The joy of unexpected u-turns…

Another typical evening at the Gard household.  Everyone going off in different directions.  And so it was immediately upon finishing supper that we all left home together, half of us going in one direction and half in the other.  As my regular Thursday evening activity was cancelled, I was given the rare and exquisite privilege to accompany one child to the sporting extra-curricular activity of their choosing for the fall/winter season. One child, and only one.  So this is what that was like again.   It’s been a long time since I was quarantined in a van taking a road trip with only one.  Tonight’s line-up: minor hockey.  As my son’s first hockey game of the season happened to be this evening, the two of us set out in high spirits on a windy, rainy pitch-black night, heading toward our rink destination in a neighboring community.

Normally, at this time of the evening, I am fried.  Mentally, physically and verbally burnt out.  Tonight was no exception.  I was struggling to stay awake for the forty minutes it took to get to the rink.  I knew in my heart that this ‘one-on-one time’ would potentially be a great conversation op, but fatigue was getting the best of me.  I turned the heater on and then off again.  And after a few quick conversation starters, I told my son I was getting tired.  The radio needed to come on.  Thankfully, that got him a little more concerned for both of our well-beings.  So, he started talking more.  And I began to wake up.  As time got on, and we got closer to the rink, my son started to worry that we might not arrive at the rink with enough leeway for him to get his gear on and debrief before the game.

Nonplussed, I also tried to appear the nonchalant mother that I was pretending to be.  So I told Son, as he pressed me for info every five seconds, that yes, we were nearing the turn-off.  And of course we were nearing the turn-off.  I just wasn’t exactly sure how near or far away we were.  Precisely speaking.  Being as I was not exactly sure of my directions.  And also keeping in mind, it was a dark, rainy night.

Son was desperately wanting to get to that rink and fast.  And I was tired of him asking where the turn-off was for the road leading to the rink.  So I mentally decided that I would turn right at whatever road served my memory well, lining up with my recollections of what might possibly be the right turn-off for our rink date.  And in my mind, at this place in time, this actually seemed like a good idea.

So the very next road that we passed, I flicked on my blinkers and turned right.  Turning down a road that looked about right. Or so I thought.   True, there were a few houses that might have lined up with my vague memories of a road I’d traveled before.  Or did they really?  Was this just wishful thinking on my part?

But of course it was.  And I digress…

We were now late for the pre-game dress room pep talk along with the mildly disturbing fact that I knew we were traveling a road that might or might not be the right one to take us to the rink.   My son looked over at me and said nervously, “It would suck if this wasn’t the right road.  What if this is not the right road, Mom?”  And being the competent driver that I am, I avoided eye contact and kept looking straight ahead at the slick, black road.  Watching the road for tell-tale signs that we were on the right track.  Then using my most convincing voice, I told him this: “I think this is the right road.”

Famous.last.words.  Out of how many mouths have those words poured forth.  I now count myself with the masses.

Long story short, we ended up in a potato field where I did a u-turn, praying that I might not end up stuck in the mud somewhere out of cell range.  Oh wait.  I don’t have a working cell phone anymore.  So, I guess it really wouldn’t matter, now would it?  Does bad luck just follow me around, or what?

Once we got back to the main road, I realized it was actually the very next road that turned right that was the correct turn-off to take us to the rink.  Ah, yeeeeesss.  And I must say that when I saw the sparkling lights of the community ice rink at which Son was to play his first hockey game of the season, my heart issued a leap of joy quite unlike any other act of joyfulness I have experienced for quite some time.  Because I had finally arrived at the right place.  The lost had been found.  And I because I was at the right rink, even with being a little late, I knew I was also halfway home to Mill River.

And for me, that was half the battle fought.  In spite of the rain, the wind and the unfamiliar roads we’d be traveling, the ride home would be a cinch.

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Reminder: be kind to one another today…and always!

I wrote the following in response to my son relaying a few comments made to him this past week on the school bus.  The comments were very subtle, and seemingly innocent.  In fact, my son excused the comments as his friends “just being mean.”  But I beg to differ.  I think these comments are malicious, and I would define them as bullying.  I believe that passive aggressive comments, like the ones delivered to my son on this particular day, are flying too far under the radar when it comes to recognizing bullying.  Thus, this blog.

