Five Years to Miss You

Dear Sebastian,

It’s now five years since your birth day; five years and about thirty-seven hours since your heart beat last.

There is something about this year that has made my baby memories extra-vivid. I have thought of you so much this spring. I feel your days coming the first time the weather gets hot. Despite seemingly constant over-busy-ness in the last two months, you’ve been right at the top of my heart most of the time. It has felt strange, being in our new house where you never lived… but I feel you anyway.

I thought about you especially on your big brother’s seventh birthday. I could viscerally remember bringing E home as a newborn: the sunshine, the tiny onesies, the smell of welcome-home fruit crumble, the swaddling blankets, the days of rapt, awestruck bliss.

I remember how I felt that week when Emi told me that a friend of hers had borne a son on the same day I had, but that hers had been stillborn. My heart dropped like a rock as I tried to fathom how any parent could withstand that pain, when I could barely let my own newborn out of my arms.

Then, two years and one month later, you were born still, and I became friends with that same bereaved mama, who offered beautiful, generous words of empathy that I’ve never forgotten. By that time, she had a second daughter, who is now five – like you. What a strange, sad, lovely, mysterious entwining of lives and deaths.

Normally, school ends and there is that sudden space in my life at the beginning of July – and I let myself ponder you as much as I want. This year, I haven’t had time to spend with you, but my systems knew what they were doing and went all weepy anyway. I didn’t know what to do with that, because five is a heavy milestone, and it was getting lost in the preparation for Family Camp.

Then yesterday, I arrived here at NeeKauNis, and I suddenly felt lighter, righter, like you were all around me. It was quiet and fragrant and humid and leafy. I saw you, in this bright face.

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And I saw you again in this expansive sky-smile, after a much-needed, stormy downpour.

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Today, the other families arrived, and our Camp is full. It is busy and noisy and full of life.

This week, I’m going to watch for you. Beauty has always been where I see you, and interacting with beauty is how I feel close to you.

I really wish there were some way I could cuddle you again. Part of me feels entitled to, after missing you for so long. But I’m glad you’re here with us.

I love you always.

***


 

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Such Outrageous (Good) Fortune

I mentioned I’ve been absent from school twice within the last two months, for a week at a time. There are only good reasons for this, and this is what I wrote (and didn’t manage to post) when I came back from the first one – a rare and wonderful reunion of my dad’s side of the family in the U.S.

I’m feeling really grateful, for so many things.

  • Being given permission to attend a family reunion in North Carolina for a week, even though teachers are really never supposed to do vacation time outside scheduled breaks.
  • Our spacious new minivan that made the trip possible. (Toyota Sienna.)
  • My kids being, overall, very well-behaved and good sports about the 12-hour drive (plus stops and a teeny bit of getting lost).
  • My dear sisters, Auntie Em and Auntie Beth, who were part of the minivan crew and made the long driving time totally do-able. (In fact, when the kids look back on those long drives, they insist that they were fun… And they actually kind of were.)
  • The gift of hand-me-down Bakugan toys, from a thoughtful friend, that made both car rides way more cool.

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  • The advice of my friend at bearandlionmama.com, who has a lot of great tips about road trips that were helpful (especially the cookie trays!).
  • Sean being an excellent driver, such that we arrived safely and I didn’t have a nervous breakdown, despite my unexpected and uncharacteristic bout of anxiety during my own driving stint in the West Virginia mountains. (Tunnels through mountains = not great for claustrophobes.)
  • The fact that my two aunts somehow managed to buy houses that aren’t just in the same town – they’re RIGHT NEXT DOOR to each other.
  • The beautiful Smoky Mountains.

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  • Tromping around in the mountain woods.
  • Gorgeous weather, like a sweet slice of summer. (While we were still having intermittent snow back home.)
  • The best screened-in balcony-porch you’ve ever seen.

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  • Being given a bed to sleep on that’s actually more comfortable than our own bed; on our second night there, I had the best sleep I’ve had in… probably more than seven years.
  • A whole crew of family I don’t just like, or even just love – rather, family I am totally inspired by and adore to pieces. Including every one of the relatively new additions.
  • Finally cuddling my birthday buddy!! And getting a lovely baby-fix – without craving another of my own. Well, hardly at all.

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  • Getting to hug and kiss my sweet grandma every day, hear her voice, and know that at 97-and-a-half she’s still a good listener and inclined to make sassy comments on a regular basis.

