Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Maui, for 10 years of marriage

A few years ago, we talked about doing something big, monumental, to celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary. We let our imaginations run wild as we brainstormed: Historical tours in France and Germany! Hiking through Spain! Tea in England! When Rich's concussion looked like it was going to be long-lasting, we had to adjust course a little bit. We chose a week on Maui in Hawaii, to relax, run away, and the option to get out and do some adventuring, if he felt up to it. It sometimes seems like our whole lives are on hold as we wait for him to feel better, like all our plans revolve around his symptoms. You know what? Forced relaxation did us both heaps of good.


Plans were set in place years in advance: We started saving, and asking our parents to step in and babysit while we were away. We knew we wouldn't be able to enjoy ourselves unless the girls were in good, loving hands. It was so nice to have this trip to anticipate; the build up and excitement made it so special. We are now home from our escape away, and though these pictures and words will not do Maui justice, please believe me when I say that island is as close to paradise I've ever seen.


I loved how the island's whole vibe entered around nature: beaches, soaring green mountains, sunsets and sunrise rituals, trade winds and warm, sunny weather year-round. We spent our week doing exactly what we wanted to do, and our favourite memories came from activities that didn't cost a thing. We hiked up Waihe'e ridge one day, a four-mile hike that climbed 1500 feet into the clouds! It was tough at times, but the views of waterfalls, lush green forest and plants were like a scene from a movie. We hiked another day to Twin Falls, through flash-flooded trails and into ice-cold fresh water, but we were proud and thrilled to go beyond the safe/easy hikes to see extraordinary scenery. 


Each day I saw the sun rise and set, and we hardly ever were aware of the time. We put our phones away, and took great delight in asking the question, "So, what should we do today?" Some days we stayed close to our home base and lounged by the pool or beach for an entire day, reading, napping, drinking chocolate milkshakes, whatever we chose! We saw a lot of retired couples, or honeymoon couples, but noticed most of the people our age brought their kids. Our girls would have loved it there, and maybe if we'e lucky we'll all go there as a family one day. Doing something on our own, just us two, felt oddly against the grain, and extra indulgent.



I felt a thirst to learn as much as I could about Maui: the language, the trees names, the local wildlife (there are no snakes, how great is that?), the types of birds and the layout of the island. Our best learning experience was getting up close with a 75-year-old gigantic sea turtle while we were snorkelling on our own, one morning. We hovered in the water, watching him nibble at the coral, and when he surfaced for air, he ascended right in front of us, nonplussed by our presence. In fact, I think he even waved a fin at me, high-five style. Dude. 


We bought new sunscreen after learning that regular sunblock has been damaging the coral reefs over time. We could see evidence of bleached and dead coral when we snorkelled, and the array of colourful fish dependent on the reef for their habitat became hopeful beacons for a healthier reef in the future. I was so impressed by the efforts made to reduce environmental impacts all over Maui: the hotel recycled drain water to water the grounds, the island has wind turbines and solar panels everywhere for alternate energy, plastic shopping bags are outlawed, there were signs explaining responsible hiking practices to reduce harm, and there was a strong emphasis on eating locally-produced food as opposed to food shipped over from the mainland. 


We ate so well. I tried mahi mahi and loved it, we ate local pork and had pineapple with nearly every meal. We found cute surf shack burger joints, highway pie restaurants, and outdoor cafes tucked away from busier areas. We happily embraced the state's latest food trend: smoothie bowls. After climbing the mountain, we gorged on bowls filled with macadamia nut milk, blueberries, kale, protein powder, almond butter, bananas, berries and granola, doubtful it would satiate our ravenous appetites, but we were full for hours.


We were so in tune with each other. It was such a gift to know that magic is still there. Our ability to know and read each other better than anyone else reinforced how lucky we are to be married. We also took stock of how hard it is to be married. It is hard to have someone hold a mirror to all your weaknesses and faults, requiring you to be better, to try harder. That is also the gift, though, how much we have learned about the ways we can love each other, and love the other people in our lives, to the best of our abilities. I have learned to coast through lots of areas in my life with minimal effort, but marriage can never be one of them. I have definitely found you get out of it what you put in. There is so, so much more to learn, and that is encouragement enough as we celebrate our first 10 years and move onto the next. We're better together. 