Although October was Bullying Awareness Prevention month, I think it fitting as we go softly into the subsequent month that we remind ourselves afresh: bullying is an on-going issue.  And so too, should be awareness of such.

One subtle, yet all too prevalent, form of bullying is passive aggression.  Passive aggression has been defined as behaviour characterized by feelings of resentment and aggression that are exhibited in unassertive, passive ways. (Merriam-Webster.com)  Along with being pervasive, it is also possibly one of the most damaging forms of bullying in that it slowly chips away at self-esteem and confidence, paving the pathway for much more deep-seated problems in victims down the road.  It has the power to unhinge the mind of the most capable, competent individuals by undermining their abilities and self-worth.  The power of the ill-spoken word.

Passive aggression is dangerous.

Humans learn early how to use this deadly form of inflicting pain.  Children do not have to be taught how to subtly pass judgment on their peers about the clothing they are wearing, the hairstyles they are sporting or the mannerisms they are exhibiting.  Along with passing judgment on other aspects of their peers’ personal appearance and personality traits.  In our family, we are all too aware of the power that a seemingly innocuous comment can have on the receiver of the same.  And it starts early on.  The age-old adage that ‘words will never hurt me’ is ludicrous.  Of course they do.  And so too does sarcasm and ill-intended body language (smirks, raised eyebrows, rolled eyes, exasperated sighs, etc.)  And these behaviours will continue to do so until we are able to educate our youngest citizens about the importance of treating all people with respect and dignity.

And how to choose words and actions wisely.

And so as we begin another week, I am reminding myself to do the following.  Treat others kindly and respectfully this week.  Show dignity for all life.  And make my own life an example by which others choose to model their lives.  You and I are the most powerful tools for educating others that can be found.  We must not miss an opportunity to stamp out bullying.

Forever.

The joy of doing hard things…

Not quite sure how to feel about a twelve-year old son who now reads the Globe and Mail on his i-pod.  I am thinking that I need to daily start reading the newspaper just to keep up with his brilliant mind.  I don’t want it to come to the place where his mother knows less than he does.  Or maybe we have already arrived at that place.  He is telling me all the latest news from across the country as I arrange clothing in his drawers.

I am thinking, as I find a place for faded jeans and well-worn t-shirts that we are heading into new terrain with our boy- with the issues, discussions and conversations we have been having lately.  This morning, my boy was nervous about junior high school try-outs for soccer.  I urged him to give it a try, adding that it wouldn’t be half as bad as what he was conjuring up in his mind.  He was nearly making himself sick with worry.  I figured that since he was imagining the worst, that it couldn’t possibly be as bad as he might think.

Well.  I am losing my sixth sense, me thinks.  He came in the door at 5:00 p.m., tears brimming in his eyes.  Then he said, “Mom, it wasn’t at all as bad as I thought it would be.  It was worse.”

Sucker punch to a mother’s heart.  Since I had been the one prodding him to attend try-outs, I was the one who felt responsible.  And the one who should have had the instinct to know how it would all play out, right?

A hug can sometimes be a salve, and other times just be felt as an irritation.  Today, it was the right fit.  I grabbed him and gave him a heartfelt, albeit awkward as I was only able to hug him from one side around the neck, hug.  It was the right move.  He took it as an open-door to talk about just exactly how horrible, embarrassing and intimidating the practice actually was.  How big the other boys were.  How fast they could run.  How deep were their dives toward net  How wide their arm span.  And as he talked, I watched the stress dissolve and his face relax.  It was like relaying a bad dream.  In the talking about it, the monsters did not seem half so scary.  And the more he talked, the easier it was for him to admit that it was okay to not have made a lasting impression on the soccer coach.  He was going to move on gracefully.  Unscathed.

In spite of the humiliation he felt today, I am glad he went to that try-out.  If only for the fact that he proved to himself that he can do hard things.

And that is what it is all about now, isn’t it?   Doing hard things.   And while doing things that are difficult  is both probable and possible in the real world in which we live, when we believe we can do hard things, we really can.

