Scattered Seeds

I am a mother, a wife, and a woman grappling with her identity in a complex and beautiful world. When this project, 'Scattering Seeds' began, a year ago, my intent was to practice my writing while creating meaning from the events of my everyday life. Over the course of my 39th year, I wrote 6 reflective pieces. A big hug and much love to the talented and intuitive Sarah Christensen who created the 'Scattering Seeds' image and encouraged me to believe in my own voice. Ultimately, this project is a gift to myself.

September 2011

September 2011

Feeling both excited and vulnerable, I begin this blog. Recent events have left me feeling that there are no more reasons to wait.

When I left teaching almost 10 years ago, I knew that it was time to leave even though my career in education had been short. I felt other forces pulling at me, vying for my time and energy.

I re-married, had two children, and navigated the role of step-mother. I also became very involved in supporting my husband’s career. We extensively renovated our home.

During this period as well, my mother was diagnosed with brain cancer and died quickly.

This last event, in particular, brought me to me knees. My mother and I had been very close and my grief was intense.

After mom’s death, a very good friend and I became certified to teach a ‘Grief Recovery’ program. This program not only helped us both heal personally but we enjoy guiding others through a process that works.

Tanya and I are also becoming certified in the study of ‘Thanatology’, the  study of death, dying, and bereavement. Experiencing deep loss urged us both to delve into the complex subject of death.

My days are full, but still I ache to figure out what’s next for me. Tanya is now furthering her studies at the University, but I need to figure out my own path. My youngest, George, is now in school full time and I am ready to expand.

Recently, Dan and the kids and I were in Waterton National Park on what felt like the last beautiful  summer day. It was calm, and the sky stretched out as a clear and perfect blue. Together, we climbed the very steep trail up to Bear’s Hump and then stood at the top surveying the town and lake below.

As I write this now, it feels as if that is where I am still, standing at the top of a peak with the last ten years spread out before me.

What a beautiful ascent it has been, though so difficult at times. I have taken thousands of steps to get here yet I have been so focused on watching my feet.

Now, whenever I take the time to pause, I can’t help but notice that I have three beautiful children, a husband who loves me, a supportive network of friends and extended family, bountiful food on our table, and a lovely home.

What a stunning view.

A charmed life in troubled times.

Three formidable men that I know died this summer. All three were men who lived largely and held great passion for their families, their work, and their communities.

The third man, Jack Layton, was of course a man I didn’t know personally but his death seemed to have impact in our country on a legendary scale. Regardless of anyone’s political leanings the immense sadness over his death looked like a public expression of grief over lost hope.

“So let us be loving, hopeful, and optimistic. And we’ll change the world” he had written in his last letter.

Such deceptively simple words but there is was, rekindled amidst tragedy, hope.

I love a beautiful funeral, and  Jack’s didn’t disappoint. Afterwards, I sat in our backyard and felt something click inside me, once and for all.

It is now time for me to get to work and start looking up and around, rather than down at my feet.

I realize that this hardly means that I now know what I am doing with my life – but no longer do I believe that I am headed towards some dramatic end destination. Rather, I feel suddenly and fully ready to engage in a process. I have an entire room of non-fiction books on a multitude of topics, all with a noticeable common thread. Every one is about “living well”, whether that applies to taking care of our earth, mindful parenting, coping with grief and death, creating art with kids, journaling, living a spiritual life, and on and on.

My commitment is to stop buying the books and start living the pages by seriously and playfully delving into a creative and messy exploration of a multitude of topics and write from time to time about what it is, for me, to create peace in my home, in my family, in my marriage, in my own heart, in this life.

This is, after all, what I think about and who I am. It is time for me to write about it because it is what I have to give.

Our schools, though doing their best, struggle to reach. They can’t do it alone. When I left teaching I felt that in general terms we are not educating our children in the ways that will ultimately matter, though so many teachers heroically try. Caring for our earth, fostering critical and creative thought, and building peace, empathy and meaning can be difficult and ambiguous areas to address. We can’t measure results in these areas and covering curriculum while meeting a wide range of needs takes up the bulk of time and energy.

