Living Five Minutes at a Time: My Messy Beautiful

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It matters how you treat people.

It matters how you live your life, how you do your job, treat your friends, speak to your kids, care for your animals.  It matters. And it matters that you infuse love into what you do, through each and every seemingly small moment of the day.  Even if those moments are organized into minuscule, five minute increments.  As small and insignificant as that portion of time might seem.

And yet.  Five minutes can be long enough to make a mess of things.

I know.

Lately, I have been living my life either five minutes ahead or five minutes behind where I ought to be.  It’s like I am either rushing too fast or moving too slow.  In all, I am not thinking/living in the moment like I feel I should be. That is, if I was to be ‘living up to’ my best, ideal vision of myself.  That ideal I hold so dear.  And when I sat down to really contemplate this thought, I came up with eight random things I wished I had known about, five minutes before/after they happened.

1. That bag of dirty laundry that I left behind at my lovely friend’s house in N.J. (while traveling during Spring Break)- wish I had known it was sitting there in her man cave five minutes before we left (instead of ten hours later). #nicepartinggift

2. That curb that I sideswiped while backing out of my sister-in-law’s driveway (causing Husband to curl up into the fetal position)- wish I had thought about it five minutes before getting behind the wheel. #soyouthinkyoucandrive

3. Those three fish tacos I ate recently at the Ground Round- wish I had purused the menu five minutes longer before deciding what I was going to eat that particular night. #intestinalgrief

4. That one hour trampoline privilege (Sky High, N.C.) that I paid a left leg for- wish I could have traded it in for Twinkies five minutes after I started jumping (like my life depended on it).

5. And while on that thought… regarding the one hour trampoline privilege that I recently paid a left leg for- wish I had a catheter inserted because five minutes after I started jumping (like an Olympic gymnast on steroids), I was making like a crazed woman for the lady’s room.

6. That email that I was recently trying to save- and all those pictures and other important stuff that seemed so NECESSARY at the time- wish I had remembered that PURGE means GONE FOREVER about five minutes before cleaning up my email queue.

7. But then too. Those beautiful children that I mama-bear growl at, for various reasons or another, and whom I rush along and nag- sometimes I wish I could just remember- five minutes before those words and frustrations pour out of my mouth- that these are just moments in an otherwise beautiful life.  They are not worth getting in a blathering dither over.

8. And this one.  Ouch. This one hurts my ego a little. That conversation I had with my mom recently- that one during which I proceeded to unload all my petty little troubles- wish I had been able to go back five minutes in time to the moment before she proceeded to tell me about a very tragic loss that had occurred in her life when I was away on my trip.  While I was going on and on and on about my bladder troubles and other petty little worries.

Sometimes five minutes is all we need to put life into perspective. 

Five minutes is enough to show me how beautiful my life can truly be. How beautiful it truly is.  If only I am willing to stop and take the time to see the beauty in the moment.

Want to hear five of the best minutes of a day in my life recently? It was without a doubt, when I went to a small grocery store in the town of Cornwall, P.E.I., Canada. Not an event I would usually connect with morphing into daily high points, but that day it was. The cashier: she was friendly, pleasant, affable. I could hear in her voice, as she talked, that she just genuinely liked people. Liked her job. She called me ‘hun’ three times. And while that normally wouldn’t rub me the right way, that day those words seemed almost soothing.

“Anything else I can get you hun?” she said smiling.  Then later…
“Are you paying for that with debit or credit, hun?”
“Thanks, hun. Have a nice day!”

And maybe it was her smile. Maybe it was the respectful way she talked to the meat manager as he brought up a box of seafood to be priced. Quite possibly it could have even been the combined effect of both she and her colleague in the cash right next to her, a woman whom the older gentleman in line after me greeted her warmly with, “Ah Lyndsay! This makes my day just to see you here!”

And with all that love, it isn’t too far-fetched to surmise that this little grocery store is a good place to work. A good place to BE.  It exudes an atmosphere in which love is valued.  In which small moments are valued. For you can feel love palpably. People in this store genuinely seem to like being here, and perhaps the reason is because they just feel like they’re with friends.

It’s that kind of store.

And I couldn’t help but think of that well-touted line, ‘whatever you’ve been given to do, do it well’, in reference to these two women and their ethic of care towards their customers. Because they weren’t just delivering a service that day: they were offering love. Five minutes at a time, and in the process, the whole ordeal had the effect of moving me in a very profound, emotional way. I really felt touched by the kindness I observed and experienced.  And I can only hope to live up to that high ideal as I also go about my life’s work, inside my own home, workplace and classroom, living with and teaching the little and big people I’ve been called to learn alongside.

What a great inspiration it is to watch people doing what they love to do and seeing them doing it well.

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Because really, when it comes down to it: we’re just people living our lives, five minutes at a time.

Five minutes: it’s all we need to put everything else in our messy, beautiful lives into perspective.  Because that’s what this is all about- the messy in our lives is really the beautiful.  And if I was really being honest, it’s not about five minutes before or five minutes later- it’s really about living out both the frustrating five and the pleasurable five in life- at one and the same time.  Does this mean we cannot talk about the small stuff- the random things we wish we could do-over?  Of course not. In talking about them, in VENTING at times, we realize that they are just small moments that comprise a bigger life.  In validating our small moments- and learning to laugh at them, we come to appreciate the bigger picture that much more.

And in the process, we realize- life is full of moments that we live.

Five at a time.

