Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Highlights and lowlights

When the kids were preschoolers I belonged to a Tuesday morning mom's group that began every meeting with "highlights" (and sometimes lowlights) - the best and worst of our week. The things you were just dying to share with someone over 4: your husband's promotion or layoff, a romantic date night or your mother-in-law's extended visit, your daughter's first words or your son's first broken bone.

More than the coffee and baking, the secret sister gifts, and the girls-only outing, what I miss most about the mom's group is having someone ask me every week about my highlights. So as I reflect on the coming of the New Year, I'd like to share my highs and lows of 2008 with you.

Highlight: Holidays.
We went to Disneyworld with my parents and little brother in May, to a cabin on Gull Lake in August, and spent a weekend visiting old friends in Brandon in September. I've always been careful (read: uptight) about spending money. I like to invest my money in something that will last or save me money in the future (like new windows or insulation) but this year I learned the value of buying experiences. Meeting the little mermaid and fishing for minnows, jumping out of our skin when we fell down Splash Mountain and when that giant pine fell on the powerline. We're going to be talking about those memories and enjoying the pictures for years!

Lowlight: Cancer
My grandma's rapidly progressing lung cancer has been a weight on my heart since September. I worry about her pain, her medication, her appetite, her spirits. I dread saying goodbye.

Highlight: Math, manners and the boys next door.
K. went from being 2 years behind in his understanding of basic numeracy in June to doing grade level math in September. We have no idea why! We're chalking it up to prayer. All the school staff are also noticing in K. a newly developed awareness of his peers. It may be partly thanks to a social skills class he took this fall in which an OT led a room full of boys with Aspergers or PDD to practice turn-taking, active listening, and saying "please" and "thank you."

But a bigger factor was the boys next door. When I asked K. today what his highlight of 2008 would be, he answered without pausing, "Meeting B." Whenever a For Sale sign goes up in our neighbourhood I pray for the new neighbours. Maybe out of fear of the unknown (Could they be gun-slinging, paint-spraying crazies?) or maybe out of a desire for a greater sense of community on our street. God has never answered my prayer like this one!

I was painting their side of our fence (but not with spray paint) when the new neighbours pulled up for the first time in September. The question "So do you have kids?" led to the realization that we both had 9-year-old boys who had already met - in the same class! B. and his younger brother have been here pretty much every weekend since. And my boy (whose idea of 'playing' used to be talking to himself beside someone else) now saves the Mars Colony right alongside B. (when he's not playing the villain), and let's him have the final say on all "Inspector Bebop" movie scripts. (I'm their videographer.)

Lowlight: Layoff and letting go
I still miss my coworkers and the creative challenges of the writing job I had to leave in September. I miss the Christmas parties, the coffee breaks (mmm...cinnamon buns), and the sometimes quirky, always brilliant visionaries I interviewed each week. In September I also had to let go of my baby as she started grade one. I went from an identity as "stay at home mother of preschoolers" to not being sure what I was! The good news is she's doing fabulously. (The fact that the rest of G.'s class isn't composed of halo-wearers also helps cast her in a more positive light!) She's only run away from class a couple times, because she "already knows everything she needs to know to be a mom!"

Highlight: Teaching
Two Christmases ago my mom said, "Wouldn't it be nice if you could use your Masters and teach a College course?" Last January I got to do just that. And I survived! What's more I fell in love with teaching and with my subject matter: the book of Revelation. I had the chance to teach Revelation again at church this fall. Wow, is it ever easier the second time around! Learning to present material creatively and clearly, stir up discussion, captivate attention, and bring ancient literature about a living God close to home is exciting stuff! I feel more confident, not just as teacher, but about everything I have to offer, because of the experience.

Now I'm set to teach College for the second time with a new subject - the minor prophets - which I suspect will reappear in my highlights of 2009. I'm hoping another week at a cabin will also be in my future!

But there are some new highlights I'm hoping for in the New Year as well. A deeper friendship with my husband. A banishment of G.'s inner whine-monster. A garage where my snow-covered car is standing (and where I can put all the tools and lawn furniture that are currently cluttering up my basement!) A closer friendship with my mom as we support each other through the process of losing our mom and grandma. Maybe even a book idea. (Hey, I can dream! My "novel" went from one page long in 2007 to eight pages in 2008, so who knows, in 2009 it might even grow into a short story!)

