I will start with this: I do not like plastic fall decorations. No plastic leaves, even when they mimic the real ones so well, and definitely no plastic pumpkins or plastic fruit to decorate with. There, I said it. I know they are convenient to put up and take down, but they are fake. That’s their problem (fake is in general a big problem, philosophically speaking, but fake decorations made of plastic create an environmental one too.) The appeal is likely the fact that they are not messy, but… mess is good.
I 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.
That 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.
I 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.
For 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.
Originally published as a column in the AM News on Friday, July 4, 2014.
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?
Monday morning came heavy and grey; a merciless headache and sore throat included.
Some chores had to be done, less so taking the boys to school. Pink eye on one, a bit of a cough on the other, the house felt like a camp where the blind learned to lead the blind. Everyone stayed home.
Two boys and a sea of Lego has but one big consequence. Creativity; with loads to spare. Breakfast anyone? Later, yes. Clink-clank, get started.
Head aching, I returned to bed for a nap. Close the door, soft covers wrapped around… Sleep.
Clink-clank. Pieces of Lego being fished out of the pile, not a good one, let it get buried by unearthing others. Clink clank, busy boys’ hands, eyes intently following the trajectory of fingers into the pile. Clink clank… Let’s be quiet, Mom is sleeping, says one boy to the other. Boys shushing, a cluster of whispers hanging by the door but not daring to come in.
Head stubbornly pounding, I wake up… I hear them whisper, playing… Memories of teeny boys snuggled against my body, smelling sweet and having their round arms all scrunched against their soft tummies, PJs all crumpled up, hiding behind their round knees… Nestled around like little birds, cozy and quiet… Please, there will be no growing up from now on.
Why grow up, what’s there to do, what’s there to see?… You see a lot more when you’re stopping at every step to observe the world, you’re doing that now. So stay… Was the world richer then? It was, it is still…
Clink-clank… Asleep, awake, I should not miss a moment with them. When I wake up they’ll be older… Nothing stays the same. Lego people with short-lived bodies, crossing boundaries of time and becoming astronauts a minute or two after roping a plastic cow because they were cowboys…
Clink-clank, just two minutes ago… boys were small and words were as round as their fingers pointing to things they could not call by name because they did not know the words. Laughter…Shh, Mom is sleeping, let’s be quiet. Whispers flying around like soft butterflies, boys voices…
Memories of a new baby growing inside my womb, tiredness, joy. Big brother cuddled to read a book, eyes bright and ready, mornings starting too early, but time was ours, the big secret I found out about later…Big brown eyes, seas of love enveloping all my sleepiness and making it right. Can we read, mama? I read slow, he laughs, I read it again just to hear the chuckle, and then again… Laughter hides in the creases of my heart made especially for that. Little boy laughing and smelling sweet, asking for stories, more and more… Keep asking, make me remember I should never stop telling stories, because then you’ll laugh; when you laugh, you stay, time is ours…
The rushed river of life take laughter and round fingers pointing to worlds new and fantastic, days of unexpected joy, ‘just because’ hugs and kisses… the rushed river takes them all like small boats floating to islands of unchartered self, islands I did not know of until they appeared when little boys were born. Because they had to have places to live in. Tell me again how I was when I was born… They ask of the world only I have seen, the world of them joining mine.
I doze off, clink-clank… I wake up to a sweet burned smell that snaked its way into the bedroom and lands on my pillow. The boys, they must be hungry… Something’s cooking…
The sea of Lego is still in the living room, I step carefully over boats and forts and cowboys who lost their hats… the smell, what’s the smell? Little boy lifts bright hazelnut eyes from the sea of Lego. “I helped Tony make pancakes, for when you wake up…So you’ll feel better.”