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This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

 

 

 

 

We Always Have Enough

I have written a lot about teaching and what’s important, but I would be remiss to not emphasize the reason I feel so strongly about creating a caring ethic within the classroom and school.  And for me, that reason is very personal.  And I certainly do not apply this reason as a blanket explanation for everyone in my situation, because it might not be true of everyone in similar circumstances to me.  Nor would it preclude other people who are not like me.  What I really want to say is this: I am a better teacher because I am a parent.  Which really means that for me personally, it took becoming a parent to realize what it means to care deeply for children and their innate abilities as human beings.  It took becoming a parent to learn how to really love.  And it took becoming a parent to learn the depth of empathy and compassion and love.

I am not this type of person naturally.  Some people are.  It would not take becoming a parent for them to learn how to care.  I am in absolute awe of these people.  And I do not say that with any tone other than that of respect and wonder.  For people who are naturally in possession of understanding as it concerns children and creating an ethic of caring, I would give you my absolute admiration.  I wish I was like that.  But I know who I am.  And I am a work in progress.

When I became a mother, I became one reluctantly.  Sure, I fell in love immediately.  Sure I was for all appearances a great mother.  But being a mother took a great deal of effort on my part.  I was not naturally nurturing.  Not naturally patient.  Not naturally empathic.  I was very self-centered in a lot of ways.  Becoming a mother took the focus off me and placed it on the ‘others’ in my life.  It made me broaden my horizons.  Made me learn to care about people in ways I was unused to doing so.  And I believe it made me a better person.  Because it required so much of me, I had to transform in certain ways.  And when transformation is a positive experience, as it was in my case, there is much to be gained.  Much to learn.  And much room for growth.

Similarly, when I became a teacher, I became one reluctantly.  I was on the track towards getting my double honors degree in Political Science and Journalism.  I was going to be a foreign correspondent.  I didn’t actually aspire to be a teacher.  I probably would have picked any other career than this one had I been given a choice.  My life path led me, however, to meet a boy.  And that boy lived on a small Island where there was a small university.  And that university offered neither of those areas to major in.  So, after much deliberation and counselling by my future husband, I instead chose to take a different path and become a teacher.  With a specialty in history (not my first love) and a minor in Political Studies.

Life is so interesting.  Because when we are in the moments we are in, we wonder why life is unfolding as it is.  I certainly asked those questions of myself.  I was driven and focused- not patient and long-suffering.  I wasn’t the best pick for teacher material.  But somehow, I enrolled in the small program offered in my province and I found out very quickly that while teaching might not have been my first love, I could come to love it deeply as I grew into myself.

The ‘self’ I grew into was a different person than the one I had been before.  And while I hate to say ‘better’ I will say I developed some character traits along the way that helped me grow as an individual, teacher and then mother.

1.)    I became more empathic.  As I realized that teaching was less about subjects of expertise and more about people, I found it appealed to me more as a career choice.  And in time, because of the people I interacted with and was involved with- I eventually saw teaching as less than a career and more of a calling.  It became for me a higher calling- a sacred thing.  For I saw that I was accountable for the ways in which I interacted with the human beings in my care (all of them, from staff, to students to parents to general public and personnel): I saw them as people.  And I began to care more and more deeply about the ways in which I interacted with people.  I began to care about the students and their overall experience.  I began to care about teachers as people.  I began to care about parents (especially after becoming one) because I saw how much their children were their absolute treasures here on earth.  How much my own children were mine.  And I began to consider how much trust I placed in teachers myself- and how much trust parents entrusted me with looking after these treasures.  And in the process, I became more empathic as a teacher.  As a mother.  As a friend.  As a wife.  As a person.

2.)    I became more loving.  Love is so many things, which I have written about a great deal lately.  But truly, loving my children is the most unselfish thing I have ever had to do.  And loving children in general has been a possibility for me because of my own journey in motherhood.  For being a mother taught me what love entails.  What it is.  And since I now know that love is something we never run short of- there is always enough: I am able to offer it to all of my ‘children’- both those who were given to me as a gift from God and those entrusted in my care as a responsibility within my calling.  I can love because I now know how- freely, lavishly, honestly.  Does this mean I have to give everything to everyone in the same manner?  Equal does not always mean the same.  What I give my own four children is not equal to what I give my students.  Nor should it be.  There is a balance that must be struck between our private and public lives.  But at the same time, there is fluidity in how I care.  And love can still be love even if it is different.

3.)    I became more understanding.  Becoming a mother has helped me understand people in ways I never would have considered before motherhood.  For instance, I have a whole new appreciation for difference after having giving birth to four distinct human beings.  Each one is unique.  Each one is special and extraordinary by virtue of their individuality as a human being.  So are all children.  I really never gave much thought to this fundamental truth, though, before having children.  It was only after having children that I realized how WONDER-ful children are as people- and how great care must be given to understanding them- as with all human beings.

I tell you all this not to make a point about being a teacher and how it has influenced my mothering for the better.  I tell you this rather so as to show that I can be both a great teacher and mother because both have made me who I am today.  Both have contributed to the person I am now.

Sometimes we think that we can only be one thing really well.  Or do one thing really well.  I remember becoming a mother for the first time and saying to my own mother that I would never have time to do anything else that required time again.  Because I could quite tell- I WAS NEVER GOING TO HAVE ANY TIME TO MYSELF AGAIN. EVER.  That statement has obviously been recanted because look at me now- I have more than enough time to whittle away precious hours checking out my friends’ Facebook statuses.  I also believed I wouldn’t ever have enough love for more than one child.  Now I have four.  And that’s not counting my school kids.  I have love to multiply- and it just keeps coming.

