Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

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Of Books And Mothers And Celebrating Both

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today and Armchair Mayor News on Monday May 15, 2017. 

I grew up with books. Our living room had tomes lined up in tall bookcases covering entire walls, floor to the ceiling almost. When you’re a kid, that is as close to infinity as it gets. I loved climbing to some of the highest shelves and reaching to the back row where old books hid both enticing adventures and that smell of old paper that to this day is one of the most comforting smells there is.

That smell meant the world was all right. It still does, though much has happened since and my world changed in many ways over, some happier than others. Every year in the spring, the same mix of emotions and memories finds its way into my mind. Lilac flowers, bright morning sunshine, memories of my parents’ chatting in the kitchen over coffee, books to get lost in.

Many of the books I read as a kid and later on during adolescence were suggested to me by my Mom. No ‘you should read this’ but instead, she would tell me why she liked this or that book. She made me curious. Some stories came in many volumes, and far from being intimidated by the number of pages to read, I often felt a deep feeling of regret when the story was over.

I believe the writers of such great stories aimed to leave readers with that sense of regret in order to cultivate a love of reading and ensure they’ll search for the next written adventure. My parents would often make references to books that touched them in one way or another, which made me read them. You could say I was learning about my parents from a different perspective, learning the depths of their hearts and at the same time wading into getting to know mine.

To this day, reading brings me close to my parents. The love of reading they opened my mind and heart to was not confined only to books. They told stories too, some real-life ones of their own and many gleaned from books: fairy tales, adventures, sad stories, poems. Both my parents are gone now so my attempts to dissolve the very boundaries that separate our worlds are carried on with books.

I aim to do the same for the boys. We have many books in our home. Because we homeschool, we have entire shelves dedicated to subjects such as math, all flavours of science, grammar, history, geography, and languages. But we have adventure books, silly and serious, we have many entrenching conversations about books and we often fill the library book basket with treasures.

We read together, we read separately, each with whatever grips the heart and mind the most, and we marvel at treasures that we find in used bookstores, which we all love to get lost in occasionally, whether in Kamloops or on the road.

Yes, my Mom would beam to see all of this, and she’d smilingly approve of our bookwormy forays. It’s the thing that lasts when life as we know it brings itself to an untimely end. It’s what I wish my boys to look back on and smile at the memories we’ve seeded along the way.

Because of all of this and more, I was touched, not in the kindest of ways, by the latest news on book recycling in Kamloops. It won’t happen anymore. Makes one wonder about the plethora of books lying around. What’s in store for them?

If you visit thrift stores and used books stores you’re likely familiar with the overwhelming number of books that bend the shelves downwards. There are so many of them and very little, if any, room for more. A good thing, indeed, to be inundated by books, unless we stop to ponder on the ongoing shortening of children’s attention span nowadays and the overall little reading being done in our society. Blame it on the interminable, addicting TV programs and other types of screen-related activities, as well as the fast pace of life that makes leisure time feel sinful.

It’s not. It is perhaps more sinful to throw books in the landfill and at the same time, inundate the stores with more. An unfortunate consequence of mixing money with books, and at the same time preying on the very human curiosity regarding the next best thing… We have become so primed for it.

There are many beautiful, profound reads out there, and there is, unfortunately, a lot of fluff, for young and old alike, not that books have an age. The classics have been rendered boring and less engaging by many, and they are sold for peanuts, though the wisdom they hold is priceless. They are the first ones to see the landfill from up close.

So where to from here? Saving the books seems like a fool’s errand. I’d start with saving the love of reading. Saving our leisure and reading time from the bad time-thieves out there, and safeguarding stories and books and memories that our children can carry with them, literally and otherwise, all the way to the side of life where their children will once grow up and they will be encouraged to learn the value hidden in tomes.

My mother would feel honoured to know how much books mean to me because of her gentle nudging to reach for the ones at the back of the highest shelves. It’s been a worthy adventure.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Holding On, Dawdling And Markers To Find Our Way

20160517_124336I have a fresh cup of coffee and the ‘to do’ list I left on my desk last night clearly states that I should attend to my article on stroke and depression. I dawdle instead.

