Dandelion Fields

The yearly dandelion pictures continued today in between the rain. Let’s see how much the kids have changed in 5 years. In May 2008 Madeline was 5, Luke 3, and Olivia had just turned 1. The middle pictures are our first year in Manitoba when the kiddos were 7, 5, and 3. And now this year, in Alberta, they’re 10, 8, and 6. Strangely, though the kids have grown, somehow I’m still 28…


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My how they’ve changed!

Miss Madeline


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Luke


dandelion luke

Olivia


dandelion olivia

Posted in Family, Kids, Memories | 5 Comments

All About the Stuff

It’s true. I have a love-hate relationship with our stuff. And I wish I could figure out what the exact point is where something that I wanted and valued becomes something that is on the floor, unwanted, and a burden.

Between having a few weekends of travel, some birthdays, and some major papers due, the house has fallen into a bit (quite a lot a bit) of disrepair. We all have full tummies and clean clothes on our backs, so it’s not like we have fallen into disrepair. It’s just the house… the stuff in the house.

Spring finally showed up a few hours weeks ago, so there is the transition of stuff that goes along with that. Put the sleds away, bring out the summer sports stuff. Will your winter boots fit you next year or do we put them in the box to give away? (And then do the same thing with every item of clothing in the drawer.) The turnover and transition of seasonal stuff is actually quite the prcoess with a growing family, and while it has been done this spring, it has not been completed, and the last few bins to put away and items to sort are sitting in piles around the house.  And they are annoying me…

But what is annoying me most is not the seasonal stuff, it’s the stuff stuff. The clutter. The pointless mail that we get that I have scattered in piles around the house instead of opening and disposing of immediately. It’s piles of stuff that I don’t even know what it is or who wants it or how it even got in this house in the first place!

I’m not sure I was foolish enough to think that living in a bigger house would mean less mess, but you’d think it would at least be  less cluttered than living in that teeny tiny trailer! And, it’s true… sort of. We do actually have space to walk in this house. But the clutter mess is still there. The same old clutter mess follows us whereever we go. And right now I don’t know where to begin. (And that never happens with me.) Normally, I look at a room and can tell you where every item belongs. But not anymore. I can tell you where I would like everything to be (OUT OF MY HOUSE!), but I just can’t figure any of it out right now.

I am slowly beginning to admire people who like their stuff. I used to think that it was somehow wrong to like what you had when so many people in the world have so little. But now I see that it may have less to do with what you have and how much you have, and more with your attitude towards it all. And my attitude stinks.

I am ungrateful with the abundance because I just can’t handle it all. And so instead of being grateful I turn resentful. And ungrateful. And I really want to be different. But I don’t know if I need to start with the stuff or the attitude towards the stuff…

I’ve heard it said — and have some friends who live by this mantra — that you should only keep in your house what you love. (Beside things like a toilet brush… because I don’t think anyone loves their toilet brush, but you really do need it.) I could try that. And, even though I currently hate almost all of the stuff in my house, I don’t think I’d really throw everything out, right?!

So… tonight I’m wondering how everyone deals with this curse of the North American abundance of “stuff.” Are you okay with what you have? Do you want more? Do you wish you had less — or at least less clutter? I wonder if some of my frustration is linked with guilt over the abundance. Anyone else experience that? Is it just because I am a neat person living with four messy people that I don’t like how the stuff makes the house messy? Or is it really all about the stuff?

*ADDENDUM I know that gratitude and thankfulness is the first step in this process. I know I am using strong language like “hate.” But I really want to get to the core of why stuff becomes a burden… why the stuff I wanted now becomes the stuff that clutters up my life and frustrates me. Why? Why? Why? Why it seems like it’s simultaneosly never enough and always too much…

Posted in Life | 3 Comments

What kind of a mother am I?

Sometimes I wonder if other people have a better grasp on the kind of mother I am than I do…

Early in our parenting career Marc and I were pretty aware of the kind of parents we were — or maybe the kind of parents we weren’t. From our small circle of parent-friends whom we knew when Madeline was a baby, we knew that we were the easy going (lax!) ones compared to that couple or the strict and scheduled ones compared to those other friends. It was pretty easy to categorize ourselves because of our small circle and our limited experience.

