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Paragon of Calm needs a reboot. Already.

In my last post, you may remember that I have made it my mission to be calm in the mornings with my kids. I’d like to tell you proudly that I made it through the week with exemplary calm! But I didn’t. Not quite.

I think it comes down to a sleep problem – one I don’t know how to solve.

There exist those families whose kids go to bed and conk out right away. (My sister-in-law’s son actually ASKS to go to bed when he’s tired. WHAT.) Similarly, there exist those families whose kids pop out of bed super-early on their own and are ready to go.

Not our family. I know that’s a blessing in many ways. My kids don’t get grumpy or whiny at bedtime – instead, they tend to be at their most hilarious (to each other) in that post-dinner period.  And they usually sleep in like champs while on vacation. Natural night owls, it seems.

The night-owl thing is tricky, though. Trust me, we do all the things. We have a consistent bedtime routine. We do settling-down activities like reading, all in the same order. We dim the lights beforehand. We use the kid-safe calming essential oils. We give the hugs and kisses and love. They just… take forever to fall asleep. Especially E. We’ve tried all kinds of bedtimes for him in the hopes that we’d find the perfect one, but he still seems to spend ages awake most of the time. His brain apparently revs high when he’s in bed. I have to remind him to close his eyes and whisper inside his head instead of out loud.

But this fact makes school mornings hard, especially now that their morning bell is fifteen minutes earlier than it was last year.

Please know I’m no morning star myself. (Hence that failed snooze-button resolution.) Once I’m out of bed, I start by opening the blinds in the kids’ room (which doesn’t help at this veil-of-darkness time of year) or putting the small lamp on. Then I’ll cue up some music or a meditation right by E’s head where it will (I hope) gently awaken him.

AB usually wakes up at this point, and betakes herself to my bed for our non-negotiable snuggle. [It has taken us a long time to get this part right. There have been countless times – and they still feel perilously probable – that she has begun the day with a sweet li’l temper tantrum because I happened to be in the bathroom when she came to my bed, or it took me too long to find E’s music, or I said the wrong word to her, or whatever other tiny random glitch she decides is insufferable that day.] She proceeds, almost always, to fall right back to sleep whilst somehow taking up almost all of my bed space.

So then there’s more waking up. E has been known in the past to wake up gently, as intended, but for the past month or so, the auditory stimulation hasn’t worked. I go in, talk to him, scratch his back, literally pick out his clothes for him and put them on his bunk so it’s easier for him… For AB I also scratch her back, kiss her cheek, carry her to the bathroom…

Ach. Written out like this, all the tender enablement is a bit nauseating. I can understand if at this point you’re like, Just rip their covers off already!! Or maybe just sneak headphones onto their ears and blast Van Halen without warning.

This kindly moderation would all be worth it if they then got up, sunny-faced, and put their clothes on with something resembling promptness. Instead, this is the part where they sit there like tiny stoned college kids: AB will open a drawer and just stare into it. E will sit there indefinitely with his shirt off and his splendid bedhead belying his torpor.

In the old days of 2017, this would be the point where I would start to get agitated and my voice would begin to sound stressed. For E, the second he detects annoyance in my voice, he feels entitled to go, “OHKAYEEEE!!” like I screamed at him. Which does nothing to lessen my annoyance, obvs. By the time we would get downstairs,  I’d be fully frustrated, so when the kids would start to bicker at the breakfast bar I’d just be like “NO WE ARE NOT DOING THIS.” And when breakfast was done and the slo-mo would start all over for getting backpacks and snow gear on… Blahhh. You can imagine the tears, the stomping, etc.

The kicker is, I know that when I get mad, I escalate the kids. I’m the adult. I should be able to fix this. Reflecting on the whole situation over the holidays, I said to myself, This is why I’m part-time. I am voluntarily making less money so that I have time to do things like take my children to school. If we’re late, so what? We’re late. It’s fine. Worth it to have a calm morning.

And it TOTALLY IS. The first four mornings of last week, I would say, just once, “Okay. Well, I need you to get those clothes on if you’d like to be on time.” And if I saw our window of punctuality closing, I’d just be like, “We’ll be a little late, okay?” And if I kept calm, the kids kept calm, in almost every case. This is in spite of it being the first week back after winter break, and the kids being overall quite tired. We were late twice out of four days, but whatevs!

Honestly, the rest of my life was better for it. I was calmer with my students, so they were calmer with me, and I had more energy after school to be nice to my family. I enjoyed them all way more.

