Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Seeing Red


We have had the joy of watching a family of cardinals grow this summer. We first noticed the radiant, blazing papa, all red and loud and making his presence known. We named him Kardinal Offishall. Then a more demure female starting visiting our bird feeder, getting ready. Then for a couple of months they took turns visiting the feeder and sitting atop our fence singing their trademark cardinal song. About a week ago we noticed their offspring follow mama as she dive-bombed across the street. From her perch on a high maple, she took off, soaring down towards our hedge. Then, one by one, her babies followed after, calling back and forth to those who needed encouragement. It was a sight worth seeing, and incredibly rewarding.


Also rewarding are the months worth of planting, watering, fertilizing and tending to our first tomato plants. Our giant Italian heirlooms I think needed more soil than our humble containers could provide. They are edible, but have end rot and the plants keep tipping over under their own weight. Their neighbouring zebra heirlooms, however, are faring much better. I think next year we'll plan to use raised beds along the fence, where the sun is best.


Then, last night after I brought the compost and recycling to the curb, a flash of red caught my eye. Down low, at the edge of my periphery, sat a fuzzy little caterpillar, snuggling in for a night's rest. I don't know much about caterpillar identification, but I hope his present, boastful colours indicate he will transform into a proud, colourful butterfly soon. Anyone know?


Monday, August 18, 2014

Life Reminders

I've been returning to my, what I like to call, Life Reminders lately. If I were into kitschy list-type posters, they might be amalgamated and titled, "Sarah's 39579 tips to a happy life," and printed out over a faded image of a dolphin leaping out of the sea against a sunset. But I'm not into that. So, instead, I have a folder where I collect some of my favourite readings, quotes, and teachings that strike a chord with me. They are collected bits of wisdom that I have returned to before, pull quotes popping up in my head to guide me along the way. 

Sometimes I need written motivation to return to my yoga practice after a long, exhausting day shepherding my feral cats children. 


Sometimes I need to be reminded that staying home with the girls is a fleeting stage, a blessing to be honoured, and not my fast-track ticket to the mental health hospital residential program. 



Sometimes, I need to return to a place where a nice list of simple, common ingredients in motherhood's stew is enough to get me to slow down, look around and smile at it all (instead of crumpling into a pile of sorrow at the prospect of having to break up another fight over the stupid Ikea pillow).

I learned a few years ago, when I was in the saddest stage of my life, that happiness is a choice. Joy, warmth, satisfaction and excitement are feelings, but happiness? That requires careful cultivation. I will always be a student, learning new approaches and techniques that become applicable in my evolving life. This week, I am finding myself returning to the fundamentals: good food, time spent outside, music, non-verbal communication, family, friends. Those places where I have created and discovered happiness. Not because I am struggling with happiness or its nemesis depression, but because days at home with four little girls zoom by. Blink and I miss it. Go forward without intention and I find myself reacting out of anger, inconvenience, annoyance. Because yeah, little girls can be really annoying.


Of course, they are learning. Testing me (why don't they ever stop testing me?). They are curious and not very good at self-preservation, and opinionated, and strong-willed, and selfish and tiring. Naturally. Thankfully, they are also packaged quite adorably with round cherub cheeks, silky fine hair, angelic blue eyes and cute little bums. I am reminded almost as quickly as I become irritated, of their endearing qualities. One grasp of my hand, one call of my name, one spontaneous hug and I am restored.


And in those moments when I am not restored, during those long days and difficult mornings, I can reference my folder. I can read a quick blurb about why this is all so worth it. Perspective grants me the ability to get my ego out of the way, even for a brief moment, and see what is in front of me. 





Friday, August 15, 2014

The Two Roads Project: Corner


Johanna (left): One way for my life to feel a little less chaotic, is to be organized and to have a tidy home. We try so hard to stay on top of it, but I find that it can quickly get away from us.
One of my favourite ways to feel a breath of fresh air in the house, is to organize/declutter and set up a little "corner" ... or display if you will. 
I often like to include a nod to what season it is, through art, flowers or little nature treasures that we find on our walks. 
Being that it is summer, I have so very much enjoyed how we are able to flow in and out of our house so easily. 
The children often bound out the front door, onto our front lawn, where they play with a little fairy house that I have set up for them. 
I enjoyed setting up and organizing, this little "corner" right by our front door. Nestled in among potted flowers, a tree stump, and clover, it makes me happy just looking at it... and happier still when I find Katia playing with it. 