Just this week I read an article in our local paper by Bonnie Lee. She writes about our current economic situation, comparing the global financial crisis to what happens when a family is struggling with addiction. In her conclusion she reminds us that we are all connected and states, “A new story of human thriving needs to be told to reconnect with what makes us human – connections with each other, with life’s meaning and higher purpose, and our precious Earth. Is there hope? Is recovery possible? That discussion involves not only the powerful, but all concerned citizens as we collectively re-map our path.”

This is what I believe with every fiber of my being, but I need to figure out what that looks like in a real everyday life. I want to try and re-write this new story, believing that peace really does need to begin at home.

So as I move through my days, I am proposing to be mindful about finding ways to teach my own children to re-create and re-imagine our world for all of our benefits as I begin to scatter some seeds. In my house, on my street, and in my own community, I commit to finding, discussing, and implementing ways to build peace, empathy and love. We’ll see what takes root.

Whether it be through smaller or bigger projects or simply through the common acts of moving through a life, my intention is that a garden of unpredictable beauty may be planted and flourish.

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November 2011

                                                painting by Jillian Palmer

November 2011

Another season, fall, has passed. We were gifted a lingering Indian summer.

We have felt much abundance as of late, but heartache too.

When my first marriage ended 12 years ago in July, I moved back to Lethbridge. My mother and I spent that summer walking. At the time it seemed like such a natural way to process all that had happened.

I recall stepping out of the front door of my grandmother’s house with mom and walking through the older neighbourhoods of our city with little sense of time passing. I don’t remember how much we spoke or even much of what was said. I only remember walking down street after street with her by my side.

The only conversation I can retrieve is me telling her that this is where I wanted my life to end up – in an old house on a treed and friendly street. I felt, then, that everything had gone so awry and I had betrayed my own dreams in so many ways. But, during that time I also felt, amongst other complex feelings, a simple sense of hope and excitement for what was to come.

That summer lead to fall, and my life started to re-gain clarity and even joy. By the time I started a new teaching job in September I was renting my own apartment, tiny but mine. It was painted deep orange and navy.

The years played themselves out and here I am now, living in this beautiful old house on this treed street full of people that I know and love.

My walking partner is gone, though I suspect she still walks beside me.

And every year, the beauty of the changing seasons grabs hold of me a little more. Was I not quite seeing it before? I wonder. Or is it all actually becoming just a little bit more lovely – the changing light, the rich autumn colors, the crisp orange and yellow leaves blanketing our street. I find myself tearing up one warm Sunday afternoon as I watch the neighbourhood kids, ours included, jumping and playing in the leaves.

Dan recalls his brother David sometime saying, as a young boy, “I love you too much. ”

I love all of  this too much.

It has been a season of change and everything feels precious. Adjusting to the death of Dan’s business partner, Art, has been hard, as well as watching his family grieve.

Coupled with coming to terms with the loss and the change, Dan’s workload has increased. It seems as if the demands on our energy and time are ever-increasing, though we feel better equipped to handle it all than ever before. We are drinking less, eating better, and getting more regular sleep and exercise. We understand, now, that we need to be healthy, strong, and centered to be able to fully contribute. We accept this.

I keep remembering, though, my vow to scatter seeds, this project I began whereby I promised to explore, write, and build peace. It sounds so simple, but I am constantly distracted by the kids’ homework and their activities, my course-work, meals, lists, and paper work piling up. What am I doing? Is this one more idea that never takes flight, or yet another example of my never-ending willingness to add more to my already full load. Where is my focus?

Then again, I think, maybe this project is not separate from all that I am already doing. Maybe everything is connected, and I am just finding a way to weave it all together.

When Halloween morning arrives, I haven’t even taken the time to decorate, save for a couple of already-rotting pumpkins that Alex and Ry carved with the kids a week ago.

The kids costumes, though, are perfect.

George is a dashing vampire dressed in black with slicked back hair and a red cummerbund. He runs around the house jumping on furniture and swooping his cape.

Olivia is Dorothy, a repeat performance from a few years ago. I ordered her the same costume in a bigger size. While her friends obsess over Justin Bieber and Selina Gomez, she can’t get enough of Youtube vidoes of Judy Garland.

Her fixation resonates with me.

Five years ago I, too, was a character from The Wizard of Oz. It was the Halloween after mom died and I had decided to be Glinda the Good Witch. I needed to be Glinda the Good Witch. For the first time in my life, I ordered a Halloween costume online, willing to pay whatever it cost.

