Gratitude.

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when your daughter’s soaring on the playground swing and all the shots you’re making are botched and blurry but it’s okay because she’s laughing and her backlit curls are trailing out behind her and you suddenly feel very, very lucky and you think to yourself: remember this remember this remember this

 

Changing perspectives.

I had a photo coach today.

During our visit to the Royal Botanical Gardens, my first-grader made it a priority to identify several potential photographic subjects for me. Besides the current exhibit of giant nature-themed Lego creations by artist Sean Kenney, the gardens have no shortage of pretty blooms and sweeping lines, all of which attract the folks with cameras slung around their necks.

While sitting together in the shade on a couple of tree stumps, she looked up and pointed out the “ceiling” of this spiral metal arbour, the bars of which were gripped firmly by what I guessed was wisteria, or some other woody climbing vine that seems to have no mercy for its supports.

“Take a picture of that,” she suggested.

I did.

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I thought maybe she’d appreciate the opportunity to execute her own ideas (and, truthfully, I had reached my limit of being coached), so I handed her the camera.

This resulted in several close-up and very unflattering photos of my face, but also some very reasonable shots of the Mr. and I together (of which we have very few), a row of tomato plants, a tree branch, a lily, and a pinwheel.

Through what she chose to photograph, how she framed her shots, and her complete lack of hesitation or self-consciousness, I was reminded how compelling it is to see through the eyes of a child.

Unless what you’re seeing is a close-up of my nostrils. In my opinion, they’re not that compelling.

A moment of truth.

Yesterday, I watched a TED talk by writer Anne Lamott, in which she offers twelve life truths.

“Number one:” she says, “the first and truest thing is that all truth is a paradox. Life is….filled simultaneously with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, desperate poverty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together.”

I’m immensely grateful that life in our family’s little bubble has been, for the most part, very good. Like most parents, I want my kids to be healthy and happy and kind. I want them to know love and trust and selflessness and second chances. I don’t want them to be hurt and I don’t want them to hurt anyone else.

All this talk of rainbows and unicorns is lovely, but, as we adults know, not terribly realistic.

My kids are growing up. They’re becoming more aware of the complexities and contradictions of circumstances and emotions. More aware that there’s a big, messy, beautiful, dangerous, exhilarating world beyond what they already know.

Despite my romantic desire to preserve their innocence, I know I won’t be able to protect my kids during their journey on a path strewn not only with joy and wonder but also with deep disappointment, pain, and loss.

It’s not my job to do that, though. As terrifying as it may be, it’s my job to ready them for that path, it’s my job to walk beside them as they navigate it. Until it’s time to pull back to the sidelines, that is. You can’t run alongside your grown children with sunscreen and ChapStick on their hero’s journey,” Lamott says, You have to release them. It’s disrespectful not to.”

In the warmth of yesterday evening, I strolled alone through the park. I followed the path beside the creek and made photos along the way.

Okay, so life isn’t always rainbows and unicorns, kids. But sometimes, evidently, it is.

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Might as well jump.

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Things that are likely to happen when two little monkeys are jumping on the bed:

  • the cats will slink away in a huff, perturbed that they’ll need to find another location for their 6-hour power nap.
  • there will be disagreements about which jump to perform next.
  • there will be disagreements about whether to jump on three or after three.
  • there will be karate chops and cannonballs and all manner of flailing limbs.
  • midair poses and facial expressions will strike everyone as enormously funny, especially when reviewed later on the camera’s screen.
  • the grown-up in the room will be enjoying this display, but also cringing while she visualizes the ruin of the mattress springs.
  • the grown-up in the room will decide that it doesn’t matter because the springs are nearly toast anyway.

And, surely:

  • at least one little monkey will fall off and bump its head.

P.S.
1. Don’t worry, everyone’s okay. Well, except for the mattress springs.
2. Inspired by the WordPress weekly photo challenge: Atop.

Twinkle, twinkle.

To my kiddos:

There aren’t enough stars for all the wishes I’d make for you.

But if I were to create a post for the WordPress weekly photo challenge of Wish, this is where I might start.

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I wish you won’t ever feel the need to spend too much time inspecting yourself in the mirror.

But when you do examine your reflection:

  • I wish you’ll remember that you were born with DNA instructions that dictate what you can see: the shade of your skin, the shape of your nose, the length of your eyelashes. These features were assigned without any input or effort from you. They are part of you. They may be the first things people notice about you. They may be admired or they may be criticized. But these, alone, don’t define you, and they don’t define beauty, no matter what you hear in the schoolyard or read on the internet. These are just the tip of your iceberg.
  • I wish you’ll look deeper into yourself to see these, as well: kindness, grace, and humour. Courage and perseverance. Resilience and curiosity. The capacity to love and to be loved. The willingness to help and to stand up for others. These, I believe, make you beautiful. Maybe you were born with some of these qualities. Maybe you were taught. Some of them are strong, while some need growth. In any case, your attitude and actions have influence in these matters. These are your superpowers. Use them for good.
  • I wish, in the healthiest way possible, that you’ll also acknowledge the darker parts of yourself, like anger, greed, and fear. Apathy and doubt. They exist not only in you but in every single one of us. I wish you strength and support to cope with these, to accept them when appropriate and to rectify them when necessary. Do so to keep them in check, as they make very unpleasant superpowers.
  • I wish you’ll read and enjoy this quote, because it’s so much better than anything I could have written:

