Wednesday, 25 March 2015

What babies do

I was tough, once upon a time. I was tough and untouchable and unreachable and unabashedly proud of it. Just try to make me cry. Just try to make me reveal the deeper parts of me. Just try to make me share myself, my thoughts, my fears, my dreams. Just try.

Sometimes I wondered what was wrong with me. I didn't cry at deaths or funerals or marriages or births or any of those other tear-worthy events. I still don't. Four times now I've birthed my own flesh and blood and still not shed a tear; am I broken?

But then I look at my babies, later, I mean, when it's just the two of us and everything is perfectly ordinary. I look at them and my heart swells and I cry, I do. I tear right up at the sheer perfection that is this child. I really and truly get to raise this tiny human? Really? It's baffling and beautiful and terrifying and wonderful and yes, I cry. Now I cry.

Maybe this is what babies do: They make us soft. Soft around the middle, soft in our hearts, those hearts we now watch walking around in the world.

(Maybe they even make us a bit soft in the head. There was a time when I loved a good intellectual debate; now, though, I find less interest in reasoning someone under the table. Perhaps it's because I spend all day with argumentative children. I'm simply all argued out. Let's just hang out and not debate the timing of chore-doing or the merits of sharing or the importance of whatever life skill is currently lacking. Yes?)

My great-grandmother was fond of reminding others that it's those who are closest to us who hurt us the most. She said it bitterly, though, and that bitterness was passed down to her daughter and then to her grand-daughter, my mother, who repeated it often to me as I disappointed her time and again.

I want to be the woman who takes the bitterness out of that adage. Yes, those who are closest to us will hurt us the most. But it not because of them - it's because of us. It's not because they treat our feelings carelessly or take us for granted. It's because we care so much more. We love and fear and worry and protect and care. It is our own love that wounds us. And oh, there are mama-aches innumerable as they grow.

These babies of ours make us soft, vulnerable. But it's a softness born of love; it's an ache as their humanity collides with our hearts; it's the madness of seeing both perfection and weakness, both indescribable beauty and utter chaos, in the same small person. It's rediscovering our own weaknesses through the eyes of a child. It's a refining, to be sure.

Yes, I'm softer now.

It's what babies do.

Monday, 23 March 2015

The Little People: An Introduction

For most of my time in this space, I have referred to my nameless children by their growing titles: the boy, the preschooler, the toddler, baby girl, baby boy, whatever was appropriate at the time. These descriptions, useful but ever-changing, have become increasingly more difficult as time passes.

The olders are mentioned here less often, their individual lives and stories being left alone for them to tell on their own someday, at a time and to an audience of their choosing. I still like to chat about them, though, just those innocuous everyday comings and goings that make up the pattern of our lives. The babies, of course, are fairer game, being rather universal in their coos and cries and naps. Either way, still small or growing older, how much simpler to just refer to them by name!

To that end, I'd like to properly introduce you to my little people, with nicknames and ages and oh so very big personalities:

This is Jay. He's coming up on eight years old, and like countless mothers before me, I can scarcely believe it. Sometimes I catch myself staring at him, just staring, marveling at how old (and yet still so young) he looks. He has a delicious sprinkling of freckles across his nose; he pretends to hate them but grins all the same as I try to kiss each one. Then he wipes my kisses off, because gross, Mom, but that's okay, there are more where those came from and I can't get enough of his laughter. He is my mini-me, my childhood self reincarnated, which is beautiful and hard and lovely and challenging and more than a little frightening. He is, in a word, amazing, and I am endlessly in awe of the person he is growing into. He loves late night snuggles, a chance to talk about his day and ask his big questions long after the other kids have fallen asleep. His interests vary from math to soccer to science to drawing to reading to comics to Mario Kart. He cheers for any sports team but the one his dad cheers for, and he is full of mischief and love and thoughtfulness.