And above all a greater sense of peace. Of enough. Of the Hand that guides me through the losses, challenges, revelations, and joys of 2009. Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Of chipped stars

K. and G. had a practice for the Christmas pageant this morning. They knew their lines perfectly. But K., aka the angel Gabriel, did a lot of flapping and jumping off the baptismal tank, and very little standing quietly next to Mary.

On the way home K. bought a star for the Christmas tree. We walked through the dollar store looking for something worthy of the week's allowance. When he brought it to the till I said, "K. did you notice? It has a tip missing."

No response.

"Was there another one like it? Because this one's broken."

No answer.

When we sat down to eat I saw the silver star glittering on the tree. I remarked how its angles made it shimmer.

"See?" he said. "From here you can't even see the missing tip."

"I picked it because it was chipped, you know. It's special because it's unique."

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Fly high!

The Graf Zeppelin, the R101 and the Hindenburg are regulars at our dinner table.

One of the most intriguing things about Aspergers is "perseverations" - obsessions with learning, reciting, drawing, watching and/or collecting everything to do with a particular topic. Some are typical childhood interests: trains, dinosaurs, video games. But some kids choose to more unusual subjects, such as weather statistics or the flags of former communist dictatorships. K. has done plant biology and pipe organs. Now we're into airships, thanks to Kenneth Oppel.

K.'s grade four teacher has been reading them bestselling Canadian author Kenneth Oppel's Airborn and Skybreaker, a series set aloft in an airship or zeppelin. So....since September K. has been designing airships on paper, creating them out of Lego, rereading every encyclopedia page he can on famous zeppelins, and bemoaning the fact that they haven't become humanity's main mode of air travel. Yet. He also reads from his own copy of Airborn and wrote a school report on Kenneth Oppel.

And last week he got to meet him!

Now the photo of a beaming K. standing beside Kenneth Oppel is on the school wall and there's an upcoming story in the school newsletter. The other students are in awe. I'm sure they all would've loved to meet him and have him write "fly high!" in the front of their books.

Yesterday I told my life story to a group of women I'd never met before from a variety of backgrounds. (I mean they invited me as a guest speaker, not that I just stood up in a public place and started sharing!) Someone brought up the topic of God, evil, free will, suffering, Satan, and judgment. (Nothing too heavy!)

The idea came up that perhaps heaven is special because only a few get to go - like an exclusive country club membership in the sky or a backstage pass to meet God after the show.

I disagree. But I didn't come up with a response to that one in the moment. So here's my answer: I think heaven will be special because we'll get to meet God. That's it. I'm talking about the Author of sunsets, Christmas spirit, champagne, mountains, kisses, palm trees, that new baby smell, and the cocoa bean - in all his glory. And he's promised he's saving his best ideas for last! Who would want to miss out on that?

So I say, 'The more the merrier'! Let the book launch begin!

Monday, November 17, 2008

A tribute to ordinary

My grandma is still with us but we're already planning her funeral...with her. It feels a little weird, a little special, and very hard.

My mom asked me if I would start preparing to share some memories. I don't really have specific story-like memories of Grandma because all our times together were so ordinary. My women's group encouraged me to just start writing the ordinary. So here we go.

I remember:

- Sitting at Grandma's kitchen island in Brandon on Boxing Day in my new shiny, yet itchy nightgown and watching her prepare breakfast.

- Walking through canola fields in Boissevain with Grandma helping her pull wild oats from the seed crop, the way she half disappeared in the yellow flowers, how she looked in her old straw hat.

- Riding overnight in the backseat with Grandma on the way to visit my aunts in Calgary. She folded my blanket under and wrapped it around my neck because she said that's how her own children had wanted to be tucked in. I still sleep that way.

- Grandma taking me to a one room cabin with no plumbing and me complaining the whole time about how people on my dad's side took me to bigger, nicer cabins. I must have hurt her feelings but she didn't say anything.

- Sitting in front of her bookshelf and reading her old books for hours. One was about a girl who went to university and said no to the pressure of drugs and alcohol. That book shaped my view of drinking and drugs (in a good way-I avoided them)...and university (not so good-I never went).