The word stroke makes me think of my Dad. He did not become depressed after his stroke but angry; I did too. That he lost his ability to do things around the yard, that he was slow and feeling older because of that, that he lost his smile because his body gave up on feeling invincible before his mind did. His anger melted in depressed helplessness over time, mine in tears of the same. Clinging to the shiny bits is how I can honour him and our time together.

Today I dawdle on writing about strokes because the morning walk reminded me of life before grownup shadows poured from the sky. The time when I was little and stepping out of the house into fresh, wet morning grass and my Dad would hand me a handful of half-ripen strawberries and smiles.

So I close my eyes and dawdle, lingering in the space where I can go no more, the place where I’d lie on my back in the tall soft grasses under the quince trees and make shapes with my hands against the sun, hiding my eyes behind leaves and feeling the slight tickles of ants crawling on my arms. The place of innocence and small daily miracles.

I miss that not in the whiny way that makes me unfit for today and tomorrow and life itself, but in the way that makes me ponder once again over the memories and precious bits of life I will hand my boys today so they’ll learn from and anchor themselves when life makes them feel unsteady.

It’s not about keeping them safe from harm. I have, since entering adulthood (I suspect that is what the land I find myself most days is called,) given up on the idea of creating a worry-free environment for my sons.

Life will use its sharpest sticks to poke you at times and it has nothing to do with your mom’s magic powers aimed to protect you. In fact, there is no such thing. There is the strength that we acquire by soul osmosis if you will. There are memories of sweetness, there is resilience, there is the remembrance of mistakes, loudness when loud does not solve anything anyway, mistakes corrected and tears wiped, the adorning with hugs when reconciliation drapes wraps us all in its long soft arms, and the resolution that tomorrow will be better.

20160508_111854That is what I can give to my boys. Time together is how I craft it for them, with them, and there is no guarantees either but faith, blind faith that the tree we nurture together will grow to have strong roots and a crown large enough to provide shade when needed – for them, for those they love, for those who need it when they need it. Faith that their hearts will never harden to refuse shade to those who ask for it.

I give them time, love through presence, the only things I have full ownership of. Mornings of snuggles and reading about boxtrolls with little boy, chuckles that come about as we read about creatures that don’t exist but how cute if they did. I listen to whispers of worry about things that little boys worry about, I am fortunate to be let in. Little boys wanting nothing more but to stay hidden in the land of playing knight games with wooden shields and swords and so much imagination it bursts out in stories that carry no punctuation but joy, lots of it.

20160508_105829I give big brother a quarter cup of coffee or so and the steam draws out laughter, stories, gazes averted but souls pushing closer to each other as uneasy topics nestle their elbows in between the two of us; we squeeze them a bit just to show they have nothing on us. Playing invincible? I used to. Now I play fair: sometimes life is overwhelming. My growing boy needs to know that, as he’s leaving childhood behind to enter the world that makes no sense at times but fills us with the kind of longing that keeps up going for seconds every day and every day after that.

20160508_124822For Mother’s Day just a week or so ago I got hugs, smiles and a wasp nest found in some sun-drenched woods. Cards made by them, adding to a pile that will one day become a framed expose of love bits. Cannot think of better gifts. Worthiness.

In the end, that’s what it’s about. Leaving traces that define us. I leave mine, they leave theirs. We make a mound of them and create the marker that will help us find our way back to the time when sweetness abounded and we held hands as we jumped over streams inflamed with rushing waters. So that neither of us will be swept away. Holding on is what I can give them. For now, that will do.

A Mom’s Perspective

Originally published as a column in NewsKamloops on Friday April 29, 2016. 

ThemEvery few months or so, or at least a couple of times a year, there is some news about a mom breastfeeding in public and the implications of that. A case of a storm in a glass of water if you ask me. Somehow, we’re just not over this issue though it has been happening since the beginning of human history.

Yes, many of us are still collectively losing it as soon as a mom nurses her baby in public (yes, babies do eat at various times and in various places not just at home or in secretive locations.)

