Addictions and taking baby steps

When I was a little girl, I remember this so clearly. I was perhaps eight years old or there abouts, and at the time of this memory, I was standing in the bathroom beside a cupboard used for storing towels. I asked my mother this question: “Am I good?”

My mother answered me as best she knew how, telling me that I was good as I could be. She knew me well- I could also be stubborn and strong-willed. As any child can be. But in light of her response, I remained unconvinced. I wanted more than a ‘pat’ answer. I wanted truth. And I wanted the truth to be what I believed: that she knew me as being someone kind and good. Someone inherently upright. I wanted her to say of me- that who I was, the person I was becoming, was someone worth affixing the label “good” to.

I have never forgotten that moment, although there are other moments in my life of which I still wonder about now as an adult. Times when I was bullied in my middle school years and taunted for all manner of reasons, not the least of which being that I wasn’t pretty enough, classy enough or mature enough. I remember those moments as survival, moments in which one couldn’t care less about being good. One just wished to live through it with one’s dignity intact.

I remember too, not living up to certain expectations others had of me and rebelling against the desired good in me. The little girl who strived to please became rebellious against the golden standard of ‘good’. Because it just wasn’t worth it to work so hard. Who needed good when they could be ‘bad’ and get the same attention?

I am approaching my fortieth birthday next month, but there is still a little girl inside me that cries out to anyone who will listen, “Am I good? Good enough? Am I worth noticing? Do you see me?”

I hear that little girl’s voice in my writing, when she hits “post” on a Facebook status, blog or article.

I hear her in my conversations with colleagues, friends and family.

I hear her talking in the staff room, in the classroom and in graduate level discussions with her own classmates.

I hear her at the supper table when she is talking to her children and Husband.

I hear her relentlessly ask the same question over and over and over: “Am I good?”

And interwoven throughout every conversation, every thought, every nuance of language both spoken or otherwise, she asks of those around her, “Am I worth something? Am I good?”

It is a need- an addiction, if you will. Yet one so subtle you might never even notice it (were she not to write out the truthful words of it all here). It seems so harmless, really.

We often think of addictions as being those outwardly noticeable compulsions that lead one to dependence, obsessions and habits. I admire those who are able to talk of their addictions, who are able to share their experiences. I see great courage and strength in those who tell their stories of addiction. But I have never really thought of myself as having an addiction. Never really seen such in me. Strangely, addictions can show up in the form of needs so seemingly benign- needs that we all innately crave- that these same innocent of all addictions can compel one to want something so deeply, they are willing to go to great extremes to get it. I should know- I have one of these seemingly innocent addictions. I crave positive affirmation. I just want to be good, and I always have.

I have always wanted people to think I am good. Think I am quality. As someone with value. And there is a little part of me that curls up inside when I feel disregarded. Cast off. When I feel as though I were invisible. There is still a little girl inside that feels darkness settle over her like a cloud at times. Because in truth, she has always wanted to be noticed. She has always wanted to be considered by those she holds in high esteem and even otherwise, to be enough. That girl- I know her well, she has always wanted to feel special. Always wanted to be seen. She has always wanted to be ‘enough’.

Good enough.

And at times, this obsession has become a singular preoccupation in my life, at the expense of all other priorities. That’s how it is with addictions. They take over. The first step is admission. And here I am. Telling you, my friends, that I struggle with this. I have an addiction to approval and it is at times insatiable.

For me, in living with myself and my idosyncracies, the best way of acknowledging this messy part of who I am is through my writing. I have started to live my life out loud and in the open because I love being able to share my thoughts and musings with others. I love connecting to people. Love the relationships that develop. I love creating community with my confessions, so that we can share our lived experiences together. But there is also another reason for which I have often held shame and that is this: I need people. Deeply. For many different purposes, some of which are noble. But some of which are not.

I must confess.

In connecting with other people in both private and public spaces, I am able to feed the addiction for approval. For I want it very, very much. I am able to feed the hunger for confirmation that I am ‘enough’- enough in every way, in everything I do, not the least of which is my writing. And I am able to meet this need through the encouragement I garner from things so minute as an opinion to concerns of utmost importance. Affirmation is an addiction. And it can consume a person’s thoughts. It can drive a person crazy. And there can also be shame. Shame in admitting all of this messiness about my truthful self ‘out loud’; for who wants to be seen as needy and weak?

I am nearing middle age and yet, I still want to be perceived as admirable. I still desire to please others so as to hear them tell me how good I am. And all this, even though I know I am loved. Even though I know that I am cherished by a Father. Even though I know. My head admits it, yet my heart still needs some convincing by times. I still have that need for approval even though I know that who I am is who I have always been meant to be.

Even though I know.