On Halloween night, I put on the long blonde wig with its tall silver crown and the big over-the-top pink dress and suddenly felt like a good and powerful witch that could move around in a magical rose-colored bubble, protected.

After arriving back home after dropping the kids off at school this Halloween, I am suddenly overwhelmed by a desire to decorate and cook and fuss. Why not? I think. Everything else can wait.

I pull out all of the boxes of decorations and crafty idea magazines and spend the next six hours ‘making Halloween’. By the time the kids come home, the house is clean and ready, lit with orange and black candles and glowing pumpkin lanterns. The candy bowls are out and full, and there is chili simmering in the crock-pot in the oven and crisp potato skins in the oven. I am happy. They are happy.

This Halloween, I was Glinda the Good Witch again, without my costume but waving my wand all the same.

The world can be so hard, frightening and uncertain.

Last night, our city was threatened by out of control prairie grass fires fueled by high winds. Flames raced towards the edge of our city and parts of the city were blanketed with thick black smoke. It was a night of fear and uncertainty as the firefighters worked to contain the fire and residents worried about possible evacuation.

Olivia and George fell asleep in our big bed, cuddled up, frightened by the alert we had all heard on the radio emergency broadcast system that wasn’t just a test this time.

One more thing to worry about. The beep can be real.

Also as I write this, the Occupy Movement that began this September still seems to be have momentum and has spread.

Though this movement can be interpreted and criticized from every angle, I wonder if part of its reason for being is simply that people are tired, scared, frustrated and searching, too, to find some hope and meaning – some form of ascension from the difficulties of every day. Perhaps the movement’s very existence is an attempt to re-imagine, individually and collectively. Whether or not it is a viable protest, it is without a doubt an admirable attempt to write a new story.

On mom’s tombstone, we had the words inscribed:

Some said there was magic in her fingers. Some whispered that her needles and cloth were gifts of the bewitched. And still others said the quilts really fell to earth from the shoulders of passing angels – from The Quiltmaker’s Gift

At her funeral, we passed around little squares of her quilting fabric, imagining that all of the pieces we were handing out among her family, friends, and acquaintances might, in our hearts at least, bind themselves into a giant comforting quilt, connecting us all. This image helped us find our hope and meaning.

So there is the possibility of magic, I suppose, everywhere. In a holiday celebration, in a divorce, in a protest movement, or in a life examined or grieved, a new and better reality can be imagined and the seeds of that hope can be strewn to transform.

Perhaps that is why I write.

I am exploring my own re-imagining, launching my own personal Occupy Movement in an effort to occupy my own life and live it well.

Past the loss and the anxiety and the uncertainty, or maybe even right in the very midst of it, there can always be found a yellow brick road. Mine lead to a beautiful old home on a friendly treed street.

Glinda lives there.

January 2012

January 2012

I can remember the exact moment when the Christmas spirit finally found me this year. It was a sunny and unseasonably warm afternoon the week before Christmas. The kids were still in school and I was driving, running errands, and listening to CBC. And then, in this ordinary moment, ‘Home for the Holidays’ started playing and my heart filled up.

In the last several years, I haven’t felt that excited about Christmas. During the first years after mom’s death, the holidays seemed more like an exercise in simply getting through. So much of what Christmas was for us had been orchestrated by mom.

For a while, I tried to do things in all the ways that she would have in my attempts to feel closer to her and re-create what had been lost. But my efforts at her flaky pie crust failed miserably and cooking for twenty left me feeling tired and spent.

After that first Christmas without mom, I had visions of not facing it again. We would escape to a mountain lodge where an entire staff would have decorated, cooked, and done all of the ‘holiday work’ for me.

Yet, this idea fell flat when presented to my kids. How would Santa find them? How could we even suggest being away from everyone. They were appalled.

After two or three years, the pain of separation lessened, as it will, but my enthusiasm still waned.

The lead up to Christmas has always been frenetic for us. Dan’s work inevitably seems to ramp up, and on top of the regular holiday preparations there are always many work-related parties and events. It’s a time of lists, shopping, coordinating babysitting and gifts, dressing up, making conversation.

All of this is so good and speaks to the truly delicious blessings in my life.

Yet, still, I always seem to crash when it’s all over.

That said, I ended up having more energy this December than I have had in recent memory.