- Talking for hours with Grandma the times she stayed over while my parents went on holidays. When I was a boy-crazy teenager and my parents were the ones afraid to be seen in public with me, Grandma listened patiently to my stories about the boys at school, and instead of telling me I was too young for boys, shared with me about her love for Grandpa.

- Staying at Grandma's when I was very young, I think after one of my brother's was born. Playing playdough with her at the diningroom table and building block pyramids in Grandpa's study when they were pastoring in Manitou.

- Climbing around and pretending I was the pastor in the old church on their farmyard in Boissevain, by then converted into a storage area, until they told me it wasn't safe. Carrying cats up the 4 foot high stacks of grainsacks in the big shed and sitting up there for hours daydreaming. The church is gone but that shed and the little office inside it still look and smell like they did when Grandpa was working and whistling inside.

- Sitting with Grandma in the front pew of their church listening to Grandpa preach, loving the sound of his voice and wishing I would always remember what he said, but knowing I wouldn't.

- Celebrating my tenth birthday at their farm and having everyone making a big deal of it. Going to the beach.

- The feeling I got walking into her kitchen on the farm at Christmas. Playing under her ornate wood dining table. Being afraid of falling down the laundry chute. Peeking through the hole in the office wall made for the phone.

- Going to the ice cream shop at the end of the dirt road. Never knowing which flavour to get. Driving her crazy with my indecisiveness.

- The way she stubbornly won't believe K. had a disability. The way she looks at him and calls him her special boy and always believes through love and prayer he'll turn out just fine.

For better or worse, I've inherited Margaret Froese's sense of humour, work ethic, anxious spirit, love of books, stubbornness, and servant's heart. I may not have long, unique, or fascinating stories to tell about her, but I have moments. And feelings.

And the beauty of the ordinary.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


I've been preparing for winter lately. In more than one way.

There's the obvious - pulling up carrots, raking, packing away my lawn furniture (between my freezer and washing machine since I don't have a garage). We've been lucky this year with a long, warm fall. I don't know how many conversations I've had on the schoolyard that start, "This may be our last nice day..." And every nice day is filled with one more rake or one more mow or one more hour of sitting outside thinking this may be my last hour outside without windburn.

I'm still not ready; there's work left to do. There are more annuals to pull out (but they're still blooming!) and I'm told my lawnmower needs to be drained. (Oh goody, I get to smell like gasoline one more time.) And I'm not ready to let go. To trade the crunch of leaves for the crunch of snow. The colours of flowers and maple leaves, for grey, sanded streets and yellow snow. The warm sun for the biting blizzards. To watch nature around me die and be buried.

Another way I've been preparing for winter is by spending time with biblical dudes like Jonah and Hosea. That's because I'm going to be teaching Bible college again in January. The march toward winter for me means less and less time for late night Starbucks runs and House reruns, and more and more time for writing lectures, creating Powerpoints, and printing handouts. Letting go of my relaxing, balanced, organized life (and home!) and being stretched yet again. I'm not ready.

I wish it was only my free time and flowers that are dying. In September, when I blogged about explaining Terry Fox's cancer to my frightened daughter, I couldn't have known that my Grandma, who had recently fallen ill, would be diagnosed with terminal cancer one month later. Every time we visit she seems a little smaller, a little weaker, a little more medicated. Every time I leave I think, this may be our last time together. That's stretching me in ways I'm not ready to be stretched.

It's hard to watch the colours fade and something of beauty slip away. I see it every year in Manitoba. But never like this one.

Friday, October 17, 2008

How I traded my fear of escalators and ramps for a little lift

I used to sweat every time I went near Polo Park Shopping Centre.

There's a few reasons for that. When I first moved to the city in the summer of '92 (to begin my short career at Dairy Queen) I was hit by a truck right in front of the mall. I didn't see any other vehicles coming, but in the middle of my U-turn I sure felt one. We never found each other in all the traffic, he never phoned it in, and I was left paying the deductible.

I wasn't injured, but the experience didn't do much for my confidence as a city driver, especially considering I had just rear-ended someone two weeks before. If I had had speed dial, Autopac would've been on it.

I was so tired of dealing with body shops, police reports and Autopac claim adjusters. Every time I saw an Autopac sign I would relive the boom of the crash, followed by the laughter of my Dairy Queen coworkers, the shaking frowns of my parents.

