On Your Graduation…

I sit back, watching them interact in the dramatic play center, mixing up imaginary food and having fun with the farm set and dinosaur bin. Role-playing. Make-believing. Pretending. Watch them piece together chain links with number pendants to make dog leashes for the play puppies and creating Lego masterpieces in the Math and Science center. I observe their little hands fashioning airplanes and hearts and all manner of interesting creations from our well-used set of classroom Wiki-Stix. Watch them as they chatter and converse over lunch. Listen to their banter.

This thought does not escape me: how quickly these tender years fly by.

Just yesterday you too were an innocent five year old boy. Tractors and Gators and trucks and cars your preferred toy. Lego came next, followed by bikes with training wheels and soccer balls. Anything John Deere for quite some time. And oh the books. Loads and loads of books. Dog-eared copies of a few.

Where did the time fly off to?

Blink my eyes, and you are five years old. Blink again and now you’re a fine young man waiting to start the final chapter of your last three years at home.

Do you know how proud we are of who you are? Proud of who you have been and proud of who you are becoming?

Right now, you are exactly who you were meant to be, and we couldn’t love you anymore today than we already do.

The older I get, the more I am appreciating the little moments I am given. Tonight, I borrowed your coat that I had given you for Christmas, wearing it for my walk. It still strikes me strange that you are now taller than I. I will never lose the picture in my mind of you- that tiny baby boy I held in my arms nearly fifteen years ago. I remember clutching you fiercely to my chest, wanting to shelter and protect you. A mother’s shielding embrace. And now your strong arms wrap around my shoulders when I lean in for a hug. I cannot quickly adjust to this change in roles; I am now the one who looks up to you.

As you and your classmates move into this next phase of your youth, remember who you are. You all belong to someone. And you, Son, are ours: a boy born to two parents who have loved you even before you were born. When someone is loved, as are you, that someone might not realize what this privilege entails. Our love for you encompasses the following:

It promises to always provide as we are able.
Covenants to continually be involved, available and present.
Commits to see you through the tough times as well as the best.
Gives its word that it will stand by you, whatever it takes.

Just yesterday, it seems, I was a young mama waiting by the gate for a little boy to come bounding up the walkway from his first day of school.

Blink and there you were.
Blink again and here we are.

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For All Those Who Cannot Face Mother’s Day

When my mother turned 65, my sisters and I had pre-planned a quiet celebration for her at a local café called Samuel’s.  We met on a dreary Sunday afternoon for chai lattes, specialty coffees and cheesecake, while rain misted the windows and sidewalks outside the old heritage building housing the restaurant.  Upon leaving, we huddled together in the parking lot for a picture of this momentous occasion, quietly celebrated between three sisters, one sister-in-law and our beloved mother.  Shortly thereafter, we left and went our separate ways- unaware of what was to transpire just mere hours later.

That evening, my mother received a phone call from the manor where her sister and mother both resided, living side-by-side in adjacent rooms.  Her one and only remaining sibling, her sole (soul) sister, was physically very low.  Would she please come?  There were no guarantees of how much time was remaining.  My mom gathered up her belongings and left the next morning for Fredericton, and for the remaining two weeks prior to her sister’s home-going to Heaven, my mother stayed by her side.  Holding her hand.  Rubbing lotion into her soft skin. Adjusting pillows and uttering soft words of comfort.  Loving her sister the best way she knew how.

Little did my mama know that not even one year later- this time again just weeks prior to her 66th birthday, she would again make the trek to that same New Brunswick manor.  This time in the hopes that she would arrive in time to bid a tearful goodbye to her mother who had sadly fallen ill over the winter months and rather quickly took a turn for the worse mid-March.  Sorrowfully, Mom was not to be there for this quiet home-going.  She arrived to a closed door shut on an empty room, no welcoming smile to greet her.

All was silent.

