What is it about school?

Heading off into the world…

There was one moment when I just wanted to grab her hand and pull her back to me.

Unfortunately, that would be quite embarrassing to have the entire busload of kids laughing at the mom who couldn’t let go, so I backed off and moved back up the driveway so she could get on without a desperate mother clinging to her little hand.

What is it about school? Friends have told me and told me, “Oh, once they start school time just starts to fly, and they just move further and further away from you all the time.”

Good God, there is something really sad about that, until you realize in many ways they are just moving further and further away from you from the moment they are born, from the minute they eat their first solid food, the second they take their first steps. Is that sad or is that joyous? I feel a bit of both. It is the ultimate in bittersweet, really. I rejoice in every first in my babies’ lives, and yet I feel a twinge of sadness. Last week I finally hauled all of the baby gear and sweet wee clothes out of every closet and from beneath every bed and got rid of all of it. Other babies are using it all now. This was due in no small part to the fact my youngest child was about to start kindergarten and is clearly far from being a baby anymore. But it still hurt.

It is a letting go like nothing else I have experienced in my life. I am no longer a parent to babies, or toddlers, or even pre-schoolers. I am out of that club. I can offer wise words as someone who has been there, but a new parent would probably think to themselves, “Oh, she is not HERE where I am, so she does not KNOW.”

So here I am with two schoolgirls. I am the lunch maker, the form-signer, the one who tries every afternoon, like a dentist trying to pull teeth, to extract some meagre nugget of information from our children about their day at school. After years of spending most hours of the day with her, it is hard, really hard, to be relegated to this seemingly secondary role. Yikes, could I be taking it personally? Yes, other than sleep time, a teacher now spends more hours a day with my child than I do. Who knew that could be so tough to swallow? Even when the teacher is wonderful and caring, it still burns.

When our kindergartener comes home from school, she is exhausted and exuberant and bursting with all the new experiences. I try to see it all through her eyes, all the glittering freshness of being out in the world on your own for the first time. Every thing we take for granted, it’s pretty darn thrilling to her, bus rides, lunch kits, recess, a whole class full of other children who she just knows will be her best friends.

I smile and I enjoy the moments when she bursts out with some little story about her day. I look into her eyes and I see the baby that she was just a short while ago, the way she used to look at me when she was tiny and her parents were the centre of the universe. And I see that we are still her centre. Her universe just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Glass dreams

on the beach

Do you ever notice how driven you are to be DOING something?

It takes huge conscious effort on my part to just stop trying to tidy or check email or just multitask all the day long. After a while I notice that my children start to get that way, too, always needing an activity to keep them occupied. But as you may have heard before, I am a big proponent of letting kids get bored, and perhaps I should try this approach on myself as well. If I just stop and sit and stare out the window, who KNOWS what realms of creativity I might stumble into? The mind reels.

In the meantime, this past weekend I was reminded of a few totally pointless activities I love to do. My older daughter and I were on our own for a few days, and I worried she might be bored without her built-in playmate/entertainer sister. We went to the beach, where she spent literally hours doing one of three things: talking to herself, jumping waves, and building sand piles. We should all do those things more often.

We also spent hours walking on the shore, staring down at the sand in search of treasured bits of sea glass. There is nothing more relaxing and satisfying, and really, you could almost call it a meditation of sorts.  The rush of the waves in our ears, the wind in our hair, the gulls crying overhead. The sheer pleasure of finding the oh-so-rare colours of beach glass is just ridiculous. OK, it is not like “jumping in ecstatic joy” satisfaction, but it is quietly joyous when you find a small piece of indigo blue or jade or red. I always wonder where those shards came from…was it from a vase that sunk along with the schooner it was carried on? Did it come from an old pioneer dumping ground that has since eroded away with the red cliff into the sea? Was it from a broken plate tossed overboard by an irate chef as the ship sailed upstream?