This is Kai. Oh, my wild five year old, endless bounding energy and passion and extremes. He's everything his brother wasn't - the lover of potty humour, weapons, wrestling, and all that is loud and crazy. He will protest chores like it's the end of the world, no, I'm not going to do that, I won't, a steady stream of refusal right up until the job is finished. Then off he goes, cheerful as ever, and I just smile and shake my head at his ability to dig his heals in even as he does the task at hand. He's never felt a need to do anything at less than full volume and throttle. He's a determined skater, his Canadian-boy dreams filled with the hope of becoming a hockey player someday. He is my incredible storyteller: Kai has an entire imaginary village in his head, and we are often regaled with tales of "his people" as we sit around the dinner table. The inner workings of his body, too, are a story unto themselves, from the "reflections" that his eyes shoot out to the armour-covered white blood cells that not only destroy germs but also build themselves little houses. Kai's stories are as much a part of him as his arms and legs.

This is Ell. She is my delightful baby girl, as much as her two-and-a-half years will still allow me to call her that. She is every bit as passionate and unbounded as the one before her, loud and silly and wild and crazy and passionate and joyful. Her steady narration is the background music of my day: "What you doing, Mommy? Oh, you cooking? What you cooking? Oh, you cooking oatmeal? I yike oatmeal. We have boo-berries? Oh, we do have boo-berries? I yike boo-berries. Oh! Baby wake up! He wake up by hisself! I not wake him up! HEY BABY! I YUV YOU, BABY! You wake up!" If her brothers are doing it, she wants to do it, always right there in the middle of everything. She thanks me enthusiastically every time I do the laundry, which is often, given the amount of laundry around here. She takes great delight in combing her daddy's hair: "Turn head, Daddy. Now down. Now up. Now udder side." This one likes her routines, a nice predictable pattern in which to snuggle safely. She's my little thumb-sucker, hair-twirler, and lover of all that is Hello Kitty.

This is Min. Oh, my Min. He's been melting our hearts for half a year already. He likes to chew on fingers and pull on his sister's hair, much to her indignation. He is the sort of happy that cannot be described, just endless smiles and cuddles and laughter and contentment. I could happily spend my days nomming his neck or blowing raspberries on his belly or letting him grab my face as I growl at him. I was pretty chill with my babies - friends and strangers alike have always commented on that, you're just so calm! - but this one? This fourth sweet baby? He's the one who released those last niggling worries, foolishness about holding babies too much or forming bad habits or spoiling them or other such ridiculous nonsense. No, this one is my joy-baby, my snuggle-baby, my don't-worry-about-a-thing-baby, my soak-him-up-baby, because every cliché about how fast they grow is true. They are all so very very true. Babies are made for days like these, slow days of cuddles and laughter and entirely devoid of worry. It all works out in the end.

Introductions finally accomplished and story-telling made a little simpler, I hope to return to a more steady pace in this little space of mine. Thank you for being here.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

What I want to give up for Lent

Lent has arrived and there is much I want to give up.

I want to give up my worries, all of them. Always worry has been my steady companion and tormentor. There have been too many sleepless nights, too many what ifs, too many knots twisting stomach and shoulders and relationships because worry, worry. Because of these anxieties, I have seen things that do not exist, believed things about others that are untrue, and heard words that were never said - demons, all of them, that worry has given life to. I have not trusted you, Lord, in the small things or the significant things; forgive me.

I want to give up my apathy. Too often I am content with the bread and circuses society offers, and in doing so I turn my eyes and heart and hands away from that which should fully capture them. I line my thighs with excess calories while others go hungry. I buy things I do not need. I scoff at the idiocy of a culture that would discuss at length the appropriateness of wearing yoga pants while giving no thought at all to the working conditions of those who make their clothes in the first place, and yet in so many ways, I am no different. I can be equally unconcerned, equally unbroken, over the things that deeply matter rather than the frivolous things that raise my blood pressure and occupy my thoughts. Forgive me, Lord, for my apathy.

I want to give up my perfectionism, that drive that says if you can't do it just so and all the way, then why bother doing it at all? This perfectionism has kept me from carrying out in body what my heart desires. It has heaped shame on those I love. It has made me a poor friend. It has limited my desire to live a full and creative life. I want to do not for approval, but for Love's sake alone. Forgive me, Lord, for the control I have allowed perfectionism to have and all that I have allowed it to rob from my life and my relationships.

