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 At this juncture, however, the game plan written for a girl in her twenties surrounded by babies in the Yukon is no longer applicable.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.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

A Case of the Decembers

The sun has already started to set when I walk the girls home from school at 3:45. We set the table and sit to eat with the sky already a dark indigo turning black. They have been asking for bath, story and sleep before bedtime; they feel the call to hibernate in caves made of quilts and down. I see the snowfall begin, check the weather to see 15cm is expected. I don't think about how cozy it will be to wrap myself in a wool throw and watch Christmas movies. I grumble about putting snow pants over top my pyjamas so I can go shovel the driveway and front walk.


We make getting groceries an adventure, pulling them home on our sled. We build fires in the fireplace, attend Christmas parties and December recitals in our best dresses and shined leather shoes. I take time to send cards, and show my girls what it is to give what we can to those who could use help, whether we know them or not. My day planner's boxes fit with reminders, appointments, to-dos and planned meals and I sigh a little too loudly. 

December. It calls us all to slow down, be still, listen, reflect, be together. It also feels like a bunch of social obligations that, on their own, sound fun and idyllic but collectively leave me tired, overwhelmed and approaching burn out. 

When I splay myself across the couch, weary after a day of working, mothering, giving more of myself than I have to spare, I turn on the news. I see children like my children and families like my family struggling to leave their homes in Syria. I see proud people protecting their land in Standing Rock, and am reminded of the struggle to exist fairly as an indigenous community. I cry when I see such hurts, such wrongs, and I wonder how I ever complained about my busy schedule.


I remember that every day is a miracle: for me, for refugees, for activists, for everyone. We are a week away from Christmas Day and I will prepare my heart to be thankful, to relish in my blessings, to honour my life's comfort and safety. I will be glad to see my friends and family all around me, sharing in our bounty. I will try to remember that I can make much more of an impact on the greater good with my demeanour: my patience, my smile, my offerings, my hugs. 

I can't take away the struggles, injustices, sicknesses and pain that plague so many people. I can start where I am, in my home, in my town, at work, and try to lighten everyone's load without depleting my own. 

From a Letter to his Daughter
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities
no doubt have crept in;
forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely
and with too high a spirit
to be cumbered with
your old nonsense.

This day is all that is
good and fair.
It is too dear,
with its hopes and invitations,
to waste a moment on yesterdays.



Tuesday, December 6, 2016

smile

I have this silly game I play when I go to Costco. It started when I reluctantly bought a membership because the cost savings were significant enough for our family of people who like to eat food. (More and more food, ever increasing). I resisted because Costco just felt so ... industrial, devoid of joy, stark, and where the grumpiest of people converge on Saturdays to bump carts and growl at each other. I invented a game where I try to smile at everyone in there: The people giving out samples, the people who drive their cart right into me because they weren't looking, the people who growl at me because, I don't know, they are angry at life?


The Costco angry shopper syndrome spreads this time of year. I do most of my holiday shopping online to both avoid the stores full of bustle and to ensure I make my purchases thoughtfully. My budget means I can't buy everything I see in a store that would be so awesome or funny to open or that makes us remember that time we did something funny. Do you pick up on grumpy shopper vibes, too? In line, definitely at the post office, in busy grocery stores, on evenings or weekends at any store in December. I avoid when I can, because the syndrome can be contagious.  

Horse-drawn sleigh ride, anyone?

I read a great piece this week reminding us to be a little more quiet and reflective in December. The origins of the season (and some of the most beautiful Christmas songs) were rooted in a stillness, a peace cultivated by closing out all the noise and focusing on that warm feeling in my chest I like to think of as my light. It resonated with me. I feel myself clawing, searching desperately for answers every December when I feel stress and overwhelming thoughts of being a mother at Christmastime. It all starts to add up. It happens every year. I look to God, I look to role models, I look for guidance and try to stave off the encroaching grumpiness of holiday shopper/consumer/parenting roles. 


What I need is to be still. In the quiet, remember what it's about, for me. My girls smiling faces and the magic of Santa Claus. The spirit of giving and involving their naturally generous hearts in the process. In being in the kitchen, any kitchen, preparing food with friends and family. In the light of a candle on a dark night and the space to think. To let myself cry when I'm driving down the highway to be on time for gymnastics class because O Holy Night is playing and I just can't help but feel its beauty. To enjoy outdoor activities because the rosy cheeks and fresh air are always worth the effort.


Everything we need to settle into December is right here. It is behind the curtain of wants and shopping and holiday grumpiness. It is peace. Not always quiet (who lives with five people and finds enough quiet?), but joyful. Then can I remember to pause and reflect. Stop and check in with myself. Find that still, small voice telling me what I need to remember. That offering a smile that has come from a place of deep breaths, peace and recognition is always needed, in a time of many wants and wishes. 