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  • Fascinating, wide-ranging intergenerational conversations, especially leisurely ones over breakfast while we ogled the baby and drank amazing coffee (one of the cousins does coffee for a living, and we all reaped the benefits).
  • The interactions between the four smaller people – ages almost-one, three-and-a-half, almost-seven, and almost-eleven. They were all so good to each other and had so much fun, age gaps notwithstanding.

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  • Delicious homemade meals every night, made by different folks so no-one had to do too much.
  • Having time to play two whole games of Cities and Knights of Catan, plus lots of Anomia, Dutch Blitz, Exploding Kittens, and one grand game of Taboo. Lots of laughing-till-we-couldn’t-breathe.
  • The opportunity to visit the Cherokee village and walk around the grounds (which seemed mysteriously open even though the village itself was closed even though its website said it was open) and then visit the nearby Museum, so as to have an idea of the real history of the area.

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  • Seeing horribly grainy video footage of our clan talent show from New Year’s Eve 1995, to remember how young and big- and long-haired – and talented, of course – we all were.
  • Watching my children playing with their grown-up relatives, who seemed happy to get down on the floor to play, or participate in endless rounds of bounce-catch. (Thank you!!)
  • Both of my dog-scared kids getting to know little Tucker, who helped them loosen up.

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  • Getting to see arty Asheville, including the coffee bus and Woolworth Walk and the used bookstore and Real Buskers!

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  • The fact that my kids have aunts and great-aunts who do real art, super-fun full-on art, of a type that I never accomplish with them at home.

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  • My Hubbibi being willing to put the kids to bed basically every night, so that I could spend more time with my relatives.
  • Being reminded of what it feels like to be at loose ends… having whole days with no set plans, to just loll around and chat and listen to birds and have drinks and hammock and strum and sing and look at old photos. What a crazy feeling.

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  • Getting to celebrate the baby’s first Passover on our last evening in NC, with real matzo ball soup and extra-hot horseradish, and the short version of the sermon with genuine Hebrew singing.
  • Spending a whole week immersed in beauty and clan-love. It really doesn’t get any better.
  • That lady at McDonald’s during breakfast on our trip home who kindly got AB a separate plate when she was starting to melt down because of a syrup incident, and then also got us a lot of napkins when she spilled her milk. And smiled at us and seemed not at all perturbed by the perturbations.
  • Being so fortunate in our home that, even though we missed everyone, coming back across the border was a joy, and coming into our house was comforting. Even E, who had cried about leaving, said, “It’s nice to be home.”

Dear clan – thank you so much, for your hospitality, your generosity, your wonderfulness in general. We miss you and love you lots and lots, and are already looking forward to the next visit. Even two weeks after we got home, E still said that whenever he mentioned North Carolina, he felt sad that we left – but I know both kids had the time of their lives. And me too.

***


 

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Happy Spring?

Hi lovelies,

It’s spring! Ha ha. Here in our city, we’ve had over 20 cm of snow this week. A few nights ago, we had a cozy wood fire in our fireplace (it’s finally drawing properly!), which was great but distinctly un-springy. ‘Twas the weather Christmas forgot to have. And then today… it was just muck falling from the sky.

Since the official start of spring, it has been weird around here. The weather is only part of it; poor E also got sick over Easter weekend with what I think was probably the flu – but it knocked him out for the better part of six days, which is very unusual for him. He slept so much that I barely saw him, and hardly ate a thing. He’s normally a pale kid, but he became positively ghostly.

This past season has been brutal for sickness, at least in our area. Teachers and students have been absent in what I’m sure are record numbers, and not just with the usual colds and stomach bugs. Lots of strep throat and pneumonia.

Between the maladies and the weather, I get a rather apocalyptic feeling. As if someday, the further-evolved survivors of our species will look back on this time period and shake their heads, intoning sorrowfully, “Hardly any of them saw it coming… They tried to warn the others, but nobody would listen…”

I know, I’m a ball of sunshine. Presumptuously morose for someone who hasn’t written anything worth posting in more than a month.

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This should do it.

Okay. Let’s lighten it up with some gratitude. Inspired by my friend H who is blogging happiness this year.

