Sunday, September 25, 2016

When I Get Angry

When we talk about anger, I notice people become uncomfortable, self-deprecating, or unnervingly quiet. I have had people tell me I seem to never get angry, they wonder how am I always so patient with the kids, and they deduce aloud they must be missing something, because they feel angry most of the time. First of all, blanket statements (always, never) don't come close to accessing the truth, and second, the underlying message seems to be that anger is bad.

Anger feels bad. It makes us feel hot, anxious, on-edge, volatile and uncomfortable. We understand a social message that says anger is bad, we should avoid feeling angry, and that when we do we are failing. Enter guilt. Enter me. I get angry frequently. Indeed, a lot of the time I spend with my young kids brings up angry feelings when their behaviour begins to decline, when things don't go my way, when something else entirely is on my mind but I take it out on them irrationally, the list goes on. The very day-to-day (or, more accurately, minute-by-minute) experience of motherhood requires so much of us during waking hours that it can feel overwhelming, even at times when things are going pretty swimmingly.

This girl is angry because it is too cold to swim. By Robin

Anger can be a lot of things. Anger can disguise fear, anxiety, sadness, worry, exhaustion, depression, selfishness, annoyance, impatience, resentment, disappointment, and more. In the moment when I feel angry, it is easiest and most instinctual to act out my anger without taking the time breathe slowly, stay quiet, and figure out which of the above underlying feelings might be at play.

Goober is only angry when girls pull his eyelashes

Honestly, I used to get angry a lot. It causes me shame. I think back to some of the times I remember yelling at my girls, slamming doors, breaking plates and stomping around the house and I feel like curling up into a tiny ball, disappearing from that shame. Guilt and shame. Anger bad. But is anger bad? In my experience, anger is always popping up, here to stay, part of the human experience. I don't think I even want to live a life without anger. A Valium haze, rose-coloured glasses euphoria sounds dreamy but denies real life growth.

Anger is growth. My kids get angry, act on it, and sometimes get into trouble for their reactions. Not for their anger. Let's stop feeling bad about feeling angry. My kids see me get angry: A recipe fails. A daughter ignores me for the umpteenth time. I stub my toe. Anything. For them, and for me, I breathe in and out. Sometimes exaggeratedly and with dramatic flair. I remind myself the feeling will pass. If the situation does not require immediate action, I try to take a moment and figure out what's really bothering me. As the really good Buddhists instruct, I sit with my anger, give it some attention, and then watch it move along.

Sometimes anger is a feeling that needs to exist and then pass. Sometimes it attracts my attention to something that needs fixing right away. Sometimes anger calls me to make a positive change. Sometimes it tells me to smash a plate, but nowadays I ignore that directive and sigh. It teaches me, and I am open to learning. Lifelong learning. I may never understand, but I can learn why anger is here this time, and deduce what I can do about it now. I can release myself of the shame and guilt for recklessly obeying anger's call to destruct and find in it an opportunity to create. I can connect to something inside myself that needs attention. Sometimes that's just my tense jawline needing to be unhinged.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Poet's Dilemma

I am so fortunate. Is it fortune? I live a life of great abundance. I wonder, what is the most accurate word to describe my freedoms? It may be 'lucky'; surely my life has been a story of serendipity and chance, but that is not the whole story. Perhaps the word is 'blessed'; my life has been made sacred, endowed with many beautiful lessons and experiences. To have been born into my family, in this time and place, has given me the space to grow unencumbered by any oppression. I will have to think a bit more about how best to describe this richness I feel when I take stock of my existence, and what it means.

This may seem a mundane and possibly dull way to spend my time, reflecting upon the perfect moniker for my treasured existence. Indeed, it is ironic to spend any time at all fixated on the difficulty of this task when it hopes to clarify (only in words) the beautiful feeling I get when I am awake, present and tuned into those riches all around me: My kids, my husband, my writing, my mind, my home, my extended family, my friends, my neighbourhood, my country, my awakening, my insatiable, curiosity, my quests (big and small), my health. 

