Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Letting Go

Ava begins Grade 2 today, and William had his "Meet the Teacher" night at his new preschool last night, and I'm feeling more emotional than I expected to about both of these events. I'm beyond excited to have 8 hours per week of writing time when William is at preschool, and cut down on sibling rivalry and general chaos by only having one child at home during school hours, but it's still a milestone to cross, and any milestone becomes complicated emotionally for mothers.

I ran into a friend in town and her youngest is heading to Grade 1 this year. I told her I was jealous - "Think of all of that time you'll have to yourself!" - but she sniffed and said she was feeling really sad about it. There are so many issues at play at any given time for any mom, and until we are standing in someone's shoes, we can't begin to understand how the emotions might hit us.

I have vague, generic memories of my Grade 1 teacher and experiences, but my perceptions are sharper and clearer for Grade 2, and I realize that the memories that Ava is forming now will carry her through the rest of her life. The baby and preschool years are critically important for children, but the memories formed are more like general impressions of love and care. For some reason, I feel the responsibility more keenly now for Ava's specific experiences, and I recognize that she is on the cusp of growing up and away from us.

Ah, perhaps that is the heart of the matter. I celebrate who she is becoming, and where she is about to go in life, but every grade level she increases through means more friends, and laughter, and stories that don't include me. They are for her alone, and will shape her as she grows into the beautiful young woman she will become. It's always so hard for the parents to let go. To release our child's hand, to wave, to blow her a kiss and to watch her find her own wings and walk along the path that is meant for her alone. I cannot follow where she is going, and so it means saying goodbye to the little child, and embracing this new girl who is taking her place.

William is seeing the child psychologist this afternoon for the first time. I'm looking forward to leaning on an outside professional to help me manage his fear and anxiety. At moments on our vacation he was so brave and daring in the pool and while mini golfing, that I began to believe we were out of the woods, and it would all be okay. And then yesterday I was at the dry cleaners, and he could see me through the windows of the van, and his sister was with him, but he began screaming, pulling at his seatbelt, panicking that I was too far away and he couldn't get to me.

Parenting is filled with the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. It's great to live in the in-between, but right now, with the excitement and the stress of easing both kids into school and preschool, it feels like the extremes are winning out, and emotionally I'm taking a beating. In a few weeks, it will all seem easier, but right now it's an uphill climb, and the air is getting thin, and I'm beginning to panic a little. I have to keep calm, and carry on, and call out to my friends for help, for none of us are mothering alone, and encouragement helps us to keep going, believing that we are doing the best we can.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ruin is a Gift

I saw Eat Pray Love yesterday with a friend in a plan we made long ago after both reading the book. She loved the travel sections of the book, and I loved some of the more poignant truths that Elizabeth Gilbert realized in her quest to know herself and to find God, and we both love Julia Roberts, so going to the movie together was a no-brainer. When you enjoy a book (and the book Eat, Pray, Love inspired me to write my own memoir), often the movie is disappointing, but thankfully in this case that rule didn't prove true.

My criticism with the book was that it was too long and rambly in sections. I would've found it more moving if half of it was edited out, but there were definitely moments that stirred my soul with the recognition of truth and beauty. The movie was able to cut out the parts that weren't central to the story, while creating a gorgeous backdrop of the three locales she visited: Italy, India, and Indonesia. Julia Roberts made a perfect Elizabeth Gilbert, struggling through a painful divorce and learning how to enjoy her own company for the first time in her life, while on a life-changing journey to find God.

The most inspiring scene in the movie for me came during the "eat" section of the film in Italy. Gilbert was at a particularly low point personally when she went with some new friends to a tomb deep below the city. She sat and looked around with tears in her eyes, and in her voice-over she talked about ruin, and what it can bring to you if you are willing to walk through it. She said, "Ruin is a gift. Ruin leads you on the path to transformation."

Sometimes you have to get to the basement in your life, feel the worst and most painful emotions possible, in order to rebuild yourself into who you are meant to be. I've experienced this over and over again. I always wish I could circumvent the process of conflict and hurt, but walking through it is the only way home, back to myself and a character that is built on something solid and lasting.

Her journey to know herself, forgive herself and love herself without reservations was inspiring to watch. I recognized myself in this book and movie. For years I've been on a path to understanding who I really am, accepting that, and settling into my personality like you would into your house. Forgiveness is a huge part of this process, as is being honest with yourself and dismantling your many masks and disguises. Slowly shedding the way I used to hide in the world has been the most freeing and satisfying thing I've ever done.

Ruin is a gift, and when the hard times come, I'm going to hold that fact up, like a candle in the darkness, and remember that transformation will eventually come. I must bravely walk through it, and be gentle with myself, and remember to extend the grace to others that I need for myself. Inspiration in any form is a beautiful thing, and I'm grateful for the chance to be moved and changed by Eat Pray Love in both of its forms.

Mirrors of You

A friend recently sent me an e-mail called 10 Rules for Being Human by Cherie Carter-Scott. One of them in particular jumped out as being especially relevant and true. It said, "Other people are merely mirrors of you. You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects to you something you love or hate about yourself."

These two lines stopped me in my tracks, and made me pause and really think about how often I judge others for something that I am merely projecting onto them. Most of our lives are really about ourselves. Not because we mean to be self-centered, but by nature, we are all focused on ourselves. All of our relationships flow, to some degree, out of our feelings about ourselves.

If we feel secure and happy, we see the world in a positive light. If we believe we are worthless and that no one loves us, we put this attitude onto the people around us. It's referred to as "self-fulfilling prophecies." What we believe, we become, and we find other people confirming what we already thought to be true.

I've noticed this in a personal way since I began focusing on my dream to write professionally. I used to quite easily convince myself that I wasn't a good enough writer to make it into a career. I felt that I couldn't do it, that I didn't deserve to do it, and I felt sure that everyone around me felt the same. But once I began to find my confidence and my groove, people started to encourage me everywhere I went. Friends patted me on the back, and my entire world view seemed to take on a new colour, become more beautiful, and my dream didn't seem so far-fetched anymore.

Often the characteristics that drive me bananas in other people are the ones that I've struggled with myself. Once again, other people are mirrors for my own personality, magnifying my own weaknesses and fears back to me. I don't want to be self-centered and rude, but I fear that those qualities are always lurking just under the surface, waiting for a chance to be given free reign. I'm not very giving by nature, and the people who are stingy and sparing with themselves incite a raring rage inside of me, probably because I understand that deep down, I'm actually like them.

We can always work on ourselves. As long as we are alive, it's not too late to improve, to fight our naturally messed-up impulses and sculpt our personalities to make ourselves better, kinder, more loving and less judgemental. I need to take the time to examine myself regularly, to discover why I go crazy around certain types of people, and decide what it really says about me to have my buttons pushed in this way. And the same is true for the good things I find in other people - what do those wonderful qualities reflect in me? How can I improve? I can't change others, but I can always change myself, and I must, in order to become the kind of person I desperately want to be.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


This has been the best summer I've ever had. I really didn't understand parents who fully embraced the summer until this year after Grade 1 for Ava: the rigours of the backpack, the school lunch, the agenda, the 8:30 am rush out of the house - when that was over I breathed a huge sigh of relief, and now I actually get it. Summer is important for the break from routine, and I dived into it headfirst.

We've traveled a lot this summer, which has its rewards and its pitfalls. When the scales are weighed and balanced, they tip toward the good, and memories have been made that we will all keep forever. We are all ready to go home, and I suppose that's a positive thing, because school starts for Ava on Tuesday, so the summer party is winding to a close no matter where you are or what you are doing.

Travel is pleasant for the soul, and it expands the mind, but you are always at the mercy of other people and other schedules when you are with a group, and after a period of time I long to be back in my own space with my own routine. I got out my calendar this week and opened it to September, October and November and began plotting out dates for church homegroup, writer's group, stamping classes, writing classes, MOPS, library board meetings and all of the other regular commitments that will roar back to life in a week or two.

