Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: free play

Peter Pan Lives Here. Times Two

boy and grass‘Can you see me?’

‘No Peter…’

But I do. I see a tuft of wild hair, I see the smile sparkling like a golden butterfly from behind stalks of bunchgrass. Little boy is at it again. Peter Pan indeed.

We’ve read the books, abridged and unabridged, yet again, and we will do it one more time, and two, and three times more until little boy will say ‘now let’s read about Ivanhoe.’

We take Peter Pan from books to the hills where boys get lost among dry grasses and hide behind scraggly ponderosa pines that are still standing… Playing. There is a mystery to it all. Grass speaks to boys in wild ways. ‘Do it!’ it says to them… Run to catch the sun! Can you balance on the see-saw stump? Do it!

To us it says the same but we’re grownups now and the sounds come out distorted. We say ‘Stop! Go slow, don’t run so fast…’. Boys snicker, throw silly looks over their shoulders as they do it anyway…

Be it so… Their feet and bodies listen to the tall grass only. As they should. The mystery itself.

yellowIt is midday Sunday and the sun is stingy with its warmth but we’re clad in wool sweaters and touques. We’re on the hiking trail we often take in the morning. It is no longer just a path snaking on the side of the hill. It is where we discover woodpeckers and blue jays and snow berries and yellow mushroom caps and talk about what makes smoke go up and how math is everywhere on any given morning before we head inside to learn more.

A trail that has become ‘the trail’ and then it has become ‘our trail’. We pin, as if with sticky notes, memories of us, of the mornings that see us hike here and talk about the things the boys learn in our school at home.

Soon we will know every turn and bush and stump.

Little boy pleas with his brother to be pirate Cecco. Say yes? He does. Taunting as the big brother words and gestures can be towards little boy at times, there’s a lot of love pouring out when he’s eagerly agreeing to play. He hops, runs, jumps and rolls as any pirate worth his salt would. Delight lives on both sides.

20151027_142332_001There’s barely any space around us that’s left unfilled with laughter – sounds so round you’d think it’s raining plump giggling droplets. I like it when that happens. Sun showers of sorts. Like silly weather, boys’ moods go from sunshine to snow to sun again in a merry-go-round grownups so inelegantly and harshly judge at times.

Boys can turn playful tumbles into war-like matches. The world of boys is a magic one. Sweet smiles and twinkling eyes one second, darts and fists flying wild the next. Like now. We stop and listen.

Peace again. ‘It’s OK, mom, we’re going to play some more.’

Max and I walk slowly behind them, gazing at shreds of clouds scattered over cinnamon hills. Quiet meets quiet, eyes meet, and the air feels warmer.

TumbleThere are giggles and rustling noises coming from behind Saskatoon berry bushes. Peter Pan’s wooden knife plunges next to Cecco’s feet and the next seconds become a tumble of two bodies down a sandy slope. Laughter so loud it makes dogs bark. Just like in the book with Nana the dog on the night of the great adventure.

Too much sand fills Pan’s boots so they come off. Little boy runs barefoot with big brother in hot pursuit. What? No, put them on, it’s cold.

‘I’ll keep the socks on!’ Pitter patter, feet get away from being questioned. Play is what they want to do.

More tumbles, more screams. I don’t know why Max and I are laughing but how else can this become a memory? An imprint of this and now? Faces get dirty and hair turns wispy after the sand tumbles and wild lost boys they are, lost from anything but playing. Lost and found, up and down, a world of their own which we have the privilege to see.

Exhaustion comes in like a nagging aunt. They lean against us as we walk home. You walk on your own, pirate, let those legs carry you home. Peter can fly…

applesThey laugh and walk alongside grabbing crab apples off the trees and picking brown leaves off the ground.

‘Can I sew leaves onto my shirt like Peter Pan’s?’

Perhaps use fabric? He did. The dining table is now a sea of green with leaf-shaped bits of fabric peeking from just about everywhere. This is learning. They both learn by touching and doing and daring. They learn by living.