I’m currently grateful for:

  • E being back to normal, finally;
  • the school board-wide shutdown (due to ice!) on the first day E was sick so I could stay home with him;
  • my sisters and parents who have all helped so much where child care is concerned, especially in recent months;
  • my cat remembering (again) where he’s supposed to do his business;
  • having thoroughly cleaned and organized the basement rec room over the March break – it’s now so much easier to tidy up and SO much more fun to play in;
  • our “new” house slowly but surely becoming easier to live in as we organize, donate, and (re)arrange;
  • the springy weather we have had so far – because there were (once upon a time) some beautiful days that keep a body going even when the polar vortex follows;
  • gradually developing more productive habits – Sean and I are finally using our charts! Kind of… well, we are getting there;
  • getting ready for a family reunion in less than two weeks!!
  • AB bringing up the topic of gratitude at the dinner table the other night, asking if we could “play that game” where we tell each other what we “love about”;
  • my dear friend Skye who always notices when I’m not blogging and gently kicks my butt because she knows (better than I do, apparently) that it’s important.

So. You haven’t read the last of me. Thanks, as always, for reading. xoxo

***


 

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Coaching Your Kid To Stand Up To Bullies

My son is in Grade 1, and he has this one particular classmate who worried me from the first day. I was told, by a friend of mine whose son was in his kindergarten class, that he was “the cool kid.” It was obviously true. Short but sporty, tough little chin, primary-school mohawk haircut. Clearly comfortable with his peers, even on that first stressful day.

For the purposes of this post, let’s call him “Ringleader.”

From what I can gather, he’s the middle son in his family, and his mom is heavily involved in the School Council. He knows how to be an upstanding citizen. He’s the kind of kid who knows how to cooperate and use good manners, and can deftly and justly organize a group of kids building a snow fort. IF there’s an adult standing there, observing.

If it’s the kids alone, though, apparently his rule becomes dictatorial. He forces other kids into set roles, and reserves the right to fire them capriciously. We have heard Ringleader’s name many times in relation to playground governance, but last week, E told us he hadn’t had fun at recess specifically because Ringleader had fired him from their clubhouse – apparently for “not doing his job” (even though E was sure he’d never been assigned a job).

It’s worth noting that E took the appropriate first step: reporting to adults he trusted.

We said things like, “He can’t just fire you. He doesn’t own that part of the playground. You don’t have to go away just because he says that.” (Sean encouraged E to tell Ringleader it was “wrongful dismissal.”)

We thought it might just blow over, but the next day it continued, even worsened. And I realized that, as much as we teachers discuss and implement anti-bullying strategies at school, I wasn’t at all confident about the best way to coach E on this. It’s easy to say, “Stand up for yourself!”, but unrealistic to expect a shy six-year-old to know how to do that.

When I was a kid, I was homeschooled for basically all of elementary school – and it was my choice. I had enjoyed kindergarten, but what I remember of my brief taste of Grade 1, other than stultifyingly boring Mr. Mugs readers, was being scared of the Grade 2 boys on the playground. One reason I didn’t return to public school until Grade 9 was that my older brother and sister both had troubles at school, especially during the intermediate years, with other students who were horribly, habitually mean to them.

It was the right choice for me. We were – and are – a family of confirmed nerds, but fortunately my high school was a big place with lots of smart kids among whom my nerdiness was not a big deal. Although I’d always been aware, through my various extracurricular activities, that I was weird and shy and lacking in cool-cred, I did know I was lucky never to have been traumatized by hard-core bullying.

Last week, in trying to help my son, I deferred to Sean, who did attend public school, and who is a boy, and who also dealt on many occasions with kids who picked on him. He talked to E about pretending you’re confident, and, apparently even more important, pretending you don’t care what the bully says. When Ringleader says you’re fired, shrug your shoulders and walk off. Find your own fun. Be a free agent. Say to some other kid, “Hey, I’m going to go do such-and-such – you can play too if you want.” (Implied: but I’m fine if you don’t.) THIS is how you take away the power of the social bully. Sean assured our son that when he was a kid, it worked every time.

Good advice, I think, but of course, this is so hard. As E describes it, almost every boy in his class is… employed by Ringleader. It’s hard to walk away when nobody’s left to play with. Not only that, but the second day this happened, some of the kids who’d rallied behind Ringleader to exclude E were ones who have been his closest friends this year. Even though some of them were ones who’d previously been “fired.” (Fickle little jerks.) Such is the power of Ringleader.

