What We Need To Remember About Parenting

Dear Mothers Everywhere (including any Fathers that care to chime in on the debate),

Suppose for just a minute that a new rule has been established and we as parents are all going to be evaluated and judged by it. Are you ready for it? The rule, that is? Okay. The rule is (drum-roll, please): Good parenting is now to be decided on what type of cereal you serve your children for breakfast.

Uh-huh.

So here is how this is going to go down.

If you fall into the hot cereal camp, you will promote until your final dying day the virtues of hot cereal as a means of raising healthy, well-rounded children. Red River, Steel-Cut Oatmeal, Cream of Wheat and who-knows-what-other concoction that is hot and steamy and otherwise infused with elevated temperatures inducing heat- it’s all good. And oh so necessary for a child’s best start to life. But let’s not just leave it there. This hot cereal movement- it must continue all throughout your offspring’s childhood to be otherwise effective. A child must have hot cereal served to them (on a golden platter or not) for the duration of their stay in your home, or this effort will be thwarted. For a mother/father to be competent, hot cereal is the only way to go.

Unless you fall in line with thinking in the other camp.

That is, you find yourself believing that cold cereal is the only means to raising a healthy, productive, loving child. Cheerios, Shreddies, Rice Crispies, Shredded Wheat- the colder the product, the better the outcome. As long as it is served with a chilled dousing of your pick of milk, your child will be guaranteed to turn out as good as is humanly possible.

Of course, there will always be parents that fall in between the dividing lines- choosing to, at times, serve hot cereal for a while before returning to an all-cold service (or vice-versa). And what do we do with parents who don’t serve cereal at all?

The absurdity of basing one’s parenting on what type of cereal one dishes up for breakfast seems a bit ridiculous, although there are no doubt very strong feelings about such, somewhere in the world (a quick perusal of Google comes up with 22,400,000 results).

But really, is this debate regarding cereal types such a crazy thing on which to base our parenting expertise? Could it be that we as parents make much ado over anything, given the opportunity- polarizing ourselves into starkly opposite camps over just about every issue under the sun?  There are more ridiculous arguments to be had, for sure.

This is where I am going with all of this. Over the last forty-eight hours, there have been quite a few viral articles floating around regarding which is better- STAY AT HOME PARENTING or PARENTING BY THOSE WHO WORK OUTSIDE THE HOME. It sort of feels like we are reducing our uniquely individual choice to parent to an issue of what type of cereal we must needs offer so as to raise healthy children. Because quite honestly, from what cereals we serve up… right on through to whether we work outside the home or not: these are uniquely personal choices one must make as a parent and not blanket decisions that one camp or the other really has any influence over.  Let alone the court of public opinion.

Perhaps today, I feel the desire to serve hot cereal. Tomorrow I might rethink that decision.

I say all this to say the following: I have been both a SAHM as well as a working mom (of which I am currently), and for both parenting roles, I have agonized deeply over the best possible means in which to parent while carrying out my responsibilities. My desire as a mom/parent is to be the best possible mom I can be- whether I am serving up cold cereal or hot, whether I am working outside the home or not.

To reduce these decisions- which I must make as a uniquely personal choice that is best for my particular family- to the public arena of opinion and debate, (in which people are polarized into camps and otherwise divided and alienated) is truly a shame.  It is a shame along with being a shame-inducer.  Double-whammy.

Let’s live and let live, people.

We are all doing the best we know how. We are all in this together. We are making the best choices we are able to make given the circumstances of our lives right now. Let’s stop making one another feel bad for the parenting choices we make and start a movement of compassion for one another to replace it that builds on unity rather than division.

Because truth be told: parents who love their kids are far more effective when they are making decisions that suit their family’s needs than they are when doing what they feel ‘guilted’ into doing because of societal pressure.  Love wins over duty each and every time- and we all know, you can’t box in love.

It’s too big for that.

We need to stop the (cereal/ parenting debates) shaming once and for all… in the name of love, people. If you love your kids and you are doing an otherwise decent job of raising them, WHO CARES WHAT KIND OF CEREAL YOU SERVE UP FOR BREAKFAST!!!

