Tag Archives: teens

Where My Gratitude and Optimism Fail Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until I opened my mouth.

And the following sentence came out:

“So how was it?”

Now I know. I know what you are thinking. 

It’s a pretty damn good sentence. 

Honestly. It is.

Short, unassuming, conscience and open ended.

Sure it is.

On paper.

But it’s me. Have you MET me?

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

Always.

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

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

So how was it?

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

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

Oh my. OH MY!!!

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

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

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

Wow. 

Hold on there Miss Karrie-Ann. 

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

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

Yup.

That’s me.

Blah. Blah blah blah blah

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

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

It’s me.

But the other truth is this:

It’s not fair. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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 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.