Sadly, on Friday my calm ran out. Tiredness of kids + not a great sleep on my part  + not a great time fo the month for me + the voice in the back of my head saying We’ve been late twice already this week = I started to sound like my bad old self. So E started to sound like his bad old self. Suddenly AB was getting  tearful about something too. How quickly it all unravels. It wasn’t disastrous… I was just thoroughly disappointed in myself. And sure enough, we were late again.

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We’ve had a nice weekend. Our Friday night was Gryffindor Night, which was awesome and I’ll tell you about that later. We have also cleaned house – all of us – and played lots of Exploding Kittens as a family this weekend, which feels very apropos in terms of the kinds of tempers we have and the abruptness with which they detonate, AND is very fun as a silly game we can all play and not stress about losing.

So tomorrow morning, Paragon of Calm will make a comeback. Now with even more panache.

***


 

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Random Acts of Generosity and other festive things

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Photo by Erik Scheel.

Last Friday morning, I walked home from the grocery store with tears running down my face. It had promised to be a very ordinary day: drop off the kids at school, pick up a few things from the supermarket, get some laundry done and some emails answered before teaching at noon. I’d be thinking about what needed to be prepared for a busy  weekend, what Christmas shopping is left, what assessments I need to cover with my students before winter break.

Instead, I got out my wallet to pay at the checkout, and heard the man standing there say, “I’ll take it.” He was short, with glasses, a navy blue jacket, salt-and-pepper hair, and a big smile. He said, “Merry Christmas.” The cashier twinkled at me – this person had just paid the bill for at least one  person ahead of me too, including the $120 coat in the cart. (I had caught the end of that conversation but not understood what it was about.)

I admit to having been stunned at that moment. Immediately my eyes filled with tears. Not because I am in need of this generosity; just because it was beautiful. It did not enter my mind to refuse, even as I was wishing the gift had landed on someone for whom it would make a bigger financial difference. I did not wonder at the motivation – this man was obviously just getting a great kick out of nonchalant supermarket generosity at 9 a.m. on a Friday. I waited until he had paid, then I shook his hand and wished him a Merry Christmas, meeting his eyes so he could see that I’d been moved.

My eyes are getting teary all over again as I write this. I can’t even fully explain why.

I know that generosity is all around me. As an elementary school teacher in a very supportive community, I see generosity in big and little ways all the time, from kids and parents and staff. The same is true at my children’s school. These are “have” communities, good at sharing.

I am lucky to live in a place where, as another example, one lovely (artist and blogger) friend of mine was able to rally a large group of women to give their time and money, creating enormous holiday baskets, full of items both crucial and fun, for our local women’s shelter.

Maybe my reaction comes from the fact that self-gratification, overconsumption, and narcissism are writ so large in the world right now. They wear us down, both individually and as a species. Sometimes, a person just needs to be thoroughly surprised by another human’s ability to defy social norms in the name of giving. I can tell you, I appreciated that shock.

Now, I get to benefit twice. My plan is to pay forward this gesture in my own ways, thus also enjoying surprising some folks with something nice, whether they need it or not… But also, it’s my good fortune to keep that moment I’ll never forget, a reason to weep happily over twenty-seven dollars and change.

For Christmas, I wish for you to witness a kindness that puts tears in your eyes.

***


 

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16 Things About Pixar’s “Coco”, Mexico, and Death

We took the kids to see Coco on the weekend – just as much for us as for them. Here are some notes (avoiding  spoilers, don’t worry).

