Sunday, 16 July 2017

Finding Islands in Plain Sight

rollingshortsweb

My home town is bisected by a river and in the very centre of town, the river splits into three to make two islands.  On the first island is most of the down town shops, the town hall, the band stand and part our gem, Stewart Park.  The other island has the rest of Stewart Park, a play ground and three very expensive houses.

The part of the river that splits the park is everyone's favourite.  In mid-July when our town hosts its music festival in the park, anyone brave enough to ignore the high bacterial count warnings (thanks to the farms up river) splashes and floats down the river to cool off while listening to the folksy rhythms.  In the middle of this section there is another island, a small island, that is a granite outcropping about the size and girth of a transport trailer with one brave willow and few bushes struggling, straggling, to make a living.

For years there has been a dam that has been failing, making the river too high and too swift to cross to get to the granite outcropping.  Last year, the dam was replaced by a natural rock gateway, and the river has been quieted.  So it came to be that my son, whose lived here his whole life, and his cousin, who has been here three days, had a new island to conquer together.  

The park was filled with hundreds of people with lawn chairs or blankets, and a few with dancing shoes and hippy moves.  Breastfeeding mothers,  carefree retirees, picnicking families, city folk and locals, all crammed into our little park.  So of course, these two quiet gentle boys saw space and adventure on that island.  I saw friendship.

One was afraid of wasps near the shore and the other coaxed him past.  They hugged each other for balance as they navigated the slippery rocks and little current.  The other slipped and got his shorts wet and they laughed and said "That's okay!" forgetting about their mothers a whole universe away.

And so they arrived on their island, and they tried to catch a frog, and they stole an old mussel shell from the river, and giggled about things I couldn't hear.  They conquered their island, found joy in the day.  And that is how two boys, almost strangers three days earlier, become fast friends.

rivercrossingweb

Monday, 3 July 2017

Birthday mornings

Landscape-Portraitweb

The first hour of my day is usually the best part of my day, which is to say that I am an introvert and set my alarm at least an hour before anyone else in my house gets up so that I can be completely alone and selfish.

On my birthday, I did something a little different: I set my alarm a little later, though still early enough that I didn't have to talk to anyone, and went to a yoga class.  Not only was my favourite yoga teacher subbing (don't take that statement too seriously - I've only been to half a dozen yoga classes in the last year), but no one else showed up.  It was just me.  The world was working in my favour.

I started my day with a tiny bit a sweat and bliss: my favourite.  And then I had to go home and merge with reality.  Did anyone make dinner for me?  No.  What about a cake?  Nope.  Breakfast?  No.  Who had to put sunscreen on the screaming toddler?  Me.  But that's all part of the life I've chosen.  Even on your birthday, its still just a day.

And do you know what's on the flip side of the proverbial coin of motherhood?  Coming home from yoga to find water waiting for me in a wine glass, because Nevin knows I like drinking from that special glass.  Handmade birthday cards.  "Happy birthday, Mama!"'s expressed with glee.  Nostalgia from the six-year-old.  When the greetings were done and the water drank, Scarlett looked to imaginary stage left and said, wistfully, "Oh, where do the years go?"

Honestly, I don't really know where the years go or how I ended up in my mid-thirties with all the bells, whistles and kids.  A series of decisions lead me here, but it is the decisions I make first thing in the morning that keep me moving forward with intention.


Sunday, 28 May 2017

An Ode to Two-Year-Olds

communionfamilylegsweb

Two-year-olds get a bad rap.

Sure, they react to mundane tasks with a disproportionate level of disgust and their reactivity does not distinguish phrases like "Please put on your shoes" from  "Please chop your foot off."  They scream, they yell "no!" a lot, and they flail on the ground.

However, there are a lot of amazing things that two-year-olds do that people forget to talk about.  Like when they say "tank you" for giving them medicine they hate, just because its over.  Or when they giggle when you say "I'mmmm going to get yooooou."  Or when they notice someone is crying and immediately offer hugs.

They are just so honest and sweet.  The other day Malcolm told me I was his best friend* and he melted my heart.  By the end of conversation, he decided Nevin was his best friend and I was downgraded to his birthday cake maker, but I still took it as a compliment.  Two year old love cake more than people.

They also do all sorts of weird and random things.  Today he closed the toilet seat, used it as a table, sat his almost naked bum on the floor, said "me read to you Mommy", and started doing his very best recitation of Eric Carle's Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?  It was fantastic and hilarious.