I want to give up my hurry. Always rushing about, quick, we'll be late, come on, let's go, I want to get home, pay attention, this needs to get done, I'm busy, I have other things that need attending, quick quick hurry hurry now. I want to be less inconvenienced by the minor nothings that cause me to sigh or rant my impatience, those moments of spilled cereal or late-night needs or other such grand-scheme-of-things trivialities. I want to be slow, calm, more willing to see joy than to rush through the moment's task. I have missed much in my busyness; forgive me, Lord.

If only it were possible to turn these things off, the way I turned off my computer in past years. Remove them from the house like foods we've given up before. Put them in a drawer and leave them there while these forty days pass by.

If only.

But these things are woven among the better parts of me, not easily separated and set aside. They are my continually-working-out areas, long and slow processes as the One who created me untwists the broken parts inside, burns away the impurities and brings me ever closer to my true and whole self.

I'll quietly choose something different this year, something separate and concrete - but if I could, I'd give up all of the above instead.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Whoever said the days are long?

Whoever said the days are long?

(Oh yes, I did, once or twice or probably a lot.)

They don't feel long anymore. These days I'm holding on tight, and when I'm not holding on, I'm reaching to catch up. Where do the hours go?

Every day the baby looks older, the toddler jabbers on more clearly, the little boy learns more, and the bigger boy asks more. We moved the boys into bunk beds this weekend, and my (oft-neglected) craft room has been turned into a bedroom for baby girl. We're back down to just three in our bedroom now, the smallest baby and the husband and I, and I already miss hearing her light snores. But now she's in big-girl underwear and a big-girl bed in her own big-girl room and I guess it's time I stopped calling her baby girl?

No. She's still my baby. They all are.

I know why the days are slipping away like this. It's because of this death grip I have on them. Wait. Slow down. I need more time. I need more moments. I need more memories. It's all going by too quickly. I'm missing it, mourning its passing, even as it happens.

Relax. I tell myself again and again but I can't seem to let go of that frantic feeling. They're growing up and I make too many mistakes and I'm tired and there's so much to do and even more that I want to do and so much I never get around to and I need to get off this hamster wheel.

I know what I need to do. I know it demands surrender instead of control, calm rather than panic, intention rather that reaction - oh yes, and probably an earlier bedtime, as sad as that makes my introverted self.

I know what I need because there are moments when I feel it, moments when I actually get it right. It happens when I watch the baby fall asleep, when I say yes to a request for a bedtime snuggle, when I get outside and breathe the crisp air, when I run or laugh or look someone in the eye, when I turn off the light on another day and feel satisfied...

...when I celebrate this moment instead of grieving its passing.

This is my daily practice, today and tomorrow and the day after that, every day, trying again and again to enjoy the passing hours instead of clutching them in my fist in an attempt to hoard what will inevitably pass by.

Relax, laugh, celebrate, and enjoy.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Be A Good Recipient

"No, really, let me. I don't mind. It's no trouble at all. I'll take care of it."

I was brushing off yet another offer. It's what I do. Blame my Canadian nature or my shy personality or my reluctance to cause anyone the least bit of inconvenience in my behalf - whatever the cause, I am much better at turning down an offer than I am at accepting one.

This time, though, I wasn't going to get away with it quite so easily.

"Cynthia, I want to do this for you. I want to serve you in this way. I want to bless you. Please. Now be a good recipient."

Be a good recipient. If there's one thing I'm not, it's that. No really, I'm fine, it's okay, don't worry about it. I can handle it. Don't go to any bother on my behalf. How many times have I answered this way, brushing off one offer or another in my determination not to...what? Not to inconvenience anyone? Not to act as though I am worthy of what is being offered to me? Or is it really disguised pride, a reluctance to appear in need of anything, always the giver rather than the receiver?

But with those words - "be a good recipient" - I heard the heart behind them and I relented. I accepted the offer. I let go of my worry and relaxed. And it was Good. It truly was a blessing.