I was pleased to find out that I was ready to think about these things, all of a sudden, and it wasn't distressing at all. So much of life is like that - when we least expect it, we find we are ready for another change. For a few weeks now, I've been talking to William about his new preschool, trying to prepare him for this new adventure, and he remains adamant that he won't ever go to school, or in fact anywhere away from me.

That's the hardest part of the fall for me, easing him into an experience that will ultimately be good for him, but his uncertainty and fear choke him like a dust cloud that he can't see through, and no amount of discussion seems to be helping him. We'll have to take it day by day, step by step, and I'm grateful for the understanding of the new preschool to help him manage his anxiety. He'll be going with many of his friends, so all of these things should help.

Ava can hardly wait to see her friends and get back to her school environment. She always pretends a confidence that she doesn't necessarily feel, so there may be a few bumps to ease her back in, but I know that her experience will be a positive one. Hopefully she will light the way for her brother, who often takes his cues from her optimism.

Last September everything changed for me. I went back to work part-time in mid-August, began my film class at U of C in September, and by Thanksgiving I knew I could finish my screenplay and try to make it as a professional writer. It was the final puzzle piece, clicking into place, and pushing me forward with a surge of unshakable confidence in myself. It was a personal awakening; beautiful and inspiring, and I changed last fall in a way that has provided meaning and colour to my life in a completely new way, so I can't wait to see what this fall brings.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Encouragement Instead of Instruction

I'm trying something new with both of my kids, and with the people all around me: I'm encouraging instead of informing. I know I respond better when I'm praised and loved instead of judged and corrected, and I believe this to be a universal phenomenon. Being kind is better than being right.

William is teaching me about this, as I've noticed he doesn't respond well to onslaughts of instruction. He freezes up, resists, declines to comply. But if I come alongside and encourage him, give him hugs, and tell him I believe in him, he puffs up a little bit with self confidence, and tries on his own time.

Trying to force people to do what I want them to do is not the way to success. It is the path to frustration and resentment. I can see this clearly in a way I wasn't able to before, and I've decided to change how I interact with other people. I want to be a cheerleader, full of positive encouragement, and not a teacher, constantly correcting my pupils.

Ava responds much better to direction because she is compliant by nature, but William is an immovable force. Like me, he digs his heels in the sand when he doesn't want to do something, and refuses until he is blue in the face. I used to attempt to convince him by sheer force, but thank the good Lord I am relaxing in my fascist approach, and realizing that if he's not ready, I can be gentler with him, and ease him into change so it doesn't seem so terrifying to him.

We went mini golfing this week while on vacation, and Jason, good golfer that he is, worked on correcting Ava's stance and swing. She was open to this kind of instruction. When it came to William, he would put up with it for a few minutes, and then swing his club any way he damn pleased, and when Jason hit his ball for him, he cried and went to get it and put it back at the starting point.

It hit me that William really needed to do it on his own, and Jason had to step back and let him do it. Jason was trying to be helpful in assisting his small son with the task of mini golfing, but once he stopped interfering, William had a really good time. It took him upwards of ten strokes on each green, but he did it himself, and he was beaming with pride. The more we encouraged, the better he did, and it was like a revelation to us.

A new parenting style was born on that mini golf course. When Ava felt blue that she couldn't putt very well, we told her she was doing fine, and cheered her on. It helped all of us have a good time, and feel good about our family outing. I know that sometimes we have to help our kids through situations that they don't want to participate in, but they must (like the dentist or preschool for William), and in those times, encouragement will still work better than information and pressure. We'll give it a try, and see how it works out from this point forward.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

When I Stop Talking...

I just finished Jerry Weintraub's book, When I Stop Talking You'll Know I'm Dead, about his years as a businessman, talent agent, booking manager for musicians and eventually producer of wildly successful movies like the Ocean's Eleven franchise. His book was fun, light, and frivolous, with lots of name-dropping and entertaining stories of how he solved problems and made millions.

He ended the book with a few lines which summarized his philosophy and ideas. He said, "I asked if I did not know. I listened when someone else was talking. I sold with joy, so my products were fun to buy. Most important, I was never afraid to fail, which meant I was never afraid to try. I was never afraid to look silly, which meant I was never threatened by a new idea."

I really enjoyed the book, but I was especially inspired by these final thoughts. I thought they were words to live by, to hang my work ethic on and trust to get me through the rough patches. The older I get, the easier it is for me to look silly, but when I was younger, I wasn't willing to risk being perceived as foolish. I understand now that failing is a huge part of success. No one gets it right all of the time.

I'm entrepreneurial by nature and always have been. In my twenties, I started a variety of small companies, all of which failed. In my early thirties, when I decided I wanted to stay home with Ava, I joined Stampin' Up as a demonstrator and taught workshops in people's homes for rubber stamping and paper crafting. I was quite successful in this venture, and quickly built myself a thriving business for the first time.

Then we moved a province over, and I had to start from scratch. I didn't work as hard at my business in Alberta because William's first few months of infancy were a blur to me, a by-product of my unbridled ambition to succeed. I realized I had missed moments that I would never get back, and I decided to dial back my business. It was a good decision, but the part of me that loved the thrill of success became starved and eventually faded into the background.

I don't regret putting my kids first, especially because I didn't give William the same attention and care that Ava received as a tiny baby, and that fact still haunts me. But I was happy to realize that the old ambition is alive and well, even if it did need to be coaxed back into the light, and now in writing I'm finally doing exactly what I've always wanted to do.

Having permission to fail gives you the confidence to try for success. The two concepts are interrelated. I realized this later than I would've liked, but lessons come when we are ready to learn them, and I'm glad it's never too late to embrace the ideas that will place us on our own paths to freedom and personal satisfaction.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I'm really not a fan of golfing. I'm not sure why it constantly rubs me the wrong way, except that it does. Possibly it's my cheap nature, flaring up because I consider the green fees and the cost of the cart rental, and even the beer and appies in the clubhouse after the game, to be ridiculously expensive. Or it could be the child care aspect, where I always suspect that any time I take away from the kids will be less than what Jason gets when he goes golfing, because it always seems to turn into an all-day endeavour.

In my rational mind, I recognize that Jason works hard to support us financially, and he deserves some leisure time for himself. The problem is that I am rarely in my rational mind when it comes to these things. Usually I become resentful, and angry, and demanding, none of which makes me look or feel very good about myself as a wife.

I'm working on letting go of my rage against golfing. I'm willing to go golfing with him in the future, when we might have more money and time, but for now it's part of his job, and the allure of the game is something I simply don't possess. My competitive nature creeps into the process, and I know I don't want to begin playing with him when he will be so much better than I am. He'll say all of the right things, and encourage me, and I will smolder away in silence, proverbial steam pouring from my ears.

I keep hoping that someday these darker parts of my personality will vaporize, and I'll become the nice person I keep hoping is buried deep inside. I watch other wives with their husbands, kissing them and wishing them a great golf game, and I wonder if they are faking their enthusiasm, or if they are just much better and kinder people.

I think all I can do is keep trying to be rational and understanding, and apologize for the times I fail and slip into my nasty and resentful attitude, the one that comes so easily to me. I have to recognize why I get so moody when he goes off to enjoy himself for a few hours, and trust that he will come back refreshed and renewed. When we are on vacation as a family, I guard that time jealously, partly as a break from my full-time child minding duties, but also simply to be together without his Blackberry ringing every two seconds or his laptop screen glowing and demanding his attention.

Maybe when he goes golfing I worry that he is choosing that sport over me and the kids, but I have to recognize that he enjoys golfing in the same way that I enjoy shopping or going to a movie with a friend: simply to get away from the kids and regular life and just be myself for a few hours. Recognizing that this leisure time is important for him and is not a rejection of me, might be the first step to supporting him instead of fighting him on this topic.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


William is slowly responding to the new approach I've been taking with him. I'm offering him more of myself, as much as I can give, and after a rocky initial adjustment period, he appears to be relaxing into my attentions and affection. I think that the trust in our relationship bank was becoming depleted, and I needed to make some deposits of myself so he felt safer.