Truth-telling time: I am hot mess

I get the call that I have forgotten-yet again- what I am suppose to be doing. This is me: post new-mommy brain, pre-dementia. There must be another label for this forgetfulness that I am so prone to that is more forgiving.

Having missed an appointment at the mechanic’s, I find that Husband, having not gotten me on my cell (phone turned down), has called the school TWICE to find out ‘where in tarnation’ I am. I am, of course, in my classroom (good teacher that I am)… tidying up loose ends, not a care in the world. I get paged twice over the school intercom (while I meanwhile attempt to run out of the classroom and into the room next door to mine, so as to answer his phone call…all while carrying on a conversation with a colleague—all as if my life didn’t depend on the next two minutes). Yes, this is me. Legitimately absent-minded.

This quick-thinking (or so I think) appears like it will work to save the day, but I soon come to realize Hubby has now given up on me and is pursuing alternative means. Read: he has left his own place of work and is now driving QUICKLY towards mine. I clue in pretty quick as well when my VP announces that he’s hung up on me- that it is TIME FOR ME TO VACATE THE PREMISES. I gather the girls, forget my lunch upstairs in the staff room fridge in the process- and thrust myself through the doors and towards my awaiting van. Which happens to now be parked in a small lake which has formed since I last exited the vehicle.

I pull out of the parking lot, turn onto the road and then honk at hubby as he goes by in the opposite direction, a man who appears to be looking a tad confused and a bit dazed at what could possibly be happening with his wife. She seems to have lost ALL her marbles.

We do finally connect- at the garage.  It is not, I’m afraid, the blissful reunion of which fairy-tales are made.

And you would assume, I’m sure, that I would use the five minute drive home in the truck, riding shotgun beside my Handsome Hubby…to apologize profusely and admit my wrongs. You over-estimate me yet again. Instead, you find me creating endless scenarios and reasons for which to cover my puny Behind, making excuses for why I had forgotten the appointment and on and on we go…as well as find me coming up with endless ways in which to complain about all the other things that have gone wrong with my day OF WHICH HUBBY HAS BEEN AN ACCOMPLICE IN MY ILL-ADVENTURES. Read again: it is entirely his fault that my day has now had the bottom fall out from beneath it.

But of course.

And so, I carry this sour mood home with me as I find umpteen more ways in which to complain and find fault with him and everything else in the world. There is no limit to my impatience.

All this, until I find myself standing at the sink with a scowl on my face and more words in which to throw scathingly in his direction… when I find gentle arms wrapped around my waist, kind hands holding me. His hands, holding me- this ball of tension, this ring of fire. And I feel within me the blaze simmer to a smouldering heat of warmth. And I let him hold me that way until I finally feel I can turn to him, tears in my eyes. Shame in my soul.

For what do I deserve- this mess that I am?  What do I deserve.  But more of the same of which I have offered- that, and then some. I receive back nothing but grace.

In talking about her inability to see the good in people- as she wished she could more often do, Doris Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, penned these words with regards to those people she served daily, who were found living as addicts and otherwise broken in spirit and soul:

“If I did not bear the scars of so many sins to dim my sight and dull my capacity for love and joy, then I would see Christ more clearly in you all. I cannot worry much about your sins and miseries when I have so many of my own. I can only love you all, poor fellow travellers, fellow sufferers. I do not want to add one least straw to the burden you already carry. My prayer from day to day is that God will so enlarge my heart that I will see you all, and live with you all, in His love.”

When I think of the absolutes of good and evil, I can only believe that God has called us to see in each other the good, while He gently reminds us through the grace that we receive of our own shortcomings. I only know of evil when I feel the warmth of good. I am only reminded of grace when I see within myself my own errors and shortcomings. There would never be a need for grace if I wasn’t in possession of a deficit of kindness somewhere along the line. And so today, I saw within myself the need for grace- because I was offered much. And so freely.

In writing about Doris Day, Philip Yancey (2010) had this to say ( and I paraphrase): It was Dorothy Day’s brutal honesty about herself- her unwed pregnancy, her biting tongue, her quick temper- self-owned flaws that society (no doubt) pointed out in her as wrongs. It was then her own failings that allowed her to show grace to others. Yancey went on to say that grace is there for those who see themselves as broken- not primarily for those who believe that all is well.

Grace abounds in brokenness.