When I began dating T. that fall, we decided to turn my negative experience around; every time we saw an Autopac logo we treated it like mistletoe and smooched. Now that was a much more pleasant 'collision'!

The other reason Polo Park gave me the shakes was because I was a regular window shopper at Polo Park's Thyme Maternity during my first pregnancy...the one I lost.

I also seem to recall a frightening encounter with the Polo Park down escalators from my childhood, but I think I've repressed it.

This summer there was a reclining lawn chair on sale at Zellers that I wanted to get T. for our anniversary. There was only one left in the city - at the Polo Park location. I made it home with the chair, a stiff neck, and a few more reasons to hate going there, which involve confusing parking ramps and gift cards that drain themselves if you don't spend them in time.

But last night I drove to Polo Park and I can't wait to go back.

I visited a parents' group for moms of kids with disabilities that meets in that area. We shared our experiences with behaviour therapies and stimulant medications, discussed coping strategies, and swapped the battle stories that sometimes make parents of typical kids clear their throats and change the subject. Stories of kids running away in public and parents wishing they could too. Of unhinged doors and falling stipple. (Which, by the way, they wanted me to let you know makes a great hair gel. Scratch off ceiling onto head, rub in and style. Instant body and hold. Not that K.'s naturally "Calvin and Hobbs" hair needs it.)

After 3 hours of laughing and sharing over 7-Up (i.e. 3 hours of laughing on a full bladder) I felt so comfortable (except for my bladder), like I'd known these moms for months.

Polo Park still has parking ramps and gift card fees, but I don't have to worry about those. Just like Autopac can become a reason to kiss, Polo Park has become a reason to laugh.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A house full of pirates and joy

At G.'s dance class last weekend I overheard some moms talking about their families. One mom had five young children and finally felt like her family was complete. She looked very calm for a mother of five. (She owns 2 washers and dryers which helps I'm sure.)

I always imagined T. and I would have four kids, or at the very least three. When we were engaged I had visions of us someday walking through the park with four blonde heads of descending size, like Russian dolls, walking between us.

Okay, so I was a bit naive. What I really got was one blonde head trying to dive into the duckpond and the other one rolling in the grass screaming because her leggings were slipping.

I guess it's sort of like my dream: they could've been brunettes or redheads diving and rolling.

I wonder if the Madonna-Five-Times-Over ever has days like that. From what she said it sounded like she nurses the baby while the other four sit quietly at a table and teach each other the alphabet.

After K. got his diagnosis, I'd see pregnant women and all I could think about was the risk they were taking. Especially by having boys, who are 4 times more likely than girls to have autism and 2-3 times more likely to have ADHD. At the time when people usually talk about having a third, I was so overwhelmed with K.'s behaviour and the needs of a preschool-girl-with-attitude, I didn't even seriously consider it.

Last night I had 5 kids in my house. Three boys from the neighbourhood showed up to play hide-and-seek with K. and G.. I had kids popping out of closets and shower stalls left and right. And it felt like little champagne bubbles popping in my chest.

I loved having a house full of children. And as someone who wanted a little girl very badly, I'm surprised at how much I loved the pirate sword fights and Lego airship factories of K. and his friends. Nine year old boys are a lot of fun. And now that we're permanently diaper and spit-up free, I wonder what it would be like if we had had more? (If we'd made it through the toddler years with a bit of sanity remaining.)

All I know is that I'm grateful that K.'s social skills and our parenting skills have grown so that we now have the energy to welcome more Russia dolls of all colours into our home.

Even if it is only for as long as it takes to bring down a pirate airship.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Why's it called a Terry Fox run if Terry Fox isn't coming?

G. is afraid of the dark, so T. or I often lie down with her in bed for a bit to get her settled. I love those little talks. Last night as we lay cheek to cheek she said, "Guess what? Terry Fox is coming to our school tomorrow!"

When we heart started beating again I whispered, "It's called the Terry Fox run, honey, but I don't think Terry Fox will be there." Please don't make me explain this, I'm thinking.

"Why not? Because he'd dead?"

That would be the main reason, yes. "Yes, Terry Fox died many years ago," I said. "But while he was alive he did such wonderful things that people remember him. Now we run to raise money to help sick people and we name those runs after Terry."