Little boy cuts and prepares, he will sew them on one by one. He’ll wear the shirt and pants for a day, or two or three, bury them under new ideas and dig them out on a sunny morning when the sunshine will remind him of Peter Pan.

grass songsLet’s read some Peter Pan he’ll say, and I will say yes, and we’ll read once, twice, three times… and time will stay still. Lost boys will resurface, pirates too, and the tall grass will call to them again. Whispers and songs they’ll still hear for many moons to come, for childhood will still be here, sewn to their smiles and mischief still stuck to their hair like glittering sand and dandelion seeds are today.

We’ll follow them boys as they’ll run and tumble, we’ll be quiet and hopeful that the whispers of the tall grass will be loud enough for us to hear too…

20151101_133901 20151021_072818We’ll follow them to the edge of reason and back, again and again, we’ll walk a few steps behind, and when all silliness is done for the day we’ll all breathe in the sunset and keep that breath in long enough to remember.

Everything. The steps to here. The leap from here…


Crepes For Breakfast

FuzzyI wanted to go out for a morning ride, I had the itinerary in mind and was all dressed, but I could not get myself to leave the house before the boys woke up. I’d miss the first hug, the nestling of little boy on my lap, the hug from big boy, their hair every which way and eyes drowsily braving the morning light.

Early mornings work for sneaking out and coming back before the wild boys wake up, but late night reading often bites into earliness and leaves me hanging like this.

The day is cool, a relief after days of breathing hot air like we’re inhabiting an oven. It’s too hot, the boys often say; I cannot allow for summer hating though. Summer is the peach tree branches hanging low, heavy with fruit, and tomatoes that turn red and the bumblebees that are all confused about the disappearing of their favorite snack: tomato flower pollen. Everything becomes something before our eyes…

My ride today is short, I follow the river; its surface mirrors a sky that is unglamorous, but why would that matter. Thoughts bounce off the surface of my own rivers flowing relentlessly towards seas of life I have yet to discover. Rivers of thoughts, they need to be taken out each day, they synchronize their incessant dance with that of the real ones…

Summer is apricot jam made yesterday and laid inside hot crepes today, memories of my childhood when my great aunt would make platefuls of them in the outdoor oven, the smell of wood adding hotness to air already hot… I never complained because I knew what came next: tummies full of warmth, sweetness stuck to cheeks and the lazy afternoon to follow. The countryside I miss.

The boys eat with their mouths full, they ask for more and I remember my own eagerness to skip talking just so I could eat more. Funny how snippets of life past ask to be revived. The sharing I do with my boys, life in big yummy bites, life I can make them smile about. But there’s more sides to life. Life is never just smiles.

We talk about school, the topic just tumbled in the midst of another conversation about living in the wilderness… The boys tell how going to school makes many children unhappy for the time they’re there. Not unhappy with learning, but unhappy with other things. Rushed, impatient figures, playing power games with children. The boys see through much of it. My fault, for peeling eyes open and inviting to thinking.

We talk and daydream about schools to grow in. Stunted growth is what I often see instead. Why not schools where wide-eyed innocence breeds joy and curiosity is the very ground children step on? Wings unclipped. Could it be? Why not nowadays? We know so much about what makes the mind soar, why let children fall through the cracks?

The boys have insights that humble, they share as I share. This is not complaining but facing perspective as it presents itself to us and adjusting ourselves to have the courage to take unforeseen, unscheduled leaps, should the said perspective become too narrow for how we envision life.

Growing up is a together adventure, I never pictured my boys being in someone else’s care more than my own. Not when they’re shaken at times and becoming distrustful. Finding the way, the right way, the fair way, as a parent, that is the biggest challenge of all. It makes me both fearful and brave at the same time. What’s the next step? The together adventure is no joke.

Wild boys run into the back yard to play. There’s loud voices, whispers, hiding, laughter, sneaking around and some scraped knees.

Little boy runs up the stairs and hands over a tiny dandelion. ‘From us, the smallest one’ … Mop of sun-bleached hair dances as he runs back in the yard for more playing. Will I ever be able to define gratefulness the right way? It’ll never be enough. Some words will only live on the inside, padding the corners only I know about.

I sit down, check the day’s news and get reminded of a sad story. The ice cream store owner downtown told us about yesterday. ‘Oh, you don’t know? Robin Williams died today.’ I don’t get to ask why. He says it out loud: suicide. The boys’ eyes grow big. Too much information? Little boy frowns. How do people commit suicide? Why?