Shades of the sea

Well, maybe  I get carried away but it is part of the whole sea glass-hunting meditation. When I find a piece, I rub it between my fingers as I continue down the shore, brushing off the grains of sand and relishing in the smooth/rough finish of the finely-sanded glass, the edges worn down to softer curves by who knows how many years of rushing salt waves and smashing rock. It is just one of those things I love.

And what do we do with all these treasures? Mostly I hoard it, put in mason jars in the window and look at it when the winter winds are  howling outside and I need to go to that beach-y place in my mind. Sometimes we twist it in silver and make it into jewellery, which by far gets more comments from strangers than any store-bought trinkets ever do. There is something about old stuff that speaks to me, even if I know nothing about it. Deep down I know I have just as many shards of 1980s Sprite and Mountain Dew bottles (not to mention the brown of the classic stubby beer bottle) as I do of some long-adrift century-old crockery, but it doesn’t matter. The cobalt blue probably comes from plain old Noxema jars that we all had in the 70s and 80s but in the process of being sea-tossed and sanded to silky smoothness, it takes on a unique patina of beauty and sophistication. And who doesn’t want to wear that?

Anyhow, that was my mindfulness activity this glorious Victoria Day weekend. The glass is scattered on my counter, having been rinsed and set out to dry. The girls will love to sort it by colour and shape into jars, another wonderfully senseless and strangely soothing action. I will keep adding to the collection, while silently cursing Noxema for switching to boring cobalt plastic jars. I feel fairly sure they will never be a treasure tossed, shaped and finally relinquished by the seas. Oh well, such is the modern age.

The morning walk

This morning I figured since I was outside already at 8 taking Kat out to the bus, I might as well just keep going out the driveway and go for a walk.

I headed up our rural road, trying to walk fast without actually breaking a sweat, trying to listen to music without totally drowning out the birdsong. You know, trying to be mindful and get a workout at the same time, if that is possible. The fields are like rusty red corduroy right now, as the farmers prepare for planting. The potato trucks and tractors are out in the fields starting early, and their breaks will be few and far between for a while. I walk towards the bay, where the waves sparkle and the oyster fishermen are already out on the water. I’ve got the Wailin’ Jennys on my iPod. The song, appropriately, is called “Birdsong,” and I am thinking how mellow their music makes me feel. Sure, there are songs that make me walk faster but this morning mellow is where I am at.

Oh, yes, if you’re not “from here,” here is a bit of what our fields look like :

Rusty fields shot by Dan

As I walk, I get a whole lot of thinking done, which you might think would motivate me to do it more often. Apparently clear thought is not a priority in my day.

What crossed my mind was a whole lot of nonsense about the bad news that seems to be everywhere at the moment. Economies are grim, and the news is filled with job cuts and worries about the debt loads of people and nations alike. Our home is no different, as good jobs seem few. As always, talk turns in many circles to going out west.

It is fascinating, really. How many generations has it been where “going out west” is always on the horizon? Here on the east coast past generations have also gone to “The States,” to Boston or somewhere in the New England states to find work, but that is not quite as simple as it once was.

I have been one of those going out west, and someday I may be again. Honestly, I did love it there although I was young and terribly homesick, feeling like I had landed on a different planet or at the very least a different country. The motivation to head west is the same now as it always has been: jobs, work, and a need to forge your own way in a totally new place where everyone doesn’t know you and your father and your grandfather and your uncle and…well, you get the picture.

The potato farmers and the oyster fishermen are assured their work will never be done. What will be on the horizon for others? How can we adapt to the changes that surely seem to be coming for all? Is the answer to be flexible, to diversify how we make a living, to work harder at self-sufficiency? Alarmist is not a word anyone would use to describe me (except perhaps my children, who think I am making a big deal out of the messy play room). I do find that I am drawn to books about sustainable living and self-sufficiency. It is a fascinating genre, written by a mix of those authors who believe the oil is going to run out any minute and chaos will break out in the world, and those who just want to grow their own food and cut energy costs.

