Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: play

Our Yard Lives With Us


Time is a game played beautifully by children (Heraclitus)

There are a few things that can be said about our yard. An English garden it is not. Prim and proper either. What would we do with all of that? Could an English garden accommodate a –build-your-own castle? A clay mining operation (which is needed for the castle of course) or a jousting arena? I doubt it.

thenGranted, the castle in the back yard is in ruins. There were two at some point but they morphed into one. Why two, you may ask. Well, because two (little) people at some point in time thought to lay siege on each other’s castle by catapulting stones. When you’re a boy in love with the knight times, it makes all the sense the in the world.

Then, there’s jousting. It takes place in the vicinity of the castle, and it is done with much gusto on a bike instead of a horse and against a tin garbage can donned with a shield and a waiting lance. Noblesse oblige. The laundry line gets in the way but then again, no knight can become a proper one without a few good challenges. Such as clothes lines and mom’s raised beds.

noseYumsSpeaking of raised beds and gardening. There’s remnants of both, despite dogs and knights. How many gardeners can brag about finding knight-in-training hand prints among emerging bean plants? Or a puppy with a tell-tale dirty nose? Honestly, I think the beans are going to lose. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The tour continues with the clay mine site. It has a ramp leading into the ‘processing area’ and back in its heyday the mine cart was bustling up and down the small hill with an enviable clickety-clack.  Alas, the cart is now a relic of the old flourishing days of backyard mining. Strangely similar to some area of British Columbia if you think about it.

That homeschooling allows for unrestricted exploration of preferred subjects such as British Columbia history in particular may have had something to do with the boys’ mining forays too. The gold in our case was muck though. Lots of it.

If it means boys playing for hours though, knee deep in both muck and joy and laughing all the way to the sky and back, so be it. As for life beyond muck, there is lots of it. There are shelters being built, expeditions being carried to corners of the world (umm, yard) you’ve never heard of and on sunny crisp morning there are reading snuggles. Ants crawl on our feet, ticklish and curious, and we do not mind because they have just as much right to be there as we do. Possibly more.

In the front yard, the big tree (a silver maple we suppose) fulfills its many duties with utmost dignity. It holds a swing that has taught the boys more about gravity than any manual could, it invites to climbing and bird viewing, and it reminds us of the seasons. Gratefulness and time measured in leaves falling to the ground in the fall and buds bursting in the spring. An ideal time keeper.

20160519_082652Peter PanAs for the garden… It may or may not make it this year. Much of it this has retreated to large pots because of the waves of enthusiasm and creativity sweeping through the yard at any given time. I am not about to stop any of it though. You see, all of this happens but once in a lifetime and if I let it live as it might, the boys will stay just as they are for a while. Just boys, silly and covered in muck, never mind the foot prints on the kitchen floor. Backyard (and beyond) adventures await and if enough adventures happen then there is no need to ever say ‘Mom, can I stay a kid forever?…’ Because they will.

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?

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.

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.

Conquering Mountains With Buckets of Laughter

The boys and I head out to Cypress Mountain after a lazy morning with coconut pancakes, tea, and a good talk on the phone with my sister, always a treat on a weekend morning. The city is soaking wet but the mountains on the other shore are shrouded in clouds. As we drive towards them the fog clears up a bit and bits of sun trickle down on the window shield. We ascend, happy with the anticipation of a heavy snowfall and sideburns of dirty snow are growing on the sides of the road with every hairpin. We park, jump in snow pants, jackets and mitts and head up the trail. It’s not groomed, it’s the back country trail where people go hiking or snowshoeing. The risk of avalanche in the back country is moderate to high. Right. My prevailing thought is that I missed being in the snow. So much.

The boys jump in and out of mountains of snow. They laugh and tumble. And then they do it all over again. Mother polar bears must have the same satisfaction I had when they see their cubs all powdered up head to toe. The trees are heavy with snow, their branches tweak and the whole frosted forest speaks to us in the only language we’re interested of speaking at this hour. It snows heavily as we’re making the way up the trail. I stop to wait on the boys climbing through the trees with the intention of sledding down. An elderly gentleman on cross country skis stops to chat and tells me of another trail below the parking lot. He’s Norwegian, he says, over there most of the snow fun is free of charge. Like this one, he says. Tony sleds down fast and he parts with his sled just to see it disappear into a tree well. We contemplate coming back in the spring to get it but then we make a chain of arms and legs halfway down the well and retrieve the snow vehicle.

We follow the trail higher up until Sasha says his legs are tired. Fair enough. We stop for sandwiches and hot chocolate and then decide to turn back as it was getting dark and foggy. The boys sled down the trail shrieking and laughing. Sasha’s “awesooome” rolls down the path slower than the sled and it remains hanging in the snowy trees, the only thing we leave behind other than a deep snow angel Tony.

On our way back we stop by one of our favorite swimming pools. It’s almost empty. The lukewarm water feels nice and smooth. Outside it’s dark and the rain makes everything glittery wet. We get home late. I stop by the neighborhood grocery store to get some food for humans and Peruvian piglets. “It’s been a good day here in the store,” the clerk says as he hands me a bouquet of tulips. Yes it has. The trunk is full of wet clothes from a day of goodness, I know that much.

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