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  1. We all loved it. Even with the high expectations I always have going into Disney/Pixar movies these days, they still impress. They are consistently worthy of the big screen, too.
  2. It’s not scary, in case you’re wondering about taking your kids. There’s the one moment when you’re like “Yikes! Lots of skulls!” and then everyone quickly gets used to the dead folks and it’s all cool.
  3. I had somehow managed not to know anything about this movie until a week or so ago, when I heard Anthony Gonzalez (who plays the 12-year-old protagonist, Miguel) in a CBC interview on Q. He’s (recently turned) thirteen, and just seems like the most earnest little cutie you’d like to hear on the radio. Sings like a wee Mariachi angel. (Even when crying, which is quite an accomplishment.) Aware of his talent but not obnoxiously so – and full of gratitude for the success he’s had. He began the audition process when he was nine years old, so he’s obviously learned something about patience and determination, too.
  4. Coco was released first in Mexico, and in time for Día de los Muertos. Appropriately.
  5. The movie is voiced by an all-Latino cast, and they do their own singing. Did you know that Benjamin Bratt can sing? I did not (I actually didn’t even know he was Latino, having not seen him in much), but was happy to find out.
  6. Imagery, imagery, oh-so-fantastic imagery. I have always loved the way Disney and Pixar go ALL IN with the beautiful details of cultural artistry. Land of the Dead? WOW. Obviously a ton of thought put into the visual feel of… everything.
  7. I adore listening to even the little snippets of Spanish in this movie. Makes me wish I had someone to practice my Spanish with. And I was thrilled to realize that the soundtrack (as streamed on Apple Music, anyway) has all the songs as sung in the English version, followed by ALL the Spanish versions!! YAY!
  8. The singers in the Spanish soundtrack for Coco are different, except for Gael García Bernal (who plays Héctor). This version’s Miguel is played by Luís Ángel Gómez Jaramillo. His voice is just as sweet (and stunningly similar) – and he also happens to be adorable.
  9. On that note (ha), the music is great. Exhilarating, actually. (Tons of thought and research put into this too.) As a person who deliberately finds Latin music to listen to when I need some musical/mental sunshine therapy, I relished every song. The kids loved them too and have been singing them at home. A child’s off-key-yet-earnest warbling of “Our love for each other will live on forever!!” is rather charming. (See below for AB’s renditions.)
  10. The big song, “Remember Me”, was written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez – who also wrote “Let it Go” and other faves from Frozen. So you can imagine. (Other songs are by Germaine Franco and Adrian Molina and are wonderful also.)
  11. The one song that is sung only in Spanish is “La Llorona” (“The Weeping Woman”), a Mexican folk song about “the ghost of a woman who lost her children and now cries while looking for them in the river, often causing misfortune to those who are near or hear her” (according to Wikipedia). This song is like Cohen’s Hallelujah – it has one jillion verses so anyone singing it has to just pick a few.
  12. As usual with Disney/Pixar, I cried watching this movie. A couple of times. You’ll know which moments if you see the movie. I sit there thinking Seriously, Pixar?? YOU ARE DELIBERATELY DOING THIS TO MAKE ME CRY. LOOK AT THOSE TINY HANDS. But I still love it. Being moved to tears is something a soul needs every so often. And Pixar is great at grabbing themes that speak to so many of us: loss of loved ones, sorrow of parting, difficulties of aging, passion for art, and the highs and lows of being part of a family.
  13. I really appreciate the apparent facility of this movie in talking about death. Whatever one may personally believe about the afterlife and whatnot, it makes total sense to me for death to be seen as the part of life that it is. Not something to shield the kids from. Not something to fear, although we take the sadness into account and share it. It’s just the way things are.
  14. I’ve never celebrated el Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead, November 1st), but I wish we did. (Maybe we could? I do know some gringos who do…) What a great concept, setting aside a day to think about our loved ones who have died, and to feel the connection that is still there – simply through love and memories.
  15. I don’t know whether this movie includes any deliberate in-your-face defiance in terms of Mexico and its people/language/music/beauty/cultural significance, etc. versus those particular “pro-wall” Americans… but I sure felt it. As the movie ends (with the song “Proud Corazón”, a statement in itself), it’s all “Annnnnd Mexican awesomeness FTW.” *mic drop* (Or possibly *guitar drop*.)
  16. If it sounds like I’m gushing about Coco, so be it. It’s my prerogative to be childishly exuberant and uncritical on my own blog every once in a while, right?

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***


 

P.S. Just for interest, in case you don’t already know, I wanted to mention the big watery underground hole with the natural skylight that Miguel ends up in at one point in the movie; it’s called a cenote. It’s a natural sinkhole that forms when limestone bedrock collapses underground. I gave Sean a nudge when we saw it – we got to go into one in Mexico once. They’re tourist attractions, as you can see by the photo below. (Surrounded by tiny children who will eagerly sell you picture postcards of them.)

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Thoughts for a New Five-Year-Old

Dear AB,

Hi, bébé. I still call you that, now that you’re a five-year-old, even though you’re practically a teenager in many ways. As all mamas know: once your baby, always your baby. Happy belated birthday post!