Two year olds have their ups and downs, but I think overall its an up situation.  Its just a temporary state of mind, a phase, a rough patch at worst.  After all, all my favourite people have been two at one point or another, and they are currently living in the "Awesome" column on my imaginary chart of People I Know.  So stop painting the twos with such broad negative brushstrokes, and pause next time you see a two year old being honest or hilarious.

*Only it sounded exactly like this: "Mommy my bess fenn," which is even better.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Fridays Nights, Working Late and Toilet Paper

A few weeks ago, I was working late on a Friday night.  I find lesson planning is more efficient when I can work on a series of lessons for a few hours at a time without distractions, so in that way, I love working late.

But on this day, Scarlett cried as she said goodbye to me and it was Friday, so things felt a little upside down.  I got a ton of work done but, of course, its never enough and as the minutes ticked closer to the pre-arranged time that my friend was supposed to pick me up I became more and more frustrated.  Why am I not home with my family?  Why can't I get things done faster?  Why, almost half way through my career, do I still have so much to figure out?

When my work time was up, I shut down the computer, stood up and cursed myself for not having stopped sooner to leave time for a bathroom break.  Now I'm going to be late, I thought.  I threw my stuff together, and having left now room to spare, realized that I was going to have to use the student washroom across from my office instead of the staff room.  The filthy room undoubtedly would be covered in graffiti about all the things I don't want to know about their lives.

I rushed into the dingy unknown with a sigh of frustration.

Except it wasn't dingy at all.  I was bright white with sparkling faucets and fully stocked soap dispensers.  There were no crude messages scrawled to loopy teenage script.  As I went to grab some toilet paper, I found the only little piece of graffiti in the whole place scratched into the plastic toilet paper holder:

Remember to breathe.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Glasses, Door Knobs and Other Random Things

nevhockey

A few weeks ago Nevin got glasses.  He had requested the check-up, so it came as no surprise and he met the news with relief and cheer.  Two mornings later, Scarlett sprang down the stairs and gleefully announced that they hadn't fought at all and she "stood at the doorway" while Nevin watched the clock turn to 6am.  You would have to live here, and then chat with them after this incident, to understand that they have been tag-teaming for months to maximize the efficiency of getting out of their room at 6am (the time at which the Stay-In-Your-Bed Rule dissolves).  Apparently, one would stand by the door knob and the other would be by the clock across the room.  Since Nevin's bed is next to the clock, he would elect to be the clock-watcher, so he could monitor it from bed.  Up until he got glasses, this caused animosity because he couldn't actually read the clock and so Scarlett would end up doing both jobs.  Through the miracle of modern optometry, their problem was solved.

This is a very long winded story to get to my point: my kids are growing up.  I had no idea that this had been going on for weeks, or maybe months.  I knew they were watching the clock because they come downstairs at 6am everyday, but the strategies, the teamwork, the fights were are all news to me.  They have entered a new phase of childhood, where they don't need me for everything and I don't know everything.   I have officially entered that part of parenthood that has a treasure trove of secrets between siblings that don't come out until a couple of bottles of wine have been consumed around the Christmas dinner table twenty years later.

What's more?  Yesterday for April Fools, Nevin played a trick on Scarlett.  He remembered that it was April Fools when the rest of us had forgotten, and when we looked at him like he was crazy, he shouted "April Fools!" and started laughing his head off.  And I thought, "that is such an eight-year-old boy thing to do."  It was.  And it reminded me again that he is growing up.

This might be my favourite part of parenting yet.  We've discovered a mutual love of literature and after the younger two have gone to bed we snuggle up and I read to him.  Some books are my all-time favourites like Harry Potter, and others are ones that I've never read, like the Chronicles of Narnia.  I'll say its time for bed, he'll beg me for just one more page and we'll read for another 15 minutes.  He knows a good story is my kryptonite and is learning that I'm a real person with weaknesses that can be exploited, but he's not old enough to resent my humanness yet.  He still sees me as royalty.

Its a fine and fickle stage to be in, this in between part, but mostly its just sweet.  I don't know when the little boy stage ended, and I'll probably won't realize that this part is leaving until it is long gone, but for now futilely I'll hope that it'll last forever.

Rabbit Poop

Rabbit Fear

Warner Family Van, 11:57am
(On the way home after visiting a farm at which Scarlett had held a pet rabbit.)