The negative opinions of the crowd range from shaming the mom and her propensity to expose herself (as if!) to whether she should still be nursing a child that is not a newborn anymore. To be fair, there are positive, encouraging remarks that show support and affirm that yes, it is absolutely normal for a young one to be nursed.

The latest nursing offense happened in Ontario. Though in a community centre, the mom was asked to go to the washroom to continue. Right. That she refused to do so only seems logical and self-respecting. No mom does the exposure to the point it becomes an issue and most times all you see is the baby’s head anyway. Covering up works for some babies but not for others so in imposing the cover-up we might just see more of what we’re trying to avoid seeing.

That she was asked to do that only proves that we are a few ages behind in acknowledging a fact of life (literally) that is not only healthy but fully supported and encouraged by various health organizations and yes, the recommendations clearly state nursing exclusively for the first six months of life and along with complimentary foods until the age of two and beyond.

It truly is mind-boggling that so many get their tails in a knot over this one again and again, while the exposure issue is a serious and worrying one in other areas of life that we should be more diligent to look into as a society or even become fully aware of.

It’s highly hypocritical to do the nursing mom hunt while the really troubling stuff exists in the shadows and grows continuously. The dark sides of internet information is where the true exposure to more than breasts happen, yet there is full freedom for kids, teens and the rest of the population to access it as they please and/or are sneaking their way towards it.

We have yet to make it a common place conversation among all of us, whether we are parents or not. As a society we are barking at the wrong tree when approaching the nursing mom situation with such apprehension while not seeing the dark forest behind it.

If we are to regulate things that can and do affect us as a society we have to look at how we’re being robbed of decency and innocence, start a conversation and initiate actions that will see us all better for it.

To be clear, I am an advocate of open conversations with children, explaining things to them according to their level of understanding and curiosity. Moreover, I am an advocate of spending enough time around the dinner table and otherwise, so that such conversations are not awkward and thus avoided, but happening matter-of-factly and thus allowing for the connection between us parents and children to grow deeper every time.

Yes, we need to do something and soon. Highly overdue I’d say when we have yet another 80 people in Ontario – one of whom was a daycare employee – charged with child pornography (charges include 274 offences) and when phone applications like Canadian-made Kik open the door to even more predators. No, I am not blaming the app but its features sure need some fixing so that the ill-intended cannot be given access.

We have much to worry about and baby nursing prudishness is not one of them. We have to worry about people whose faces and identities are concealed going after children (yes, teens are still children), we have to worry about how easily children can nowadays access online pornography and how overspread the rape culture is among young people, and we have to worry about how much even best-intentioned parents miss when it comes to knowing about their children’s online presence simply because there is just so much to handle.

So yes, let’s let the nursing moms nurse and instead approach the issues that can truly hurt us and our children. This is yet another elephant in the room, and we have to deal with it. Starting now would not be too soon.

Will It Rain? Looking Back Into The Summer That Was…

Summer thenWill it rain? Who knows. It’s all a guessing game, though if you were to ask my dad he’d tell you it’s not. You do know, he’d say. There are signs. Humbly, you know it’s true. There are signs, you have a way to go until you learn them that’s all…

You want the rain because there’s tomatoes and spinach and garden peas that beg for it. Water is water but rain is better water, they seem to say.

Rain brings weeds also, there’s more weeds every day and less time, and you wish for a magic touch that will take them all away and make the garden clean of unwanted green. Someone once said that weeds are good, they would not flourish in bad soil. Take heart, is what they meant…

Bringing up children and tender crops. The same. Weeds taking over in both worlds. Screams, stomping of small feet and sulking, fights among boys too wild to know the slow art of diplomacy, and they’ll tell you being diplomatic makes you a loser… ‘cuz they know, they’re in the thick of it. Could all of that go like dandelion fluff, all the weedy dragon-like behavior and you’ll see but smiling faces, mannered boys taking turns speaking and never ever talking with their mouths full or stealing from other’s plates, no talking back… Nope. Sigh? No sigh. Joy. Nothing goes away that comes from within. Acceptance, all the struggle that children put into becoming people. All the struggle of tiny seedlings to push through gritty soil.

