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!


Monday, February 6, 2017

Behind Us

I admit, I take health for granted. When health issues come up, they become fault lines. When someone I love is sick, it quickly becomes a focal point. Everything becomes framed by concerns of treatments, recovery, prognosis, causes, "what ifs?" and fear.

Today is the first day in over six months that Rich has been able to work. Last summer, he was injured on a course and suffered a concussion, his second in his career. I did what I knew to do: I helped him rest, bought him supplements, fed him nourishing foods, kept the kids busy so he could recover. I took his health for granted, and figured he would be better in a week or two, like the last time.

Weeks passed. He saw several doctors. No one could tell us why this one was lasting so long. He had headaches all the time. He would become exhausted by the efforts of waking up and eating breakfast. He couldn't exercise, participate in any activities, or go to work. He couldn't use any of the coping mechanisms he knew to deal with the frustration of being so sick. He just had to wait.

We all waited. The girls started school and our autumn routine settled in. He began to feel the fog lifting a bit, so he started working out a little. Then attending social events, like family dinners and get-togethers. He could read and watch short shows or movies. It seemed like after a couple of months, things were getting better, and they were. We got excited too soon and he jumped back into life, but his brain wasn't ready. After our anniversary weekend, which involved a dinner at a restaurant, doing an escape room, and taking the kids for a hike in the woods, he was laid up in bed for four days recovering.

His headaches were with him every morning when he woke up, and lasted all day. He worked with his doctors to come up with exercises he could do to strengthen his eyes (which were affected by his initial injury), and a system to track and limit how much he could handle doing in a day. This helped him avoid burning himself out, but it also meant a great reduction to his role in our family.

Every morning while the girls and I got dressed to walk to school, he could only watch as I worked to get four defiant girls in their snowsuits. He could sit with us to eat dinner, but only if we kept the noise level down. He was always home with us, which was nice, but he was there as an observer and occasional helper. I admit, there were times I was so resentful of having another adult in the house who could not/should not have helped me with things. Me! The healthy one! I pushed him too far sometimes, and he suffered for it.
In sickness and in health. 

In all of this, there was a lot for which we were grateful:
- The girls knew he was hurt, but didn't seem affected by it, and didn't know how much he suffered. He always made time to read them stories, cuddle with them, and make them feel special.
- The injury could have been a lot worse. It turns out there are varying degrees of concussion recovery. Rich was spared the pain of sitting in a dark room all day every day, or from a recovery lasting years, not months.
- His work has been so supportive. They have helped boost his morale when he felt despondent and left behind. They have also continued to pay his salary, as per his benefits. This is huge, for a single-income family. I learned so many people have to return to work with these headaches and symptoms or else they don't get paid.

I have been gut-wrenchingly worried about him. I didn't know if this would change who he is as a person. I didn't know if he'd ever get better. I wondered if his reserves of inner strength and courage would dry up and leave him severely depressed. In dealing with these worries, I have thankfully been able to become distracted with our full lives. I honestly had to put a lot of these thoughts away and ignore them, becoming distracted with running this family's ship. That has helped me keep our lives moving forward, but also prevented me from collapsing in worry and despair about a situation I knew I could not fix.

And here we are today, hopefully on the other side of this. He has been symptom-free for nearly two weeks. He has been able to start exercising again (it's a big part of his life and one he lamented losing the most), attending social functions without being exhausted for days afterwards, and his headaches haven't come back. (Knock on wood).

Feeling more like himself at a birthday party last weekend
I think we're both extremely aware of and grateful for our health. It put self-care and our responsibilities to ourselves at the forefront of our priorities. Our friends and families were all so helpful in supporting us through this with extra help, meals, listening ears, and fun activities to distract the girls and I while we trudged on through this. Moving back home was definitely a good decision.

We all smiled wide and breathed a big sigh of relief seeing him get dressed in his work clothes this morning.





