Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Long Run

Saturday or Sunday morning, depending on weekend plans, I wake up early. Not before the birds, but before the babies in my nest. I quietly tiptoe in socked feet to the kitchen, scarf down a granola bar, fill my water bottles, cue my iPod, and leave the house, quiet as I can. It's my time. I have set a route, measured it online, and have a rough idea of how long it will take me. These runs aren't races. They will take as long as they take. My steps are small and my pace is leisurely. Everything bounces and the swish-swish sound my sneakers make on the sidewalk or trail is that start of a steady percussion that holds true for as long as I set out to run.

I take a moment at the beginning to tune into my legs and feet. I pay attention to the feeling of their wakening; I know the first couple of kilometres will be sluggish. My legs feel like lead, heavy under the effort of lifting and propelling me forward. I know this will pass. I pump my legs and my heart pumps blood and together we work through the stiffness that set in during last night's rest. I create and fall into a rhythm. I turn my attention to my podcast and get lost in a world of stories.



After the first few kilometres, my legs know what to do. They keep pumping. My brain protests now and again; it is wired to caution me against overexerting myself lest I need to rapidly escape some unforeseen threat. Something like, "Dude, you should really cut this short or slow down. What if you are exhausted all day? This feels hard. Do we need to do this? Now?" The beauty of the long run starts to reveal itself the moment I begin to un-hear these creeping doubts. Underneath the noise of logic and responsibility is a smaller voice that chimes, "You can do this, you got this, it's gonna feel so good."

I wave to other runners as we cross paths, offering a smile. The smile reminds me to tap into the joy. Running, when done as a reprieve from an otherwise busy and demanding life, is joyful to me. I feel great joy in being unencumbered, left alone, free to finally tune into myself in ways I otherwise do not. All week long, I am someone's mother, wife, friend, daughter, employee or neighbour. I gladly fill my days with tasks that bring together the cords of my multi-layered existence. I go to bed exhausted, in a way that proves I have done much with the hours given to me by Father Time. But on my long runs, Time is not my master. I am slave only to myself, and I am learning to be a patient, gentle commander.

I see the trees as they morph through their stages of growth and decay, depending on the season. I see wildlife and humbly pass through their lands, thanking them for their beautiful presence. I check in with my body systems for signs that I need to make adjustments: Am I thirsty? Do my feet hurt? Are my shoulders back and open? Am I breathing steady? Is my gait strong and supportive? This simple act of checking in and listening intently for non-verbal answers is often the only time I dedicate to such pure self-care. It's a gift to myself I don't take for granted.

I come home bone tired, sweaty, and desperate to take off my shoes. I let myself in the front door,  into the cacophony of daughters who have since awoken, eaten and reached peak levels of weekend morning excitement. I exchange hugs and morning greetings, passing the threshold from sacred alone time to mama in high demand. I excuse myself for a shower and stretch, ready to live outside of my head and body.




Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Different

The calendar says it is summer. We held our annual Summer solstice barbecue to commemorate, flipping homemade burgers, opening the pool and lighting the citronella candles. We bought enough sunscreen to last all season, found everyone's bucket hats in the summer bin, switched up fleece jammies for oversized t-shirts in all the little girl's drawers. Tomorrow is the last day of school, and I am armed with a list of summer fun activities and food to make. By all accounts, summer is here and we are thirsty for the adventures that await. And yet ... 

Strawberry and yogurt popsicles

... things feel different. Rich is home, off work all summer because of a major setback in his concussion recovery. We're all a little worried, and aware that having the girls home all summer will be hard on his brain. The weather is off. It has been cold and grey for most of June, so we are hauling out sweaters instead of peeling off layers. Our pool hasn't yet hit 80 degrees, heated as it is by solar panels that haven't been hit by much sun. The spring flooding in our area has changed some landscapes, so our usual forays to local beaches have been pushed back a bit later than usual. 



Things are different. The only constant is change, I know. Summer feels like traditions revisited and annual sentiments re-awoken by a dependable return of seasonal conditions, so this year, things feel off. They are off. But not broken. Never broken. so, we press onwards. I try to notice what I can about these different-feeling days and try to discern some beauty, because it is there if I look. The way four little blond heads look running down the street to join their friends to play. Harvesting from our garden, a few new things we're trying this year. Executing plans to capitalize on summer vibes as best we can, when we can. 


I made a list. Not to hold us to any commitments, but ideas to turn to when we could use adventure, big or small. Things that make summertime feel like summertime, even when things feel different.