Sometimes it's very hard for me to give what I don't want to give. I think I'm trying to teach a lesson, or help him be independent, but then I realize that I've gone about it backwards. A huge part of parenting is giving when we don't feel there is anything else to give. We are exhausted; physically, emotionally or spiritually, but then we dig deep and discover there is still something there, tiny as it may be, to grab hold of and give.

When we try to hold onto this energy for ourselves, it seems to vaporize into thin air, but when we give it away, we find our own good spirits restored. This transaction amazes me every single time. So often I need to look at myself critically and honestly in order to find out what is really going on within my soul. I think I know, but until I'm willing to be brutally honest with myself, and admit that what I'm doing isn't working, I can't progress and effect positive change.

I know for a fact that I must stop parenting William for all of the things I fear he will become, and start seeing him as he is, loving and embracing his strengths and his weaknesses, and go forward with a more positive outlook. Doing anything because you are afraid of a bad outcome is not an effective strategy. I want to set a goal, and work toward it with positive action, not negative fears of what could materialize.

We parent our young children, and we are in charge, but our relationship is what will guide us through the teen years and the adulthood years. I want it to be a positive one, where my kids know they can count on me 100 percent to have their backs, and they can talk to me about anything, and at a certain point I will transition from their parent to their coach. I don't want to judge my children, any more than I want to be judged. I want to love, and embrace, and accept. I want to guide them toward something, not away from something.

It's a small mental shift, but a huge epiphany in the way I teach and train. Every day, we talk together and use moments to drive home points that I want them to learn, and I must remain open to the lessons that they will teach me. I'm guiding them toward behaviours and attitudes, not away from them. It's a positive approach, instead of a negative one, and I'm eager to put this change into practice, and see where it takes all of us.

Monday, August 23, 2010


I'm not a person who typically enjoys nature. I wish I did, because there are some people who thrive in the great outdoors, but I tend to be more of a hothouse plant (to quote a friend of mine). I like to be comfortable, not too hot and not too cold, but once in awhile, I spend a few hours in the open air, and I revel in the sensory experience of beauty all around me.

Yesterday was one of those days. We are in Leavenworth, WA for a week, staying at one of our timeshares. Leavenworth is a sweet Bavarian town, not the military prison in Kansas like most people thought when we mentioned our vacation destination, and every building looks like it belongs on a postcard of Germany. It was one of those days where the wind blows with a cooling breeze, the sun is hot on your face but ducks behind the clouds every few minutes for a reprieve from the warmth, and the sky is so blue that it hurts your eyes to really look at it.

In other words, it was gorgeous. A day where you felt inspired just to look around. I felt the joy of being alive, deep in my bones, and knew I wouldn't soon forget all that I was experiencing around me. The sound of the river flowing around the rocks, the live music in the town square, and the glorious flavour of my Cold Stone Creamery Mud Pie Mojo ice cream.

I love it when my kids are caught up in the spirit of adventure when we explore a new place. They wanted to go here and there and see everything they could in the time we had. Their excitement fed all of us and gave us new eyes to see what was surrounding us. I don't want to ever lose that sense of anticipation that something wonderful is just around the corner. I don't want to be complacent and thoroughly middle-aged in the way I look at the world. I want to see the beauty and the fun in what I'm doing, but it takes some effort to cultivate that as a world view.

I need to work on my approach to nature; to understand that it feeds my soul in a way that fluorescent lighting and air conditioning simply cannot replicate. I love our timeshare locations because they provide us with an opportunity to stay in comfort, swim in the beautiful pools, and enjoy a variety of scenic locations in different seasons of the year. I am thrilled that my kids will grow up with these travel memories, and I enjoy these experiences with them, for long after they have grown up and moved away, we will have these memories to keep us warm.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Family Identity

Why do some children grow into adults with the confidence to face the world independently, and others require ongoing dependence on their parents and end up with a limited launch into adulthood? It's a question I ponder because I want my kids to find their own way in life; to separate from Jason and I in order to move smoothly into their own dreams and callings with no lingering guilt placed on them by their parents.

It's quite easy for me to say this now, when my children are 7 and 4, but I want to plant this idea deep in my subconcious, so I truly believe it when the time comes to let them go and watch them spread their wings to fly. Children are not possessions. They do not belong to me, or to anyone. They belong to themselves, and I believe they belong to God, and that he holds them in his hand for safekeeping.

Growing up, my best friend's mom used to say that every parent's job is to take a fully dependent baby, and turn them into a completely independent adult. As a mom, I think about that often. I watch the times where it doesn't work, and the adults are terrified to leave home and face the uncertainties of the world on their own, and usually there is a complicated dance at play between the child and the parent. Each person is playing a role that is dependent on the other, and if one person decides to change, everyone has to change, but usually there is so much fear and pressure involved that no one dares to break the cycle.

Setting up boundaries for your own nuclear family is an important process. It's very hard for most parents to release their grasp and allow their grown children to follow their dreams and make their own families without excess interference. Sometimes hard decisions must be made and communicated, and a new dance ends up being created. Many times the steps take years to learn and master, with many slip-ups back into the old routine, but I believe it's important to soldier on and not give up when times are hard.

We are forming our own identity as a family of four. We are discovering where we fit in our extended families, with our friends, and in our various communities. We are making mistakes and learning from them, and doing some things right, and taking joy in that hard-won independence. We are in the middle of a process, and it's acceptable for us not to have all of the answers. We are trying our best, and shaping our family territory, and in the process, discovering who we are as a family unit.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Full Circle Friendship

This week we thoroughly enjoyed a visit with some friends who are old to us in some ways, and new to us in others. We met her many years ago, and immediately liked her, but circumstances intervened in the middle years, and we fell completely out of touch with each other, and only when our kids were born did our paths manage to cross again.

When we did begin connecting with each other again, we both shook our heads and wondered why in the world we let all of that time pass without actively pursuing our friendship. Our husbands were complete strangers to each other, but instantly found a rapport and a common ground which is impossible to manufacture. It's either there or it's not, and with these two, it was there in spades.

So much of life is like ships passing in the night, coming and going without really cementing a firm connection with people. And other times, you have a connection and you lose it because of circumstances, illness or other people getting in the way. When you find it again, it's like a gift that you realize holds tremendous value, and you don't ever want to let it slip through your fingers again.

Couple friendships are tough to negotiate, because there are now relationship dynamics going on between four different people. Often you get along with one member of the couple and not the other, and tension starts to surface as a result. When all four people like each other, it's as if the heavens have opened and the angels are singing. It all becomes very easy, and relaxed, and fun.

That's what it's like with these friends. We seem to have a shorthand between us that requires no interpretation. We understand each other, and don't have to censor any opinions or ideas. No topic is off limits. We share a basic worldview and value system, and that provides a jumping-off point for the relationship to grow and flourish, even after many years where it was cut off and virtually non-existent.

It's good to know that some friendships are meant to be, and can withstand the onslaught that comes against them. Perhaps that's why we value this one so deeply, because it was almost taken from us, but in time found a way to grow again. Never say never when it comes to people you once loved. People can change, and circumstances will change, but sometimes it all comes back full circle in a very satisfying way.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Girl Power

Yesterday was our long awaited "Girl's Day" which Ava has been eagerly anticipating for most of the summer. The boys went to an indoor play structure and out to Whitespot for pirate packs, and the girls had pedicures or manicures and then a leisurely lunch at The Olive Garden.

Ava was beaming at the nail salon when she settled herself into the massage pedicure chair and gently placed her feet in the bubbling bath below her. She leaned over and whispered, "I'm so excited, Mom!" I was excited as well, to share this kind of grown up experience with her, and to giggle together as we had our toes primped and painted. She picked the nail colour, a deep rose-red, and our pedicures match, with white flowers and rhinestones to finish.

We visited in the waiting area while her Nana and Aunties got their manicures done, and I marveled again at the vibe that is present when only girls are together. It is a different kind of energy, more focused somehow on what is important to women and girls. There is a light and breezy feel, not weighed down by long political or social commentary; where celebrity gossip and fashion comments are bandied around and the laughter flows without being self conscious in any way.