We finished our morning activities and asked each other, "what do we most want to do?" Naturally, the girls each wanted to first disagree with each other's ideas and promote her own as best. We decided on a walk on Petrie Island, because the weather was nice, and we hadn't been for a while. We walked in the sunshine, noticing frogs and turtles below us, geese and airplanes above us, and a dancing melee of trees and plants all around us. These eyes and minds that notice, these make us so rich. 

When a girl tripped or fell (growing, clumsy girls seem pulled to earth by a special sort of gravity), hugs were given freely, from us parents or other sisters.  A quick kiss, a pat on the bum and off she went to discover what the next best tree to climb. These tender hearts, these appetites for exploration, these make our lives abundant.  

Maybe it is par for the course of being 30 years old, reflective and contemplative as I navigate these years as a young mama, wife and wordsmith. Maybe I'll forget this train of thought tomorrow. Maybe I'll finally find the word, and recognize it immediately, like when I chance upon the exact right snack to satiate my hunger. In the meantime, I will finish this day in stillness with mouth curled up slightly at the corners, reviewing the bounty of blessings that form the whole of my days.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

September Sets In

There has been much curiosity directed towards me, asking me what I will do now that Hailey and Robin have started kindergarten full days. Most often asked smiling, with eyes wide and an indicative chin motion towards me, hopeful that I may have some liberated answer, I suppose, like, "Anything I want!" Summer, of course, has never been an afterthought in our family. From the moment her existence announced itself on a pregnancy pee stick, Summer has been a very loud, noticeable presence. At three, she is oblivious to any expectation that she sit quietly and entertain herself. So my answer is given with a slightly quizzical look and an empty promise to figure out something.

Summer experiences life on a higher plane, I think, and an assumed belief that all the world's a stage. When the older girls are in school, we will indeed be tasked with figuring out what we will do together. Two mornings a week, she will attend a preschool program. On another she will take gymnastics classes with her best friend while I watch/write/read my book on the sidelines. Beyond that, I am tuning my perspective to be one of appreciation for this year we get to spend together, just her and I. I hope we will bake bread, make errands fun, explore new places, frequent the library, visit friends, and soak up all the benefits of a mama having just one little lady to entertain.

September may mean the drudgery of a return to rules, structure, routine and reality (after a blissful, adventurous summer), but it also means harvest time. Our meals centre around what is locally available and ripe for the picking. This menu is seemingly limitless. All the goodies are ready: root vegetables, garlic, squashes, tree fruits, beans and corn. I will take this offering from September and lap it up greedily. Sometimes literally. 

Our tomatoes are still coming in by the basket every morning, leaving me no end in sight for canning tomato chunks, salsa and ketchup. We picked 35 pounds of apples in about five minutes this weekend, so now we have applesauce to make! I'm hoping our cold basement cold will suffice as storage for the remaining apples, to eat through winter. (I figure if the ones I buy in the store in January have been sitting in cold storage, why can't I load up now myself, locally?) 

I took down my dried lavender and picked off the flowers. I'm not sure how I'll use them. Last year, I made these nice room fresheners by mixing the dried flowers and baking soda in a mason jar with holes in the lid, sprinkling the powder onto carpeted areas. I might make some tea this winter, or use it for a nice chill out moment, opening the jar just for the scent.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Nothing Gold Can Stay

I couldn't very well count myself among the contemplatives if I didn't sit for awhile with these feelings of nostalgia and lament. This week, Abby started school, marking the official end of summer vacation. Later this week, Hailey and Robin begin kindergarten. It's all a little much. Saying goodbye to summer, perhaps the best summer of my life. Saying goodbye to my miracle twin girls as they walk into the school system, away from days spent home with me. As Jimi Hendrix said, "The story of life is quicker than the wink of an eye, the story of love is hello and goodbye."

This summer has been so many adventures, filling our memory banks with stories, discoveries, development and love. Road trips, beaches, learning to swim, lakes, boats, picnics, day trips, Peter Pan reenactments, iced hibiscus tea, barbecue parties, turning our songs up loud, chalk pictures, gardening, and many more snippets that together tell the story of a summer I hope never to forget. Each girl became so much more herself, showing the world and I of what magic she is made.  