“Take everything that’s bright and beautiful in you and introduce it to the shadow side of yourself. Let your altruism meet your egotism, let your generosity meet your greed, let your joy meet your grief. Everyone has a shadow… But when you are able to say, “I am all of the above, my shadow as well as my light,” the shadow’s power is put in service of the good. Wholeness is the goal, but wholeness does not mean perfection, it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of your life.”

~ Parker Palmer (click here for more of this wonderful piece)

  • I wish that you’ll always look at yourself with equal amounts of honesty, courage, appreciation, and tenderness.
  • I wish, then, that when you turn away from the mirror and face the world around you, you’ll appreciate the duality existing in everyone, in everything. Light/dark. Joy/pain. Strength/vulnerability. Nourish your empathy, because everyone has a story. In a way, we’re all balancing acts. Grief and regret are inevitable, but it’s still possible to cultivate joy and wonder.

For starters, just look up at the stars.

With all my love,

Mom

A room of one’s own.

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Originally, the tiny cardboard home pictured was designed, built, and decorated for our household population of stuffies.

They hung out in there for a while. A unicorn and a hippo and one of Santa’s elves, among others, cohabited peacefully in somewhat cramped conditions. Eventually, they seemed to find their way back to other, more conspicuous locations (sprawled on beds, stairs, dining room tables, etc.). Still, the kids didn’t want to part with this box.

Then, we got kittens. Sometimes, they pretend some small prey has scurried into the box. There’ll be a lot of commotion coming from inside, and when we peek in the door, a cat will glare back at us, looking annoyed at having been disturbed, but also slightly embarrassed about having been caught pouncing on a non-existent enemy.

Anyway, this cardboard box got me thinking about space. Our personal space, our longing for a place of our own.

As kids, we were forever building blanket/snow/cardboard forts, or climbing into tents or closets or other household nooks and crannies. A kid with a treehouse was the envy of the neighbourhood. Even our dolls had miniature houses.

My kids, too, are charmed by tiny spaces. They’re getting pretty creative with their blanket forts – now they’re being designed with multiple rooms and entrances.

I wonder if the childlike attraction to small spaces has something to do with our innate desire for security, for protection. For privacy – to have a warm, secluded place to be alone with our books or our Ninja Turtles or our Pokémon cards. Where we can be ourselves, separate from the real world, which is filled with boring things like adults and chores and vegetables.

Other times, when we share these special spaces, maybe it’s a means of bonding with our selected siblings or friends – a restricted turf that’s ours, and only ours. We’re part of something. We belong.

Maybe our makeshift rooms are just safe places where we can pretend we’re bears, or astronauts, or dragon-slayers.

Or wild cats, hunting our prey.

 

(A rather unusual submission for Norm’s Thursday Doors)

I’m sorry you know all roads lead to home

The places of one’s childhood seem to shrink over time, don’t they?

It’s been a lot of years since I set foot into The Woods near my childhood home. Since I left, the city has invested dollars and energy into a great big tidy-up, complete with a revamped community centre and plastic play structures to replace the rusty metal slide in the clearing. The trails are wide and mulched, no longer winding narrowly through gnarled roots. Today’s walk from start to finish ended abruptly, and I was a bit surprised. Disappointed, even. My childhood self remembers hiking for miles. Back then the woods seemed dark, wild, looming. Some trees are holding on to a golden glow in the fall afternoon light, but many are now bare, and the ceiling today felt open and airy.

I’d been so sure of my memories of this place. I know it had changed, and I know I was viewing it through the lens of adulthood, but all the same I was reminded how fragile our memories are. How fragmented, how pliant. How unsettling it can feel if the truth of our memories has been cast into doubt, almost as though they must have belonged to someone else. Which, of course, they did.

Sometimes it’s better to remember something the way it used to be. But in other situations, I suppose it’s somehow satisfying to witness that the wheel has turned, that change is inevitable, both in the subject of one’s memory but also within one’s self.

One more thing: Wooden fences have been added along parts of the trail. This photo’s not great, so here are the words recorded on the pictured fence: “It’s not where you started in life, it’s where you end up. Believe in yourself! :)” Ah! Some uplifting graffiti, how refreshing. A nice touch.

Then, “I’m sorry you know all roads lead to home”

As in, “I’m sorry. You know all roads lead to home.”? Or perhaps “I’m sorry, you know. All roads lead to home.”?

Wherever the punctuation was meant to lie, I guess the writer was disappointed about the roads leading home. Maybe s/he didn’t want to go back there.

As for me – though it wasn’t exactly what I’d expected, I’m glad I did.