 

You turned five… two-and-a-half weeks ago already. We’ve had five separate celebrations – two were on your birthday itself, and one was even on Fall Fair day. So it’s been pretty exciting! We gave you your first Lego set that’s all yours (though you’ve generously let your brother play too) and the other day you said, “I’m obsessed with this stuff!” Other gifts reflected the other things you’re into: animals, especially horses; art; books; and of course princesses and fairies endure.

 

 

To be honest, life with you was rather difficult right around your birthday. (Not that I was intentionally late in writing this! But circumstances conspire.) You got sick for a couple of days right after your birthday, and it took a while to get back to sleeping properly. You were quite a grumpy bear for a number of days.

With you, when I say grumpy bear, I mean screechy, kicky, yelly, and imperious, and impossible – sometimes from the instant you awaken. It’s hard to like you at those times. And super-duper hard to get you out the door in the morning.

But then, as has been true since you were an infant, you also have your easily-lovable side – the one that’s so cute it hurts. And despite certain adolescent tendencies, you’re still little in so many ways. You still insist on a snuggle every morning (which I accept if you aren’t Grumpy Self) and you still nestle your hand on my neck because that’s your favourite. You whisper “I love you, Mummy,” and I melt every time. Your wardrobe choices are usually full of clashing colours and patterns – there’s no combo you won’t wear, and with total confidence to boot. You are still innocent enough to accept and own your dazzling childhood beauty. You are still awesome at pretending. Still unfettered by inhibitions when moved to dance. Still inclined to sing – sometimes inspirational ballads you make up, sometimes the same misheard lyric over and over, and sometimes words we don’t recognize at all. You still believe in all the things a little kid should.

 

This past summer, you learned to ride your two-wheeler without training wheels. With the practice on your balance bike, combined with watching your brother magically learn a year earlier, and of course your natural mettle, you just did it. You and your bike looked so tiny, yet there you were, pedalling away. We are so proud.

When I try to picture your future self, I feel sure you’ll be a strong, opinionated woman who speaks her mind. You are already perfecting the eloquent, self-righteous shout-rant that’s very convincing during an argument even though it’s usually baloney: “Well, YOU should have known that I need TIME to put my CLOTHES on!!!” I doubt that many of your peers would try to best you in a verbal wrangle.

You also have compassion that runs deep. (Just this morning, you cried real tears over a story I told about having my favourite brand-new jacket stolen during a high school band trip. Golly, I’d never have told it if I’d known it would make you truly sad.) Your daddy and I are learning not to talk within your earshot about the news that’s so awful all the time – aftermath of superstorms, racial violence, sexual predators, the threat of nuclear war, and so on – because you are listening, and your heart already breaks. You do not need to be beaten down by these things before you get a chance to use your strength and spirit for good – and for yourself too.

Sometimes I wonder whether you’ll be able to shoulder the burden of your sympathy – especially along with the fierceness that will probably compel you to act on it. It can be rough being a passionate person who hurts for others, and who feels injustice keenly. It can also be rough being a strong girl or woman who knows her worth and finds it contrary to what the world reflects. I’ve recently been realizing that I don’t have the confidence I wish I had that life is getting better for women and girls.

So here’s my plan. I will teach you everything I know about valuing yourself, asserting yourself, defending yourself, knowing yourself, taking care of yourself, and being your best self. In the meantime, I will value you, be assertive for and with you, defend you, know you as best I can, take care of you, and see your best self as clearly as my Mama-eyes can see.

I already know you love yourself. One of your regular sayings (during happy moods) is, “I love you, and I love Daddy, and I love my brother, and I love myself, and I love everyone in the whole world even if I don’t know them!” Your all-encompassing love is precious, real, powerful. We promise we will also wrap you all-over-really-tight in layers and layers of love, to make that feeling last as long as possible.

***


 

 

 

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Breaking the Ice with Words and Grief

Dear Sebastian,

Forgive me. I know you need some attention. You’ve been persistently reminding me for more than a year, but somehow I haven’t managed to sit down and contemplate you properly.

Last summer, your days were rushed into the beginning of Family Camp. I thought of you all the time, but couldn’t grieve or cry thoroughly. In response, I’ve found grief leaping up at me, unanticipated, all year long.

I clearly remember the summer you died, the way crying would insist upon happening (at inconvenient times)  if I didn’t deliberately fill a certain allotment of mindful grieving. The Crying Quota is a lot smaller now, but I’ve clearly been sidelining it too often. It persists.