Ten years have passed! Tomorrow is my tenth Mother’s Day! Tenth! In that time we have known many, many parent-friends, now across all of the prairie provinces. (I wonder if parents are “different” in the maritimes or southern Ontario?!) You would think over ten years I would have figured out more of what kind of mom I am. But I think it’s actually become harder to define.

I have learned that my kids are each unique and they each require a unique perspective on how to parent.

I have learned that people can view the same situation in very different ways. (For example, my mom thought I demand-fed my babies, when actually I developed a schedule with them where they would be hungry and “demand” to eat every 3.5 to 4 hours.)

I have learned that some people think I’m the “fun” mom who gets up and goes and does lots of adventurous things with her kids. Yet, I often feel like the hermit mom who has no imagination and courage to go out and do things.

I have found myself as both the “health-conscious” mom and the mom who gives her children excessive amounts of sweets.

I’m the mom who stays home with her kids. I’m the mom who works.

I’m the mom who puts her kids in lots of things. I’m the mom who really ought to get her kids involved more.

I know that to some I am really focused on my kids and to others I am not attentive enough to them.

I’m the thin mom. I’m the fat mom.

I’m the mom who stays calm. I’m the mom who flips out.

What kind of mom am I? The only answer is I am a “Me” mom — a “Dixie Vandersluys” mom. And that means that all of the above is true, even all of those contradictions. But, of course, these are only contradictions because they are put up against other moms; to some I’m this kind of mom and to some the exact same actions make me that kind of mom — because we are all unique!

Is it helpful to compare? Is it bad that I don’t perfectly fit any standard parental categories (attachment, intentional, burnt-out, cynical)? It makes me hard to peg down. But it also means that I am being me.

So the more years of mothering I put under my belt and the, now, hundreds of other moms I have encountered along the way, make me realize more than anything that I need to be me. And, yes, that means that me is going to be different than the other moms out there. That means I will look different and do things differently. And, yes, those categories are often helpful and can give direction and clarity when they work. But those categories can’t contain the uniqueness of who we are as parents, who our children are, and the way those two mix to make us all into our own quirky, fun, and difficult families.

I also know that I have both the ability (and the curse) of being able to see situations from many different perspectives and how each perspective may have validity. This has often made parenting very difficult — so many options; each may work; “what should I do now, in the present moment, when the milk is spilled and the children are crying and one of them is winding up their fist for a punch?!”

Well…

I’m hoping that as I take in all of the different perpectives and all of the different ways to parent, that I won’t be paralyzed by choices but rather have a large tool belt of mothering, where this will work for this kid at this time and then I flip that belt around and use a different tool for another time. (Not that I’m saying you shouldn’t be a consistent parent!)

I just hope to be an open parent.

Open to the changes that life inevitably brings. Open to the uniqueness of my children and to the unique way that I mother them. And open to the infinite ways in which I can show my love for them. Open to the fact that I won’t always get it right. Open to receiving and giving forgiveness and trying again.

So, what kind of a mother am I? The exact same as you: unique.

Posted in Family, Motherhood, Parenting | 1 Comment

Finding *Your* Thing

Today is the first quiet morning I’ve had in… I couldn’t tell you when. I am enjoying having the house to myself and am cozily sitting in my bed in my pyjamas drinking a chai tea latte that I made for myself. Olivia and her two friends will descend on the house for the afternoon in 2.5 hours at which time I will commence housework, but in the meantime, I am using this quiet time to work on some research for my classes.

I am writing two papers on grief this semester: one on a cultural issues on death, dying, and grief, and the other on grief in families. Knowing that I am entering into my last year of seminary and knowing that when it is over so does my free access to online journals, I have started downloading any article that looks interesting in the area of palliative care. So when I searched my inbox today I wasn’t too surprised when 86 messages came up with the word “grief” in them.

I began culling the emails for pdf articles that would be useful for my paper topics, saving them into the appropriate folders on my computer. I got to one email that had 47 articles downloaded with SO MANY good articles but only a few about my paper topic. Most of them were on meaning making and existential issues at the end of life. I sent Marc a quick message about how many amazing articles I had and how I wished I could write a paper on that topic and how I felt so alive each time I found another amazing article on the subject… So I decided I should just make a new folder on my computer where I could deposit all of these great articles for “fun” reading (41 pdf articles and 26 articles to search for pdfs, thus far).

