Taking care of ourselves

She playfully bats at the little ball of fluff, her baby. Tousling, grooming, cuddling, nursing. But when she sees the need, setting the little kitten free to explore without the ever-present eye of Mama to govern and oversee. Sometimes, she completely appears to abandon, lazing in the sun while her tiny kitten sits alone on the top stair of our steps, wary and uncertain. Is Mama neglectful? I think not.

When mama cat lovingly stretches out languidly on our top step with baby nearby, her tiny offspring responds to her in love. There is no doubt that there is a relationship between the two. But it is one designed to set free so that the younger can one day take care of herself. To never allow for the certainty that the baby will one day be on its own would be a tragedy. True. Everyone needs love- even barn cats. But you rarely see amongst animals any form of helicopter parenting as one often sees in human parenting. Animals seem to know instinctively the balance needed so as to nurture and prepare their offspring for life after the nursery.

Care requires that we respond within a relationship. Within relationships of care, there is always a two-way exchange happening at any given time- a process which can reverse and rearrange at seemingly a moment’s notice. And all because relationships of care are responsive. A caregiver in relationship to another acknowledges a need or a requirement, responds to that need and then allows for caring to occur. This process can be reversed almost immediately, depending on the relationship. The cared-for- in response to the care emitted, can then responsively give care to the other almost immediately.

In thinking about care so much and so often, I am realizing that there are elements of care that we have forgotten. I feel we have forgotten at times how to take care. A local radio personality whom I have listened to over the years often signs off with the phrase, ‘take care of one another today’; from the moment I first heard this phrase, it has stuck with me. How does one take care? And where does care-taking begin?

I would suggest that there are dimensions of caretaking that we must heed. That we have overlooked. The first being our need to take care of ourselves.

There is an underlying assumption that we need to take care of one another in life, but in order to do this, we first need to learn the secret of taking care of ourselves. In taking care of ourselves, we need to learn to listen to our bodies, listen to our hearts. We have all heard of the spoken rule, given by flight attendants on airlines, to put on your own mask on first prior to helping your children or other dependents. I am convinced in my own life that the growth and development of care woven throughout my life experiences has been a direct result of my learned ability to care for myself, self-care guided for me by faith through the direction of a loving Father. For years, I looked to others to care for me. Why weren’t they doing what I thought was the basic of all human responses- caring? Why were people not responding to my needs? And why wasn’t I feeling loved and looked after? Why was I feeling so bereft? These feelings of a deficit in care followed me into my marriage, leaving me looking to a husband to fulfil the role of caretaker, a tremendous responsibility considering he was not even the one who had left me feeling unloved and uncared for in the first place. That was baggage I had brought into our marriage- a composite of my difficult years of schooling, my years in the public eye as a pastor’s kid and the other personal experiences of my life that directly impacted me in very private ways. We cannot first expect others to care for us if we have not learned how to care for ourselves. And I am convinced that many, many problems in marriages could be avoided if we first were able to redirect our need for care back to ourselves- as well as if we could start to see that the ways people express care, initiate care, offer care, interpret care and understand care: are different. Different. Not bad, worse, inferior or poorer: just different. Maybe we need to start by seeing the best in what another human being is offering us, starting with our partners.

I would never, ever wish the message I am conveying to be one in which we reduce the responsibility we have toward others. My life is rich because I have learned to care for others. I believe that the transformation in my life has been one in which, with God’s guiding hand, I was able to take something that was painful and difficult and see the good in it. I think this is the reason I am now able to responsively express care to others: there has been a miracle in my life. But I would never want to overstep the responsibility I have been given to care for myself in all of this. That was a first step in this process- understanding the needs in my life and slowly taking measures to meet those needs one by one through loving myself. Through accepting myself. Unconditionally. I had to learn to love myself so as to love others. And I cannot personally underestimate my faith in Jesus and my Abbba Father in this process- as I have come to understand I have a Father who loves me intimately and expressly, I can now love myself as an expression of His love. I am free to love the others in my life as I now know how much I am loved myself.

And this is the very essence of care: freedom to love and responsively give to oneself and the others in one’s life. Freely, wholly, purely.

All because of love.