He was funny, they argued. He made people laugh. How did he with all the struggles he faced at times? The dance we can never enough of, the dance we’re sick of so often…Life. Unkind and monstrous at times, we are its pawns and ride good waves, but a few bad ones can make most people lose their way. People sometimes do that when they’re sad and discouraged and depressed, I tell the boys. Not just sad, but awfully sad. That makes loneliness darker than dark. No one knows, no one should be judged…

TearsIt’s a grip you let go of. In that moment of darkness, all is distorted. The boys listen, ponder… Do they understand? Do we?…

I take their lead; they live in the moment. More playing, getting hungry, eating peaches off the tree, asking for treats to be baked later in the day, arguing, finding common ground, trading sticks and Lego pieces. Life. They don’t think too much of it but live it fully. I do though. Too much is a side effect, enough is what I hope for just so I can have them live theirs with joy.

Crepes for breakfast? Why not?

The Day of Today

OursIt  is the early morning drive to Shumway Lake that makes the day right. Little boy learns to paddle kayaks, canoes, dragon boats and swims in the lake during a week-long camp that fits our idea of learning. Outside. The road is all ours in bright early morning, a shiny grey ribbon snaking its way among hills of dry grass and lazy cows, so still they look like they’re painted on.

Today we play Strauss’s waltzes ever so quietly, just enough to make happy thoughts bounce. We talk about life on a farm… Could we, little boy asks? I wish so too, maybe we could. We plan for a garden of yummies, and chickens for eggs and days that would start with walking barefoot in dewy grass and would end with sweet smells of fruit ripening and the alluring songs of crickets. Because we’d have many of those.

StepsWe see a hawk take of flying over the lake, I spot a cloud shaped like a big dandelion head and I make a wish… To have this, the morning, the joy of sharing time, forever.

I drive back and have breakfast with the big boy. He’s growing, his jokes are too and his understanding of the world is humbling. This summer has been coffee-free but tiredness obliges this morning so I make one. Can I have a bit? Almost tall enough to look me in the eyes, he gets a nod and a smile. So we sit and chat and nothing can pull me back from cloud nine where I take temporary residence. How did we get here? We started small, with sleepless nights and small hands reaching for the ever protective nest of my body. His hands, his face, his bright eyes and dreams building as he speaks. Today is a gift. Every day is.

The day unfolds, I drive on what is now a busy road to pick up little boy. We play near the lake first, it’s sweltering hot and little boy explodes in laughter as we play a silly hanging ball game. it’s like those times when I go in the garden to pick but a handful of ripe harvest for dinner but there’s so much I don’t know where to put it so I balance with my arms full, dropping some and feeling grateful for bounty. Here is the same. Boy, sun, laughter, the bounty I have so much of…

The day turns hot, so we hide from the sun. Boys play with trains and Lego. Loud laughter, whispers, jokes only they can hear, all the silliness you can fit in a house as small as ours and in a world as big as the one they build for me every day.

In late evening, with the sun lost behind the horizon, we take a walk. The park is a block away, and barefoot is the way to go. The boys roll in soft grass, there’s so much laughter it paints the whole park joyful and there’s nothing sweeter than seeing their eyes squinting with too much fun from behind shiny blades of grass. That’s a treat you cannot have every day, joy and laughter are often finicky with growing children, moods swing and feet stomp… Not now, not today, not during the summer that has been ours completely, every day, every sunset and every bucket of laughter.

There’s a recipe for saving summer you know… You collect joy, like a thread you’d roll up in a ball… to have later, to make warmth out of, shelter for the days when there the grass will be there but the boys too big to play… If you’re there, every day, it’ll take a while, they grow slower, they like to stay a little bit longer too… Here, now. That magic world I cannot have enough of.

Little boy is ready for bed, soft tummy and round arms, he invites to silly talking and chuckles. We chuckle, hug and I rub his small back… half sleepily and melting in the promise of dreams to come, he whispers ever so softly ‘I don’t want time to pass…’

I smile, we hug, I let no tears showing and I know that I will never forget this. Some things you just don’t.

ThemLater on, big boy stops by for a whispery chat. Growing boy chat about life and things he understands better… Adding steps to a story that’s just beginning to write itself. Hug goodnight, sweet dreams… I am still here, pulling the thread in, for later warmth, for memories, for all the magic I want to hold on to. On a day like today…

In Praise Of Slowness

Originally published as a column in the AM News on Friday, July 4, 2014.