Our 2017 Summer bucket list:
-       Novel studies (Abby: Underground to Canada, Twins: Charlotte’s Web)
-       Strawberry Picking
-       Send postcards for Canada’s 150th
-       Make s’mores
-       Rainy Day movie theatre (use coupons)
-       Pizza in the park for dinner
-       Make rhubarb custard pie with garden rhubarb
-       Rainbow manicures
-       Make chickpea summer salad
-       Go out for ice cream (the good, hard olden-time kind)
-       Canada 150 T-Shirts
-       Make sangria for grownups
-       Make frozen hot chocolate for kids
-       Make frozen popsicles as much as possible
-       Go to Ice Cream Beach
-       Go to secret pond
-       Go for a nature hike and picnic (Pink lake?)
-       Bootoof in the waves Maine
-       Watch fireworks
-       Parliament Hill picnic
-       Night swimming
-       Farmer’s Market
-       Fabric paint pillowcases 
-       Double decker chip stand
     Ride horses

-       Mini putt


Father's Day
I remind myself that we are raising these girls to navigate change, trying to remember myself how to navigate change.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Porcelain

Before we begin, I would like to cultivate the right frame of mind for this post. It's hot tonight, still 30 degrees out at 8:30 p.m., so you might feel weary, but happy the weather is turning. I am. Put this song on, close your eyes. Sigh. Tilt your spine back and recline, feet up.


I have not been writing as much. I have not been doing yoga or meditating. I haven't poured myself into a good book in awhile. I have been doing many other things, so many other things, that it sometimes feels overwhelming to even think of fitting in time for the things that soothe me. If my life were another alternative-90s song, it would be something by Prodigy with a relentless, fast beat and an imperative sense of being pushed forward in time. I know, conceptually, that a runaway train will one day crash. I don't want to crash. But I'm not always sure how to slow the momentum enough to at least notice the scenery as I zoom past.


I am running early in the morning or late at night. I am taking the girls to soccer. I am swimming in the backyard when it's hot out. I am making easy dinners when it is too much for me to prepare something harder. I am working two, sometimes three side jobs. I am trying to find the best barbecue sauce recipe. I am adding up the green and red columns in the budget and trying to make them meet closer to the middle. I am cleaning newly pierced ears and remembering to administer medicine to girls with blocked up ear canals. I am running on fumes sometimes, so when I see a fraction of time, a sliver of a moment I take it.


I close my eyes, breathe deep, and feel it. Feel the rush of everything around me pass me by for this quiet moment. Like surf rushing over my head because I am already submerged in its force. I listen to a song like Porcelain and let go. Let go of expectations, aspirations, things to remember, things to get right, places to be, and just breathe. Just feel it. Feel the chaotic calamity confetti slowly fall to the floor, for this moment. Remind myself that it will all still be there when I get up, so for now, I can just sit. Rest. Remember what it is like to be weightless. Floating above my body and out of my head where I can see how worn down my gears are getting. I take care of that place in myself that probably looks like an over-caffeinated cartoon cat who has just been startled and is hanging from the ceiling by its nails. 

Steven, the gypsy moth caterpillar
Summer is coming. I have dreams of what this means and stop myself before I chase another list of things to do. I dream of slow, unscheduled time where we live by the weather and sun's height rather than the clock on the wall.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Goodness, I Love Eating

In going through my camera, I found a theme. It seems I whip out the cell for everyday goings-on, but when it comes to food, I'm all about yanking the giant DSLR out of the bag for a closeup. Like, forget the cute picture Hailey drew, let's get a detailed look at those orange zest-infused whole wheat cookies.


Or, for some variety, pictures of my cat eating food. He is getting up there in age and kind of cranky , but also a creature of habit. One morning, we let him lick yogurt off an old lid at the table. Every morning since then, he sits at my chair with a cat scowl waiting for his yogurt. So, we oblige. And I take pictures.


Because mimosas.
Eating has become a focus lately. The act of preparing food ahead of time reminds me that I am deserving of my own time, investing in my future self with snacks and meals that are nourishing and yummy. I have been doing more batch cooking, making homemade muffins, protein balls, granola bars and cookies that take more time but are so good for us. When the merry-go-round of life leaves us sitting confused with our heads spinning, I feel a lot more in control when I know we have good food. Even if that control is just an illusion, I'll take the mirage. When the busy days come, and I feel the wave of overwhelming pressure start to build, I happily dole out a dinner of KD and/or hot dogs because it is easy and they'll eat it. The other days, I'll give them something more nourishing. Gotta give myself these breaks. Who else will, right?






Eating well, and exercise. The girls are all old enough now to keep up on 2km walks, so we expect them to do just that. Their pace is slow enough to notice the lilacs blooming, but fast enough to keep up with Skylar dog. They are getting to know their neighbourhood as independent little people, and sometimes they leave me alone long enough that I can notice them growing before my very eyes. 


These are the things that keep my mind bouncing between soccer practice, meal plans, work assignments, keeping the house clean enough when I know someone's coming over, tending the new garden, and getting the girls to clean up after themselves for the fortieth time. I remember to stop, eat something, take out the good camera, and notice them. Notice myself and remember that it's all a dream (come true).