I know. It’s strange. I am talking about how “alive” I feel when I find articles on the end of life. But this is *my* thing, don’t you see? I’ve finally found *my* thing! And the more that I recognize that this is my thing, the more I see how it has been my thing for so long! The more I study end-of-life counselling, finding meaning in life, walking through the fear of suffering and death, the importance of telling one’s story, and finding spiritual, personal, and interpersonal peace… the more I see that I have been interested in this for almost all my life.

It goes back into my childhood where I had an awareness from a very young age of the reality of death because of my dad’s law practice which focused on wills and estates. To the years I spent with my grandparents (people who seemed “so close to death” when I was a child, yet lived until I was 30!). To junior high where I was kind of obsessed with a teacher whose husband had died suddenly of a heart attack and I would sit and wonder how she went on living with that loss as part of her. To thinking I wanted to run a funeral home when I grew up (wondering why I was so “morbid”). To loving history and the importance of facing the past and telling our stories. There was the slight Holocaust obsession where I tried to grasp the depths of humanity in suffering and evil. Then deciding to add to my history major in university a major in philosophy, where I could formally study the things I’d thought about for so many years (knowledge, existence, meaning). In my early mothering years, loving the “thin” moment of childbirth where the line between life and death/suffering and joy are so tangible. (For years and still, I felt the same way every time I’d go into a hospital, but couldn’t articulate until I realized it’s also because hospitals are these “thin” places.) Having the honour of being there for the deaths of my granny and grandpa and experiencing my father-in-law’s years with dementia. Even recognizing that palliative counselling may, in the words of the head of the Prov counselling department, be “pioneer work” and knowing that I am passionate and enough of a go-getter that this excites me rather than scares me.

So many things make this kind of counselling “my thing” and each day I feel energized by what I get to learn. Of course, that also means that at night — why is it that the night is often such a scary time?! — I often go to bed overwhelmed by the sadness of loss, the complicated ethical questions that go along with dying (I wouldn’t recommend watching a documentary where someone commits assisted suicide on-screen for your “relaxing evening viewing”), and the fear that each one of us faces as we think about our own mortality and death.

But I will learn how to hold all of these things and recognize that it will not be easy because it should not be easy because it is not easy… Instead it is an honour to pursue this field of study with the hopes that in the coming months I can put all of this hard work of research and writing to use in the “real world.” There is so much to learn, and I can’t wait!

This is my thing. I know it’s a strange *thing* to be a *thing*, but I kind of don’t expect anything different from me. We all have our thing. And I’d love to hear if you’ve found yours and how it energizes you for life and living. Because mine does, even though it is about death and dying.

Posted in Memories, Psychology, School | 2 Comments

A Banner Year

Somehow it is has happened that I have not blogged about any of our kids’ birthdays since we moved. The reason for that “somehow” is, of course, that I have not been blogging at all like I used to… So tonight, as Olivia’s 6th birthday comes to a close, and as she lays here next to me in the bed, almost snoring, and holding onto her new “Bolt” plush toy (her favourite gift of the day)… let me take you back through our “banner year” here in Alberta.

Madeline’s birthday is December 15th. I’d ran into my old French teacher when I was pregnant with Madeline and, when I told her that I was due December 6th, she blurted out, “Well, that’s a dumb time to have a baby!” Really, it took until this year — her 10th birthday — for us to actually be unable to have her birthday party close to the actual day. Pretty good, I’d say! Take that French teacher!

To celebrate on Madeline’s actual birthday, which was a Saturday, we went into the city. Madeline brought along her best friend and we did West Edmonton Mall — we’d given her money to buy a dragon. (If you know me, you’ll know that going to West Ed on the Saturday 10 days before Christmas was actually the biggest gift I gave her. Crowds! Busyness! Keep me away!) Then we went to the Science Centre, went to her friend’s basketball game and then out with her family for supper and dragon cake.
West Edmonton for Madeline's birthday

Madeline’s actual party was about a month later in January and it was lots of fun. I made a dragon egg scavenger hunt through the Land of Vander (our yard), and there was, of course, another dragon cake.
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Madeline Birthday Party
And, just like that, we had a 10 year old!

