Tag Archives: parenting

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.

Pass the Duct Tape Please

I was wasting time on Pinterest this week and read the following quote:

“Kid, You’ll Move Mountains!”

It doesn’t look particularly striking, stuck here in Times New Roman font in the middle of a random sentence really does it? I guess it looked better on Pinterest. Everything looks better on Pinterest.

But regardless, it really hit me. It’s the end of the school year and I’m watching all of these extraordinary kiddos put another year behind them. Some dressing up for proms and semi-formals, getting report cards and graduating from all different levels of schools – elementary through to college. They are growing up so fast.

I’m reading these four little words and I’m thinking to myself, ‘I wish I could duct tape this quote to every kiddo in my life and sign it “Love Karrie-Ann”.

I can’t wait to see what they all will become in life. Where they will go. How they will change the world. What their passion with be. I can see glimpses of that now in so many of them. But will they follow it? Will they find the courage? What will that ‘x’ factor be that encourages them to keep pursuing their dreams? What will that ‘y’ factor be that holds them back? What, and who, will influence them, make them more confident, be more resilient? What will help them move those mountains? One thing is for sure … it won’t be one big thing … it will be a lot of little things.

It’s so easy to wonder these things about our ‘own’ kiddos isn’t it? I think mothers spend 92% of their time pondering these questions and searching for the answers for their families.

And it’s so natural to say this phrase to our ‘own’ children isn’t it? Personally I’m pretty sure I have not only duct-taped this saying to Megan and Mark, but have done so in such a fashion that there is no white-space left for them to peek their little eyes out thru. “KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!!” “Ya ya Mom. We know, we know. Enough with the mountain thing already. You believe in us – we got it. Pass the potatoes please.”

But I sit and wonder this morning how good of a job I am doing at conveying this to other kiddos in my life? Other kiddos who I care so much for and who are going to do remarkable things in this world. I want THEM to know how much I see in them, how much I believe in them. I want to be part of that ‘x’ factor in THEIR lives … because I think to make it in this life it takes so many more people to believe in us than the people who share our DNA … so many more than the people who are “supposed to”… whose job it is.

I don’t necessarily think we do this very well in western society – be supportive in both a vocal and purposeful way with other people’s children. Particularly in situations where it is not “required”. If we are in a profession or volunteer opportunity, such as a teacher or a coach, where it is expected of us – and that affords us that direct opportunity as part of our “work” – then yes, I would argue we often are.

But most of us are not in those situations. Most of us are trudging along through life doing the best we can to take care of our own. It is of course human nature. Instinct. And sometimes it’s all we can give just to do that. Take care of our own. Life is, after all, exhausting as a parent!

But you know what? It doesn’t take much. It doesn’t have to take much to go outside our own family circle. And I want to put that into practice more. Because I think it’s the little things that count – the seemingly little things in life that are the ‘x’ factors. And also – the things that happen now. Now as they are in elementary school. As they are in middle school. As they are in high school. This is the foundation. The small kindnesses that we are both purposeful and vocal about. – showing them – telling them – they have incredible gifts, characteristics and talent that are so uniquely “them”.

“Kid, You’ll Move Mountains!”

Because I tell you … I can’t wait to see if they will! I can’t wait to see if Ricky becomes a successful entrepreneur opening up his own custom repair shop. Or if Jane becomes a chef running her own restaurant. Or if George becomes a film producer. I can SEE it in them all plain as day. Their dreams, their potential. Even though it’s not well defined yet, it’s sitting there – right at the surface. Waiting.

I hope some small acts I’ve done in the past – and some acts I will make sure I do in the future – can be some small drop in that incredible swell of a river their parents and caregivers have created to help them sail along to their dreams. A hug, a kind word, time spent purposefully together, a home they feel comfortable coming to, an inside joke, a card I’ve written for them, an invitation to do something unexpected and fun, a surprise token to show I’m thinking of them. I hope these things have and will make a difference. I know my kiddos have been lucky enough to have a couple of key people in their lives who have made a difference for them. People who have specifically taken an interest in what they have accomplished, or what they are passionate about. Who have gone out of their way to ask them about their life in a meaningful way and engage them in a way that says “you matter”.

Do they all see it’s not just their parents or blood relatives or teachers or coaches who believe in them? That there are in fact dozens of people rooting for them and their dreams?

I hope so.

I hope I can be a drop in that water – in that swell their parents have spent so much time creating. I want to work harder to be – with real and thoughtful actions – however small they may seem.

But for now – for this morning – I have some other work to do.

Time to line them all up. And pass the duct tape please.