{A post} In which I rant about supper…

I cannot put two coherent thoughts together tonight.

C.A.N.N.O.T.

Tired, disillusioned. Exhausted. Teary.

So bear with me. I may be on a rant.

Youngest Daughter and Oldest Daughter, within thirty seconds of one another asked me these two questions:

“I wish I could have a baby sister to play with after school…?” (because living in a circus apparently just isn’t enough fun for her)

“Mom, where is the hydrogen peroxide?” (because blond is the new brown—and she already used up my lemon juice on Sunday)

Be still my weary soul. I think I might be experiencing the onset of heart palpitations.  And possibly a fever.

Tonight, I made the decision: I will no longer be cooking (supper) in this house. That is, cooking supper tomorrow. Well, that’s a start anyway. That decision made after producing hockey puck-like biscuits and stinky fish chowder which I decided I would not be eating about 2.5 minutes after I had added the last ingredient. Husband is now looking for recipes. No reasonable dish containing hamburger will be refused.

I found myself this evening reheating the following and calling it supper:

*Two leftover plates of pork chops (one of which Second Youngest refused to eat on the weekend when she thought she had the flu).
*A huge dish of rice (which we barely scraped the surface of yesterday at lunch)
*A dish with exactly four miniscule slices of bar-b-q sausage in it, along with millions of red onions and green peppers. Yummo.
*Two garlic chicken cutlets (which I incidentally pulled out of the freezer, so they really don’t count in this list)
*One bowl of corn, and a smaller bowl of green beans
*Along with one fresh bowl of fish chowder which Youngest thought she wanted but took one taste of and realized otherwise.
Oh. And all that served with a generous plateful of hockey pucks, and a side of butter and jam to wash it all down with. That lessened the blow.

Delish.

(Not so much.)

So, I have hung up the proverbial apron.
This Chicky’s done (like dinner).
Your turn, my Sweet Chefsky.
Cannot WAIT to smell the sweet aromas wafting to my nostrils as I await my meal, from where I fold and stack patiently: the laundry room.
Or maybe I will just be snoring on the couch under a pile of children. Who knows? Decisions, decisions…

Let the good times roll.

Turning Ten…For the Fourth Time

I turn ten for the fourth time tomorrow.

That’s the big 4-0 to the rest of the world. As in, four decades.  Bless it.  I still can’t believe it. So cliche, I know, but until you’ve arrived, you will never fully appreciate how much your youthful brain is still telling you you’re not a day past 25. Seriously. The other day at school, I told my students that my Husband was planning a surprise for me, and one little guy who has taken to giving me engulfing bear hugs about five times a day looked at me incredulously and said, “You have a HUSBAND????????”

Which is to say (or, what I think he meant): “Your youthful appearance defies that you be old enough for such adult behaviour.” Something akin to that thought.

Whatever…

I am not dealing well with this “going past the thirties” birthday business, so thankfully Husband skipped the Over the Hill party and booked a weekend getaway instead.

Good call.

Except.  Now I feel like the comraderie would have helped- what with the onset of depression and all.  Feel free to message me with tips, if you have already reached this milestone. Every little bit of moral support I can muster helps. We need each other, Seniors. Or at least I do- for emotional reinforcement. And the odd back-rub or two.

Husband told me last night that he wasn’t going to lie: “Getting old is not that much fun.”

Thanks sweetie.  That’s just what a girl needs to hear from her OLDER spouse.

However, I do have to give him props for this: planning a semi-surprise for his wife and not letting her in on the secret. That is, not letting her in on the secret until Thursday.  Just three short nights ago, I was at this very instant (or close to it- who’s keeping track) walking hand in hand toward the setting sun, with Husband by my side, as we lazily travelled along the boardwalk at Peake’s Key. Kid-less. That’s “walking sans kidlets”, for those who are not yet fluent in this language. It all seems like a vague and hazy dream right about now.

I half wonder if it was.

Earlier that day, we had packed the van to the gills, dropped off one child’s stuff at Black Grammie’s house. Packed for another to go to across the road. And then packed snacks, games and more stuff for the other two to go to Charlottetown for the night to White Grammie’s house.

