Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: boys

The Value of Humble

The car broke down over the weekend. It could be a small thing or a big one, as it often with cars. It could be solved in a day or the car could be a write-off. Yes, one of those. A humbling event that points to dependence, a sorry attribute of the intrepid human spirit one could argue.

No car meant we had to postpone the Harper Mountain ski outing planned for Sunday and it also means walking everywhere with a bike ride here and there, ice-permitting. The patches of hardened ice can be unforgiving to the blissfully, occasionally unaware or hurried human.

We walked to school this morning. A perfect opportunity for the four of us to talk, debate, laugh, point out to this and that and see the morning. It makes cheeks red and cold and it warms the heart. Why not then?

Midday is still sharp cold and I ride my new bike to town. My face is frozen and the feeling of car-less freedom is absolutely exhilarating. Soon I will pick up the boys.

On the way back the boys have stories, questions. We stop to look at leafs trapped in ice, some hiding under their perfectly shaped ice-images and ‘How could that be mom?’… Do you know? Isn’t it nice that there’s still why questions that leave you humbled and wondering…

We talk about Thomas Edison. The boys point to the unbelievable value of his discoveries, the light bulb most of all… ‘What if he had not invented it, mom?’ Indeed. What if. I point out to something that I often decry the slow and sure death of: patience, persistence over things that matter and we believe in even when they are mere ideas.

I point to relentless as one awe-inspiring quality of the human spirit. The boys are trapped in words and ideas, they are as fascinating to talk to as the leaves they point out as wonders along the way.

In the early evening, karate training sends us ten blocks away from home. It is snappy cold but Sasha hops on his scooter. We go slow enough to manage uneven sidewalk and occasional patches of ice. And we talk. Times becomes that much more precious.

After I drop him off I walk to the store, stock up on the bare necessities and walk up on 3rd Street. There are people here and there, fragments of laughter, conversations, cars driving too fast in the dark, taking turns that make me jump backwards… And then time stops again when the organ from within the Sacred Heart Cathedral envelops the cold in ‘Ode of Joy.’

How privileged to witness that. How easy to miss from a car where music might play – even the same tunes would not be the same – or conversations are tossed relentlessly. How important to witness this at least once.

I turn around at the top of the hill just before I enter a warm coffee shop. The North Shore sparkles. Silent. Close by, luminous darts of cars driving fast down on Victoria Street point to fast, another facet of Kamloops.

I listen and remember. My old hometown at night, as I saw it so many times from up on the hill where my parents home was. It was very similar to here, now. Surrounding hills, trains ushering their way through snow and sunshine alike, a river running through the middle of it and bridges as walkable cinches connecting one side to the other.

The sense of belonging creeped in and it felt good and warm, just like the coffee shop I was about to step in and the warmth of the heart I hold near mine waiting for me there.

A long day ends with both boys saying ‘It’s been a good day.’ We smile to each other. We did well. The car is not fixed yet. It turns out it’s not just a little thing. It will take a while. Everything happens for a reason. I know that already.

Heart Strings And Daisies

This morning has been no better or worse than others. In fact, slightly worse because an overnight rain soaked my shoes, which I had forgotten on the porch, yet again. First world problems as I call them.

The boys are cheery and gabby and we manage to leave the house on time with no altercations and no delays that make us run and jump over sidewalks like a group of sun-scared bats on the way to the first deep dark cave (no negative reference to school or maybe just a small one?…)

So we walk. There’s chatter and silliness and loud “No, no, I’ll say it. Mom, listen to this…” and some of last night’s toilet jokes on replay. Some are that good, according to 11-year-olds and under.

Hold hands, small hugging palms hiding in mine and if I hold stronger than I should is because I know the jumpy nature of such holds. They go poof before you realize it. So hold on while they last.

A sparrow hops from between some cigarette butts on one side of a chicken-wire fence to wet sand on the other. She’s round and fluffy and the hopping is exquisite. Elegant and light and we’re spellbound.

Toilet jokes are forgotten. We stare. She stares back. Hops. Stares. A hand squeeze but this time it is not me. It’s the small hand making me heed the bird and its exquisite tiny feet. “Mom, isn’t she cute?”

