Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Simple Easter

I've seen many attention-grabbing parenting articles aimed at frantic 'do-it-all' moms about letting ourselves off the hook. Minimizing, de-cluttering, and pared-down holidays, you know which ones I mean. And I applaud the movement towards simplifying. Homes, calendars, holidays. Simplifying makes priorities more appear clear, and easy to recognize. As a parent, it is easy to confuse nostalgia and traditions with a self-imposed pressure to 'make memories.' I have found myself running to the store minutes before it closes the Saturday of Easter long weekend to get eggs for the egg hunt because the kids were counting on it, and wondering why am I doing this? I don't want that to be the way we do holidays.

April and her new baby. Miraculous!

This year, I was pretty chilled out about Easter. I gave some real thought to what it means to me, having had a complicated relationship with it for awhile. I considered what it means to my girls, and what I want to foster in them. In years past, we have emphasized the new life aspect of the holiday, by celebrating baby animals, returning geese, planting seeds and the symbolism of eggs. This weekend, we gathered around my laptop to watch April the Giraffe (finally!) give birth to her calf, live. The girls and I were moved by her innate knowledge of how to give birth and nurture her new baby without once reading an article on simplifying her pregnancy. We talked about their births, about the circle of life, about what new life looks like in the natural world. We watered our newly-planted seeds for our vegetable garden, we painted eggs, and we went to church together.

Homemade whole wheat cinnamon buns

We came home for an egg hunt their daddy set up. It's not a popular choice, but our family doesn't believe in an Easter bunny. The girls thoroughly enjoy egg hunts and Easter decor, stories of the Easter bunny and church dresses, but I didn't feel good about telling them a mythical rabbit came into our house with chocolate, without much of a spiritual association to the belief. It felt like a stretch, like an extra hoop for me to jump thorough, so I took that pressure off and asked my mom to get chocolate eggs when I forgot and ran out of time. This weekend, we gathered with our family and spent a lot of time outside enjoying new Spring weather. We hosted one of my favourite Easter dinners to date. All the guests brought dish to share, so my job was to prepare the ham and yam and peas. The girls helped set the table with our wedding china and the newly-literate twins wrote out place tags. 

Holidays are inherently busy, with dinners to attend and activities in which to participate. This Easter, the girls are a bit older, which decreases the insane chaos level, but a deliberate intention to keep things simple really made me enjoy this long weekend. The food was delicious, the mornings were slow, the time outside was unhurried and we still managed to make it special with treats, a few traditions, and a decision to pare down to what's important to us. Simplifying may be the phrase du jour, but applying it has helped me enjoy our holidays and weekends together, instead of organizing time and holding up high standards. I mean, my enjoyment matters too. It is sometimes hard to remember that.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Slow and Simple

It takes a measure of confidence and courage to do things differently than others. In parenting, very little makes me feel confident and courageous; we're all learning on the fly. Mistakes are made. When I see other families choosing to set their priorities in similar ways to each other, and we choose something different, I wonder if we're missing an obvious truth. I haven't always been the quickest to pick up on social cues and trends, so it makes total sense when I miss milestones like teaching my kids to tie their shoes or ride bikes at appropriate ages.

Eating well, keeping it simple.
As social beings, I think it must be natural to look to our left, look to our right, and then try to gauge where we fit in. As parents, this starts in mommy-and-me playgroups, asking other parents if their blob baby is sitting yet, cruising yet, eating peanut butter/yet/at all/ever. We want to know if we're keeping up, doing okay, missing anything. As kids get older, though, we get to/have to decide how we're really going to do this. We can choose emulating our own parents, doing what a book says, sampling a whole bunch of things to try out, reacting without much thought (life is busy, right?), or wishing ages and stages away until it gets "easier."