Then on March 11th, Luke turned 8. It was an Angry Birds/Space party. My favourite thing about Luke’s party was the brain-wave I had the morning of the party — life-sized angry birds with the boxes left over from moving! Brilliant. Between my basic idea and Marc’s ingenuity with grabbing some boards and using all of our helmets for the “pigs”, we came up with something pretty great. I think it was as fun for the kids to set it up as knock it down. (Definitely recommend this as an easy/fun party game.)
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My second favourite thing was when Marc used the gas stove to light all the sparklers…
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Happy birthday, Lucky!

Which brings us to today: Olivia’s 6th birthday. Pinkalicious was the theme and it was great. My mom made pink tutus for the girls and they decorated visors and we had a pink bubblegum blowing contest and a dance party –with Marc (!!)– and a long time of jumping on the trampoline. The party was great.
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And my baby is 6 years old. And I am just exhausted enough tonight that I am more than happy that there aren’t any birthdays in our household for eight whole months.

So that was our year. A “banner year” because I made banners for each of the kids — something I’ve never done before. I really liked it. And, Olivia didn’t even notice that her banner didn’t say “Happy Birthday, Fartface” as I’d promised… (I also told her I was going to make it “Olivia loves Meryl Streep.”)

Nope. I liked the banners. And will possibly keep doing them — a cheap and easy way to make their parties unique. As unique as they are.

I love those kiddos.

 

Posted in Family, Kids | 4 Comments

Memory Boxes

We’re doing some cleaning on this stormy (yes, snow blizzard, Don!) day in April. And while I am on the verge of a rant on the love-hate (today more like hate-hate) relationship I have with all of our stuff, I’m going to have some self control here and go a different direction… for today. Instead, I want to think about what we choose to remember — what we keep and what we think we need to throw away.

While cleaning his room, Luke found a story that he’d made. He read it and then said, “I think we should throw this away. Look! The staples are even on the wrong side!” I was okay with him throwing the book out because I am really in the mood for things to be leaving our house today, and also because I know that we’ve saved lots of other stories that he’s done. But normally those are the things I like to keep — regardless of which side the staples are on.

Each kid has a box in their closet where I put paper things that they’ve written/drawn/made. And after Luke’s comment I started to think of why those things are so important. We keep them not because they are so perfect, but often precisely because they are not! Remember when Luke only wrote in capital letters? Remember which letters Olivia always wrote backwards? Remember when Madeline drew that picture about how I love boobies?!  We keep all of those things to show their development, to remember how they’ve grown and all the unique (and bizarre) ideas they had in their heads.

But what about for us? Do we view our “grown-up” develompent in the same way? If we had a box of memories in our closet, what would we put in it? I suspect most of us would be like Luke and not want to put in the things that aren’t “just right.” Are we embarrassed by all of the quirky (or horrible) mistakes we’ve made? Or can we see them as a precious example of how we’ve grown?

Some of us have journals where (if we’re ballsy enough) we’ll actually write down our true thoughts and secret actions– frightening as that is. It is frightening, even if it’s likely that that book will never go further than a few feet from our bedside table. Is this a fear of being known? Is this a fear of really admitting who we are?

I’m not always one to have grace with myself. “Idiot” is a word that often comes to mind when I think about things I’ve done. And yet there are a lot of times when I’ve looked back over struggles and mistakes and have seen the wonderful things that have come out of those situations. Not that my mistakes were erased but, rather, that they (or I) were somehow “okay” — maybe even better!–  in the end. The mistakes (and me) weren’t as horrifying or absolute as I’d thought.

A lot of this is a perspective that can only come from looking back. When we’re in the moment, it’s usually not possible to see the repercussions (positive or negative) of what we’re doing. But I think I’d like to adopt this perspective a bit more. I’d like to store up moments in my mind, like the kids’ closet boxes, and realize that the “idiot Dixie” moments should go in there and are just as precious and important as the “clever/graceful/perfect Dixie” ones. They all tell my story and show the way I am growing.

And when we do it with ourselves, we can start doing it with others, too. You can remember the good and the bad not to keep score, but to show grace and look back in wonder at how light is still found in the darkest places, the biggest mistakes, and a bunch of those things you’d have rather forgotten.