Big brother chirps in … “They may be a bit salted… and a bit burned, we kinda guessed the recipe…” Big boy, wide-eyed and smiling, surprised at his own sudden growth into knowing how, explains some more with a hug. “To make you feel better…”
You don’t cry when that happens. You are not allowed. How could you not… You can, please know that you should. Because you see, the tears, hidden as they are, are but the big boulders that will stop the mad rush of the river, the boats will be pushed into green fields to become forget-me-nots… and you will never forget this, that and all that has been…
You want to keep them there… the clink-clanks of games past and present, the snuggles, the hugs, the surprises, the little hands creating wonders and not knowing the words to name them and inventing a whole new world of wonder just for you… The worries even, you know how to do it all as long as they are there, near… not letting go.
Don’t grow, stay. What then?
There’s much to see as they grow, much to learn and then there is the time when they’ll want to break free… They won’t go far without looking back. If you let them go, never clipping their wings, if you love them enough to never clip their wings, they’ll have wings strong enough to bring them back…
I will know it when it comes. Time will be the teacher of all. Life as it comes… Fluid, beautiful, clink-clank of boats that will keep on floating down a rushed river which you’ll never stop entirely but sometimes… Go on, dip your toes, live, grow; grateful for seeing it all, for salty pancakes and for the hugs that came with it. Better?
Pancakes were salted that Monday morning, a bit burned and the most amazing I’ve ever tasted. Like in fairy tales, taking a bite, just one, keeps the magic there, keeps you there and keeps them too… Stay, don’t grow yet. And when you will, will you be back every now and then?
Clink-clank… the Lego sea. It’s a sea we’ve learned to sail for now, square waves and all, they’ve never been rounder in my heart… We should be on it for a while. Clink-clank.
I often get to the end of the day thinking of all the things I did not get to do rather than the ones I did. Somehow, come 10pm or so, no matter how much I get done during the day, the dark cloud of ‘not enough’ looms over my head.
Not enough is the leitmotif of today’s life. Not enough is enough to drive one rather anxious.
It took a morning drive through thick rain a couple of weeks ago to be startled enough to see it.
Rain that morning was a big creature with a watery tongue that licked the windshield incessantly, giving the wipers more trouble than ever. The radio churned news in the background and thoughts abounded. It had been a rushed morning with barely any conversations with the boys. Utilitarian mornings like that point to the reality of today’s pace of life. Rushed.
Hard to escape the feeling of, again, not enough. Time, words, mornings, smiles, hugs, peace of mind… not enough of any.
The words on the radio caught me off-guard.
There will be a new test able to reveal whether or not someone’s at risk for developing Alzheimer’s. ‘Would you do it?’ the show host asked. The guest said yes without hesitation.
Both her parents had Alzheimer’s and both slipped into it without being aware of leaving their world as they knew it. Save for the occasional episodes of being in the moment and owning their present, as well as their memories, those two people and so many others like them, had no more chances of understanding life as it was. She said that her parents did not get to do enough to feel fulfilled, and her regret was that she did not have more time with them before they got lost in that illness.
Does it make sense to know what’s ahead? Yes and no. I don’t want to know the future, but I want the awareness of tomorrow’s possible slipperiness to make the best of today.
In a world where we forget half the things we did yesterday because today piles too much on an already full plate, what’s worth spending time on anyway? What are the things worth doing that might save us from forgetting the days we leave behind? Is it maybe about ‘planting’ something that extends beyond the boundaries of self?
The dialogue on the radio was still going on when I turned off the car; outside voices quiet, my thoughts were the only ones left on the scene. We are on borrowed time and often investing it all in castles built on sand, are we not?
What’s worth spending time then? Joy? I’d say. And the feeling of ‘I don’t want to miss out on this.’
What is it that you do not want to miss out on?
The mystery of life, the big purpose of why we’re here, one could build a long glittery succession of big words and lofty dreams. But is that it?
Ultimately, defining what’s worth spending time on goes hand in hand with defining ourselves, while noting that life slips away regardless, and spreading ourselves too far from who we truly are, from what we are, dilutes the very experience of life.
The fragment of that conversation a few mornings ago made me look carefully at how I define myself.
Time spent right takes us, surely and diligently, towards the answer to the old, mystery-shrouded question about why we are here in the first place.
It’s time spent right that will save us from heartbreaking regret and allow us to say that in how we spent our time we found our purpose.