The thing is: all of our experiences in life contribute and enhance the person we are.  Whether that be motherhood/parenthood (as in my case), volunteer work, care for an elderly parent, or any other type of experience that involves one directly with people: it all makes us grow.  Because people are food for the soul- both those we love as well as the ones we aren’t so fond of.  They grow us as people- from the inside out.  And that is why when people ask how can we find balance, I like to think that when it comes to love, there is no need for balance.  When it comes to care, no need for balance there either.  Nor with empathy or understanding.  Because when it comes to these essentials in life, all we need is a cup overflowing.

There just is too much love, care, understanding, empathy or compassion in the world to give to balance the scales.  So rather than try to find the elusive balance, I think the key is this. Tip the scales.  Tip the scales on love.  Tip the scales on empathy.  On hope.  On grace. Compassion.  On all those qualities that make us grow and develop as people.

For in doing so, we discover this: that when we give, we always have enough.

What I purpose for this new year…

Minus 37 with the wind chill factor. That one hour school delay affording the buses an extra hour off for idling- it should have been the ticket, really. There I was. Bleary-eyed from a night of restless sleep- worried over deadlines to come, papers to write, classes to teach and examinations to prepare for, jarred awake at 5:30 a.m. And I could have had that extra hour of precious sleep, but who’s to know that early? That one sweet hour would be given like a gift?

My brain, like the weather, on permanent freeze status. One never knows what a day might bring.

For who was I to know that I would pick up a small tube of Optimyixin antibiotic solution and think it was model cement glue and that I would proceed to try and fix daughter’s broken snowflake earring with it- and then pleased with that endeavour: also attempt to right a broken headband flower that had also fallen off in the tug and pull that is our morning hair-do sessions with the same. Who was I to know? I thought it was a little sticky. The earring is still sitting there on the shelf- fully medicated and fully slicked.

And how was I to know that I would find myself with two gold dangley earrings pulled neatly through one ear lobe? So that I would sound for all the world like an old cowbell while looking like a woman who hadn’t seen a mirror in quite a while…. How was I to know? I truly hadn’t (seen the mirror, for quite some time).

And then. Lint all over my new pants (to which, I took long strips of packing tape which I then used as a make-fix lint remover, all while standing discreetly behind the kindergarten shoe cubby- only to have inquiring little minds ask me what the tape was for and why was I doing THAT)?

It was that kind of day.

A day that drives me to consider that one key word for me at the dawning new year- BALANCE.

A need for- a craving for: balance. A desire to live life in balance. That state of reasonable equilibrium wherein one is poised in between sanity and insanity in perfect steadiness. That’s what I need this year. A place to settle. A place to fall.

When my world seems just a little too off kilter, when the boat rocks me too hard one way and then another, I needs come back to that place I find my center. My niche. My sense of peace. My source of hope. My fulcrum.
When the world seems perpetually to be lobbing me one hardball after another, in the good name and spirit of family and community, faith and common brotherhood. In the name of all good things, there still must be a balance.

For if not, I will inevitably totter off the deep edge and be swallowed alive.

I am not much for New Years resolutions, although we did for fun state one each around the table, our first meal of the New Year. Rather than resolve, I choose to purpose my intentions. And in so doing, I hope that I will not set myself up for failure.

Here are a few ways in which I hope to carve out a sweet slice of balance for myself this new year of 2014:
1.) I am making more time in the morning for Scripture reading. For prayer and quiet, reflective meditation on that which I have been portioned. That quiet time in the morning is mine in which to think. To ponder and consider. To both speak and listen. To be spiritually fed.
2.) I am taking the time to exercise- even when I don’t feel that drive to get up and go. Just for the fun of it. Just for the fresh air and wind. Just for that cold slap on my cheeks. Husband and I- in an ironic twist on the tale Gifts of the Magi each bought for the other something akin to the same. He bought for me a pass to the local ski park for both skiis and snowshoes (minus the equipment) while I bought for him the double pair of snowshoes. Neither knew what the other was up to. A meeting of the minds.
3.) I am making more time to play. And I confess, I am not that playful by nature. My daughter commented to me just the other day that I never play with her, to which I immediately felt defensive: of course I play! But truly playfulness is the spirit in which you set out to do that pleasure or novelty of which you are endeavouring; and to that end, I must admit that I am not always very playful. So, I am purposing to play more, by which I mean experience life more so in a spirit of wonder and playfulness.
4.) And I want to see the beauty in my world. This world: it is filled with so much darkness- so many shadows and grey lines. Overshadowed by so very many of those dark, heavy, black clouds. And when I focus on all that which is misery and sadness and heartache and bitterness and evil, I no longer see the beauty. But life is still so beautiful. In spite of its darkness. And there is much beauty to be found, even in pain. The beauty of a jagged line- a scar. Beauty of a smudge. A trace left behind. A crooked smile. There is beauty to be found in tears, even in sorrow. And yes, beauty can rise up strong even from crumbled ashes and decay. Life may not be pretty or appealing from every angle, but it can be beautiful from the perspective of the viewer who chooses to see light instead of darkness.
5.) And of greatest significance: I want to live for what is worthwhile- for that which lasts. For that which matters. What is the pursuit of the soul that is lasting? That does not fade? That rewards back seventy-fold for the endeavour? For we can pursue many things and many places in this life and still find ourselves wanting. True balance can only be found in perfect rest. Rest equal to peace of the soul-kind. A peace that passes understanding, that always satisfies. That is never exhausted and is in plentiful supply.

Whether I am using my moments to be a mother or using my moments to be a teacher or a wife. Whether I am using time so as to better myself- or so as to better others, it all boils down to choice. Am I fully here in this moment or am I somewhere else? Am I living for what matters? Is all well with my soul?