Thursday, February 2, 2017

An eight year old lives here

An eight year old lives in our house now, and the game continues to change. I should learn to expect change by now, but my sentimental heart keeps trying to hold on just a little longer. Mothering her is more a game of call and answer than it is it offering instruction and watching. She is capable of so much and my guidance is now largely reactionary. She feels things deeply, just as she always has. It makes my heart break a little explaining answers to questions like, "why are there orphans?" and "do people only die when they get old?"

Birthday up do courtesy of her best friend's talented stylist mama)
She is learning what it means to work hard at something. Being older, she can take the long view, and is understanding that short term pain can mean long term gain. (Cough, piano lessons, cough). I am figuring out how to balance gentleness with setting firm expectations and boundaries. I try to incorporate reasons with explanations that make an impact but don't go too far. (A YouTube video of frostbitten ears was enough reason to get her to decide for herself to wear her winter hat). I feel almost every day that her brain is developing too quickly for me to keep up.


Eight years old started with swimming in a hotel pool, birthday pancakes, a fancy birthday party with friends, marking her height on her door frame, a visit to the donut shop, a homemade reading canopy over her bed, phone calls and messages from across the country, and a big family dinner at Pizza Hut.  Watching her open gifts, and react with grace and genuine gratitude made me so proud of her. I can really see now the endearing qualities that come from deep inside her. I am learning to claim little responsibility for the complex, shifting set of traits and qualities kept inside her cute little frame. I do, however, love remembering the tiny seeds of closeness that started between us in her nursery in the Yukon that have grown into lush blooms today.



She will grow and change, and so will I. But in moments of difficult upset and jubilant thrill, we have an embrace that fits us together so perfectly.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

January

I forgot how good it feels, how restorative it is to be quiet and still. January has a way of making that clear again. The weather turns cold, dreary, and wet, asking us to settle into our nests indoors. The grocery store offers expensive tropical produce or less expensive local root vegetables, so we make slow-cooked, warm, heavier meals. The sidewalks and trails are uneven and icy, making it harder to run safely, so I run less. 

I have a computer and TV to fill empty time slots at day's end when the kids go to bed and honestly, I'm so wiped out after our long days that a screen sometimes helps me turn my brain off and zone out.


I am weary and conscious of zoning out. Sometimes it feels good (so good...) to let Nick Viall take me away for two hours while I eat brie, put my feet up, and let my eyeballs glaze over. He asks nothing of me, and that is wonderful after days where people ask me to do lots of things for them. It's a balance. My 'free time' is finite and though mindless entertainment is an easy, addictive and tempting pursuit each evening, it doesn't equip me to do my job(s). In too heavy portions, it detracts from my energy pools and leaves me sluggish. January leaves me feeling sluggish and slow, heavy and sleepy.



Feeling sluggish and slow leads to apathy, whining, complaining and despondency, I have learned. (The hard way, as any good lessons are learned) My daily (ish) yoga practice was on hiatus, but truthfully, I didn't really miss it. One night last week, after putting the girls to bed, I packed the school lunches, emptied the dishwasher, brought the laundry up for folding and studied a bit. I walked into the tea room to turn on Netflix, and paused. Great things happen in a pause. I took my yoga mat, laid it out and did a half hour yoga video geared towards opening my hip flexors, stretching out daily stresses and unwinding before bed. It ended in a seated meditation that I continued on my own. In that space, in the quiet, still space, all I heard was my breathing, and I was transported. 



I heard quiet. I realize that's an oxymoron, but I'll tell you: hearing silence is so much more restorative than kid noise. Than any noise, really. In that silence I nurtured my mind's soil, making it a ripe breeding ground for ideas, truths and clarity to grow. I needed me some clarity. Spending my waking hours bouncing from one need/want/request to another is draining. My cup needed filling, and in that quiet I remembered how. 