You pull weeds, and the air is pierced by the boys’ voices. Shrills, screams, laughter, then the loud dragons again… ‘No, no, no, I am not playing with you…’

Should you step up and see about it? You call their names… Silence.

‘We’re good!’ Magic? Perhaps. They are tough, you can see their heads past the weeds just like you can see the corn rising thin and green and brave, reaching high. There’s no going back now.

Weeds, glassy skies, rags of clouds hanging lose, the world seems lazier than a sloth in the leftover heat of late afternoon, but you don’t stop. You can’t. The earth is dry, feels sandy between your toes. Barefoot boys, skipping past pebbles, they don’t stop… They can’t. It’s the game.

It’s the rhythmicity of it that makes it all exist, grow, and become more. Day after day, small things becoming big deeds, small roots holding small bodies, there’s no going back now. Rhythmic. Every day. Enough to fill the spaces in your body where you felt fear so often. You will again, but fear moves up, like bubbles in a glass that’s always half-full. Fear for them, for the crops to grow. But fear withers like the weeds you pull out of the ground and throw to the side. Fear has small roots. It must…

‘Mom, can we go for a bike ride?’ Little boy rides fast, you run to catch up.

‘Tag me if you can…’

If you can, what cheekiness… Just wait.  You chase him just to hear the giggle, then you slow down so the mad dash won’t make boy and bike topple. And they do, but there’s no crying. Grimaces, a look of ‘it hurts’ that you want to go and make better, but there’s no need because… ‘Tag me again!’

Remember the day when big brother stopped crying when he fell. That day… he rubbed the knees, rubbed palms, no need for kiss to make it better. T-shirts wiped all that Band-Aids masked until then. ‘Will these scars stay, Mom? I hope they do…’

Signs of time. Scars are not to cover. Boys are afraid no more, now your fear can go away too.

‘Try to catch me on the way home!’

You run, but wait… there’s berries in the back lane, growing wild, kissed by sunsets and taken care of by invisible hands… time. You gotta remember to bring the boys to the back lane bounty in a couple of weeks. Bounty, growing wild. You know it’ll be sweet and flavourful, and it’ll be like that whether someone pulls the cluster of weeds surrounding its spiky feet or not. It’ll be sweet, whether it rains or not, or despite of it… You know everything grows stronger without perfection to choke it. Children too. Bounty.

You follow the boy and his head of wild hair, palms of glowing sunset light caressing every strand and making them into golden streams. You’re at peace, not worried of rains and weeds and magic touches that can make everything perfect.

Magic is when you let go of the fear that you have to have it perfect so they’ll turn right. Magic is when you finally understand that they’ll still need the hug to make it better, but not for scraped knees. For egos that grow too soon, for life so loud it makes your heart pound and for bruises that come with it.

Day’s over. You pick tender leaves of lettuce, green and red, herbs… The shimmering sunset light is about to plunge behind the horizon. Tomorrow’s roots.

Soon it will rain and that is how it should be.

Advice To My Sons: Live With Joy

All of itLive with joy, no matter what comes your way, because joy is never to be lost, I’ll tell you why. You were once given to the world, to feel it all, to add to it, to stub your toes against thick knobbly roots and not feel anger but joy that trees exist and you can walk near them. You were given to the world to feel alive as you let your hand caress tall slim grass, smooth sands and waters that come from sky and ground alike, enclosing you in a circle where you cannot lie or pretend as you learn about what life tastes like.

Live with joy and catch raindrops in the nest of your palms at least once because rain was never meant to cause you grief but give life around you and for you. It does that, regardless of whether you see it or not, but if you do, you’ll stand astounded by the miracle of it all.

You were given to the world with joy, thus you must live in ways that will let joy be seen in you wherever you go. Live with joy so you have nothing to hide. It’s with you. Joy. It’s in how you start the day. Or how you end the day before. Remember that yesterday and today become the ground your soul feels before your feet trace the first steps and your eyes are peeled open by morning light.