And such is the potency of the Group. We talk a lot about uniting against bullying, about mustering the courage to call bullies out. In reality, it is painfully true that kids don’t often stand up to bullies in person – on behalf of themselves or others. It is much easier to fall into rank behind the current ringleader, given the chance, no matter how mean he is. The one time recently when I witnessed one of my Grade 4 students scolding two of his classmates (with great eloquence, I might add) for picking on someone, I was amazed, and literally almost cried.

Last week, I also advised E to ask this boy, “Hey Ringleader, did you know that you’re a bully?” Because there’s always the possibility that he’s in denial. I’m certain he knows that bullying is bad – schools drive home this message ad nauseam – but sometimes kids are weirdly oblivious to the sum of their actions.

When I’m talking to a student accused of picking on someone, I usually ask, “Are you a mean kid?” Almost without exception, they say no. “Then why are you doing mean things?” I say. “Because if you do lots of mean things, that makes you a mean kid.” Strangely, many of them have never bothered to do this math for themselves. Maybe Ringleader just needs to be shown the equation.

In the days following the “firings,” I kept asking E how his recess went. By day 3, he had been “rehired” and given a job with his friend J. He seemed happy enough (after all, his job was making mud balls), but I was seething a bit at the arrogance of this kid. This week, things seem to have simmered down. And one day, E said he’d “wandered around” at recess, rather than be “forced” to play goalie in soccer, which seems like a healthy stroke of independence. (Evidently he’d been forced to play goalie once before and felt he was terrible at it.)

I’m on the lookout for trouble now. I want to know if this crops up again – and frankly, I don’t see why it wouldn’t, unless Ringleader experiences some sort of comeuppance.

I’m well aware that my son, much as I love him, sometimes behaves in ways that could be annoying to other kids. I don’t witness his school interactions, but it could be a factor. I also know that he has developed a tendency to take things personally, and hard. For reasons we are still working to discern, his level of resiliency is not as high as it was when he was a toddler, or even an infant. He is also smallish and ghost-pale, has glasses and a lisp, and is probably smarter than either of his parents. Perfect bully-bait.

This has been a good lesson for me, as both a parent and a teacher. Just hoping my children will be happy and well-liked for their whole lives doesn’t make it so; similarly, talking theoretically about anti-bullying strategies to large groups of kids can only go so far. We’ve got to address it as it happens, and with dogged forthrightness.

This past Wednesday, many schools in our board celebrated Pink Shirt Day, an annual “Stand Together Against Bullying” event. And according to the Interwebs, Friday, February 26th is “International STAND UP to Bullying Day.”

We got the shirts. We’re ready to wear pink, and we’re ready to ask and discuss and research and help our kids – both biological and pedagogical – figure out how to manage bullying situations in their real lives.

I’ll keep you posted.

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If you’re interested in reading more, here’s what I’ve found helpful so far:

  • A short but useful article from Psychology Today here;
  • “Bully-Proof Your Child” from Parents Magazine here;
  • Resources for teaching children resiliency here.

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Barely Managing + Constant Guilt = Modern Parenting??

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When you’re a parent, discussing parenting is what you do: the easiest way to find out what you have in common – and also to gauge how you’re doing at the parenting gig, and whether you/your kids are normal.

I can’t help but notice a trend among the parents I talk to with young kids – one that contradicts most of social media. If you’re to believe Facebook and Instagram, parenting is about going to the beach, making kick-ass birthday cakes, watching your kids frolic happily, dressing them up all cute, witnessing their endearingly messy faces, and recording their most hilarious soundbites.

In reality, for many of us, parenting is about the little things that are never done and seem to take up ALL THE TIME. Wakeup routines and bedtime routines, endless meals and snacks, potty breaks and body breaks and tantrum-soothing and squabble-mediating and dropping off and picking up and tidying up and laundering and reminding and re-reminding and outright nagging. Somehow, most of the time, Barely Keeping Up feels like all there is.

I don’t believe our social media masks are necessarily disingenuous. If you were to look at my Facebook profile, you’d think my life is all dancing and ukuleles and cute children and animals. Because who really wants to post about their ordinary-but-hectic schedule? More to the point, who makes time for that? We’d all rather look at cakes.

Sometimes I feel like we get that empty jar every day, and for some reason we can only fill it with pebbles, even though we know what the big rocks are, and we want them – and we’re sure everyone else must be fitting in their big rocks, like you’re supposed to.

