Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: motherhood Page 2 of 3

Of Growing Boys, and Tears, And Stories, and Soft Grey Caterpillars

Striving‘I cannot do it!’ Little boy says it loud and though no tears come into his eyes, I could hear them stomp behind the words. Loudly; tears.

It is about a game. Cute, old-fashioned design, itty bitty characters that look like baby crocodiles… Yes, sigh, the one Nintendo game little boy gets to play is wrapping him up in frustration like a cocoon.

What a long day the day had been. School in the morning, a laughter-all-around Lego building time with a friend who came for a visit, plus a whole lot of playing outside with big brother in and around a melting igloo… And so much more, all that a child’s world brings for him to see, smell, fear, dare through, be silly about, be serious about, be there every minute of a day so long and rich.

‘I cannot do it!’ He says it again. Loud, frustrated, chin trembling.

The mom that I am wants to say ‘You can do it’ but how is that not patronizing when a kid is frustrated to sky and back. Games like that are not easy, I am told. Like many things in life, there are levels. You learn, you persist, you get to the next. But when you only have one hour and fifteen minutes three times a week to make it happen… a battle ensues, I am also told.

Here is the things though: When the world tells so often of things you can get just like that – yes, instant gratification is an occurrence that creates false realities whether we want it or not in our children –  what to make then of the occasional hurdle? Electronic game or not, frustration caused by inability to do what you want to do, what you expected to be able to do so easily, or somehow hoped that invisible arms will make it happen for you… how to then?

‘I cannot do it!’ If you’re a little boy, and tired, you say it again and again. And big brother looks into your big round sad eyes and says ‘I can help you.’

Mom (that’s me) says ‘That is not help, but cheating.’ Two boys, four eyes, big and bright and wondering… But to help, Mama, just this time, I can help him… Big brother melts, understands and insists. To help is to tell him he can do it, I tell him.

“But I cannot!’ Feet stomping, big pouty face. Hug? Yes and no wrestle on his face. ‘I can’t.’

Yes, you can one step at a time… ‘No, I cannot!’ Tears. Sadness. A thought strikes true. I turn to my screen and type ‘inspirational man with no arms and no legs’. Just like that. I had heard about him but never really searched properly; there are only that many hours in a day. Today has more.

The two boys and their four big eyes watched and listened, and I did too, peeking at their faces and wondering about it all. You can search and see. Nick Vujicic is his name and he will inspire you.

He talks about frustration, about failing again and again and not giving up, he talks about taking steps – one at a time, to reach your destination. He talks about falling down and getting up, and how it never ends until it ends… He would know.

Two boys with bright big eyes looked at me and asked ‘how could he do all of that?’ knowing the only answer there is. Because he did not give up; because he chose to see the gifts that he had, rather than cry about the ones he did not have.

Sighs, smiles, crooked and sweet, no more tears.

‘Mom?… I can try again.’ Yes indeed. Thank you. I was grateful for help. All settled and peaceful, the evening rolled along like a big, grey and soft caterpillar, smiling at us… until. Until it all went black again, and a crow of hungry ‘Can I please have help just this time?’ swooped down and scattered the caterpillar’s fluff all over. ‘I cannot’ returned for one last flight through the house.

No, I will not, could not, should not. Allow for that kind of help.

That’d be like falling back twenty steps after you’ve advanced ten I tell them. They stop and listen. ‘But not every time,’ they plead, ‘just this time.’ I trade hugs and stories for half-smiles and listening ears. No is a must.

I am not cruel, but loving this. What a good chance. Sit down then. Boys listen to stories of little kids crying because they could not draw like their older siblings could; getting help when help meant locking them in a box that said ‘I cannot by myself…’ and how love should be fair, and encouraging and never ever indulging in ways that cripple. I tell stories of people lost, people who loved ones help by saying no. It turns serious but they listen.

Faces lit with smiles. Yes, they get it. Yes, they feel loved when a no is lovingly said, and fair and encouraging, and I do too. I thank the man who gave us a push today over the hurdle.

No arms, no legs, no worries, he says. How could one do it like that? By not giving up, by getting up again when falling, by reminding yourself of the brightness of the day when the night threatens with too much darkness… using the light of the day to brighten the night ahead. Belief.

The night caterpillar returns fluffy and grey and sleepy. Grateful. We snuggle on the couch reading stories of mice with big ears and big courageous hearts and then we snuggle some more. Bedtime, hugs, ‘your special kisses, mom, and then I’ll give you mine…’ A nightly ritual that brings sparkles from many days of love and brightness into all the nights that threaten to be too dark. Not now, not yet, not ever?…

Goodnight, sleep tight, wake up bright… Two boys with bright eyes and big smiles learned a lot today, I did too; they’ve grown so much and so have I. More tomorrow, again and again… one step, two steps, can never take two at the same time. Just as long as you know where you’re going… When you forget, I’ll remind you both. Of a day, of tears, of smiles, of a day so bright and a night so soft… Goodnight

An Adventure Begins

BoysIt was not entirely my idea but a combined effort. In all fairness, the topic of homeschooling had been on the agenda, on and off, since those first day of Tony’s kindergarten when he asked if we could. I was hesitant, possibly because it was still a new and exotic concept with more questions than answers. To me anyway.