There have been those random mornings when I’d be having a nice quiet coffee alone and suddenly find myself spilling tears on the table. Times when my mind would suddenly conceive, for no reason, that instant when your tiny heart stopped beating and your perfect soul broke away. Moments when I feel the phantom pain of your head pressing against my side, uncushioned by fluid, as it did for those last weeks.

There were also many reminders of your cherished existence in my heart – like you’re tenderly poking me from your place in the universe. Conversations I’d overhear – with weird frequency – about ultrasounds, sage tea, and even the salmon. And that day at school when I opened up a storybook I was given years ago, and caught sight of the author’s inscription for the first time since we’d received it: “To the Stephens boys.” It knocked the wind out of me for a moment… but it also made me glad. Proof of your realness.

Some days, I deliberately drive past the hospital on the way home. Which might seem strange. It’s a place I am tied to for its witness of the joyous births of your siblings, as well as the only time I spent holding you. It makes me feel closer to my babies. But sometimes that memory, of arriving at the dark street in front of the ER in unearthly pain, pops up more jaggedly than I anticipate – almost as if it were recent.

And while I try not to dwell on it, I can’t help but feel regret about that last morning. I wish I had kept you in my arms for longer – even half an hour longer. I don’t know why I wish this so hard, since it would change nothing, and it would all still be just as over as it is now… It was just too short. I know we usually want pain to be short, but in this case – I would give a lot to go back to that pain for a few minutes.

This grief is more than six years old now, but damned if I’ve figured out how to navigate it.

Another difficult time this summer was when our midwife died. We hadn’t seen her in a couple of years at least, and she had been working out of the province, but that didn’t make the news easier to accept. All our midwives have been excellent, but our primary midwife was a particularly amazing person and an expert in her profession. She was the one who was with us for the non-stress test where we last heard your peaceful heartbeat. She bravely broke the bad news to us the next day. She caught you and told us what a beautiful baby you were. She visited me for weeks postpartum, even though there was no baby to check on, just to talk and make sure we were managing. She vowed to help me deliver my next baby, who would be born healthy… and so she did. Having been through a lot of grief and pain herself, she was caring and empathetic and optimistic in a way that was inexpressibly reassuring. And she was one of a very small handful of people who met you in person. This summer, we grieved for her family and friends and colleagues, but also selfishly: it hurts to think that that handful is now even smaller.

In July, when Skye very gently nudged me about blogging (as she does when I haven’t written for a while), I was acutely aware that it had been more than a month since my last post, and that I blogged not a word about you on your days. The more days that passed after that, the more I couldn’t write – because it was your turn… But I needed to write you something real.

I tried breaking the ice some other way, nonchalantly. There were several attempts. I tried to make a post featuring one of your brother’s artistic masterpieces: an instructional page he created for your sister to teach her how to make fart noises with her armpit. The written steps are pithy and the diagrams utterly, utterly luminous.

But it wasn’t right. My blog even scolded me for this irreverence by refusing to upload photos. (Still not sure what that’s about… sigh.)

And now you won’t be put aside any longer. It’s the last weekend of summer before school starts. Life is about to go back to scrambly busy-ness. Here I am, still working on this post. And especially for the past few weeks, I’ve struggled with the confluence of love and grief – because right now, they’re seemingly inextricable. I’ve been weepy so many times – missing my kids when I’m apart from them, saying goodbyes to people I love, listening to my favourite music, seeing beauty, feeling the endings of many things… It’s all harder because you’re so present in everything.

But when I think about it, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m glad you’ve been so close to me all summer. You were there in the forested Appalachian hills on our trip to North Carolina, and in the joyous cacophony of the family we visited there – especially the smallest people. You were there at Family Camp, just as much in the boisterous play as in the brilliant silences. You were there on our trip to the Ottawa River, in the crashing whitewater as well as the tranquil ripples. You were there at OELC, in the gathered voices of more than a hundred people, singing this beautiful song written for a beloved little son.

Thanks for the reminders, sweetheart. I needed them. Your heart and my heart are always together, thank goodness. I miss you always and love you forever.

Mama

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Stress Is Just How We Roll These Days

Doesn’t it seem like stress has been trending for too long? Like it’s a bit ridiculous that feeling hassled is not reserved for crunch times – that instead it’s just a way of life?

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This picture AB drew really captures how I’ve been feeling.

Last week a colleague, who also happens to be my friend and neighbour, asked me, “Do you ever feel like you’re just barely scraping by?”