Counting blessings…

The journey to peace comes by way of blessings.  Counting blessings.  Those little and big reminders given to us so that we can remember this: life is good.  That life is more than good- it is stellar.  Even in the moments we oft would erase.  For those moments build character and endurance.  They make us stronger.  They perfect us from the inside out.

We initiated our oldest into his freshman year of junior high school (by way of a back-to-school party).  It was a painful night in some ways, exciting in others.  There were some very obvious signs being sent my way that Son was not interested in being seen with us, his family.  Nor did he appreciate his mama asking any questions or volunteering any information. Painful.  Searing pain, both physical and emotional.   Am I ready for this?  Is he?

But it was exciting nonetheless to see him amongst his peers, to meet with his teachers and to see what his school environment would look like for the upcoming school year.  To see the apprehension and fear mixed with curiosity and delight.  To know for myself where he will be even as I am teaching my own little class in another classroom, in another school.   All this emotion.   Enough to bust a mother’s heart.

And tonight, it is tempting to sit and think sad thoughts.  About fleeting time and changing seasons and growing up.  It is tempting to will time to stand still.  Or to wish hard enough that clocks would turn back to sweeter days when a mother’s arms were enough.  To want to return to bygone days that have become sanctified in the memory, bathed in the glorious, reflective light of a twilight reminiscence.  How we tend to remember everything as though viewing through that lens of rose-colored glasses.

But time grows fuller still as we lean into the seconds, minutes, hours and days.  It becomes richer more with life and experience than it ever could by standing constant.  So I’ll not wish and waste precious moments of today.  Time is fleeting.

I count blessings instead.  I am blessed because I have been endowed with the treasure of him.  Who is…

…a child healthy, bright and able to perform and complete the necessary tasks set before him

…whom is willing to push himself outside his comfort zone

…who has consented to music classes this school year, in spite of the stigma

…who is organized (his backpack for school neatly packed and arranged just so)

…who appreciates where he came from and knows where he is going

…whose soul knows deeper things than those thoughts that merely scratch the surface

…and who has faith in God while yet unseen.

It is hard to sometimes count blessings.  This evening was more difficult than the words can share.  And some things are better left unsaid.  There are ways in which a mother’s heart sears with pain, and only another soul could understand who has but felt it through their own experience in mothering a child.  It is hard to move from safe harbours into deeper, more turbulent waters.  As are those I’m wading in.

But I will try to move forward, keeping with the current.  And will doubtless count the blessings as I go.

Joy and Sorrow…on graduating from elementary school

As I pen words, it is a dreary, soaking-wet, rain-drenched evening outside my sitting room window.  We are all drying ourselves out after a torrential down-pour just moments ago, occurring just as we made a run for it from the van to the front steps.  This onslaught also occurring after we all had walked through a puddle-slick school parking lot to leave for home,  following the Grade 6 closing ceremonies, as that is where we celebrated seven years of completed elementary school education.  Our son is amongst the celebrants.

It is hard to put words to paper how one feels on such occasion, as I am sure there are as many emotions as there are mothers and fathers to feel them.  I am feeling mixed emotions at present- happiness mixed with a tinge of sadness.  Son is gone to a celebration at his friend’s house next door, a party at which I had volunteered to chaperone.

Apparently, he does not really want his mother there tonight. Not a real surprise, but I was a bit hurt about it all just the same.  This must be what coming of age feels like for a mother: sadness mixed up with hurt and bruised feelings with an ample dose of pride and love shown for my son’s achievements and new-found independence.  It is time for the mother duck to pull back and let her baby duck learn to fly.

I often wonder what is the secret to fostering character building and positive energy in one’s children so that they turn out to be those kinds of people that others call high achievers.  Young men and woman of excellence.  For we all want this for our children, but how is it that some children have those keys to unlocking the doors to success early on while others are always eluded by it?

I see in my son new behaviours and characteristics, things that make my stomach turn a little.  He is not as polite as I would like him to be, not as kind, patient or gentle.  And yet, do I point out these glaring omissions in his character or leave things alone?  I am not sure what course of action to follow.  It is hard when you mix the latter in with high expectations of a big night like tonight.  I have come up a bit disappointed with his lack of respect shown toward me this evening- his aloofness and sarcasm.