Here are a few I found:

Sufficent: a modern guide to sustainable living by Tom Petherick: I like what this author is saying about what is “sufficient,” meaning simply what we need for our own family’s consumption. He speaks out against the extreme consumerism of today’s society, where so much food and other things go to waste. This book is beautifully photographed and illustrated.

The self-sufficientish bible by Andy and Dave Hamilton: This book just looks really good, and is quite common-sense in its approach to gardening, recycling and such.

Time to eat the dog? : the real guide to sustainable living by Robert Vale: Heavy, heavy, serious stuff. Perhaps a little TOO serious.

Less is more : embracing simplicity for a healthy planet, a caring economy and lasting happiness by Cecile Andrews: This is a really good little read, filled with essays that get you thinking about what you need and what you just WANT, and how we can live more simply with what we have.

The everything guide to living off the grid: We have no plans to get off the grid, but this book is also a good choice for people who just want to save energy and be more self-sufficient.

Independence days: A guide to sustainable food storage and preservation by Sharon Astyk: A good guide to canning and preserving food, and a lot of interesting stuff on creating our own food security (and that does not mean eating more comfort foods).

Ecological gardening by Marjorie Harris: One of Canada’s best-known gardening experts, she packs a LOT of information on everything from beneficial insects to composting to natural lawn care into this slim little volume.  No pictures, but makes up for it with simple, no-nonsense facts.

How do you focus on what is important in the face of all the bad-news stories? We keep our eye on the beautiful horizon.

on the horizon

How to be quiet

The sea can be quiet.

Silence is an interesting thing. It can speak volumes, like when someone is glowering silent disapproval all over someone else’s third spilled glass of milk that day. Or, if you wake up early enough in the morning, before everyone else is up and chatting, silence can just be gloriously, miraculously restful.

I am not good at quiet. In my work, I chat non-stop, which is kind of funny considering I work in a library. It is a one-person branch in a small community, though, and people don’t come there to study in silence. They come to chitchat about the weather and their children and most of all, books. I love that, because getting paid to talk about books is just about the closest thing to heaven I can imagine from a professional perspective.

Still, I do crave silence sometimes, and with two little girls in the house silence is not an everyday (or every week) occurrence. We seem to get louder all the time, raising our voices to be heard over the din of raucous giggling, yelling, singing, crying masses. Okay, it is not masses, it is only two but sometimes they feel like more.

So this past week when I was hit with a whopping case of flu, complete with silence-inducing laryngitis, it got me thinking about ways to be quiet. I suppose that is the easiest way to shut me up, to strike me with laryngitis. So everything I said has had to be whispered, while at the same time the sore throat meant I was extremely frugal with what I had to say at all. If it was not important, I just saved my breath. I waited for people to come to me, rather than trying to yell over the din.

Hmmmmmm. I might have something there.

Could this be a new way of communicating effectively? Because frankly, I am tired of raising my voice.

Anyhow, the other side of the coin is that it was just nice to feel like I didn’t HAVE to talk. I could sit silently. We are, in these days of extreme connectivity, apt to fill silences as quickly as they arise, when really some empty spaces would be good for all of us. Being quiet means you can hear the wind blow, or the birds sing, or the soft breathing of a sleeping child across the hall. It also means you can be completely present in that moment, rather than clicking away on your smartphone or cranking up your earbuds.

Last fall, as part of a mindfulness-based stress management course, I had to take part in a one-day silent retreat. That meant for the full day, there was no talking, no eye contact with the other participants, just silence. Let’s just say right up front that I have never, ever in my life been silent for an entire day, and I was intimidated. Even while eating lunch at a table with others, no talk, no eye contact. We spent the day doing relaxation exercises, meditating, yoga, writing in a journal, or just sitting in a peaceful spot staring at the sea. There was a little boathouse down by the water with a hanging swing chair, and I remember sitting there, idly swinging and thinking “I want to do this every week.”