"Mommy, what happened to his leg?"

Here's where I should have probably said, "I don't know." But instead I explained, "He had a sickness called cancer in his leg. They cut off his leg so he could live longer."

"How do you get cancer?" I'm thinking about things from the news and movies: people breathing asbestos, getting too many sunburns, Erin Brockovich and factories contaminating water. Research about needing to eat more spinach. But those aren't really answers.

"We don't know, sweetie."

"Am I going to get cancer?" Her voice is higher now and her lip is trembling.

"I don't think so. Only a few people get cancer."

"I don't want that to happen to me!" She lifts her leg from under the covers and stares at it, wide-eyed. Then she says something about Jesus I don't quite catch. "I want to tell Jesus, but I won't hear his answer."

I'm not sure what she wants to pray but I'm glad she does. It's not usually her first response. "Maybe you will, maybe you won't. You tell Jesus anyway. If I hear his answer I'll tell it to you." She wants me to tell him so I say, "Jesus, G. is sad that Terry Fox got sick and she's scared of getting cancer too."

I hear her squeak out a little, "I love you Jesus." Then she asks me, "Did he answer? Did he say if I will get cancer?"

I thought of something C.S. Lewis wrote about Lucy wanting Aslan to tell her more than she needed to know and said, "Jesus doesn't tell us the end of our stories. He only tells us what we need to know for today. Jesus, what does G. need to know for today?" As soon as I say it, I feel love pouring down on us.

"He said he loves you so much, G." She calmed a bit and a few minutes later fell asleep.

This morning I found out that my Grandma is more ill than I knew. Within the next year I will probably have to have the same conversation with G. about someone much dearer to her than Terry Fox.

"He still love us so much, G. Even now."

Monday, September 22, 2008

"We had high hopes for you" and other difficult things about being family

I love my extended family. Families share so many values, traditions and memories. Families believe in you and have high hopes for you.

Which is why I sometimes feel like wearing a high hope-proof vest.

To brutally misquote Isaiah 55:8: Your hopes are not my hopes and your ways are not my ways, saith Angeline.

My mom's siblings are an academic bunch: psychologist, author/life coach, social worker, corporate lawyer, businessman, programmer. (As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are their incomes higher than mine.) From the time I was knee high to a microfiche, I was told the virtues of marrying late and getting a Masters and a high paying, prestigious career in an academic profession. (Plumbers make good money but that doesn't count. Which is okay, because I'd make a terrible plumber.)

Masters degree - check. Academic career - check. Prestigious - well, my articles have been read by thousands across the country and two have earned awards (see Disabilities and Simplicity links to read the award-winning stories). High paying - not so much. And you can't get married much younger than 21, can you? (I mean legally.)

So at family gatherings as I field the questions: "Why aren't you writing for more publications? Why are you teaching only one class?" I sense a disappointment. Dashed hopes. (When I start talking about drying the dishes by hand their eyes really start to tear up.) I imagine I can hear the unasked questions: "Why is she wasting her education?" "Why isn't she more motivated?"

"Why isn't she like us?"

A few years ago I was more motivated. And miserable. I felt like I had to prove myself to the world by publishing more, winning more, earning more. More, more, more.

No more. I'm at peace with myself and what I do. I write and teach because I enjoy it. I also bake pies and scrub shower tiles because I enjoy it. And I walk kids home for lunch through the park and chat with them about airships and pirates, mermaids and heaven, because I really, really enjoy it!

To take Isaiah 55 in context, God's ways are higher than ours as the heavens are higher than the earth; meaning we're all on the same earth, equal before him and equally below him. I may not have fully lived up to my family's hopes and values, but I am learning to listen to God's way for my life.

I don't want to be like the man Walker Percy was describing when he said, "He got all 'A's' and flunked life." (Which is why I intentionally got some B's in college to make time for important things like donut runs and toilet papering the dean's office. Oh ya, and wooing T. with my feminine charms and working car.)

A few verses down in Isaiah 55 God promises, "You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands." Finding and giving joy is becoming the guiding principle in my life. Not resume-building.

Now if you'll excuse me I have pies to make. Maybe I'll even set one aside in the freezer for the next family gathering.