These things are the driving impetus to my life: my faith and trust in a God who lives, my precious family and my focus (my purpose in the here and now). And it takes all three to be wholly who I was meant to be.

I start the van at the end of the day, engine rattles to life in spite of itself. She wants a bit of time to warm her jets, but I have places to go and people to feed. We head for home. And I feel my body unwinding- I feel the balance even in the midst of quiet imperfection.

So. Now you know.

This was me last night at supper.
Or rather.

This was me SANE last night at supper (politely asking for a pat of the yellow stuff, since I had been so kind to make the meal): “Could someone pass the butter, please?”

Din of voices. Outright, blatant ignoring of the Mother Lode. General mayhem.
And then.

This was me INSANE last night at supper (I apologize to the good folks in Tuktoyaktok who broke an eardrum): “FAMILY, PASS.ME. THE. BUTTER. P.L.E.A.S.E.”
Our ears are still reverberating.

And to add injury to insult. This was me tonight. At witching hour, ‘er bedtime.

(Speaking voice): “M.A., time to get your books and go upstairs.”

…M.A. delaying.

(strained speaking voice, a little bit louder this time) “M.A., c’mon. I said it’s time to go upstairs and do your homework.

…M.A. running in the opposite direction.

(@85 dB): “M.A. I.SAID.GET.YOUR.BOOKS. N.O.W.”

M.A. scooting up the stairs. As if her life depended on it. Which of course. It did.

So why is it, my dear people of THE WORLD that we as parents must project ourselves SO, in order to be heard?

Why must a raspy, poorly expressed mother take out a family of six, wiping them flat on their backs because she broke the sound barrier, just so she can get a word in?

I am ready to become mute for the cause. I have actually found myself daydreaming of laryngitis, simply because I wouldn’t have to fight it anymore. I could just blatantly go on living my life- because not only would I know they were ignoring me, I would also have verification that they truly couldn’t hear me. Which is more than I can say for right now.

I am not sure which has ruined me more- using my voice everyday to direct the Gard fleet from Command Central or reading Robert Munsch books a la Bob Munsch style- complete with sound effects. All I know for sure is this: I am not able to gain attention by way of my voice as I once might have been able. And I think it just might all be downhill from here.

I found myself last fall in an ENT office in Summerside (as one of my students calls him- visiting “Dr. Compost” – which is really to say “Dr. Campos”). And there I was with a metal contraption the length of a fishing pole strung down my throat (try to look graceful in that position. I dare you). And at the end of that ordeal, the doctor looked at me and said simply. “You need to see a Speech Pathologist. You don’t know how to use your voice correctly.”

While that is obviously true due to the fact that one year later I am still finding myself talking to the wall (which is of course, better than talking to the hand, but I digress…), the prospects of ending up inside an office where I would have to practice speaking for a woman/man at the ripe old age of 39 was just too humiliating a venture for this old duck. Not to mention, I could think of a million and one other ways to spend my husband’s hard-earned dollars.

I smiled at the specialist and told him I would see him in a couple of months, and then I proceeded to spend that entire time ignoring every good bit of advice that he gave me. And then some.
So. I guess it is my own fault. Which is why I am taking to hand signals these days which are far more effective anyway. And I say all this to say THIS:
Some of you wonder why I write. It’s the only way I can get a word in edgewise around here.
‘Nuff said.

Love through the seasons…

Tonight, we sit out on the veranda, you and I, while candles flicker quietly at our feet.  Three citronella in pots reduce to liquid.  I say I like the smell, and you mistakenly think that I have given you a compliment.  “It’s the smell of the river,” you say.  And it’s true.  You do smell like the great outdoors.  No where makes you happier than right here.  The land, the water, the sky.  Home.

While the moon shines full and creamy-white in the night sky, we push gently with our feet the old porch swing.  A relic to our earlier years.  It has survived four babies, and many years.  It has often been a coming home of sorts for me- a place to unwind after a hectic day at work.  Tonight, it is an evening respite from the quickly approaching bedtime witching hour.   We sip from fine crystal goblets while behind us, inside, the two youngest watch their show.  The kittens are finally getting a well-deserved break from the man-handling of the day, piled they are on top of each other under the hostas.

We think we have it made.

Our first date of the summer.

Sometimes I wonder how we ever survived.  How we managed to stay the course thus far.  How we got here: to now.

We are in the teenage years of our marriage.  Years where there is little time to connect.  Precious little.  A time of life where the children drive the comings and goings of this house.  Where life begins with chatter and ends with one crouched over a computer keyboard, while the other unwinds with Netflix.  A time of life where mealtimes are often a battle ground, where electronics are chosen over toys and where parents are sometimes (often) embarrassing.  These are the days of our lives.  We are in the late summer of life, both literally and figuratively.

How we manage to keep this boat afloat is one part mystery and one part sheer tenacity.

Our marriage works because we are committed to keeping it going.  It works because we are determined to see the best in one another.  And it has lasted this long because we are willing to compromise on those things in life that don’t really matter anyway.

I don’t often write about marriage.  I don’t reveal a whole lot about something that has taken nineteen years to cultivate and grow.  It is precious.  It is private.  But I should write more.  Because making this marriage work has been the single most amazeballs feat that you and I have done in the years we have developed our lasting relationship.

We should never have lasted this long.  The odds are definitely stacked heavily against us.

I am cut from one kind of cloth and you from another.  We are that different.  Like chalk and cheese.

But we are determined.  Here’s something I read today and it will help explain my own personal philosophy of marriage: when angry words fly and it seems the house is about to burn down from the combustible energy being exuded, what can save a marriage is “tapping into empathy”, “taking tone out of the equation”…so as to get to the heart of what the other is saying.

