This is a Love Story…

It is Valentine’s Day evening and I am just finishing up washing dishes- having made four cups of chocolate and two bags of popcorn as a bedtime snack for four kiddos. They sit now on the living room floor with that stash of goodies, plus various bowls of candy and chocolates besides. And that is where they will remain for the rest of the evening as they watch their Friday night movie. I sit down for a spell with a mug of Earl Grey tea while Husband goes through the newsfeed on his phone beside me.  Every once in a while, Youngest comes out to check and make sure that Mom and Dad are still here. Especially during the scary parts.

This is our love story.

It’s the story of a family. The story of a home. The story of us.

It’s the story of a boy who met a girl when she was young and foolish. Before she had yet found herself or discovered who she was. It’s the story of a boy who took that girl out to a brunch one Sunday afternoon and the story of a girl who said yes. In spite of it all. A story of a girl who started noticing that boy- paying more attention- and the story of a boy who later took that girl to the ocean one starlit evening where they sat shivering together on a blanket in the cool August air. The story of a boy who one day told that girl he loved her- that she was the only one he’d ever loved. Had ever fallen for. The only one to whom he’d ever whispered those three little words. And it is the story of that boy who eventually led that same young girl back to the same sandy shore he’d taken her to first so as to bend down in front of her and hold her hand. And tell her that his love was for her. And her alone.

It’s the story of a girl who had many dreams. Had plans and goals. The story of a boy who understood. Who waited for her while she followed those dreams. Waited while she followed her heart. It is the story of a girl who one day realized that a dream without love is no way to live. So the story plot unfolded as the boy asked that girl to stay with him on this fair isle and thus follow her dreams by his side.

It’s a story. And like all stories, it has its twists and turns.

It’s a story that has not always been an easy read. There are times the girl wanted to close the book and say those words “The End.” There were times the boy felt the same way. And together, they wondered if it was time to start a new story with new chapters and new characters. Something more exciting. More adventurous.

But something compelled them to continue. The story- it was theirs. And it truly wasn’t finished yet. So they stayed the course, and the story continued.  Continued because: it was still a story, no matter how difficult it was, at times, to grasp.  Continued because: it was still worth it.  Continued because they had invested so much- there was so much to lose and still so much yet to gain.  And no matter the storyline they both knew through it all: it was their story. And because it was theirs’, they persevered.

And so they did. They persevered.  They worked harder than they had ever had to work before.  Because that’s the way of stories- they require engagement, concentration, commitment.  Thought and deliberation.  Intention.

It’s Valentine’s Day night. But I have never loved this holiday. Too many years, it has felt that I could not live up to the expectations that it brings. It ask too much of us- to put our love on display for all the world to see and judge- as to whether or not it is worthy. As to whether or not it is romantic. As to whether or not it is exciting. Thrilling. Exhilarating.  As to whether or not it lives up to the standard. Sometimes this holiday makes us feel that our story is not enough.  That it needs to be more.

This is the story of a girl who decided- somewhere along the line- that dirty mugs coated with cocoa powder in her sink and leftover kernels of popcorn hidden in the recesses of her couch with the ones she loves by her side are all a story she ever needed so as to be complete.  It’s the story of the boy who loves her.  And that’s all that really matters.

To the girl.

And so, the story continues…

On being a spirited child…

An open letter to teachers, care-givers and parents of spirited children everywhere:

Dear Caregiver,

I am sorry my child lay on the floor today and refused to participate in your class.  I also apologize that she further disregarded your implicit instructions pertaining to scheduled activities, not to mention more than once did exactly the opposite of what you requested.  It was unfortunate that she also had an accomplice in carrying out these distressing actions and behaviours, and I am sure these two precocious youngsters were good reason enough for convincing you to stay home in bed and to decide NOT to show up for work.  If it only were so easy a decision.

But of course it is not.  It is a tireless task: teaching, parenting, coaching, guiding, training, care-giving.  The epitome of motivating is to choose going to work each and every day only to work with children that have a mind of their own.

Just like these two impish little ingrates.  Deplorable, really.

Being the parent of spirited children is not exactly a bed of roses.  We care for children who are inbred with boundless energy, curious minds and great imagination.  (Where do they get it from?  Which parent is truly responsible for this ‘free-for-all’ of behaviors?  Is it from him?  From her?  At whom, exactly, can we point the finger?)  Parenting a spirited child is often a thankless, exhausting undertaking, the benefits of which are not realized until much, much later on in life.