It is a lot of work to get away, people. And age has nothing to do with it…

Thankfully, Hubbie remembered this tedious fact and gave me a forty-eight hour heads up. So, it was with exhaustion and anticipation, we made the trek to Dundee Arms Inn in historic Charlottetown. Meanwhile, all that packing wore me out.  I won’t lie: I had a short catnap en route.

I am forty, hello.

At exactly 5:30 p.m., as we pulled out of my parent’s driveway, Husband looked at me and said with a smile, “It’s officially the weekend!”
And so it was. A beautiful weekend, complete with a lovely quiet supper with delicious food and a beautiful room furnished with antiques and an ornate four poster canopy bed. Such a luxury, this weekend getaway. Dearly needed and much appreciated.

And now it’s over. OVER.

I am back to reality once again, only three short nights later. Dirty dishes sitting in the kitchen waiting to be washed. Crud on the floor to be wiped up. Laundry waiting impatiently to be washed and folded. Children needing baths and stories and tuck-ins. Floors to be vacuumed and on and on the list goes.

Because life goes on.

It always does somehow.

Those moments we want to last? They sadly come to a close. As much as we try to hold on to them, they dissolve and fade into our memory. Leaving us with a sentimental feeling as a lasting token of their occurrence. Wondering if they truly ever really happened after all.
As much as we try, life just keeps forging forward.

And don’t we just wish we could, at times, press the pause button? Maybe not for every moment of the day, but certainly for some of them. Life is just moving past us too quickly.
I for one can hardly keep up.

And now that I am forty years old, I think time will speed by even faster.
It can seem just so discouraging, at times.

I was thinking about this thought the other day- about wanting time to slow down- and my thoughts wandered to some precious loved ones I hold dear. Loved ones who have suffered in various ways and through difficult circumstances. And I realized that for some, time  has been very long. Drawn out. Difficult to bear with and challenging to stay through.

For some, time has been short.  Abbreviated.  Time has quickly come to a close.


For time is only fast and full when we are enjoying and really appreciating  the circumstances of our lives. It’s extremely slow, and at times can even be short when we are not.

For those of us who are finding time is slipping away. Revel in it. Enjoy it. Take pleasure from that time and don’t try to squander it. Time is here for us to use. It’s ours for the taking. We need to make every effort to use our time to benefit the life we’ve been made to live.
And for those of us who wish for time to move a little faster: take heart. This time we’ve been given will soon move us to new horizons. The difficulties of this life and the pain of the here and now: this too shall pass. Time is still here for you who wish it away- it is here for the taking. Make every effort to use the time you’ve been given to benefit the life you’ve been made to live. All too soon, this present here and now will be gone.

We can never get this moment back again.  These moments- they are fragile.  Precious.  Take pleasure in them.
And neither should we want to live them over- there is just too much time in the present here and now to enjoy. To live and experience. To wonder and revel in. And there is always time enough to dream about our hoped for tomorrows.

A dear friend reminded me tonight: we don’t need to dread growing older.  It is a gift that many are unable to enjoy and experience.  So turning forty for the first time is a new pleasure I will revel in.

And I think I just might make this fifth decade of my life the one I cherish most.

Thin emotions and rich grace

It’s been a thin week. A week of emotions rising quickly to the surface. A week of highs and lows. A week of frustrations, disappointments and in-betweens. And I find myself walking thin ice. Holding fragile feelings in shaky hands. Stepping on eggshells. Living life holding on, two hands grasping for something secure while always searching for steady ground on which to stand.

And I wonder sometimes, is it really grace which is needed? And does that rich grace come wrapped up in a cloak of forgiveness? In garments of compassion? Is it veiled or is it starkly visible? Elusive graces are so hard to hold in shaky hands.  But I am grateful tonight that mercy comes in so many different forms.  Both tender and tough. It’s face surprises each time it is encountered.  And yet. It’s always just what I need, showing up at the very hour I need it to come.

Tender mercy, tough love.

He reached for me last night. It was the smallest of gestures, a hand on the shoulder. But I came undone. And all the pent up stress, all the anger- came flowing out of me like a surge of water through a broken dam. I felt like I could finally breathe again. Felt tension release through tightened shoulders. I felt release. And although it was just the smallest of offerings, it was enough.