I am struck again by how we attach ourselves to memories of no particular day or place. Muck, sand, a brownish bird and five more minutes until school starts. All wrapped up in a forgetfulness-proof mental package that will never be stamped with the awkward “when was that again?”

The day rolls into a big fat cinnamon-tinted cocoon of a sunset with a glued-on ghost-white moon and when night comes I know of the one thing I learned about today. “No special day” memories, or no-planning-to-acquire-memories-but-did-it-anyway kind of day.

Heart stringsAnd I know of two things that will never leave my prized possessions box (not that I have one, but I will think of one) and those are: a string of no particular glamour that Sasha has loved and played with since the dollopy days of toddlerhood and he still holds dear, and a pressed little daisy which Tony gave me one day at a park that has long disappeared off the Vancouver map. It was drizzly and cold and ten years ago and a late daisy made it from his tiny fingers into my heart and journal. Just like today, we were half-way into winter, which is why heart strings feel warmer than ever.

DaisyToday I learned that heart strings are not negotiable. They just are. They appear out of nowhere and they will stick forever. It takes one to learn to spot one when it happens.

Heart strings are never planned for, so don’t start trying. That’s the magic of it all. They happen with no warning and often you realize what happened way after they’re gone. But they’ll be there when you least expect it. Magic.

Ice, Boys plus Dog = Perfect Day

Today’s late morning is exploding with sunshine.
“Should we go see a frozen waterfall?”
The boys agree. Today we hike in Peterson Creek Park.

We explored part of the park in the fall. It was hot, dry and challenging. A first steep hike for the boys.

Now it’s different. The creek has icy sideburns and the sun stomps its bright feet in it like a giant millipede. It’s easy to feel blessed in such a place. And hope it will stay like this. For ever sounds about right.

We walk alongside the creek and watch the sideburns grow to cover it. We hear the water gurgling underneath. The heart of the creek drumming away…

“A wolf! Mom, is that a wolf?”
Perfectly matching the shade of bushes, a fluffy light grey Husky is watching. He runs ahead of us, then stops and waits.

The boys are elated. We call him Buddy and delight in his lively company. He jumps all over, runs up and down the trail, bumping my little guy off his feet more than once but there’s no protests. They’d love to have a dog, I know that. I would too, but not yet.

We hike towards the waterfall, and though slippery and gnarly at times, the trail reveals surprises too.
“A cave! Mom, a cave!” We’ve been hunting for caves since we got to Kamloops and as spectacular it is to find one when you set for it, it’s even better to find one when you don’t expect it.

Buddy follows us inside the cave. The darkness is both tempting and scary. We’ll bring a flashlight next time. Out again and to the waterfall.
Buddy leads the way, we follow.

“Can we keep him, Mom?” I knew that was coming. We can’t, but we’ll get one soon.

We reach the waterfall. Frozen and guarded by tree-studded rock walls, it dwarfs us. I take photos but like so many times before, I know the photos cannot catch the very soul of it. Amazing, frozen beauty with a water heart drumming away.

The boys explore the surroundings, and so does Buddy, clearly in his element.

A man reaches the place we’re at and we greet. He tells me how he used to come up here when his children were my boys’ age. Photos of the kids standing by the waterfall, he has some too. We chat about how precious it is to show kids the beauty of a place like this.

We’re new to Kamloops and already sold to its beauty, I tell him. He laughs: “You could go out 365 days a year to explore around here, and not get bored or run out of places to discover.” I had a hunch that was the case.

Our impromptu chat reveals that we share common ancestry, the Romans, and we speak a common language too: environmentalism. I have always reveled in meeting people who change their ways to protect the planet, knowing that our lives and the planet’s well-being are intertwined that way.

But changes do not always come easy. Where to start? Changing our perspective, I’d say. Needs versus wants, it should not be hard to stick to “needs” mostly… That would keep the above mentioned 365 places pristine.

“Wants” ultimately lead us towards an environmental sellout. Searching for what really matters should start within us, to be complemented by nature’s primal beauty.