So I take comfort tonight: that confession is a baby step toward healing. Believing in myself and my inherent worth is a close second. Knowing I am loved and cherished and teaching this to my heart, the underlying foundation.

I press on. Tonight I walk forward, making progress with baby steps.

One little footstep at a time.

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.

Why I don’t support Shaming…among other bad spiritual tactics.

There is a problem with the church today- a problem that runs deep and wide and long.  It’s created a chasm actually and an exodus. It’s a problem sourced by a history of church practices and traditions that serve to verify its authenticity as real and overt.  It’s a problem all right.  And that problem is shaming, specifically the shaming of people, both Christian and otherwise.  Shaming them into becoming better Christians (or at the very least, A Christian).  Shaming them for their sins.  Shaming them for their choices.  Shaming them for not living up to a certain standard.  Shaming them for not upholding expectations.  Shaming people for reasons even I can’t conjure up.  Shaming in the name of faith and religion.  Shaming for the sake of shaming. Friends, shaming people into making choices or following up on decisions or acting on their conscience or into living for Jesus is no way for the church to conduct its mandate.

I recently read an article by the Naked Pastor that was written in regards to a hoax that has been circulating around the Internet.  The hoax is about the fictional pastor Jeremiah Steepek who dresses up as a homeless man and then attends the church he will be pastoring, prior to ever showing face to the congregation formally.  In the said hoax, Pastor Steepek goes around trying to connect with various parishioners, failing to get anyone to talk to him, let alone help him with his troubles.  At the end of his charade, he reveals himself to be their new pastor from the pulpit and proceeds to shame the congregation into crying and feeling horrible for their actions toward him.  You can read more about it here.

At first when I read the article, I personified the pastor as the homeless man.  I saw the ‘homeless man’ as the story.  What I identified with was the problem we have in our society of not seeing people as God sees them: beautiful and precious and lovely.  A work of God made even in His own image.

But after considering a wise friend of mine’s perspective, another angle emerged.  And that angle was the shaming that occurred in that church as a fall out of the rejection some of the congregation had towards this pastor-cum-homeless person.

The author of the above article, David Hayward, says this:

The church’s number one tool to get what it wants is shame. I have been the victim of shaming so many times I can’t even count. I have used it so many times I can’t even count. When I think back on the times I’ve been shamed I get angry. When I think back on the times I’ve used it I feel remorse. It’s the church’s primary language. We grow up with it in our families, our schools, our jobs and our churches. Shame is used against us every single day of our lives so persistently and sometimes so subtly that we don’t even realize it anymore.

Shame is a motivator, but not permanently, and not in significant and meaningful ways. It gets something done now, but it destroys hope and character in the long term. Love is the best motivator. If it isn’t out of love, then it’s not a healthy motivation.

            I am a teacher of kindergarten students.  There are many times in the day when my students disappoint me for reasons based on the fact that they are four and five year olds.  They are busy.  They don’t always pay attention to everything I say.  And sometimes they outwardly ignore it.  If I was to use shaming as an instructional tactic, not only would I be out of a job, I would permanently damage these children in ways I cannot even word right in an article of this length.  I would destroy the goodwill I have set as a foundation of our classroom interactions and I would undermine my role with them as a nurturing support in the place of their parents.  As a teacher, I am mindful to always err on the side of gentleness when dealing with students.  Do I do it one hundred percent of the time?  No.  But it is the underlying goal in my mind as I go about my day.  To create an atmosphere of respect, understanding and possibility- always working within a Vygotskian theoretical framework that promotes positive, achievable growth.  Here’s Vygotsky’s mantra: “Show me what you can do, and then I’ll help you get a little better at it.”

Would that the church as an establishment would follow a little advice of this themselves.

What we need as a Church is to see God for who He really is, not for the interpretations we have of Him.  God is a Father- a perfect, loving, understanding, gracious, accepting, committed father unlike this world has ever known.  When I think of myself as a parent, I know that each day I get up in the morning I give my best self to my four precious children.  I don’t wake up dreaming of ways to shame them into following what I want them to do.  I don’t dream up ways of how I am going to coerce them into doing what I say.  And I don’t try to conjure up as many ideas as I can for how I can make their lives miserable.  I strive to not be that parent.

No.  I love them. I admire them.  I am proud of them.  And I would die for them if need be.

And so would God.  So did He.

And if we can see God that way- as Love personified, than we ought also to see his people- The Church in the same manner.  We must see the church as God sees them.  For the church is His Beloved.  They are his Bride.  He loves us i ways we can not even begin to understand.  And as a Father, we are His children.  The depths and heigths of that great love and mercy and grace and compassion for us can never, ever be underestimated. 

It is time we started loving people the way God does.