It was all lovely. Our house was filled with visiting relatives that we were happy to see, food that I had felt like preparing, and presents that I had enjoyed buying. A beautiful fresh pine tree stood in the corner of our living room decorated with colored lights and ornaments collected over the years.

There was real familial love in our house too – The kind that takes open communication and years of work and investment to build and nurture. A big, blended and unconventional family we have all become and there lives in the heart of our matrix a love that has weathered hardships, successes, loss, milestones, conflicts and resolutions. This deepened love was there this year, palpable, and I reveled in it and was buoyed by it.

Fueled by love, perhaps, my post-holiday crash was met with more self-understanding this year than ever before. I leaned into it this time, rather than criticizing my onset of lethargy. Lately, I have come to appreciate and understand my introvert within, who though loves to socialize, recharges within.

So, for that first week of January, I retreated -hid, barely willing to take a phone call or a text. I watched ‘Sex in the City’ re-runs obsessively and drank hot tea, emptying my mind and re-charging, hardly moving.

Still.

The kids’ Christmas concert this year took place one Thursday evening mid-December. Parents and relatives clamored into a local church. As the school only does a concert every three years, this was a much anticipated event. Olivia and George were beside themselves. George didn’t even balk at dressing ‘handsome’ and Olivia had been planning her outfit for days from her soft pink boots to her new black headband.

It was a day of striking contrasts, though. The front page of our local paper that morning had been filled with the horrific details of a tragedy that stunned our community and haunted me for days. Four young college students had been involved in a vehicle chase, pursued by an angry ex-boyfriend, that ended up in 3 of them dead. The young man then turned the gun on himself.

Sometimes, I wonder if this writing project that I have taken on has any point. It can feel as if there is hardly an original thought left, anywhere. There are already too  many things to read, too many videos to watch, too many inspirational sayings, too many blogs, too many Facebook comments. Maybe it’s already all out there, and it’s overwhelming.

Around me, at that concert, I felt such innocent goodness, such piercing beauty, but yet such unimaginable horrors interfere, crash through, unsettle us.  What brought on this brutality? In what ways are we all failing our children, ourselves?
How does this happen and what are we collectively creating?

“Pray for Peace people everywhere,” the children sang and those words resonated to my core.

Sitting on the wooden pew beside Dan, then, I realized this:

Perhaps there cannot be enough of us finding beauty and searching for meaning in whatever ways we are able, expressing our own truths.  Every little bit helps, echoes, and joins us.

“Listen to what I say.”

When the concert was over, we waited in the lobby for the kids and then enveloped them in congratulatory hugs.

At least for now, they are still little and under our watch, and for that night they were safe.

Eight years ago while visiting Alex and her mom in Guanajuato, Mexico, while Glenna was on study leave, we toured a grand and historic Spanish colonial estate. I can still vividly remember walking through the lush and restorative gardens. Tucked away in a little seating area, I noticed a wooden sign on the wall, ‘Casa de Paz.’

House of Peace.

I loved that phrase and its intent. I wondered about the family that had lived there.

After that trip, we had two cement planters poured onto each side of our front steps and I imagined our own little welcoming gardens that we would plant at the entry of our home every spring. While the cement was still wet, we had the words “Peace at Home” carved onto the side of one of the planters.

I wanted those words to be ours, too. It they were written in stone, then maybe they would always be true…. a good omen, our promise, our motto to keep working towards, and our vision statement as a family reminding us of where peace ultimately has to take root, in our hearts and in the ways that we treat each other in this house.

It is the start.

This year, home for the holidays was the right place for us to be.

March 2012

March 2012

The Sun Never Says

Even

after

all this time

the sun never says to the earth,

“You owe me.”

Look

what happens

with a love like that –

It lights up the whole world.

Hafez

A good friend once reminded me, during a particularly difficult time, that when you turn on a light in a room the darkness is gone.

Quite simply, the light illuminates the dark.

Our winter, now, is transitioning into spring. It has not been a hard winter by our Canadian standards, but for me, winter is always trying. I am cold much of the time and the long dark days weigh on me. This year, I actually found myself checking the sunset times online, reveling over the few extra minutes of light that each evening promised to bring.

When the kids are finally able to be in the backyard until suppertime, I bask in the loveliness of that too. Olivia uses the tree house as her stage, performing her way through her spring fever. George and his friends wildly run around the yard in Spiderman masks and black capes, laughing, screeching, and swinging light sabers.