Not that it’s an easy thing to do, of course. But I think it would be a beautiful act of humanity if we’d be willing to store (and perhaps hold dear) more of our memories.

Posted in Kids, Life & Faith, Memories | 3 Comments

Helping My Son: where the many, many thousands of dollars spent on this counselling degree pays off

Sometimes I think that getting this counselling degree has only made me realize how crazy and ill-fit to counsel others I am. But not tonight.

Let’s step back exactly two weeks, to the moment in the last morning of my week-long Marriage and Family Therapy course (the course that was like stewing in your family’s dysfunction for 8 hours a day; the day when I was the most exhausted after 15+ hour days of non-stop studying; the exact moment when I was listening to a lecture that nicely summarized what some of my issues are) when I got an email from Luke’s teacher saying that she thought he may have ADHD or Asperger’s Syndrome. Was I in an emotional state to handle that email? No. Had I somehow connected with a great group of ladies during that week-long course that I had support when the inevitable breakdown happened? Yes, very thankfully, yes.

I drove home from that course shortly thereafter knowing that my life may change — or at least my perspective on life and Luke. We went for our pediatrician’s appointment a few days later about another issue Luke has been having and the pediatrician said that we could book a behavioural assessment in the next month or two, which we will. So we have no certainty that either of those two things is going on yet. But even having those thoughts in my mind has made me see Luke and his struggles in a different way. I think I have become more patient with him. I try to listen more and I try to get inside his head more and see things from his perspective. It’s all too easy to think (and then say), “Seriously?! You don’t need to worry about that!” But he is legitimately worried, and worried about a lot of things, and I need to be there for him and love him through the worries.

So tonight Luke and I had a long conversation before he went to bed about how God knows us, knows what’s best for us, and helps us. It was a good conversation, I thought. And so I was a bit annoyed and confused when (in my mind) he side-tracked the conversation and started talking about the kids who tease him on the bus. I told him that he didn’t need to think about the bus right now because he was on Easter break and wouldn’t be on the bus for over 10 days. But he said that he always thinks about going on the bus and he wishes he didn’t have to go.

And this is where the counselling degree started to pay off. I’ve been learning a lot about the use of imagery and connecting parts of the body to emotion and so that’s where I went with Luke. I asked him where he felt all of the nervousness and worry when he thought about the bus. “My mind and my feelings,” was his response, “In my head.” I took his hand and told him that I wanted him to grab the worry out of his head and give it to me. He said, “It’s locked.” I told him I had a key, and I turned the key on his head, unlocked that part, and held out my hands and he put the worry from his head into my hands. The feelings were locked up in his heart, so I unlocked his heart and he handed over the worried feelings. And then his said he sometimes felt those things in his throat, too; unlocked; handed over.

As I had my hands open and holding those things, he said, “But now you have to hold them. Where are you going to put them?” I put my hands toward my chest and I told them I would hold them very close and he didn’t have to worry because I’m a grown up and I can handle these things and God can handle them too. We prayed. He seemed to relax and he has gone to sleep tonight without a lot of commotion and unrest, as so often accompanies his falling asleep.

I know a simple exercise like that won’t cure his anxiety. But it was a good way for him to see that he does not have to hold onto those things. And, like so many things in all our lives, I think the simple act of naming the fear is important. The part of locating it in the body is actually really revealing. When you think about something and have an emotional response to it, where is it? For me things are often in my throat or just outside/above my eyes or maybe in the pit of my stomach. At this point I don’t know what all of those “parts” mean, but I know that it gives clarity to what I feel. Pictures often come to my mind after that and I see the situation more clearly or maybe in a new light. And then you walk through the situation a bit more. Or you talk it through with someone. Or, best of all, you think about it and hand it over to God, because he’s there with his hands out-stretched, just like mine were today, and he knows the whole thing most of all.

So, tonight, I’m glad that I could take a little counselling exercise and help Luke picture his troubles and hand them over to me… even if I don’t always feel capable or that I know the best way to help, I am there and sometimes (often!) being there is all it takes.

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

First World Parenting Problems

It is a privilege to be annoyed with your kids. That may seem like a strange and backward concept, but lately I’ve been realizing that — strange and backward as it really is — it is very true. Take last night for instance…

Wednesdays are the nights that Marc is at youth all evening. He usually comes home for the first hour the kids are home from school but he wasn’t able to yesterday. So it was me and the kids for the rest of the day.