There is a beautiful passage of scripture that we recite often at weddings about love.  But friends, this passage ought to be the pulse of our hearts as Christians.  I Corinthians 13 :4- 8

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”

That’s God’s kind of love.

So why do we as the backbone of the church still see Him as One who wants to make our lives miserable?  Why must the church backbone be the primary voice behind this message?  And why can’t we stop using shame as our primary motivational tool to motivate people and start living the love we know God is?

The Power of Encouragement

Cool winds blow as the sun goes down on yet another work week. I grab my laptop computer from the back seat of the van- a bag full of papers, my purse and jacket, then head for the house. Stone walkway under my feet showing signs of wear. Four cats waiting on the steps.
And I sigh. I have really been discouraged lately. So many things coming at me from all directions and they all seem to culminate during the month of November. Parent-teacher interviews, report cards, committee meetings, community and church commitments, university papers due, sickness in the family. And then there’s just the regular,old day-to-day grind- running thither and yon with kids in tow while I drag bag upon bag of STUFF everywhere I go. Grocery bags, back-packs, Zuca figure skating bags. My big, black purse. It feels sometimes like I’m living out of these bags. Add to all the above- the weather is changing and I think I just might have a touch of seasonal affective disorder.

And I’ve already mentioned my thoughts on Christmas being right around the corner.

Yesterday, I spent the better half of the morning at the dentist fixing yet another broken, worn-out tooth. Gotta love root canals. And this morning, Husband woke up with what he perceived as being a piece of gravel in his eye which turned out to actually be a wood chip. He spent the morning at the hospital and now is sporting an eye patch which gives him a slight edge over Jonny Depp as my most favorite-est pirate ever.
I arrive home to find him on the couch with Youngest sprawled over the top of him like an afghan. “I’m hunnnnngry,” she whines. And so it begins. Welcome to my Friday.

I sit down at the computer to take a peek at messages and e-mails when I find it. A letter from a woman I know vaguely. Opening the letter, I am completely taken back by the words I read. And what I read was this: the most beautiful, sweetest note I have ever received about one of my children from outside the family.

The tears started to fall as soon as I realized what the letter was about. It was a note of encouragement- completely unexpected. Apparently, I have a child who has befriended a child in class who is experiencing some difficulties; and this child of mine has used every opportunity to make a special connection with this other child- so much so, that my child’s name has been coming up at home as someone very special to this other child. Particularly in light of some of the extenuating circumstances going on with the child in mention. The letter was detailed and the closing line said this:
“I just wanted you to know that you have an amazing {child’s gender} and ask if you could please thank {your child} for me. I’m sure you’re very proud of {them}.”

I couldn’t hold back the tears. Honestly. It just blew me right out of the water.

And it reminded me yet again of the strength one can find in encouragement. Encouragement: it’s such a simple concept yet so profound. We can make the choice to say words that tear down or say words that build up. And even more significant- when we think a good thought about someone, we can choose to keep that good thought to ourselves or we can choose to share it.

How many times have I thought something about someone that made that person stand out as special and unique in my mind, but then got distracted and forgot to tell them what I was thinking? Too many times to count. And I miss out on sharing how that person has touched my life- and they miss out on feeling encouraged.

After I received that note today, I got to thinking: it wouldn’t take much to write a quick note to ten different people about either something they’ve done that I noticed as unique and important- or something someone connected to them has done that just made my day better in one way or the other. It wouldn’t take much effort. But in so doing, ten people would potentially have that same overwhelming feeling of encouragement that I had when I arrived home today. Which would be so worth it. Such a little thing to do- write a note of encouragement- but so very, very profound.

So. I want to challenge the people that read this tonight: think of ten people who have touched your life in a special way. Or not. Think of ten people that you know might just need the encouragement. Maybe they are not the kinds of people that hear nice things said about them very often: those people need encouragement the most. Or think of ten children of ten friends of your’s that you know you could say something nice about. Ten co-workers. Ten neighbors. Ten random people that you vaguely know but whom you know enough about to encourage. And just do it. Encourage them. Write something really special and see what it does for both you and them.

I’ve been discouraged lately. Maybe a lot of us have been. Anybody there? Anybody with me on this one?

Here’s what I know for sure about discouragement: it flips itself on its back when faced with an encouraging word. Discouragement doesn’t stand as much of a chance when over shadowed by encouragement. That little note tonight did more to lifts my spirits than that woman could ever imagine.

What little note could you write tonight that might make all the difference?

Smiles are beautiful. Period.

There are times when I scrutinize the reflection I see in the mirror. And I don’t like what I see the majority of the time. Is that surprising, really? We are our own worst critics, and when we look in the mirror, what are we usually looking for?

Areas needing improvement.

