Friday, 6 May 2016

For the mothers who aren't the best in the world

Well I know I can't enter you in THAT contest!

He said it with that familiar teasing nine-year-old smirk of his. I looked at the poster he had motioned towards. "Enter now: Tell us why YOUR mother is the best in the world!"


That stings a little, but I know what my literal boy was getting at. It's true, I am most definitely not, nor ever will be, the best mother in the world. I gave him a mock glare, he flashed me a cheeky grin, and we continued on with our day.

But it still stung. It was true and it was meant in a teasing manner and it still stung.

There was something else there as well, though, something deeper than the twist of a kid reminding you of your imperfection. There was relief, because he said that. To me. Directly and honestly and without fear. Goodness knows I could not have been so honest as a child, could not have acknowledged such a reality.

I climbed up onto the bunk bed later that night, our evening snuggle as important as ever.

You know, I told him, what you said earlier about me not being the best mother in the world was true...but it still hurt my feelings a bit.

But you're not the best mother in the WHOLE WORLD, he reminded me.

I know. I'm definitely not, and it was okay for you to say it. But it still hurt a bit.

I'm sorry.

Thank you.

I don't know who would be the best mother in the whole world.

I don't know either. What do you think she would be like?

Hmm. Maybe someone that let you do whatever you wanted. Except then she wouldn't be a very good mother because she wouldn't do the things like you do, like teaching me and stuff. I'd just be spoiled and it wouldn't really be being a good mother even though it's what I would want.

Interesting. I understand what you mean. What do you think you would do if I said you could do whatever you want?

I don't know, he giggled. I'd probably spend the whole day just sitting there trying to figure out what I wanted to do! Probably ask for a million dollars and my own phone that I could play games on whenever I wanted to.

And so the conversations go.

It's true, and the reminder is uncomfortable and painful: I'm not the best mother in the world. I am too often impatient and demanding, criticizing instead of encouraging. I lose my temper and shout when I should draw near with quiet connection. I use my authority to badger into submission rather than guide towards maturity. I huff and sigh and stomp. In my selfishness, I forget to really see them.

I'm not the best mother in the world, but I am the mother of a child who knows that, who knows that I want to be a good mother but I mess up, I make mistakes, I'm not even remotely approaching perfect. I try, I fail, and I apologize, providing them with the knowledge and assurance that they are worthy, that they don't deserve to be treated poorly, and that my mistakes are not excused simply because I'm an adult. And they will not grow up to say, "It was good enough for me, so it's good enough for my kids!" They will not say, "Well, my parents did it and I turned out fine." No, they will know that I did my best but wanted to do better. They will know that they can learn from my mistakes, grow, and do better for their own children.

Upholding the status quo is not enough. I want my kids to do better. I don't want "good enough" when it comes to them. I want better than "fine". I want them to thrive, blossom, and grow. As I strive to do better than my parents, I pray my children will do even better than I - and their children after them, and on and on through the generations. Not stagnating, but improving; there is always room for improvement. This is how we grow: we don't settle, we learn.

So to the rest of the imperfect mothers out there: It's okay. They'll learn from our mistakes as much as from the things we get right. And we'll all grow.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The Rhythms of Our Days

We settled into a good rhythm over the winter, easy and natural, a comforting flow to our rainy days. I have not always been particularly good at this. It was not until my first child left behind his go-with-the-flow infancy that I was forced to begin to shape our days into a steady routine. I sought a predictable beginning, middle, and end, with room to wander as life lead us.

And yet it remained a challenge for my distractable and disorganized self. I wanted to mark the rhythm of our days, weeks, seasons, and years. I wanted the comfort and security of routines for my children. I wanted to continue our journey towards intentional living, ensuring that the things we valued were not forgotten as our time idly slipped away from us. I just wasn't very good at it.