Friday, August 29, 2008

'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far

Yesterday G. got lost in Zellers. Or, more accurately, I lost her; she was enjoying a rare moment of retail independence in the clothing department. My request for assistance precipitated a "code yellow" and the "perimeter was sealed" while my wandering shopper was hunted down by a red-vested army of shelf stockers, customer service reps, cooks, managers and clerks.

I have to admit I'm feeling a little lost these days.

My youngest is starting grade 1 in a few days. For the past 3 years I've been working hard as a writer to build a reputation and connections. I've sacrificed some time with K. and G. while they were preschoolers to ensure I'd be able to support them once they were older. The idea was that once my kids were both in school full time I would be poised to jump even deeper into the opportunities I had fostered.

Instead I'm letting go of my daughter and my job.

Our buzzword at the office is teamwork: "This organization is the sum of its parts." I guess this part didn't add up to the right sum anymore, so they saw a need to subtract the part-time writer and add in a full-time something-else.

Since I got the news I've been working from home or away on holidays. This week I tried going into the office. I cried for 3 straight hours at my desk. I had to relocate and finish my shift at my "other office" (Starbucks).

I'm wandering lost and so far no knights in shining Zeller's uniforms have come to my rescue.

Get over it, right? It's "just a job." If anyone should know jobs don't last forever it's me. (My husband and I seem to be drawn towards companies secretly on the verge of restructuring!)

But it's not just a job. Every staff meeting we're told, "You've been called here by God. Together we have the opportunity to transform the world." I have my own set of mini-miracles of how God led me here. It's hard to believe I was only supposed to be part of world-transformation for such a short time. I sure don't feel God leading me away. Being let-go is hard. Letting go is harder.

My kids are at a church day camp this week. (It's their fifth VBS this summer. K.'s so full of Bible stories he's started preaching to his bean plant. "It won't live long, you know mom, so it needs to hear the good news before it's too late.") The singing is always the best part of VBS and this week they learned a jazzed up version of "Amazing Grace."

"I once was lost but now I'm found."

This morning I realized it's not: "I once was lost but now I've found my way." I've lost the perfect job, I've lost my "babies," but God's not expecting me to find anything.

He's found me. And he's never letting me go.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

To dream the impossible dream

I have no imagination. That may sound strange considering the fact that I'm a writer, musician, dancer, teacher and mother. How can I do all that without imagining?

I create out of what's there. If it's not there, I can't make it up. I dance the steps I'm shown, I sing the notes on the page, I rearrange the statements from an interview into a meaningful story.

I guess I'm more of a sculptor than an painter. Give me a blank page and it stays blank. Give me a chunk of words and I'll chip away the garbage until the beauty underneath shines through.

My dream is to write a novel. I've been working on it for the past year and I'm not so proud to announce I have....one page. Not necessarily the first page. (It is a very good page though!!)

The thing that's blocking me is that I can't seem to make up things about my characters. Even if I could, it feels like lying. So everything about them and everything they do is from either my life or someone close to me. (Right now the guy is sort of a combination of Tony, my dad, and Ray Goertzen, if you can imagine that! Short, furry, and loves airplanes.)

If I haven't experienced it myself then I can't imagine it happening at all. Which means I'm giving away a lot more of my secrets than I'd like through these characters! How do other people feel deep down about God, sex, death or their own elbows in their most honest moments? I don't know!

So either I need to get comfortable with telling the world my secret fantasies and insecurities or I need to learn to lie. Or God needs to infuse me with a serious dose of imagination. He created an entire universe no one else had ever thought of before, so maybe he could show me how to create a story world from nothing too?

Or maybe I should just stick to writing truth. The truth that I know. Like "How to be your best unemployed self" or "10 things, I hate, about commas" or a commentary on the "Intertextuality of Ezekiel." Informative (for the 1% of the population who would care) but not very inspiring.

No, I have a need to create. A God-given need to lead people towards beauty: the beauty of a Creator who "can do more than anything I can ask or imagine."

Imagine that.

Monday, July 07, 2008

When all hope was lost

Biking around the neighbourhood feels very different this summer.

And not just because I finally have a bike with working breaks, a kickstand that reaches the ground, and more than one gear. I have a very sweet husband, who values me, and my ability to stop before the parked cars, enough to surprise me for our 14th anniversary.