The other day, a friend forwarded to me a video of her fifteen year old son’s impromptu violin recital. It was beautifully executed. I was in awe, as I believe he might have learned largely by ear. At any rate, when the song finished, he turned and faced the camera and grinned a huge happy, goofy grin. From ear to ear. Now I could tell you that this boy is special for a number of reasons. First of all, he’s brilliant. Second of all, he is talented in ways I can only imagine. Add to all the above, he is a very special teen who also happens to have Asperger’s Syndrome. And he is a pretty funny guy, from anything I’ve seen. One liner’s seem to be his specialty.

But. The one thing that struck me about him was: his smile. It was not only infectious, it was completely lacking in self-conscious awareness. He smiled with complete abandon and total delight. I find these kinds of amazing smiles (as his was) like little rays on sunshine. I see them inside my classroom often. I see them on the playground, in the hallways at school and on the weekends. Mostly, I see young children sporting these smiles. But when I see teens smiling like this, my heart feels like it could explode. Because it tells me something. That it is okay to LOVE ourselves. It’s okay!!!! better than okay. We don’t have to stop being our own greatest cheerleader when we graduate from Grade 6. And we don’t have to stop LOVING OURSELVES when we leave the halls of elementary school. We can love ourselves at any age. As teens. As university students. As Moms. As Dads. As grandparents. As humans of any age.

So many times, I am given a compliment, and I turn it down. And so many, many times, I will give another woman a compliment, and she will completely brush it off as if it is a complete falsehood. When did we stop seeing the best in ourselves? And why must we persist in turning every good thing we hear about ourselves into an insult, a joke, a downplay, a nervous laugh or a denial?

You know, I have always been self-conscious of many things. One of which is my smile. So when other kids were suffering through the torture of braces, I was idyllically smiling my crooked grin like there wasn’t a care in the world. But somewhere along the line, I got really self-conscious about my smile. And when it came time for grad pictures, I didn’t smile. And when it came time for wedding pictures, same thing. And through the years, I tried to hide from the camera. Stating that I am just not photogenic. Using the excuse that I am one of those people who couldn’t take a decent picture.

But when I saw my friend C. the other day, smiling his heart out, I realized something. Smiles are truly beautiful. No qualifiers here. If you can find it in yourself to smile, there is no more beautiful expression of precious humanity than that. Smiles are priceless. And we should never, ever berate a smile.

I have never seen the best in myself. I have always believed I have an ugly smile. Which is a true travesty. Because truly every smile is beautiful. Unique. One-of-a-kind.
They are all: Perfection.

And it took a fifteen year old boy’s smile to show me that believing the best in other people is not enough. Seeing the best in my family is not enough. If I don’t see the best in myself, then it is a loss from every angle. A great loss for the people whom I try to influence (my students and my children) and an even greater loss for the person I am stuck with the most: myself.

We need to see the best in ourselves. We are beautiful. We are wise. We are amazing. And no words another human can ever say will mean as much as those that affirm the best about yourself. We need to tell this to ourselves. I AM BEAUTIFUL, just as I am. I am amazing just the way things are. I am the best I can be at this given moment. And that is all I am accountable for each day: this moment I am in right now.

And then. When we finish the pep talk, we need to believe it in our heart.

The joy of (brief) getaways…

I had a conversation the other day with a friend on the subject of, among other things, how absolutely fantastic and wonderful my children indeed are.  She said it first.  And yes, you read that right- I, the mother that tells it all, just like it is, agreed that my children were amazing little individuals.  And while I did agree with her synopsis, it is necessary to add that I was also high on the weekend buzz that is a late Friday afternoon full of promise, so I do confess that my judgment may or may not have been slightly clouded.

And so I say.  That these same children whom exhibit less than desirable behaviors that I write about in my lengthy, candid blogs and discuss openly and honestly on Facebook  and other social mediums are actually quite fabulous and incredible when all is said and done.  In fact, they are awesome.   And I can say this and believe it because every single one of them is now tucked away in their various sleeping cubicles in our house.  And all is well in the world again.  Blessed silence.

Notable mention: I am most generous with my descriptive writing allowances after hours.

Actually, even as little as one hour ago, I would have begged to differ with the above commentary.   My children, I would have contended, are the opposite of great; they are horrible little beasts intent on my utter ruination and eventual demise.   And I was thinking all this (in no uncertain terms, albeit quietly to myself) as I drove out the driveway to get a break from the mayhem that is the witching hour at our house: bedtime.

In fact, I was so convinced I would under no circumstances be persuaded to think anything to the contrary that I was actually talking to myself about this very matter as I drove feverishly up the road.  And I must say that I felt this feeling of doom and despair more or less until I arrived home again to our sweet little yellow house on the corner of Gard and Mill River East Road.