It's been six years since I first recognized the value of rhythm in our days. I have managed to find that rhythm in certain seasons, steady and reliable, while during other seasons it has slipped away from me. It has been a trial-and-error endeavor, up and down, off and on, but overall there has been a positive progression. Now, at last, our rhythms shape and guide our daily lives, rooted with anchor points, carried along by intentional habits, and ever being fine-tuned to fit our needs.

Right now that rhythm begins before dawn. I get up early with the husband to fit in my run or yoga. I settle into my morning quiet time while he heads off to work and the kids continue to sleep. My early mornings have become more life-giving than I ever would have imagined, and I most definitely notice its absence on days when it doesn't happen.

During this quiet morning time, I read Scripture, pray, journal, and read from my current non-fiction book. This is the sort of reading that I find more challenging during the day, when I won't have the devoted time needed to focus on the words, or at the end of the day, when I'm too tired to give it the thought required. After reading, I review our upcoming day, and then I do a bit of work or writing if I have extra time. And drink coffee. Of course.

The kids wake up one at a time. Ell is nearly always the first, with baby Min close behind. Jay and Kai sleepily wander out eventually, unless we have time-sensitive plans and I have to wake them up (to a chorus of grunts and grumbles and roars, the little bear cubs). After reading a couple of story books while they wake up properly, it's time for breakfast, followed by a bit of play time. Mid-morning we settle in to our sit-down time together, which may include any or all of devotional time, reading, writing, math, and science or geography. By then it's lunch time, during which we have our history read-aloud.

After lunch is our daily quiet time. Min naps while the other three occupy themselves with solitary activities (reading, puzzles, games, and so on) or head outside for some backyard playtime. I work until Min wakes up. There's often time for a game or two before moving on to dinner preparations. Post-dinner is the usual busy evening activities of clean-up time, baths, teeth brushing, bedtime story, and so on. Before I go to sleep myself, I set out the various things I need for morning - coffee supplies ready, stack of books waiting, clothes chosen. That morning time is precious to me and I wish to waste as little of it as possible.

I have been focusing this year on cultivating a deeper sense of home, and rhythm, I've discovered, is an integral part of that. Rhythm provides the hooks on which to hang our activities, our priorities, and our values. I can wake up in the morning knowing that all of the thought is taken out of our plans - the myriad of daily decisions, the preparations, the choosing of what and when and how, the fitting in of what matters to us as time carries us along. I can just get on with what needs to be done, more fully present in the moment and with less worries for the next few steps ahead.

But our rhythms are continually being adjusted, and this spring season has called for new life to be breathed into these old winter routines. We have been setting down the pencils and spending all the lovely mornings outside, at the playground, the beach, or walking through our favourite wooded areas. Our afternoons are still similar, allowing the baby to get in his nap (I will call him a baby forever and ever and don't you try to make me start calling him a toddler already, I don't care if he's walking everywhere and getting into everything and throwing epic toddler tantrums to go along with his Very Big toddler opinions) and providing me with a consistent time in which to do my work.

I find these times of rhythm transitions to be challenging. I feel off-kilter for a while, feeling my way semi-blindly through our days. I miss the simplicity of knowing generally how the day will unfold, and decision fatigue wears on me quickly. Eventually, though, we settle into the new season, rhythm lighting the path ahead, an ever-evolving framework for our family to grow up in.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

What I Am Into - March 2016

What I Am Into :: March 2016

Oh dear - two "What I Am Into" posts in a row, with nothing at all in February. I do so dearly hope I can find a place in our daily rhythms to get back into the practice of writing in this space!

On My Nightstand:

This is embarrassing, but I have finally, for the first time ever, finished reading L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables. I know. What have I even been doing with my life all these years? Anyway, it has now been read, and of course I adored every word in it. It was Jay who got me to read it. He came into my room one night looking for a new book to read (an endless quest, the way that boy consumes books), so I handed him Anne of Green Gables, bookmark still in place from the last time I had picked it up and tried to get through it, many many years ago. He had no such similar troubles, however, and a few days later he handed it back to me and asked if I had liked it when I read it. Upon discovering that I had never actually read the whole thing, he told me that I should. So I did. And he was right. He has since read Anne of Avonlea and is almost finished Anne's House of Dreams, and I will do likewise as soon as he is done with my copy. And then we'll descend upon the library to get the rest of the Anne books that I don't own.