Be joyful for the slimmest sliver of daylight that tickles your eyelids and for the furtive glimpse of shadowed stars as sleep steals you away for a bit. Make joy a constant thought you braid with gratefulness; they feed on each other. Do it every day, because every day brings gifts. Not all come with ribbons and beauty. Some will make you cry, some will hurt as you open them, but please, hang on to joy, you’ll understand why later on.

WorldsLive with joy. It gives you reason to forgive when forgiveness is what you have to give, find joy in the humble act of understanding it. Live with joy; it’s what will help you build boundaries that will keep you safe and your dreams too. Be joyful so you can understand what matters in life. Start learning it early. It’ll keep you grounded when the going gets tough, because it will. Joy will be the moonlit path that will lead out of the darkest scariest woods.

Take yourselves places where joy grows wild. Don’t ask where that is, you’ll find them. There is a place like that for everyone. You’ll be overwhelmed by the mirrors in which you will see yourself, your naked soul, reflected in ways that will make you understand life and your own place in it. You’ll understand how joy and tears are never too far from each other. It’s where you will find me. It’s where I’ve been plotting all along to meet you, since the first day I knew of your existence. It’s yet another place where we learn of each other’s depths and dreams.

Live with joy, because when you do, you grow wings that will take you high enough to never taste bitterness, resentment and unkindness. Joy leaves no room for that. Live with joy and you’ll find the right people to share that with. Simplicity

Simplify your life so you can see all the colours your were meant to see and hear the whispers of even the quietest of hearts. Make joy the key that will open doors you were meant to open. Remember that people’s hearts are doors too. Never force your way in. If you live with joy, you’ll be safe from that.

You will know that it is not perpetual smiles I wish for you when I urge you to give in to joy, but the ability to understand that as you should feed on it, your wings will grow strong and ready into stormy skies and cloudy grey mornings, just like they will soften and give in to the warm glaze of many sunrises and sunsets. Joy will see to that. You’ll grow tired of flying at times, of coldness and bleak horizons, and then, just the same, you’ll blush with the realization that your heart expands with every day you tell yourself ‘I have what I need to keep on going.’ That is joy; because you chose to live with it. So keep at it, it’s the right way to live. It’s what I wished for each of you the day you struggled to open your eyes to the world for the first time. You don’t remember it, but what you first saw was joy. All there could be. I thought you ought to know that. Now you do.

Play, Said Summer. And We Played

20140624_193114We had cherry pie for dinner. One of my mom’s recipes, possibly the only one I follow to the letter. Because I miss the very taste, not my own rendition…

We had been hiking on steep trails at Peterson Creek in late afternoon; bright faces, tired legs, ‘I cannot take one more step’ and all the landscape waiting to cling to our eyes. It did.

Tired boys, happy to have overcome steep and hot and slippery sandy slopes, having a cherry picnic right at the top and painting their hands red with juice. How sticky and red can you get, you wonder? Very.

KissClouds dripping rain in the distance, kissing the earth and traveling like a colorful gypsy circus all over the land, never to stop, always singing wild water songs, drops drumming on thirsty, dusty land… never to stop, never tired of traveling, the water circus…

CrossingWe started on a trail by the creek; I crossed a bridge to the side we’ve never been on, they crossed the creek… shady and cool, weeds growing high as trees and smells growing with them, intoxicatingly sweet with every step.

Is the park going to make us allergic like last spring? No. Remember, mom?

I remember. The trip had to be cut short, jolly boys turned into jelly boys, lying on green lawns, overcome with sneezes and itchiness and drowsy arms and legs not able to carry them home.

Maybe if I don’t think allergy, it won’t happen. Right?

We waited until after five to step out. The afternoon of writing for mom and boys; old poems revived, new stories by boys, with boys, and chuckles to mark this funny thing and this and that…

Lunch was a big crunchy salad from the garden and vintage records… The Beatles and Elvis and all the stories of why they were so good; hungry boys listen to stories, eat and laugh. Now about that guitar in the basement… and the one in the office. A carousel of laughter… Lunch is green today. It grins and plays.