Indeed, I felt this pervasive melancholy settle and weigh down on me until I had taken an entire hour to cool my jet engines.  During which time I felt the urge to go the Dollar store and buy a bag of otherwise useless items that will gather dust on a shelf somewhere.  And then another urge to go to Foodland and buy up the last seven pie pumpkins they had on the shelf, along with two bags of sweet bar-b-q potato chips (and a few other things that brought my total to just under forty smacks).  Just because.   And all this, because retail therapy works, and I live in West Prince (P.E.I.)

So these are the places I shop at 9:00 p.m. on a Monday evening.

But when I came home.  Oh, the feelings that came over me.  For starters.  I found a report that my diligent daughter had revised and edited- a writing project that was not assigned for homework, but which she corrected and re-wrote anyway so as to show her teacher what she is capable of doing.  And I believed again that children are wonderful creatures- full of promise.  Then, I had a conversation with my husband about another of our children and some struggles they are going through at home and school of late.  And I believed again that children need patience and understanding.  And room to grow.   And later still, I walked into a darkened bedroom and watched my oldest child gently sleeping.   And I believed again that this parenting hat is the most important hat I will ever wear: raising our children to live up to the high esteem in which they are held, both by God, the community, family and by us as parents.  Raising them to be honorable, diligent, respectful, humble, ambitious, loving, honest, kind and truthful individuals.  To be as awesome as a person can possibly be in this world, with God’s help and guidance.  So that we as parents can be fully proud and humbled at one and the same time by the children that will someday rise up and call us blessed.  Whom I believe will be grateful for all we’ve done.

Because I know I am.  Grateful.  For all I have been blessed with in this life, both past and present.

When all is said and done, I still believe that sometimes what a parent needs is to escape the crazy house and the bedtime frenzy so as to remember this simple truth: kids are great.  They are actually pretty awesome.  And even as little as an hour away can help us remember that and put our lives into perspective.

The Beauty of Today (Living in the Moment)

As a mom, I feel pressure to capture and preserve every waking moment of my four children’s lives. To photograph, video-tape, blog, anecdote; to keep a baby calendar, baby-record book, family scrapbook, and personal diary; to Facebook, Pinterest, Tweet and Instagram for the love of my children; and to do things the old-fashioned way: write them down on whatever piece of paper I might find stashed away in my purse.  In years past, I had been known to date, detail and file photographs of my little ones the same day as they were printed.  I have also lost sleep so as to record baby milestones in four separate Winnie-the-Pooh record books.  I have written blog posts into the wee hours of the night, trying to encapsulate every detail of an event involving my precious children.  And I have written weight, height and head circumference numbers on the back of receipts found inside my purse, only to discover these jottings months later, realizing I forgot to write down which child the stats belonged to.   In my best efforts not to forget the here and now, I might just have missed at times, the most important part of the present:  the beauty of reveling in and appreciating the simplicity of big and small moments.

Tuning out the noisy demands of technology, and instead allowing time spent with my children to be the focal point of my heart.

A few short years ago, a mother I was acquainted with at the time experienced a house fire.  When I went to visit her later in the afternoon, she was understandably in a blurry daze.  Her house was still smoldering in the distance, and she was left to pick up the pieces and forge ahead for the sake of her family and her children.   What she was most bothered by that infamous afternoon, secondary to the obvious loss of her beloved home and belongings, was the destruction of her three sons’ baby record books.  Although her boys were safe and sound and there was no loss of life, it was reasonable for her to grieve the cost of losing this most precious treasure: the chronicle of her children’s lives up to that fateful experience she was living that very moment.  It was heart-wrenching to watch her sadness.

And I understood on many levels what she was feeling.  I knew from my own record-keeping the memories those pages held and the time invested in chronicling those recollections.  Precious memories: that first of all photographs- the ultra-sound picture.  The miniscule hospital bracelet with baby’s vital stats.  The stories lovingly crafted while reminiscing and detailing the events of a baby shower or first birthday party.  The health record, complete with immunizations and reactions.  That first curl, snipped and carefully sealed inside an envelope.  A tiny hand-print and foot print sealed in black ink.

Priceless reminders, these icons of the baby years.  They are irreplaceable.  But they are merely symbols of life, and thankfully for this friend, the lives they stood for were still with her.

Another friend and I were speaking a few years later, this time meeting up in a grocery isle at Walmart.  The conversation again centered around loss and symbols, only this time the loss was the child.  As precious as the remaining symbols were to this mother- the little sleepers, the photographs, the receiving blankets, they could not replace the child they represented.  They were but painful reminders of what could have been.  A life abrupted.