Now, I’m wondering how many of us are getting any big rocks on a daily basis. There are parents I see as life experts who’ve got it all together… and often, they actually don’t. They are just as frazzled as I am. We all signed up for this parenting gig, and we knew the baby days would be hard, but we sorta thought it would get easier sooner.  As in, it’ll be easier when they’re sleeping better… when I go back to work and there’s more routine… when they’re out of diapers… when they get to school… And you’re waiting for the moment when things fall into place. And you’re still waiting… and waiting.

I know there must exist families who are fine, who don’t feel like they’re struggling to keep their heads above water all the time… but I don’t know how this phenomenon is achieved.

Sean and I were talking about this recently, asking ourselves, Does everyone feel this way? Why are so many of us struggling to manage life? Shouldn’t we be able to handle this better? Is it really as hard as it feels?

Banal as it sounds, I think it’s partly “the times.” As a society, we’re in this moment where women having jobs outside the family is normal – which really has not been true for very long. Also, it did not happen that the patriarchs stepped in and switched places to take over the household-running – at least, not in many cases.

Also, in the space of one generation, the cost of housing in Canada has gone from reasonable to… frankly unreasonable. Back when my parents were originally in the housing market, a home was a big expense, but it could be paid off in the foreseeable future, like five to ten years, especially if you had the luxury of two incomes for any of that time. Nowadays, it’s common to be paying off your house for two to three decades – possibly more, if you want to do other things like, for example, send your kids to university. (Which is another expense that has skyrocketed, by the way.)

Of course this means that, for many families, a mortgage is simply not affordable on one salary – especially when so many jobs are unstable, temporary, or just under-compensated. But households still need just as much running as before.

And expectations of parenting are out-of-whack with this scenario. Right now, it’s de rigueur to actually play with your kids (wha??), read to them, snuggle them, do crafts with them, run around with them… unlike the days when you had a gaggle of offspring, let the big ones take care of the little ones, and put them to work as soon as they could carry a hay bale.

Child-rearing in the era of mommy-blogs and Pinterest is now a hobby, an occupation, a science, and an art form. For families with a stay-at-home parent, it’s all the more intense: society seems to accept, and even expect, that the parent will give her whole life to the kids, the household, and the community.

I’m all for playing, snuggling, and reading with your children. I love the kind of direct engagement that lets me get to know my kids as people. But other than family dinners and bedtime stories (which are sacred), these things don’t happen as much as I’d like. (You’ve probably noticed I don’t blog about my beautiful kid-crafts very much. Since I don’t do them.) That’s because the expectations of running a household – making good meals for your family, paying the bills, getting everybody where they need to go on time with the stuff they need, and making sure the house isn’t a constant fracking mess – still apply. And I always feel bad when I fail to keep up with those.

This is another problematic factor. The guilt.

If my kids ask me to play with them and I say no for the sake of housework, I feel guilty. When I do play with them, I feel guilty for “shirking” all the other things that need doing. When I come home from school right away to get some housework done, I feel guilty for not being more on top of my marking at school. When I am doing schoolwork, I feel guilty for the household slack that falls to my husband. When I spend time on email, I feel guilty because it’s such a time-suck – but if I neglect it, I feel guilty because I invariably let someone down. And when I go to the gym, ALL the guilt applies – except for the guilt I feel about wasted money when I don’t go to the gym.

Other things I tend to feel guilty about: letting my kids eat sugar, eating sugar myself, spending money on non-necessities, not taking good enough care of my plants, neglecting my cats, not seeing my friends often enough, forgetting things people I care about have told me… etc. You see how it is.

It’s true for many of us, with kids or not, that “catching up” with life is this mythical thing we never achieve, like getting to Solla Sollew. The tangled cycle of obligations and unease seems neverending.

Now, I’m pretty sure my personal sense of guilt is more finely-honed than many – for myriad reasons. I’m also aware that it’s unhelpful and borderline ridiculous. I certainly hope most people’s brains are less apologetic than mine. Intellectually, I know I shouldn’t reproach myself, because I’m doing my best. (But… am I?? my inner guilt-monitor pipes up.) Unfortunately, guilt is like mosquitoes. You can’t just ask it to go away, and if you swat it, there’s always more where that came from.

I have found that I can fend it off somewhat, as long as I’m doing one of the top three things (parenting, housework, schoolwork) needing immediate attention. But really, I know that neglecting the rest of life isn’t a good idea. Especially when my wishes for 2016 include being more fit and doing more writing. I simply can’t do those things… if I’m not doing them.