Which leads me to try to find ways of being silent in my everyday life and in the life of my family. Getting up early seems to be the best way for me, while staying up later seems to work best for Dan. Carving out even a half-hour of time to be alone and quiet makes such a difference to my day. Sometimes I do some yoga or stretches. Other days I make a cup of tea and just sit down at my little desk with a notebook. Some mornings I sit and watch the birds outside the window. It sounds pretty simple, right? Well, it is, but it is amazing what a difference it makes. Last year I had just been finding that stress was hijacking my day right from the second I became conscious in the morning. The moment I heard a child wake up, I would leap out of bed with my mind already on overdrive, thinking of all the things I had to do, my heart rate already pounding and that cranky feeling already well-established for the day. THAT is not healthy.

We are trying to help our children find a little quiet as well, which is not easy. But the most simple way to do it is to allow a bit of time at the end of the day for them to read in bed on their own. Just giving them that silent 20 minutes to sit in bed alone with a book helps them unwind and quiet their minds enough to really relax for sleep. Of course Ava can’t read yet but we encourage her to just look at books, which she loves to do. What is really important is that our children learn ways to quiet themselves.

We are always saying “Take a deep breath.” This is a catchall phrase that is sometimes an attempt to divert someone from a tantrum or from smacking their sibling across the head with a Groovy Girl. But it is also a way of diffusing a kid who is getting so wound up that her eyes are actually unfocused and her heart is pounding. It is healthy for children to learn ways to self-soothe, and just taking five deep breaths with the eyes closed is a simple technique they can use anywhere. Heck, it’s a simple technique we should all use.

Needless to say, going on silent retreat is not an option for everyone, and laryngitis isn’t an easily-acquirable solution either, but a little quiet time is good for everyone in the family. It helps us to ground ourselves in the world, to just “be” without constantly having to “do.” That is a huge challenge especially for busy parents, but if we can provide that example to our children it will also help them to handle stress and busy-ness with greater calm.

So take a deep breath. And for heaven’s sake, be QUIET.

 

 

The river

At the shore.

There is a river where I grew up. It runs past the farm where my dad’s family has lived for several generations, and it has always played such a role in our lives. As kids, we were up and down that dirt lane to the shore practically every day of the summer. We camped there in one of those big, smelly dark canvas tents that always seemed to attract the most enormous daddy-long-legs spiders ever seen. There are photographs in existence of a toddler me, round-bellied in a bikini, running up the beach after my big brother, and now there are also photographs of my own daughters, round-bellied toddlers, on the same red sand shore.

As I grew, I spent hours on the beach, creating elaborate periwinkle farms, sandcastles, villages out of shells and driftwood and seaweed. We swam, of course, and boated, dug for clams, and walked for miles up the river at low tide. My husband says its not a river, it is an “inlet” because it is, as all things are here, tidal. Anyhow, it was the only kind of river I ever knew existed. I was fascinated by the tales of the great sailing ships sailing up the river at high tide, dropping the huge stones they had as ballast as they got further upriver and needed to lighten the load.

When I got a bit older and needed time to mull over my increasingly complicated pre-teen and teenaged life, I would walk up through the woods to a spot on the river bank where I could just sit, surrounded by the soothing bayberry bushes and non-judgmental spruces, and contemplate. A lot of serious thought went on there.

When the season ended, and the road got filled in with snow, we mostly stayed away. Some winters it got so well-frozen that we skated on the river, which was glorious. Springtime saw us hurtling down the muddy road, waiting for the day the ice would finally go and I could SEE the water once more, smell it and hear it. The sound of the wind soughing in the trees, the lapping waves, the songbirds and the gulls.

The old spruce trees.

This year is no different, really, even though I am an adult with littles of my own. We all go barrelling down the still-dirt lane together, the girls chit-chatting non-stop with their grandparents the whole way. I feel the same old surge of joy when I see the river sparkling as we round the bend in the woods. The smell of the salt river after the ice goes out is so clean, so fresh, it is unlike anything else in the world. It gives us all so much pleasure.