We left the nail salon and went to The Olive Garden for a long, relaxed mid-afternoon lunch. We ordered fruity and fancy summery drinks, and toasted to our perfectly executed girl's day plan. We all ate too much, and finished off with pumpkin cheesecake and decaf coffee for dessert (Ava skipped the coffee part) and reveled in being females, all together at this moment in time.

Recently I notice and appreciate being a girl in a whole new way. I'm so grateful for my friends, my daughter, and my family members, for the time we can spend together, indulging ourselves in things we love and enjoy. It's an important part of life, and it connects us to our femininity when we celebrate being with other girls and women. It's a beautiful time in history to be a woman, and I want Ava to grow up knowing how hard others have fought for her to have these rights, and to be grateful for the freedom she enjoys.

The Ocean

Every time I go to any ocean, I’m reminded of how small my place is on this earth. I don’t feel insignificant, because each person has intrinsic value and we are all significant to each other, but when I look out and I cannot see the end of the water, I realize anew how huge this world is, and how much there is for me to still discover.

We went to White Rock beach this week. The Lower Mainland is experiencing a heat wave, not my favourite thing when it comes to sleeping in a second storey bedroom while drenched in my own sweat, but great for an afternoon and early evening spent at the beach. We waded in the cool water, enjoyed the feeling of the smooth sand between our toes, built sand castles, collected shells and soaked up the sun.

For a few minutes the kids went for a short walk with Nana, and I soaked up the sights and sounds on my own; a form of sensual luxury for any mom. I heard the water, gently lapping up to the shore as the tide moved in, punctuated by the happy screams of babies and children. I smelled the salty brine of the air, and felt the mist from the water on my skin when the wind picked up. I watched the seagulls, soaring in the air and coming to land along the rocky beach, calling to each other and scavenging for leftover chips or bread.

I sat and felt perfectly at peace. The ocean is good for the soul. It reminds me that I have as many limitless possibilities for my life as the view offers me at the edge of the water. I can go anywhere, be anything, do whatever I would like to do. Everyone can. We are only limited by what we choose to allow to stop us. I want to get out of my own way and believe that I can do whatever I set my mind to. I’m tired of being stopped by issues that I could easily remove, if only I had the willpower or the confidence.

I’m going to work towards keeping the ocean in my mental sight as I pursue my dream to write professionally. It exists in this world to bring perspective to who we are and what we see in front of us. It offers proof that nature is always at work, with its ebbs and flows, and that nothing ever stays the same. Change is inevitable, and there is no sense fearing what is coming at us all of the time. The rocks and the setbacks are not the problem, as the tide keeps coming at them, moving them and changing their shape over time.

Sometimes I worry about the smallest things, letting them drag me down when I could be attempting to take a higher road. I plan to remember how I felt sitting in my lawn chair at the beach, looking out at the water and the horizon, so far away, and yet close enough to reach out and touch. All dreams are like that: beautiful, inspiring, a million miles away but getting closer every day if we walk toward them and don’t allow any obstacles to halt us on our path.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

New Motherhood

We spent time with good friends yesterday, the first friends I made with Ava as a newborn. I ventured out to a new parent group, sponsored by a local community program, with Ava when she was 2 months old. I still had that starry-eyed expression of all new mothers, apprehensive that the baby might fuss, or that I might have to nurse in front of a group of strangers, but certain that my baby was going to be the sweetest and cutest one in the group.

I got out of my car, wrestling Ava's infant seat from the back of our Honda CR-V, and I met a woman walking in with her baby. She seemed confident, as though she knew what she was doing, and so I clung to her while she showed me the ropes and introduced me to a few other people.

She was my lifeline to a group of new mothers experiencing the same challenges at the same time. We would go for coffee and talk for hours about poopy diapers, feeding schedules, sleeping patterns, and the smallest smiles or turns of our baby's heads. New motherhood is a country that you must have a valid passport to enter, and those friendships are critical to your survival in your baby's first year or two of life.

It really is true that friendships forged under stressful or major life events are forever. Both of my university roommates/suitemates are still close friends, and these new mom friends are as comfortable as a favourite pair of pajamas. There are no awkward conversation gaps, just friends who have been through a lot together, and survived, and lived to tell the tale.

Now, whenever I watch new mothers beginning their journey with their newborns, I think back fondly on those days, and I'm grateful for these friends that I made. I wouldn't go back to the broken sleep, and the feeding every three hours, and the worry about doing it right, but I have some very good memories of those early days, and in large part it is due to these friends. We got through the tough spots together, and celebrated the milestones and birthdays as a group, and are still enjoying each other's company long after we are finished with diapers and bottles.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


We all see everything through our own lens. When we have a conversation, we hear what we understand through our personal filter, and the other person completes the same process for themselves. Often the two don’t match up. There is always so much subtext going on in any conversation, and women tend to be more attuned to the subtleties of communication than men.

I often wish I could communicate like a man. I would prefer to be more direct and clear in everything I say, and hear, instead of reading into what lies beneath the words, and often misinterpreting what I find under the surface. So much of our communication has nothing to do with the actual words, but involves the face and the voice and the entire body.

I would like a scientist to invent an honesty pill. Just a small, vitamin-sized capsule that people could take so they would be more in tune with what they are really feeling at any given time. Not like in Liar, Liar where you have to be blatantly rude in the way you communicate, but some people are deeply disconnected with their true emotions, and tend to live life on a level that isn’t honest, and I find those people very challenging to communicate with.

I have to remember that I have many blind spots, and I’m not even certain of what they are, because they are called ‘blind’ for a reason. I love being on this journey of knowing myself better with every passing year, but I have to remember that I still have a long way to go. I’m working on not reading so much into what people say and do, and this is still a very hard thing for me to master.

Believing the best of people might come easier to an optimist, but my pessimistic nature tends to jump to the conclusion that people are being jerks, when maybe they just aren’t able to be honest with themselves or others. I know I have to adjust my perspective sometimes to allow for this. Sometimes personal growth isn’t as important to others as it is to me. Some people would prefer not to look too deeply inside of themselves, and I have to hold off on passing judgement because of this. Not everyone values the same things, and if I don’t want to be judged, I must be careful not to judge others.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Kid's Activities

Recently a friend confided that she didn't have her child registered for a million things this fall, and people kept asking her what he was going to be doing, and she began to feel like she was doing something wrong. As my kids are a little older than hers, I said I've been through this and feel it's a common problem in our society today. Most days, I feel good saying exactly what she did; that I value our down time as a family, and that in general kids value leisure more than scheduled lessons or activities.

I decided this a few years ago, when I started to notice that many preschoolers and elementary-aged kids were in not one but three or four weekly activities in a single season. Gymnastics, music, soccer, baseball, swimming, dance and hockey were just a few of the various options open to parents. I watched children be signed up and ferried to and from these activities, and I became aware of a growing fear that my kids were being left behind.

I've always adopted a policy that my kids can do one thing at a time, and that if they try something, they need to stick to it even when they would rather quit. This has worked well for us as a family, as it means we aren't running all week long, but usually commit to just one thing per week per child during the school year.

I still believe this in theory, but in practice it is sometimes harder to stick to my principles. I remind myself that they don't have to be masters of anything when they are under ten years of age. These early years of childhood don't get to be repeated, and I want them filled with memories of spontaneous games and imaginative playtime. I love that Ava goes to school and then comes home for an hour of quiet reading time in the solitude of her bedroom to unwind from the busy nature of her day. I want her to keep that time where she refreshes her spirit before jumping into Barbies or Polly Pockets.

We all have so many hard decisions to make as parents, each and every day. We have to do what feels right for ourselves, our kids and our family in general. We try things, and sometimes they succeed and other times they fail, and then we try something else. We have to extend grace, to ourselves and to others, when we try new things. And I must remember that what works for me doesn't necessarily work for other people, and those differences make us better people, if we allow them to exist and don't let them divide us.