Slow...We were on a mission to get a couple of laneway wild poppies, my youngest son and I. We were inspired by one of the vendors at Art in the Park on Canada Day. In case you missed it, make sure you go next year. It’s not something you should be OK with missing out on…

We have always pressed wildflowers and used them for various art projects but this would be a step up, where the whole plant minus the roots gets pressed and mounted in a frame, as we saw at the fair. Talk about slowing down time.

It was 11am or so, and we were to cross Columbia Street. We stood on the sidewalk by the crossing, my son’s small hand in mine and we waited. Three rushed cars later, we were still waiting. I dared to put a foot on the wide white stripe. Open Sesame?

A fourth car stopped, screech included. A thank-you wave did not melt the driver’s face into a smile. He was in a rush and that crossing was clearly not a happy addition.

We crossed and walked a few blocks to get the two lone poppies. They were just about ready to drop their petals, which will only make it better in the final display.

We made our way back, talking about wild plants and how they grow, with no one to take care of them. Then we talked about fruit trees, why you need to graft them and how long it takes for them to bear fruit. We saw cherry trees loaded with fruit, cherries on the ground and bugs giving in to their sweetness.

On a back street life slows down and there many bits of life to see; our slow steps matched the rhythm of it.

Crossing Columbia Street reminded us what fast is, again. Even residential streets become fast lanes occasionally, which makes both walking and cycling with or without children a challenge many times. Rushed can turn dangerous in a split second; I’ve seen it happen enough times to fear it.

Why rush? Life pushes us into the fast lane occasionally, or often. Yet no matter how often that happens, slow can still be fit in there somewhere.

In fact many things cannot be done in rushed manner or else they come out wrong. Learning takes times, growing food takes time, reading to a child better take time, creating or building anything that is to be durable and worthwhile takes time.

Slow is not robbing us of time but rather gifting us time.

Rushing has become a religion of some sort. We put rushed and busy together and we feel accomplished. Truth is, sometimes we do, and sometimes we don’t. There should be room for both.

If you are an adult today you had the benefit of being born in a world that was likely less rushed than the one today. Children nowadays eat on the go, they get dressed on the go, they get to be driven places because there are many places to go for so many activities and so days tumble, one after another, year after year.

But they need slowness. That’s how they come out. The first walks I took with the boys were the epitome of slowness. Picking up leaves, rocks, staring at how rain drops made puddles jiggle, listening to bird songs, everything was taken in.

Most children rarely get the luxury of slow times these days. Time to get to know the world and make it worthwhile.

But summer is here. Children and summer are a good mix when it comes to discovering slowness. That includes getting bored. When they do, creativity kicks in.

With no agenda, they will discover a world of wonder where scheduled activity stops. Free playing for example. How many of your summers were spent playing whatever crossed your mind and having the time of your life, dirty from head to toe and never ready to stop?

In the age of restlessness and plunging attention spans, allowing children to experience slow times is a gift.

Celebrate slow times. As much as your work commitments allow you to, keep in the slow lanes. Encourage your children to know the pace of life as it is outside what we make it out to be.  Slowness makes room for deep conversations, and when we spend it with children, they get the worthiest gift of all: time with us.

So why not start with this summer?

Which Legoland Is More Real After All?

Because I live in Lego land. Truly so. The living room is home to a half-built castle which is home to a half-built garage which is, temporarily, just temporarily they say, home to some lost Lego souls (plasticky yes, but in Lego land that is norm) that have lost their hats, hair and an arm here and there. Yes, it’s all small parts. Very.

As you make your way into the kitchen – small open spaces allow for little if any delimitation of such areas, but please allow me – there is a box of Lego which I cover out of respect for myself. It’s a bit too much to see. The remains (if you are a pessimist) or the building blocks (if you’re an optimist) of an airport, plus some aircraft bits.

I am a realist, which is why I choose to put a lid on it. Literally. I know it’ll be a while until any Lego aircraft will be on takeoff status. It’ll come, just not yet. There are only that many hours in one day you see.

Just as you veer into the hallway leading to the boys’ room, a nice pine dresser almost invites the unawares to pull open the drawers. The bottom one I suggest you leave be. Yes, it’s the Lego of many sets, grouped under that impossible to describe category that shall not be named.