I admit, for the most part I enjoy doing things differently, and always have. This applies to art, dress, parenting, travelling, working, you name it. I find my own weird-sounding drum and beat it. I am susceptible to the what-ifs, the should Is, and the same confusion that accompanies most parents on their journey towards ... what are we working towards again? I lose sight of this frequently in the trenches. I wonder, sometimes, if I am doing a disservice by not teaching my girls about computers and devices when we are living in a world where every profession and relationship relies on effective use of technology and tech-relate communication. 

We don't do a lot of activities, we have only one working parent, we don't travel far, we don't renovate our house, we don't wear new clothes, we don't go to all the things or buy all the stuff. We know the answer to the question, "if we could, would we?" We started our family in the Yukon. There, we had more money, but less things to pay for. We spent a lot of time outside. We shaped a family life around hikes, road trips, hibernating in winter and exploring in the summer. We saw lots of other families did things this way, slow and simple, and we liked it. 

Here in suburban Ottawa, we don't see as many of those same attitudes mirrored in families around us. Toddlers go in strollers to get places. Many of the mamas I see dress really nicely and have cool boots. Weekends are filled with here and there and everywhere activities. Their kids seem to be really good at keeping busy with cell phone games while their parents manage to get errands done at efficient speeds. I see these things working well for them, and I wonder, are we missing something? 

A nice to spot to write and mind Summer this afternoon.

One daughter's teacher told me recently when all the kids go outside for recess, my girl bolts out the door and gathers friends for a game of dinosaur extinction, pet store or zoo. She sees kids who are weary to join in, and she shows them the way. No mean girl stuff, no boyfriends and girlfriends, just inclusive, creative play. "She has one of the best imaginations," her teacher said. I soared in joy. If I can collect these small feats every now and then, and remind myself that different doesn't equate better or worse, I may create confidence yet. Confidence in doing things our way, whatever that means on any given day or year. Confidence, I hope, in four girls who may not have the latest and greatest in things and experiences, but who will have seen what it is to listen to the still small voice within and heed its call. 

"When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy." -Rumi

Sunday, March 26, 2017

We are artists

A collaborative poem, each line written by a different sister, on a gray afternoon following tea time.


There once was a girl named Abby,
She went into the bathroom and farted.
Everyone smelled it,
They started smiling
And turned into weirdos.

Then they peed on the floor,
And fainted again.
They laughed,
At the pee on the floor
All day long.


And this gem was written entirely by Summer:

Once there was a boy named Daddy
Who tooted at everybody
And ate cotton candy.

Then Hailey and Robin begged me to upload the video of them I shot yesterday. In it, they play two cats who are dance fighting:

These are my life's moments. Added together, they make for very peculiar days that leave me completely unsure which way is up and which is down. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Canadian winters

I am taken aback each year by the persistence I am required to muster in order to get through winter's end. Snow was picturesque and magical in December, and a welcome backdrop to Winterlude and tobogganing in January and February, but by March, the snow serves little purpose but to test my resolve. It taunts my efforts to be a better version of myself. Mid-March snowstorms make me want to give up on everything because why bother trying to be a better mother/friend/wife when the season that is supposed to end this weekend is clearly overstaying its welcome? Dramatic, tragic, lights down and end scene.

We've done forts, comfort food, snow hikes, sledding, skating, movie days, snow picnics, fort-building, and good Lord if I have to actually shovel again, I may perish. I am tapped out of any enthusiasm for winter. Still, it is here. We made the most of it over March Break by getting outside and playing in fresh powder, (me with a painted-on mom smile, because hey, fake it till you make it). I don't want my disdain for this long Canadian winter to become contagious to the kids. So, it's another round of "Hey, let's go for a snow walk guys, it'll be so fun, especially if we bring snacks!"

Chicken pot pie because extended winter means more comfort food.
Oh goody, kids! Another snow storm overnight! 
I take some solace in knowing my fellow countrymen (and women, ah thank you) are facing the same struggle to muster up merriment as winter carries on and on. I remember there were eight-month winters in the Yukon, when snow receded slowly on my front lawn well into May. I give myself a little chuckle at the Canadian-ness of a long winter, how we unite in our disdain for it, but still rally on the hope of a sunny spring day around the corner. At the coffee shop today, I observed a mom-looking lady wearing a goose down parka, scarf around her face, those Ugg boots, and capri pants that exposed her mid-calves, as though she desperately wanted spring badly, just like me, so she chose to expose the least cold-sensitive part of her body to the whipping winds outside. 