I'm a strange vacationer. I look forward to going away because I long for a break from my usual routines, and I love exposing my kids to new things and experiences. Those are the plus sides. The down sides are that I'm not always in control of schedules, and meal times, and activities, because on vacation those things become fluid and change easily from day to day.

I have to learn to relax into change. This is another area where I can see myself in my son. He fears what he can't see coming, and to some degree I'm the same. As I get older, I'm making a conscious effort to stop planning so furiously, and allow some room for spontaneity and new experiences. I need to do this for my own mental and spiritual well being, but also to blaze a trail for my kids to follow.

This type of spur-of-the-moment activity is easy for Jason, and also for Ava, but that's because their personalities are conducive to rapidly changing circumstances. They can go with the flow and try new things with very little anxiety. William and I have a lot to learn from them in this area. I am learning, very slowly, to embrace the unknown and experience adventure instead of legislating for it.

These two weeks when we are away from home is a great opportunity for William and I to practice the art of being spontaneous. We have the chance to "take it as it comes" and try not to stress about not being in control of our days. We'll have time for that in September, when life returns to normal again. For now, I'll embrace the joys inherent in not cooking for my family every night, not having to clean my house or grocery shop, and relax into two weeks of unknown adventures.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

What Goes Around...

I'm a firm believer that what goes around, eventually comes around. What you reap, you sow. If you are kind, you will find kindness coming back to you, and if you are rude, the same principle applies. Once in a while it's important to remind ourselves of this, and see it working as it should, and I find that ebb and flow deeply satisfying.

Yesterday was a day filled with surprises. Some good, and some upsetting, and eventually it all settled into a peaceful outcome that felt as poetic as any good movie ending. Without any forethought or scheming on my part, a thorny situation was resolved neatly and satisfactorily for everyone who was involved, and that's when I knew there was a higher principle at work. If I had tried to engineer this conclusion, it would never have happened the way it did, and it was fun to just sit back and watch it all unfold.

After a recent difficult experience filled with ups and downs and painfully frustrating moments where I felt like I was banging my head against a stone wall, it was liberating to watch a conflict resolution process that was simple, and clean-cut, and respectful all around. A problem was identified, then discussed reasonably, and decisions were made to correct the situation. It was the kind of communication and resolution that I've dreamed about but didn't know was possible to achieve within an organization, and I'm as proud as can be to have been a small cog in this wheel that turned so efficiently.

It was like an ice cold glass of water on a sweltering day, with perfect beads of condensation forming on the sides of the glass, utterly refreshing as you bring it to your lips. To be treated with respect and dignity is a balm to the soul, a salve to the heart, and nourishing food to a starving body. I realized all over again that I must continue to treat people the way I wish to be treated, at all times, regardless of how the situation turns out, because when it all works like it should, it is so unbelievably satisfying.

I'm grateful to God for bringing this situation about in such a sweet and refreshing way. It has restored my faith in people where it had been stomped on and broken. There are people who are so good and so kind and so decent that it will take your breath away. I don't have to worry about the people who don't treat me well. I can smile, and be polite, and walk away, especially since I've been reminded that often on the other side of the street, if I will open my eyes to look, I can find people who will treat me the way I was treated yesterday. Those are the people I want all around me, for they understand that what goes around, comes around, and we can dare to build a world where we value and respect each other, and communicate accordingly.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Filling the Gap

It's really hard to see your kids suffering. William is struggling with a crippling anxiety these days, afraid that I will disappear every time I am out of his sight, for even a moment. Recently I decided to break down some of the walls that I have inadvertently built against my tender boy, and even that positive change in me might be adding to his sense of worry, his concern that the world is not as safe as he would like it to be.

I remember having this kind of discussion with Ava at the beginning of Grade One. Our trailer had been vandalized over the summer, with glass shattered all over William's bunk bed, and when Ava got to her first day of school, one of the windows in her classroom was boarded up as it had been broken. The one-two punch of these events created a fear deep inside of her that the world wasn't safe. She began to chew her nails, and stay up late at night, and experience panic when her teacher would walk out of the classroom for a moment.

I tried everything I could think of to reassure my girl, but when I came to the end of the line with how I could help her, I met with her teacher and the Child Development Specialist at the school, and we came up with some strategies to help ease her fears. Facing up to my limitations as a parent was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but also one of the best, because for the first time I realized that sometimes I'm not the best person to help my child, and that's okay.

Within a week, Ava was back to herself, and I credit the work of the school staff for this transformation. I was humbled and amazed by the concern and love that was shown to my child and myself. Now it's William's turn for some outside help. He is going to a new preschool in September, and I know it's not going to be an easy transition, on the heels of a busy and unpredictable summer. He feels safe in routine, and when his days are topsy-turvy, he becomes worried that everything is out of his control, and he doesn't have the verbal ability to express it, so he simply cries, clings and has fear written all over his face.

I hate that my four year old feels so anxious. It makes me feel like I haven't done enough to protect him in this world. We all have to learn at some point that we aren't completely safe, and that faith is required in order to go anywhere and do anything, but I was hoping to ease him in a little slower to the harsh realities of life. He thinks about things and anticipates possibilities much more than his sister did at this age, and therefore his fears are more vivid and have come earlier to him.

I talked to a few friends yesterday, and they helped me, more than they will ever know. They reassured me, and offered possible solutions, and helped me find a child psychologist who will hopefully provide some assistance to my son, whom I love so deeply there isn't any way to put it into words. I'm going to continue to reassure him, to the best of my ability, but I'm also seeking the advice of a professional, who can help him in ways that I cannot. And my responsibility as his parent is to give him everything I can, and where I fall short, get him what he needs to fill the gap.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


It's hard to know when to take action and when to do nothing. Sometimes it's clear to me, when a pressing need emerges and I know I need to do something, but other times I dither and wait, hoping for a miracle cure to present itself. Usually situations don't resolve properly by not doing anything. Some action or reaction is required.

I think the problem here is the responsibility inherent in being an adult. As children, we rely on our parents to make the decisions for us, and to be responsible for every aspect of our lives while we play with toys, read, watch TV and jump on the trampoline. An aspect of that carefree living carries through into our adult lives, and once in awhile I really want to regress and have someone else take action.

It doesn't work that way. I am now fully responsible, not just for myself, but also for my two children. Throwing up my hands and waiting for the cavalry to arrive is a fruitless exercise. Perhaps the time has come to grow up a bit in my wish for things to be easy, and clear-cut, with a flashing arrow to point me in the direction I should go.

I have to make my own way in this world. I know I'll make mistakes (I know this because I've made many already), but I also know sometimes I'll get it right. A friend commented on one of my recent posts that parenting is essentially a trial and error process, where you aren't really sure of anything, and to some degree, all of the decisions we must make in life are the same.

I do rely on the still, small voice of God, through my conscience and awareness, to guide and direct me when I have absolutely no idea where I am or where I'm going. I have found that voice to be reliable and true, but the problem is that I never know when it's going to speak to me. In the middle place, when I don't have any clear direction but several options are open to me, is where I struggle.

Having the freedom to make mistakes is critical for me. The best decision I ever made was to shed the coat of perfectionism I wore for most of my life. I wish I'd have left it by the side of the road years before I did, and even run over it a few times with my car, because it was choking me and preventing me from moving forward. Without that coat, my decision-making process is much easier, because failure is a viable option, and one I can learn a lot from.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Double-Edged Sword

Pain and joy are the flip sides of each other. The deeper you go with one, the more capacity you have for the other. I feel everything so much more now in my thirties than I ever did before: more happiness and moments of the sweetest effervescent thrills, and also pain that cuts purer and truer than I ever believed possible. Sometimes these extremes happen in the same day, or the same hour.

In my twenties, I was always thrill seeking, looking for the next euphoria that would get me through. As I've aged, I've relaxed into emotion in a completely new way. I know that it will find me eventually. The terrible and the wonderful, ebbing and flowing like the tide. I'll feel blue for no real reason, and the next day I'll have a surge of joy that I couldn't predict or plan for.