LostThat’s the drawer where I throw pieces as I find them, when I clean up or, in a more unfortunate turn of events, in the middle of the night. Which I do, more often that a human should be allowed to. I am not at my most gracious when that happens, but there’s nothing like a square little bugger like that to remind you about living in the moment.

If you’re still with me, we are now in the boys’ room. Under one of the beds there are two bins of … Yep, Lego. The Hobbit series came in strong because you see, when the kid has Lego on his Christmas or birthday wish list, you oblige, because, and only because… Lego is a game of building, thinking and well, growing up in a most harmonious way. Thinking, while staying out of trouble. For now. And not every day, but that’s a story for another day.

There are three more bins, a recent and lovingly passed on inheritance from my partner’s busy Lego past. Lots of exciting, now long extinct sets that need but busy hands to exist again in all their glory. Busy hands are here, I see them every day.

They do get busy. Every now and then, a fever runs through the house and I am never sure whether to bask in the fresh breeze of that enthusiasm or pack some quick bags and run out the door to hide until the fever passes.

Why, you may ask? Creativity is my most favourite ally in day to day life, so should I not encourage it when it hits home? Yes. And I do. But here’s the darker side, if you will allow me to call it that. As the fever carries on, great ideas materialize into half-built this and that. Like mushrooms after a copious rain, they sprout all over, especially on the kitchen floor because ‘Mom, I love sitting here while you cook and build Lego.’ Hence the kitchen becoming a mine zone. I am, in many ways, a survivor; a good thing.

Now when we call it a day, nothing really disappears. This plastic new species that inhabits our abode is work-in-progress for days to come, so I have to let the various contraptions be wherever they find some living space. On the dining table is tops. Location, location, location! Then there’s the floor, under the chair in the corner, on the old chest-turned-coffee table-turned ‘don’t you dare brush by it or everything falls off’ and so on.

A mere 800 square feet of living space can only allow for that much storage space though. So once the Lego cavalcade sets itself comfortably all over our living quarters, we politely retreat to dine outside. Al fresco as they say, with complimentary bugs. The bright side is that we get to see growing structures not made of Lego for a change.

Bad weather sends us back inside every now and then but then again, bad weather is a rare occurrence.

LotsSo yes, we live in Lego land.

I’d like to keep on doing so, because you know what? At the end of the day, no matter how many stray pieces attempt to tear my plantar ligaments, and yes, they do, the pain passes like a fleeting cloud and the happy glow of seeing the boys create and getting excited over building ‘something I’ve always wanted to build’ is a sight to behold.

The latest development is that any leftovers are picked off the floors as opposed to being shoved under the bed. Most days anyways…

As for the real Legoland (real is in the eye of the beholder)… well, for now I will choose to maintain the same attitude I have towards zoos. I prefer seeing the wild stuff, if I happen upon it by any chance. As you can easily infer from what you’ve read so far, chance favours me quite a bit. I get to see lots of wild stuff, hence my polite decline to seeing more. For now anyways…

So you see, although challenging at times, life in Lego land means a few things:

  •  That the boys learn patience (ever tried to search for the tiniest, say, white piece, in a big mound of many white pieces? It’s a skill.)
  •  That they learn to be bold in how they create…’It’s a barn’/’No, it’s not!/’Yes it is, because I am the one building it!’ Feel free to replace barn with anything that crosses your mind.
  • That they don’t care much about an orderly house and that allows them to just be. Clear of anything that might hinder spur-of-the-moment creativity, they learn to follow the impulse that allows them to transform ideas into palpable things.

Which in turn allows me to know they are still boys. In no hurry to grow, in no hurry to dismantle their castles, trains, train tracks, barns and people, in no hurry to stop playing.

Which is something we often forget. We start favouring orderly houses and having everything where it belongs at the end of the day, forgetting that children belong in that place where they can play at their hearts content to the point of having to be peeled off at bedtime and waking up early because they have to build further. From one day to the next, life is Lego land is as real as it gets. And seamless.

Continuity… The strongest argument to let Lego land be… A reminder of now and of all the tomorrows to come. Feet hurting or not, it’s a great place to be. Really. Age-proof too.

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