And then there are Hailey and Robin.  This week, I will pack two new lunch boxes, stuff them into two new backpacks, put them on comically teeny backs, and walk hand-in-hand (I hope) to school. I will hug them, kiss them, tell them I'll be right there at the end of the day, that I love them, that they're ready, that this will be so much fun, and then I will watch them walk into the outstretched hand of their teacher, and they will be in school. They will spend six and a half hours of their waking day with other people, not me, and though I know they are ready, and this is good progress, I want to keep them with me. Their little hands fit so well in mine.

I am still learning from them. I am still watching nature and nurture debates play out between my identical twins on a regular basis. I am still learning to listen to Hailey's soft, quiet voice. I am still learning to see Robin's eyes follow a conflict in front of her so that I can step in before a sister fight erupts. I am still learning to sit and be with them, watching them play and imagine. I have so much to learn about patience and love and gratitude that I don't want to relinquish their presence in my house all day long. 

First day of Grade 2
Too many days go by before I stop to feel gratitude that Hailey and Robin happened at all.  Maybe the way my heart misses them while they are at school will serve as a reminder of how precious they are. Summertime was spectacular and having Hailey and Robin home with me all these years has been a transformation. I feel weepy that it's over, but I know and trust in the passage of time, because it means we all get to keep growing together. Onto the next nuggets of gold, buried somewhere along the path, just waiting to be discovered.

"Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay." -Robert Frost

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Space to Create

I sit in front of an empty page, pen in hand, and my mind wanders. To lists, to ideas unrelated, to curiosity that can take me down a wormhole if I give in to the screen. The screen. It beckons. I walk by my phone on the counter and my interest is momentarily piqued. "Should I just check it quickly?" Or I find a pause between one task and the next, and I wonder, "should I just check into my email to see what's come in?" No, Sarah. you should not. It will be there later. 

I have noticed when I give myself (my mind) space to think, to dream, to receive and to write, the space fills. With poetry, and lyrics and stanzas and essays. When I fill my space (my mind) with time in front of a screen, any screen, I feel my creativity zap. Just a little, then more, then the whole flame has been snuffed and the room (my mind, again) is dark. With grey matter, static noise, inconsequential fodder from time I'll never get back.

This time of year, I like to leave the window open. The cool night air blowing in on subtle breezes is one of the greatest conditions in which to sleep. The wind blows the curtain into a frenzied dance and the dust unsettles. I sit in meditation falling into a rhythm of breath, listening to the sound of crickets through the window. I brush my teeth slowly in the morning, my mind still a foggy passenger caught between dreaming and awake, and I stand in communion with the outside as the cool pours through the window and lifts me to wakening. The wind distracts me from my mortal ways, inviting me to a brief dance with the divine.

Leaving the windows open, leaving the phone and laptop on the counter, I am left with a wild, free feeling of possibility. What to do? I make space. With eyes closed, face turned to the sun while smiling: space. With deep inhales over a mug of hot tea: space. With staring out into the yard while I weed the garden: space. If I clear enough detritus and the creative forces recognize my readiness, they invade. They fill me. My mind becomes a frenzied Jackson Pollock-looking canvas filled with ideas, descriptors, rhythms and words. 

I am learning this creative work is give and take, hurry and wait. It comes and goes and I am a portal. When I sit, pen in hand, sometimes it happens, and sometimes it doesn't. I am training my mind to keep space available. Be ready. Be welcoming and patient and loving, sweeping the cobwebs and crumbs so it knows I am primed. 

"I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?"
- from The Summer Day by Mary Oliver


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The winds that make you want to dance alone

By the numbers, August is a busy month in the garden. All eight heads of garlic have been harvested, dried, trimmed, and put in the kitchen pantry for use. I have made and frozen two batches of pesto. I have picked, peeled and canned eight jars of tomatoes. I have made three jars of homemade ketchup. I sold a baby walker on kijiji and spent almost all of my profit at the farmer's market on even more produce that I have been busy preserving or baking and freezing. This is the time the year where the ants work, work, work to prepare for the coming winter and deprivation from fresh, locally-grown produce. 