After a long day of slogging through a paper for my gerontology course, I started my yoga workout five minutes too late. I decided to do the workout on the big carpet by the front door. (Lots of space and way more natural light than doing it in the basement.) But, like I said, I was five minutes too late. And the kids came home. And Luke thought it would be funny to throw his backpack on me while I was doing the locust pose. Then he walked by and accidentally kneed me in the temple. I almost cried it hurt so badly.

The kids relaxed and watched a movie after school and had a good snack, but that stint of television exposure made them g-r-u-m-p-y by supper time. I think I made a snide comment about how we should stop and remind ourselves how ungrateful we are for this food and how annoying it is to be together. (Our prayer every night actually is “For our family and for what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful” precisely because so often we are not thankful for our family and what we receive.)

But, like most stages of life, that grumpy phase passed quickly. After supper we hung around the table and I helped the kids with their homework and before bedtime the kids were all in my bed with their big binders drawing pictures. I had 10 minutes left in a documentary on Alzheimer’s I had been watching for gerontology class, so I thought I would lay on the bed and finish it while they were there. The last five minutes showed a man (who right from the start of his story had me thinking of Marc’s dad) passing away in a hospice. It was very moving and, of course, brought up many memories of the last days with Marc’s dad. But I had to stop watching after a few minutes, not because I was overcome with emotion (though I was getting there), but because the kids were singing “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” at the top of their lungs right next to me.

Now, I wasn’t annoyed at this. In fact, I thought it was quite funny and quite fitting. I’m sure Marc’s dad and the man who was dying on the documentary (who’d been a magician and had hosted a children’s tv show) would appreciate the joyful and boisterous sound of my kids’ voices. But there was such a stark contrast between what I was watching on the screen and what was right next to me in the room!

Earlier that evening, when we were all still a little grumpy, I’d received word that a very good friend’s husband was in hospital. The kids and I stopped and prayed for them and I couldn’t help thinking how difficult the whole situation was for that family. And there was the constrast: while I knew in my head that I was grateful for this evening I was having with my kids (we were all home and healthy), even knowing that this night at home was a gift to me — that things could change and be so different so quickly — just could not make me not be annoyed with the annoying things the kids were doing at the time. I remember being so aware of the disconnection: this moment is SO precious; my kids are being SO annoying!

That disconnect was so strange (so frustrating!) to me… and probably for most of us. We know our time is limited. We try to make the most of things, but life and people and our kids are still frustrating. The little annoyances of life do not go away just because we know that time is short and time is precious. I think maybe they become less serious and more comical. But they are still there. We are still very human as we face our own mortality.

Of course, I want things to be perfect and to never be annoyed with my kids. But, that won’t happen.  Instead, I can realize and recognize that a normal day at home — with my kids healthy, hungry, and yes even grumpy — is indeed a privilege. The problems of bickering, complaining, and annoying behaviour are first world parenting problems. There are bigger problems, struggles, losses, and fears that parents face every day. Often it is those bigger moments that make a person realize just how precious each moment is, and just how petty our normal, daily problems are.

So today (and as long as I am lucky enough to live in this “first world”), I choose to remember that I ought to be deeply grateful that my life has these petty annoyances, that life is good and stable enough for me to even notice them. I will remember that it is actually a privilege to be annoyed, and I will hold my kids tighter today because of it.

Posted in Family, Parenting | 2 Comments

Choices

We made a choice when we moved to Alberta to try not to over-extend ourselves this first year. Marc said “no” to a few fun extra things, I decided not to do my practicum internship in our first year here, and we decided not to put the kids in any extra curricular activities. We did this because we just didn’t know what shape our lives were going to take on a daily basis. We had to readjust to a parent with a “job.” I know. It seems strange to say it, but it’s true. While being student-parents was in some ways a bit a crazy and ridiculous and super stressful, there was a certain amount of flexibility that came with that lifestyle. (Have I mentioned how I will forever miss Marc and I both having all summer off to be with the kids?!)

But now Marc is back to the traditional 9 to 5 grind of work (well, except that he’s a pastor so it’s not really 9 to 5 five days a week…). All three kids are now in school. And, silly me, I thought that have my mornings child-free would free up so much of my time to finish up my last handful of masters classes! That totally hasn’t happened. But I’m getting there.