Monday, October 30, 2017

Time capsule

Ferris Bueller was right: Life can move pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it. I haven't sat to write here in awhile because life does move fast. And sometimes slow. My days and hours and minutes are all used up with demands, responsibilities, work, mothering, marriage-ing, eating and sleeping, so sometimes recreational writing takes a hit. But I want to remember these days. I want this time capsule to keep filling with memories and moments that, I know, will amount to some of the best years of my life; The years with young girls who still think I am the moon and the stars.



Each Friday afternoon, an hour and a half before the school day ends, I pick up one girl and we go on a little adventure. Nothing too grand or costly, just something memorable, wherein we have a chance to talk and be together, just us two. Abby's first kindergarten teacher told me she did this with her kids and I'm so glad I remembered it. I hear what is on their mind during unhurried conversations, no competition from other voices. I see their faces and really stop to look at them in these freeze frame moments, feeling what it is to be grateful for them just as they are. These Friday afternoons are such a blessing.


I am writing. I come home from dropping the girls off at school, make a cup of tea and get to work. I research and write and review and submit and try to keep up with the steady influx of paid work. It feels very fulfilling and my mornings go by so quickly. I eat lunch with my boyfriend, I mean husband, and then I either return to my work, cross house fix-it/maintenance stuff off my list, get dinner started, or run errands. Then it's back to school to get the girls, come home for tea and funny poems, dinner, bath, bed, make lunches, yoga or work a shift at my part-time job and collapse happily exhausted.


I am remembering where my motherhood journey started, way up North. Up there, I saw some pretty severe parental neglect, some really cool hippy families living off the land, some slower-paced lifestyles and some stark tragedies that taught me the value of time with family. Amidst those memories, it seems silly for me to be worrying today about whether I am doing enough, being enough, raising good enough daughters and achieving good enough personal accomplishments. I am. Security, comfort, love, and nurturing are enough. Everything beyond that is gravy. Nearly nine years in and it serves me very well to remember what my motherhood is truly about.


Our seasonal changes have taken shape as leaves pile, harvested good sit in the pantry, the furnace is turned on and the baking increases. The baking, oh it is key. The sourdough and muffins and biscuits and cookies. Our days may be structured differently with the girls in school, Rich home recovering and me working, but the baking keeps us all fed with my own take on soul food. Leave the oven door open a bit to warm the kitchen, and let the smell of fresh baked sourdough fill the house better than any fall scented candle.



Monday, October 2, 2017

Autumn Convinces Me

I play this game where I imagine packing up and moving my family somewhere completely different, to start fresh, better our lives in one way or another. You play it too, I'm sure. Sometimes it's Vancouver Island, where we become a surfer family vibing fireside with guitars, sometimes it's a Nova Scotia homestead where we live off our own produce and raised meats. It's usually a coastal locale, where our lives are tied to tides and briny air, but sometimes my imagination is taken hold by international adventures, too. This game takes on a fervent urgency in the late months of spring when I feel I live in the most wet, cold, dreary climate conceivable. 

A bouquet garni to season to ketchup as it simmers
Summer is my hands-down clear favourite, where I soak up everything my city and backyard have to offer, venturing on day trips to beaches and trails, or road trip to the coast for ocean adventures. My decision to pack up and move is back-benched in light of this renewed vigour, courtesy of the sun. Autumn is a special time, though, and I don't think I could ever live anywhere without an autumn. I hear geese honking before I see their V-shaped flock fly overhead and am, for a moment, tempted to flee to southern climates alongside them, knowing the long, cold winter will arrive and stay. But the bounty of harvest time (my own and the farmers), the return to routine after a cacophony of summer melee, the foliage colour changes and waning daylight hours lend themselves to an air of change that, to me, is important.