These children are risk-takers: fearless, driven and determined.  They learn the hard way- never taking the given word of the adult as the law.  They must think through for themselves and try out new hypothesis.  They often have a hard time looking back, because their minds and sights are always fixed on looking forward.  On the next best thing. They run full steam ahead, often forgetting to check that the way before them is safe to travel.

Being themselves children who are spirited is also no easy task.  One defined as spirited must always be up for a challenge.  They have a harder road to travel than most.  These kids are often flagged in daycare and pre-school as troublemakers, difficult and ‘problems’.  They are square pegs trying to fit into a round world.  They are the ones asking ‘why’ when others are saying ‘yes.’  They are the ones pushing the limits when others are content to live the status quo.  And by the time these children are school-aged, they are the ones who make teachers earn their well-deserved paycheck.  And then some.

I know.  Because I am both.  I am a teacher, and I am a parent of a spirited child.

The other day, I asked my students to sit quietly while I went out to grab a bite to eat.  Upon finishing  supervision of a newspaper club over my lunch hour, I had just enough time to grab my bagged lunch and go back to class.  I asked my students to stay in their seats, only getting out for reasons defined within realistic classroom expectations.  I knew that if the boundaries were not defined, a kind of ‘free-for-all’ chaos would be my greeting on returning from my reprieve.   Although there was another adult who would be present in the room while I was gone, her time and efforts would be devoted to working with a special needs student in the room. Thus, the strict orders.   It was a test, really.  A hypothesis was formed in my mind.  What would happen while I was absent for the next five minutes?  Would the students follow my instructions?  What would be the action of my unpredictable lone star?  My little outlier?

I returned and sat down with my lunch.  The students were all quietly sitting in their seats.   And I was pleasantly surprised by how easily I had made both my exit and return.  Until one little voice interrupted the reverie.

“You know, ‘so-and-so’ got up after you left and ran a complete circle around the room,” reported the little gal.  Just because.

But of course.  I fully expected this follow-through as the result of my impromptu theory-making.  It was exactly what I thought would happen, but quietly willed would not.  But then again.  Is it not, dare I say it, a good thing?  Good in the way that one has been freed to try out a child-like experiment of sorts, within the safety of the known?  Within the constant of the classroom?  I think that this is where it all starts.   And that this is really what all great achievers do.   Push the envelope- challenging decision-makers, living vicariously, going boldly where no one has gone before.

And I can’t help but wonder.

What great and amazing things will this child do next?  And when will they decide it isn’t worth it to be a risk-taker anymore?

Sincerely and humbly written by,

A strong-willed child turned adult

On hope…

We walk, hand-in-hand, along hard, sandy shoreline.   I am the bare feet with sand in between toes and he is the one in sandals.  Shells crunch underfoot, but I am being careful where I step.  I still have the scar from last summer on my left foot, the memory- a jagged line from another shell in another river.  This body of water is a sheath of deep navy blue, gently stirred by two jet skis that churn the water into froth.  As if they are mixing an intoxicating brew.  Waves radiate circles outwards from the centrifugal force of the engines, and the fluid motion makes a continuous pattern towards the shore.  As the beach has become too littered with natural debris, I select a rock on which to perch.  It is just the right size for the two of us.  I draw my legs in tight, curling in to myself like a ball.  Protective.  Cautious. Reflective.

Pensive, that’s really the word.   And I am so much more than even this.

We sit in quiet solitude for a stretch.  The breeze, rustling among tall grasses and pine boughs that hang in a canopy above us, is perfect for the sail boat that comes along later.  A dog curiously sniffing as he moves, pink tongue hanging, lopes past us disappearing around the bend.   His owner following with an orange canvas dog leash in hand.  It is the perfect night to take it all in: the scenery, the view, the joy of it all.  To embrace the moment.

He tells me he loves me and I ask why.  For I am uncertain.  “Because we have sixteen years of memories between us,” he replies.  The tears fall in quiet streams down both sides of my face.  This is not what I expected.  To be loved like this.  To be held so tenderly.  We have come so many miles, but so many more separate in spite of progress made.