I can’t imagine what that must have felt like to have seen the door shut like that.  To have realized that behind that closed door was no longer that comfort of the living. No tender smile or warm touch.  To my mom, there was the realizing that this chapter of her life- life lived with the constancy of family and heritage: it was now over.  Every one of her immediate family members- the ones she grew up with, lived with and loved- were now gone.  And all that awaited her upon arriving at the residence she had visited for so many years was the shell of the one she had forever before known as MOTHER.

This Sunday will be her first ever Mother’s Day lived without her mom.  I really can’t yet even imagine what this must be like.

There are so many people grieving the loss of a loved one in these difficult days leading up to Mother’s day.  There are children wondering how they will navigate the days leading up to this hugely celebrated holiday with its focus on cards, crafts and trinkets all made for mothers.  There are teenagers trying to process their feelings about what this all means and young adults trying to be there for their siblings in ways that a mother would, even though that is not entirely their burden to carry.  There are grown women who still crave their mother’s words of wisdom on the other end of the phone line or who yearn for the physical presence of their mother at the kitchen table; and there are husbands who are faced with being both mother and father to their Littles and Bigs, in the wake of their chosen partner in life’s passing to the Great Beyond.

How do we as people do these hard things?

Jason Tippetts, husband to Kara Tippetts of the beautiful blog Mundane Faithfulness wrote transparently these raw and beautiful words about life and its ebb and flow for those left behind:

“These are the events that I dread. I remember asking Kara to help me plan this year of firsts. I assumed a long and hard conversation, I would take notes and then feel better about the plan. But instead Kara’s answer was, “You will be great. You will know what to do!” Not the answer I wanted but it was the answer I needed. I needed to know that I could fumble through this, that I would do okay. That I could process through decisions without her input. I needed to know that whatever we as a family decided to do was okay. I so appreciate that freedom she gave me.”

To all those who are hurting right now and who dread this upcoming Sunday of celebration for one reason or another, know that whatever you decide to do (so as to pass the day, celebrate the day, commemorate the day or skip the day entirely for this year) it is all okay.

There is no right or wrong way to work through the pain of these difficult years of firsts.  You will know what to do when the day comes.  Do it and feel no guilt for your decision.

I know that there is no way to compensate for the loss of a loved one- no one human being can ever take the place of another precious soul.  But may we all be cognizant that there is much pain and heartache around us.  Sometimes the most beautiful of holidays can evoke the deepest anguish.

To all those out there who are hurting this Mother’s Day, may you find peace and strength and comfort from Above.

Love and light and hope to your and yours.

On Being Better…

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It’s been a day of unraveling from the core.

Woke up before the crack of dawn and then watched the sun rise an hour and a half later, all blush pink and orangey-red tones. A rising bulb of glowing fire emerging from a gently waking earth.

We Six drive to a teacher’s conference in Charlottetown (where Husband and I will spend the next two days in session, while my exhausted mother, who has not slept a solid seven-hour stretch since May, literally- will watch our four children by day). We teachers Two will take the baton in passing at the supper time hour, when all eight of our worlds collide- converting our hats from professional ones to the more intimate personal. And those world colliding?  That would be Husband’s, mine, the Fantastic Four, my mother’s and my dad’s. Should be rather interesting. But right now, I am thinking ahead to when we all plan to go in for a family swim at the university’s Cari Complex later on this evening. This, something Daughter and I have planned, to be an annual event. And I am still unaware of the intervening variables that will come into play later on today making this dream dissolve as if a curl of smoke in mid air.  A disappointment and contribution to the unravelling, no doubt.

The events which complicate: our two Oldest will have already swam at this same pool in the afternoon with their childhood buddies- children who moved into town recently due to their father’s work-related move, a visit rendering our plans to swim as a happy family null and void. By no fault of the children’s nor the hospitable family, I might add. It’s just the way things happen.

That’s how it goes.