It is the flaws that we own within ourselves that enables grace to shine brightest. I soon feel tears come to the surface as he speaks gently, showering gracious, loving- KIND words over me. Seeing yet again that because I have been shown grace, I can then use this occasion to myself show gracious kindness in return, first to him and then to others. Covering all with grace.

For all is grace, if it is anything at all.

And so, I am then able to cover all that is around me with that grace I now sense, knowing deep within my own soul that there is an abiding sense of Love’s Presence. All is forgotten and I am free to carry on.

Grace-infused.

Here’s to loss (and the gains that follow)

Last week, we were in Florida while the rest of the Maritimes dug themselves out from another ‘white-mare’. I am sure it seems to everyone who lives here that there will never be an end to all the snowy, blizzard-y winter weather we have been experiencing over that last two months. Long range- forecasts project that things could continue into April, if things follow along on this riotous path to who knows where. What to do? Well, what our family decided to do was go south- forget our worries, cares and concerns and head to the light. To heat and warmth and sun and parks. Yes, making our way to lots and lots and lots of parks. And of course finding some water along the way, too.

One cannot do without the water in Florida.

So you would think that when you head for a reprieve from reality, that reality would just stay put and not follow you. Funny how life works- unfortunately, this isn’t how it goes down. Reality, when one is vacationing, is just the same old thing it always was- dressed up in different clothes that somehow seem prettier. And to illustrate my point, I will provide a small story.

It was our very first day at Disney. I was a little (understatement) stressed, but mostly trying to remind myself that this was suppose to be fun- because I was on vacation. And vacations are fun (HAHA). So, after getting up early (5:30 a.m.), getting everyone up on schedule and out the door on time, getting there without getting killed in the process (crazy roads) and then manouvering through the parking system, ticket office and fast-pass station without too many hitches (I nearly negated all my own tickets, but that’s another story),… I finally told myself:

“Self, it’s time to relax and enjoy this day!”

So, I took out a pack of gum while standing in line for my first ride, passed it around to our crew of six eager patrons of Disney’s Magic Kingdom and then promptly stuck a stick of gum in my mouth, choosing to chomp on my right side first (as I had just started to heal from surgery on the left side and things were still tender there).

I know you all know what happened next. It was actually something I have nightmares about- that sound of metal on enamel. It is an entirely yucky sound and feeling- and to lose a tooth at the beginning of our stay was disappointing, to say the least. I just found out this afternoon, much to my dismay, that the tooth of which I write is absolutely irreparable.

Such is life.

I tell you all this to really tell you THIS factoid: So yesterday, while we were driving home (and while I was gingerly eating snacks, carefully checking each time with my tongue swiping around my mouth so as to ensure I hadn’t lost another tooth), I heard a news report about Angelina Jolie taking preventative measures to protect herself against cancer. In light of the fact that she has had a double mastectomy along with just undergoing surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes, I started to think about my own situation- the loss of my teeth. Incredibly minor in light of Jolie’s choice to do without. And I started to think about the fact that I am not carrying any longer a full set of pearlie-whites as not so much a disadvantage, something to grieve as a loss: but rather, something to see as a gift I was loaned for a short while, and thus something I can certainly live without now that the gift is taken from me.

Yes, this requires a tremendous amount of perspective! And a little bit of imagination to boot.

Sometimes we choose to live our lives with less so that we can then live out the rest of our lives with more. And living with less does not mean that life cannot be fulfilling and purposeful. Doesn’t mean that one is necessarily worse off than they were the moment before, when they had more. Rather, living with less just means less- not bad or worse or terrible or horrific. Just less.

I have less teeth than I use to. Angelina Jolie has less parts than she use to. You might have less of something to, if you really admitted it. You see, I don’t just have fewer teeth than I use to: I also have less dark brown hair growing on my scalp (oh grey hair, you are not my fave), less elasticity in my skin, less vision and less flexibility in these ole’ muscles. I could go on…

But at this point in my life, with all the loss- I have certainly made some gains- for I have more clarity, more perspective, more perception and more insight than I ever did, even ten years ago. If losing a tooth is a trade-off for even one of those qualities, then I certainly have much to be thankful for.