Aside from that, I have been slowly reading through Leahy's The Worry Cure. It was a little unsettling to have the first chapters describe me and my anxiety in such minute detail. This guy knows his stuff.

I finished Landry's Revolution of Mercy: How Kindness Changes Everything. This was such a lovely parenting book. I highly recommend it. If I may share my favourite quote:

"Our ideas of what 'success' is in the middle of the myriad crises of child-rearing should not be whether the child has done what we've asked them to do. True success means that our responses to our children imitate the love of Christ. We are faithful when we 'love our neighbour as ourselves.' Success is faithfulness, not productivity. Success is action, not outcome."

Doesn't that just pare it all down to its perfect basics? (And hey, right now the author is giving away three copies of the book, so go enter before April 4th!)

I've also finished Stephenson's Seveneves and Gaiman's Neverwhere, which were both rather interesting fictions.

During Eastertide, I will be reading N.T. Wright's After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. I doubt I will finish it during the 50 days of this Easter season - I always find Wright's words require time to let them rest, settle in, and turn around in my brain before moving on to the next bit - but hopefully I can get a good start on it.

On the Screen:

The husband and I have finished Star Trek: The Next Generation and moved on to Deep Space Nine. I miss Picard and I'm eager to get to Janeway, but I'm enjoying DS9 in the meantime.

In My Ears:

I'm still mainly just listening to music while I run. During February, I switched from my 165-180 BPM playlist to my 150-164 BPM playlist. I had a good steady stride rate from the faster BPM playlist and hoped the slightly slower one would now help me to stretch out my stride and increase my overall pace. It worked precisely like that, to my pleasant surprise. My running pace has improved from 5:28 min/km at the end of January to 5:09 min/km in March. I am now running 6K each time (3 times per week) instead of 5K, and currently working towards a goal of 5:00 min/km for 6K (6K in 30 minutes). I've also added in yoga on the two weekdays that I don't run, which has been great for stretching out any achiness from run days.

Aside from running playlists, we've added in some music during Lent and Easter. During Lent, we sang through a Psalm each day using this Psalter. Throughout this Easter season, we will be listening to various Easter pieces, including Handel's Messiah, Bach’s Easter Oratorio, and Pachelbel’s Easter Cantatas.

In the Kitchen:

Easter meant some special baking was in order. These hot crossed buns were delicious. This Finnish pulla was my first attempt at the husband's favourite braided cardamom-flavoured sweet bread, and it turned out beautifully. Finally, these custard cream cookies were a nice dessert after Easter dinner.

What I'm Looking Forward to in April:

Outdoors and sunshine and gardens and dirt under my nails and sunshine and warmth and fresh air and sunshine. Basically just give me a patch of sunshine and let me bask in it.

Well, friends, that is What I've Been Into this past month. What about you?

Linking up to What I'm Into with HopefulLeigh...

Friday, 29 January 2016

What I Am Into - January 2016

What I Am Into :: January 2016

It's been a grey and rainy January, as January tends to be in this corner of our country. The first few days of 2016 were filled with extended family and belated Christmas celebrations and oh yes, plenty of turkey. Since then, we've been finding our rhythms and routines again, some old, some new, always shifting to fit the needs of the season. This season has been a quieter one, close to home - not quite the hibernation that December was, but slow and homey nonetheless. It's perfect right now, but I'm starting to feel that itch for spring and sunshine; oh, dreary approaching February, we will find joy in you somehow.

