When We Care for One Another

My two kiddos are playing a game of catch in the small space that is our camping site. We are sandwiched in between two large R.V.’s causing our own hardtop to dwarf in comparison. As I sit by a dwindling campfire chatting with my parents, I watch the baseball they are throwing inch ever closer to the couple sitting out by their fire pit right next to our site. As luck would have it, the ball bounces and flies past Son rolling along until it hits ‘said camper-neighbors’ fire pit. “Thank goodness that is all that was hit” is my first thought immediately followed up by “get that darn ball out of here.” I am instantly horrified, as I am sure is Son (who hates any attention drawn to himself). I get up and make the immediate suggestion (order) that the kids can move their game somewhere else.

They quickly oblige with nary an argument.

Strangely, the couple laugh the whole incident off. “Let the kids play,” says the gentleman, his wife adding the little tidbit that this reminds her of her own children when they were young. While I am comforted by the fact that no offence has been taken to this close call, I still use my good judgement and gently shoo the kids along. Later, I take them to an area at our campground better suited to throwing around baseballs: a wide, open field. We make it a whole family event and no one is left worse for the wear: emotionally or physically.

On my way back from the latter game (which we ended up playing until it was too dark to see the ball), I am walking back on my own down a darkened road when I hear the excited voices of children on bicycles behind me. It becomes immediately clear that I am about to be overtaken by some fast-riding bikers. I don’t dare turn or make any sudden movement lest I am knocked off my feet. Sure enough: three young boys come right up to my back and one after the other, zoom past me coming within inches of my frame. Not a word is spoken by either them or me, no warnings- nothing, and I am a little shaken as I realize: had I stepped over an inch or so in either direction, somebody would have been seriously hurt.

And that ‘someone’ would not just have been me either.

Teaching kids about care means more than just happy-go-lucky feelings on a summer’s afternoon. It’s not just about living life the PollyAnna way. Why caring and its counterparts- compassion, concern, interest and responsibility matter in everyday life is because people like to be treated as if they matter. As if they are worth the while thinking about and considering.

When children, kids and young people are taught and mentored to look out for other people, treating everyone as if they are someone of value, everyone benefits. Not the least of which- them. Because what goes around, comes around eventually. Besides, people who look out for others are just plain easier to live with, kinder, nicer and more thoughtful. It matters that kids learn to care- because lessons of caring spill into their lives at large, influencing little and big decisions they make each and every moment of the day.

I do not tell these stories to point fingers at others nor to gloat about my own offspring. Actually, I tell these stories to myself as proof that teaching the young to care is of utmost importance to me as an adult. Someday my world will be greatly influenced by the very ones I am educating today. How that world ends up- what it will look like- depends largely on the lessons those same little and big people learned today.

I want to share a story that a reader named Shirley wrote recently on my blog:

I had a favorite teacher, Mrs. Stewart 6th grade. There were so many life lessons that year. The greatest one was probably not really a part of the curriculum. Mrs. Stewart taught us about ice safety especially when it came to skating on lakes & ponds. Not really something most teachers would add to the class day. My neighbors did not receive the same lessons. One day the neighbors whole family went ice skating with my family. The girls skated too close to the area where the geese were swimming. The ice broke under my friend, there were no adults close by. They were on the other side of the pond, at least a football field away. What to do, what to do?! Thank you Mrs. Stewart! That day you saved from friend. It was only because you cared enough to teach us about ice safety and how to react. I laid down on the ice like you taught us, than reached out my arms as far as they would go. My friend stopped going under water and started to climb out of the ice water. You see Mrs. Stewart cared about us as people and taught us life lessons.

I share that particular story to illustrate the following point: teaching kids to care about life and the others who are part of those ‘lives’ actually takes the focus off the individual- the “I” (so that they are not always looking out primarily for ‘number one’) and places that attention and concern on the others who inhabit their world. We are not islands; learning to care about others helps us to realize that we need one another. And at times, we need to put our own interests on the back-burner so as to look after each other. So as to protect one another and care for our neighbor. In the end, learning to care for others can accomplish great things- not the least of which is saving a person from small and great injury.

It has actually even be proven to save lives.

Kindness is a Muscle

I am in Charlottetown-area for a five night camping expedition with the fam-jam. One of the highlights of camping here in Cornwall is the bakery just around the corner from the campground. I’m serious. You have never tasted anything until you’ve had their bread. Or their cinnamon rolls. Or their scones.

Don’t get me started.

So the other day, I went into the bakery to pick up a coconut cream pie for dessert when I remembered that my daughter had specifically requested raspberry scones. These scones that she asked for are to die for- my children would fight to the death for the last one. Actually, they would fight to the death anyway, but a scone never hurt as incentive.


I asked about the scones, and they were all out but suggested I place an order for the next day. I never place an order for much these days because I am so unpredictable with my commitments. Especially when camping. But the cashier was so sweet and my daughter’s crestfallen face imprinted in my memory made me do the unthinkable. Place an order and commit to a time frame wherein to pick them up.