We eat supper and linger over my sister-in-law’s apple tarts, a delicacy with flaky golden crust that melts in your mouth. I wish I had room to savour more, but as it is, I cannot find an inch in my stomach for Son’s spicy gingerbread with whipped cream which he has made with my mother just this afternoon. I won’t mention in detail the chocolate-chip pumpkin muffin I scarfed down prior to supper- a lone remainder from Sister’s generous offerings that just begged to be ingested. The food offerings at my Mother’s house make me weak in the knees. There is always lots to choose from and all are absolutely delicious possibilities.  She is the best baker I have ever known- part of the delight in visiting is the absolute joy it is to sit at her table.

So with all this goodness and light behind us, it is difficult to reason at what point the unraveling truly began. Perhaps it was in my own mind as I tried to figure out who would go with whom and when- not an easy task when involving four children with varying options and interests. Perhaps it began even earlier than this, at the break of the day when I was caught up in a reverie and happened to mention to Husband the absolute pleasure it would be to take a Mediterranean cruise next year in celebration of our 20th anniversary- to which I later reasoned would be an absolute impossibility considering the circumstance of our crazy life right now, at this given point in time. A realization which brought my hopes and dreams crashing back down to realistic playing fields. So there you go. Perhaps the unraveling was due to these- perhaps to something else far deeper.

Was it disappointment? Stress? Worry? Fear? Anxiety?

At any rate, the Two Youngest, Husband and I all swam together, while the two others sat, waited, fumed and wiled away the time. And then as we the swimmers froze in the dressing room under intermittent showers, we finally emerged only to realize that no one had known to take a token from the front desk, leaving us in our van stuck inside the parking lot behind the exit gate. Stuck with some Cranky passengers, I might add (one of which was me- I will not lie). And then, after inserting the toonie and then walking back to the complex to retrieve the two attendees, I found myself walking the parking lot just to escape the van and all its commotion.  So needless to say, it was a time.  And we also came to discover that toonies which are invalid in parking meters sometimes go missing.  An annoyance. But thank goodness, we were still able to find that the gate would rise in spite of this grave consequence, allowing us to all finally end the day.

It was a very quiet, contemplative ride back to my Mother’s house. Might I add, emotions were also very close to the surface.

And that is how I found myself, upon arriving home, making an error of the most grave proportions- one that I immediately regretted but could not undo. And for which I mourned that hasty decision to act in the moment: rashly, harshly and impudently.  In the words of Paul, why do we do what we don’t want to do?  And the good that we want seems to only elude us?

Sometimes a mother will find herself saying sorry only to realize that the word ‘sorry’ is not enough to undo a wrong that only time, and patience and love can heal. But that same mother can beat herself up continuously- over and over again, for all that she has done and all that it means in the larger context.  She can punish herself severely.  And she can tell herself that she is undeserving, unfit, unloving, incapable and incompetent. And she can believe those words.

Until a little girl comes to her after work and tells her about her day and reaches up to sit on that same mother’s lap once again. Showing her that even her very children can lead the way to love when all other doors have been slammed shut. Even a child can mend an unsteady bridge that has been badly damaged.

I hold that Little Girl tightly to me tonight even as I promise myself: I will be better next time.

When we know better, we live better.

And through it all, we will come to be better.

Enlightened Witnesses

In her book “all about love: new visions”, author bell hooks refers to psychoanalyst Alice Miller’s writing and work. In particular, hooks is taken with Miller’s concept of the “enlightened witnesses” present in the lives of most adults- particularly those of us who experienced pain and needless suffering in childhood. “Enlightened witnesses” are those individuals who have shown a certain kindness, tenderness and concern in the person undergoing difficulty so as to restore that individual’s hope and belief in the good in their life. These witnesses are thus persons who offer “hope, love and guidance to a wounded child in any dysfunctional setting” (hooks, 2000, p. 234). So as to restore belief that the individual has something of worth to live for. Something of value to strive for. And something of significance to show for their life.

Enlightened witnesses can be those who themselves have risen from the depths. Individuals who have overcome great odds and great adversity. Sometimes this is the very thing required to create lasting empathy and feeling. For when we identify, we can extend ourselves that much more.