Understanding one another.

Knowing that larger than life “fire and smoke” displays are sometimes merely a cover for something else.  Something more tender.  More vulnerable.  Something so fragile it might be hidden from plain view.  From the naked eye.  And then.  When that which was hidden is then revealed, it is the seeing beyond the obvious so as to understand the deeper that makes hope possible.  That is where true empathy lies.

I use to think love was romance.  I am older now and know better.  Love is a choice.  And it is a conscious decision we make each and every day to choose kindness over spite.  To listen and speak.  And to hold on even while we are held in the strong Hands of One who knows us intimately.

That and so much more is what has enabled us to stay the course in this journey thus far.  And it is what will keep our hearts tightly bound when the seasons change.

Happy 13th Birthday, Sam!

My son is celebrating his thirteenth birthday this month.  I can hear him up in his room right now playing risk with two of his cousins, and my heart just swells with love.  Here are thirteen things I now know- that I didn’t know then…and all because of becoming Sam’s Mama.

  • I know more of patience now than I ever did back in the year 2000.  I was so young and so impatient.  I was not really yet aware that life is about taking deep breaths, counting to ten and exhaling.  I know that now.
  • I know more of understanding.  I thought I knew, but I didn’t even know the half of it.  I am so aware now that learning to understand other people and even myself is a process that takes a lifetime.  I love relating to my son in this special way- through identifying with him, reflecting on what ways we are the same and what ways we are different.  He has been a treasure trove of discovery for me and has made me more self-aware and more people aware than I ever was thirteen years ago.
  • I know more of compromise.  Man, did I ever learn about give-and-take over the past thirteen years.  Mostly about give, but isn’t that the best part!  I learned that sometimes I need to pick my battles and sometimes I need to just walk away.  Sometimes I need to lean in to the hurt, and sometimes I need to just smile and reach out my arms in an embrace.
  • I know more of compassion.  I have learned so very much about this one.  About empathy and caring and kindness.  The other night, my beloved son took my rough, cracked feet in his hands and rubbed out the pain.  He was my masseuse for about forty-five minutes.  That’s compassion.  And I am learning so very much about how to be compassionate and caring even as I watch him interacting with me and those whom he meets.
  • I know more of listening.  I take five to ten minutes each night and I try to lay down with each of my children.  As Sam is the oldest, I usually save him for last.  I love that bedtime chats are so chill.  There is so little pressure to say anything profound.  No need to argue and sway the other’s point of view.  All that’s necessary is a listening ear.  We draw closer when we listen better.
  • I know more of sharing.  Mostly, I share everything now.  It started when I shared a tiny space inside with four little Gard babies.  And what’s mine is theirs- and has been, ever since.
  • I know more of forgetting.  I have a really, really hard time with this one.  But today, as I proudly watch my son- knowing what a fine young man he’s grown into, I am a little more inclined to forget those other moments.  The ones where he and I disagreed.  Where we clashed.  And to disallow those moments where we were not on our best game- because life is about remembering what’s golden.  And sometimes choosing to forget what’s not.
  • I know more of forgiving- and being forgiven.  Children are among the most forgiving people on the planet.  They love so unconditionally.  I wish sometimes I could be a three-year old again.  They are so amazing at this- forgiving and moving on.  My son has had to forgive me so many times- I couldn’t even begin to count.  He is amazing at this.  And I am learning more and more of how to perfect an attitude of forgiveness in my life as well.
  • I know a (little) more of relaxing.  Not much, but a little.  I even stopped the housework today to play x-box with my kids.  And that’s saying a lot.
  • I know more of loving.  Loving isn’t easy.  It’s hard work.  Whoever says it isn’t is…either lying or freaking superhuman.  I think love is hard.  But I can do hard things.  And hard things are often the most rewarding, when you think about it.  Raising four children is one of the hardest things I have ever done, but also one of the most blessed experiences of my life.  Do I love every minute of it?  Nope.  But I love the people I am committed to.  And that makes it a wee bit easier.
  • I know more of being present, of being in the moment.  I am trying to work on this one too (do I really know anything, or just think I do???), but being in the moment for me is stopping my own agenda and noticing what is going on around me.  Like the spider crawling across her web.  Like a mother cat carrying her kitten.  Like watching my youngest write a story- face scrunched up in concentration.  Or noticing the expression on a child’s face when their feelings have been hurt.  Or being in tune with that child who is not feeling comfortable and settled.  It’s being present in those happy and sad moments.  And letting time stand still, even if for but a moment.
  • I know more about parenting.  I think.  Parenting has been a gig that I thought I could learn from a combination of watching TLC, reading those What To Expect Books and listening to my mother.  In the end, I had to learn things the hard way.  Trial and error.  Along with a little help from a blog I now read faithfully.
  • I know more about purpose.  My purpose in life is to live well.  To live nobly, faithfully and compassionately.  To live worthy of my calling before my God.  Before my family and before my beloved children.  I have been called to be a mama.  I don’t think callings are ever easy.  They require sacrifice and courage- something else I wasn’t very good at thirteen years ago.  But, I am learning.  And I am trying to be faithful to that which I have been called to do- to live my life well.  And to be the best mama I can possibly be.  That best runs the gamut.  Some days, being the best me is not screaming at my kids and trying to be civil at least 50 % of the time.  On other days, the best me throws slammin’ birthday parties like it’s 1999.  My best varies.  But, what never varies is the purpose.  And that purpose has been my driving force throughout my life.  Being a mother didn’t change that purpose.  It just made it deeper.  Richer.  And more widely encompassing.