On My Nightstand:

I finally read Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, because I simply grew tired of seeing it recommended by everyone. It's certainly well-written but equally heart-rending. It might have been better at a time when I was feeling more emotionally prepared for it, rather than the dead of rainy winter in the post-holiday hibernation stage. Regardless, it lives up to all the recommendations.

I also read through most of Gaiman's Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances - again, simply because I saw it recommended so many times. Not sure this one lives up to its recommendations, but the writing is excellent, anyway. The stories are just a bit too random and strange for my taste.

I finished Rigg's Library of Souls: The Third Novel of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children, which was not as good as the first one, but still an engaging read and a satisfying conclusion to the story.

I'm currently well into Stephenson's Seveneves. Highly intriguing so far, although a very slight bit on the slow side. On the back burner is Gottman's Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, which was excellent thus far but got set aside in favour of a library hold.

On the Screen:

The husband and I have been spending our evenings watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. Make it so! Ah. Picard. I'm a little bummed that I have to sit through Deep Space Nine next, before we finally get to Janeway in Voyager. (Janeway was my childhood hero. My childhood crush was Sully from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. I cannot decide whether those two choices are a bit...unusual for a child.)

In My Ears:

I haven't been playing a lot of music around the house lately, so really I've been listening exclusively to my 165-180 BPM playlist while I run. Creating that playlist was one of the best things I did for my running. It takes all the thinking out of it for me; I just run in time with the beat, and my pace stays steady and reasonable. My running pace has improved from 5:56 min/km at the start of January to 5:28 min/km at the end. Nothing fabulous, I know, but the steady personal improvement makes me happy. I'm currently running 5K three times each week.

What We're Learning:

We finished our history book (Hillyer's A Child's History of the World), much to the kids' disappointment. Our next one (Gombrich's A Little History of the World) arrived a few days later, but in the meantime they had been requesting re-reads of the chapters on their favourite people and events.

Kai asked why the moon looks different some nights, prompting an interesting exploration of that question. We made this model of earth's orbit around the sun and the moon's orbit around earth. We used this video and this comparative model to consider the actual scale of the sun/earth/moon. Then we talked about the phases of the moon, went into a dark room with a globe and a flashlight and a ball to get a better visual of it, and finished things off by making this interactive model of the phases of the moon.

Then they asked me to print off more of the orbit models and proceeded to make up their own planets and stars, each one with detailed (and usually quiet dangerous) characteristics. So many scraps of cut paper on the floor. So many.

Organizing My Days:

I am in love with my daily planner this year. I am using the Sacred Ordinary Days planner, a liturgical planner which satisfies my soul's need for rhythm. Each of the changes in the church season is accompanied by a guided reflection. The daily pages have space for three daily projects, journaling, the daily schedule, to-do list, daily office readings, and white space for whatever. It's beautiful. I love it. I use it as my personal planner, with journals and prayers and doodles and reflections and various personal things I want to track, as well as a basic daily outline of our schedule. It has become a lovely way to start and end each day.

What I'm Looking Forward to in February:

February starts off with a celebration of our ninth anniversary. Considering how healing the past year has been, this makes me smile. Lacking a babysitter (seriously, how do we still not have a babysitter?), we'll likely order some pizza for the kids, set them up with a movie in the living room, and enjoy a nice quiet dinner (sort of) on our own.

Well, friends, that is What I've Been Into this past month. What about you?

Linking up to What I'm Into with HopefulLeigh...

Monday, 25 January 2016

The only way to do it

Sometimes my kids don't want to do the things that they need to do.

Shocking, right? I know. I'm the only one with kids like this. They don't want to empty the dishwasher or tidy their toys or work on something challenging.

So out comes the Mom Voice and I tell them, every time: The only way to do it is to do it.

The only way to get that dishwasher emptied so you can go play is to empty it. The only way to get through that task that feels big and difficult and overwhelming is to get started. These are words to carry you through life, kids.

