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!

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


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.

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