Summertime is busy here now. Where we used to pitch a tent, cottages have sprung up in a little village. But it is the most wonderful village, made up entirely of our rather large family. You see, my grandparents had eleven children, and most of them and some of the grandchildren have built cottages along the edge of the old home farm along the river. Every weekend is like a big family reunion, and I can’t help but think of how much joy our predecessors would feel to know how it all goes on that lovely piece of family land.

It is difficult to describe such a deep connection to a plot of land. In this era, people move far and often, and few families still live in the same area as their ancestors did. I was always endlessly fascinated by the acres of woods that have now grown over the old farm. Walking through the thick stands of spruce, you could find a long-abandoned wagon wheel, or a path that crossed over a bubbling brook. An old shack stood, half-fallen down but still accompanied by the most glorious lilac bushes I have ever seen. A depression in the ground was the only other evidence of the house that once stood there, its cellar and the sweet lilacs all that are left of that long-ago loved home. Certainly if ghosts walk anywhere, they did in those woods. I thought it was magical.

There is a song by Natalie Merchant that always summed up perfectly how I felt about the river, and I think I will let her say it for me again.

Where I Go

by Natalie Merchant

Find a place
On the riverbank
Where the green rushes grow
See the wind
In the willow tree
In the branches hanging low

Well, I go to the river
To soothe my mind
To ponder over
The crazy days of my life
Watch the river flow
Ease my mind and soul
Where I go

Well I will go to the river
From time to time
Wander over
These crazy days in my mind
Watch the river flow
Where the willow branches grow
By the cool rolling waters
Moving gracefully and slow

O, child it’s lovely
Let the river take it all away
The mad pace and the hurry
The troubles and the worries
Just let the river take them all away
Flow away

To have no limits

Flying

Children can do absolutely anything. They can be ballerinas and space scientists, at the same time. They can excel at any sport, any style of dance, any subject at school. They can turn cartwheels and create mind-bending art and win any competition in the world in any skill. They are superheroes.

It is forever amazing to us grownups that our girls seem to see no barriers to success, no restrictions on what they can achieve, and no one who can do more than they can. OH, how I wish that invincible confidence could last forever! Already I see a difference in our older child, as the pressures of school and classmates start to take a toll on invincibility.

JUMP!

I admit, sometimes that confidence is frustrating, like when I suggest they take swimming lessons and Kat informs me, “I don’t need to, Mummy, I already know how to swim.” Which, of course, she doesn’t REALLY but she does paddle and dunk very nicely. I remind myself that you really have to respect that attitude of complete and total belief in yourself and your own abilities. Like today, for example. The girls watched a bit of the world championship figure skating, which they were really loving. During a break, they ran upstairs, put on figure skating “costumes”, came down and started recreating the skaters’ routines on the kitchen floor, sliding around in their socks. Kat’s reenactment of the medal-winning woman’s sit-spin was especially moving. This is fairly typical for us…we watch a dance show, the girls recreate it. They hear a Taylor Swift song, and become rock star girls, dressed in what they think rock star girls wear. Usually jeans and a sparkly shirt. Or they read a fairy tale and become the heroine.

Little Red Riding Hood in genie pants

We have often said that our older daughter hurtles through life at full-speed, fearing nothing and slowing for no one. I admire that so much. I don’t recall being that way even as a child, and certainly it is not my style now. I sometimes wish I could borrow just a bit of her fearlessness. As I get older I have learned to care less about what others might think of me, but through my teens, 20s and early 30s I cared, OH, I cared. When I think of the time wasted in dwelling on others’ perceptions of me, it is frankly exhausting.

So what can we do  to keep that spirit of fearlessness alive in our girls? None of us can control what other people say or do or see, so we can only work on our own family unit. Here are a few things we are trying.

1. Explore different sports and activities to discover strengths and find what they love to do.

It’s not about competition for us. It is about having strong bodies that do amazing things, and having healthy outlets for all that energy. Neither Dan nor I were ever sporty (if there is such a thing as anti-sporty, I was that) in the least, but we try to encourage the girls by being active as a family. I believe that having a strong, healthy body that dances and cartwheels and plays soccer will go a long way to boosting confidence as they get older.