The next day, and hour and a half late for the designated pickup, I roll into the bakery. I had almost decided I was going to forgo, because who knew if they were even there anymore, right? I walk up to the counter and request the scones I had placed an order for, and the cashier goes over to a shelf and brings back to me a bag with the most beautiful, plump, delicious-looking scones I have ever laid eyes on. The raspberries were practically falling out of them. I had near heart-failure wondering how they would ever survive the two-minute drive home without being devoured, bringing new meaning to the words child-abuse (a very specific form of such which involves one’s children discovering their mother has eaten all their highly preferred treats and as a result of which, emotionally fall apart on the spot).

I made a remark to the cashier that these scones looked really good, and she replied back, “The baker knew you had placed an order for these and she wanted to make them look really pretty for you.”

Say what?

I was stunned. I have never seen the baker. I just eat her stuff. I have never thought to thank her, never thought to ask of her and her well-being. And yet. She thought of me- the faceless, nameless customer and tried to make these scones pretty and tasteful for me and my family.

Absolute, pure kindness.

I never cease to be blown away by the impact of kindness. While complicated at times, yet ancient in scope and influence- it’s everywhere. Kindness is what makes the world go round. And without it, we are left feeling lost and aimless.

This morning, I am again driving- this time with my mom- when she relays to me a story. A story that she has no idea will completely sync with my line of thinking about kindness as soon as she tells it. For all I can think of lately is kindness. It consumes me. How to show kindness, who is showing kindness, whether or not I am showing kindness, how kindness impacts the lives of others.

I can’t get it out of my head.

So as I drive she tells me a story about being at the drug store in the line up and while there, she is using a points card to obtain incentives to shop at this particular store again in the near future. She then tells me that after having finished her purchase, the woman behind her in line, who has a sizeable pile of items to put through, tells my Mom that she can use her points card to include the purchases she is about to make, as she has no points card of her own. My mom then strikes up a conversation with this woman, all around that fact that this woman has no point card of her own and thus this is why she is offering my mother the opportunity to obtain more points at her expense.

My mom remarks, “That is so kind of you!” to which the woman replies, “No, I am not a kind person ordinarily.”

Mom is a little dumbfounded at this revelation. Who tells a complete stranger in a store line-up that they are not a kind person under ordinary circumstances? My mom says to the woman, “Well you were kind today” so as to affirm to the woman that she does indeed see the good in her as an individual, but the woman asserts again the fact of her nature to not be kind. Twice she makes this statement. My mom in the telling adds the detail that, by now, the cashier’s eyes are like tea-cup saucers. She can hardly believe the conversation going down.

As Mom and I talk, I start to remember an article I just read the day before about kindness in marriage. And how kindness is like a muscle we exercise- the more we exercise it, the stronger that muscle becomes. And it confirms in my mind that kindness is indeed the very balm that soothed a thousand wounds. Because who knows what this woman will do now. Now that she has made the choice to act in kindness to a total stranger. Maybe it will be the catalyst for a lifetime of kindness. Maybe it will not. But this I now for sure- even those who say they are incapable of kindness do not give themselves enough credit. We are all capable. It’s just a matter of using that muscle more often and exercising it more deeply.

It’s a matter of working it. And choosing to do so often.
For we all have the potential for kindness. Even the ones who think they don’t. Even the ones whose muscle for kindness is a little neglected and shriveled up. Even for them. They have the goods- they just have to use them.

So don’t we all.

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.

The joy of anticipation…

Is it just me, or are we as a western society forgetting what it feels like to anticipate the anticipation of a holiday, season or milestone such as Christmas?   (And this sentiment could be applied to other holidays spread throughout the year).  But since Christmas is coming, and it is the biggest holiday of the year, permit me this rant.   People are anticipating upcoming holidays for longer and longer spans of time so that when holidays like Christmas actually do arrive, the wonder, excitement and magic of it all seems to have dulled.

I am not just noticing that we are preparing earlier.  This fact is obvious in light of the Christmas music that I was greeted to on Remembrance Day Monday this year as I walked into a local grocery store.  A slight to our veterans, I might add.  But still.  I get it.  People love Christmas.  And so do I.

In. December.

I realize that preparations have been pushed back further and further into the mid-early autumn days, so much so that often there is confusion in stores that are offering  (albeit sometimes on clearance, but still…) fall furnishings, Thanksgiving décor, Halloween decorations and Remembrance Day themed items, all while the Christmas boxes are lying in store isles waiting to be unpacked.  Meanwhile, we are unable to anticipate this most important upcoming holiday because we still don’t have closure on the one we’ve just finished.

I just want there to be a gap.  Some white space between sentences, if you will.  Let me end one train of thought before I begin another.  And breathe, even just for a moment.  That is all I am asking for- a bit of time in between holidays where one can just breathe, collect their thoughts, put away their camper and summer lawn chairs before they have to think about setting up and color co-ordinating/over-decorating the multiple artificial Christmas trees one might have set up throughout their house.  Because truth be known.  I personally still have one foot firmly planted in the season of summer, even though I am coming to terms with the fact that this is obviously fall; but might I add that autumn is as close to summer as one can get around these parts?