My son.  So much like his mother.  We are both quick to react, we have short fuses.  We are not naturally empathic.  For me, it has been a learned skill.  We are impatient with others, he is increasingly so.  We both are reclusive and introverted by nature.  We are neither gentle nor caring and nurturing in the way some people are born to be, naturally concerned for others.

But that is not to say that these character traits cannot be present, for I believe they can be.  In my own life, I have watched carefully the ways in which people respond to one another, the ways in which caring people show love and concern for each other.  I have tried to apply those same principles to my own life so that I, one who is not naturally inclined to be NICE, can indeed be a nice person in spite of myself.

And so too, can my son.  He has all the abilities.  He must choose for himself what course in life he wishes to take: a life of treating others with kindness and respect, particularly as it concerns those people in his closest circle of friends and family.   Or not to do so, and fail to understand the richness of a life well lived.  At present, he lacks the maturity to see that choosing the latter will burn many bridges for him, and may have already done so even in the present.  It is unfortunate to watch your child make mistakes when you know the way they should go.  We cannot live another’s life- even if that ‘other’ is our own flesh and blood.

And so.  I go anyway-  to the party.

I have made a promise to help chaperone, and chaperone I will.  I arrive, and I give my son a wide berth.  I try not to make eye contact, to not go in the same areas as him.  All the while, I notice the little things:  my friend’s son with his arm slung across her shoulder, the easy banter I have with Son’s classmates and friends, the gentle conversation between me and a sweet girl named J. that will also be moving on to Grade 7.  I notice that Son is avoiding me.  It hurts, for a time.  But, then I realize that this is his problem, not mine.  It is his issue, not mine.  And, I carry on- thankful that I can be a part of this evening that celebrates the life of my child and his classmates.

And by the end of the evening, I think Son realizes something too- his Mom is not as embarrassing as he thought.  In fact, now that everyone else is talking to me, he actually comes up to me at a point in the evening and asks me a question.  I could have been knocked over flat with a feather.

Which just goes to show that strange things do happen, wishes do come true and miracles are still possible.

The Joy of Stolen Kisses and also of Puberty

While the birds and bees are busy buzzing around the countryside reminding us all of springtime flings hither and yon, I am drawn to listen carefully to conversations about kissing and puberty and other such exciting topics for mothers to eavesdrop in on.  Nature is not the only expression of growing up and falling in love.  Apparently, children also do grow up too.

How sad, and yet, oh how necessary!

This little story made me laugh, but yet still want to cry at the same time.   The other day, it happened that a few of our kindergartners and Grade 1 students were found kissing each other outside during second recess.  I felt it necessary to drive home a valuable and totally worthwhile lesson to my own class of kindergarten students on how kissing is inappropriate for kindergartners or any school-aged child, for that matter, to be doing on the playground.  The minute you think you’ve nailed it, and done a bang-up job telling them what’s what, one little girl pipes up, “Mrs. Gard, I know who has a crush on your daughter Sarah!!!”  Talk about killing me softly.  My daughter is in Grade 2!  I am not ready for boyfriends…kissing kindergartners is enough to throw me over the brink!  Let alone my own daughter possibly having a secret admirer.

And then there is my son who has been making many references to his own swiftly approaching  pubescence.  How did this come upon me so quickly?  It seemed that it was always far off, in the distant future. And here we are. While on our way home in the van from Huntley’s, a local greasy spoon not far from our house, our oldest informed us that he had learned via a health lesson at school that he is soon hitting puberty and thus now needs a bigger bike.
I guess puberty’s going to be expensive.
We are still getting lots of mileage out of the “puberty” card even days after that little conversation.  Last night, it was a very hot evening.  As the children went to bed, a fight broke out over who would get to take our one fan into their bedroom to cool things down.  Son told his sisters that boys sweat more, and since he was hitting puberty soon, he should be the one to have the fan this particular night in his bedroom.
I don’t ever remember being so excited or vocal about the life change when I was his age….
And so, even as the June bugs hit our windows with a loud smack, I must remember that there is romance in everything.  Birds, bees and pre-pubescent boys who use puberty as leverage- all are tender expressions of the changing seasons of life, each in their own unique way!
Nature’s wonderful magic at work in the hearts and minds of animals and human-folk alike.