2. Don’t get hung up on the “Oh, you look so pretty/you are a princess today/what a nice frilly outfit you have on” kind of feedback.

We try to focus on ability, and love and respect for each other, and what makes them unique. The girls have selected their own wardrobes since they were old enough to talk, and it is so fun to see what they come up with. There are times when they may look a little bit eccentric, but those are just the times when my heart surges with love for their little individualist souls. Let your freak flag fly!! (Sorry, but I always was a bit of a geek.)

3. Talk to them like people, not just kids.

I think, and I hope, that even with all the whining that goes on at times (“You NEVERRRRRR let me do what I want!”) our children feel respected and valued as members of our family, and just as important people in the world. If they ask me a question, like “Mummy, did I have any clothes on when I came out of your belly? And how DID I get out of there?” then I answer as honestly and sincerely as I can without over-sharing. Since they were babies, we’ve used the mantra “they’re just little people.” Little people with their own specific agendas and opinions.

4. Let them get bored.

The most amazing play comes out of being bored. We limit television to a couple of hours a week, which leaves lots of time for other stuff. Television has its place for sure, but it is mostly an imagination-killer. Who needs to come up with a new game to play when you can pretend to be Dora, or a Disney Princess, or Strawberry Shortcake? I would much rather have them make up a game out of whatever household materials they can scrounge up and what’s in the dress-up trunk. There are no limits in a child’s imagination, but sometimes we place limits on them inadvertently by what kinds of toys we buy or what entertainment we provide. That’s not preachy, I hope. Not meant that way.

Anyhow, this is all to say that children have no limits. What a beautiful quality that is, to believe that all things are possible. If we as adults could learn a little of that, or remember when once we felt that way, wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing?

All things are possible.

I’m working on it

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Be present. Live in the moment. Choose your battles. Take a deep breath. Take another even deeper breath.

Do you ever have those days when you have to repeat those words to yourself over and over again, yet you still can’t stop yourself from being impatient with someone? Usually someone who is a member of your beloved family? Often someone who is very cute and dear and knows just which buttons to push just to see how you might react? You know what I mean. We all have those moments. I think, when my children are grown and don’t really need me that much, I will forget those times. Already I find that irritation is washed away at the end of every day when I see my daughter’s silky little still-pudgy cheek resting on her hand as she sleeps, or when I see my elder daughter’s giant feet sticking out from under the covers, looking so vulnerable and strangely incongruous with the fourteen stuffed animals she is clutching to her chest with both arms.

On the weekend I was reading a really good blog called Making this home, and the title of the post was “Today will have no regrets.” It got me thinking about my own days, and how I can ensure that I have no regrets. Of course that would mean that I would resist losing my cool over the fact that a meal never goes by without someone taking one look at what healthy choice we have lovingly prepared and saying a very loud and definitive “Bleh” with the oh-so-effective “talk to the hand” motion.

Or it could also mean I would just not regret losing my cool, I suppose. That is hard, however, especially if losing my cool involved me slamming my hand down on the table and shrieking “Oh YEAH???!! Well, DON’T eat it then!!” I know, which one is the more childish in this scenario, right?

We make charts all the time that have as the ultimate goal the creation of well-mannered, helpful, respectful children who do not pick their noses with their toes (that actually happened at tonight’s supper) and who really hustle their buns to do chores like water the plants and make beds. So perhaps the time has come for the creation of the adult mindfulness/no-regrets chart. In the meantime, I will just think about what might go on such a worthy document.

Last week my four-year-old and I clipped some branches from the forsythia bush in our yard. We brought them in and put them in water to try to force the blooms, just as we have done with crabapple, apple and plum branches. Nothing seemed to be happening with the forsythia, though. I have walked by those branches many times in the past few days, and honestly have stopped noticing them. For some reason today my gaze fell on them, and I saw that tiny green leaves are coming out, with the gold blooms just starting. I called Ava to check on them. She dropped what she was doing and ran through the house pell-mell. She was so excited, she started shouting “Mama, Mama, they’re bwooming, the branches are bwooming, look look!” She was ecstatic. I want to be that way, too.