We harvested about 40 pounds of tomatoes this year, and counting
I am in the kitchen a lot more, feeling pulled to harvest the tomatoes before they are unusable, bringing in the herbs to preserve for colder days. I am cooking things for later: this week, this month or the long winter ahead, stirring and chopping with the kitchen windows open as long as possible. It isn't often I find myself with free time between new work projects, fall house cleaning/putting away, making our own daily meals and being with the girls, but when I do, I am at the counter. There are sweet potatoes to puree and make into biscuits, soups to simmer, cool and freeze for later, zucchini bread and muffins to bake for school lunches. I don't have to do any of this, of course, but I feel pulled to. These are priorities I re-set each autumn, and in deliberately choosing what to do with my time, I feel better about the direction my life is taking, regardless of what locale my family and I are living.

Oh, hello little buddy
Autumn hikes, trail runs and park visits leave us ready to come home with cheeks rosier from crisp air, wanting to sip something hot, eat something warm from the oven. We go out, we cool down, we come inside, we eat nourishing, warm foods, and we go to bed happy. We have pared down the number of activities we do as a family this year, opting to keep things simple, routine, leaving more room for visits with friends, fall cooking and eating. These things feel like they matter more, at least in this season of life. I crave those comforts more than I crave working more contracts for more money, more than training the girls in various skills at extracurricular lessons and classes, more than binge-watching a show, taking on more responsibilities, or making plans to move away.

Day hike in Gatineau
Comparison, they say, is the thief of joy. As much fun as it is to escape into a fantasy where we live somewhere different (better?), this is where we live, where our people are, where we live out the seasons and take from them what they have to offer us. We have long, cold winters. We have hot, vibrant summers. And oh, we have the most beautiful autumns, surrounded by beautiful native maple, oak and birch trees. Autumn wins me back, convinces me everything's going to be alright. As long as we have a warm home to return to, nourishing food to eat now and later, and good people around us, we'll be alright.

May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them
Song for Autumn
By Mary Oliver

In the deep fall
don't you imagine the leaves think how
comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don't you think
the trees themselves, specially those with mossy,
warm caves, begin to think

of the birds that will come-- six, a dozen-- to sleep
inside their bodies? And don't you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
vanishes, and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
its blue shadow. And the wind pumps its
bellows. And at evening especially,
the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Semantics

There are things I instinctively try to stop my girls from doing before even realizing what I'm saying. I tell Summer to stop arguing when she clarifies that I gave her two braids, not two ponytails. Why shouldn't she correct me, annoying and unrelenting as it is? I tell Abby to stop dawdling already and come down for breakfast, without asking what she's doing. One way is faster than the other. I tell Hailey not to play with the pile of burrs she collected in the woods, but why not let her learn for herself and help her remove them after? When Robin starts in on the crying again after some perceived injustice from her sisters, why do I tell her to stop it? Stop feeling hurt? Or stop showing it?

Bike wash

As anyone engaged in any sort of relationship with me can attest, I believe word choices matter. I can argue semantics till the cows come home (and sometimes do, right Rich?). I hold myself and everyone around me to a high standard in choosing words that best reflect what they are trying to say. I don't like "always" or "never" statements unless those terms are accurate. When I am not distracted, busy or otherwise engaged, I do a pretty decent job of choosing words correctly when talking to my girls. I make sure to give them a wide variety of descriptors, hoping they will pick them up and add them to their own vocabulary arsenals.


New puppy! Not ours.

When I am flippantly dismissing a cry, or diffusing an argument, or bellowing up a stairwell to a daughter who appears to be ignoring me, I am not really thinking about my word choices or the message I am sending. Sometimes I am engaged with something I can't drop, and little girl feelings have to wait. C'est la vie. There may come a day, I am warned by the mamas who have come before me, that these girls may not be so forthcoming to me with their words. Without a doubt, there will be difficult situations in which they may not even know the words to express their troubling feelings. They will struggle with this and if I can help them, I will.

What I don't want is for a tape to play in their inner dialogue that sounds a lot like my flippant remarks, discounting what they think. If I could have used a more accurate word, let them call me on it. If the reason she didn't hear me call was because she was distracted with a book, let me find that by climbing the stairs and being before hollering out accusations. If I forbid Hailey from experiencing something for herself, how will she develop the confidence that comes with learning first-hand? If Robin is crying because she is tired of explaining her unwillingness to part with the princess crown, then leave it to me to articulate the patience she requires.