Scarlett: Do you know why I didn't want to hold the bunny anymore?  You know how I was holding it on its bum?  I was worried that it would poop on me.
Shawn: Luckily, rabbit poop is like blueberries.
Scarlett: Or kind of like chocolate chips.
Shawn: Yes.
Nevin: Or like wild Canadian blueberries.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Big Month Moment: March 2017

IMG_20170321_212713788
"Someone once told me that women should do two things everyday they love, one thing every week that they treasure, and one bigger thing every month they will never forget." ~ commenter on Modern Mrs. Darcy
I love this idea, and since I only vividly remember the moments chronicled in this log, I am writing down those big things monthly.

I kind of forgot, but it turns out I'm dating my husband.

And that swell guy did something pretty awesome this week.  He surprised me by taking me to a concert that I have been lusting after for months.  As the kids these days say: Best. Date. Ever.

He snagged pit tickets released at the last minute, strategized how to get through security first and down on the floor before anyone else, and his efforts landed us in the first row at centre stage.  Since we had three hours until the headliners hit the stage, we sat on the floor and had a picnic of sorts with some 18-year-olds in mom jeans (Side note: Is that ironic?  That only people without children wear mom jeans?).

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There were two opening acts so the time passed quickly.  Turns out the 18-year-olds were there to see the second of the opening acts: Kaleo.  Behind the gravelly voice is the cutest 27-year-old face that, for added bonus points, is from Iceland.  They were great.  And was really adorable to watch first-hand while teenagers were brought to tears by handsome man.

And then came The Lumineers.  They are the people I put on repeat on the saddest day of my life, the people who I saw at my first "real" big concert last summer, and the people who I hope I get to watch many more times in my life.  Before I went to this concert, I didn't understand why people would go to see a band live more than once or why anyone would go to a concert in a sports stadium.  While I am still unconvinced that I would want tickets in the comfy seats way back in the stadium seating, I totally get the rest of it.  I've gone twice in the same tour and I am completely enamoured by their live performance.  They were so close, they could step on my fingers.  And they played up the crowd.  And Wesley Schultz jumped into the crowd, and they showered us with confetti. and the tapping of his feet was mesmerizing, and singing the lyrics of all the songs that are written to be sung in chorus was so, so, so good, and I could go on and on and on.  I am so totally in love with them and the guy who got me there.  I don't know which was my favourite part, but I know the most touching part.  Wesley Schultz came out to start the encore on his own and he sang a song about his father dying of cancer.  The stadium was silent.  He was emotional.  It was moving.  At the end he dropped his pick and rejoined his bandmates for some more feel good songs.  He was singing two feet away from us, so I picked up the pick.  I'm pretty sure I'm going to frame it, like any fan should.

IMG_20170321_222916111

When we were dating and first married, we had a sedan.  Shawn would reach across the console and rest his hand on my knee.  Then we made some kids, bought a behemoth van and I forgot all about that old habit.  While we here idling in line to get out of the parking lot, Shawn reached across and put his hand on my knee.  We smiled.

Monday, 13 March 2017

The Week Of March Sixth

malcolmfranklinbw

Have you ever read the book "Good News, Bad News" by Jeff Mack?  It's really good.  It's about a perpetually optimistic rabbit who plans a picnic with his pessimistic friend, Mouse, and the whole story is told with only the words "good news" and "bad news."  The rabbit keeps finding the positives in every situation and then the mouse keeps dishing out negatives.  That was my life last week.  I was the rabbit and Life was the mouse.

Good news.  Malcolm threw up early Saturday morning.  This left plenty of time for him to recover over the weekend so Shawn and I wouldn't have to take time off work Monday.
Bad news.  Shawn, Nevin and Scarlett started on Sunday night.

Good news.  I was scheduled to leave at 5:30am Monday morning for work related road trip.  Sayonara, sickies!  Good luck with that!
Bad news.  It struck me Monday night.  While I was sharing a room with relative strangers.

Good news.  I took the train for my trip.  Even if I was exhausted, I didn't have to drive 7 hours to get home.  Lap of luxury.
Bad news.  A wind storm hit.  Our train hit a few trees, and took out its headlights - no biggie since it was daytime.  Then a giant tree took out power lines beside the track.  Delays.  We missed our connection.  Ultimately, we took a four hour taxi ride to get home.

Good news.  By the time I got home, Shawn had recovered, disinfected everything and it was like nothing had ever happened.
Bad news.  Just when I thought everything was back to normal, my belly played cruel tricks on me.