I've stopped trying to categorize everything. The highs get higher, but that's only because I'm allowing myself to feel the basement emotions in equal measure. I tried to keep pain at bay as a young adult, and now I realize how much value there is in hurting. I learn more from the anguish than the ecstasy. I never enjoy the painful moments, but the double-edged sword is always there, and I understand now that joy is on the other side of that blade, and if I don't let the hurt strike home, I don't get the full benefit of the edge that brings happiness.

I like the safety and security I experience now with my feelings. I am not as afraid of their power as I once was. I know that they will sweep in, and then change, and then disappear, and I will be a better person for embracing what I feel and not trying to find the escape hatch.

I love that one of my friends recently blogged that having children changed her from the "self-centered twerp that she used to be." I wonder how many of my emotional changes came from learning the art of self-sacrifice as a mother, or simply from getting older and not worrying so much about what I cannot control. It's probably a mix of both, for every experience we have had, good or otherwise, has brought us to this point. I am the person I am today because of everything that I have done, or that has been done to me, over the course of my life. I wouldn't want to change any of it, and I know that I'm not done learning yet, and that every day presents the chance for a new discovery.

A New Approach

While at family camp, a couple of friends gave me some new ideas about my relationship with William. It's a constant struggle for me, something I've tried to keep private but has been made public, not only by my musings here, but also in day-to-day life when he pushes my buttons and I fly off the handle in front of other people. I had no idea I was capable of the kind of rage and irritation that William can engender in me. I feel shame about it, and a certain unanchored despair, like a ship who has lost her moorings.

I'm grateful that my friends took some time to gently offer a few alternatives to my current shameful "throw up your hands and give up all hope" parenting philosophy. I often hear, "He'll be better when he's older" or "He's not as bad as you think he is" which is encouraging in its own way, but I was looking for some new tools in my parenting toolbox.

One of my friends suggested I come up with a safe word, so that when I use it with William he knows my patience is at an end, and I'm about to lose it and get very angry indeed. I liked this idea and it has appealed to William, because he feels like we are part of a secret club. When I use our safe word, he knows he needs to go away from me for a bit because we need a break from each other. It's taking a little while to work into the daily flow of life, but it's practical, and I can see it helping to ease some of our relationship strain.

The other piece of advice was for me to try giving in to his demands for me. To stop withholding myself because I'm afraid of his dependence on me, and surrender to his obvious need for my attention and affection. This one is really hard for me, but trying to teach him to separate from me by fighting his attached nature, crazy-glued to me, hasn't worked, so I figured I'd try to fight my natural impulses and be more available to him.

Once the decision was made, it was easier than I thought. It feels a bit like giving in to his inordinate and constant demands, but for this short term I'm trying to break down the wall I've constructed between me and my son, and I'm hoping it will give him the confidence he needs to separate from me when he is ready. In theory, I want to accept my kids for who they are, but it's much easier for me to accept Ava's personality type than William's. Believing something doesn't mean anything unless my action backs it up. The time has come to put my money where my mouth is when it comes to William.

He is overly attached to me, and I have to accept responsibility for the fact that I have likely contributed to this by withdrawing from him. Perhaps if I'd have given him more of myself when he was a baby I wouldn't be in this position now. I can't go back and change myself then, but I can be more prepared to offer him what he needs now, even if it's uncomfortable for me, and pray that we can move forward from here with a relationship that is more mutually satisfying for both of us.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Confidence & Patience

It occurs to me that dreams are made up of two things: confidence and patience. Both elements must be at work in order for a dream to turn into a reality. Sometimes I'm good with one side and not the other, and then it will flip and I'll realize that I'm long on confidence and short on patience.

So much of life is out of our control. We can do our part (confidence) and still have to wait for all of the elements that we can't control (patience). I believe, somewhere very deep inside, that I will become a professional writer, earning money at what I love to do. I just don't know when this magical event will occur, and I have no earthly way to know, and I'm slowly coming to understand that I don't need to know. I just need to walk in faith, and keep writing, and believing that somewhere along the line, my dream will become real.

Often we want so much from ourselves, and we want it all right now, and then we are disappointed and give up too easily. I was the worst person on the face of the planet for delayed gratification when I was an adolescent and a young adult in my twenties. I didn't want things now, I wanted them yesterday. I lived in a perpetual state of frustration, punctuated by an occasional burst of happiness when I actually got what I wanted.

Getting married and then having children really helped me with this. I slowed down internally, recognized that my needs came lower on the priority totem pole, and learned to be okay with that. I started to take the long range view of my goals for my kids and for my family and eventually for myself. Working toward something for years has a much greater payoff than expecting results in hours or days. There is a joy that is tied into patience and diligence, and you can't circumvent the process in order to get there. You must wait, and stoke up your confidence in yourself along the path so you keep walking, with one foot in front of the other, and don't give up.

Family Roles

Having just spent a week in close camping quarters with my family, I realized something which provided some insight for me. When we are with our family as grown-up adults, it becomes very easy to slip back into the familiar roles we played as children. When we are with our parents, it becomes challenging to separate out the people we are now, as fully functioning adults in our own right, and instead we tend to visualize ourselves as children at various stages interacting with our parents and our siblings.

Perhaps this strange situation is what makes our adult family encounters stressful sometimes. When we go camping with friends, none of this baggage enters in, and we are simply separate family units going about our business in the great outdoors. There are no expectations on behaviour, or attitudes, or pecking orders. It is a group of equals, enjoying time spent together on our own terms.

These family roles are never discussed, or brought to the conscious mind, but they seem to happen imperceptibly as soon as families come together. Sibling rivalry reappears, and old family dynamics begin to surface, even though as adults living separately from each other, we have outgrown these things and no longer think about them on a daily basis.

I'm not sure how to alter these roles. Perhaps awareness is the first key to making a change. I want to be who I am now, at all times, as I've fought hard for the right to be myself. I don't want to fall prey to old feelings and resentments that are carryovers from childhood and have no place in my adult life, except when we are all together again. I need to continue to communicate as clearly as I can, even when it's not comfortable to do so. I don't want to pretend, for any reason, to be anyone other than who I am.

I am now conscious of this for my kids as well. My driving goal for them is to be fully themselves, at all times, without dividing their personalities for any reason. I want authenticity for them, and that means I must treat them with respect, even the parts of them that I don't like and would prefer to change.

As adults, I want them to be free with me, to not pretend anything in order to be accepted, but to communicate their desires and feelings with as much clarity as possible. In order for them to do this, I know I must always be open to what they have to say, and provide an environment of acceptance. We won't always agree on everything, and that is okay, and I must work hard not to punish them for any of their opposing ideas as a way to get them to do what I want them to do.

None of this is easy, as we all have our own agenda in relationships, but it is something for me to work toward. I'm going to visualize my kids as adults, somewhere in the forefront of my mind, as a goal to work toward. If I want them to be as true to themselves as possible, as kids and as adults, I plan to start now to embrace them as they are, and be real with them in the way we communicate. There will be many speedbumps and detours along the way, but having the goal is the important thing, and now I know what I'm working toward.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


This is our last day at camp, and I’m afraid that Ava will be in tears when it’s time to go. She has looked forward to this all year, and loved every moment of it. I remember being deeply sad when I left this place as a kid, but now I approach it much differently as an adult. I don’t have the same energy as kids do (writing that sentence is laughable in itself, because my energy level isn’t even in the same hemisphere when making the comparison). As a kid, I could be filthy and wear grungy clothes without batting an eye, but as an adult, I value a nice shower and clean laundry much higher on my scale of priorities.

It’s interesting to be in this place where I started as an eleven year old child. I look around at all of the kids and young adults here, and I think of myself at each of those ages and stages. I thought I might feel nostalgic for the times gone by, but I’m actually a bit astonished that I was ever eager to doll myself up and be seen at the tuck shop at eleven o’clock at night, or hang around the back of the service hoping to catch the eye of a certain boy. It was all important in its own way, but I literally cannot even imagine going backwards to be that person now. I love that it is my nieces and nephew’s turn, and will one day be my kids who are dressing up and hanging out in large groups on the grassy areas of this camp.