So, while standing there in that line-up- while I did momentarily grieve the loss of that tooth (okay, I still lapse sometimes into a bit of sorrow), I have also realized that with this loss, I have gained moments I will forever cherish. Moments I would never get back again had I chosen to just sit there and grieve my loss. You see, the reality of this situation was: I was with my family, in a line-up (that would be the longest line-up of the day, but I digress….) at Disney and I was about to ride a roller-coaster. A roller-coaster, people!! This is something I couldn’t do over when I was finally done my pity-party. Not something I could come back to later when I was feeling better. I had to get in the groove and do it NOW. So I made a decision to just press on- and tuck that (expensive) little crown in my purse and FOR-GEDDA-BOUT-IT.

I realized right then and there- and this one thing’s for sure: there is no minimum requirement of teeth necessary for one to get on a roller-coaster and enjoy the day. And with every loss in life, there is always a gain.

So here’s to loss and the gains that follow…because there is always that predictable bit of sunshine to come after the downpour, light that shines brightly after every rain cloud disappears.

All is Grace

2015-02-03 16.47.45

The sun beckons through the glass of my kitchen windows. We are now on Daylight Savings time and the possibilities seem endless for a low-key Monday evening. I suggest a walk through the field by snowshoe and then call for the girls to resume their igloo building while I finish up a few last-minute errands. I slip on my snowshoes and climb the steep incline to the field where the girls are forming a play-fire from some branches and small evergreens twigs. It is just one of those perfect evenings made for play and whimsy.
Husband and I set out through the field with the sun behind us, the effect of which makes the landscape a tableau of brilliant white as far as the eye can see. The contours of the land are increasingly difficult to navigate and predict, and I find myself catching a snowshoe here and there, nearly tumbling face-first in a less than glamorous free-fall. I steady myself and stay the course, sinking more and more the further we advance with the softer snow drifts.
We walk back to the old tree that marks the land. It has been a marker of the passage of time, but time does take its toll. A large branch has been whiplashed by our fierce winter winds and now lies perpendicular to the stately boughs that still stretch up to the sky. I rest over the branch for a while and gaze pensively off into the distance. Husband stands beside me and we pass the moments in silence.
I find myself thinking more and more about the moments and days and months and years that are quickly passing us by. It seems like five minutes ago that Husband and I first laid eyes on one another. In truth- that moment was 23 years ago. And with two decades and a bit under our belts, you would think we must have found the secret that happy couples ascribe to so as to keep the tenderness alive, keep the fires burning. Think we’d know the answers.
In truth, marriage is hard. It doesn’t get any easier either. But then again, so is life and it doesn’t get easier either.
I read tonight of Kara Tippetts, a beautiful mama and wife who is fighting cancer- but claiming that every day is grace. I think of my own dear warrior friend Wendy Gallant who lost her battle to cancer but has left behind her incredible legacy as a wife, mama, friend, community member and influence. I feel tears fall as I think that the world will be/is emptier for the loss of women like these two. I grieve the change that the passage of seasons brings.
Kara describes death as leaving the party too early. She talks about feeling like a little girl whose Daddy has come to pick her up before the birthday party has officially ended. She says it is not that she is afraid to die- she just isn’t wanting to leave yet. I wonder if this is how my dear Wendy felt. I’m sure she would have asked for just one more day if the suggestion had been offered.
Life is so difficult to comprehend even in its raw, jagged beauty.
I turn to Husband and I wrap my arms around his solid frame. I feel that this is where I need to be right now. Right here. We embrace in the quiet solitude. All is peace. All is grace.
We fight continually for that peace and grace to hold us even as the storms of life rage around our fragile vulnerability. We are so weak- so frail. And yet there is a strength that sustains even in the midst of life’s uncertainties. There is always enough grace for the day.
Grace holds tenderly.
And that is what knits me together in this fading light of the day. That Grace. Felt in a Husband’s embrace. Whispered on the evening breeze- I will always love you- for I always have. And I always will. A Father’s grace- eternal, sustaining and unending.
And it is enough. It is more than enough.