Fervently, I replied, “Ohmigosh, of course. ALL THE TIME.”

This friend of mine is one of the nicest people you can imagine, smart and hardworking and very compassionate. I’ve never seen her seem anything but serene, even when we’re talking about stress.

We were discussing the ever-tricky work/life balance. She told me about a recent incident in which she’d felt unreliable because she couldn’t remember whether or not she’d completed a particular task. This is something I can definitely relate to. The not-so-shining moments of things falling through cracks because… there’s JUST TOO MUCH.

It was, I think, surprising and comforting to both of us that we feel the same about this. I guess we’re both good at seeming fine when we’re not actually that fine.

The truth was, the previous week had been one in which my undulating perspective was rather more vertiginous than usual. My 39th birthday was on the Thursday, followed by Mother’s Day on the Sunday. My birthday was great – I felt loved and celebrated and worthy.

Things fell abruptly into focus for me on Mother’s Day. It was a lovely morning, with pancakes made by my Hubbibi and sweet little cards from my kids. In spite of this, a few hours later I was grouchy and yelly with those same kids. The little darlings had not taken the bait when I told them my dearest Mother’s Day wish was for them to clean their room and/or the playroom. In fact, both kids have arrived at a stage where they feel entitled to A) not do what I ask, like AT ALL, and B) give me attitude about it.  And I just felt bitter.

We did clean up, but I basically had to threaten them. Great mothering right there. (And great childing too.)

The day got better later on, and everything was fine. It’s just that it happens more than I’d like that I get grumpy and raise my voice – and I hate that. I feel myself using guilt as leverage, and I hate that too. But why don’t they see how much work it is to parent them? Why don’t they want to help out? DON’T THEY LOVE ME??

That’s when I start to fret. Are my kids just lazy and selfish? Is it permanent? And if they are, isn’t it muchly my fault, as their mother?

Sean says I worry too much, and I’m sure he’s right. He generally doesn’t worry – but I have no idea how such non-worrying is accomplished. Case in point…

Examples of Things I Worry About

  • My kids are spoiled beyond all help
  • My house will never be clean or even properly tidy for more than 17 minutes
  • I’m not a good mom
  • I’m not a properly nice person anymore either – I’ve just got people fooled
  • Teaching is not my true calling
  • My “undulating perspective” is actually something wrong with my brain
  • My energy oscillation is actually some weird disease
  • The frequent headaches I get are actually cancer
  • E’s melodrama is actually depression
  • AB will grow up to be a Mean Girl
  • My husband will die young and I’ll be a single mom
  • My mind is disorganized because of all the thoughts that want to much to be written down but can’t be because NO TIME
  • Work/life balance is a pipe dream. Period.

I swear I’ve never been a pessimist or a hypochondriac. I never used to stress out about little things, and it used to take a lot more for me to lose my temper. If I remember correctly, I did not used to be bitchy.

*Sigh.*

When I think about it at this moment, with the kids asleep in bed (no doubt looking like gorgeous innocent cherubs), I can convince myself that it’s probably not that they’re inherently or permanently lazy/selfish/evil. It’s probably just that they’re four and almost-eight, and they’re figuring out what they can get away with.

And maybe I’m not done for, either. I often have those moments where I look at my healthy children, my brick of a husband, my incredibly comfortable bed, my pretty house, my friendly neighbourhood filled with trees… And I’m completely dazzled by my good fortune. I can hardly believe I get to live this life.

As long as I keep coming back to some semblance of equanimity once in a while, I’m sure I’ll be fine. And get some fracking sleep, for crying out loud. (Or for not crying out loud. One would hope.)

Tomorrow I leave for OELC for a week. Experience tells me it will be one of the busiest and most exciting weeks of my year. It does include stress – but it’s all temporary, and all focused in one place. It’s a place to get centred and come back tired but refreshed. And by then it’s June! So EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE PEACHY.

That’s the plan.

***


 

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5-Day Artist Challenge, Day 5: Dance

I’ve saved Dance for last in my 5-Day Artist Challenge, because my relationship with dance is both of utmost importance to me, and hardest to describe. (So hard, in fact, that apparently I had to wait for ages, forget that I still had never finished the post, and pick it up with renewed fervour.) You may have forgotten, in all this time,  about the Café Bakery of the Artist Challenge, but it’s official. Writing is sourdough, Drama is French toast, Visual Art is sandwiches, and Music is cookies. Therefore: in thinking hard about what the Bread of Dance would be, I’ve decided that it’s flatbread.