His very kind kindergarten teacher softened his first schooling experience and our determination to homeschool to the point where we said ‘we shall see’ and that’s how that year passed. It was a good year, especially because kindergarten back then was only four hours a day and that seemed manageable.

Then grade 1 started and that was six hours a day. Big boy was six, little boy was two. Every day we would walk to school, the three of us, rolling down the hill and counting houses and trees. Come lunch time, I was back at school with little boy in tow, ready to have lunch-in-three on the steps of the nearby church. It’s what Tony wanted and it made all the sense to me as I missed him around the house.

Every now and then we talked about homeschooling. Again. Some days more than others. Main reason was occasional boredom.

The grade 1 teacher was good and nice and when we admitted to the great sin of plotting against the system and wondering about homeschooling, she said she understands why I would think that and she mentioned the gifted kids programs. I was too shy back then to say it was not that, or that I am not a big believer in such programs.

Grade 1 came and went and starting with grade 2 our lunch rendez vous stopped. It was suggested that kids might make fun of him if that continues, plus he would miss an opportunity to socialize. With the same kids, of course. A conundrum of some sort.

Homeschooling was set aside for most of the time but it kept resurfacing every now and then. Could we, should we? When he was the one asking I flinched; when I thought we should he said ‘Not yet’ and so the wild homeschooling creature would fly away like some rogue bird every time, not before flapping its wings a few times.

At the end of grade 4 we said goodbye to Vancouver and grade 5 saw us in Kamloops. New school, new friends, new everything. It seemed smooth enough until six hours proved too long to bear and some supervision aids too enamored with the occasional power high some of us experience when fate puts one in charge. The homeschooling bird returned, bigger and stronger than ever. It clawed its way into our lives on a daily basis and promised to stick around for longer this time.

Tony was increasingly frustrated with topics he perceived as irrelevant. In the social arena, the above-mentioned power high issues made for some added bitterness.

At the same time, he was hailed as gifted, which at some point I came to resent as it was reflecting, I thought and still do, rather awkwardly on the rest of the kids. I think they all are. Not being politically correct, I simply believe in creativity and I believe it is ours to play with until we become self-conscious. The school system does not cater to all kinds of giftedness but rather the academic kind (think math, sciences.) Personally I have always been in awe of children, their creativity

The bird did not leave this time, but fluttered its wings over our heads enough times for me to say ‘ok, ok, let me take another look.’ A feeble attempt to go half-school, half-homeschool was just that; a feeble attempt. As my mom used to say ‘you try to sit in two boats at the same time, you’re bound to fall in the middle.’ I thought there was a high of the half school half homeschool project to become just that.

So I choose the one boat we could both fit in comfortably and enjoy the ride. We started homeschooling three weeks and so far it has been a great experience.

The first day was quite similar to that first day of having a newborn in my arms, and the same question sprouted almost instantly: ‘now what?’

Once I got past that, things rolled smoothly. There is something particularly enjoyable about having various assignments handed in. I believe in research-based homework, the kind that looks at a fact from many angles and involves critical thinking in analyzing the why and how. The joy comes from knowing that I will be a witness to my son’s learning to connect dots, I will be privy to the a-ha moments and I will get to guide and learn at the same time. A privilege and a grand responsibility.

I pick topics of interests for him, with occasional new subjects that I hope he will never get to call irrelevant. The day he does, we revisit and try again. To be interested in learning and curious and eager, that is paramount in education. To never be bored but to enjoy knowing more and making more sense of this or that. To savour every day and the learning that comes with sounds romantic indeed.

What about the hurdles, you may ask? They’ll be there, that much I know. But then again, smooth seas do not make good sailors.  It will get hairy at times, frustrations will poke their heads through the harmony mesh, moods will be ruffled by this or that, and, if we care to make it a worthy journey, we will make it work.

We sail with trust and openness. I listen, he talks; he listens, I talk. It’s an adventure. We will learn, more than math, physics, geography and history. We will learn about ourselves and how to find purpose in everything we do. As for little brother, he will be in school this year. Next year he’ll hop aboard this boat and we’ll keep on sailing.

One day at a time, that is, because, in the end, that is all we can count on.

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…

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.

Stop, Drop, Roll. Repeat.

Sun splashedWe’re walking home from school. A day of “Mom, you know what happened today?” and everything is so important. They both want to talk. Simultaneously. Their words bubble like cute little mud volcanoes.
“Hey I was talking!”

“Mine is shorter to say! Mom, you know…”

Who was first? The forever conundrum.