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Return

Not so many seasons ago, when the kids were much younger, I would turn to blank pages and write until I had sifted my thoughts and funnelled them down to some basic realizations. Most of the time, this was an exercise in aligning expectations with reality: if I set the bar and low and aimed just to keep the kids' diapers changed and their bellies fed, I could discount the rest of the day's missteps and file it away as a win. I would balance my priorities and become reacquainted with the idea that I could be a much better version of myself if I could just settle down. Settle any grandiose ideas of keeping a freelance writing career current and relevant when i am home with kids that don't nap. Settle expectations that I "should" be able to get everyone to the library story time and sit through it without anyone crying. Settle to-do lists by reducing them from 20 items to two.


I can read back blog posts that chronicle this return to simple goals, and recognize a woman with good intentions, but perilously high standards. I still am, but I am working on this. With three kids in school and one at home with me for our victory lap, I have often berated myself for complaining about things being difficult with "just one" kid at home. But in truth, sometimes our days are hard. I have put mounting pressure on myself to approach next fall with a solid game plan about a future job, what I will earn, and how important it will be. Right now, though, I am tapping into the wisdom I tried to cultivate before. I need reminders to slow down, take things one step at a time, be patient, lower the bar, and be present for the last months as a mama home with my girls. Not wish it away.


I realize that when I approach little Summer with a book to read, her curled in my lap, me sipping a cup of tea, I am at my best. I recognize Abby's furrowed brow and atypical quietness at dinner and know to make time to talk to her, away from the others, for as long as she needs. I see Rich grimace from the pain of a concussion headache and I know to gently corral the kids outside to play so the house will be quiet for him for the next few moments. When I am busy trying to get things done and arrange my ducks in a row, my focus is narrowed and I miss seeing these things. This is my work, and it is important, and I am earning their trust and faith. 


Beet seedlings
So, for this season at least, I am returning to the expectation level and priority sequence of having young kids at home. For review, that means: lots of unscheduled time outside, meal planning healthy dinners, sleeping eight hour nights, drinking more water and tea, spending less time checking my phone/computer, setting time aside for self-care (running, reading, showering), couch dates with Rich, and stopping what I am doing to look at those girls' beautiful blue eyes when they have something to say.

Our makeshift nursery on the counter tops

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Road Trip!

I don't want to ever forget this trip the girls and I took to Toronto. We visited my brother and his wife and their adorable baby girl, our first official cousin/niece. It was quality hangs: good food, nice weather, sleepovers, playing with the baby down on the floor, giggling, walks, tea. No major disasters, safe driving, no meltdowns. They are at an age I feel fully confident taking these bigger-scale trips on my own, and they are old enough to remember them, which makes it all the more worthwhile. I have much more to say and remember but, honestly, I am tired and have a bajillion things to do. Mom life.


Today, for instance, began at 7:30 (a sleep-in for a parent is 7:30). Then it was breakfast, hair times four, writing thank-yous for our trip, tidying up from the house, clearing out the minivan from the drive, putting away suitcases, running practice with the girls, new run shoes for Abby before her run, post-run shower, lunch, showing the girls how to do their chores (clean rooms and bathrooms), kids yoga video, movie for them while I send out emails, write this, transplant tomatoes into larger yogurt containers, clean up from that, afternoon tea, take freezer stuff out for the week, clean my own bathroom, laundry folding, put laundry away, pick up meat I am storing at inlaws, make dinner, do dinner dishes, bathe kids, put them to bed, make school lunches, do some yoga for me, bake some snacks for the week and THEN chill on the couch for a bit. 


The days are long, but the years are short.


Our trip to Toronto was mostly about spending time with family, but since it was the girls' first time in The Six, we took them downtown one afternoon. Two hours spent at the aquarium and CN Tower were enough to feel we had experienced downtown before retreating to my brother's place in Little Portugal. We visited the same awesome park three times in as many days and spent a lot of time cuddled up at home or going for neighbourhood walks. Just the way we like it.


My review of the attractions we saw: The aquarium amazed us all. I smiled reflexively at the manta ray's goofy happy faces and we gasped in the walkways through shark-infested waters. There was a lot to see and do, and the whole place was organized in a uni-directional loop, which was super helpful when trying to keep track of four little ladies. We went at a quieter time and I still felt I was at the max of my comfort level for bringing my girls out into a large-crowd attraction on my own. I would love to re-visit it on my own so I could take it all in slowly.


The CN Tower was quintessentially Canadian and a necessary to-do as part of a complete Canadian childhood but, I'll admit, it is such a money grab. We spent more than our admission to the aquarium to ascend the glass elevator (which was cool), walk outside in the windy enclosure, stand on the glass floor, take pictures while hoards of other people did the same, then come down after about five minutes. Taking pictures and telling the story of that time we went to the top of the CN Tower means they will remember it forever and we don't have to do it again!

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.

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