The thing is… everything is new here. New job. New school. New house. New church. New responsibilities. New friends. New environment. New tax bracket. So, in anticipation of all of the newness and adjustment, we decided, like I said, to not do anything “extra” this year, especially for the kids’ sake. I knew from his first two years in school that Luke gets pretty tired after a day in school. So a day in school where you get on the bus at 7:38 and off the bus at 4:05 — well, that’s an especially long day. And the idea of getting them signed up for things before we knew how they were going to handle those long days… I didn’t want to risk it. And I didn’t think it was a wise choice, anyway.

So how do our days go? Instead of the kids getting home at 4 o’clock and us driving them back the 20 minutes into town for whatever random activity they would’ve had on x number of weeknights, the kids get home and we relax. Today, for example, Marc made tea and Luke and Madeline and Marc read books and drank their tea while Olivia and I coloured together. It was super laid back, everyone kind of doing their own thing but we were all together in the living room. And, really, most days are like that. I love it.

But sometimes there’s are these nagging thoughts in my head, “When are your kids going to get their Red Cross swim levels?” “Aren’t they ever going to have a chance to do this activity or that activity?” “Plus! You keep forgetting to give them their music lessons! You said you wanted to teach them yourself, so YOU better teach them YOURSELF!”

I know lots of familes take the occasional year off of activities and I know this was the right choice for us this year, but I wonder/worry about the coming years. Am I ever going to feel like we can handle swimming and scouts and who knows what? When we only have about four hours together at the end of each weekday, what does it look like to put the kids into activities that will (between the lesson and the driving) take up two of those four hours?! And how many nights would we do that? What about the nasty winter roads? What about the fact that my kids seem to get sick so often — so we’re going to pay the big bucks and then they’ll miss half the lessons because of bad roads and bad colds?!

Part of the reason that we chose the school we did for the kids was because they are an arts-based school and provide a number of extra curricular activities at noon hour. I think this is brilliant! Kids are just bopping around at noon hour anyway, may as well have them learning something! Madeline’s doing dance every Wednesday noon hour and Luke took an art class at noon during the fall. I’m hoping they’ll have more opportunities in the coming years.

But why do I hope this? Is it because it will be fun and fruitful for the kids or because it will appease my motherly guilt that they are “involved” in enough.

I tell you, I LOVE watching my kids play at home, work in the science lab, explore outside, and create stories and art on a daily basis. Is this somehow less than those activities that we’d pay several hundred dollars to enroll them in? I really want to say “no,” and I think in my head I know it’s true, but I still feel bad about it.

I guess we will continue to listen to our kids and to the rhythms that work for our family. That will change again next year as Olivia goes to school full time and I begin my counseling internship in the fall. I’m excited for the chance to do some tangible work in this area of counseling that I am so passionate about, but it will mean more balancing and maybe more pulling back from some things for me. Even though my internship will just be part time, I feel like I’m going to be calling on the wisdom of the working moms to find out how to balance out everything (especially motherly guilt).

(And also, all you moms who take your kids to so many things and don’t get stressed, or even if you do get stressed, you keep doing it…. please! I want to know how you do it! I know taking my kids to activities holds its own prestigious place in my social anxiety, so I want know — how do you do it?!)

In the meantime, I am loving these quiet days with the kids. I know it was the wise and good choice for this year. I just wish I could calm the voice in my head that says I’m depriving my kids of something else. But really, no matter what we choose, we’re depriving our kids of something, right?! I hope when they look back they won’t feel like cozy afternoons in the living room were too much deprivation.

Posted in Family, Ministry, School | 9 Comments

Perspectives

I was looking through Marc’s flickr account tonight hoping to find some pictoral inspiration for a new blog design. No luck. I did, however, run across a number of gems of the video and picture variety from days and years gone by. What I gleaned from that trip down memory lane? “Be happy with what you have when you have it, girls. Because gravity is merciless.” In other words, (Marc and) I have aged A LOT in the past four years!

Oh well. Such is life, I suppose.