Of my many enlightened witnesses, Alice was one of the most memorable. My “adopted” mother, she was an elegant woman with immaculate nails and gorgeous ebony skin.  She and her father lived in a neighborhood on the far side of town where they owned a little piece of land that boasted lush flower gardens and a bountiful vegetable garden.  I came to live with Alice when I was seventeen years old.  Our family had to make an unexpected move in my Grade 12 year, and I was not ready to leave my childhood home town in the final year of high school.  The dilemma posed for my parents was this: to allow me to stay in the area and graduate with my friends or to force me to move against my will and thus inflict on me feelings of resentment and anger.  They, with love and open-mindedness, allowed me to stay behind.  The next issue was deciding with whom I would stay.  After exhausting a list of possibilities, we thought of my mother’s dear friend who happened to be unattached to any other familial responsibilities, and the decision was made to send me to live with Alice and her father, Stanley.

Prior to my knowing, Alice had indicated to my mother that she was more than willing to let me live at her house.  However, being that she was a reflective woman, she was mindful that there might be unforeseen concerns on the horizon.  Most obvious of which was that I was an active, vivacious teenager on the go and in need of transportation, food and supervision.  But, a more subtle concern to Alice was the slight issue of my skin colour.  For I was as white as flour paste compared to her beautiful dark skin.  We had different histories, different stories, and different cultural understandings of self and our place in this world.  She expressed to my mother, unbeknownst to me, that she was worried about our differences.  My mother assured her that this was a non-issue in our books.  But still Alice fretted over it. In spite of these concerns, it was decided that Alice was the best fit for my needs.  So I packed my bags, even as my family were unpacking theirs in another province, and settled into a little room on the far side of town where I lived with Alice and her father for the remainder of my final school year.

After Alice and I had been under the same roof for quite some time, we found ourselves one day in the kitchen doing dishes together.  I wiped the wet bowls and plates while she carefully washed.  There was an easy banter between us, when out of the blue, Alice asked me an odd question. “Do you mind staying here?”

“Why?” I asked, looking at her strangely.

“Because we’re Black,” she said pointedly.

“You’re not black,” I replied, looking at her strangely, not knowing what to say, but thinking that option was surely not one of my choices.

“Yes, I am.” she said looking at me square on.  Challenging me with her eyes.  I looked at her as well, and then I shrugged.  Not flippantly, not disrespectfully- just nonchalantly.  I held her gaze and then smiled.  And as soon as I did, something happened.  We both started laughing.  And we laughed hard.   Because truthfully, it did not matter anymore. None of it did.  It didn’t matter that I was white and she was black. I was a teen and she was a middle-aged woman. I was the tenant and she the landlord.  It didn’t matter. We released these differences, and let them wash away as cleanly as the grease on the plates in the sink.

We were simply Alice and Lori after that.  And that was that.

Over the year that I lived with Alice, our relationship became more than just functional.  We became close- fast friends.  And then in time, a deeper relationship developed.  She became, in essence, a surrogate mother to me and continued to be one over the years that followed.  As I graduated from university, and later got married, Alice was there to share my joy.  In time, she made a visit to my home in Prince Edward Island after the birth of my second child.  Our bond continued to solidify over the years, and we remained close in spite of the miles that separated us. She died just after Mother’s Day in 2007 while I was expecting our last child.  It grieves me that my four children never really knew their surrogate grandmother.   She took great interest in the older three during their early years, calling often to find out how everyone was doing.  Each birthday and special holiday was marked by cards and gifts specially selected by Alice for each child according to their interests and preferences.  She had a knack of picking out things that suited the receiver to a T.

Alice’s influence on me over the years has given me pause for reflection, not the least of which, for reflecting on what it means to be a mother.  Although she never had an opportunity to birth and raise children of her own, she certainly was a mother-at-heart to me until she passed on.  To me, Alice epitomizes what a mother truly is: a nurturing caregiver with the attitude to parent those in their protection.  Alice had the desire to be a mother.  She never had the opportunity to have children of her own, and this pained her, I am sure.   But she was everything a mother should be and more. And in my time of need, she was an enlightened witness to my grief of the loss in my life, not the least of which was my childhood home and family. My own mother and father living in another province.  In my heart, I believe that I was part of Alice’s reason for why she was placed here on this earth.  I needed her influence in my life: to challenge me to accept people for who they are, where they are and how they are.  But on a personal level, I just needed her love. And she gave it freely.