We started calling it The Week Of March Sixth because every monster deserves a wicked name.  Good news: it is now the week of March 13th, and as creatures of the weekly variety always do, The Week Of March Sixth has gone back to bed.  (Which is also were you'll find us).

Monday, 20 February 2017

Chocolate Peanut Butter Crispies

pbballs

Hello Family Day 2017.  Its nice to see you.

We had these grand plans of doing family things outside, but then the toddler had an epic fit about being towed on a GT snow racer while the rest of the family snowshoed.  And no, he didn't want to be snowshoeing.  Being carried in someone's arms was the only acceptable mode of transportation for him today.  Shawn turned back with him lest the neighbours think a child was being killed by coyotes in the woods.

After a short half-family snowshoe, we went back to our driveway.  We had new big plans of playing hockey.  That worked for a while.  Shawn made me a lounge chair out of a snowbank in the warm sun, so I was happy.  Malcolm had trucks to dig in the snow, so he was thrilled.  But then Scarlett decided that winter is too long and too cold, and cuddling with mum on a snowbank lounger just isn't the same as the real thing.

So the girls gave up on Canadian winters, went inside to make cookies and consoled ourselves with melted chocolate and peanut butter.  And in the end, we felt like we came out winners.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Crispies
Adapted from One Part Plant by Jessica Murnane

1 cup + 2 Tbsp peanut butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch salt
2 cups crispy rice cereal
1 cup chocolate

1) Mix 1 cup of peanut butter, maple syrup, vanilla extract and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Stir in the rice crispies.
2) Take a tablespoon-sized amount of the mixture and roll it in to a ball.  Place the balls on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet or plate.
3) Melt the chocolate and remaining 2 Tbsp of peanut butter in the microwave.  It might take about 2 minutes, but stop every 30 seconds or so to stir.
4) Drizzle the melted chocolate over the balls.  Sprinkle coconut flakes or coarse sea salt over the chocolate covered balls.
5) Freeze until ready to serve.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Balloon Ball

We sat on the floor with ministick nets between us, using our octopus arms to lob a balloon at each other volleyball-style, only without the strict rules.  Boys vs. girls.
Post-it notes turned our shirts into jerseys.
Folk music blaring to counterpoint the intensity of the court.
A two-year-old toddling across the court or plopping in cozy laps mid-play, adding complexity to an otherwise straightforward game.
Until, inevitably a dive for the ball left a player with an injured elbow and no desire to continue.
"I better bring my 'A' game," I said.
Nevin responded "Sure, I'm on my way!"
And so the game continued while dinner prep didn't and a forgettable meal followed because we were living a memorable life.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Chicken Broth

slaughbwweb

Warner kitchen, 3:45pm.

Scarlett and Sasha are making soup together.

Scarlett, crinkling her nose: What is that?
Sasha: Chicken broth.
Scarlett: What?
Sasha: Chicken broth.
Pause.
Scarlett: What?!?  You mean that's bras from chickens?

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Pride and Parenting

elizabethside

I have been thinking very hard the last couple weeks about writing about my proudest parenting moment.  It is so easy to wrap up one's self worth with one's children's accomplishments.  Sure, I tell my kids I am proud of them, but I am acutely aware of that fine line when a parent starts to take ownership of their child's successes.  There is a point at which it becomes boastful.

And yet.  My kids did something a couple weeks ago.  I don't think I have ever been so proud in all my life, and I don't want to ever forget the heart swell I feel right now as I think about it.  And so I need to write it down here, where I can reference it and take myself back to the moment and it can punctuate our family values for them (because this is after all their favourite storybook).

Yes, it's another somber post.

For me at a funeral, its the burial that always gets me.  I think it has something to do with the finality of it.  Everything is rush, rush, rush, thank you, sorry, move right along through the rituals and then the burial happens and it all stops.  There is no busy-ness to distract.  I don't think I am the only one who feels it all at that moment.

My uncle has lived with my Gram his entire life.  For almost fifteen years, it has been just the two of them, taking care of each other.  Although everyone present felt the loss deeply, no one felt it as profoundly as my uncle.  When it was time for us to trudge through the snow back to our car, we walked past my uncle.  Nevin, my shy boy who hates intimacy and intrusion, stopped in front of him and looked up at his face.  He took off his glove and shook my uncle's hand.  My breath caught.  My uncle shifted his attention to Scarlett, just behind her brother.  He held out his hands to her in polite invitation.  She looked way up at him, took two running strides and bounded into his arms.  She hugged him tight and didn't let him go until he was ready.  I think she whispered, "I love you."