 

 

I love you, Samuel.  I remember little scrawny you the day after you were born.  I remember feeling I could never love so much or so hard.  But I was wrong.  Today, I love you more.

Summertime Camping: Sure Does Beat Having a Root Canal

I am clearly in no shape to write glowingly or positively about camping having come through a partial emergency root canal the afternoon we checked out from our campsite. The pain meds are certainly doing most of the talking, people. But let me say, toothache aside: I swear. Everything you will read below is a true testament to the highs and lows of camping. And I should know, having not only survived a four-day toothache all whilst suffering through the rainy season that is our July camping weather here on P.E.I..

Camping. Oh the joy. Oh the bliss. Oh the pain and agony.

And oh, the memories we have stored away inside. Painful, searing memories that haunt us by night and jeer at us by day. Pushing me ever closer to happy pill prescriptions and mental health counselling each and every summer. Good times, I say.

Good times.

And I especially love camping in the rain. LOVE IT. I love when it downpours and the mud is running off in every direction. When the kids go for a bike ride and come back looking like a chocolate-chip cookie. That’s putting it nicely. Gotta love the rainy camping days. Forcing otherwise respectable families to gather inside damp, grass-covered tents and humid, steamy campers so as to do what families in these circumstances do best.

Fight with one another.

But the best part- my favorite thing of all. Hands down. It has got to be when a certain Someone got the bright idea, before the evening Rook game ever began and while the fighting was just starting to gain momentum and reach a feverish pitch. That certain Someone thought it would actually be FUN to play the “Let’s Say Something Nice About Everyone Game” otherwise known as “What Absolute Foolishness Was I Thinking?”

And that was how the first evening ended. With Someone crying, Someone instigating the crying and still another Someone considering pulling their own eyebrow hair out (but whom instead opted to crawl to the back corner of the camper so as to pretend they were on a real vacation.) Because no one. AND I MEAN NO ONE. Can think of anything nice to say when they are stuck inside a smelly, wet, steamed-up camper during a downpour. Not even a saint like Mother Theresa. No one. Because camping is a private form of torture and punishment saved for people like us who think they are on holidays, but whom are really just living the same life they always lived, only now it’s inside a tiny, stinky square box. So much better, really. Same people, different location. Smaller venue.

That’s what camping is. A good time, had by all. Really. GOOD TIMES.

But it is not all fun and games. Camping is hard work. Ask the man who forgot to bring the rubber gloves to hook up the septic system how much fun he’s having now. And then ask his wife who also forgot (even after he called to remind her), but whom- when she still forgot, supplied him with two plastic grocery bags, thus saving the day. And as if that wasn’t heroic enough. She then stuffed those two grocery bags inside her hubby’s coat so as to create the hand-less look (so popular in the more retro campgrounds). And she did so to prove a point. Just in case the neighboring campers hadn’t already thought the two of them were bonkers already.

And the saving grace, truly- the thing that makes camping all worthwhile… is that the all the various campers and tent trailers and tenters and the like are so densely packed in there together. They’re all just squished in together like a can of ripe sardines. You would think that One such as myself might not like that so much. But, NO. It is sheer entertainment, for lack of a television station for those who also forgot the satellite dish. Entertainment, I say. Just to hear the neighbors growling at their own offspring, makes me feel good. So much more patient, so much more kindly to the kiddos. Like so much a better camper than they. And if one times it just right, it is possible to watch the whole delightful episode unfolding as one squints through the mini-blinds above the couch in their own living space. Just like watching a good sit-com at home. Nothing better, really.

You gotta love camping. And to say the very least: it sure does beat having a root canal.

On living the life we were born for…

We were born for this.  This journey, this life adventure.  This journey on which we travel in and out of days and weeks and months and years.   In and out of seasons.    We were born for this quest.   Were born for the highs and lows, the twists and turns.   The bends.  The forks in the road.   Were born for travelling up hill and down.  We were born for the good times and the bad times.

We were born for the ride.

And it is a ride.  At times a roller-coaster.  At times a meander.  And at more times than I would like to admit: a tedious crawl- face to the ground.

I’ve always liked to think that my exciting, real life is going to happen sometime soon.  Like maybe today.  Or tomorrow.  Or sometime in the not-so-far-away future.  Because this business of crawling: of living in reality.   Of working 9-5, of making meals, of chauffeuring, of settling spats amongst children.  Of living the daily grind.  This business is for the birds, really.  And it cannot possibly be what I was born for.

I was born for more.

And the real life I am so desperately waiting for looks more like this: quiet mornings sipping coffee. Uninterrupted writing time.   Long, invigorating walks.   Deep, meaningful conversations.    Face-time with my spouse.   My head stuck in a good book.  Exotic travel.    Rewarding humanitarian work.  Service to country and fellow human beings: brothers and sisters both here and abroad.

And to cap it all off, maybe just a little more time to follow my dreams.  In other words, time to pursue what I have always believed I was born for: something more.

Something more than crawling.

And there are times I wonder, “Why this?”  Why the noise and confusion and chaos and trouble and hurt and heartache and pain and sacrifice?   It wasn’t part of the dream.

Or was it?

To be sure, life is a ride.  A ride full of fearful unknowns and weary treks as much as it is a ride full of adventure.  And so it is that I will hold to the belief that I was born for the trip in its entirety.  And although the ride is not what I always envisioned the real journey to look like-this stuff of everyday living slows my travelling down.  It is this- the stuff of everyday living that has truly taught me the most.  About self.  About others.  And about God.  About life.