Interrupted, again, little guy puffs and walks ahead. Whatever. You can’t win all of them. Big brother is excited. A new program at school involving babies. To elicit empathy… “but Mom, it seemed like we were observing an animal, that’s not right. It’s not good for the baby.”

Empathy springs from other existential corners, we both agree. My boys are learning life. Are they learning the right things? I teach them to question things, to think for themselves, how else will they know how to choose the right path? But right and wrong are not set in stone, I tell them. Think, don’t betray common sense,

BiteCommon sense. “We have that, Mom, don’t we?” Yes, heaps of it, sweet boys, except for the times when you’re so wild and chopping down all the wisdom, patience trees I’ve been planting since you came into my world. But those times, they are my trials, my getting lost as a mom and finding myself again. Better? Who knows. Willing, always. Yours truly.

I remember my boys as babies. Peeking at the world from their slings, infinite cuddles, nursing like koala bears and holding onto my shirts with tiny pudgy hands. Loving the night snuggles, quiet breathing and twitching of eyelids. The mystery of baby dreams… what do they see? 

The afternoon light is made of caramel and fine dust, and I coax them outside. They need no coaxing.

“Wanna play cowboys?” Tony’s favorite game these days.

Rolled...Leather holster, vests, cap guns that puff smoke and make clackety noises, hats that tilt backwards… “Mom can we get the Chilly hats?” It’s Tilley, I want to say, but I know better than to correct Sasha. He still speaks words that seem to have come from his baby dreams, a world that’s sweet and round like the fists that were holding on to the my shirt,

They drop, roll, yelp, climb and I succumb to being there.

Piled dishes can wait, wilted flowers can wilt no more until they are taken out, crumbs from breakfast that stick to socks, they can wait… this time will never come back.

Today this, tomorrow that, from one day to the next, we celebrate growth; I push them out of the nest gently “Come on, you can…” but then I pull them back in. Stay, wings need to grow.

I want to be with them when October afternoon sun bends over them in soft caramel arches, I want to see their sweaty faces and worry about them dropping too hard to the ground… “We’re boys, Mom…” Smile, laugh, I stand to catch bits of it and just like dandelion fluff, laughter scatters everywhere… To grow further, to become. Bright, golden. Stay, grow. Nothing stays the same.

“Mom, I want the holster now!”

“No! I didn’t have it enough. No!”

“Moom! He is not sharing!”

Wait, what? I lost track. Who has what? Does it matter? Sweetness whimpers, departs like a wounded animal. No, come back. It does. This time. Every time I fear that it won’t. It always does. What drama queen.

'Lion headIt’s true. Motherhood makes you dramatic, you have to know colors, be fair and remember how to catch smiles; you have to be there, soul done or undone but who cares. You have to teach little people how to take turns, to share… But you yourself never want to share them, the (dande)lion heads. You want the crowns, the fluff, the escaping fluff and the air around them. Shhh, don’t say it out loud. How wicked and childish, people will say. How aware of preciousness and its infuriating fleeting nature, you say. You know.

“That was a good game, Mom. Can you bake cookies tonight?”

The Robin. Today

We were sitting on the porch. The boys and I. It was sunny, we were eating some hash browns that I made in my greatly appreciated cast iron pan and we were chatting. About the awkward dancing that happened at school today on Valentine’s Day and about the guinea pigs. They were out on the lawn too, they usually are on sunny days.

The potatoes were golden yellow and the sun was a perfect match.

Then I saw it: the robin. It startled me to see it and it sent a warm tingle down my spine. I got awfully soft in the knees. I told the boys to take a look.

“Do you know what I think that robin’s doing there? Saying happy birthday.”

Just like that, you’d say? No, not just like that.

You see, when my mom passed away almost seven years ago, I had this robin come into my front yard every day. So frazzled soul that I was then, I decided that the robin was some extension of my mom. Crazy you say? So be it. It meant so much to see the robin there.

The robin meant the continuation of what was taken away from me so brutally and so suddenly. It was a bit of a buoy. I had the boys but who would put such a burden on beautiful little bubbling souls like theirs?

The robin was something I needed.

The robin came in the front yard of that house. And then in the back yard of the next house we lived in, it used to play on sunshine fiddles in this big leafy magnolia tree. Then when we moved again, it appeared again; back yard.

Then we moved here. Today was the first day I saw a robin. It came to wish me the happy birthday my mom would’ve wished me. Instead, the robin came.

A continuation of what was taken from me almost seven years ago brutally and suddenly. I am childish that way you see. I will never fully come to terms with it. But so what. I don’t have to.

I think the robin will keep showing up from time to time. Now the boys know about it too. Sasha is trying to pick an animal that will make him think of me after I am gone. It’s not morbid. It’s sweet and it’s his way of saying he understands.

Tony smiled when I told them how I’ve come to look at the robin that way. There was a question there too, that he sometimes asks but not today. Today he smiled, we all did, and the sun wrapped all three of us in warm golden light.

I took photos of the robin but I am not sure I need them. I actually don’t.

A happy birthday it is.

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