Homemade ketchup
Having a small edible garden and literally reaping the fruits of my labour is so rewarding. I remind myself of this when I am ears-deep in tomatoes I need to process this very instant or risk them  spoiling. I have so many ideas of what to do differently next year, what to try, what not to repeat. Gardening is such a metaphor for so many situations, isn't it? Right now, that metaphor is, "don't bite off more than you can chew." While it would be great to add in even more tomato plants next year, or try my hand at beets and carrots, I have to remember August, and how busy it all becomes!

Carlton tomatoes

I have been in the kitchen a lot while the girls colour, make forts, play out front, and do whatever it is little girls like to do in the waning weeks of summer vacation. I relish in this quiet time stirring, boiling and chopping. It is the most real-life application of meditation when I leave the radio off. Focus on the task at hand. Repeat each motion. It has also been fulfilling and sparking my creative forces, coming alive through new recipe adaptations, finding new uses for my fried lavender, and arranging the vase of sunflowers. I feel more moved to write, spontaneously, and that is such an electric feeling. 

I'll leave you with a poem I've just read and been re-reading this last week by American poet Mark Nepo. I hope you'll like it. It's called, Breaking Surface, and is very carpe diem.

Let no one keep you from your journey.
no rabbi or priest, no mother
who wants you to dig for treasures
she misplaced, no father
who won't let one life be enough,
no lover who measures their worth
by what you might give up,
no voice that tells you in the night
it can't be done.
Let nothing dissuade you
from seeing what you see
or feeling the winds that make you
want to dance alone
or go where no one
has yet to go.
You are the one explorer.
Your heart, the unreadable compass.
Your soul, the shore of a promise
too great to be ignored.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Cottage Time-out

I think the reason so many of us identify with memorable trips to a cottage, is because no matter what walk of life, a sojourn to the wilderness is accessible to nearly everyone. Whether a fancy mountain cabin or a nearly dilapidated shack, a solid shelter tucked into the woods, with access to waterfront, has transformative powers. Children easily transform their surroundings to pretend they are pirates, explorers, you name it. Adults too, even though we have mostly moved on from child's play, are transformed by a slower pace, a sloughing of redundant technology and busy-ness.

Our family was lucky enough to be invited to a cottage on a pristine lake in the mountains of Quebec. The air was crisp, never humid. The water so clean, we could drink it. The sound of the trees as the wind rushed through at night time was the best lullaby any of us had ever heard. 

I set my intention before the trip and each morning again to be a little more quiet, a little more still. Listen. Hear. Put away my reactive voice and try to gauge first whether anything needed to be said at all. This, if you know me, is incredibly difficult and counter-intuitive. Doesn't everyone want to hear all the wonderful thoughts I have in my head on the topic being discussed? My ego may have trouble understanding a negative response, but deep in my quiet, true self, I knew this trip would be a great chance to practice some quiet. 

Going mute is not my thing, nor is it even that noble of an endeavour if I'm pursuing it for my own self-interest. Practically, it is nearly impossible not to speak as a mother with four young girls. "Don't eat that mysterious berry!" and so forth. So, I set my goal a little lower. I am trying not to complain. At all. So far, the longest I have gone is six hours, (not counting sleep) but I am trying to work towards a month. I start over every time, anew.

Abby learned to kayak, solo. A natural!

In trying to not complain, I am required to evaluate what I say before it comes out. It's a strategic pause to ask myself, "but, is that a complaint?" In most cases, it is, and I zip it. This waiting, this required beat before speaking, is really hard for me, but it is also the seat of a spiritual practice I have been working towards a long time. Think before I speak. Nobody benefits from hearing my complaints, they rarely change the situation for the better, and they hardly make me feel better. So, they're out.  

Going to the cottage with my family was exactly what we all needed. Equal part measurements of adventure, new experiences, days on the lake, big meals, quiet time and deep sleeps. The girls loved nature walks, testing their balance on the paddle boards, sleeping side-by-side in four beds squished together and letting grandparents shower them with attention. I, for one, engaged my practice of non-complaining over a nice dinner date with Rich, many kayak and paddle board explorings, shared meal preparations, quiet morning yoga, and some of the deepest sleeps I have had in years. 

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