Tell Him

2015-02-18 10.38.19

He might not bring you breakfast in bed every morning…but if he starts the coffee maker without asking, he’s a keeper.
He might not leave the sink clean, hang up the towels or remember his dirty socks; but if he has the lunches packed and ready to go- complete with each child’s likes and requests, the guy’s a keeper.
He might not clean up his crumbs, remember to hang the dish towel up to dry or do the laundry- but if the van is scraped and ready to go even before you are in it, you’ve got yourself a true gem.
He might not be a cook, a cleaner, a mopper, a walker or even a super-listener or talker: but when you need him, you know he’ll be there.
He might not be in possession of all of those elusive qualities you once thought you needed. But in time, you have come to realize that it really doesn’t matter: he is exactly what you require. He’s it- your match. And you know now that you really could not do without him, for he is perfectly suited to meet your personality and character. Made to be your other half. You were meant for each other. He and you, you and him.
And although you might not be everything that a person was destined to be either (but, hey! who’s keeping track), he loves you anyway. Loves you for who you are, how you are- exactly the way you are.
Loves you for being YOU.
And because he loves you- it doesn’t matter anymore what might have been. Could have, should have, would have been. All that matters is what it is anyway. What it is right now.
And maybe, like me- you’ve decided that what is yours as a couple is imperfectly perfect. Just the way it happens to be. Even if it might mean that LIFE isn’t perfect- that life isn’t always the way you’d like it.
What matters is the two of you. And what you’ve got is all you’ve ever needed.
Just the way it is.
Go ahead- tell him you love him. Say the words. And while you are at it, tell yourself that whether or not he remembers to throw out the trash/pick his clothes up off the floor/tidy his papers: he’s still your best friend.
Never forget how much you love him.

And chances are, (with this kind of imperfect formula in play),he’ll not forget how very much he loves you back.

Dear Student Who Feels Defeated

To The Student That Feels Defeated,

You are sitting there at a table or a desk- you might be reading, writing or maybe working at something else, depending on the given day. You look up and catch the teacher glancing your way; so you try to show her with your eyes that ‘this just isn’t making any sense’. Try to send her that message. Because it’s just a mystery to you that people understand this stuff. A complete puzzle.

You watch your friends who find it so easy- math, writing, reading, problem-solving, figuring things out. They seem to do everything so effortlessly. But to you, each task just feels like one, long endless riddle- with no apparent solution.
Feels like one long, drawn-out visit to the orthodontist.

Or maybe it’s during gym class that you find things challenging. Maybe it’s music or science or French that throws you off your game. Maybe it’s after-school when you are at basket-ball or soccer or another extra-curricular club that you find yourself not measuring up to the rest of your teammates. Maybe that’s when you start to find your confidence slipping. Maybe that’s when you feel like you can’t compete.

Maybe it’s more to do with fitting in and finding friendship, or it’s that feeling of acceptance in being part of the crowd. That’s what you are missing. Maybe you just feel like you are the odd-one-out left to stand awkwardly watching from the sidelines. The person who never gets a call after school, a text or an invitation to the group chat.

And so you get home at the end of each school day and you sit at the table with a bowl of cereal and a glass of chocolate milk. And you try to make sense of the fact that you feel stupid/unliked/unpopular/incapable- while the rest of the world does not. While the rest of the world just keeps moving on. Understanding everything that you do not, doing everything you can not, and including those people around you of whom you are not- while you’re left standing on the outside.

It feels like everyone else is accomplishing stuff while you watch on helplessly, feeling useless. And while life just continues carrying on, you feel more and more defeated. More and more deflated. Cause it feels like you are the only one falling back, falling behind. Even while everyone else in the world is occupied with ‘getting ahead’- making sense of the world and everything in it. Yet meanwhile, for you- it all just feels so difficult. Life feels so hard.

And you feel so stupid.

Dear Student who feels this way, can I please tell you that you most definitely are not?

Not stupid.
Not dumb.
Not unintelligent.
Not brainless.
Not unloveable.
Not incapable.
Not a failure.

You are not.

True, you are struggling with this hard thing in your life- this mountain that seems to consume you. But one day soon, it will no longer be there. You will have climbed and conquered. And you will then be free to see life another way, from a different vantage point. One day soon you will look behind you and see that this mountain was just a small anthill. Something so small from your position, that it will almost seem insignificant in hindsight. And you will turn your eyes back around after seeing that you made it over, and see that before you is what you were waiting for all along. See that you arrived. That’s the beauty of moving forward.