Thanks, January. Thank you for your slow, inclement weather days, lazy haze, sweatpants vibes that comfort me when I am drained. Thank you for showing me how to fill my cup. There are evermore draining days ahead, many more shows I will not make the time to watch, many more evenings I finish the day's work only to realize it is nearly midnight. I will kiss my girls on their sleeping heads before going to my own, and before I sleep I will sit in quiet to listen for what I might hear.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Cliché

I hate identifying witclichés . I disdain doing what everyone else is doing, avoiding it if given the choice. I declare my individuality, my rebellion, showcasing the dance to the beat of my own drum. I mean, what writer/adventurer/seeker sees their story start in the checkout line of a chain grocery store in the suburbs? Where she lives, drives a minivan, carries a mortgage, and does yoga? And yet, here I stand.

Sometimes I write on my walls because I can. Sometimes I save up to pay for an experience instead of a new bed set. But as I age as a woman, and move beyond babyhood as a mother, I feel a little ... bored. My life, these days, is not the content of an exciting book you can't put down. I wonder, what kind of writer can I be when I am folding laundry? I should be collecting experiences, meeting people different than myself, breaking out from the homogeny of my social station.


Ah, that tricky concept of "should." What I "should" be doing has always plagued me. With expectations from others, from within, and from a belief that I should be doing X in order to arrive at Y. I am pretty good at doing what I should. I am even better at following through on doing what I set out to do. At this juncture, however, the game plan written for a girl in her twenties surrounded by babies in the Yukon is no longer applicable. I am entering a new stage, and wondering what's next?

Should I manipulate the story? Inject some drama and excitement for the sake of it? Should I determine my next move, and make it a big one, as a protection against living a bland life? I have a great fear of living a boring life that could be interchangeable with anyone else's. I do not want be on my deathbed wishing I had the courage to have done more, strayed from safety, lived bigger.

So. I am sitting here in a life transition and not sure who makes the first move: Me? The universe? Am I supposed to be waiting for a next big thing at all? Maybe as I become more comfortable in my own skin, amassing life's wisdom from doing and seeing, I am to learn the value of just being. Sitting in the present, where things are slow enough for me to look around and appreciate the small, beautiful things I have missed in the chaos of raising four baby girls through their infancies. It really was quite busy, and at times difficult. Some days it can still overwhelm me.


Wanting is a slippery slope. It can become coveting, feeling inadequate, jealousy, "I'll be happy when," and looking two steps ahead instead of finding/making happiness where I stand. I know better than that. In times like this, where I am confused about my identity and five-year plan, I wish I could ask future me for advice. If I could, I would say, "40-year-old Sarah, what do I need to know as I try to figure out what comes next, and who I want to be?" As I sit in meditation, I often throw this out there. So far, the answers I hear come in a calm voice reminding me I have what I need, dream big, do the work, and keep rooting it in love.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Ghost of Christmas Future

It is deliciously satisfying to sit in my reading chair, looking out the window at freezing rain falling, hearing the sounds of the girls playing nicely, while I sit and finish the last chapter of an Ann Patchett novel. I turn my head to watch an SUV navigate the unplowed layers of ice atop last night's snowfall, and breathe a sigh f gratitude I don't have to leave the house. I hear forceful grunts and dramatic cries as one of my girls gives make believe birth to a plastic baby girl. She walks in to present her baby, wrapped in a bandana, and calls me grandma. 


After a while Hailey curls into my lap with an Elephant and Piggie book we read together. Robin comes to join us, and for a moment, I can press my nose into the crowns of their heads and remember cuddling them as new babies. They organically co-decide it is time to bid me adieu, and leave to set up nurseries for their own plastic babies. I finish the novel, exhale a sigh of sublime gratification, and take it in. This quiet afternoon. The hours that lay before us, all cooped up on this rainy day. I have no idea how we'll fill them, but I know we'll figure it out. 


We ended up making hot chocolate, reading Shel Silverstein books, putting on a movie, colouring and  cuddling a bunch more.

...