The boys explore and stick their hands in the “eyes” the creek opens through its icy cover. Their happy voices hop from one side of the rocky walls to the other, much like their temporary furry friend.
“Mom, my boots have water in them, I stepped in the creek.”
Same as always then, just like it should be.

We say good bye. I am grateful to have learned that this year is Giuseppe Verdi’s two-hundredth birth anniversary. As a kid, I used to snuggle with my mom and watch Verdi’s operas. My first realization that music transcends language and the reason my boys know Pavarotti’s music.

We make our way back to the car, sliding down the trail with no mercy for the bottom of our pants. The creek sings under the icy surface.

Buddy left. He’s likely found his owner. I didn’t want him to get lost; I know about that heartache. But he made our hike that much more special. Thank you, Buddy!

At home I make hot chocolate and we look at the photos I took. Buddy’s in there too. We spend the rest of the afternoon reading. Feeling blessed is but one way of saying thank you.

Originally published as “‘Wolves,’ caves and adventures await in city park” in the Kamloops Daily News on Saturday, February 2, 2013

Boundaries – A Beginner’s Quest

The walks home from school with my boys are a treat. We live a good distance from the school so there’s time to talk, be silent, stomp feet if the situation calls for it, laugh our hearts out, play tag or have a snowball fight.

Today is different. My oldest son’s sulkiness sniffs at my shoes like an angry cat.

I know he is upset before he even looks into my eyes.

“How was school?” I ask.

“Good, let’s go!” he says.

No amount of squinting will help me see into his heart right now. Rolled up like a hedgehog, he has a good set of prickles out, telling me that looking for soft spots would be a fool’s errand, and a bit of a warning I might get hurt while looking too closely.

I want him to talk about what’s wrong.

Somehow I think I have the answers because the hardest thing to see is my boy’s struggle and fight invisible battles inside and me not being able to help.

Trying to hold my tongue is like holding a mouse by its tail. When you’re not swift enough it’ll jump and bite your fingers, mice are agile like that. I ask again.

“Lots of homework?”

“No. Mom, I am fine. Let’s walk.”

We walk. Silently. My youngest holds my hand, somewhat tighter than usual. A sweet reminder of his needing me. Small and warm, his hand cradles into mine.

We walk. His brother walks faster. Whatever happened at school today may or may not be forgotten tomorrow. That’s not the point.

“May I go ahead mom?”

“Sure, but take the back lane, it’ll be just us three.”

“I’ll go ahead.”

Every now and then a leaf twirls and falls into a puddle. The end? Hardly. A passage to
a different stage. Learning to let go.

My son has set boundaries I vow to respect. He’s starting early. I have barely discovered the magic of not letting people step over mine.

I am learning from them, my boys. This is the line, they say. You may be allowed to go past some times but not always.

We’ve had this conversation before about boundaries. I tell them how I always imagine the right way to be. If I’m angry, I need space. And time. If I’m sad I need the same.

Or I might need those who can be there without sticking long questioning fingers into my soul to judge me.

I call on them because I trust them to be there for me. Not how they want to be but how I need them.

My boys are growing. They need me there. To understand. To know where their boundaries are and know that I’ve been entrusted with respecting them. For what’s ahead.

The wind picks up and the mountains look darker. It might snow.

“Can we make cookies tonight?” Sure. Neither is too old to ask or to be cheated out of sweetness.

Over dinner we talk and laugh and make silly jokes. Irreverence and cookies for dessert.

I still don’t know why my oldest’s mood was crumpled earlier but that seems behind him now. If it’s not he must’ve found a way to put it aside, at least for now.

A lesson about boundaries in itself.

(Originally published in the Kamloops Daily News on November 20, 2012 under the title “Personal boundaries are about respect”)

Clouds and Caves on Top of the Mountain. Flint Piles. And Home Again

I’ve never seen a grouse before. Neither have the boys. I was expecting them to be bigger but this one is no bigger than an average size chicken. Not a fast bird but gone by the time I get my camera out. Drumming its way through bushes, it gets out of sight as we’re starting our hike to the Savona caves. There are pictographs there and well, there are caves. Boys and caves go very well together, but you know that.