I was born for this.  Was born for mothering.  For teaching.   For service.   I was born to live this life that I am living now.

I was born to these callings.  Was born for such a time as this, for such a time as now.  For such a time as are a mother’s hours: 24/7, 365 days a year.  And added to that, I was born for teaching five days a week, from 9-4.    Was born for such a time as even more than those boxed-in hours.  For late nights at the computer and early mornings, my hands busy folding laundry.

I was born for this.  For these crazy moments spent slogging away.

But I was also born for this: I was born to be that friendly, cheerful face by the classroom doors- greeting children of all ages with a welcoming smile.  A warm hug.  An inquiring question.  A thoughtful comment or two.  Was born to hold chubby little hands, to look intently into blue-eyed baby faces.  To hear sweet and innocent stories.  To hear stories not so simple, of lives more complicated than my own.  To hear stories told that bring me to my knees, that haunt me in my waking hours.   Stories that propel me to advocate for change.

I was born for this too.  For opening up milk cartons.  Cutting yogurt packages into a slit at the top.  Passing out pizza slices.   Issuing band-aids.  Umpteen-dozen band-aids each and every day.  I was born to look at ‘owies’- with a professional’s eye.

Was born to read books- piles and piles of glorious books.  To read them with expression, passion and joie de vivre!  To saturate the room with them.  To buy them by the dozen!  To relish children’s laughter as I read favorites again and again.

I was born for even this.

I was born to find joy in everyday pleasures.  To find joy in the mundane, the ordinary.  Joy.  In reciting the alphabet, counting to twenty and playing with play-doh.  In watching the weather and growing bean plants and using scented markers.  In playing with puppets and using brand-new crayons.  In practicing piano.  In bouncing balls.

I was born for all this.

Was born to fight for the underdog, to defend the rights of the under-privileged.  To hear the hard stories and not turn away.  To look into hearts and ask difficult questions.  To put a face to the data.

I was born for this.  What joy!

I was born to do hard things.  To make tough calls.  To follow through.  To see a story through to its ending.  To never give up.

To always hope.  To always protect.  To always believe.

I was born for this.  For all of this.

I was born to not go down quietly.  To be a loud voice, if need be.  To shout it from the roof-tops or whisper it in the quiet of a room.  I was born for even this.

I was born to be a builder of blocks, a builder of lives.  A mender of hearts- a champion of dreams.

I was born to be a mother.  Was born to teach.  To be the teacher and the learner.  To make room in my heart.  Always enough room for one more.  And true.  It has not always been the easiest space I’ve ever inhabited, nor has it always been the most pleasant.  It is exhausting work- all of it.  But these acts of service have been the most rewarding of my journey thus far.  The most worthwhile.  Because the joy I have found in giving and receiving love, in knowing and in learning about people and the world we live in.  In understanding the stories connected to the lives.   This privilege. It is unmatched in nearly any other act of service I have ever done.  And these acts of unconditional love in service to the four precious children I have borne as well as the caring and compassion I freely give to the children I have found room for in my heart.  Whom I teach inside classroom walls.  Whom teach me that life is more.  So much more.  These lives, these stories are what make the ride worthwhile.

It’s about the people.  It’s about humanity.  And it’s about the children.

Because I was born for much, not the least of which- to nurture, love and care.  I was born to do the grueling work of care-giving as much as I was born to inspire, challenge and motivate.  And above all, I was born to give back.  For in my life I have been given much.  And so much is required.

I was born for this, this life I am living.   I was born for all of it.

A Lesson in Judging

Today.  I was reminded yet again.  For what stands to be the thousandth time.  (It is a lesson in progress.)  That I do not know everyone’s story.  Nor do I know all the reasons why or for what reason people do the things they do.  And neither can I know all the minute and significant details in a person’s life that cause them to act in certain ways.  To exhibit certain behaviors.   To say and do the things they do.

So why do I…why do WE think we have the right to judge.

Collectively, we as human beings form opinions based on what WE would do in certain situations.  “Since X is doing this, they must be feeling this.”  Or, “Since Y did this, it must mean that they don’t like that.”  We try to play God, getting inside each other’s heads.

Reading each other’s minds.  Figuring each other out by comparing other people to the standards we have set for acceptable and non-acceptable behaviors.  Standards we have set for ourselves.  Rightly or wrongly.

And in doing such- in judging one another,  we not only discredit ourselves.  We do a disservice to each other.  Because people are more complicated, more intricate than all that.  We are so much more than someone else’s opinion of us.  Someone else’s judgment.   Someone else’s standards or convictions or beliefs or attitudes toward us.  We are more.  So much more than all that.

And whether we be Child, or Woman, or Man.  We are worthy.   Worthy of being understood.  Of being listened to.  Of being given the benefit of the doubt.

And whether we be Blue Collar, White Collar or No Collar.   We are valuable.  We are feelings, mind and Soul.  We are story.

Stories worth being told.

And whether I think I know your story really well.  Got it all figured out.  Or whether I could just care less.  Believing what I wish.  It still stands that a person’s story is worthy.  It is significant.  It is their history.  Past, present and future waiting to unfurl.

A story of great consequence in the history of that solitary soul.   Valuable.  It is gold.  Because a person’s story is full of layers.  Dimensions.  Depth. There is so much more than meets the eye.  We must remember this.  All is not what meets the eye.

It never is.

Everybody’s got a story.  It’s how we respect the story- how we value the story.   That makes all the difference.

39 ways to have a Beautiful Life

39 ways to have a Beautiful Life…in celebration of my 39th birthday.