I vow to seek joy in the little things of my day. Yes, I am busier than usual at the moment, and it is tempting to just go blindly, to get through, to go through the motions. But I will stop and sit in the twilight after the girls are in bed, with no sound but the companionable breathing of my husband in the other chair and the turn of pages from upstairs as the girls read. And in the morning I will get up earlier, make my tea and watch the sun rise, and think of how good it all is.

Right now is beautiful

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The sun is up, kind of. The sky is blue, and everyone else has just left for the day. Earlier this morning I was thinking about summertime, places we will go and campfires we will have, swimming in the ocean and camping under the stars. Always at this time of year I pine for the warmth of the sun and seeing green things growing in the garden.

As I get caught up in this fair-weather reverie, I catch myself and take a deep, conscious breath. I hear the girls’ voices, chattering in their bedroom about what fancy clothes they might put on this morning. I hear a bird outside singing “cheeseburger, cheeseburger.” I think it is a chickadee, and for some reason I always think it sounds like they are calling for a burger. I have had a good breakfast, and I am thinking of making some coffee. And it strikes me that for all my work on being mindful, I have still not gotten out of the habit of daydreaming about the time other than THIS time. It is something we all do, of course, but sometimes it keeps me from enjoying the time I am actually in, with all this daydreaming and reminiscing.

So, what is good about this particular time? Beautiful light outside, and the days are already getting longer. Right now the sun is lighting the underside of the clouds so that it is silver-glowing. On the more practical side, it has been an easy winter so far, both on snowfall and on the heating bill, especially compared to last year’s mega-winter. My family is healthy, and happy. We all have a healthy lunch packed. I got a $179 LL Bean trench coat at Frenchy’s yesterday for only $5. Ava and I made a beautiful batch of heart-shaped biscuits which taste absolutely heavenly with quince jelly.

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At this moment, the sun is beaming in the big window onto me and my desk, and if I turn my face towards it and close my eyes, I feel its warmth. The cat is purring blissfully and settling in for a sunshine-spot nap.

Is all this stuff just “stuff?” Or is this what life is all about? Not quite sure, but I know writing it down makes it all seem like it is truly a beautiful day.

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Give me strength

Early morning, Horsefly Lake

Serenity, where are you?

It is a good thing I just got home from my refresher class on mindfulness-based stress management. Strangely enough, one of the topics of discussion was the potential role of mindfulness education in the school system. My Grade one child tells me when I get home that we should not send her snacks and lunch in the containers we always use, because a couple of girls have been teasing her about them, telling her they are “baby containers.” One of these girls is also apparently telling all the other kids she doesn’t like to “shut up.”

Oh my GOODNESS. Holy crap, even.

Alright, they are baby containers, in that we have had them since the girls were babies and we still use them. But the real issue for me is how to teach my children to withstand these kinds of petty but hurtful exchanges. There are times when I am completely at a loss. I think I am hyper-aware, for as a child I was relentlessly teased and bullied, both on the bus and in school. I remember with perfect clarity that feeling of being completely helpless, profoundly alone and at the mercy of those taunting kids, never knowing what to say or how to fight back. It really does have a lifelong impact.

It makes my face feel hot just thinking about other kids being mean to my child. I find myself wondering why there always have to be children who  pick on other kids to make themselves feel powerful. I suppose school is in some ways just a microcosm of the world. Now that one of our children is in school, I am always on the lookout for signs that anything is amiss. I do find that negative attitudes sometimes seem to breed on the schoolyard, and a few nay-saying apples can spoil the whole bunch. More than anything I want to teach the girls skills that will help them keep a positive attitude, be brave and resilient in the face of teasing, never bully and to help those who are being bullied.

I know, it’s a tall order for four- and six-year-olds. My expectations are HUGE.