Sometimes that’s all it takes.  A gesture.

We spend our whole lives waiting for justice, for the balance to level. When what we really need to do is come undone. To find ourselves emptied. Off kilter a bit. So that we can be brought back to fragile equilibrium.  Emptied. Of all pride and anger and egotism and fear. So that we can then be filled again: with Love. Filled to overflowing. Allowing ourselves the sacred mystery that is the laying down- of one’s own desires and sense of fairness.  Emptied, so as to experience the fullness of grace that is offered in bountiful compassion. We can only share in this sweet offering by laying down our armaments. Setting aside our armor. Stripped of all that is covering that which is authentic to our true selves. So that we can finally be seen for the rare beauty that is the wild and messy underneath it all.

We are stripped bare and covered back up again with a garment of gorgeous grace.

It’s never easy to receive, that kind of rich grace that is so desired. So sought after. We covet it- and want to earn it.  At times, we wish to make someone else earn it. We want it to cost something- it is dear. So precious. And yet, grace that costs is never truly grace. It is corrupted in its price. Grace must be offered without conditions.  Freely.  Undeserved, it is liberally given. And then, accepted in love.

He reached for me last night- across the chasm, and I felt the ice begin to thaw. The ground beneath my feet gave way yet again. And I fell into the arms of love.

Unfettered. Broken. Yet wholly complete. Undone, but still intact.

Grace has that kind of way with me.

An Easter Funny for Ya’all!!

Our Easter weekend is a precious time. It is treasured time to remember a Saviour. Time to invest thought and prayer and hope in a promise. Time to rest and be held.

Time.

Precious, scarce commodity that it might be understood to be, and yet, time is a sweet gift at Easter. Here at the Gard household, we never take this time lightly: for it is our reason for the season. It’s everything.

But as part of the season, we do take time as well to be with family and friends. To share in company and break bread. To laugh and relax. To meditate and contemplate. To uncover and discover. Time to talk. And to be grateful for all we are and all we have. In Christ and in each other.

However. Sometimes, all these spiritual intentions are thwarted by unseen and unpredicted chaos. Catastrophe of the most epic proportions.
Can I tell you how I spent part of the Holy Weekend- that is, my Easter Sunday afternoon? In a potato field caked in mud nearly up to my eyeballs, no less. With a crying child of my own flesh and blood a few meters away, out of reach. Actually, Dianne (my sister-in-law) and I were hiding the Easter eggs for an Easter egg hunt while our children, unbeknowst to us, were glued to the ground. Literally. The first cry I heard was M.A.’s while my nephew stood immobile beside her.  But I think he was laughing.  Sorta.  Anyways, the point of tha matter was that the kiddos were all hanging out in the potato field because that’s where we all like passing the time on a sunny Easter afternoon.  Well, the kids do, anyway.  And because we adults have nothing better to do (and there is that little part I left out about a kid who ventured off and got stuck, so his cousins had to rescue him, but I digress…)  Which is to say, obviously we all have nothing better to do than hang out in a muddy potato field on these beautiful Spring days.  We do live in the country.  So it seems.

Here’s how it all went down.  I came running as soon as I heard Daughter crying, because she’d lost her boots in the mud a few minutes prior. Me, unconvinced that I will sink in this stuff- forging forward at a snail’s pace: because I thought I could be the hero in my black Clark’s church shoes (I will never, ever get that mud out).  And oh the fun! Doesn’t take long for one to find out how easy those puppies might be to manouever in a clay cesspool of foot high muck.  I nearly left them there.  After about two seconds into the rescue plan, I was yelling at the onlookers- the older cousins and my two other children- to RUN to the house and grab me some boots. Pronto. While I stood in a quagmire akin to a suction cup. Daughter crying, glued to her spot, sans footwear. Nephew just out of reach up to his knees in sludge.

And when help does come, what form do you think that help might take? Husband with a video camera. Cheering me on from the sidelines, trying to get it all on video so that his wife can see what a fool she is in living colour.

His words of wisdom to me: “You’re doing great, Lori.”

What a gem.

He’s lucky it’s Easter.  I am on my best behavior.

Happy Easter everyone!

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.