She was an enlightened witness- my special angel here on earth: and I am forever grateful for her legacy of love and hope.

Satisfied

I am running up the uneven and worn sidewalk blocks, grass growing up between them. Frost from past winter’s freeze has shifted and changed their original direction. Water soaks the ground beneath my feet, splashing up and over the sides of a rather closely situated water slide. I run towards the entry point high above so that I too might ride, running towards the staircase as if I am ten years old again. Ten years old: just like my Sarah who made this milestone today at exactly 6:26 p.m. this very evening. I race up the slope towards the inclined steps that lead to two rather small and well-used waterslides. Small but perfect- that’s my view. These waterslides: ‘just right’ for the forty-year old woman who believes she just might have a ten-year old heart. Perfect for me.

And oh! the exhilaration. To stretch one’s body in pike position and feel the speed. The water beneath and the wind above. Yes, for some it might be a small thrill. But for me, I am just satisfied. Satisfied! With this. All of this. This day and the juxtaposition of special and mundane. This weather, a mix of rain and sun. This park, this place, these people.

I’m satisfied.

Satisfaction. It’s a form of contentment. A feeling of being fulfilled. It is an experience of pleasure, happiness and joy. A state of being gratified. Grateful for what one has, whatever that “what’ might happen to be. Grateful for the small- grateful for the vast. It is a sentiment that calls one to give thanks for the gifts ones has been given, seeing the gift in the ordinary simplicity of everyday life. Feeling satisfied with commonplace, everyday pleasures. Commonplace, everyday blessings. When we are no longer able to feel satisfied, something happens. We start feeling ungrateful. Unappreciative. We start looking around, noticing that what we have is less than what others might have- not as special and unique as what someone else has in their possession beside us or next to us. We start evaluating our stuff, our things, our situation, our people- on the basis of what we see around us. We place unfair expectations on the gifts we’ve been given, unwisely wanting them to be something they were never meant to be. And then, there is a feeling of desire that ensues. Desire that craves something more, something bigger, brighter, better, bolder. Something beyond.

It’s a nasty cycle. And it can lead to darker places by the name of Greed and Envy and Jealousy and Dissatisfaction. Trust me, I’ve been there. They are not places you’d wish to visit.

We all know our vulnerabilities. Our area of weakness. It’s how we shift our thinking so as to make our response one of satisfaction, one of sweet contentment rather than one of discontentment and irritation. This is what that determines our joy.

And what a difference a day can make.

Yesterday morning, I woke up feeling frustrated. I was not happy with anything- the state of my house, the state of the day’s affairs, the people around me, the fact that it was August. I mean August: the summer might as well just end RIGHT NOW, now that August has arrived. Am I right?

And no. Nothing made any difference. I was just miserable. The more I thought about how miserable I was, the more miserable things were. I found bugs in the beds (seriously? Gross me out the door), dirt on the floors (okay, so this is every day, all day), clutter on every conceivable living space in my house (ditto). I couldn’t seem to get out of the kitchen for the life of me, one project led to another and then to another and so on. By noon, I was hot, sweaty and tired. I felt a headache coming on. And I was just ready to throw in the towel.

I might have thrown in the towel. There have been a lot of towels going through my washing machine lately. But at the end of the day, I went to bed, only to wake up again this morning. And I discovered something. I have a lot to be thankful for in this little house of mine. This little world I call my own.

What a difference a day makes.

Nothing in my environment really changed with the dawning of this new day. Same house, same mess, same people. It’s just that here we are together again- in this brand new beautiful day. We are alive, we are together…and we’re here. And what’s not to love about a fresh start? This is not to say that feeling frustrated and discouraged is wrong or shameful. It’s just to say that it is not really much fun. It’s actually depressing. And so I choose today- joy. Joy, and peace and contentment. I choose to see all that I have as the gift it is, rather than as the burden it might seem to be. I choose to see what I have been given as delight rather than trouble. And in so doing, I find myself feeling more and more content.