I am relieved that finally all of this energy can be let loose outside.

Thank you, light.

Last month, Dan and I  went to see my step-daughter, Alex, in Quebec City. The three of us spent five days together roaming the snowy, slushy streets of the beautiful old, walled city.

For four days I slept in, tucked away in an attic room of a beautiful old hotel, and woke up to the flaky croissants and hot tea that Dan bought for me on his morning walks.

It was an alternate reality, our temporary sweet and secret hideaway from our busy life.

Alex would make her way to us by bus, from the university to the hotel. Then, dressed in our winter gear, we explored the city together; wet, cobblestone streets, a medieval shop, a maple candy store, savoury crepes for lunch, endless galleries….

A form of winter that somehow felt tamed and celebrated rather than windy and bitter: an escape from our winter to hers.

Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays; c’est l’hiver.

We delighted in Alex’s winter and in the life she had created for herself in a tiny concrete dorm room that couldn’t be bigger than a cell. Decorated with her bright scarves, photos of friends and family, her technology, and warm pillows and blanket, it had become a cozy and personalized retreat, the tiniest and most hopeless of spaces transformed.

It almost didn’t even happen, her semester in Quebec, so great was her anxiety around leaving home and all of us for the first time. For the two weeks before she left she was nauseated, sad, sick with fear.

So, on that first day visiting her, over lunch in a stuffy french bistro just a month after she had left, it filled our hearts to listen to her talk for over an hour about her friends, her classes, the busy program and her many excursions. Barely an opportunity for us to get a word in, but such happiness that she was discovering these new parts of parts of herself, parts that we hoped she would find.

She and I had texted constantly during those first few days in January after she had arrived.

“I’m so proud of you for doing this, ” I told her when she landed in Toronto before switching planes to Quebec.

“I love you,” she wrote back, “but I’m not being brave. I’m scared.”

“Being brave doesn’t mean not being afraid,” I answered. “You are moving forward in your life despite being afraid. ”

How many times in my life have I tried to reassure myself with those same words?
Being afraid is something I understand.

They lurk around constantly, the threats and manifestations of my fears. Around corners and behind doorways they await, ready to pounce at me in tomorrow and next month, next year.I don’t think it’s just me, either, that is susceptible to these dark beasts. We live in a world where the predominant story is a warning.

“Mommy”, George said to me, one day driving home, “the news scares me.” “It scares me too, ” I think as I turn it off.

Then, walking down the road in Waterton one night, after having dinner at the Lodge, blessed under a crisp and glowing  star-filled sky, we remembered all the talk the last few days of the ‘solar storm’ that were in the midst of.

“Will the star storm hurt us?” George wonders, as we walk. “Are they sure?”

We reassure him, then, and talk of Northern lights, stars, and fire and light from the sun, re-constructing space for him as a brilliant wonder rather than an ominous threat.

I am familiar, too, with threats that used to be wonders.

Airports were once one of my favorite places. Even reading the screens listing the destinations thrilled me: Chicago, London, Frankfurt, Glasgow. The very idea of a change in routine and discovering a new place excited me to the very core. Plane rides meant hours to read and be served, to anticipate.

What has changed?

The moment when it all shifted is indiscernible. But now, my stomach knots up and my shoulders are tense. I analyze the passengers, the pilot and the attendants, dreading that we must all be crammed into such a tight space together. The turbulence frightens me. The changing mechanical sounds make me grip. I wish for a sedative, a glass of wine, a safe landing.

Preparing for the worst, always.

In a big jet, in a dark or cloudy sky, I can’t see what’s ahead. At break-neck speeds, in a metal capsule, I am hurtling into the unknown. I have no control and gone are the days when I didn’t seem to need it.

“What if?” someone said to me once, “your fears, your anxiety, were held within a heavy and dark cloak that you wore. You feel as if this cloak is protecting you, but imagine how it might feel if you took it off and lay it on the ground beside you, just for a bit, even. How much lighter would you feel?”

And last year, in a parking lot on a sunny afternoon in front of George’s kindergarten, another friend said to me. “Imagine how our lives would feel if we simply chose not to worry, how good things could be.”