Seriously, though, mindfulness and the power of positive thinking are life skills that I myself am studying and working on constantly, and we are trying to impart some these ideas to the girls. We all know negative thoughts and words just create more negative thoughts, and any of us who have struggled with depression know all too well where that road leads. As more children are diagnosed (or not diagnosed) with mental health issues, I think the time has come for parents and schools to take a new look at how mindfulness and empathy affect how a child grows and develops.

The wonderful “Roots of Empathy” program is a perfect example of something that really works. From their website  I pulled this description:

Started in 1996, Roots of Empathy is an evidence-based classroom program that has shown significant effect in reducing levels of aggression among schoolchildren while raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy. At the heart of the program are a neighbourhood infant and parent who engage students in their classroom.  Over the school year, a trained Roots of Empathy Instructor guides the children as they observe the relationship between baby and parent, understanding the baby’s intentions and emotions. Through this model of experiential learning, the baby is the “Teacher” and a catalyst, helping children identify and reflect on their own feelings and the feelings of others.

Empathy is something that doesn’t always come naturally, and it can be tough to teach. Kids are pretty much “all about me” and that is developmentally appropriate up to a certain point, or so the books say. I am thinking that children who learn to empathize are less likely to hurt or tease others. Teaching children social and emotional competence begins at home, of course, but if that kind of assistance is lacking, the school could at least give students a chance to learn those vital life skills. A little classroom time spent on mindfulness exercises, basic meditation to teach children to quiet their minds, simple yoga to help get the wiggles out, all of these could fit. Better for them to learn skills that will help their mental health and concentration than to spend their off-time playing video games.

So how did I respond to Kat’s baby container complaints? Well, I suggested she tell those girls that SHE is being environmentally responsible, bringing a litterless lunch with reusable containers, and everyone should be doing the same. I will be interested to see if she uses that comeback. In the meantime, I am off to do some deep calming breaths.

Little things

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This morning I was reading one of my favorite blogs, SouleMama, where Amanda Blake Soule was writing about gratitude. Her little girl had pointed out that if she didn’t know what to write, she could just say “Thank you.” That got me thinking about a little project that my youngest, Ava, has embarked on this past month, and what it can teach me about gratitude and appreciation for all the little things in life. At age four, Ava has developed a fascination for taking photographs, and her subjects are wide-ranging, often very “everyday” in nature, sometimes hilarious, always kind of, well, fascinating. These are all her shots in the slideshow.

Like there was the one day she was let loose with the camera in the backyard and decided that the perfect raspberry was the theme of the day. So she took shot after shot of each raspberry she picked, held up with one hand and photographed with the other, and then of course ate. She takes random shots of toys, cats, her shadow, buckets, favourite corners of the house, cupboard doors, the floor, pictures (pictures of pictures, that is). At first I thought “Whoa, she is just filling the camera with all these photos and we are going to have to delete hundreds of images here.”

Then I started to really look at these images, and I started to see things differently. I started to see through Ava’s eyes, those fresh, unbiased, un-jaded, sparkly hazel eyes that see so many bits of life we never even notice. Ava was capturing all the little things that she loves, her special stuffed owl, her doll stroller, her crafty space, the way the light falls on the cat and the mums in autumn, photographs of all of us around the house, her favourite shoes standing on the beach. It is beautiful.

We often talk about living in the moment. I have just finished a really good eight-week course on mindfulness. But really nothing teaches us more about mindfulness than our children. They live in the moment completely and absolutely, without question or effort. This moment is what matters to them. Ask them what they had for lunch two hours ago and they can’t remember. Who cares about that when there are cartwheels to be done and much giggly nonsense storytelling to be had? Every day I try to take a deep breath and really listen to what they are saying, understand what exactly is the plot behind their latest Playmobil adventure, or discover why Ava is in hysterical tears when just a second ago she was giggling. (It is because she is four.)

When I do this, time slows. I stop seeing the laundry and the messy desk and the calendar and the fact that these girls STILL didn’t put any socks on. I just see them. And I am so grateful for that.