Joy…and unexpected tag alongs

Rushing, always rushing.  I grab a bag of snacks and wait impatiently the three minutes it takes the corn to pop.  My oldest daughter opens the side door of our house and hollers that one child is pulling another’s hair inside the van.  It will be an all-out brawl if I don’t get out there.   And get out there fast.  I move away from the noise and quicken my pace.

As predicted, a quarrel is certainly underway.  One child is crying, another is looking smug and still another is keeping track of the score.  The youngest is scolded, adding bellows to the fray.  Soon, her crying reaches a fevered pitch, and we have not yet pulled out of the driveway.  I glance over the barn yard and see my father-in-law tearing rotten shingles from the old milk house, looking like he wished he could melt into the woodwork.   I wonder what thoughts are going through his head as he watches this little scene.  I know what thoughts are going through mine.  I buckle seat belts, and we drive off in spite of the commotion.

The crying turns to screaming as I pull out the lane.  I am lecturing all the way, to no avail.  My youngest is enraged and there is no reasoning with her at this point.  I am sure my father-in-law is getting an earful as we turn and drive by him again to go up the side road.  I drive 2 kilometres before finally pulling over to the shoulder.  Warnings have been issued and this is the last straw.   Mama has had enough.  I turn the van around and we go home.  I am fuming, visibly beyond my breaking point.

And so it goes.  Life is full of moments like this.  My children quarrel, argue, whine and cry at different intervals throughout the day.  I lecture, negotiate, discipline and comfort in response to the ebb and flow of their behaviours and emotions.  Through it all, I look for blessed quietness in moments and find these moments where I might least expect them.

We take another road trip the following day, this time complete with Dad at the wheel.  I am looking forward to a few minutes alone to gift shop while the crew go to a park for a swim.  I unload towels, swimming trunks and snacks, moments from closing in on a deal.  I’ll be gone one hour, I promise my husband, Tops.  I turn to leave, and my eleven year old son says, Please, can I come too, Mom?  I try to mask my disappointment at his request, I know already that I cannot say no, but, oh, how I had so been looking forward to a few minutes by myself!  I begin to reason with him in the hopes of swaying him with the lure of a pool.  He is unmoved.  Can you and me spend some alone time together? he pleads.  I am touched, at this point, that he would choose me over all this.  I absorb his question, feeling the impact of my child’s petitioning.   And yes, I do open the door for him, and we drive off together to look through small shops.   I lead, and he follows.

I am surprised by the quiet and the ease with which I am able to work through my list with only this one child in tow.  We make small talk, and I realize how little time he and I have these days to just spend time together.  This, my first born, whom I played dinosaurs and blocks with, what feels like mere days ago, is now one interested in shoe shopping and gift selection.  I am so preoccupied with the little ones who need me most that I often overlook the older ones who need me also, but in different ways.  And I marvel at how this son of ours is growing up.  He is a young man now, and he needs to be acknowledged for the individual he is becoming.  We make our purchases and all too soon, the hour is up.  I head back to the park with a full heart.  I have been blessed by this unexpected glitch in my plan for the day.

Wise, we are, who understand that perspective is of utmost importance in the midst of everyday living. We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.  (Anais Nin)  If we are feeling rushed and frantic, situations will look like crises.  If we are relaxed and level-headed, situations will appear manageable.  When children cry and fuss, it is often a matter of my perspective how the situation is interpreted.   That, and a realization that sometimes I just need to get away from the craziness and experience quiet reflection.  Sometimes that is the best immediate fix.  When life doesn’t turn out as planned, my perspective can be one of finding the good in that situation or seeing the bad.  Attitude adjustments will get one closer to the best perspective every time.  The more I line myself up to what I know to be True, that sure and steady foundation on which I base my parenting and my life choices, the easier I am able to handle what comes my way.

Hubby driving, I turn to look into the back seat of our van, as we head back home after a full day in town.  I am… thankful.  To be sure, there will be crying tonight, of that I can be certain!  And before long, someone will instigate a fight; but it is quiet at present, and peaceful.  I have innumerable blessings, and there are five I can count by name, riding with me towards home.