They may not always care what I have to say, but for now, they do. They crave my approval, guidance, adjudication and sympathy. They may not all grow up to be writers like me, but if I can install in them the benefits of an expansive vocabulary, carefully chosen words for each feeling and situation, then I am willing to overlook their teenage slammed doors.

Pantry staples in glass jars make me happy.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Folding In

In most yoga classes, there is a traditional flow sequence that visitors to a new class recognize. The postures, the standing to seated to savasana pattern, the breathing techniques are designed to be familiar after repeated practises. In my many years of practicing, I have learned the ways yoga poses can function as cheap little therapy sessions. Sometimes powerful, difficult poses held long centre me when I am feeling all over the place inside my head. Twists help wring out negative detritus, as well as aid digestion. Standing poses that connect my feet to the floor ground me after being away from home. This week, what I really needed are some good forward folds.

When seated or standing, a forward fold is exactly that: You bend, usually at the hip crease, bringing your chest and head forward. As you can imagine, your eyes usually end up looking at your knees or legs, in close proximity, depending on your flexibility. I usually tire of staring at my kneecaps up close, so I take those poses with my eyes closed. If they are held for a good long while, tightly wound cords begin to unravel. My fast-moving mind starts to slow and still itself. In that stillness, inevitably, dormant feelings are coaxed out of hiding, invited forward by the silence.


There aren't many times in a day when I am still. Probably just when I am deep asleep or staring at a TV show. I don't give myself many chances to shake out all the noise, the constantly-running monologue. So when I do, when there is quiet, there is a permission for those more reserved, hesitant parts of myself to come into the light, to make themselves seen and heard. Quietly, gently, but felt. That's where the magic of a good, long-held forward fold comes in. Introspection, quiet and a slow opening, both metaphoric and literal (forward folds make for great hip and calf stretches). This week, feeling like I had not paid proper attention to how I was feeling for the better part of summer, I took advantage of a quiet evening to check in and listen.

I rolled out my mat, and began, easing into things, lubricating my joints, and stretching out any kinks I noticed. I found my way into a few forward bends, standing and then sitting. I stayed there, and breathed, and listened to the silence. There weren't words, or coherent thought patterns, but there were feelings. I began to feel my eyes well up. Like butter, my ligaments warmed and melted into the mat beneath me. I exhaled with deep sighs. I made my way out of them slowly, transitioning from one pose to the next deliberately slow.

I finished up, brushed my teeth, and set myself up in bed to write. I put pen to page, without stopping, curious to see what words would come out after that bottle was uncorked. I read back my work and gained some clarity, some insight into what was really weighing on me.

I will always be thankful to yoga, for being a practice I can access anywhere, anytime. I am thankful I have learned how to address my pains and aches (both body and heart) without leaving my living room, while giving my body attention and strength work.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

But the Years are Short

At this point in parenting, I have experienced more days that felt long than years that felt short. There have been some doozies. For the last eight and a half years (half-years count when referring to children), I have parented little people through a whole gamut of experiences. At one point, I had four children under the age of five. At that same point, we had moved cross-country, did not have a house, and started our oldest in kindergarten. I remember tearing up a bit as I sent Abby into the schoolyard on her first day. I was nervous about how she would fare, and squeamish about sending her into someone else's care after doing most of the work myself.


Things did not fast-forward over the next four years until today, but also, they did. I remember walking Abby to school with a newborn strapped to my chest, sweating as I pushed a double-stroller full of one-year-old twins with one hand and holding Abby's fat little fist with the other. Today, I held a tissue in my pocket as those four girls, all wearing backpacks that appear comically large, walked ahead of me. There were some days I couldn't wait to put them to bed. As I walked to school this morning, I could hardly process the day had finally come for me to walk to school with four girls and come home empty-handed.

Hailey harvesting the garlic
At the chain link fence that divides adult world from kid mania, I kissed my girls goodbye, told them I loved them, and reminded them I would be waiting at the end of the school day for their return at that very spot. Abby ran in to drop off her bag, Hailey and Robin took Summer by the arms and ushered her into the kindergarten cubbies to hang her jacket and bag. And there she went, I thought. My littlest girl, baby Summer, has turned four and now she is going to school. I waited for her to come back out to the play, so I could wave one last time, searching her face for any subtle cues she was upset; the kind of cues only her mama could recognize. Summer darted off to the play structure, and I stood crying, and that was that.