Mine is spent on musing and writing, on seeing things as I walk through life, literally and otherwise, with my sons and the man with whom I share life. We happen upon stories of ourselves, stories of life as it happens, stories bigger than ourselves.
It’s humbling to realize that time spent on listening to boys’ grumbles, their struggles with figuring out life and people, their incessant belly laughs when a silly toilet-related joke drops in the middle of yet another dinner table, their spying on cats and crumpled leafs and all that dawdling that makes us all so late so often and me so aware of all of that being more real than anything else… It’s all worth it.
The hum of rushed life is growing every day till it becomes deafening. At least at times it does, taking us father from ourselves. Society expectations, pressure of this kind or another, they tend to blow unwanted winds into our sails, pushing us into shores we’ve never meant to get close to, and that much further from where we should be.
Time spent right, if we have the courage to do so, I believe it can unfog the lenses through which we see ourselves and our lives. True or not, it’s worth trying… So we won’t have to face the regret that we haven’t, or leave someone behind with the painful legacy of ‘not enough’…
Awareness, as always, can be both a blessing and a curse. And, as always, it is our choice to make it one or the other…
The car broke down over the weekend. It could be a small thing or a big one, as it often with cars. It could be solved in a day or the car could be a write-off. Yes, one of those. A humbling event that points to dependence, a sorry attribute of the intrepid human spirit one could argue.
No car meant we had to postpone the Harper Mountain ski outing planned for Sunday and it also means walking everywhere with a bike ride here and there, ice-permitting. The patches of hardened ice can be unforgiving to the blissfully, occasionally unaware or hurried human.
We walked to school this morning. A perfect opportunity for the four of us to talk, debate, laugh, point out to this and that and see the morning. It makes cheeks red and cold and it warms the heart. Why not then?
Midday is still sharp cold and I ride my new bike to town. My face is frozen and the feeling of car-less freedom is absolutely exhilarating. Soon I will pick up the boys.
On the way back the boys have stories, questions. We stop to look at leafs trapped in ice, some hiding under their perfectly shaped ice-images and ‘How could that be mom?’… Do you know? Isn’t it nice that there’s still why questions that leave you humbled and wondering…
We talk about Thomas Edison. The boys point to the unbelievable value of his discoveries, the light bulb most of all… ‘What if he had not invented it, mom?’ Indeed. What if. I point out to something that I often decry the slow and sure death of: patience, persistence over things that matter and we believe in even when they are mere ideas.
I point to relentless as one awe-inspiring quality of the human spirit. The boys are trapped in words and ideas, they are as fascinating to talk to as the leaves they point out as wonders along the way.
In the early evening, karate training sends us ten blocks away from home. It is snappy cold but Sasha hops on his scooter. We go slow enough to manage uneven sidewalk and occasional patches of ice. And we talk. Times becomes that much more precious.
After I drop him off I walk to the store, stock up on the bare necessities and walk up on 3rd Street. There are people here and there, fragments of laughter, conversations, cars driving too fast in the dark, taking turns that make me jump backwards… And then time stops again when the organ from within the Sacred Heart Cathedral envelops the cold in ‘Ode of Joy.’
How privileged to witness that. How easy to miss from a car where music might play – even the same tunes would not be the same – or conversations are tossed relentlessly. How important to witness this at least once.
I turn around at the top of the hill just before I enter a warm coffee shop. The North Shore sparkles. Silent. Close by, luminous darts of cars driving fast down on Victoria Street point to fast, another facet of Kamloops.
I listen and remember. My old hometown at night, as I saw it so many times from up on the hill where my parents home was. It was very similar to here, now. Surrounding hills, trains ushering their way through snow and sunshine alike, a river running through the middle of it and bridges as walkable cinches connecting one side to the other.
The sense of belonging creeped in and it felt good and warm, just like the coffee shop I was about to step in and the warmth of the heart I hold near mine waiting for me there.
A long day ends with both boys saying ‘It’s been a good day.’ We smile to each other. We did well. The car is not fixed yet. It turns out it’s not just a little thing. It will take a while. Everything happens for a reason. I know that already.