There’s patches of snow here and there and dew, late morning magic water. After a few hundred meters on a thin ribbon of a path through autumn-bitten woods, we bump into steepness. The very definition of it. Let’s agree on a 60 degree incline for the first half of the ascent, to be increased later. I stop for photos and Tony sticks around. Sasha takes off, he’s set on seeing the caves and nothing can slow him down. He gets excited over rocks “Mom, is this jade?… we’re walking on jade!” I foresee pocketfuls of rocks and pebbles. Theirs and mine. We do that, you see. I am known to have dragged twisted dirftwood home, and also big rocks. Back when Sasha was two or so… one sunny day at Tower Beach in Vancouver, the equation looked like this: beautiful rocky beach, one remarkable rock, round and impossible to leave behind, child in sling, and 360 steps or so to the car. Well, the equation was solved… I still have the rock.

We keep going up. The cave is a just a black speck that we see through trees and low clouds. “Do you mean we have to go all the way up there?” Tony sounds worried. Or puzzled. Not sure. It is steep, it seems daunting, but impossible is not the word I want to use today. Sasha keeps hopping uphill and his voice wraps around trees and rocks. It’s just us four, the sun and the mountain with open caves like eyes overlooking the forested valley. If fairies and pixies existed, this would be the place.

The hike becomes a scramble up the mountain. Sasha leads the way, holding on to big boulders and roots and low-lying branches. Undeterred. We’re a few steps behind. I worry about steepness, wrong steps and the mom brain thinks ropes and such. Yes, to tie them onto me, so they don’t slip and fall. But that encourages carelessness, it does. They learn to not calculate steps because they’ll think you’ll always be there to catch themare you? How then? What if? You hold your breath, they’ll be fine…

We reach the cave after crawling up a slippery slope. Camera on my back, eyes on the boys and wishing that my voice would not give away my worry. There’s exhilaration and fear. There’s a lot of mountain to roll down off should one take the wrong step. Tony looks at me and smiles. “This was worth it, mom.” I know he means it. The pictographs are special. “Who made them, mom? And why? And why here? The cave is not even that big.” A good shelter but so far up. I don’t have all the answers but that’s part of the magic. I feel privileged to be here. It’s easy to feel like an intruder but awe prevents that.

There’s clouds tangled in trees, powdered with midday sunshine. There’s piles of flint and I know the boys won’t leave without a few samples.There’s room in the backpack. Holding onto roots and rock corners, sliding on muddy slopes, the four of us make our way down the mountain. It’s misty and chilly now. Water drops sleeping on leaves and thin blackened twigs. The grouse’s home. We’re guests. Somewhat uninvited. Cold moist air chases us out of the magic woods. Pictographs are left behind, for others to find and wonder.

The boys are tired and quiet. “Mom, I love you for this hike.” Sasha’s voice is hugging me softly and dearly. I guess my two boys will always be nestled in a secret soul sling I’m carrying along. A good load. We take the long drive home through Logan Lake. The mountains around Kamloops are painted in orange sunshine. So uniform it looks like someone was busy painting all afternoon. They look warm. Home. It is. Good to know.


Lady’s Earrings. Why Not?

We ride. Downhill at first and then in the middle of the road. Quiet roads are made for that. You’re sliding down the middle, wind in your hair, mom says slow down but her voice is not the panicky kind but the soft “you’re fine for now, keep going”… Race your brother, do it and laugh, scream when he gets ahead of you, scream “cheater!” even though you know he did not but he just rode faster.

Stop by the playground. The spiderweb playground. Jump, run, lie down on the dry yellow grass. So dusty. The air is lazy and warm and it wraps around your ankles like sleepy snakes. But can you do this? Oh, I’ve tried this so many times since grade one, mom, and now I did it. That winning grin, like the day when you figure out walking. The magic of overcoming fear. Mom’s proud of you, you know it because of that smile that makes you feel ten inches taller.

Run to the other side. Clouds of dust follow you, crazy wild chickens. Mom, are you coming? Talk about people, life, death, why do people die and should people who suffer badly die because, mom, wouldn’t that be easier for them? Who knows? Yes, no, but loving life is embedded in every cell so even when you stop fighting your body will still try to save you. How did we get into this?