Charlotte's Web has led to much arachnidian enthusiasm
It feels strange to be here at home, right now, writing this. I have a sense of having done something wrong, like playing hooky. It is hard to process that this is our new permanent state: me at home, the girls at school. Rich and I went for a trail run, got sandwiches at our favourite spots, and relaxed in celebration of having made it to this date circled on a calendar. I have work to do, both domestic and professional, in the weeks and months ahead. I have plans laid to carry me forward, one step in front of the other, until I'm the next version of myself in this strange new phase of parenting.


I am so thankful to have been able to stay home with the girls all this time. Not everyone has that choice. I can remember discussing it with Rich before we were engaged, all those years ago when we were so young ourselves, still our parents' babies living at home. It feels so long ago, but I can also blink and be transported back to those conversations. Feeling confident that while there was a lot I did not know, I knew I wanted children and to stay home with them when they were young. I am still quite fresh, emerging from the trenches of staying home with a gaggle of young children, whose demands were unceasing and grew increasingly complex. I wavered on the edge of doubt so many times. Long, long days were lived. And here we are, a few short years later. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Not Ready for Summer Break to be Done

My writing in this space usually slows down in the summer, but this year takes the cake. Don't feel special, though, lots of things fell by the wayside! The calendar in my kitchen that the girls use to track special days and appointments still says it is July. The novels we undertook reading with the promise of a late-night swim upon completion are only half done, and it is too cold at night to swim in the pool anymore. There is only a week left of summer and over a dozen Summer 2017 bucket list items we didn't complete. 


Throughout the summer, Abby had soccer three or four times a week, the other girls played Fridays. I worked part-time, but instead of two shifts a week, it was three or four to cover other people's holidays. We took our own holidays, and hosted family visiting from away. We did an extra little trip to Niagara Falls, and a cottage weekend with family in Quebec. These dictated the shape of our summer plans a little more than in years past, and the difference has left me feeling a little unprepared to say goodbye to summer break, like there is still so much I want to do. 


I wrote back in the spring that Rich was back to work after a long, difficult few months battling the symptoms of a particularly bad concussion, writing that the worst was behind us. The universe disagreed, as it is entitled to do, and threw us a few setbacks. He was hurt at work again and has not been back to work since May. He suffers deeply. It is really hard to watch, and I can't fix it. It has now been over a year, and there are many hard days. He is here with us, supported by a great medical team, and thankfully our support network has been largely understanding when we bow out of certain social engagements or other fun-sounding plans.


The girls and I went on adventures to give Rich quiet time at home, when possible. 
I will not remember this summer for the fun popsicles we made, or the trips to the Secret Pond, or making rhubarb custard pie. I hope the kids will. Thankfully, I have these pictures from my stepmother, and a few I remembered to take myself. We hang them in our kitchen where the girls see them and recall adventures at the beach, eating ice cream, and learning to dive to the bottom of the pool. I will remember this as the summer that never got very hot, that required a lot of soul-searching, that took me by the shoulders and shook me hard, begging me to notice the beauty in small every day things so that those brief moments could sustain through the fog of uncertainty.



 There is always a take-away and this is mine: I am better when I can find stillness. Not all the time, but in the chaos, the crying, the kid whining, the sister fighting, the long days, the missed opportunities, the exhaustion. I am better when I can find or make some stillness and soak in it. I can leapfrog between these found moments, these lily pads offering refuge from the craziness. They are enough, and I can coast on their powerful elixir until the next quiet, still moment. When it is 10:30 at night and I haven't yet sat down, or noticed an inhale and exhale, when I haven't looked anyone in the eye as I spoke distractedly, when I have sped through appointments and work shifts and soccer practises and meal preparation and not noticed a single beautiful thing, I am not my best. My people, and I, deserve better.


I resolve to keep trying to do better. I think often of the words Anne of Green Gables said, and take great comfort in them: "Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?"

Sipping milk from otherwise forbidden sugary cereal is a treat at the grandparents' cottage.

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