We all experience endings and new beginnings on a regular basis. As one experience draws to a close, another one is waiting to take its place, and that is how life is engineered. I didn’t pay any attention to the families with small kids when I was an adolescent, and now that I am in that stage, I look at the young people and marvel at how they spend their time. My novel and my card games are much more enticing to me now, as is going to bed at a reasonable hour. I wouldn’t want to go back, but I’m glad I experienced all of it when I was meant to do it, and want the same kind of memories built for my kids.

It’s been a very good week, with fantastic weather for a change, and I’ve made a real effort to enjoy it on my own terms. Watching Ava grow and flourish in front of my eyes has been a joy and a wonder, and worth any personal price I may have had to pay. Hopefully William will reach that place of appreciation and love for this camp, and until he does, Ava’s enthusiasm will be enough to sustain all of us.

She has reminded me of my childhood self this week, and it’s been fun to reconnect with the part of me that deeply loved and adored this place, and never, ever wanted to leave. When her tears come, as they inevitably will, I pray that my compassion is rooted firmly in place, because I’ll know exactly how she feels, and will assure her that she can begin to anticipate next year as soon as this camp draws to a close.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Death is a Healing

Last night, Jason returned to camp after working for a few days, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I left William in Jason’s hands and went to the evening service on my own. I was feeling tense and frustrated after a few days of parenting William, and it was bliss to sit and unwind for a few hours without the ever-present demands of my four year old.

During the worship, I saw a family in a pew a few rows up whom I remembered from my earliest days at this camp. The parents had a preschool age daughter when I first met them, and twin sons who were about a year old. I was a teenager, and to get out of the evening services, I would babysit in the nursery with my best friend. I fell madly in love with these twin babies, and befriended their parents, and over the course of the years I’ve attended this camp, I’ve watched them grow up, and now those twins are in university.

Last night, I saw the mom and the dad, sitting next to their daughter and her new husband. I watched the dad lean over and whisper something to the daughter, who giggled at him, and he laughed back, and at one point he put his arm around her and gave her shoulders a big squeeze. I thought about her as a preschooler, younger than William is now, and how fast the time has gone to get her to this point, where she is a newlywed, on the cusp of starting her own family.

For some reason, it didn’t bother me to consider how fast she grew up, and to notice how grey the dad’s hair is now, and how many more lines are on his face. Tears welled up for me as I watched the happy scene between a grown daughter and her loving father. Another stitch formed in the hole in my heart, closing the gap between what I wanted from my dad as a child and what he was able to give me.

I could visualize Ava and Jason in about fifteen years, and for the first time, the idea of ageing didn’t seem so foreign and terrifying. I saw it as a natural process, and it served as a glimpse into what we are trying to build as a family; a road map for the untraveled terrain ahead.

We can’t stop the process of growing older. It is happening to each of us, every single day. There is not much point in panicking about what is not under our control. The camp speaker talked about healing last night – God’s ability to touch our bodies and fix physical, emotional or spiritual damages. He said, “God doesn’t always choose to heal us in this life, but death is a healing, so one day we will all be healed.”

I had never heard this as a concept before, and it provided some comfort as I walk the road of my late thirties and approach my forties. I don’t like that I have become afraid of death. My life is going well, full of love and friends and many good things, and I find I want to stay here, in this moment, in this time. Death is a place which no one living can fully understand, and mystery is challenging for me. I prefer to know instead of speculate. Great faith is required to embrace and accept the idea of dying.

I’m not at peace with all of it yet, but seeing death as a healing for all that is broken within our human condition is a good starting point. So is watching a family who I loved when they were at the stage I am at now; an experience foreign to me as a fifteen year old but now well-worn in, like an old pair of jeans. It was good to see them last night, and visualize that coming stage, and realize that it’s not scary at all. If we invest all that we can into our kids now, the fruit will flower when they are adolescents and young adults, and we can hopefully enjoy the same sweet, easy relationship for the rest of our lives.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


I’ve worked a lot on my expectations for this week at family camp. I’m trying to take it as it comes, without expecting too much from myself, my kids or others. I don’t want to be so careful about how my choices or my actions will be perceived. I’m doing my best not to read into situations or worry about what others may think about me.

Life is a series of pitfalls and difficult emotional minefields. Any time you have a group of people gathered together, the potential exists for hurt feelings and words that wound and damage. We are all broken, me most of all, and I must extend grace to others where I require it myself. This week is a good reminder of this.

Getting older is helping me. For the first time, I feel like I can see the finish line for my life, and it puts everything into perspective in a fresh way. I don’t want to worry about things I can’t control. I never know if William is going to go to his kid’s program here, or flat out refuse and cling to my leg while screeching at the top of his lungs like he has been doing. I used to stress out about it, wondering what people would think if he was in with the adults and not with his class, but now I recognize that some things are out of my control, in spite of my best efforts.

I have to constantly lower my expectations on others and on myself. Where I disappoint others with my words and actions, I have to decide to let it go and not obsess over it. It’s not easy to do this, but it’s imperative if I’m going to be relaxed and happy in this world. I can only do my best, in any given situation, and not think about how other people may perceive me. Where I offend people and I’m not aware of it, I’m relying on them to tell me so I can take responsibility and repair the rift, but when nothing is said to me, I don’t want to panic about it.

If I could master this, my life would be much easier all around. I think we all make snap judgements on others, every single day, and therefore we are all sensitive to being judged the way that we judge. I want people to treat me a certain way, and I get angry when they don’t, and then I become concerned that they are frustrated with me because I’m not meeting their expectations.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s reasonable to have no expectations on each other. We expect good behaviour and polite manners from our kids, and they tend to rise to the level of our expectations. In these areas, expectations are positive things. The lines become blurred when we bring our societal and familial expectations to bear in our daily lives, thinking we’ll be treated a certain way by those in our circles, and then becoming miserably disappointed when people inevitably fail us.

I have to remember that I fail others, just as often as they disappoint me. I’m working from the assumption that people are trying their best, just as I am doing, and that sometimes failure is simply a part of the equation. Failure has more to teach us than success, if we are brave enough to really learn the lesson.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Generosity of Spirit

I realized recently that I am very hard-hearted in certain areas and with specific people. This came as a bit of a surprise to me, because I like to think that I get mad about things and then I move on and don’t hold it against people. It’s hard to move past things that bother you deeply and have for a long time, but it’s important to our emotional and spiritual well being. It makes me a grouchy and negative person when I hold grudges and don’t forgive.

Why is it easier to forgive some people and so hard with others? I think that I like to see improvement in myself and my friends, and when the same mistakes and situations occur over and over again, I find my forgiveness much harder to offer. I tend to throw up my hands more frequently, and say, “Seriously, again with this?” and as a result, my heart becomes hard. We all make mistakes, and I don’t want to become that person who is so sure of my own wonderfulness that I look down on everyone else, but I think that failure to progress in your human growth is my least favourite quality in people.

I love being at this camp because life slows down so that you can actually look at some areas of yourself that are less than stellar. Most of the time I’m rushing through my day and when the kids are in bed I flop down on the couch for a few hours before heading to bed and preparing to do it all again the next day. I don’t often get the chance to look around and think about the deeper things of life. Part of it is the stage of life I’m in with two small kids, but another part is a societal problem of busyness and rushing from one thing to the next in a way to avoid the darker sides of our own personality.

I find that the still, small voice of God is always speaking, but I have to stop what I’m doing and listen in order to hear what he is saying. This camp provides that opportunity, if I’ll get past myself in order to listen. Being in nature all day and hearing speakers who encourage us to be open to God’s voice helps with this process. I find that my heart is softened, but I don’t always like what I see about myself.

If I strip away the excuses, I find that I am mean-spirited in specific areas, and I don’t want to be this way. Forgiveness for people I love and respect is easy for me, but grace for those who I don’t feel deserve it is another matter altogether. Why do I feel it’s up to me to offer forgiveness only to those I choose? Isn’t it an all or nothing concept? I either forgive, or I refuse to forgive and hold a grudge. I shouldn’t be picking and choosing.