Call me crazy, but a few things need to fall into place for me before I can begin to embrace the Christmas preparations.  First of all, I need to come to terms with the gift list.  Who I am buying for, when the gifts need to be mailed/sent/delivered and how much I am spending.  Secondly, I need a bit of snow, a drop in temperatures and a spare second to find the five totes in my basement marked ‘winter stuff’.  And thirdly, I need my Christmas perspective firmly in place.

At the end of the day, and all humor set aside, here is my bottom line.  For me, Christmas is the wonder.  The wonder, indeed the miracle of it all.  That first Christmas batch of homemade cookies fresh from the oven.  The priceless expression on our children’s faces when the Christmas lights are turned on for the first time.  It’s un-wrapping the precious pieces that comprise my delicate nativity crèche.  And singing Christmas carols to that woman or man whose heart is breaking from receiving their devastating bit of bad news.  It’s the greatest Christmas story ever told.  Of the greatest gift ever given, wrapped in rags.  Laid to slumber in a dirty feeding box.  Born to die.

These are the reasons I celebrate the season.

It’s the simplest of things, but these are really the most profound.   They are the miracle of Christmas, and they cannot be bought in a store or sold to me by the media.   I just don’t want to miss the wonder of anticipating Christmas by spending the entire month of November waiting around for it (Christmas) to arrive.

Let’s just say that I want to wait to anticipate Christmas until I have my Advent calendar bought and the first door is spread back.  That is when I will unleash my pent up Christmas spirit.

Oh, the JOY… (or otherwise titled “The Joys of Labour Day Weekend…”)

What a Labour Day weekend I have had.  That is all I can truly say.  It was one for the record books.

We decided to take our new-to-us camper and do one more, end-of-the-summer camping spree with the gang.  Worst.idea.ever.   And now that summer is over, I cannot even look forward to a vacation from this vacation.  This is it, folks.  That’s all she wrote.  Back to reality on Tuesday.  I completely understand what sentiment in celebrating this holiday really is invoked in those of us who take the time to ponder it. And that sentiment is the end-of-summer blues.   It is a labour of self-love with a hint of self-preservation at stake just getting your sorry little self from the Friday all the fun begins to the Monday evening when it all thankfully ends. Summer is over, and we don’t need a Labour Day weekend to remind us of all the reasons we truly want to return to work and school (a.k.a.  what I mean to say is it is time for this idyllic family of six to get a little healthy separation from one another, as this being together 24/7 lost its charm around week two)  And again I say it.  What.a.weekend.


I truly have wanted to sit down with my husband and ask him where the heck we went wrong raising our four children.   But currently he is snoring/sleeping on the bottom bunk of the children’s quarters of the travel trailer.   And he is lying there beside our youngest rug rat because she happened to be scared that she might be too far away from Mommy and Daddy’s communal bed when she comes looking for us in the middle of the night. Which she will, because she does so quite frequently.   And to which, the bed that is, she makes such regular appearances sandwiched in between the two of us that we have come to believe we are model attachment parenting advocates, without actually subscribing to the philosophy on any other terms.  Suffice it to say, I no longer have the energy I once had to get up out of bed in the middle of the night to remove the appendage from my left leg that is my child.  And that is the ONLY reason this child is allowed in our bed.  I would rather have stilted sleep than broken sleep, as would be the case if I actually had to wake from my unconscious state of mind and return her to her bunk.  A mother does what she has to do to survive.  I am no exception.

But tonight, and after the weekend we have barely made it through alive, although not unscathed and without permanent battle wounds, I have had this recurring, and persistently nagging little thought whispering through my mind.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little adult conversation for a change?  Just for a change, LITTLE PEOPLE WITH WHOM I CO-EXIST?????

Sadly, the reality is that Husband and I are mostly trying to referee our four children’s bicker fests and keep them from killing one another in broad daylight than having any kind of intelligent conversation out under the stars that might stimulate us to consider camping again next summer.  And even then, the times we have started a conversation during daylight hours, our inquisitive twelve year old has interjected without fail after the first comment has been made so as to get clarification on whatever content he didn’t quite GET.  As in, he usually has some sort of question about whatever it is we are discussing. As if he was the sober second thought on all things privately exchanged between Husband and I.  Whatever happened to the good old days when kids just eavesdropped from behind a bedroom door while their parents had a discussion about some pressing matter of concern?  Kids used to actually subscribe to that age old philosophy that children should be able to HEAR without being SEEN.  I know I found this philosophy to benefit me when I was twelve.

I don’t care what anyone says.  Raising four children to adulthood will be a sheer miracle for this family. A miracle, I say.  MIRACLE.   And I for one shall be thoroughly amazed if our children end up being friends with each other after they have all left the nest.  Because the rate we are going, things are not looking very good and nor is my own relationship with said offspring looking very promising either.

So about tonight’s dilemma.  We decided to allow the kiddos to pick the bed they would sleep in for our last night camping. Stupid, stupid, stupid.  I now know what I did not know then.  That is what life is all about.  Live and learn. There has been a pecking order thus far, and everyone has personal preferences.  Of course they do.  Our kids have a preference about EVERYTHING.  Nothing gets by them, and everything matters.  They cannot let ANYTHING go because that would mean they would have to concede a victory to one of their siblings.  And we wouldn’t want that, now would we?????  But I thought we would try for one more night to give everyone a chance to try out a new bunk, in case it ever came up again in future arguments, I could say that they had been given a choice.  I like to cover all my bases.