Seems counter-intuitive, maybe, but this is how anciently foundational I know dance to be. Flatbread has existed for thousands of years. It is essential to cultures all over the world. It is as sacred as communion wafer, and as celebratory as focaccia pizza. Flatbread is important whether you have everything, or almost nothing. It can be crisp or soft or stretchy, or basically whatever you need it to be. It’s tortilla, it’s naan, it’s lavash, it’s chapati, it’s matzo, it’s pita, it’s roti, and so on. And any of those types can be consumed in simplicity, or filled with all kinds of delicious details.

communion-bread-sacrament
Communion bread via tvo.com
foccacia-pizza
Focaccia pizza via gratednutmeg.com

And another thing: flatbread is very often round, like the dances in so many cultures. A circular creation that underpins and supports many aspects of culture. I make this point because for me, dance is not just a joy, but a necessity. It is not just a practice, but a basis for community.

It always makes me sad to know there are those who believe they can’t or shouldn’t dance. I’m lucky to have been encouraged in dance ever since early childhood. I can’t imagine how it would feel to have that instinct squelched. The urge to manifest a rhythm or melody, to let yourself be literally moved by the music, especially for young kids, is a powerful one.

The Groove movement, made known to me by my amazing Dance co-facilitator at OELC iArts, insists that we can ALL dance. That if we think we can’t, all we need are few building blocks to help us find our own style. That, and a safe space to move. Dancing is for everyone. It counts whether you’re dancing with thousands at a rock concert, or by yourself in your bedroom. We all need that whole-body thrill of letting the music become part of us.

My dance journey has been through many phases:

  • Dancing as a preschooler, wearing whatever dancey costume I could get my hands on, in our living room with my sisters – mostly to dances by Brahms or Dvorák;
  • Taking my first ballet classes, realizing I would not wear an actual tutu or pointe shoes for many years, but still adoring how sublime I felt doing it;
  • Taking up figure skating as well and loving the transfer of dance onto ice;
  • Going through puberty and suddenly being less-good at both these forms of dance (where being petite – not to mention short-waisted – is a huge natural advantage);
  • Attending Wilfrid Laurier University and taking ALL the dance classes offered (i.e. ballet, jazz, hip-hop, modern, swing, jive, and Latin);
  • Attending the University of Toronto and joining the Only Human Dance Collective, which gave me more experience in everything, plus Irish and African and – finally – bellydance.

The meet-cute between bellydance and me occurred while I was working on my Masters in Toronto. The hip-hop class I wanted to sign up for was full. I thought, Hm, I’ve never tried this! I was hooked the first time I saw my teacher do a maya. I couldn’t wait to learn how to do that.

Once I began learning, I fell straightaway in love. It was all so fascinatingly beautiful. And finally my body had found a home. Finally it could be itself – long waist, large ribcage, prominent butt, funny-shaped feet and everything. Finally I was teaching it to do things that felt natural.

Since then, I have discovered that bellydance, in Ontario at least, is not just a hobby but a community – one full of diversity, creativity, and caring.

This past November, the dance troupe I belong to presented its biennial professional show called Mosaic. In this show, bellydance techniques are fused with all kinds of other dance techniques to create wonderful, unique choreography. There are a dozen of us who form the main troupe, and we worked really hard to bring the visions of our choreographers to life.

There is no way to adequately describe the rush you feel when combining the satisfaction of a job well done, the joy of movement, the exhilaration of performing in front of an audience, and the bond of a loving community working their tails off together. I am incredibly grateful to be part of it.

Here is a piece we did in November. It took the most work of any of our pieces, because it required the most intricate synergy. It is chock-full of empowerment symbolism. No performance is perfect, but we are proud of this one.

Here is another piece that we did at the previous Mosaic two years ago. This is a favourite piece of the troupe in general because it’s so much fun. I adore it because it makes me feel like a kid: whooping and hollering, being unabashedly noisy with an instrument, animating a big swishy skirt, and especially dancing the big circle at the end where we skip and gallop – just pure candid joy.

Now my daughter is taking creative dance classes, and she loves them. Her excitement when she emerges from the studio is a sign that she is getting the joy I wish for her. And both my kids, when we put on music at home and just boogie down, have fun and smile more afterwards. It’s a shot of happiness to the body and soul.

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