Sarah (right): I don't have a designated workspace or office per se, but I do have a couch corner that I have transformed into my office. Through rituals of setting up the pillow just so, leaving a warm tea on the wooden end table beside me that I never drink, perching my MacBook or notepaper on my cushioned laptop desktop, and turning on background jazz, I am firmly established in my own little corner. These days I am ramping up to tackle a freelance project the likes of which I haven't toyed with before, and I frequently return to my figurative drawing board to gauge which story ideas would make suitable pitches for publication. Today, I am using my corner to read. I have the luxury of being self-employed and controlling my workload, and I have found that in order to keep the gateways of creativity open, I must make time to read. For fun. Nothing parenting-related, not articles on why yoga is important, but good novels, exploratory non-fictions that enlighten me. To the couch with me! I've got a meeting with Donna Tartt!

The well-known poem by Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken ends, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."
Two women, who became friends via the magic of the Internet, were both living life on roads less traveled by. Circumstance had them both live in Whitehorse for a short time, where they became best friends. Life's map has them currently in differing geographic locations, but their connection and camaraderie continue as they continue on paths of motherhood, friendship, creativity and discovery. The Two Roads Project is our effort to reconnect with each other and our inner artists on a weekly basis, each Friday. (Or thereabouts. We don't always know which day of the week it is).
Johanna writes here.  

Monday, August 11, 2014

Early to rise



I don't know if it's just me, or some sweet after-effect of spending a year waking up through the night, but I seem to be functioning well with less sleep these days. Summertime magic? Rising sun-facing windows? The unending excitement of having a backyard pool? Perhaps a combination of things. It means I have been staying up late reading a new book, getting up early before the girls to write, eat yogurt and stretch, and I am powering through our days without much crankiness. 

My morning French Vanilla helps.
I have broken the mental barrier between August and September, acknowledging that it is coming. I began flipping through the city's fall recreation guide, to pre-select a few activities for Abby, letting her make the final choice in what she would like to participate. Then I realized I have to buy some school supplies, and probably a new lunch kit for her. I thought I might sign the younger girls up for a preschool music/movement class, but the price tag of three little ladies in just about anything is cost-prohibitive. So, we will happily sign up for the free toddler time at the library, which is a beautiful building just minutes from our house. And that takes care of my mama guilt that my first-born has many more opportunities than her sisters.


Other than fall activities and acquiring school stuff, we are still doing summertime exactly right: daily swims, trips to the park, eating al fresco, harvesting basil and tomatoes, road tripping, bubble-blowing, eating treat foods after dinner, and giving our youngest lady some hand-me-down first shoes in which she can strut around proudly.


I really see how we're feeling the benefits of our choices: staying home more often than going out, inviting friends over for a swim, eating well, keeping bedtimes, being consistent with our chosen house rules (even when it means repeating them 387749696 times a day), fostering quiet time and saying yes more than no. It makes me feel like I am doing alright, that these girls are feeling loved and getting what they need from me. We are finding one-on-one time and I am getting to know what each girls likes, needs and wants. How fortunate am I?

Hailey picks wisely?


Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Two Roads Project: Sunset


Johanna (left): The long drive home from Whitehorse always gives me time to think and ponder about things. Heading West, and often driving home in the evening, we drive straight into the sunset, and it often gives us a beautiful show. 
I welcomed our long five hour drive home after a busy three days in Whitehorse. Luckily, I was accompanied by my husband this trip in (a rare treat, I often drive without him), and it was nice to have that uninterrupted time together. 
As we watched the sunset go down, many things crossed my mind.  With no internet, no 3G (although I don't have a smart phone anyways), I was able to sit back, think and rest. My mind went in and out of ideas and thoughts. I thought of my family who are missing their boy oh so much, of friends who are moving on in life exciting ways, best friends who are having birthdays. The slow and steady drive home is a lovely way to catch up with my thoughts.