My children.  My tender, sweet, loving children.  I didn't and couldn't have expected them to give such love and kindness during a difficult time.  Honestly, we promised them a MacDonald's lunch with dessert in exchange for no bickering or complaining during the funeral and thought we came out winners.  Who knew they were capable of such humanity?  My children are beautiful.  I am so proud.


Thursday, 5 January 2017

A Eulogy for my Gram

elizabethfrontweb

First: If you aren't related to me, you might want to just skip this post.  It won't mean much to anyone but my family.

Yesterday, we said good bye to my Gram.  It amazes me that so many people could have interpreted her words and actions so differently, and the tiny little stories that made up her life were all stored in different places.  What makes one person remember one thing that everyone else forgets?  And how is it that each of us does this to all different seemingly insignificant moments?  Here is what I remember about Gram.

Based on my childish reasoning and worldly knowledge, I think my oldest memories of Gram must've formed when I was in kindergarten.  I was certain that she was the Queen of England's sister.   I thought the woman on the back of our coins was my Gram, and when someone older -- and without imagination -- told me about the Queen, everything came together for me.  My grandmother was the Queen's taller, prettier sister.  It all made sense in my four-year-old mind: she was certainly proper, they looked a lot alike, they were around the same age, they had the same name (didn't people from families share a name?) and Gram spoke English.  And of course, the hardest proof of all: Gram was rich.  Or at least, I figured she must be; how else could someone afford to bake birthday cakes with dimes and quarters hidden in the batter?

I continued with this belief for months, or maybe years, until either age or an older cousin convinced me otherwise.  Although it my have been my imagination that won her my devotion, it was her real skills that kept it.  She made my Barbies one-of-a-kind, straight-off-the-modest-churchgoing-runway fashions from her sewing scraps.  She gave me the most luxurious double-sized Kleenex's you've ever seen when I sneezed (which was often, because I'm kind of allergic to her house).  She turned full packs of Life Savors into elf ornaments and told me to eat the whole pack after Christmas.  And it was her pies and butter tarts that really and truly made everyone swoon.

When I was twelve, my mom dropped me off at Gram's house and told me I wasn't allowed to come home until I knew how to bake a proper pie.  This was their version of a rite of passage.  I spent the day with Gram in the kitchen and after my second attempt, I was given a seal of approval and the apple pie to take home for dinner.  Since then, pie has been my favourite dessert to make and eat.

As I've grown older, it has been her waste-not, want-not mentality that is so common from children raised in the Great Depression that has proved most inspiring to me.  Her kitchen is filled with thrice used twist ties, scraps of paper and plastic cartoons waiting to be repurposed.  Long before zero-waste was a thing with Millenials, she and my uncle were throwing out a grocery-sized bag of garbage only once or twice a month.  Some people thought her lack of shopping and intentional minimalism was cheap, but I thought it was beautiful.  In university I loved getting her homemade cookies ("Date Dainties, Sasha, because they taste the same even if they are a little stale"), sent cross-country in a plastic Wendy's salad container wrapped in half-popped bubble wrap.  It was endearing.

About ten years ago, she copied down her recipe for peach pie for me so I could make it for my mother.  It is well worn and loved: it has shortening stains on it and brown speckles (cinnamon, maybe?) but I want to frame it.  I love the regal, tightly formed slant of her cursive letters and that the recipe is of a beloved pie filling, but most of all I love that it is written on the back of a used envelope with gold paper lining.  She saw the beauty in the discarded, in efficiency, and in sharing her gifts.  Her love was not loud or boastful, but it was present in every little detail, quietly shining for those who noticed, like the gold lining in a discarded envelope.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Ears

malcolmbw

Warner residence, 4:32pm.

Shawn, teasing Malcolm: I'm going to bite your ear!  I'm going to get it!
Malcolm: No!  My do it!

And then he proceeded to bite the air to his right, trying to get his ear.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Happy New Year 2017!

NewYearsShot

Look what we did last night!  Handsome looking family, wouldn't you say?  It was good times.

It is always fun to finish off the year with this little project, even on the difficult days.  Hard doesn't have to look tough 100% of the time.  The boys both had fevers and I lost my Gram, their great-grandmother, that morning.  In many ways, New Years Eve was a microcosm of our whole 2016.  It was good and bad with laughter and crying, and we accepted each moment -- and the emotions that came with it.  That's life.

We wish everyone a happy, messy, healthy 2017.
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