I dropped them off for a sleepover the other night, and Rich was on a plane to Edmonton to visit his brother and cousin. I had an empty house for the first time, ever, I think. No kids or Rich. It felt strange. I went for a walk and had no one with whom I should check in. I woke in the morning when I wanted, prepared breakfast in one portion size and watched cooking shows while I ate. I should have enjoyed the quiet, but instead I felt off-kilter. 

This big house was too quiet. I felt a need to walk in each room just to use it. I heard the silence that is otherwise filled with their sleeping breaths, their raucous cacophony, their play. I became aware that one day, there won't be any kids in this house anymore. I thought about how Abby is almost eight, and that's only 10 years from 18. 

And in that one quiet morning, before collecting the girls and their overnight bags, I was given a chance to be present. To hear and realize the wisdom passed to me from older women when these girls were babies: it all goes too fast. I didn't believe that for a second when I was up to my eyeballs in crying, diapers, milk, sleeves nights and high chairs. I see it now. I see the precious and fleeting nature of these years and days. I took a peak at what it would be like to walk through this house without kids in it, and I missed them. One day, that will happen for good. 

...

So, when Christmas break is onto week two, my husband is away, and we are stuck at home on yet another day of forbidding weather, I am not lamenting my plight. I am not jumping in to make memories and be a saves-the-day-from boredom mom, either. I am watching them direct the play, picking up their cues of when it is time for snack, or a movie, or a board game break. I am letting them cuddle all over me, (elbowing me in the boob and stepping painfully on my shins), because one day they won't. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas Roundup

It's Boxing Day, and I am sitting on the couch , with a pajama-ed little body nestled up to me. There is freezing rain falling fast outside, and we have nowhere to go. I should think about making dinner soon; it will probably be a turkey pot pie, the easy way. Hailey and Robin are sprawled on the floor, filling in new colouring books. Abby has just cooked us all some teeny tiny pizzas in her Easy Bake Oven. Robotic toy unicorns keep turning on at seemingly random intervals, creeping us all out. I am surfing for deals online, but not really interested in getting anything beyond a few books at Chapters that are now on sale.


After all the preparation, organizing, gift making and wrapping, Christmas has come and gone. There are a few things I want to remember: Sitting in silence on Christmas Eve, letting tears come (the happy kind), listening to O Holy Night and reflecting on what the holiday means for me. Robin bending over with her pants down trying to apply chapstick to her bottom, because she misheard when I asked her to apply some lip balm. (Not lip bum). The girls waiting at the top of the stairs for me to give the go-ahead, so they could see if Santa came. Their wide-eyed amazement that Santa's boots left footprints exiting the fireplace. Slipping my feet into a pair of indigenous-made mukluks. Saying grace and taking stock around the Christmas dinner table, looking at the faces of those I love. 


I felt this year that the celebrations and traditions were nicely spread out. We watched our fave movies, baked our fave treats, attended our fave (and some new) activities. We performed our family acts of giving, and reminded the girls (and ourselves) how lucky we are. The girls bought each other and the grownups gifts, and experienced the joy of giving. I hope I always remember Hailey's sheepish, proud grin, when I thanked her profusely for the Christmas shelf decoration she chose for me. And Abby's unapologetic honesty in giving my mom a wooden turtle figurine, all wrapped up, saying, "I didn't want this anymore," to everyone's raucous laughter.


I loved receiving cards and pictures from friends and family across the country. being an RCMP family, we are lucky enough to have friends everywhere. Though everyone's geographic distance and busy lives make it difficult to keep current on each other's lives, these cards maintain a thread of connection that I value. 


The girls were given wonderful gifts, and are enamoured with something different every hour or two today. I love to see each one pick something up, turn it over in her hand, and begin playing with it. I also have to remind them 18284757 times to put one thing away before taking out something else, because if I step on another tiara or Lego piece, Imma lose my mind. 




As 2016 is pulled into yesteryear by 2017, I hope you all feel a sense of peace, purpose and light. Merry Christmas.

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