Late morning saw boys building Lego rockets and castles and matching astronauts with fantasy creatures in a game that had everything in it… The game was never better, they said; it must be the wild mixing of characters.

Transcending the Saturday tradition, we had pancakes for breakfast.

Please? Pancake morning again? Yes, again, please? OK.

Raspberries too, please? Yes, plenty. If you bring your manners to the table this time.

You mean with the pinky up? Laughter, silly laughter, the wildest bird of all, with a nest right in the middle of the dining table… snickering boys, table manners falling apart before they reach the table… boys are boys, mom, we are not dainty.

We started the day with morning cuddles. Just a bit, they say. Just so, under the soft white blanket. Dreams? …They don’t remember.Dreams

They came running, like they usually do, as soon their eyes peeled open. Sleepy feet on the floor, plop, plop, seeking cuddles, trading cuddles for all those forgotten, lost dreams.

Morning crawled in… birds songs and a breeze woke me up. I moved slowly, tippy toe… never wake sleepy boys, just take a peek to see them sleep, people-to-be… dreams and sighs and fresh faces lumped into sweetness that is sweet even when it’s naughty…

It is seven past, all is quiet, open windows with drapes fluttering as if the house is asleep and breathing… It is. Good night.

Chasing Happiness

HappinessIf it’s past 9 o’clock kids should be in bed, or so the unwritten laws of good parenting dictate. But the breezy night just set in after a long hot day and we still dance our feet on the pavement on the way to the river.

We take the back alleys because they are unpretentious. No perfect lawns, no empty yards. There are signs of life in the back alleys, you see.

The boys hop and chat, one’s words stomping the other’s words because ‘oh, I had this thought and it’ll go away if I don’t say it now…’ and what do you do then… Word stomping has its place.

Today is not it. While one talks the other listens and finds something to do on the side. Kids’ hands and minds are such busy machines, they cannot sit still and they should not. That’s how they stay joyful. That’s how they learn the world.

‘I will call this happiness,’ big boy says, wrapping his palm around the big fluffy head of a Tragopogon.

This is happiness… the night breeze carries his words further. I smile. Indeed, nothing wrong with that.

‘I want happiness,’ little boy chirps in.

That’s when it gets better. They run to get the next happiness globe of fleeting stuff (literally) and their laughter hops along with them.

‘My happiness, I touched it first!’

‘Mom, you want some happiness?’ The best answer is the one my soul paints across my face; I smile because what else can match the state I’m in. I have some, look, it’s right here.

‘I want some!’ little boy says, realizing that the blob he was holding was taken away by the wind.

Big boy laughs and wickedly rubs ‘happiness’ onto his little brother shirt, throws me a big smile and does the same to my shirt. There are signs of happiness all over. Sticky, fluffy, goofy. Let the magic be…

We get home late, having bumped into every blob of happiness on the way. It shows, inside and outside.

Boys brush teeth, they ask for cuddles, and one more and then just one more… I am stuck in thinking of how simple it is to get some happiness.

It is. It’s what you make of it really. It can be as elusive as a blob of fluff that you have now and the wind takes away the next second. It could be that someone wrestles you to the ground and takes it away. Chances are you won’t be laughing but then again, why not? It’s already gone but there is more to get if you keep on going…

Happiness is there, but you won’t find it where the aim is perfection. Just ask the boys. The big fluffy happy blobs are all huddled in the back alleys, where it’s all real and some of the less elegant things show. ‘cause they do, life is like that.

As for that happiness? Open your eyes, stretch out your hand and grab it before the wind takes it away… and if it does, keep on going, there’s more.

And you know how I know the boys were right? Because this morning on my run, I took the back alleys as I usually do. There were big fluffy Tragopogon heads all along and though I did not pick them, they whispered their secret to me.

The boys’ dash hunting happiness during our late night walks, the laughing about all the happiness they can rub on each other or mine over the occasional ‘Don’t rub your happiness on me!’ – it was all there. And just like that, happiness was there too.

Really, it’s what you make of it. So we made it a Tragopogon fluffy head. In fact, I am ready to change the plant’s status: from invasive species to reason to smile and keep going. Wouldn’t you?

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