The deal was that the first one to volunteer to brush their teeth was able to have first dibs on sleeping arrangements for our last night in the camper.  Last night, last choice.  But it was the first mistake for us as parents.  As in: it was our first mistake as parents to give our children the last word.  FAIL.  Or maybe it was our last mistake, considering the way the day unfolded in its entirety.  But who is keeping track.

Back to the sleeping arrangements.  Son jumped to get his bathroom routine over first.  So while everyone else screamed/cried about coming in second, third and fourth, we had him give us his pick as to where he wanted to sleep.  He chose, much to my chagrin, the bed our youngest had slept in every other night previous since we purchased the camper a little over a week ago.  I held my breath waiting for her bloodcurdling scream, but she was okay so long as she got second pick.  Unfortunately, our second oldest had volunteered to brush her teeth second, so you know how it goes.  The youngest was not going to get her preference.

What followed next was nothing short of world collapse.  Chaos, confusion, crying.  I couldn’t even begin to sort out the whole ordeal,  so I corralled myself into our postage stamp sized washroom and let them sort it all out.  And then, after deciding that hanging out in a washroom the size of a small closet  which was incidentally next to the crying child was not the best option, I left to walk the quarter of a mile to the campground washroom and finish up my business there.  Far.more.peaceful.

But suffice it to say, as pertaining to the final sleeping arrangements, several people were less than thrilled, and Husband eventually volunteered to sleep with the youngest,  as  I was in no mood to do so when I finally returned from my respite spent in a restroom cubicle.

I must say that the more choice our kids have, the more problems we seem to have.  And that this arguing about choices has gone on all weekend has made this mama a very tired, frustrated cranky parent.

Night all.  Peace out.  Happy Labour Day weekend.


Joy is Precious…

I have corralled my screaming child in the church bathroom.  We are finishing up a weekend of family camp, and not only is camp done, but so am I.  And then some.  I now prepare for inevitable misery that is the stage we call “packing up and heading for home.”  Everyone loves to see a party end. And so it is, I must also round up the clan, gather up all their dirty odds and ends and then clean my otherwise unrecognizable children’s dirt-encrusted bodies before we start the unravelling of the rest of the afternoon.

Let the good times roll.

So here we are, at the sink, screaming and cleansing.  A purification ritual of sorts.  The immediate purpose of our visit to the restroom is to clean sticky little hands and feet.  The greater purpose for me is to stall for time, cleaning feet here rather than trying to round them all up at home where the mood will be even more dismal.  Littlest One screams another ear-piercing trill that echoes thunder through my head.  I don’t realize this yet, but this screaming will continue long and hard as we prepare to drive for home, and will relentless follow me into the van and on down the road as I drive to our house in Mill River East.  More tears, more pleas.  I think an extra-strength Tylenol is in my not-so-distant future.

I ask my child where her shoes are.  Of course, she does not know.

The screaming abates for a moment as I try to figure out what could possibly be so wrong that she must need lose her right lung and both my ears for it. She spits out her answer, the rage evident in every word.  She is upset because…wait for it, she wants a balloon tree.  A bunch of balloons on a stick, people.  I scrub the brown bottoms of little feet while I try to talk some reason into her.  To no avail.  Thankfully, my friend comes to the rescue with the diversion of a funny story, and thereafter produces one small smile and in due time, the missing shoes.  The lost are found, thankfully.  But there is still the minor issue of the balloon tree.

I leave the bathroom, still screaming child in tow, and I meet up with a second friend.  She is talking to another, but as soon as I approach, she stops chatting and turns to me.  And this is what she says:

“These times are precious.  Some day you will look back on this and you will remember that this was a precious moment.”

I am still inwardly fuming from the exchange in the bathroom, the struggle and the meltdown.  I am in no mood or state of mind to concur that yes indeed, this is pretty precious.  Exasperating? Yes.  Infuriating? Sure.  Precious?  I think not.

But I cannot help but consider these sentiments given to me in a gesture of goodwill.  It was meant for good, and that is how I will take it.  But I will agree to disagree.

As the afternoon rolls on, and the predicted unravelling of emotions, patience and kindnesses indeed occurs, I am reminded again of her warning to me.  To consider even this to be precious.  Even this?  This undoing of my mind even as I listen to the four in the backseat of our van laying into one another?  Even this?  The teasing of one at the expense of another?  That too?  The whining?  The crying?  The boredom?  The general malaise?

But yes, even this.  For there must be some good found in even the worst of moments.  After all, it can be the best of times while also being the worst of times.  And I am determined to not let it unravel me any further.

What is precious?  That which is rare and lovely and sought after.  I do not see these frequent blow-outs as coming anything close to rare.  Nor is a meltdown even half-ways lovely.  And I am certainly not seeking ardently for an afternoon spent in misery.  But precious can also mean fleeting.  And this is true.  These moments of childhood, these rites of passage are momentary.  They are fleeting, and in and of themselves, they are strangely precious in their own little ways.