As much as the chronicling of my own children’s lives means to me, the records I’ve kept are disposable.  The pictures fade, the plaster cracks, the baby clothes I carefully washed and folded away are all now musty, in spite of my best efforts.  Even the memories of time well spent fade and dissolve a bit in the passage of time. But what remains, in spite of my best efforts to preserve all that matters to me, are the relationships forged.   The things that stay intact in my mind are the feelings.   For I know at the end of the day, I may not remember everything about today, but I have carved out time to be part of my children’s lives.  And they know my love through my use of time.  Watching them play soccer after school, sitting side-by-side practicing piano, lovingly sudsing up fine baby hair with fragrant shampoo.  Holding hands, kissing cheeks, family hug fests.  Building ‘I love you’ into the actions, not just the words.  And for every parent who has suffered a loss, from one extreme to the next: know this.  You built love into your child and that is the greatest document to a life well-lived that there ever will be.

Time invested is a testament to the very essence of love.

So when I start to feel guilt that I haven’t updated my children’s  baby books, I gently remind myself that it is not the updates that count: it’s the beauty of the moment.  Although I still feel there is far too much pressure on parents to record every detail of our lives for infinity, I’m not advocating that we stop altogether.  We live in a digital age in which pictures are posted to a global community within seconds of being taken, where posts and statuses and blogs are updated at times on a minute by minute basis and where video is live streamed.  And the advances of technology have made it so much easier for parents to keep a chronicle of their children’s lives.  So I’m not going to stop record-keeping:  I’m just going to pull my head out from behind the camera and watch my kids with the naked eye rather than always observing them from through the lens of a camera.

Over the years, I have been inundated with ways in which to preserve today’s memories for future generations.  But there is no time like the present in which to really live.  And I say these are the moments that count.

The Joy of Being Present…

A dear ‘stay-at-home mama’ friend of mine wrote her Facebook status today on ‘being present’.  She briefly addressed the fact that she is with her children daily, but she is not always present with them.  In this update, she vowed to be more present and ‘in the moment’ than she had failed to be in days previous.

Which got me thinking.  Is that really necessary?  To be present?  And so I challenged myself to be present all day and aware of my children and their importance to me.  And, in even a greater way, to be more aware of everything around me.  So as to be present in this day I am in.  In the moment.  And in so doing, I would know whether or not there is validity in being such and if it is a worthwhile task.

I’m always up for a challenge.

And so, I tried to be very present as the sun came up.  I was present when I woke up to the chortle of nearby campers enjoying their breakfast and having a jolly good time about it all.  I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, but who wants to sleep through a party?  So I dragged my haggard self out of bed and tried to sneak out the side door without starting my own party here in our little ‘still-sleeping’ haven of rest.

I was present during my shower in the communal bathroom here on the campground, particularly when I forgot my shampoo.  Thank heavens for that sample I swiped from the hotel during March Break.   I was present when I returned to our camper and my daughter was hopping around in desperation/fear she would again pee her pants because I was her one ‘pass’ to the washroom, and she had to wait my return from the shower so as to GO. Present when I dropped the coffee grounds all over the camper floor.  Present again, when I zipped up my favorite Jacob top in my suitcase zipper, and even more present when I had to borrow scissors from a fellow camper to cut it out.  I was present.  In the moment, baby.

Still not convinced of its validity, I pressed on.

I was present throughout mid-morning activities.  Present when I found an earwig floating in my dishwater and then when the fridge leaked water all over the camper floor.   Present when a prospective buyer showed up to look at our camper this morning just after breakfast and before I had a chance to clean/de-clutter and again present when my daughter had a meltdown because she was hungry and a roll would not appease, coincidentally timed at just the moment this same family were traipsing through our dirty, unclean camper (leaving me no choice but to buckle her in her car seat in our van until the showing was over); present when thunder clouds rolled in right at dinner time forcing us whom are ‘picnic-ers’ by force, to come sheepishly to my parent’s door, food and laundry in hand.  I was present even then.

Again, I was present when the kids were fighting intermittently throughout the day, when the rush for supper was in full swing and we were rushing, rushing, rushing (so that we might not miss our evening’s entertainment).   When Gatorade spilled and kiddos were not hungry, and present still when we made a mad dash to the movie theatre: sweaty, tired and unkempt- brushing hair even in the parking lot.  Only to find out that we still had another twenty minutes until the movie would begin to play.

I was present at the theatres when we played musical chairs, when popcorn spilled, when Little Ones thought the movie was too scary, and then again when everyone had different ideas about which store in which to shop in after the show ended.  Present when we arrived back home to our camper, and as we were pulling in to the campground, Youngest issued disparaging remarks to the Oldest, upon which Oldest proceeded to lecture his father on how lax we are in disciplining the Youngest.  Thus, putting a damper on an otherwise pleasant evening.