I needed those words to remind me that by declining every offer, I deny others the opportunity to bless and serve in the way they feel best willing and able. They are offering me this blessing, this act of love, and I am refusing it. I doubt the sincerity of their offer and thereby call them liars. I doubt my worth in receiving such a gift and thereby prevent others from showing their love for me. We both miss out.

I've been trying to say yes more often since hearing those words. I've been trying to be a good recipient. So far, perhaps to no one's surprise but my own, it has been a beautiful thing.

Maybe you need such a reminder as well? Allow others to bless you, to serve you, to be a help or a comfort to you. Accept the love that is being offered to you. Be a good recipient.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

New year, old me

I love the feel of the new year's blank slate as much as the next person. New words, new goals, new hopes and plans, it's just all so shiny and new.

I used to plunge into the new year certain that my mere resolve would make me into a new person, every thought and action purposeful and exact. I'd get it all right this time. That usually lasted about until the minute I had to wake up from my warm cozy bed on New Year's Day. I'm not very good at resolving to be a better person.

Last year I simply chose to go forward into the new year, each step brave and difficult and enough for the moment. I went forward through that year and marveled at all the good and lovely things that happened, from our New Year's Day discovery of a little stowaway, through a Lent of gratitude, beyond a busy summer, past catching that same little stowaway as he arrived into this world, all the way to December and our first Christmas spent at home instead of travelling. It was a very healing year.

This year feels like a year in which to be Fearless. Less worry, more life, that's what this year needs. But I've lived through enough new years to know it's not going to be as simple as that.

Because it all boils down to habits, doesn't it? One thing at a time, slowly, deliberately, it's the most likely way to craft a change that will last.

And so this fearless year is going to start with one simple thing, a morning alarm. These four lovely noisy children have long been my alarm, but somehow I sense that this season needs a change in that regard. A real alarm, a dedicated Time To Get Up, a way to start the day a little less abruptly and a little more purposefully, that's what this season needs.

It's a new year, yes, but let's not try to reinvent ourselves completely. We're still the same people we were a week ago, two weeks ago. A new year does not a new person make - but it can be a nice start to a new habit. One thing, however seemingly small, is another step on this continual turning toward Better.

New year, old me, new habit.

Do you have a word or a hope for 2015? Is there a new habit are you currently working on? What are you looking forward to this year?

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Why I Love Dinovember

The dinosaurs have come and they are wreaking havoc throughout our house. The kids wake up every morning and I listen - sure enough, "Mommy, it happened again!"

Those naughty carnivores.

It's no secret that we don't include Santa Claus in our Christmas celebrations. I'd express it differently now but my feelings haven't changed. No elf sits on our shelf in December. The Easter Bunny doesn't stop by in the spring. We don't leave notes for or gifts from the Tooth Fairy; when the coin is found, any questions received only a shrug and a wink. For a variety of reasons, these things just don't have a place in our home.

But Dinovember? I'm in love.

I love it because it makes no sense. It's just plain ridiculous fun, the best kind of fun if you ask me. There's no reason behind it, no logic to it, and no lesson to be learned. It's pure silliness, end of story.

I love it because it isn't tied to anything. It isn't associated with any holiday, and it doesn't arrive with the expectation of gifts or candy. You can't buy a Dinovember backpack or a Dinovember hoodie or a Dinovember anything (book aside). It's entirely random, self-directed, and uncommercialized - grassroots, if you will.

I love it because it doesn't try to control anything. There's no threat of a giftless holiday for misbehaviour. The dinosaurs aren't watching and reporting back to someone else. They offer neither explanation for any of life's mysteries nor reward for its milestones. They don't come with a tidy little moral. Nothing. Nada. They just are.

I love it because it can be as simple or as extravagant as you please. Fill the bathroom sink with water so the dinosaurs can have a midnight swim, or cover the entire bathroom in toilet paper and shaving cream. There aren't any accompanying crafts or recipes or printables, no expectations beyond dino mischief in any form of your choosing. Or non-mischief, for that matter - some nights our dinosaurs have proved to be exceptionally helpful.

I just love it.

Now if you'll pardon me, I have some dinosaurs to wrangle.