I hold Little One close tonight, drawing her into a mother’s breast, snuggled under arms of love.  Arms that cradle and hold, soothe and protect.  And she leans in to me as I read a bedtime story.  And I know the wild preciousness of it all.

Joy in the river…

Why do Mom’s cookies, eaten straight up from the cookie jar, taste best when indulged as a bedtime snack?  Gingersnaps, rolled in sugar.  Pressed with the hand, perhaps and then baked to perfection.  These sitting on this mahogany table, tempting me until I cannot resist, have crackles like tiny rivers running randomly across their golden tops, intersecting one another and then branching out to their upturned sides.  The rich scent of ginger meets my nose.  Tender pieces of moist, doughy goodness with each bite.

I need to find the cover and close the jar before I eat the whole lot of them.

And yes.  I have eaten far too much today, but it was all so good.  I can describe my encounters with food in such detail that one might think it is all I have to think about.  I made a delicious carrot cake this morning topped with maple butter icing; it was for Sarah’s 8th birthday party this afternoon.  It is moist and chock-full of REAL carrots.  So delicious.  As my father-in-law says, “Tastes like more.”  Then for a bedtime snack this evening, we had fire-roasted hotdogs over a campfire made from driftwood, followed by gooey s’mores on Celebration cookies topped with milk chocolate squares, melted underneath molten white lava.  Unbelievable.  Can one stomach contain even the thoughts of another ingested morsel ?  Alas, it is summer and that is the way of the summer.  Food and fun go hand in hand.

And what a day of fun it was.  We spent the majority of the day at the Gard family’s log cabin, nestled at the foot of a long, dusty clay lane in western P.E.I.   A quick turn to the left and a few bumps more, and there you are: destination, Hill Billy HavenHill Billy Haven, or as we call it ‘the Cabin’, is a log structure built circa 1970s.  It is one large room with a loft over the part of the cabin that once served as the dining area.  Opposite the loft, and at the far end, is a large stone fireplace built with sandstone rocks from the beaches of surrounding areas.  Many a lazy, peaceful evening has been spent playing games of Rook and cooking marshmallows at the base of that sturdy fireplace.

The beauty of the Cabin is you never have to fuss.  If food falls on the floor, no one jumps to get the broom or a cloth.  Everyone comes in with shoes on, the dirtier the better.  We sit around a makeshift table on fold-up camp chairs, underneath the dim light of a propane lantern.  And we never give a second thought to clean up or the like.  To be at the Cabin is to feel relaxed.  It is the inherent nature of the place.  It is why we come so often and stay so long.  It welcomes, doors flung open to those who grace its humble presence.  It always beckons you to come again.

The view from the stone steps of the Cabin is spectacular.  Second to none.  Through the overhanging branches, one can view far up river to distant cottages and potatoes fields, across to wooded brush and then past that to the newer, swankier lots where people have built homes on the river for their jet skis, sailboats, Catamarans and speed boats.   One can walk the length of about 10 meters and find oneself on the precipice of a cliff, created by erosion of the land.  Tree roots do their level best to keep nature at bay.  Down the rickety staircase and across the shell-strewn beach.  And on to the bath-water warm swirling liquid of Mill River.  Dirty, smelly, choked by sea grass, oyster shell-littered yet beloved Mill River.  How do we love thee?  Let us count the ways.

For starters, I have spent some of the most relaxing moments of my life on that river.  Yesterday, we idled along in the boat until we came to our cove.  Husband threw down the anchor, and the family swam in view of the Cabin.  The kids had a field day jumping off the back of the boat.  Our oldest tried his hand at tubing, while the girls enjoyed swimming and jumping off the stationary tube.  I stayed on board and read a book.  Pure, unadulterated pleasure.  One of the small pleasures of my life that I shall try to keep from feeling guilty about.

Mill River is beautiful.  On a sunny summer afternoons, when sitting up river on my in-laws property, we watch the boats do circle-eights up and down the river while we sip juice from rose colored tumblers.  And in the winter, we bundle everyone up in their warmest gear and throw skating jamborees complete with blazing bonfire.  There is always hot chocolate and cookies to keep our spirits up, whilst we skate another lap through the plowed maze shoveled by those so inclined.

I have been thinking.  I often want to go away from all of this.  Choosing to deliberately find rest and relaxation in other destinations far from home.  But living here is really like living in the Promised Land.  When those complaining  Israelites asked to go back after they had entered that land flowing with milk and honey, how deluded were they?  They had arrived in a place of exquisite beauty and providence, and yet.  It was not enough.  That is me much of the time.  I want what I do not have, and choose to willingly resist that which is mine for the taking.

This land, land which stains the feet an ocher red.   Land which meets water in thin places, sand bars stretching out dangerously into the water like jagged spikes.  Land of ancestors and future home to children’s children.  Land of promise and blessing.  Land of hope and potential.