And I am currently present in this moment.  Whilst Youngest cries and sobs for water at one hour to midnight and all the while, Older Ones complain about her crying.  Oh, I am present.  And then some.

Contemplating going it solo in the backseat of the van, but still present indeed.

And I have come to this conclusion: I think being present in all these moments has just about killed me.  I’m not that strong.  And I just want to be detached in a few of them.  Rather, a lot of them.  So, here I sit, even whilst the youngest cries and screams and her father is forced to get up out of bed and deal with the discipline.

And I meanwhile just tap, tap, tap the keys of this laptop while balancing it on my lap as I sit on the edge of a lumpy camper mattress.  Only ten feet away from my screaming child.  And I must say, I have reached a verdict.  I am no longer in the moment.  Rather, I am feeling very detached and working on being oblivious to all the chaos going on around me.

And it is a very good place to be.  In this moment.

Joy in letting it all ‘hang out’…

Bedtime rituals bring out my inner grizzly bear.  There are always impulsive exceptions to the rule introduced by the Fearless Foursome.  Exceptions that just about tilt my boat enough to sink it entirely.  Nothing ever goes exactly as per routine.  I roar for the majority of this most miserable of nightly moments, and then I am silent.  Because what good does it really do?  To roar and rage.   I am cranky, they are cranky; all are spent.  The two oldest have a near brawl over a money-making scheme that both have laid claim to patent the idea.  They want to open up a dog-walking venture here on the campground, and the business partners have been in start-up mode for all of one hour and are already at odds.  One has gone to bed fuming, the other crying.  Must it really be this wretched at bedtime or am I a glutton for punishment?

Prayers are forced tonight.  No one is really in the mood.

This was not really my day, this moment I am in right now.  I can adjust the gauge and turn back the dial.  Earlier, things were actually peaceful.  There was that moment.  That moment at the park, that moment of tranquility.  I go there.  That moment when I was transported back in time.

I am ten years old.  My feet pump beneath me as I stretch toward the tree line.  I try to beat each rhythmic swing of the pendulum created by my body’s weight.  Every time, I push my feet higher.  From my vantage point, my feet clear the evergreens off in the distance.  Ah!  I am just a little girl, no holds barred, ponytail swinging in the wind.  Every upward swing-return I make takes me back again to another place, another time.  To sweet, sweet childhood.  Simply free to enjoy all that life has to offer, its sweet, innocent goodness.

My girls and I play ‘Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown’ on the seesaw.  I am the dead weight on one end, while my two daughters take turns tottering up and down.  They laugh and giggle with joy.  “Come down the slide with us,” they call, but I have already made enough of a spectacle of myself.  Other campers more dignified, more refined than I, sit watching the crazy woman playing her heart out like a middle-schooler.  They poke sticks in their metal grates from which burn red-hot coals bursting flames.  They yawn with boredom and check their Facebook.  They call out to their children to stay clear of the road.  They look at me with detached amusement, for I am the anti-thesis of all this.  I am woman-child.

Joy.  Today, I follow my heart.  My heart tells me this.  Enjoy this moment.  And this moment.  And all the rest that follow.  For they are fleeting.  Forgive and forget.  Life is short.  Life is fragile.  Live, love, laugh.  Be all the clichés.  Don’t, but even for a moment, regret a thing.  Yesterday is what it is. Tonight might be a nightmare: stress-filled stomach-clencher of a nightly  moment, when all are locked up tight inside twenty-four feet of wall-to-wall mattress-filled confusion. What do I care? I need not fret about that.  And to be sure, tomorrow will take care of itself.  Even if there is that rain shower they have been predicting.  Bring it on.   I am what I am right now, and that is all that matters.  The present.  The here and now. The moment.

I let things ‘hang out’ today.   I never put a stitch of make-up on to cover up my imperfections.  I normally cannot see the light of day without my cover-up.  I hide behind my mask. And most days, I hide behind my clothing.  And so. Today I did not. I spent the entire day in my two-piece bathing suit.  I bared my arms and legs, those white extensions befitting of a stick figure.  Or rather.  Those pillars of strength that propel me to motion covered in varicose veins, bruises, marks, blemishes and a swath of deathly white skin.  White skin, splotched with red patches, now that I have tried my hand at sunbathing the last day or two.  But these are hard-earned battle scars.  The result of birthing four babies.  I wear the marks of motherhood proudly. Even if but for the day.