In so doing, I find myself satisfied.

So today, I am satisfied for the fact that I found no bugs in my bed. Score. Satisfied again because I wasn’t baking anything today- I bought a store-bought cake for precious Sarah- and she loved every bite of it. Score again. And I got to race my Husband and beat him FOUR TIMES ON THE WATERSLIDES. Score, score score. And they say that three times is a charm.

It all is- it’s all a gift. And for all this and so much more- I’m satisfied

Why I need my kids

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I stand beside her, tipping the muffin tray ever so slightly so that the batter will have that much more of a chance of making it into the hollow. She is intent on her task: lifting two ‘full-to-running-over’ spoons dripping with banana cupcake batter up and over the side of the porcelain bowl, toward the final destination- the muffin tray. It is tedious work, requiring a steady hand.

“I don’t need you to hold the bowl,” she says more than once. I do not concede her the victory on this one, and so we continue to work side by side. I believe she needs me. She, one just learning this art of food preparation; albeit, I will admit that each time she takes on a culinary project, that much more competence is shown in her attention to detail. Even so, I stay- diligently by her side until every last rounded chamber has been filled with creamy goodness.

We are finishing off one cupcake tray and sending it to the hot oven to bake, when she turns and says to me, “You do the rest- I am baked out.” Which is to say, she’s had enough. And so, the Little One who didn’t need me moments before now suddenly discovers that she indeed does need me to immediately finish up her task. As I am her Mama and I love her dearly, I bow to her request. She needs me.  I intuitively know this, meaning I am ever at the ready to step in when she needs a helping hand.

I don’t mind being needed.

Yes, I am still in that stage of life- where I am needed.  Although this stage is seemingly passing quickly, like sand in an hourglass. This shifting stage wherein I find myself: a time of life when I feel the pull, the tug- of little hands. Little voices calling out, “Mommy?” Little cries. And then again, big cries sometimes too. Even the Big Ones need their mother. The steady constant in my life at present is that these little (and not-so-little) people in my life are always in need of a mother’s touch. A mother’s hand, her patient reassurance. I am needed, even in this evolving phase of motherhood. Even as the years move at lightning speed toward these uncertain years ahead of parenting, where I know I will find myself meeting new needs, new requests. Where I will find myself being needed by my Fearless Four in new and different ways.

As the years press on, I am coming to see that I need them too. I need my children. This care that I have given them- it sometimes aches for something back. The returns are there- I am reminded daily to keep my eyes open to see them, my hands at the ready to receive them. But I am aware: I need them as much as they need me.

I need my kids.

This afternoon, I was feeling pressed. I had twenty coming for a birthday supper and by 3:00 p.m., I knew I was either going to have to tear myself in half or invent an assistant. Daughter hopped into the van for a ride up to the dollar store to buy the necessities (plus a treat for her- of course) and on the ride back, I asked her to help me with a certain task for which I knew I would not have time to do otherwise. She agreed. The job: to decorate our log cabin for her brother’s birthday get- together. I handed her a bag and did not place any expectations on her one way or the other. As I drove away from the cabin and towards our house to prepare the meal, I regretted that I had not given her any string to hang the balloons.

Whatever would be would be.

Upon my return, I loaded up my arms with food and assorted other items, then walked the few short steps it took to take me into our cabin to unload. My eyes caught sight of the party center which my daughter had undertaken to prepare in my absence. And I was immediately taken aback. Not only had she decorated- she had arranged things far more neatly and tidily than I would have ever thought to do. A banner hung over the table, balloons graced the fireplace mantle. She had arranged candy on the table as party favours. The table was set with a brand new tablecloth and cutlery was sitting in cups ready for the taking. It was all arranged and displayed beautifully, again- more attractively than I would ever have taken the time for. And all this, from a daughter who had initially stated her uncertainty to take on such a task.