This water, muddied by clay.  Cooling my children on this hot summer’s day.  Water with power to lift and to pull.  Water where children learn to be buoyant, tentatively striking out on their own from the shore, gaining confidence with each stroke that takes them away from me and closer to the raft.

Sky which meets land and water and creates a trio of unmatched harmony.  It is the simple things in life that bring the greatest joys.  As I am learning each and every day.  It is joy at its basic that is most precious.  And wise we are to realize this before it slips through our fingers like sand.

Joy in the little pictures (the snapshots of life)…

In a world where shootings are random and far too common place, one cannot help wondering if there is any hope for human kind to change and better the world we share.  After reading about the Batman massacre and feeling a sense of deja vous in the details of this story, I am feeling a bit helpless that this space in which we live, our shared earth which we co-inhabit alongside fellow citizens, plants and animals, is on a downward spiral toward chaos and moral disintegration.  And indeed, when looking at the bigger picture, that provided by the outlook of the media and other watchdogs in society, the picture looks grim.  It appears that we are living in perilous times.

However, the bigger picture is always the most daunting, that which overwhelms the spirit and the soul.  And this proves true whether you are looking for the positives in life or the negatives.  My husband and I have recently adopted the mantra, ‘one day at a time,’ albeit cliché, it is also certainly a most practical outlook on life.  We can only do with what we have, and at the present, we have only today.  More specifically, we have only this moment.  So, it is the small things that really count.  The small pictures or snapshots of life.   And within these smaller pictures of the here and now, one can find glimpses into the heart of people, and for those who believe, into the heart of God.  A tender touch, a kiss, a warm embrace, a kind word, a thoughtful gesture, a second glance.  Kindness.  Small graces.  It’s the little things.  All are small, but mighty ways to change the world of one.  And in due time, perhaps bring change for the hearts of many.

All this turning over of ideas and mulling of reflections and ideas about pictures, both big and small, has turned my thoughts toward success.  And what is the truth behind that word, success?    The road to success and the road to failure are almost exactly the same. (Colin R. Davis).  So then, it is the choices we make that determine the outcome.  The choice is what allows for the success.  A life well lived, whether that be on a humble scale or a more grandiose scale of a life afforded great opportunity, is what many would describe as true success.  And the opposite would also be true- a life lived despicably, whether that be on a smaller scale or again on a more grandiose scale as we have read in the newsfeed even this past week, can be a life of failure.  We were designed to be successful- to live well, know much, love deep, think broad.  But it is our choices that determine the outcome.

I love when people choose to be polite.  It gives me a glimpse into their heart, and it assures me that there is still goodness in this world.  We are camping for the month at a KOA Cornwall, P.E.I., and for the most part, the staff have been really friendly and welcoming.  The other day, I drove up to the washrooms early in the morning to have a shower, and I pulled in our van to park by the washrooms.  When I did so, it just so happened that I drove our vehicle in front of a tractor driven by a KOA staff member.  I purposely did not park on the pavement where the parking lot is located because to do so would have been to block this tractor in.  Instead, I pulled in front of the tractor and parked off the road on the grass directly in front of the washroom.  When I had turned off the ignition, and opened the door, the man on the tractor hollered loudly to me from his perch behind the wheel, “The parking lots over here, ma’am.”  I immediately apologised, got into my vehicle, waited for him to pull across, and then parked in the spot where I would have originally parked had he not been blocking my path.

How this incident made me feel.  A little bit embarrassed- because other people heard and saw the exchange.  A little bit annoyed that he had not said it in a way that might have been more kind and polite- perhaps beginning this request with the word please.  And, a little frustrated that the whole thing had occurred because I had allowed him the right of way.  Nevertheless, it was my choice to politely say, “Oh, I’m sorry,” in as nice a voice as I could muster, and then proceed to right my wrong.  But I could not quite help the feeling I was experiencing- that being, a little bit of my joy had been snatched away.  And at the first of the day, for that matter.  Sometimes the whole day can be affected by a first encounter of the worst kind.

In direct contrast to this particular employee is another KOA employee.  Actually, there are many others in contrast because this is a great campground with excellent staff on the whole.  But, there is this one teenager who drives the golf cart around and checks up on all the campers.   A maintenance man, he is the friendliest, happiest worker on the premises.  He will drive by and wave, and if he hasn’t quite caught your eye, he will turn and look back at you and then wave again just so that you see his friendly salute.  Accompanying the waves are large, joyful smiles.  He is just plain adorable.  And he waves at everyone and anyone regardless of how many times he might have waved at you already that day.  He is quite simply a joy-spender.  He spends joy freely and unabashedly on others.

And he is truly a helpful guy.  A camper pulled in next to us the day before yesterday, and their awning was not able to unfold because of a tree branch that was in the way.  So, this guy got up on top of their very high camper and proceeded to cut off the offending tree branch, all in the good will that the campers might be able to have the most enjoyable experience possible while on the KOA premises.  I have to say…I love people like this guy.  He is certainly confirmation that there are good people out there to be found.