We laughed at the absurdity of what we do to ourselves and shook our heads at all the precious time that is wasted, sucked away by fear when it could have been handed over to joy, to peace.

Winter is giving way to spring.

Now, when we drive home from swimming lessons the sun has not yet set. And it is still light, even, when I tell the kids to get ready for bed. They protest because it doesn’t feel late, with the light.

It is our country of contrasts. In a moment, it seems, the harshness of winter suddenly gives way to the delicate hope of spring. What seems like will never happen always does.

New signs of spring appear and delight us, ones we hadn’t noticed before. Walking home from school, we laugh at the flickers pecking at the tops of the streetlights, banging their beaks on the metal. We tell Dan about it, and he suggests that it is their call to mate, perhaps gaining more female attention from the pecks that rattle down the street.

The knots in my stomach are releasing slowing. I breathe more deeply and begin to feel some warmth. The kids and I commit to keep walking to and from school, everyday. It seems so silly to drive, especially now.

And one day very soon, I think, it will be warm enough in the morning that I will take my tea outside onto the front steps and sit and enjoy the quiet after the kids have gone to school. I will relish my favorite time, when the day is still new and my to-do list seems attainable, and so much else seems possible too.

Years ago, after my first marriage crumbled,  I had a dream that I still think of occasionally, so strong and vivid was the image.

I was flying, floating ,through a perfect sky, a blanket of blue, but not in a plane. Rather, I was strapped into a chair with a seat belt, gently restrained just enough to not have to worry about falling. I was free to float in any direction, suspended, a perfect calm supporting me.

In that dream, the unknown offered itself to me against the infinite canvas of a cloudless blue, presenting me with the exhilarating gift of a new life that could take off in any direction.

Perhaps this spring, inspired by my brave girl Alex, I will take off that heavy cloak for a bit and bask in the sunshine. Free.

May 2012

May 2012

It is May now, and just as the lilacs have all come to bloom, my little girl has turned ten.

Though I suppose that if feels a little surprising that ten years have passed, I also very much feel like the mother of a ten year old, worn and wiser.

Most mothers, too, will speak of the lessons that they have learned from their children, and certainly my wildly creative daughter has challenged and pushed me more than I ever could have fathomed possible.

In her presence I can be moved to the dark and and unspeakable limits of my anger or to the sweetest peaks of my pride and delight.

Dan has always compared our Olivia to an unbroken racehorse. She is feisty, intense, creative and authentic, and so vulnerable in a world where she often feels different and misunderstood. In my mind, I see her as a moving stack of colorful papers: bright oranges and pinks, purples, reds, vivid blues and greens – so wide is the range of her emotions and perceptions.

This is a girl that experiences plunging dives of fear and anxiety, but can just as easily laugh, love, and express with her entire being.

I am her sidekick, her protector, her sounding board, her advocate, and her cheerleader. She asks me to be all of these things to her, and I dutifully comply. But inevitably, I feel too pulled. Suddenly, I resent and resist, needing her to fill these roles for herself. And so, we push and pull at each other, searching for that delicate mother-daughter relational balance that works for us both.

She misses nothing and calls me on everything. Acutely sensitive to people’s intentions and moods, she is easily hurt.

“You don’t need to stay in a friendship that is hurting you,” I hear myself saying to her, wondering at the countless times when I have sacrificed my own needs and desires in an effort to not offend or inconvenience another.

I realize that I am asking her, at times, to be stronger than I have been. Yet it somehow seems imperative to give her that strength sooner in life than I had it. For me, it took too long. Some days, I still look for it.

As spring continues, the kids want to be outside more, yet activities ramp up towards end of the year performances.

Often in the past she has challenged me. “Mom, don’t put me in any more things. I need time to play.”

She is, after all,  a master at play. This is a kid that can replicate and role-play a shopping trip to Chapters for weeks, complete with her homemade scanner, detailed hand-written receipts, and a monologue containing all of the latest promotions and sales gimmicks.

My tendency to over-schedule her is perhaps due to my own desire to try everything, and my tendency to spread myself thin. Yet, I talk about balance like it it my religion.

She begins to complain about having to go to choir, though she refuses to quit.
I wonder, one day, if this activity has run its course. “Do you still like choir, Olivia?” I ask.

“Mom, you love to hear the choir sing.” she answers.