I'm sorry for wasting your time and mine with this foray into musings on why long winters really blow. Honestly, this was my plan B tonight after wasting 30 minutes watching the beginning of 50 Shades Darker and abandoning that because I couldn't fathom the classic abusive boyfriend syndrome she was clearly walking into. So, if I can find a silver lining to this post, it's that I may save someone else 30 minutes to 2 hours of not watching that movie because now you know. And hey, this Spring and surely this Summer will be made all the more sweet by enduring this soul-testing drudgery. It will all turn out in the end. The light is made brighter by our time in the dark. Oooh look! I arrived at the movie's conclusion without watching till the end!

Please, Spring, do come soon.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Growing Up

Last night when I tucked the girls into bed, I went to Abby's room last. I usually do. She's the oldest, so she can stay up the latest, maybe listen to her clock radio and read while I put the others to bed. Last night, she was sulking, and I could see something was on her mind. When I asked her, she gave me answers like, "I don't know," "Nothing's wrong," and silence. I began to rub her back while my words massaged her walls. I told her I was there to help. I reminded her it feels better to put feelings to words and talk. I promised her that no matter what, I would listen first and work through it with her. Still nothing. I sat in the quiet with her, rubbing her back, under her twinkle lights. I asked her if she wanted to breathe with me. She started to cry.

She was thinking about something mean a kid at school had said to her. From there, the tears came fast and heavy as she thought about what a rotten sister she must be to get so many reminders to be kind to them. Things began to snowball and I could see that she was in a very upsetting place where she was stuck in a loop, reviewing all the instances that had caused her to feel bad in the last few days.

I wiped her tears. She pulled me in for a hug. I helped her name each feeling, put each upsetting thought in a bubble and we blew them away. I told her the kid at school may have been trying to hurt her feelings, but she doesn't need to let him. They are her feelings, not his. I told her she is a wonderful sister, and recounted examples of times she has put them first and shown them kindness. I told her all big sisters are bossy and sometimes mean. It's more important that she keeps trying to do what's right. I don't want a kid who never makes mistakes, I told her. It's in the mistakes that learning happens. And what are kids doing as they grow, every day, but learning?

She smiled, we cuddled and when she went to bed, I could feel she was lighter. I turned off her twinkle lights, walked downstairs to tidy up, and felt grateful that I knew how to handle that one. Abby is eight years old, and I feel equipped to handle eight. I know her the best of anyone in the world.

It won't always be this way. She will grow into a teenager. She will start to exist apart from me, first in subtle ways. Maybe she'll keep a journal. Or sneak out sometimes. Or change clothes at school, into something I wouldn't think is appropriate. Or maybe more. Maybe she'll face situations I haven't prepared her for, and she'll make a bad choice. Maybe she'll close me out. Maybe she'll be a victim and I won't be able to fix it. Or maybe she'll always be my little girl and let me guide her until she is an adult and we skip into the sunset together.

The thing is, I can handle eight years old. I know my job is to help her develop coping strategies and tools to figure things out for herself. But 13 years old feels like it is coming so fast. And Grade 8 girls can be the worst. I see this little girl, my oldest girl, sleeping soundly in her pink heart bed under the twinkle light reading canopy I made her, wearing her unicorn pyjamas and I can't imagine her facing some of the things Grade 8 girls face today. I can't imagine her dealing with things I dealt with back then.