And it is the joy-spenders of life that I focus on when the bigger picture of life seems out of whack.  Because we can fall into the false mindset, when bad things happen on a large scale, that all is bad and perhaps even people are bad.  And we can become convinced that the world is falling apart.  And indeed, society has suffered a blow, as it does every time a life is taken or a life is lost.  Life is precious, and it the very fact that we see life as precious that causes us to be alarmed and disgusted by these horrendous acts.  But everyday life is also precious- the life in which we matter-of-factly go about our business and carry through our daily routines.  That life is precious too.  And those everyday people who choose to take joy from others and those who choose to bestow it lavishly on the ones they encounter are the real game players.  They are the ones that matter for most of us.

Which has convinced me of this very thing: that the game of life is played every bit as much successfully by the players that fall below the radar- the ordinary people like you and I.  These are the ones that define success for the world at large, for we are the status quo and we can be the ones that make the biggest impact.  Because one life spent investing in the commodity of joy is worth a thousand of those who choose to take it.  And we should celebrate the successes every bit as much as we give airplay to those horrendous acts of horror.

Joy and nachos…

The moon is high over head, and the picnic table is illuminated by a citronella candle in lieu of the campfire we are without.  Forest fires have been spreading across other parts of the country, and the intense outside temperatures heating the air are such tonight that even a flicker of flame caught on a log might have ominous consequences.  So, we sit in the glow of the candle, with a little help from the brighter light of a propane lantern hanging outside the screened gazebo.   The three of us whom are sitting at the picnic table have just been presented with a heaping plate of just-from-the-oven hot nachos.  The cheese and green onion are evenly divided so that each chip has just the right amount of dressing for that perfect taste sensation.  I eye the homemade salsa sitting before me in an open mason jar, ready for dipping.  And then, I look for that perfect chip.  I am just about to raise a mouthful of gooey goodness to my lips when three little golden-haired heads appear eyeing the food on the table.

These heads belong to little people quite familiar to me, but they are not entirely welcome to partake of this spread.  At this time of the evening, my patience for entertaining anyone under the age of 18 years of age disappears as do my dirty suds from the supper dishes down the kitchen drain.  Up until this moment, the children had been sitting quietly with their friends watching a television show inside the camper.  They were out of sight, contentedly enjoying this cozy evening activity, thus allowing me to entertain the thought that perhaps, maybe (?), we four sitting might have a little adult conversation this evening.  It was just a passing thought at first, a thought that germinated to full-blown, ‘this-might-be-a-real’ possibility, when I lifted that first chip to my mouth.  No sooner had I swallowed my first bite when I saw those hungry, dark little eyes boring holes through my evening snack, and I realized that there might be a kink in the plans.

Suddenly, those nachos which looked so close- now looked so far away.

I realize that what I do next to solve my dilemma is a departing point for some.  For I could do one of two things.  Let them “eat cake” or tell them to “take a hike”.  I consider both, and then decide upon a third option.  I leave, and head back to our own camper where the snacks are not as plentiful.  In fact, the chip bags of which I did buy four, are now non-existent except for two that have two inches of crumbs at the bottom, and perhaps another inch of sand.  However, I try to convince myself that I am a ‘good-enough’ mother because I am still trying to make this work.   I am foraging for food for my children.  Even though my own nachos are cooling (i.e. being eaten by my husband) as I rummage in the dark for anything else that might suffice.  I am searching for something, anything that might equal in junk food value the excellence of a cheesy nacho.  And I am coming up extremely short-handed.

No matter.

I grab the almost empty bag of sour-cream-and-onion chips and head back to the camper we are visiting this evening.  I present the chips triumphantly to my oldest daughter.  She takes one look at the bag, turns up her nose, and says disdainfully, “No thanks.”  I guess she has more discerning taste than I give her credit for.  She looks at me as if I have just passed her a plate with raw liver jiggling on it.  If looks could kill, I’d be dead.  And I guess so would she because I am also giving her my own perfected version of the evil eye.  It is a showdown of wills measured in extreme proportions.

Undeterred, I am still unwilling to offer up my nachos, so I do the unthinkable.  I tell my three munchkins, more or less, “too bad, so sad.”  And I send them packing.  Or rather, I send them back to the camper from whence they came.  And I turn hungrily back to what was the mound of nachos.

And I am flabbergasted.

The nachos are now cold.  All the cheese has hardened into a gelatinous mound underneath the chips.  There are no more green onions.  The salsa is mostly gone.  My good mood has also departed.  My friend offers to make some more nachos, and then make another batch for the kiddos, but I do not wish to have her slaving over the food all evening just to keep the peace, so I bluntly tell her no.  She looks at me and says, “You’re a tough one,” with a look that is one part incredulous and one part amused.  She tries to break me, but I am now just flat out annoyed about the whole ordeal.  And wishing that I had just let the three of them eat the blasted nachos in the first place, because it would have been a better solution for everyone involved.

Who ever thought a little nacho platter could wreak such havoc on my mind?


*And lest anyone think I am a mean mommy, there is an epilogue to this story: the following night, we again tried to do a re-write of the above infamous night, and this time, I invited the kiddos to eat the nachos too.  They were soooo much better when we all got to dig in!*

The Things We Do For Love….

The things we do for love.