So! This month, I devised an approach that I think will motivate me (because I love lists and check boxes and points systems) to make the life I imagine but haven’t managed to prioritize. Sean hammered out a beautiful spreadsheet for each of us that will assign points for things like getting to bed on time, taking vitamins, walking, working out, etc. We can also get points for checking a small job off the to-do list – those annoying little jobs that would only take 10-15 minutes but never get done because they’re never quite urgent enough. And we’ve also assigned points to Writing (in 20-minute slots) and Making Music (in 20-minute slots).

Voilà! INSTANT LEGITIMACY, baby. It’s the key, I know it.

The only trouble is, so far we haven’t managed to get “checking off points chart” on the daily to-do list. But I’m sure it’ll be awesome once we get to it.

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Failure and Gratitude and Christmas Spirit

Hey, lovely Di-hards. And hi, li’l blog. I’ve missed you all.

It’s hard to believe that not only has half of November come and gone since I last wrote, but Christmas has too. There are many who would tell me not to beat myself up about absolutely crashing and burning in the middle of NaBloPoMo, and while I would, in essence, agree, I also count it as a failure on my part. I deliberately set my expectations on the low side, and still didn’t meet them.

Since then, many blog posts have been pondered – and some started – and none finished. Damn inertia, and damn the unexplainable standards I set for myself, and the guilt I always feel on my own behalf.

I’m hoping it’s the stage of life that I’m at. Since having kids, I have handily and necessarily learned how to let certain things fall by the wayside, but now I think I may be a little TOO good at it. I have always had real trouble quitting  or even backing away from things, as a kid and as a young adult, and in my soul I’m still not comfortable with it.

I also don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t feel gratitude during the latter half of November. I thought about it every day, and wanted to tell you about it.

Of course, looking back at November, and even much of December, I can see that there were obstructive factors (read: excuses). They tended to be of a distinctly non-festive, non-literary, laundry-intensive, medical-but-humdrum nature that made me say, “I could blog about this… but who wants to read about the minutiae of cleaning up cat diarrhea or accidentally spraying clarithromycin across the room or doing kid-puke laundry at 1 a.m.?”

I was also acutely aware, as Christmas got closer, of how all those problems, while tiring and time-consuming, were small potatoes. I couldn’t help thinking, very often, of the Neville-Lake family and the Bott family, each of whom lost three children in tragic accidents this fall, here in Canada. Awful as it is to imagine the pain of these families, it makes a parent grateful even for the tantrums and the nighttime wakeups and unending messes – things that, as Sean put it, those parents would give anything to have back.

And, of course, there are the refugees. On December 23rd, I was reading about people working tirelessly to gather desperate Syrians from the seas off the edge of Greece, to make them warm and feed them something. Tears rolled down my face as I read. I felt grateful, not just for my extremely safe and easy life, but also for the amazing work of humans who care about other humans.

I also felt enormously grateful to live in a country that has opened its doors, where folks are excited to be welcoming these people who so urgently need our hospitality. We Canadians, freed from the oppressively bad attitude of our former government, are remembering our long-held tradition of making sure there’s room at the inn for people fleeing persecution. Remembering what real kindness looks like. That is downright Christmasy.

Now, Christmas is past, and the southern U.S. is being battered with scary, deadly weather, and Ontario is bracing for our own storms. I’m so thankful that the Southerners I love are safe and well right now.

It should be mentioned, of course, that in spite of the odds, we have spent happy, fun time during the Christmas season with grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins from each of our family branches, as well as many good friends – and, miraculously, none of us was hacking up a lung/crying with earache/vomiting during ANY of those times! (And once again, props and gratitude to my own teacher immunities for helping me stave off icky things, over and over.)

And finally, many thanks to Auntie Emi, who ensured me this block of time to write today by making sure my children were occupied. xoxoxo. I had been feeling sad when thinking of my blog, like it’s an old friend I just don’t see or really know anymore… And now I feel better.

Love to all of you and your beloved people this season.

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(Photo credit: Ina Fassbender/Reuters)

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#NaBloPoMo, Day 17: Grateful for #LoveOverFear

Yesterday, after a weekend of global shock and grief and feverish discussion over the Paris attacks, a Toronto woman was attacked from behind by two men while on her way to pick up her children at school. They pulled violently on her head scarf, took her down and beat her up. They accused her of being a terrorist and told her to go back to her country.

