15 Things I Know About Being a Parent

Parenting is, of course, the most consuming, challenging and exhausting task that I have ever involved myself in. Some days I ask: “what were we thinking???” And on the other days, I just don’t ask. And speaking of “we”, I readily admit that marriage is a very close second in this listing of difficult things known to humankind.

It was fifteen years ago today that I first became a mother. And how well I remember that incredible day—the moments of fear when I faced the unknowns, the moments of elation when I realized what I had gained. Holding that tiny 6 lb. 7 1/2 ounce baby boy swaddled in a receiving blanket, I knew a love I had never known before. I knew a fierce need to shelter and protect that I had heretofore never experienced. I knew so much in that instant I saw his precious baby face.

I knew so little.

Sons are interesting characters. They cling close to their mamas until they reach toddler stage, and then they can’t seem to get enough of their dads. Dads hold the world in the palms of their hands, or so it seems to bright-eyed little boys. I have watched my son and his dad grow closer over the years, and I am so thankful that they have each other. Particularly in light of the fact that they are also outnumbered in our family of six (complete with four girls). This relationship they share is a gift, one not to be taken lightly. I know neither does; never would they.

In honor of my son’s 15th birthday and due to the fact that it is also the anniversary of my 15th year being a mama, here are 15 things I know now that I didn’t know back then…

1.) Every moment is a gift, and of course meant to be cherished; but some moments are meant to just be ‘lived’, and then we move on. We don’t have to make everything special. Everything extraordinary. Sometimes life is just meant to be experienced mundanely, in the everyday ordinary routine of life. This too is precious.

2.) Kids don’t always need entertainment; the more entertainment/amusement, the less imagination/creativity (at least in the world I grew up in—which means it still holds true for my Fearless Four. Because I say so.).

3.) Sincere apologies are best taught through humble parental modeling.

4.) Some things like burps and flatulence and mysterious smells from the bathroom and spilled popcorn on the bed and Vaseline on the couch and chocolate chips all over the floor and canned goods on top of the baby…and the like: these things (while startling) are not worth blowing a gasket/major artery over. Live and learn.

5.) Seeing your child show kindness to others will make your heart swell in ways that temporary academic or sporting accomplishments never could.

6.) Patience is a virtue, but when in short supply, time-outs for mama in the bathroom/quick exits from the scene of disaster also work.

7.) Four kids is a lot of kids. But then again, so was one.

8.) The question “will I love the second (third, fourth) as much” is entirely not worth entertaining for even one little second; the answer is always yes, Yes, YES! : “to the moon and back again.” Every single time.

9.) Sometimes Mamas make mistakes. Moving on…

10.) Screaming is not the most effective form of communication.

11.) Mamas are not meant to be their childrens’ best friends (that is, until said offspring start to pay for their own bills and have an income. When this miracle occurs, the boundaries are redefined).

12.) The crucial life lessons your mama taught you about responsibility, safety, security and common sense (lessons and rules that you loathed back when you were ages 5-19): they will fall from your own tongue like pearls of wisdom to your precious babies AS IF IN YOUR OWN FORMER CHILDISH OPINION THEY WERE ALWAYS GOLDEN.

13.) There is next to nothing you will not do for your child, including acting like an idiot in public on occasion (think: jumping up and down at photo shoots), going to the ends of the earth for them and resorting to begging/bartering on their behalf. Incidentally, these rules do not always apply after fifteen years parenting as you have prioritized your ability to please and thus included yourself in this lottery.

14.) Parenting in year one is very different than parenting in year fifteen. For one thing, where you once were completely trusting and naïve, now you are a bit of a sly old shrew. Also, you are more sarcastic.

15.) You realize that although there are still some days you threaten to jump ship and escape to the nearest available carnival troupe, there is nothing on this beautiful planet you would rather be doing than mothering four of the brightest, most beautiful children God’s Hands ever fashioned. And that is the plain and simple truth.

Parenting has been said to be “one of the hardest things you’ll ever do but in exchange it teaches you the meaning of unconditional love” (Nicholas Sparks). I am thankful for the ways in which my heart has learned to expand and grow in four different directions these past 15 years.

To my Son: I will love you and your three sisters forever and always. I love you all- to the moon and back again.

Three Things I am Remembering {on my 41st Birthday}

There is one important time. That time is now. There is a most important person. That individual is the one you are with. There is a most important thing. That is to do good for the one who is standing by your side. – paraphrased from the writing of Leo Tolstoy

image retrieved from http://www.seriouseats.com

I am forty with one extra year this very day. WOW. Contrary to what I would like to say (that I am twenty-nine and holding AGAIN), I am not. I was asked the other day, “How old are you Mrs. Gard?” I put it back on my student. “How old do you think I am?” I was told that I might be thirty. (Just found out this evening that another little guy thought I was turning twenty today- who wouldn’t love teaching kindergarten, I ask you??)  I owe these two little darlings a little extra recess.