She had no idea how much I needed this.  Needed her.  And I wonder, do our children know how very much we need them?

We assume as parents our role is to be the providers, the caretakers. The ones who meet the needs. But if we never allow our children to take on this role, how will they one day be able to care for the significant others in their future lives? Forget the future- our children must also learn to care in the here and now, for there is value in coming to care for others even in the present. No child is ever too small to care. Our children from a very young age need to know what it means to take care of another’s needs, for the sheer value of contributing to those people in their lives at present as well to prepare them for one day being the caregiver themselves to those dependents they will ultimately responsible for.

I think children are born for this. Born to care. A newborn gurgles and coos in adoration at the sound of their mother’s voice. This is a responsive gesture, acknowledging the relationship that is being built between parent and child. Without that coo, that giggle or smile, the mother can easily find her own resources drained. We need our babies love and response- it is what keeps us going in those fragile first days when exhaustion threatens to undo us. A toddler’s little arms are made for hugging, for reaching out and stroking hair, lovingly caressing their loved one’s face. Their little bodies crave the physical touch- it is their way of meeting the need of their parent- a need to be loved in the best three-year old way that child knows how, love shown through touch. And as children grow, there are so many ways they can learn to say ‘I love you’- love letters and notes left hidden under a pillow, simple words of thanks, unspoken gratitudes expressed by a wink or a nod. These are all ways children learn to show care- things parents need and crave and desire in our relationship with our kids. So that we can sustain our own caring back to them.

We need these gestures as parents- they carry us through these long days that challenge and tire us. Because let’s face it: parenting is a tough gig. Parents are always giving. Always offering more and more of ourselves. Always sacrificing and placing our childrens’ needs first. And so we should. But sometimes we need to learn to receive a little- for the benefit of our children.

So that they can learn to care.

Because at the end of the day, when our children are enabled to give back, are enabled to learn how to care because we as parents afforded them the exquisite opportunity of experiencing the blessing, they are then given a blessing in return. The blessing of caring for another.

Truly, what greater human blessing can we give our children than this?

Blessings come through tears

We have a new baby kitten, so precious and sweet. The girls are enamored yet feel completely responsible for this little bundle of love. The other day, M.A. said to Husband with a sigh, “I am soooo tired of looking after this kitten” to which Hubs responded it was not her responsibility to do so: it was the mother cat who had that job.

Nevertheless, she feels it is.

Last summer, we had five little kittens born and raised on our property. One summer evening, the mother introduced them to us, calling them out from a Spirea shrub one-by one. They danced around our feet in the twilight much to the delighted squeals and giggles of our girls. We were taken by these little beings- they quickly wrapped themselves around our hearts.

One busy Sunday morning we were heading for church in a rush when Brian backed the van up quickly. One of the little kittens was situated under the tire, as they all found the warmth of our vehicle comforting. With a sickening feeling, Brian knowing he had backed over it, got out of the van without the children knowing and found the kitten. Still without telling them as he knew it would completely upset them at that moment, he moved the little lifeless body and carried on, feeling sick about the unfortunate event.

Even the life of a kitten has meaning and significance.

This summer, I have been watching this new mama cat as she cares for her single kitten and I have been struck with the fact that although she can do much as a mother, she cannot prepare her baby for the inevitable: its death. It is contrary to our normal inclination to think of death upon the emergence of new life, but the inevitability that life is followed always by death is something we cannot avoid. We as humans have the ability to be aware of our existence, something cats, in all their amazing capability cannot be.

Sadly, we as humans are not always aware that we are born to one day die.   Yet thankfully, we are reminded throughout life that it is the living that is sandwiched in between the entry and exit that makes all the difference.

I have been thinking of how we as parents- how we as the adults can prepare children for death. We know not how long any life has been given, know not the number of our days nor any one elses, for that matter. How do we live life while facing death? How do we prepare for this fact? Even with my own assurance of heaven, there is still the very real aspect of separation in death that we as humans must face. Death causes separation, even if but for a time. No one truly wants to leave behind those they love and adore.