The woman is Muslim. THIS IS HER COUNTRY. She was born here, attended the same school her kids now go to.

The men are white. They’re also doing a great job of appearing cowardly, bitter, ignorant, immature, and bigoted – not to mention violent. They obviously think this is “their” country. What they’ve done, quite neatly, is aligned themselves with the terrorists. I’m not sure they will have picked up on the irony, though.

What I’m grateful for today is love. This woman and her family are surrounded by a community that has come together in support and caring, because that’s what they’re about. They understand a few key things:

  1. Muslims do not equal terrorists.
  2. Acts of hatred do not benefit anyone, including the perpetrators.
  3. You can’t fight hate with more hate.

love over fear

Once upon a time, I lived in France. I loved it there. I love French history and culture and language, I love sharing things I have learned with my students, and I miss so many wonderful people that I met while I was in France.

I was distraught, to say the least, to hear about the attacks.

But on one level… I wasn’t completely surprised. In 2001, segregation and disparity between white native Français and non-white immigrants (mostly from north Africa) was quite hostile in some areas, and it was unexpected and upsetting to me; from what I’ve heard, relations have only gotten worse since then. When I found a video of the La Marseillaise to show to my students last year, I cringed at the recent YouTube comments from French people who champion the lyrics about watering their furrows with the impure blood of the enemy, in connection to Muslim immigrants. I thought, It’s 2015. What’s wrong with you? So I have been uncomfortable about the “I Stand With France” thing.

Let me be clear: I absolutely stand with those French citizens who actually believe in Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, and live accordingly, peacefully, with all those who call France home. Many, many of them do. I also stand with all of those people who lost a loved one, and those who experienced the physical and emotional trauma of those senseless, monstrous acts of violence committed in Paris. This should never have happened. My heart is with these victims.

But my heart is also with countless victims of terrorism from Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Nigeria, Ukraine, Pakistan, Afghanistan… and on and on. It breaks my heart that there are still so many humans on this planet who believe that blowing apart other humans is an acceptable way to convey a message.

I know the world’s military forces are in high gear. I know people are more full of anger than ever. I know the Islamic State fundamentalists are committing evil and must be stopped. But I can’t help thinking that every time we react with more slaughter, we’re cutting off the head of that jihadist hydra, helping radicalize more people, doing exactly what terrorists are hoping and expecting we’ll do.

I always feel like I sound naïve, even foolish, when I talk about love that includes not bombing the hell out of irrational terrorists whose goal is propagating fear and mayhem.

That’s why this video filled me with gratitude today. This is what we need to see in 2015. In this climate, it’s rational and revolutionary.

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#NaBloPoMo, Day 11: Thought, Empathy, Peace

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This is what I’m wearing this year. Just to be clear.

Today I’ve been grateful for the teachers who put together our school’s Remembrance Day assembly. They made the effort to be thoughtful, to include the past and the present, to respect without glorifying, and to make peace the focus.

I’m grateful for the students who obviously have pondered the discussions that happen on Remembrance Day, who have already started to be critical thinkers and develop their wisdom.

I’m grateful for the Grade 6 boy who was tearful at the end of the assembly today (as many of us were), not only for being open about emotion but also for giving his classmates the chance to be compassionate.

I’m grateful for the feeling of community that always brings us in close on November 11th.

I’m very grateful for moments of silence, and that silence is our answer for how to show reverence – and that even the little kids, in a brimming gymnasium, seem to feel it.

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An Ode To My Old House, Now That We Have Parted – #NaBloPoMo, Day 8-9

{I’m cheating and calling this blog post two days’ worth (because who’s gonna stop me?): Day 8, I’m grateful for my new house… and Day 9, I’m grateful for my old house.}

Dear Old House,

I know we are done forever. I know you are now spending your time with other people, taking care of them and making a new life with them, and that is as it should be.

But I shall never forget you. Your quirks and flaws and beauties are embedded in my heart. I sound like a sentimental fool, and I am one. I haven’t often displaced myself, so it’s an emotional trial every time.

Our New House is lovely. It is also rather swanky, by our standards, with hardwood floors, butcher-block counters, and Tiffany-style light fixtures. We are already settling into our routines, and feeling mostly happy-homey together. We are looking forward to building real fires in the fireplace. We will finally be able to have friends over and feed them in a gracious dining space. The children will run endlessly around the circuit that is our main floor.