Sixteen years of blood, sweat and tears.  And often, so little joy, so little hope.  So many things can happen in sixteen years of marriage.  There are many moments, many days, many months that make a marriage.  To ensure a marriage last a lifetime, one almost looks for a miracle.  Something to hold on to.  But, we two have made a covenant promise to each other and will not easily be torn asunder.  We remain, faithful.

To love another human being is to accept that they are not the source of your happiness.  They are only human, and to be human is to err.  To fall short.  To fail.  But, being human is enabling because we have the ability to meet the needs of the soul inside frail bodies, souls that yearns for connection, long for fulfilment.   It is what we fill the vessel of our soul that brings happiness.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul?  Hope in God…”  (The Holy Bible, NKJV, Psalm 42: 5a)

Hope springs forth, like water rushing from the mouth of the river, eternal, everlasting, always present.  The life source of the present.  To hope is to believe that tomorrow will come.  And when it comes, it will be full of promise.  Tomorrow is always a new start.  It is a fresh page.  A new beginning.

We two, the one I love and I, are an unlikely pair.  I have often wondered how we have stayed the course for as long as we have.  It is hope, God’s promise that He will carry us that binds our hearts together.    We believe, in spite of the odds stacked against us, that there is hope for tomorrow.  There is hope for marriage.  There is hope for families.  There is hope for what is broken to be mended.  There is always hope.  We can survive and weather the storms of life because we have hope in a better day to come.  Today will be what it may.   Tomorrow will take care of itself.  Our charge is to believe that there is more to come.  There will be more to come.  This is not all there is, this life of the here and now.  We have hope in more.  We, who place trust in God, believe that He can and He will do exceedingly more than we ask or hope for.  If we but believe.  If we have hope.

Blessed be the tie that binds.  That tie has kept two people who might never have stayed the course together in spite of the odds.  It has planted perseverance, tenacity and the will power to survive in the lifeblood of our relationship.  And we place our trust in God’s hands- believing that He can.  And He will.

We sit tonight before a fire.  Wood cracks and burns slowly, the blocks and sticks folding with the intensity of the heat.   Flames blow in the wind, while strong breezes carry sparks far out from the central flame.  The heat warms and soothes, taking the edge off the chill from nightly dips in the temperature.  Conversation is easy.  We chat about this and that, and when lapses in conversation come, they are easy.  As is the way between two people feel at ease in one another’s presence.  It is the ebb and flow of a relationship.  One that has seen rough waters, but is able to find a way through the storm.

And we ride the gentle waters of this calm night, grateful for safe passage.  Fully aware that hope will carry when the waters again become turbulent and storms rage.

Joy in naming…

I am driving the side road tonight, the lanes are dark and slushy.  The rain hits the windshield with a whack and a splash.  Big, heavy drops.   It is 2 degrees.  Not yet cold enough for snow.  I am thinking, while concentrating of course on the roads, and my thoughts are bent on the subject of naming.  Naming people, specifically.  Not naming, as typically we associate naming with our given names, but rather naming people by their characteristics.  The notion crossed my mind that by naming people by their personality strengths, one is able to appreciate that person in a whole, new light.  I started to think of the little people in my classroom and how I would name them.  One was named perseverance, another resilience.  Another was just named JOY, she is such a delight to my heart.  One more is identified as fervour and another as mystery.  The last two are called tenacity and hope.  So many ways to name a child.

It must have been such a pleasure to have been given the special job of naming.  I bet that’s how Adam felt, if I could be given some licence with interpreting the first human being’s thoughts.  He had the privilege of NAMING all those animals in God’s new creation.  Can one truly appreciate such an awesome responsibility?  I think of the names we have given our own children, each one carefully thought-over, almost fought over in the end, so cautiously they were chosen.  Yet, we still are naming them, identifying their unique personality traits.   Fragile, confidence, intelligence, spunk.  Courage, enthusiasm, gifted and passion.  The endless ways to name a child.

As I name, I view each one as specially designed.  I appreciate the one I am naming, not for what they do, but for who they are.  They are, in a world of people, one in a billion.  One in a bazillion.  For all the stars in the heavens and all the sands on all the seashores, not one shines the same nor is one granule like another. So it is with children, with all of us.   There has never been, and never will there be, another me or another you.

How spectacular.