But this isn't really about my kids. Because for every time I remind them that the only way to do it is to do it, I have to remind myself of the same thing about a half dozen times.

The only way to get out of bed in the morning, self, is to get out of bed in the morning. The only way to run is to lace up those shoes and go run. When faced with a new client and five years of overdue taxes and no useful records, the only way to get through it is to do it. I can stare at it and dread it and whine all I like, but it's not going anywhere until I begin.

Goodness knows that as a perfectionist, procrastination is my constant temptation. If I can't do it perfectly right now, then it's best to just not bother at all, right? Put it off until I have the perfect combination of time, silence, skills, desire, space, mental clarity, everything - then, maybe, we'll talk.

Four kids and homeschooling and working from home and housekeeping and caring for my own self too, however, means that things never go well when I try to wait for the stars to perfectly align. I'm learning to be more creative with my time. I'm finding the things that work best for me: the preparations that make the biggest difference, the small pockets of time that can either be wasted or used, the disciplines and habits that bring a sense of peace and confidence and usefulness to our daily rhythms.

All those things help, yes - but ultimately, always, the only way to do it is to do it. So I sit down to my work and hear those words in my head and I begin. I put on a load of laundry. I take out the sewing machine. Turn on the oven. Pick up the broom. the book. the pen.

The only way to do it is to do it.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Light {One Word 2016}

Each year, in lieu of resolutions, I choose an idea to focus on for the next 12 months. The fluidity and holistic nature of this word fits my spirit better than one specific resolution. They flow one year to the next, Grace leading to Joy leading to Presence, Intention leading to Rhythm leading to Habit, the culmination of all of those Opening my life wide for what may come. Then, a hard year, a decision to simply Go Forward bravely, one step after another. The year following demanded that I Fearlessly rebuild and heal and live.

Now another new year has arrived, and my focus is shifting once again.

2010: Grace and Intention
2011: Joy and Rhythm
2012: Presence and Habit
2013: Open
2014: Go Forward
2015: Fearless
2016: Light

I don't know precisely how this focus on Light will play out this year - my word always ends up surprising me, applying itself in unexpectedly perfect ways - but I do have a general vision to guide me in the weeks ahead.

Live Light

I want to Live Light this year. I want there to be less stuff. Less clutter, less consuming, less purchasing. Less visual chaos creating inner chaos. Less demands on my time and attention, taking away from the better things that could be. Lighter schedules with plenty of margin. It's all beginning to feel like a burden, all this stuff to move around and tidy and sort and organize and care for; I will keep the useful and the beautiful, but so much of the rest needs to go.

Seek Light

Claiming the early hours of the day as my own has provided me with a renewed steady diet of God's Word, and I want to continue to Seek the Light there. His Word is freedom and comfort, guidance and wisdom, a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Building on that source of Light, I want to more intentionally Seek Light in my own spirit. I am easily burdened, heavy under the weight of the world's pain, frequently wrestling away despair and anxiety. I need to care for my soul - put on my own oxygen mask, if you will, that I may then be able to better love others.

Caring for my soul means loving my whole self, body, mind, and soul, continuing to prioritize the things that help me to feel strong and free and grateful for this gift. It means running, resting, sleeping, eating, all of it joyously and with gratitude. It means acknowledging my needs and meeting them as best I can where I am right now. It means pursuing both the creative and the intellectual. It means prayerfully releasing burdens and receiving hope, the only rescue from the temptation to despair.

Be Light

With a lighter life and a lighter spirit, I am better equipped to Be Light to others, to share blessings and kindness and love. For too long I have allowed my anxiety and perfectionism to bind me, afraid that my attempts at kindness will only end up being a burden, unwanted, insufficient, just not quite right. I wish to shed those restraints and offer what I can, however imperfect or small those offerings may be. In a world that can feel so dark, even a small Light is welcome.

I want especially to be Light here in this home. Words and acts of kindness, grace, and compassion are never needed anywhere more than in one's own home, kindling love and security, raising up more love and Light to go out into the world.