But I will always think of you with a pang.

New House has a shady patio out front, with wicker chairs and space to play… but I still miss your front stoop, burning hot on summer afternoons, where we sat and ate popsicles.

New House has chic window draperies long enough to pool on the floor, which is apparently de rigueur… But they actually drive me a bit bonkers. I just know there will be dust bunnies cuddling in their silky folds.

New House has an expansive wooden deck out back that already hosted many contented summer meals this past season… but it cannot replace your fragrant fruit trees. Especially the apple tree, planted when our first baby was born, that finally bore edible apples just as we left.

New Basement has spotless beige berber carpeting (or at least it was spotless before some little people I live with christened it with neon green Silly Putty). Your 70s-bordello basement carpeting was never our style, and yet a part of me loved it – the personality and history of it.

New Kitchen has one of the best things: a sexy stainless-steel dishwasher named Bosch, who has made our lives a lot easier (because a clean kitchen helps everything). But I’ll tell you a secret: he has a latch issue and needs quite a bit of support in order to finish. As in, we have to prop a toolbox on a step stool and bolster him closed. So there you go.

I love our New Floors, and I enjoy obsessing over potential area rugs, though it all makes me realize more than ever that your wall-to-wall carpeting concealed all manner of crap in its fibres. And yet… sometimes I miss that carpeting like you wouldn’t believe. Its warmth on chilly toes, its softness on a bumped knee, and especially its cozy sound-muffling qualities.

Most of all, I miss your core-deep familiarity. You are where we put down our roots, literally and figuratively. We had wonderful times together. And that’s just hard to detach from.

At this time of year, when suddenly it gets dark too early, and virus season looms large and ugly, and we are still dealing with the pesky, seemingly impenetrable last level of unpacking, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and blue. Sometimes I think of you, and just yearn for that familiarity. We do feel like this is home now, but the kids still talk about you wistfully sometimes, and you still have a gravitational pull for me.

The other day, AB and I actually stopped by your address – partly to pick up a mis-mailed package, but also to see you. Driving the route to Old Street was so weird… my inner gravity got so confused.

Your front door is still bright blue. Your flowering quince still sits by the walk, all prickly. But the new owners have cut down the crabapple tree out front; they have also left dozens of cigarette butts decorating the mulched flowerbeds on either side of the porch. (Seriously? People still do that?)

And when a friendly young woman opened the door for us, we saw that you were not really you. You now have grey laminate floors, and all the glimpsable walls were white – and I know absolutely that your flamboyant basement carpet is long gone. You didn’t look like home at all.

In a way, it’s comforting. You only looked like our home when we were with you. That is as it should be. Thanks for the memories, Old House.

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That crabapple tree was old and tired, but still put on a show in the spring.

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#NaBloPoMo, Day 7: Sixty Percent

Here’s a Saturday post, sneakily written on Sunday and backdated to Saturday. Heh.

This gratitudinous moment is for my part-time status at work, something I’m actually actively thankful for every day. I work 60% of a full-time contract at my school, which means I have two full days, two half-days, and one day off per week. I am able to walk E to school, four days out of five.

I am in awe of moms who go back to work full-time after their maternity leaves and seem to manage just fine. I don’t know how they do it. It takes levels of organizational and emotional strength that exceed mine, that’s for sure.

On my day off, AB and I get to hang around the house. We walk E to school, and then we often walk over to the grocery store. A lot of the day usually involves housework, especially since the move, because I feel the need to check as many things off the To-Do list as possible any time I’m at home.

But I also remind myself that I took this time, not just for my own sanity, but for the quality time with her. When she knows it’s “Mama Day,” she is always jubilant, throwing her arms around my neck and squeezing and saying, “I love you, Mama!”

This week, my day off fell on a Friday, and I felt like the luckiest person in the world, sitting snuggled with my yummy little three-year-old on a sunny couch, reading stories. (Especially since the night before was Mammoth Meltdown night. We needed to get our groove back.) Sometimes we run errands, sometimes we play with her stuffies or tea set or dress-up clothes, sometimes I just listen to her singing while she plays, or “reading” books to herself.

I know it’s these simple times I will later look back on as beautiful beyond description, shaking my head to remember she was so little and precious and fascinating. Whatever my schedule ends up being later on, I will always be grateful for this extra time, at this moment in our lives.

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