I can very easily convince myself that I’m entitled to my hard attitude for reasons which may or may not be valid. I do know that I don’t need much to cultivate seeds of anger and injustice, and nurse my grievances like they are newborn babies. The problem is that this rage and bitterness grows in my spirit, like a stubborn root, and when it gets big enough it threatens to overtake all of the other good things in my life.

I always feel uneasy when I punish other people, but I have trouble letting the hurt go. It must be a decision, somewhere in my will, to let go and give it over to God. I don’t think it can be done once and forgotten, but must be done over and over in order to take root and create a new path for my behaviour and attitude. It’s not easy to get away from my prejudices, but I am not the judge and jury for other people’s decisions. We must all live with our own inadequacies and frailties.

I want to cultivate a new generosity of spirit for those in my life, the people I find easy and those who I find to be difficult. I expect this to be a hard road to walk, and one I would prefer to turn away from, but I know it’s something I need to work on, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to make some changes in this area.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Camp Memories

I want William to be like Ava in this family camp environment. She thrives and flourishes in the outdoor air, always up for a new adventure. This year we’ve hardly seen her from morning to night because she’s off with her cousins, finding something fun to do. She giggles and laughs and tells us each night at bedtime that it was the best day of her life.

William is an entirely different story. He needs routine to feel safe and relaxed. When every day is a bit different and there is no real structure or shape to the way he spends time, he becomes anxious and more high-strung than usual. This brings him to an emotional collapse more frequently than usual, and then I become tense and crabby with him. And so the cycle goes.

I find this church camp stressful because William struggles in this environment. I suppose if I’m really honest, I can relate to him here. I need structure and order. I want to know what is coming next, and then the next thing after that. I chafe under the expectations that I must attend a service or an event because everyone else is, and I struggle with my desire to relax and unwind instead of amuse my bored four year old.

Perhaps the problem lies in remembering how much I loved this camp as a kid, then a teenager, and then a young adult. It’s much harder to be a part of the camp with young children who are afraid of the classes which are designed for them. The endless uphill struggle to convince them that the classes are fun becomes wearying and frustrating, especially when other people’s children will attend willingly, rubbing just a bit of salt into my gaping, public wound.

I have watched Ava come alive this year. Maybe seven is the magic age for kids at this camp, because they can confidently ride the bus to the youth side and become immersed in the culture of that special place. She is making memories that will last her a lifetime, much like I did when I camped here as a kid. Possibly I need to take the long range view - in three more years William will be seven and hopefully start to understand how fun it can be to participate in all that this camp offers.

Until that time, I have to be flexible, and not expect too much from William. I have to try to see it from his four year old perspective and not force my wishes on him. It’s like the first camping trip you take with your baby when you are used to camping as adults: the effect is similar to having ice cold water dumped over your head, and then being kicked in the face repeatedly when the shock from the water has worn off. In other words, it’s a thousand times harder to camp with small kids than it is to camp without them. You have to adjust your expectations for leisure or you will go insane.

I’m going to change my attitude and try to enjoy camp with my four year old. He’s easier now than he’s ever been before, but compared to Ava, he’s still very time-consuming. This is a family camp, designed for children of all ages, and I want him to have good memories too. Instead of remembering the good ol’ days, I must create new memories for us as a family that include William, and make room for what he needs in this changing environment.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Burnt B

After our BBQ chicken, potato and green bean dinner last night, Jason was horsing around with William on one of our zero gravity chairs, when screaming ensued. We all raced over to see William’s beloved B, his ratty teddy bear, face up in the burning citronella bucket. Jason snatched him from the fire and I raced him to my mom’s motorhome, where she ran his smoldering head under the tap to try to limit the damage.

The kids were screaming and crying, the stench of burnt fabric and stuffing hung in the air, and we were all shell-shocked because this isn’t just any toy. This is his security and his closest friend – the talisman which eases his transitions to anything new and which he smells frantically in times of stress like he’s hyperventilating into a paper bag.

We’ve told him over and over to leave B in the trailer and not to bring him outside, but he finds ways to sneak him out so he can sit in a lawn chair and smell him. This kind of thing was an accident waiting to happen, and there was a good lesson in consequences in it for William, but when it comes time to teach the really hard things to our kids, it’s always very hard on the parents.

He was so distraught, beside himself with grief, and at four the emotions are so close to the surface that there is no room to pretend anything except what you are actually feeling. Gran had the presence of mind to get her first aid kit, and wrap B’s head in gauze so William wouldn’t see the full extent of the burn and the damage, and I dabbed some burn ointment on him in an attempt to disguise the citronella and the smoke smell.

I handed B to him, and he took him gingerly, while we all made jokes about B’s new pirate look, and chattered about how his head needed to heal before camp is over and Gran sews a patch over his burn that would be better for smelling. I held my breath, wondering how William would react, and he took it in stride, pulling a little at the gauze and then accepting that the damage was done and there was no going back, and finding a small section of his good ear, and placing his nose against it.

We can’t protect our kids from the big or the small things that can hurt and devastate them in this world. We do everything we can to keep them safe, but sometimes despite our best efforts, injuries and accidents occur. And then we gently help them through the best that we can, and hope that what they learn will stay with them for their lifetime.

I was moved by how shaken up Ava was. She cried harder and longer than he did, and when the storm had passed, she told us, “I was just so upset for William, as he loves B so much.” Her compassion was inspiring to me. Now we have to hope that B’s bandage stays on until William is ready to see the extent of the burn, and accept B with his new scars.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Body Image

I wish my excess weight bothered me more, because then I might be more motivated to take it off. Like most women, I go through phases where I feel horribly fat, and unhappy with all of my clothes, and I feel miserable about myself, but most days, I accept that I’m not as thin as I once was, and I’m completely fine with it. Other things are much more important to me than making time to exercise, and I can easily put off fitness for another day, or another year.

I keep hoping that one day it will be important to me to change my diet and increase my amount of exercise. I think everyone has a point where they decide to change, and their motivation becomes stronger than the status quo they have been living with.

I didn’t really have to work at weight loss after I had Ava. I went with the “nine months up, nine months down” philosophy, and when she was a year old I was pretty much back to my regular weight, without really trying or doing any additional exercise. William has been a different story. Maybe it’s because I was three years older when I had him, and my metabolism changed, but there are an extra thirty pounds on my frame that don’t belong and should come off, but my “doing nothing” philosophy isn’t having the same effect as it once did.

He is four years old now, and the baby fat excuse begins to wear thin. Some days I like that I’ve accepted my body, and the stretch marks are worth it in order to be a mom, and if society thinks I have to conform to a certain body image then I don’t have to buy into that lie, and so on and so forth. All of these things are true most of the time, but once in awhile I have that niggling guilt feeling that I should be working harder at this problem, and conquer my own body, and make my health and fitness a higher priority. Not necessarily for any societal reason or pressure, but simply to increase my chances to live longer and be healthier for the rest of my days.

I deeply admire anyone who has changed their diet and exercised regularly in order to lose weight. I know now that it’s very hard to resist the temptation to eat junk or to be lazy, and that kind of will power is worth admiring and respecting. I think the key is to be satisfied with yourself, whatever your body shape, because when people work hard to lose weight and get fit and still feel bad about themselves, that’s a real shame. I’m trying to find the sweet spot of recognizing my own limitations and enjoying life (in the form of a slice of pie or a chocolate bar), and upping my motivation to be healthier, and not necessarily thinner. I don’t want to work so hard on my exterior, only to find my interior in need of encouragement.

As women, we are all beautiful. If we don’t feel beautiful on the inside, we won’t project that confidence to the world, no matter if we look like Julia Roberts or her exact opposite. For now, I want to spend more time building up my own confidence in myself and make slow changes to the way I eat and exercise, doing what I can on a daily basis to improve my health. I want the inside to match the outside, so that I feel good regardless of how I look, and I want to genuinely learn to accept and love myself as I am, not as I wish to be.