I did.   I let it all ‘hang out’ today.  I stood on the end of the diving board, looking down at my bathing suit, containing the slight protrusion of my belly in its bottom half with a good, solid piece of elastic; this two-piece wonder of a garment I am wearing has given me no promises to hold things together if I take the plunge.  I vowed to myself that I would do the necessary checks before emerging in plain view of all those other onlookers.  None of them, needing the shock of a lifetime.  I stood.  Inhaled.  Exhaled.  Had not a second thought.  A slight jump, then I soared.  Like a dove, in my mind’s eye.  Probably more like a spread-eagle bullfrog, to all those looking on.  No matter.  It felt great.  To let it all ‘hang out’.  I’d do it all again right now, just for the thrill.

I talked to strangers at the dog park.  I wanted to leave and carry on with my plans for the afternoon, we did have company coming for supper, but instead: I allowed myself the moments necessary to meet someone new, hear their story and learn a little more what it is to be human.  It is so freeing.  To let go of my plans, and embrace the freedom to be ‘in the moment’.

I put a full pot of coffee on tonight and only had one cup.  Because it is better when you make the full pot.  I dug out the s’mores, the licorice, the chocolate bars.  We strung the patio lanterns.  I read a book that will never increase my brain cells, even one iota.  I had that extra chicken sandwich at supper, just because.  The second tasted even better than the first.  And tonight, I write for the pleasure of it.  Because to write for me is to understand.  And now I know.

I do this, and all that of which I write just because.  These are for me moments of freedom.  And I know that tomorrow will be that much easier because I let it all hang out today.

It is a joyful, crazy life…

Ever had one of those days when you think you have all the time in the world, and then you discover you’ve forgotten something particularly significant?  As in, picking up a child attending an after- school program?  Yeah, me neither.  But, let’s just say that “were” this to happen, it might go down like this:

If it were to ever happen that I forgot someone so essential, so important, as a child, I would probably have left work earlier than usual; and as I never really allow myself relaxation time, I might have given in to the fatigue and had a forty-five minute visit with my friend who also happens to babysit for us.  I just might have left her house at 4:30 p.m. so as to get home in time to make supper.  But, as I would be nearing our driveway, I would notice my son’s Robotics Instructor driving into the driveway of our next door neighbor’s house.  Strange, I might think to myself, but who knows?  Maybe he has made a new friend in the quiet grandmother who lives in the house next to ours?   She could use the company.

I would then pull into the lane leading up to our house, and I would just be about to get out of the vehicle when my cell phone would ring.  Then, the Robotics instructor also would pull in beside me at precisely the same time as my cell phone is ringing.    I would probably not have to worry about the fact that everyone in the country side would be aware that I had forgotten my child (as all my emergency contact information would by now have been called) because I would not know this small detail until much later on. It would turn out,  in this imagined scenario, that my son would be stranded at the school with only the principal and janitor for company, and he would have been waiting for me for at least 40 minutes, prior to my grand entrance with hungry, tired siblings in tow.

As I would pull into the school parking lot, I would then make a feeble attempt at an apology to the principal, who would be waiting on the bottom of the steps with my son.  His reply to me would be this, “It will make for good writing material for your Huff Post column.”

Thankfully, I am not notorious for forgetting my children in all manner of places as well as being late for pretty well everything I am involved in.  And if I was, I would certainly not admit it on Facebook.

So, needing a bit of a break from my day dreaming, I quickly throw supper in the oven tonight and sit down for fifteen minutes of further mindless entertainment, otherwise known as creeping people’s Facebook statuses on my homepage.

To say this is a mistake is a bit of an overstatement.  Let’s just say this:

Supper was stellar tonight. Who knew that cooking food at 475 degrees would actually not only save time, it would also ruin appetites?  What with the burned chicken fingers, the four bar-b-qued hotdogs leftover from Sunday and the corn that arrived half-way through the meal, as I had too many items lined up for the microwave to cook in time for the meal’s commencement, it was a burnt offering at best.  Part way through the feast, a little one jumps up and makes a run for the toilet.  Minutes later, same child calls me from the bathroom.

“Moooooooom, I’m dooonnne.”  I look at my plate with its meager portions.  Growing colder by the minute.  More pitiful under the light of our candelabra, minus its two burnt-out bulbs.  And I decide that eating it cold makes no difference.

In the bathroom, I try to hurry up the job as quickly as possible.   Wiping at any time of the day is not my forte.  And as it all vaguely resembles something on my plate, particularly now that the darkened chicken was charred beyond recognition, I am also trying not to inhale the fumes.  Unfortunately, I drop a wad of used toilet paper on the floor, soiled side down.

So now I have to clean the floor too.  Just great.

And so it goes.  And so it goes….

“It might be a crazy life” (a.k.a. Jon and Kate Plus Eight), but if there was ever any financial offer made and a reality television show to boot that would pay us to video tape our lives for an audience of millions, I’d do it all over again.