As I look at her, I understand how deeply and tightly the two of us are intertwined, the lines between us hardly drawn. In that moment, I decisively sever a small bit of  this connection for she cannot live to please me. In that place, she will never quite know how to please herself.

“Let’s take a break from choir.” I say.

She looks at me, relieved and a little sad, and we both know that something else slight yet significant has shifted between us.

It is not just about her. When I no longer require my daughter to fulfill my creative, academic, and athletic expectations and desires, then the responsibility of personal fulfillment becomes personal again.

Dan and I went on a business trip last month, and part of it involved a train trip from New York to Kansas City. On that train, time felt magically suspended. We had no Internet, no e-mails to check and answer, and no place to be other than the dining car for meals, our ‘outing’. For hours, we just sat and looked out the window at the countryside, read, and talked.

I imagine that woman now, me, on that train, a mother without her children at her side as she travels through an unfamiliar landscape.

I spend so much time describing my kids.

Yet, now, I wonder how someone might describe me? How might I have described myself, separate from my children, as Dan and I traveled through the hills and towns and fields, rocked into our own thoughts by the lulling movement of the train?

I imagine this woman, me, as mysterious and more worldly perhaps than she herself realizes, but yet still unknown to herself, her identity deeply muddied by expectations, obligations and so much change over the years and a constant list of things to do.

But then, on a train, quiet, her undiscovered passions and joys pull at her, awakened and pleading to be heard after all this time.

One night, cuddling Olivia in bed, I ask her what she thinks I would change about her if I could change anythings. She suggests that I would make  her a better speller or reader, or better at math.

I tell her that I actually wouldn’t change a thing about her and that I am completely delighted with exactly who she is. Her body melts into mine and I realize then that I am giving her the gift of acceptance and permission to simply be who she is.

We both rest in this for a bit, surprised by its impact, under the giant green cloth leaves that canopy the bed.

And there is, for now, one activity that Olivia herself has chosen to love. In Irish dancing, her body becomes light and airy, lyrical, and she loses herself in being alive. Bouncing and happy, she reminds me of a lithe fairy which seems appropriate given that she spends hours building meticulous little ‘fairy homes’ under evergreens, complete with little rounded stone paths and tiny perfect gardens.

After dancing at a school-wide assembly one morning, even though I am bursting with pride, I catch myself and resist saying, “I am so proud of you” or “You did such a great job” even though those things are true.
I don’t want it to become, again, about her needing to please me or prove her own worth or become something more than she already is. She is enough.

In so many ways that I am just beginning to understand, I know that this has been my story.

I say instead, simply, “I had so much fun watching you dance.”

She smiles and as our hearts and hands intertwine as we walk down the school hallway, we are both relieved to be just a little more free.

August 2012

August 2012

Summer is winding down. The night and mornings are cool now and we have already noticed the occasional leaf on the ground. It is still August, but why is it that as soon as July ends I feel as if it is time to prepare and shift.

Something innate pushes at me to take stock once again, assess and plan.

This summer has not played out as I expected it would, but what ever does?

At the beginning of summer, I had imagined that I would head to our new little cottage and retreat for 8 long glorious weeks. I saw myself reading and writing while basking in the sun on our lovely screened-in porch. In escaping to the mountains, I would assuredly figure out what is next and determine the steps to take me there. My plan read out like a brochure for a spa vacation at a nature retreat and I held fast to that plan, needing it to be true.

That’s not what happened.

Rather, our porch screen door slammed open and shut seemingly thousands of times as my kids and their friends, family members, guests and friends noisily came in and out of those eight short weeks.

Constant requests for snacks, meals, clean laundry and conflict resolution kept pulling me out of my attempted reveries. Dishes, trips to the lake with kids and gear, and hurried trips home to pay bills, buy groceries and run errands dominated  my time.

Dan’s work stresses were still only an hour away and rudely crept into our Sundays, interrupting our freedom.

And yet, there were such unexpected gifts:

Olivia and I became both obsessed and inspired by the diverse wildflowers scattered on the edges of the trails. We bought a flower guide and began to memorize and repeat their names.

Dark bats swooped in and out of our yard nightly, causing us to scream with a mixture of fear and delight at the close encounters.

A slight and mangy red fox moved quickly and quietly through our yard from time to time, a mysterious and fleeting presence.