This past week, I have been more aware of how we who are parents change while we are on vacation- we become even better people than hopefully we already are.  Not a real coincidence that all this happens while parents are on vacation from the real world.  But, it is still an interesting phenomena.  How patient, unrushed and generous we are with our time, our money and our resources: all we need is a little break from reality, and we parents are some of the nicest people on the face of this earth.  Who knew?  I am usually the one wearing my crabby pants out the door in the morning, although they seem to fall off when I pull into the school parking lot.  Then, by the time I arrive home for supper each night, there they are again- right back on as if they had never had been shed.  It’s nice to know that crabby pants are not needed so much on holidays.   Although, I did pack a pair just in case.  One never knows.

While vacationing, I try to be a little more slow-paced than normal.  Thus, I am able to indulge in a favorite past-time of mine: people watching.  And it is amazing to see how many variations and differences there are in people.  I have particularly been watching parents lately, and this is what I see: the parents I am watching are by-and-large true examples of model parents.  Granted, it is not hard to be such when life is lived in the ideal world of no real home responsibilities and no employer breathing down your back.  But, let’s be serious.  Are parents ever really off the hook?  Even on vacation?

So, when I see parents being “model parents” as per the textbook definition (ha! of course there is none!), I feel a real sense of sentimentality toward them.  Because I know that even on vacation, parents are still in the trenches.  Parents may be on vacation from work, but they are never “off the hook” from parenting.  And here are a few examples.

Last night, I was in the washroom with my second youngest daughter.  We were getting ready for bed, and were the two lone night hawks still cruising the campground. We were just about ready to head back to our camper, when into the bathroom came a mother gingerly holding a quilt at arm’s length, with a shivering, feverish daughter in tow behind her.  I did not make immediate eye contact with the mom because I have been there.  Mothers dealing with sickies are not up for curious onlooker’s prying questions.  So, I minded my business while they showered off both the quilt and the daughter, and then the pair joined my own daughter and me out in the sink area to further sanitize the items, now that the larger mess had been cleaned in the shower.

Before having children, I would have thought to myself, “Gross.  Note to self: don’t use these washrooms tomorrow.  Take your disgusting  laundry and wash it elsewhere, lady.”  But now that I am a mother, and have learned that this is all part and parcel of signing on for the position, I felt great compassion for this mother/daughter duo.  I listened as the mother lovingly hummed a soft melody for her child as she carefully washed away the sickness from her daughter’s body.  I saw the mother gently wash the quilt all while, in the next sink over, her baby girl lathered up soap to her elbows so as to rid herself the traces of a feverish night.  I soaked up the love, for it was pungent.  And then, I felt it was the right time to ask.

“Do you need anything?” I ask, not wishing to pry.  But, I have been right here, in this state before; and I remember what this feels like, as hours inch towards midnight, to have a child throw up and feel desperation.  A mother’s on-call nursing duties are never on vacation.

“I have some acetaminophen,” I offer.

“Sure, I guess I will take some,” she says looking at me gratefully.  I understand this look, and I hope she realizes that we can bear this burden, even for this brief expanse of time, together.    We both continue on with our duties, and then I wish them well, and daughter and I head off into the night.

The things we mothers do for love.

The things we parents do for love.  I love watching parents with their children in the pool.  I love seeing new mothers with their precious babies- they have eyes only for that one perfect child sitting on their lap.  I love watching fathers horse around with their older children- making them squeal with delight as they toss them in the water or splash them with their cannon-ball jumps off the diving boards.  I love watching fathers and mothers teach their children to swim- fathers are often such patient swim instructors and mothers go the distance- allowing their children to swim to them again, and again and again.  Their children sponges ready to learn and soak up their parent’s knowledge.  I watch as families swim together- in groups of six, by times.  Fathers and mothers taking turns to help both little and older ones with their various needs, loving the time spent together.  I watch as moms and dads observe from the sidelines, cheering their little ones on.  There is such an easy, relaxed manner in the air, and parents are that much more attentive and available when they have little ones in the water.

The things we parents do for love.

And I remember infamous moments in my own life while on vacation.    That time I rushed my second youngest to the ER for stitches on her chin when she landed the wrong way at the bottom of the playground slide, and how she and I waited all evening  for the doctor to call us in;  then, I held my her while a doctor pulled needle and thread through delicate skin, leaving a permanent line underneath her bottom row of teeth,  to tell the tale.  I remember the time I rushed to a community half an hour from our campground to get medicine for my oldest son who was experiencing an asthma attack; and then, how adrenaline kicked in and pushed me to get there before the store closed.  Panicked I might not make it in time.  Or how could I forget that time my daughter was sick on the plane, and the on into the night, while we were on our first major international trip, or how later that week my oldest daughter caught whatever the youngest had three days earlier and then followed her sister’s lead whilst sleeping  in the hotel bed?  In the middle of the night, nonetheless, and me without anything to clean it all up.    So many other times and other experiences of which I can say to moms out there, “I understand.  I really do.”  And I believe that all these examples I have shared and the stories of mothers I have also included are important to note because they speak of what we parents do for love.

Oh, the things we do for love.