Make your way back. Mom, can you push us? No way, you’re strong. Whine, but you know mom means well, you’re secretly pleased she thinks you’re strong. Ride uphill, will he slow down and let the bike topple over like last time? But no, look Tony, your brother’s riding his first hill, he’s getting there. Oh, what a sight, a boy conquering a hill that’s long and steep enough to make one squint.

Mom, what are these called again? Lady’s earrings. Pick some, smile, here mom, for you. Next things is a crazy scream as you charge up this second hill. You know behind you mom is smiling and shaking her head… Crazy boys, don’t ever slow down, don’t ever let that energy go soft. Clover on the way, a four leaf clover is good luck, right mom? Yeah but… never mind, who’s got time to look for one. The race is on again. No, not in the middle of the street! But why not, there’s no car coming. He’s on the sidewalk mom, we each need a track… Go go go!

Home now. Drink an ocean full. Mom, what are we gonna do tomorrow?

Of Boys. Mine

I walk through today’s spring and my mind curls around thoughts of my boys. I need shelter.

Today is a day when I have to remind myself of the magic of boys. You see, everyday life with my boys is like squeezing handfuls of stars.

There’s sparkles all over, there’s laughter and screams and there’s fighting. Manners begone, some days cannot carry such load, it’s like walking on a tight rope with a basket of apples on your head.

Could you, would you?

Boys don’t.

The know-it-all ones call it high energy. Whatever. Piling in thick fat heaps is this desire to give them what I think matters most.The courage to be real and speak their words, the courage to live their truth. How is that done?

I want them tall and strong, yet humble and loving. I want them to be quiet when tears are being cried, to listen.

I want them to open their arms and understand. I want them to ask for what’s theirs and know how to draw that line in the sand that will keep them baddies away. I want them to trust and be bold. I want them to love loneliness as much as they love people.

“Mom, can someone walk through fire and come out unburned?”… No, fire burns.

No, wait, you can. People do it. How do they?

I want my boys to be self-sufficient, I want them to know to say “enough” and “no.”

I look back at all the times I gave them the anti-meaning of both. Guilt seeps through the cracks of my heart. When and how does one learn to be a parent?

We parent ourselves through the birth of our children. We become children with them once again while wearing big people shoes. Noisy, clumsy. Sometimes we need hugs and reassurance as much as they do.

No one can know more about the child cradled in your arms than you do. Your child. Yet inadequacy takes over ever so often.

What children do or don’t do does not align with what’s expected of them. Then what?

When do we start pushing them towards the barren of places of “you must fit the mold” afraid they’ll lose the start? Is it fair to push them if the time is not right yet? Not ripe yet…

I’m ready to fight this one. Raw instincts fight back. When do we tell them to let go of themselves so they float like the rest of them? Why? Swim with your head in the water so you’ll go the distance. Don’t look up or to the side, you might see things, you’ll fall behind. You can’t. I won’t say it.

Lagging when there’s no room for laggers is a serious offense they say. Head in the water, catch up, no more playing games and wondering at things.

Still, I won’t say it. Should kids be allowed to lag and look at all things wondrous and magic? It is in the eyes of the beholder, you’ll say. That’s exactly the point. How are we to know what touches one’s heart and makes the mind expand.

Here’s to them not getting lost along the way. Lost from themselves, from magic, from being boys.

Here’s to them knowing when they’re ready to jump and having the courage to do so.

Here’s to them knowing when they cannot turn around and walk away, here’s to them knowing when they should walk away. To them knowing they have choices.

Here’s to me being there for them. And here’s to them knowing that. “Mom, can we play that game where I’m trying to get away and you try to stop me? No, not like that. Yeah, like that… Now you have to let go…” Trust. Knowing when they’re ready. Knowing they will be.

The secret, our secret, as I came to realize is that when my boys fill the air with laughter and tumbles their voices sound clearer.

I can hear them loud and clear when I laugh and tumble with them. Even when they whisper. I whisper back. They hear me.

My boys. Never lost. Just boys.

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