1. Breathe.  Inhale fresh air from the great outdoors.  Stop to smell the tree blossoms, pick a daisy, watch a bird in flight.  Stay in the moment, slowing down enough to enjoy the simple things in life.

2. Jump.  Jump on a trampoline, a bed or a pile of laundry.  Jumping is what kids do to have fun.  Take the hint.

3. Smile.  Practice in the mirror, if need be.  Then try it out on at least two other people.  See if it really is contagious.

4. Rest. Sit back and relax in a chair that reclines.  Then close your eyes and wait for it: that sigh of contentment.

5. Read.  Preferably something that provokes you, lifts you, challenges you, entertains you, inspires you or encourages you.  But if you are not in the mood for any of that, read Facebook statuses.  They’ll do in a pinch.

6. Cook.  By yourself, with a friend, with your spouse, with your children, with your students.  Try it.  It will either make you hungrier or take away any and all impulses you might have had for binge eating.  Especially when you cook with a five-year old finger-licker/nose-picker.

7. Walk.  Go for long walks.  By yourself, this will be rejuvenating.  With a friend, it will be motivating.

8. Work.  Work hard at what you do.  Give it 100 % while you are at it.  Then, when you are done the task, leave it alone.  And go play.

9. Play.  Play harder than you work.  Life is about more than just going through the motions.  Enjoy the moments that matter most to you.

10. Choose joy.  It is part attitude, part emotion and part choice.  If you choose joy, you are two-thirds of the way there already.

11. Have faith.  It can move mountains.  It’s pretty good at molehills too.

12. Treat yourself.  Buy something just because.  Then use it.  A lot.

13. Love.  Love quietly, love loudly.  Love anyway.

14. Express yourself.  Through written word, verbal  exchange or digital text.  Tell someone who cares.  And tell them often.

15. Exercise.   Set goals and achieve them.  Then set new goals.  Keep at it.  And make it doable.

16. Photograph much.  Use your camera to capture your life.  A picture is actually worth more than 1000 words.  If you look close enough.

17. Travel.  Go on that trip, vacation, voyage.  Visit those places that you’ve always dreamed about.

18. Kiss often.  Kiss a lover, a friend, a father, a mother, a child.   Kiss a stuffed animal, when all else fails.  And on St. Paddy’s Day, kiss someone who is Irish.

19.  Pursue your wildest dreams.  Chase them down like a relentless hound after a fox.  Don’t let them get away.  Spend your life following them.  And relish the feeling when you finally see them realized.

20. Pray.  God listens.  He hears.  I know.  I’ve heard his Voice in a thousand different situations.

21. Step outside your comfort zone.  Do something that challenges you.  Something that makes you uncomfortable even as it makes you grow as a person.  Use  this opportunity as a springboard to help another person do the same.

22. Talk to a child.  Children know stuff adults have long forgotten.  Kids can remind you what really matters.  When all is said and done.

23. Learn something new every day.  And ask yourself, “What did I learn today?”  Don’t take ‘nothing’ as an answer.  You know better than that.

24. Re-connect with a long-lost friend.  Write then a letter, an e-mail , a Facebook message.  Tell them how much their friendship has meant to you over the years.

25.  Mean what you say and say what you mean.  Don’t be obscure.  Or vague.  Unless you are at a formal dinner party with people you don’t know.  In which, ignore everything I just said.

26. Laugh.  Often.  Heartily.  Loud.  Enthusiatically.  So, so good for the body.  Instant muscle relaxer.

27.  Forgive.  Seventy-times seven.

28. Get a hobby.  You’ll need it for when you retire.  Might as well start trying out the more expensive options while you still have the money to finance it.

29. Let go of the past.  That was then.  This is now.  Live in the day you are given.  And let tomorrow take care of itself.  But that’s another point all together.

30. Embrace you imperfections.  You aren’t perfect.  Neither is anyone else.  You know that.  So do they.  Let’s get on with what really matters: making the most of what we’ve got to work with.  Short of Botox, what you see is what you get.  (Until tomorrow when you wake up with a huge zit.)

31. Appreciate the little things in life.  They are what matter sometimes most of all.  Appreciate the little things that other people do for you.  Sometimes they are the game changers.  The moments in life when the tide turns and the perspectives change.

32. Join a club.  A committee, a group, class.  Be part of something bigger.  Not because you are paid to do it.  But because you want to.

33.  Compliment others.  Make much of the people in your life.  Tell the people around you how awesome you think they are.  Because they are.  Awesome.

34. Seek. Search for something greater to fill the void than material possessions.  Than earthly gains.  That stuff will only last for so long.  And then the search will begin again.  Fill that void with what really matters.  With Whom really matters.  And find out how the search leads to a deeper understandings of what really satisfies.

35. Have birthday parties every year.  Celebrate life.  Each year you are alive is cause for fireworks.  You made it!  To another year!  You’re still here!  How great is that!

36. Make new friends, new connections and new networks.  While there is nothing quite like an old friend, you’ll never know what new friend is on their way to becoming that soon-to-be old friend unless you meet them today.  Get talking!

37. Enjoy as many moments of your life as is humanly possible.  If there are only two moments each day, milk those two moments for all they are worth.  They are precious moments.  Even if they are rare.  If you are fortunate to have more than two, than pass the love around.  Other people could benefit from your positive outlook on life.

38. Love your neighbor as yourself.  Be empathic.  Be compassionate.  Caring.  Kind.  Merciful.  Do unto others.  Even when they don’t return the favor.  But don’t be surprised when your life starts setting a new kind of standard for the rest of the world.

39. Love God with all your heart and soul and strength.  All else pales in comparison.