I ran across something else, too. At our wedding reception (12.5 years ago now), we got people to write comments/advice/memories to us on their place cards. I still have them all. This one was from a good friend from church who’d lead the worship team I played drums in for years:
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“Dear Marc! I recall once at family camp someone remarking how everywhere Dixie went there were always a lot of other people around, particularly guys! And they wondered why! I remember saying; “Are you kidding me? Have you ever seen her smile?!”

That’s one thing I’ve always known about myself. I have a good smile (if you look past the Osmond-family teeth — or maybe it’s the teeth that makes the smile?!). My physics teacher in grade 11 actually stopped mid-sentence during one class to tell me that I had a most remarkable smile.

So, yeah, I believed the card because I knew I had a good smile.

But. A few months ago I was visiting with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. She told me that her husband (who was a few years younger than me in youth group) and his friends would always ask if “Dixie Dynna was going to be at youth group,” because — get this — they thought I was so pretty! Ha!

I was shocked. I wouldn’t have believed her except I know she (and her husband) wouldn’t make that up.

You see, I spent ALL of my growing up years thinking I was quite ugly. I know most people go through an awkward stage and most people are unhappy with at least part of their looks. So maybe I was like most kids. Except at the time I didn’t think that most kids were going through the same thing I was. And what I was going through was thinking that I was ugly and that no boy would ever like me. As a result, all the pressure was off and I was free to hang around and be funny with just about anybody. You see, there was no pressure because there was no hope.

Looking back now I know that I wasn’t ugly (besides that really bad haircut I got right before grade 10). But I still have a hard time believing that other people saw me as attractive. So when I hear stories like the above it kind of floors me. And I wonder what my life would’ve been like if I had thought there was a hot chance to have a hot chance with a guy.

In a way I’m glad I lived in that oblivion. I mean, I know it was detrimental to my self-esteem. And I know it took a lot of years for Marc’s perspective of me to help shape my perspective into something positive. (Come to think of it, we’re still working on that. He got quite annoyed the other day when I referred to my body as “revolting…”) But I am also glad that I was spared the hormonal drama of dating in high school — of looking for acceptance and worth in the eyes and arms of another. Because I’m quite certain that even if I’d been confident enough to think a boy really thought I was pretty, I would never have had the confidence to stand up for myself and be myself when those attentions turned physical.

I don’t know. Maybe a completely unhealthy, warped self-esteem for all those years was just as damaging as any indiscretion or mishap with a boy… but I really am thankful that I was saved that bit of heartache. Even if it was replaced by a different kind of heartache. A heartache that often still looks in the mirror unsatisfied. And, as I get older, it’s replaced by a new kind of heartache: the heartache of regret for not appreciating and being thankful for what I looked like and who I was for all of those years. All of these years. Because I’m doing it still. Especially as my body struggles and sags and spreads its way through the 30s.

I’ve really come a long way in accepting who I am and how I look and how I “grow,” but it is still a struggle for me. It’s difficult for me because now I see that I used to have it so easy, and yet I was so dissatisfied. I’ve always been dissatisfied. Dissatisfied looking back (because I should’ve appreciated what I had), in the present (because I’m not where I used to be), and looking forward (because, really, it’s only going to get more difficult; like I said, gravity is merciless).

I know these are really trivialities. There’s so much more to life than how good we look while we’re living it. And, really, when you think about it, most of the good moments of life are the moments where we look anything but our best (hello?! childbirth?! wedding night?!).

I know that ultimately the way I look and how much I weigh does not really matter. But, the perspective that I take on all of it DOES.

I feel like I should just be able to make some sort of pledge and promise to never look back with regret about how I used to look and what I didn’t see in myself. But, the truth is, I’ve had probably a good 25 years of conditioning to be dissatisfied. And, the funny thing is, I’ve probably only come to be happy with my body since becoming a mother (and we all know the roller coaster ride your body lives out in those years!).

So, I’m pretty sure I’m going to keep struggling with this. But these little glimpses from my past (and Marc’s continual love and affection and acceptance — that boy is nothing if not accepting! — of me) show me that there is another way to look at me. I’ve always been one for honesty, even if it hurts. But maybe the really honest thing is that I didn’t look so bad all of those years, and I was the one who was wrong.

Maybe the toughest pill to swallow is not about my looks, but about the fact that I’m wrong.

Posted in Life, Memories | 4 Comments