pulled out the diamond I still wear on my left hand and proposed to me at sunset. 

And then came the kids, and this place became so much more. The memories of them toddling along the beach, making sandcastles until my knees hurt, grandparents around the campfire, the endless hunts for sandollars, the ice creams at the canteen and the countless friends they’ve brought with them in the trailer.  They are making their own memories now, and camping here each year has become as important to them as it has been for me. 

Yes, the minute I step on the beach all of it comes flooding back. And I realize how grateful I am to have such a place that holds so many of my memories year after year, consistently and gently. A place that wants nothing from me. No pressures or expectations. No appointments or commitments. A place I can get away to, where my head empties and my soul fills up. I’ve been coming here since I was a child, and it astounds me how I’ve never become complacent about its beauty, nor its ability to calm my senses.

Every year I forget. But then, in an instant, with that rush of air and sand on my feet, I remember. And silently with a barefooted step, I close my eyes and whisper my gratitude, for this place … this place that we always make time for, without fail, each year … this place that will forever be a part of me. 

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.

What Matters

This weekend is Mother’s Day.  Some people say it’s just another holiday made up by the greeting card companies to commercialize our feelings and to sell multitudes of flowers.

Now I happen to be a mother, so I tend to be very un-cynical about Mother’s Day with its homemade cards and focus on yours truly.  I actually adore this holiday.  I adore almost every holiday really.  I find they help me to mark moments within the year – a year that is usually moving much too fast for my liking – and make me pause and reflect on the important things.  And Mother’s Day is no different for me.

Every Mother’s Day for as long as I can remember we gather with my parents, with Craig’s parents, and sometimes my brothers family.  We travel into the city to spend the day all together with my paternal grandmother.  The only grandmother still living among us.  We gather in her common room and order Chinese food and exchange flowers and cards and gifts.  We take lots of pictures and tell lots of stories.

And it never fails.  Every year.  Every single year for as long as I can remember we make the time to do this.  Somewhere along the way we have said “this”.  This.  This is important to us, and no matter where we are or what we are doing, we always make time for “this”.  We tend to be a family of traditions in this way.  I love that about us.

But this year it’s not going to get to happen.  At least not on this weekend.  My son and I, along with my Dad I find out, have all been hit with a doozy of a bug.  The kind that lays you out for days and the type we would never want to risk taking into my 103 year old grandmother. (And no, that’s not a typo.  She’s 103.)

So I’m sitting here on the coach feeling a little sorry for myself that we don’t get to make that happen this year.  And I worry a little bit that by the time we get nine to thirteen people’s schedules back into play again, that it may not happen at all.  I’ve been sitting thinking about that a lot.  Worrying it may not happen.

But guess what?  That’s our choice.  It’s always our choice what we do with our time.  And I am bound and determined to make it happen.  I’m already counting out the days when we wont be infectious carriers of mean nasty viruses.

I guess that’s why holidays … all holidays … have never been just a commercialized event for me, and why they have always meant so much.  They mark a time when I purposefully set aside a day where nothing else gets to matter more.  Nothing else gets to matter more than this.  Than these people.  It’s a way to make sure the real moments happen with the real people who matter most.  Because sometimes in life we spend way too much time making the superficial things happen with the people who really don’t.

So although I won’t be spending this weekend surrounded by four generations of Robinson/Wilkie/Rhyno women, men, boys and girls, that’s alright.  We will make it happen.  I know we will.  Because we very purposefully set the precedent long long ago, that this is what we do.  This is what we care about.  This is what matters.

And for that, every Mothers Day, I whisper 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).

Anticipation, Preparation and the Journey

I love to travel. This is by no means a staggering admission to anyone who has ever met me, nor is it surprising as we slowly accumulate a small library of places we have been as a family over the years. And while nothing can compare to the new moments and experiences that immersing ourselves in a new place can bring, I almost equally enjoy all of the preparation that goes into the planning of these excursions.

We are sometimes different in the fact that we never choose an all inclusive option for travel and never go through a travel agent, so planning our vacations can be a full time job, which I know can seem daunting and overwhelming to some. But I must say, it’s this part of journey that I really do relish. I think the real joy in life is appreciating every moment of it, even the commonplace ordinary things like preparation. So while I hope an upcoming 19 days on the road will be amazing, the 60 days prior to that have been pretty damn amazing themselves as we dream of what is to come. It’s like that saying “Life isn’t about the destination but the journey that gets us there”.

And when I say I love everything about preparing to travel, I do mean everything. The anticipation is always palpable in my house as we talk about the places we will see and the things we will do. We make our endless lists. They begin with the big picture things. Where will we go this year, how will we narrow it down, how long will we plan to be gone, what are the new experiences we can have there (because if we can’t come home with new life experiences, it’s not a place worth going for us). Then we wittle our way down to the specifics and the logistics. What needs to be packed, hotels we have booked, tickets we have purchased, and all the freebies we have found to do there (this is one of my favourite parts). Lists after lists accumulate. And they are no longer made just by me, my children are very well showing up their mother now with their organizational travel and planning skills. Lists on electronic devices, on loose leaf , on post its. They are everywhere.

And I love the really small things too. The seemingly mundane things about getting ready to go on a trip. I love picking out the right books and magazines to read. I do. I love this. Not too thick. There won’t be time to read all of that. Certainly not hardcover. Too heavy. Sigh …. I guess that Jim Henson biography I’m in the middle of will have to stay home. So it’s down to the basement I go. I take a look at bookshelves to see what’s there. It never disappoints. I pick up an Anne Tyler called “Back When We Were Grown Ups” that I bought at Value Village, many a moon ago. Who can resist that title? It’s perfect. Into my carry on it goes.