Although in theory, I would take those numbers again (just because), in retrospect I remember twenty and thirty. And I don’t think I would ever truly go back. Not because it was horrible or bad or worse than forty-one. But because it would take from me the joy of living in the present here and now. There is one important time. That time is now. To trade our today for yesterday or to cash in this day so as to have tomorrow, robs from us the joy of experiencing the moments we’ve been given today.

Where it is at…is right now.

This is the most important moment for all of us today. Right now. What will we choose? Where will we go? Who will we influence? What lives will we touch? How will we show kindness? In what ways will we show love?

Act. Accordingly.Now.

Act with justice, kindness and love. For this is the time. You have no guarantees about five minutes from now. No guarantees about your next breath. All you have is this. This moment, right now.

I was in class earlier today, and I asked the students what was the one thing they thought was the most important quality in a person that no one should overlook. The answer I got was this: “Someone who doesn’t cut you up into little pieces.”

Yes, this is all important. But what I was fishing for this time was actually something a little tamer. I was attempting to elicit from them something about caring compassion. My hope was to express to the children the important role of kindness.

Today during quiet time, I was getting students settled in for some down time, and a few of the little boys came to me with a sparkle in their eye wanting some paper. They fussed about how I wasn’t allowed to see what they were working on, but I listened to the conversations from afar. They worked quite diligently at their project and helped each other out in finding the words they needed to say. What they were making were beautiful birthday cards for me. I have to say that these little cards are among the most meaningful writing samples I will collect from my students this year because they came from a caring heart of love. The letters were initiated because of kindness.

There is a most important thing. That is to do good for the one who is standing by your side. If we can teach children to do good for the ones who are standing by their side, they will take this experience and translate it into real world practice.

If we are kind inside our classrooms, then we will be kind on the playground. If we are kind on the playground, we will be kind on the bus. If we can be kind on the bus, we will be kind in our homes. If we can practice kindness inside our homes, then we can be kind anywhere. That is the power of kindness.

Today. This is your moment. Love the ones you are with and do good to the ones who are standing by your side. And you will never wish for any other moment than the one you are living right now. Because the moment you are living will be the one you have been waiting for your whole life long.

Don’t waste a precious second.

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.

Twleve years Later, You’re Still My Baby Girl

Daughter, you are now twelve. Such a tender, impressionable age. You are in between two worlds from which you still slip so seamlessly. The confident role model. The energetic gymnast. The mature older cousin. The fun-loving friend.

The Big sister. The Little sister.

And all the while, you are still my baby girl.

I could say that I don’t know where the time has gone. But really, I do. We have spent it well, you and I. We have packed into your short twelve years as much fun as a girl could expect to have at this young age. Camping trips, picnics, play-dates, visits to the park. Library outings. Fun park excursions. Summer boating escapades and winter sledding adventures. Skating on the river. Lazy afternoons whittled away at the log cabin- in the water, on the raft, lying helter-skelter on the hammock. Afternoons sitting with a book or two on the creaky porch swing that graces our own veranda. And hours and hours and countless more hours spent bouncing on our faithful trampoline.

We have both spent many more hours at our school, in the piano studio, at the soccer field, in the rink and in various gymnasiums. I have watched you blossom as an athlete, musician and student. I have observed you as a community leader, a student leader, a friend, a cousin, a sister, a granddaughter, a great- granddaughter and an assistant coach. In each role, you excel.

You have had many interests, many passions and many areas of expertise over the years. And I am at times in awe of your easy style, your ability to roll with the punches. You are so beautiful, so full of life. And in spite of the fact that your height has nearly matched my own, there are still times when I nearly forget that you are almost a teenager. Although those moments are fewer and fewer all the time. And as your mother, I know what lies ahead. I was a twelve year old girl once myself.  Young, eager and waiting.

Time will only fly by faster now that you are twelve.

Guard your heart, dearest daughter.

Guard it with your life, your soul, your all. Do not entrust it to just anyone. Your heart is so precious, so exquisite. It deserves someone to care for it of equal worth. Equal exceptionality. So easy it is to let down the defences and find what is most precious to us has been taken away- lost forever. Guard your heart and always be aware. There are those who do not appreciate the rare value and tremendous worth that we see, we who love you so.

Do not sell out, give up, put out, hand over, release or let go of that which we have cultivated in you for safekeeping. You are so precious. Never forget this truth.

A young friend, a childhood playmate, came knocking on our door this evening- a boy. The same boy, I might add, who walked through a snowstorm so as to hand deliver a tub of carefully wrapped eggs so that I might finish a recipe for banana-chocolate chip muffins to share on a cold winter’s evening. The same boy who made a little snowman with your youngest sister that snowy evening. And the same boy who I drove every second day or week to kindergarten, six short years ago.

Again- where does time slip off to in such a hurry?