In my extended family, we have had several premature deaths- two to infants and one to a teenager on her graduation night. In all three cases, it has been hard to make sense of the fact that these were not elderly people facing death after a long, fulfilling life. These were babies, these were children. How does one make sense of this? How is it that a child is as susceptible to their mortality as one who lives to be one hundred? But it is the very nature of our humanness to be so fragile- we are but a vapour, a breath- transfixed between the present and eternity with only our next lungful of air as a separating veil.

Is this life we live, as fleeting as it might appear to be, a blessing?

I talked to a dear friend recently about that word ‘blessing’- a beautiful word to describe life when things are going well, but a puzzling one when things are not. Is life a blessing? All life?

The night my aunt was taken, she who was then eighteen years of age and a brand-new high school graduate- that night, two officers came to my grandparents door in the wee hours of the morning. Came there to deliver the inevitable news- news no paret ever wishes to receive.   That an accident had occurred and their beloved baby girl had been the casualty.  Words could not express the emotions that would overcome a parent hearing such a fateful interruption during what would have been prior a peaceful night’s sleep. What images would run through the mind? What visions? Our sole desire as parents is to keep our children safe- and when we cannot, have not been able to keep this sacred oath, what must that do to a parental psyche? Where would one go to find solace?

My grandfather’s devout faith and trust in a loving God- in a God who blesses us even with showers that fall fast and furious at times, pelting us with their intensity. My grandfather said this: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” In the scriptures, Lord connotates a title of respect for one deemed in a position of honor, much the same as the word Rabbi is used to refer to a teacher. For my grandfather, he did not hesitate to acknowledge that the One he trusted most- the One who had proved faithful to him time and time again, would still prove faithful even in this storm.  And he used the word “blessed” to ascribe meaning- even to the taking of that dear one whom he held most precious.

How could this be?
Was this tremendous loss a blessing? For our family, we suffered the passing of a beloved daughter, sister, friend. Down through the years, we grandchildren have been told stories that honor my Aunt MaryAnne’s life. We have seen her legacy- and my own daughter is her namesake.  While death will never be celebrated as a blessing, for death is not lauded in the same way that we cherish life, the blessing was the life. She has never been forgotten, her life not rendered as history. Because through story, her memory lives on. Her life, however brief it may have been- was a blessing to those whom she met. There was not a soul who crossed her path that didn’t love her- she was that kind of girl. Years later, I still find people who talk of her genuine sweetness and purity of spirit. She was gentle and loving- and the world is a richer place because her life was in it.

We often say that we have been blessed with good health, good fortune, good genes, good luck. When the weather is nice we count it a blessing. But I would counter that life, no matter how short, how seemingly insignificant- is precious. Our lives are precious. And it is a blessing to live, to have lived. It is a blessing to have been given the chance to breath in air, to feel sun rays’ gentle warmth on our upturned faces, to know what it is to have felt the rain. My grandmother of 92 sits day after day inside a manor in Fredericton and while it can seem to be a curse to live that long and no longer have the wherewithal to get up and move, the people in her life are a blessing to her. It is a blessing for her to be cared for by people who genuinely love her.

And while I even think of the people in this world who have not been blessed with love and care, I feel the challenge is left up to those of us who know this blessing well to then extend it outwards. So that everyone the world over can feel the touch of love, especially those who need it most. Acclaimed writer and critical theorist bell hooks said this about the blessing of love: “Imagine how different our lives would be if all the individuals who claim to be Christians, or who claim to be religious, were setting an example for everyone by being loving” (hooks, 2000, p. 74). Were this to be true, how much more would we then understand the meaning of that little word blessing?

The challenge is left to us.

Our lives are not for naught. They are precious, meaningful, purposed for a greater plan. And it is a blessing to live, to have lived. A blessing to love, to have loved. And a blessing to have the opportunity to share this eternal love we know so well with the others in our lives.