Pretty and delicate little fawns regularly tucked themselves in the trees by our picnic table for their afternoon naps.

We hiked up to fresh, clear alpine lakes and felt so proud of these exhilarating family adventures.

Hiking, we learned to identify the tiny, sweet thimbleberries, perfectly sized for fairies, and delighted in their shape and sweetness. We found, too, plump and gorgeous Saskatoon berries in abundance, and watched the bears love them too.

On sunny mornings, I sat on our grass and watched big fat bumblebees lazily buzzing through the clover.

We met new friends and delighted in the blossoming of new relationships.

In the evenings when Dan was with us, we went on lingering walks after dinner, visiting with acquaintances as we made our way to the lake and back home.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

These are not at all the moments I anticipated or imagined but they took hold of me still and reminded me that life and peace exists in living, sensing, and being, not in sitting silently in meditation or tucked away alone with a book in my hand.

Is this cottage the place, I wonder, where I will finally accept that it is okay to let go of all of the expectations that bind me?

Caught up in my ideas of what I need to accomplish, I too often miss what is.

Yet here, in Waterton, the layers begin to fall away and I start to sink lower into this couch on this nest of a porch and this chair by the lake.

Figuring everything else out begins to matter less and less.

Even this blog had begun to hold me prisoner, as I started to require of it to more and better. We exist in a culture where we are constantly told to set goals, and then to make them bigger.

In this world of goal-setting where I have always been such a high-achiever, I am suddenly so tired of setting goals.

I came, after all, from one of the first generations of women where we were told we could be anything and everything all at once. The world was our oyster, we were lead to believe, and we could have it all; marriage, children and a thriving career.

Yet, it if the world wasn’t our oyster, had we failed?

As I turn 40, I am ready to announce that I am done trying to get it all right.

My children fight and struggle with their own issues which I can’t always fix, my marriage isn’t perfect, my house isn’t always organized and clean (I have reverted to hiring help), I am not in ideal shape, my career path is uncertain, and I fall into periods of deep sadness and anxiety that I have to work very hard at climbing out of.

I am imperfectly perfect and I am done trying to win a race that is exhausting and consistently gets me to a place where I don’t want to be.

So I surrender to the ‘messiness’ of it all and give homage to my  kids pulling at me and the fuss and the dirty dishes and all of the unfinished projects and the low days and the mouse in the pantry and the irrational fears and me, all of us, simply as we are.

The sweetest moments this summer, after all, were not the ones where I sat like a sage on her mountaintop, uninterrupted and enlightened. Rather, they were the moments where our friends and family were gathered around our big table and we gave deepest thanks for our blessings and the love that abounds, despite all of the loss and the struggles and the chaos. These were the moments that stopped me in my tracks, stopped all of us in our tracks, as we were suddenly reminded of what we have.

As I finish my last blog of this project and I face turning 40 in just a few months, I find myself back at the top of a new mountain peak, a different panoramic view spread out before me this time, as nothing every stays or looks the same.

I recall my determined wish a year ago to ‘make a difference’ and get to work, spawned by the death of Jack Layton.

But, as with every project and every great plan that I have every embarked upon, it seems as if every course just winds its way back to me, the journey always ending up being inward rather than outward.

I came to this cottage to escape, but lo and behold, here I am.

I wanted to share something with the world but the message was actually for me.

So as another deeply beautiful fall begins, I once again remember that this truly is my favorite time of year, even though it is always a season tinged with sadness.

The kids are suddenly preparing to go back to school and I find myself overwhelmed again by feelings of loss and disconnectedness. I feel myself slowly falling into a foggy, gray place that I can scarcely find words to describe, and I wish for a hand to grab hold of mine, pulling me up and forward.

This time, that light finds me in the middle of a late August night. I am in bed, at home from the cottage, and I wake to find myself bathed by the light of a magnificent and full harvest moon. I am in awe of its intensity, brightness, and power. The moon rays shine through our bedroom window and as I lay there I feel the light, in a very real sense, restoring me.

In that magical quiet, I am filled with such a sense of gratitude, peace, and new hope that extends into the days that follow.

This fall, I am at a new place in my own heart, and the dreams are not the same. They have softened and settled.

Now instead of holding them close, I offer them out, letting them be as they are and will become, bathed and blessed by moonlight.

I demand nothing of them. Still, I am ready.

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