It’s become ritualistic really … this packing and preparing and anticipating travel. Pouring liquids into tiny bottles, gathering all the chargers, creating folders full of our tickets and plans, the kids getting their backpacks ready, filling them with all the important things they have come to rely on when on the road. I see their passion for it, I see them owning it, these little pieces that are all a part of the experience.

There’s even anticipation as we go to the grocery store and pick out the snacks we will take on the plane. It sounds so silly doesn’t it? But it’s these things that are all part of it for us. Which flavour sucker do they want so their ears will pop easier on the plane? What snacks won’t melt in their bags and have some good protein? Heaven knows we aren’t buying a meal on the plane. We may travel a lot, but we do it cheaply and on our terms, saving our money for experiences and not things.

My kids have come to count on these traditions. They have come to appreciate them. These small rituals. And so have I. I love that. It extends the joy. It makes us appreciate the small things. And all this work we put into it makes it so much sweeter on the other end.

Our dining room table is full of these lists and items to pack at the last minute. The two weeks before a trip we can never eat in there and are always relegated to the kitchen for suppers. The dining room has always been trip central, and stays that way until the day we leave.

And boy do I love the feel as the day of departure gets closer. It does have a feel. It’s indescribable but it’s there. And the morning we leave … because we always seem to leave in the dark of the morning (can’t be burning daylight, right Dad?) … the morning we leave almost feels sacred. As the four of us embark on new adventure. The excitement in my kids eyes is irreplaceable.

We have been fortunate enough to have taken 13 family trips together. Each one has a different feel … but they all have one thing in common … joy and anticipation.

Some would add up the money we have spent over the years and think what a waste that was … how we have nothing to “show” for it. But I would argue that the most important things in life can never be seen … you can never “show” the most important things. And when I die, I will never look back saying boy I wish I had bought that “xyz” instead of the truly countless adventures we have had as a family together on our travels.

Soon we will be on the road again. And I can’t wait. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But I also wouldn’t trade the months leading up to it and all the work that has gone into it. Some may see a dining room full of suitcases and a table full of papers and research. I don’t. It’s all part of the journey … all part of the joy … all part of who we are as a family and one of many common bonds that holds us together.

It’s something I whisper thank you for all the time.

‘Busy’ is Not an Emotion.

Over the last few years, and most especially the last few months, I have taken notice of something that has become very interesting to me.

I can’t tell you how many times I meet a colleague, a friend, an acquaintance or even a stranger, and I will ask “How are you?”

And more often than not their answer is … you guessed it … “I’m so Busy”.

In this crazy world we live in that hardly comes as a surprise does it?  We are all running in five different directions wishing for extra hours in the day, extra days in the week, and extra months in the year (especially ‘this’ time of the year).

I get it.  I really do.  I’m busy too.

But here’s the thing.

“Busy” is not an emotion.

You see … the question I asked was, “How are YOU?”

And let me be clear.  When I’m asking how you are I am not asking how many basketball, curling or hockey games your kid had today.  I am not asking how many deadlines you have at work this week or how many volunteer commitments you have on your plate this month.  I’m not asking about your list of things to do, nor am I asking about how many miles you have driven in the past 48 hours.

I am asking about YOU.  About how YOU are.  As a person.

I know many of these things certainly impact on how you are feeling … about where you are emotionally … but they are not YOU.  These things on your checklist and on your fridge calendar and on your blackberry … they are not you … they are not how you are … and they are certainly not emotions.

Maybe you are overwhelmed.  Perhaps you are at your wits end.  Perhaps you are ready to cry you are feeling so buried by everything.  Or maybe you are thrilled with how busy your life is.  Maybe you are fulfilled and overflowing with gratefulness about how many rich and rewarding experiences you are participating in right now in your life.

Either way … THAT’S what I want to know.  Say that.  Own that.  But don’t say you’re busy.  Busy is not an emotion.

Busy is the easy way out.  And somehow it has become what we, so called good parents and good citizens of the world, are ‘supposed’ to say.  If we are busy, well then our life must be very important and fulfilling.  If we are by contrast not busy, how can we possibly be leading a rewarding life?  If our kids are not doing six difference activities how can they possibly be growing into amazing young people?  (She writes with heavy sarcasm).

But that’s not what this post is about.  Right now in my life our family happens to be in fact very busy.  We have two kiddos in middle school who want to be part of every opportunity going, we are two working parents and we have pretty robust social lives with friends and extended family.

But “busy” is not how I choose to define myself.  “Busy” is not who I am.  And it’s certainly not a status symbol of any kind in my life.  I admittedly look forward to March when I am less busy … but this is the life we, as a family, have chosen for the months of September to March.  I try and recognize my “busy” for what it is … and I try not to complain about it nor do I wear it as a badge of honour or glorify the fact that my life right now may happen to be busy.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that words matter.

I know we don’t always express ourselves as well as we could.  I can’t tell you how many times I wish that I had the perfect words for a grieving friend or an awkward situation or the perfect answer for a difficult situation.

Our words can’t and shouldn’t be perfect.  But maybe we can be more thoughtful about them sometimes.  Because they are how we portray ourselves in the world.

So the next time someone asks you how you are … remember what the question is … that maybe they really do want to know about YOU and how you are feeling … not about your to-do list.

And then if you still want to say busy, then by all means, shout it from the rooftops … but at least be thoughtful about it and don’t use it as a crutch, a glorification, a go-to, an excuse …. or an emotion.

Because it’s not.

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.