The Things We Do For Love….

The things we do for love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have some acetaminophen,” I offer.

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

The things we mothers do for love.

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

The things we parents do for love.

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

Oh, the things we do for love.

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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.

Joy in slices…

I do not believe in fairy tales, and neither do I believe in happy endings.  Life, as I see it, is a series of imperfections, unfortunate experiences, and hard times that follow one after the other.  People talk about life being beautiful, precious and wildly exciting, but I don’t see it.  I really don’t.  Life is just plain harsh, with a little break in the insanity once in a while which fools you into thinking life might not be so brutal as you once imagined it to be.  Well, guess what?   It is brutal, and then some.  But I would be remiss to fail to acknowledge that sandwiched in the middle of all this stuff that makes life so frustrating and hardly worth the while are little reminders that life can be a small slice of heaven.  Even if only once in a while.

We ate out with our extended family tonight, a happy, joyful bunch of revellers I might add, and I watched out of the corner of my eye as my aging father struggled to get his fork to his mouth and later to open up his package of crackers.  Let’s just forget the fact that he asked for crackers, and had failed to notice that the crackers which came with his soup were sitting on the side of his plate already.  His life can seem to me, harsh and unforgiving.  His Parkinson’s is disabling and debilitating.  If he were me, I would believe that life was not only harsh and brutal, but also unfair.  He who struggles to move limbs and propel his body forward.  We take motion for granted, as we do everything else in this life we live.  My father- an example of the life lived under duress and within constraint. Without freedom.   And yet, there is still that sliver of heaven.  There is always heaven.

I go out to visit them this evening, and the first thing he tells me is that they have been given a two-week, all-expense paid trip to Florida next spring courtesy of a long-time friend of their’s that owns a R.V. and whom has kindly offered it up for my parent’s vacationing pleasure.  A little sliver of heaven.  Will it cure Dad’s Parkinson’s?  No.  Will it lift them from their debts and enable them financially, to live the high life of well-off retirees? No.  Will they expect to do this every year, now that they have had a taste of a snow bird’s lifestyle?  Not a chance.  They will take it for what it is.  A little slice of heaven.

Here and now are slices of heaven in each and every day, found in moments few and far between, at times.   Take this moment, right now, for instance.

It is a moment transpiring on a beautiful moonlit night.  The moon shines full on the water, creating a circular reflection of light that gives the appearance of a golden bowl into which one could dive and swim clear to the bottom.  I am camping with the family on the lovely West River, a feeder waterway for the Charlottetown Harbour.  The air is balmy, and a slight bit damp as we head to the bathrooms to brush our teeth and make that last visit to the toilet.  These bathrooms are perpetually gross in every way, and my daughter almost slips on the slimy floors outside the showers as she pads towards the last bathroom stall her mother has deemed fit for use.  We must layer the seat with an inch of toilet paper before she is even allowed to lower her hiney onto the throne.  And even then, both of our noses are scrunched so as not to breathe in the putrid air conditions.  We make it out no worse for the wear, and Little One hops onto her bike and takes off into the darkness without me, humming as she goes.

As I walk, it is then that I notice the moon. It is beautiful, spellbinding.  Mesmerizing.   Hypnotic in its effect.  I want to drink from this golden bowl an elixir that will cure these joyless thoughts of mine.  Forever.

Could the beauty I see so far away be the remedy that I seek?

Now that teeth brushings and bedtime routines have commenced, I am sitting here on a bed in our aging tent trailer, parked smack in the middle of an upscale RV park.   My youngest child has slipped out of bed and is now hanging off the mattress that my husband and I share, all the while I am trying to collect what little of my sanity there is left so that I can function for the rest of the evening.  And that I have to concentrate to do so is not saying much.  There is so precious little sanity left for me to draw on.  We are here for a month in this blessed tent trailer- one step up from a tarp over a hole in the ground, and all because I booked this ‘dream’ vacation for our family so that I could get some rest and relaxation.  Fat chance of that.  The Littlest One is crying for help while I write these words.  She is looking for a book that her father threw back at her after she had been told for the umpteenth time to get back into her sleeping bag and go to sleep.  Earlier this evening, she pee’d on the floorboards surrounding the outdoor pool, coincidentally while standing directly outside the bathroom adjacent to the pool.  She lost control of her faculties in front of and in plain view of the other pool users, I might add.  And all while her mother was trying to undo the last button on her shirt so as to get her one-piece bathing suit down. Without any warning, there was a huge yellowish puddle on the deck of the pool, spreading out towards the ledge and back towards the washroom.   My husband had to mop up the puddle with Clorox while I sheepishly slunk into the toilets with child and urine drips in tow.

That was the breaking point of my evening.

However, right about now, I am considering this bedtime infraction to be a close second, challenging my earlier notions that it cannot get any worse.  It can and it will.  Never expect any better than your worst nightmare.  Because when things are going better than planned, you feel you struck a goldmine.  Which is how my father must have felt when he arrived home after supper, dribbles down the front of his buttoned dress shirt, perhaps; only to discover that he had been chosen to receive a delightful gift from a thoughtful giver.  It was a slice of heaven, in gigantic proportions.

And my slice of heaven tonight is the moon.  It is for me the heaven I am searching for.  I un-zip the canvas screen that serves as a window and drink it in: the moon.  In all its glory.