Sarah (right): Tonight, the sun sets, in a big, metaphoric way. This is the last time I will nod off to sleep with a baby in the house. Tomorrow, when the sun creeps back up across the horizon, my littlest girl will have turned one. She walks, she talks, she waves and claps. She eats with us at the table, and carries a sippy cup wherever she goes. She still nurses with me a few times a day, and you better believe I'm holding on to that until she decides we're done. No rush. Because that's it. Sun set. The baby days are memories past and the dawn of a new journey begins. In the quiet darkness tonight, between sunset and sunrise, I will be revelling in the in-between. I will bake a birthday cake, I will sing to myself, I will meditate on this exact moment and feel it. The fleeting darkness is finite, and chase it as I may, tomorrow is coming. 
(Note: I write this the night before Summer's first birthday)

The well-known poem by Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken ends, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."
Two women, who became friends via the magic of the Internet, were both living life on roads less traveled by. Circumstance had them both live in Whitehorse for a short time, where they became best friends. Life's map has them currently in differing geographic locations, but their connection and camaraderie continue as they continue on paths of motherhood, friendship, creativity and discovery. The Two Roads Project is our effort to reconnect with each other and our inner artists on a weekly basis, each Friday. (Or thereabouts. We don't always know which day of the week it is).
Johanna writes here. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Stopping the stigma

I don't discuss deeply personal matters in a public forum often, because typically the more personal something is, the more closely we want it protected. I want to nurture pain and difficulty maternally, by holding it close to my chest and whispering, "Shh, there now. It'll be OK."

I also recognize the longevity of the Internet and often the case is that by the time a week or so has elapsed since an issue has given me trouble, it is no longer a concern to me. But permanence rekindles it, over and over, and that isn't always very conducive to healing and progress.

Talking about the difficulties of witnessing PTSD unfold is the exception to my rule. The stigma associated, and, even worse, the biases attached to it within the force, are what give post-traumatic stress disorder its power.

Since the end of April, 15 emergency responders in Canada have committed suicide (or at least, that's how many whose death has been published in the media). That's a major spike and, I hope, a momentary blip. But it's also the truth: first responders see and experience things most of us never will, and shouldn't have to.

Former RCMP Cpl Ken Barker's story really hit a nerve with me. He was one of the first responders to the gruesome Greyhound bus beheading back in 2008. This year, he ended his suffering after years of PTSD ink blotting over his life.

I process most difficulties by writing about them. Usually, in private. But this time I felt the discussion needed to continue in public, and to include a wider net of readers who can relate, the other spouses of RCMP members.

Please read my commentary online in today's Globe and Mail. And share it, because my story is so many other families' stories.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Nursing Summer

I just sat and looked through a People magazine slide show of collected pics of celebrities nursing their babies in honour of World Breastfeeding Week. It made me feel so connected, in that way I do when I see women nursing their kids in different cultures around the world. It's that shared thread, that way we all pick up our babies and bring them to our chests, to feed, to bond, to cuddle. It is universal, without language. If we all did it in the same room together, with the lights dimmed, we wouldn't see our cultural differences at all. We would hear the same suckling noises from our babies, we would sigh the same happy sigh.


I am still nursing Summer, and this is the longest I have gone with any of my babies. Abby weaned about 11 months, and I stopped nursing the twins at 10 months because little miss surprise baby was on her way and sucking the life force out of me. I am happy to let this taper off at her request. This is my victory lap, after all. Of all the sense memories I have from the baby stage, from folding little onesies to smelling milky heads, the thing I will miss most is breastfeeding. I know our breastfeeding relationship is one of comfort now, more than nutrition. I am happy to provide her this comfort, and am not worried about bad habits like nursing her to sleep. Because I know this is fleeting, and I am doing this as much for her as I am for me.

I have made sacrifices to keep nursing her. Indeed, it was a very rough start those first four weeks, and every feed lasted almost 45-minutes, because the process included breast compressions, pumping, breastfeeding and a bottle of formula to top her off. This to ensure that while she learned to nurse effectively, she also was getting enough to grow. I have sacrificed sleep, time with my other three kids, attending certain events and I have been prevented from being away from her for any period of time longer than about 12 hours. 


But oh, it is all worth it, now. When she received her one-year vaccinations and was crying, shaking so hard from the indignity of being poked with three painful needles, I sat in the waiting room and had her calmed down within minutes of beginning to nurse her. When I lull her to sleep at night, often after a harried, hectic bedtime (x4), I am granted a serene moment to sit holding Summer in her rocking chair, in a quiet, dark room, and stare down into her deep blue eyes. I hum lullabies, run my hand over her round, soft head, and take time to look at all her little parts before she goes to sleep and grows them all overnight. 

So tonight, I salute you, mamas. I honour the sacrifice it takes to breastfeed, and the love it fosters.  Rather than polarize formula from bottle from breastfeeding mamas, (who are all doing their best and make their call out of love), I am taking this moment to clink glasses with those who have also missed events, stayed up through the night, made everything all better and given life-giving nourishment to their babies. It's a beautiful bond, worth cherishing.





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