Tonight, he was the consummate gentleman. He had a card for you, which he walked over from the house next to ours, only a field away.  A walk made in twilight so as to deliver in person, hand-written birthday greetings. I was struck by the sweetness and sincerity in his demeanor. And while I realize that this was purely a platonic gesture, it gave me pause to consider the kind of boy that I would wish for you. When that time comes.

A boy who is kind. Like your father.

A boy who is respectful, considerate and courteous.

Someone pleasant and friendly.

Someone who truly sees you as unique and special.

Someone remarkable- just like you.

I don’t want to make this short list into something which has as its intent to handpick for you a suitor- that wouldn’t be fair. Darling, I trust your judgement- you are very wise and discerning, even at this fresh age of twelve. I know well your own astute sense of what is best. But I guess what I am trying to say is this: that as your mother, I too want the very best for you. I always have. And I can’t stop wanting this now, even as I see you starting to slip into greater independence.

Happy Birthday, my sweet middlest daughter. You told me tonight that you feared slipping back to the ordinary tomorrow, settling back into your role as “that middle daughter” again. You could never be anything less than my sweet, amazing, beloved Maggie. And being in the middle only means you have been sandwiched in love, enveloped in devoted adoration.

Love to you forever and always,

Mom

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.

Thirty-Nine Wild and Precious Years…

When I was a little girl, I lived in constant fear of never reaching adulthood.  I imagined every common cold to be cancer.  Every cut or bruise to be fatal.  I feared dying at every turn.  I would pray every night for God to ‘please, please’ see me through to the morning.   From the dark of night to the light of day.  I would pray earnestly.   So that it would hold me, so that I would wake to see another day.  I would chant over and over again certain prayers or recitations.  Because I feared the dark.  Feared being alone.

Feared the quiet of those still, silent hours between midnight and dawn.

And there were more nights than I can recount that I was paralyzed by fear.   Never thinking I’d manage to survive.    Never thinking I’d live to revel in the coming light of day.  And certainly never thought I’d live long enough to see the morn break, day in which my hair would have silver threads, fine lines spreading from the creases of my eyelids.

To see this.

This day that I turn 39.

It was a fearful childhood.  An anxiety-ridden childhood.  Those early days.

You can’t blame the Child, really.  My family was peppered with tragic stories of lives affected by car accidents of one variety or another.  Some leaving family members without the use of extremities.  Others left with traumatic brain injury.  Others, sorrowfully: dead.  Horrific.  It was.  And still other family members born with life-long mental and physical conditions, leaving them dependent on their family members for sustenance.  Or.  Caught in mid-life heartbreaking crises of one variety or another.   Such was the case of one gentle Aunt blinded as an adult, a special favorite of mine.

I grew to have a special affinity for those who were special.  Exceptional.  Those who were different and unique.   Different, just like me.  Just like my beloved extended family.  Just like all of us, really.  And I came to embrace empathy as a way of life.  An understanding.  A calling.

As a God-given gift.

And as my father was the minister in whichever community we happened to be living at the time, he and I would also make local visitations to the sick or shut-in within the extension of the local church.  Those who were needy for comfort or a tender smile.  Some mired in poverty.  Others caught up in alcoholism.  I saw a lot from my young vantage point.

It left me changed for the better.  More compassionate.   But also left me fearful and wary.  Scared.  Anxiety-driven.

My namesake was my Aunt Mary Anne, for whom the infamous youngest member of our family is also named.  Before I was born, Aunt Mary Anne plunged to her death in a car full of bright, vibrant teenagers on the night of their high school graduation.  Her story was told to me over and over again throughout my childhood, and she became to me almost a mythical figure.  A young, bright light snuffed out before her small world was ready to let her go.  But she was indeed ready.  And her life had already made its mark, as seen in the record numbers of youths in attendance at her funeral.  All witness to her abbreviated life, a testament to God’s grace and love.  She was His hands and feet.

When I was about nine years old, my aunt on my mother’s side was involved in a serious, life-altering car accident.  She was left severely brain-damaged and wheel-chair bound, as she continues to live to this very day.  Whenever I see her, I reminded of what remains.  And all that has been lost.  And it breaks my heart.

She was just about my age when her light was dimmed.  Just about thirty-nine years of age.

When I made the list Thirty-Nine Ways to Have a Beautiful Life, I was thinking of the gift it is to be alive.  To be flourishing as a young-ish mother, teacher, wife and friend.  What a gift it is: to be living.  To be healthy.  To have love.  To be loved.   And to have been given this gift each and every May 20th for what is now thirty-nine years.

Thirty-nine years.  It has flown by in a flash.  And yet.  I have lived each and every moment, present and aware.  Of how much I have been given.  And aware of how very much I have to be grateful.  And thirty-nine reasons are not the magnitude of a beautiful life.  They are just the beginning.  For I have only just begun (this list of countless ways in which one can live a beautiful and worthwhile life).  And I could easily bring to mind thirty-nine more.  That is the gift.  To have lived to see and experience another day.

It is a GIFT.

I am so very grateful for the gift of today: these wild and precious thirty-nine years.