Live Light. Seek Light. Be Light.

Do you have a One Word this year? a resolution? a new goal or habit? I'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Holiday heart-gazing

It's the third day of Christmas, but the main event is over. Our Advent candles are still sitting out, but we no longer gather around to light them each evening. Our tree is still up (the bottom third bare, thanks to a certain grabby toddler), waiting for Epiphany. The cardboard boxes have been taken to the recycling depot. The turkey has been eaten and the stock made and frozen, to my great satisfaction. I do believe it's time to indulge in a little holiday navel-gazing.

Actually, let's rephrase that. Forget navel-gazing. I've decided we'll call it heart-gazing from now on. Navel-gazing sounds so negative. Why is that? Self-reflection is great. It's easy to look at everyone and everything else and pass judgement, but change only happens when we look at ourselves. Get your growth game on, yo.

So there you have it. My positive spin on and justification for some indulgent navel-gazing. Let's make it a thing. Go ahead and use it yourself. You're welcome.

This past season of Advent and our current season of Christmas were both very good and very difficult. The holidays were beautifully intentional, just the way I want them to be. But then I would look up at this whole weary world and I just can't. How do you even pray, where do you even begin to help, to bring hope, or to bring change? I was there during Lent and I was still there this Advent: Thy Kingdom come, dear God, please. It was Advent in the truest sense, a begging hope, a desperate anticipation, a mourning for what is and longing for what will come, for Who will come.

But Advent isn't only for me and my wrestling between hope and despair. And so each day we would light the candles - one spot closer on our spiral wreath, the appropriate number of candles on our Advent wreath - and the kids would argue about whose turn it was to blow out the match, because jostling each other next to lit candles is always a good and wise idea. Then we would sit on the couch (where they would argue about who got to sit on which side of me, because I guess I look better from certain angles maybe?). We would read another name of Jesus, along with the appropriate passage, then move on to the day's reading from Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. We would finish up our time together with a short responsive prayer (thank you to The Anglican Family Prayer Book for making it easy for us) and a weekly Advent hymn. Sibling arguments aside, it was a lovely time each day together, and, I believe, the very first time we have ever got through the entire Advent without losing steam before the end. It flowed well and fit nicely and was a good thing in our holidays.

Christmas was good too. Just us, it was quiet and peaceful and really quite perfect. The best decision I made was intentionally choosing ahead of time to put the camera away while we went about our day. It allowed me to be far more present than other years. No taking pictures of every gift as they unwrapped it, no worrying about blurry shots and missed opportunities and posed smiles and ugh, all of it, I was so glad to just say no to myself and do away with what is usually a stressful and ultimately pointless exercise. When do I ever go back and look at pictures of them unwrapping each gift? I took one quick shot of each of them after the gift unwrapping was done, and otherwise the day passed by blissfully undocumented but fully experienced.

Now comes the time of year when we review, consider what worked and what could be improved. My head's not wholly there yet though. We're busy preparing for "second Christmas" with family arriving this week, but I'll get around to it eventually.

Still, some things are readily apparent to me when I think back on the past months. This year was one of growth and change - as, perhaps, all years should be. I discovered that I could possibly become friendly with early mornings after all. I took up running. I confronted my anxiety for the first time. I sought healing.

Much of it was good, but there is always room for improvement - for healthier and stronger relationships, for more intentional choices, for better routines, for new habits. What do I want for this new year? Not a complete reinvention, but a slow and steady continual turning, growing. If last year was my year to be Fearless, what will be my focus for the next twelve months? I look forward to a time of quiet reflection in which to ask these things of myself and my God.

But first there are floors to be washed and dust bunnies to be defeated and then family to love and enjoy and with whom to celebrate the birth of the One Who would bring us freedom and a new commandment: Love.

To all of you from all of us: May your new year be filled with the greatest joy and deepest peace. Thank you for being here.