"It was only a sunny smile, and it cost little in the giving, 
but like morning light, it scattered the night,  
and made the day worth living." 
-F. Scott Fitzgerald

Consider this my to-do list

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Seeing Her

Sunday afternoon was all set up: The fire was burning in the fireplace, the Christmas colouring books and bin of crayons laid out on the little table, the sound of the Merry Christmas button being pressed repeatedly on the one musical decoration we own. Summer was happily occupied with the pile of Christmas books I had laid out on the coffee table. Hailey and Robin heeded my pleas to stop pushing the Christmas song button, so they migrated to the colouring. I set myself up to begin assembling the shepherd's pie for dinner when I felt a little hand rest on my back. 


"Mama, can I help make the dinner?" asked Abby. Now, I shamefully admit that my initial reaction was to resist this request. Having her help meant my time efficient meal preparation method would be threatened. I wanted to get the dish in the oven and move on to one of the many things a mother of four has to do on a Sunday afternoon. Then I thought about what she was really asking. She was asking did I see her? Did I hear her say, so many times, that she wanted to be an artist slash chef when she grew up? Did I believe in her ability to do it? Did I want to spend time with her? The answer was easy.


We tied each other's aprons and I laid out the ingredients for mashed potatoes. Abby got to work mashing the Yukon gold potatoes I had boiled. She grated some Parmesan and stirred it in with sour cream, cream cheese, salt, pepper and milk. She set that bowl aside, and we took out the cast iron skillet to cook up the meat. She heated the oil and dumped in the beef chuck, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. I poured in the chopped onions, Merlot, and Worcestershire sauce. She inhaled deeply as the ingredients heated in the pan. 

"Girls, do you smell this?" she asked. "It smells soooo good." She browned the meat and thickened the sauce with cornstarch and cold water. She asked what made the bubbles as the mixture simmered. We stirred in our seasonings (a family secret, I won't tell!), and then I held the heavy pan over the casserole dish so she could scrape it all into the bottom. She layered the meat under peas and corn, then spread her mashed potatoes over top. She thought we should add a little butter over top. I, being the sous-chef, was in no position to disagree.


We hosted her grandparents for dinner that night and as we all sat around the table digging in after grace, everyone began to thank and compliment me on the delicious dinner.

"Oh no," I said. "Abby made all of this. Start to finish." All seven of us looked over at her. Abby's high apple cheekbones squished up into her eyes, her smile was so big. They showered her with praise and she humbly thanked them, making sure to ask her sisters dramatically, "Did you know I put wine in this? You're eating wine!"Giggles and gasps. 



When I tucked her into bed that night, I asked what her favourite part of the day had been. She had gone bowling with a good friend from school, watched a Christmas movie in her jammies that morning, and practiced her piano for her proud grandparents. You can imagine how my heart did swell when she wrapped her little arm around my neck and whispered in my ear, "making dinner with you, mama."

Friday, November 18, 2016

Choices

Raising kids, and being a human, I am recognizing that each of us needs just a few things in order to be okay. We need shelter, food and safety in order to be free to grow. We thrive on predictability, and the comfort in knowing that one's safety, food and shelter needs will be met for the foreseeable future gives us a lot of space to fill with individuality. In social relationships, kids and spouses and friends and family members crave a similar sense of predictable safety and comfort. 

I have been married to Rich now for nine years, and we have been a couple for nearly 16. This relationship has been totally our choice. Our choice to start it, our choice to commit to it, our choice to sustain it and our choice to stay in it. This makes it different than any of my relationships with my kids, or my family, or even my friends. This relationship happens day in, day out, through stomach flus, deaths, bill not getting paid, moves, births, mistakes, celebrations and every other aspect of a long life, because we choose it.


Rich's decision to keep loving me and my decision to keep loving him aren't always easy choices. We know what is at stake, we know the value of our vows, and we know that at any given moment a house of cards can come crashing down. It has happened before, it will happen again, and our relationship will keep being tested. We will keep being forced to ask ourselves and each other if we want to keep doing this. 

I say this all as though things are fragile between us and I confidently endorse our bond as strong, deeply-rooted, loving and equal. We are good, in love, we respect each other, we support each other and we have no plans to put an end to this goodness. Acknowledging how easily things can change, however, I am grateful that in spite of all the odds, we are together. 

For our anniversary this year, Rich affirmed for me through a very touching gesture that I am seen. He sees me and hears me. This is one of those key, foundational elements that we all need. Every one of us wants to know we are important. 

He gifted me a collection of books: a journal, for me to scribble notes. A collection of Nobel Prize-winning short stories, so I can model my work after the best out there. Two books of poems carefully selected for me. These things together were meant to tell me I am a writer. He believes in me. I am important to him, he sees my value, my true self, and he supports it. What greater gift from a husband to a wife exists, I ask?

Pardon my brag, but this, this is the gesture of a good man. Amidst a busy life parenting our four girls, recovering from an injury, staying afloat and figuring it out as we go, we celebrate our choice to be together. I am so grateful for him. 

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