It's a scary deal sometimes, parenthood. I exhaust myself trying to be a good role model, create a comfortable home, fostering a strong family bond and setting them up for a world that is always changing the rules. Part of the deal is doing all of this and knowing that I will have to watch them do it themselves, learn the hard way sometimes, make big time bonehead decisions and maybe even choose to shut me out. I am conscious of that tonight, after watching a documentary about online bullying and high school-aged sexual assault cases and teen suicides. Scary, heavy stuff. It's out there, it's been out there, and my little girls are asleep upstairs and it is so hard to reconcile those two realities as co-existent.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Turning Five

This weekend is extended with the provincial Family Day holiday tomorrow, so we're still going strong in party mode. This weekend, we celebrated birthdays for Rich, Hailey and Robin. Am I ready for the weekend to be over? Well, yes, but I'll take an extra day to hang with my fave girlies. Tomorrow looks to be a beautiful weather day with nothing on the go. I like those days, empty canvas days.

To recap, we opted for as simple-as-wecan home parties. Rich had friends over for a super fun board game night playing, Over the Line, and we ate a lot of cheese, chasing it down with wine and giggles.  We had family over to eat a very fancy menu of Kraft Diner and hot dogs wrapped in pillsbury crescent rolls, as requested by the little birthday ladies. 

The next day, a few of their kindergarten friends came to celebrate with more KD, cupcakes, cheetos and dancing. It made Rich and I so happy to see them interact with some of their school friends, because for the most part they are a unit unto themselves. For the first month or two of school, they only played with each other. The girls who came this weekend were giggly, silly, and very thoughtful in the gifts they brought. All made adorable handmade cars, too. My favourite!

We marked Hailey and Robin's heights on their doorframe, let them choose the music, went with a Curious George party motif, let them wear whatever they chose (party dresses, naturally), prepared special birthday pancakes, and generally made them bosses for a day. I love, most of all, the looks they get on their faces as their friends and family sing the birthday song. They are lit up by candle glow, shy smiles spreading out, pushing against shyness with a dominating joy that cannot be contained. They smile and then get right to the business of making wishes and blowing out the candles. Five, this year. Five, already!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Snow is Falling

A lot of snow fell this week. There are snowbanks as tall as my shoulders lining the path from our front door to the driveway. The roadways have all narrowed from the gargantuan piles of snow that are so heavy and full they cannot support their own weight and so they spill over, like bread dough rising over the bowl's edge. We have spent entire days avoiding our vehicles, because it would mean clearing them off, or shovelling midway through a blizzard when we knew more snow would just keep falling anyway. So, we hibernated, or travelled by foot. Pioneer style. (And let our imaginations run wild.)

Much hot chocolate has been consumed, although in our house that means Ovaltine, because these kids have a hippy mama of British descent who insists that even the hot chocolate be healthy and nutritious. We have eaten so much comfort food, soups and breads and muffins and cheese! I resolved to run more to balance things out, but then I see sidewalks with snow knee-high and open another bag of crackers to eat with more cheese instead. 

Ebbs and flows, everything is cyclical and comes with a season. This can be my annual accumulation of extra chub before warm weather running kicks in again. The days are longer and we are seeing the sun again, after long last. If I look to the blue sky and see birds flying overhead, I fantasize about my garden plans, summer adventures, mornings spent at the river in the woods. Then I look down and am forced to consider how long it will take a shoulder-height snowbank to melt.

We don't have the means to be taking warm-wether vacations to escape this relentless, long season, but we do have birthdays. This week, days after Valentine's Day, we begin celebrating Rich's birthday, and then our miracle girls, Hailey and Robin. They turn five this year and are so excited to invite friends over from school. I have been having a hard time seeing them grow older, and not just due to my sentimental mama heart. I see them growing into such fascinating little ladies. They are growing so close together as identical twin sisters that I kind of feel left out. They adore each other. I see what a bond sisterhood is between my four girls, but what Hailey and Robin share is a closeness that rivals my marriage relationship. It is sacred and special. 

So we are decorating, making cards, baking cakes and cupcakes, playing in the snow until our suits are soaked, going to bed with full bellies and satisfied smiles, celebrating each other. And life!

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