Because right now, you are in the middle of living out the battle. Life is hard because it is suppose to be sometimes- it’s suppose to be hard at this time and place in your life. And quite honestly, life is hard because there are hard things to go through, hard things to understand, hard things to figure out. But these hard things are making you, shaping you, creating in you: perseverance, resistance, resolve, determination, strength and will power. For in living out the hard stuff, we come to see ourselves in different ways- realizing that the moments when life is at its very hardest are often the moments and the times when we grow and ‘become’ the best. Your time of becoming your best self is right now.

Don’t give up on that vision.

Yes, your hard time might be now. But tomorrow is already on the way, almost here. And just like every time before, you can do this. Just look how far you’ve already come. You can accomplish what you set your heart on. So go ahead- prove it to yourself.

Never forget, I’ve got your back. The rest is in your capable hands.
Never stop believing.
You are capable, you are able.
You are.

Love,
Your Teacher

Does Being Average Make you Happier?

We are finishing up supper when a knock comes to the door. It is a family friend and acquaintance that we recently hired to construct a bookshelf for us just arriving for a quick check-in about a piece he’s already built. He wonders if it fits okay over the radiator. It does. In fact, it’s a perfect fit.

Earlier this month, this gentleman arrived in the middle of supper hour and spent the better part of the evening talking to both Husband and I about our dreams for our family room. What were we wanting him to fashion as an entertainment unit to house our most beloved pictures, books and games? At what level would we want our entertainment system to be set? What style should the framework be? What vision did we have?

As we talked, it became increasingly clear that this man cared a great deal about his work- and even more so, cared about our ideas, our thoughts and opinions. To illustrate my point, he had talked to Husband about some additional thoughts he had for this unit on the Sunday past- proving to me that if we were paying him for his time, we’d owe him for the incredible amount of thought he’s invested in considering our best options. You don’t get this kind of service from the box stores. To have him drive from town this evening for a five-minute drop-in just to check whether the piece he was building fit neatly in place, meant a lot.

In fact, it’s priceless in MasterCard terms.

Some might say that everyday people such as our retired friend who make furniture for pleasure- such as you or I, us plain-folk people: some might say we are not the ones that make this world turn. Not the ones who are the real movers and shakers. I read a quote about mediocrity lately and it said that being average should be feared- should push us to our limits, causing us to reach our true potential. Whatever that means.

To be honest, some of the most average people in my life have made the biggest impact. We don’t remember the chance encounters we have with celebrities (if we have them at all) nor do we chalk up as the most life-changing, the brief glimpses into the world of the extraordinary as the part of life that we could not live without. It is the average, everyday people and pleasures of life that we count as life’s greatest blessings.

After my last two posts on being average, I decided to share an article I found on-line and read called “The joy of being average” found at “http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2014/03/13/the-joy-of-being-average/  In the article, the author Sam expounds on the joys of being average, highlighting such benefits to life as lowered expectations, more safety, more happiness, less restrictions, more freedom, less pressure, among other benefits. In the article, he poses the question: should we continuously try to live up to our potential? Sam concludes that ‘no’, we should not feel that pressure- it is ours to choose how we live our lives, how we use or don’t use our potential.

I contend: there is joy in acceptance as well. I feel that in accepting that our lives are short, fragile and fleeting helps us to put perspective on things. Who are we really trying to impress? What really matters? What are the most important things in life? What decisions are the most crucial?

What really makes the difference?

Celebrity, both at local, regional, national and international levels, as enticing as it might look and seem, is just a mirage. The people behind the celebrity still have to get up in the morning and face themselves in the mirror.  They still live and die. And so do we.

The question should not be based on how to live up to one’s truest potential but rather focused on perspective: how can I live my life with joy and contentment? Gratitude and grace? And what non-essentials can I eliminate so that I don’t miss the boat and waste this one chance I have at truly living life well?

Being average isn’t a wasted opportunity, a shameful decision.  Living simply is not to squander one’s life; but chasing after dreams that are only a mirage certainly are.  Life is beautiful- even when it is average, ordinary and simple, and living an average life is more than admirable when we can do so with joy and contentment. When we choose to embrace the life we’ve been given, average isn’t ordinary.

It’s amazing. Truly amazing.