This summer I don't cry every time I go by the school playground.

Before you google "new antidepressant meds" allow me to explain. In May 2007 we found out the school board wanted to close my kids' elementary school, around the block from my house, due to low enrollment. So last June my full time job was ringing doorbells, doing surveys, handing out fliers, calling the division office regarding services and funding policies for small schools, researching the history of the building and its founder, and writing speeches.

And chastising the apathetic parents on the playground. You know, the kind that say, "Oh, we can't make a difference anyway." Or "My kid's going to junior high next year so it doesn't affect me."

When the kids were let out last June, we only knew we had a year-long fight on our hands, with no hope in sight. It was a bunch of zealous soccer moms and dads against the elected pocketbooks.

The suits had already made up their minds. The suits controlled the media. And despite our brilliant presentations, the suits voted to put our school up for review for closure.

Every time I rode by the empty playground and saw the vertical garden the students had just painted, poles full of jellyfish, flowers, fruit and butterflies, I cried. I wept when I imagined the new playground equipment torn down and the playing field sprouting condominiums. Or the building where K. learned to write his name turned into a military base, or a meat packing plant. (Nothing says "happy family neighbourhood" like raw pork and tanks.)

The school board's final vote to close the school was scheduled for the beginning of June. "All through the school year," one staff told me, "not a day goes by when the topic of closure doesn't come up." Like a cloud over our heads. Why plan and dream? Why create and improve when someone is going to tear it all down?

Enter Education Minister Peter Bjornson. Out of the clear blue this June, he passes a bill in legislature placing a moratorium on school closures in Manitoba. Done.

When we heard the bill had passed I heard a parent say, "A week ago it seemed so hopeless, and now it's all turned around. I don't believe in God, but this almost made me wonder..."

I'd have to agree. To step in and save us when all hope was lost and all our efforts had failed sounds very God-like.

I'd like to think rescuing beautiful, safe places where children are loved was on the divine to-do list for 2008.

Race you to the swings!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

reflections on motherhood - the non-apple pie smothered version

This is a short talk I gave tonight at a church baby shower for a sweetie named Zachary. My husband T. thought it deserved wider readership. If you're looking for a speaker for an event I love to talk so feel free to email me. (If you pay me I'll even try to make it funny.)

Of course, I would have to talk about the blessed state of motherhood after a sweaty, gripey Inservice Day with the kids home from school, sitting on the leather sofa in sandy, wet swimsuits and stepping in the flowerbed, and me wanting to throw them onto a passing Canadian Diabetes collection truck! Anyways, here it is:

The top 10 reasons I love motherhood:

1. If you don’t want to go to an Amway party, volunteer on a church committee or take a part time job all you have to say is “Sorry, I don’t have a babysitter.”

2. You get to ride with Merry-Go-Round again, this time without people staring and calling you childish.

3. You have a scapegoat for all your audible farts.

4. The chance to rediscover Charlotte’s Web, the Cat in the Hat, and Voyage of the Dawntreader with a few of the newer classics – Captain Underpants - thrown in.

5. Knowing that in at least one area you’re doing things differently than your mother, and realizing that in every other area…she was right.

6. Finding used Bandaids in your sheets and ½ eaten cupcakes behind the sofa and realizing you don’t care.

7. Being the only one they want to kiss away all their boo boos and chase away their monsters.

8. Weeping with pride from behind your video camera at dance recitals, Christmas pageants, squawky band concerts, and sweaty graduations. He waves and you know he’s waving at you.

9. Knowing, for at least the first 12 years, that there’s a short person who thinks you’re the best mom in the world.

10. No matter what we do – wiping off the waterfall of half-digested tomato and stomach bile soup which cascaded from the bunkbed to the back of your neck before you could say, “What’s wrong honey?” Or bribing them to do times table flashcards or baking floppy birthday cakes or remortgaging the house to pay for college – no matter how mundane or traumatic, everything we do as mothers carries the grand purpose of shaping for God’s kingdom a new, unique image of the Creator with the potential to restore another part of his creation. And so we go on, through leaky diapers and late night leg cramp rubbing, knowing God sees what no one else sees. And he knows our joy and pain because God is a parent, too.

Mothering is full of surprises, as I’m sure you noticed already. Zachary may not sleep or feed like you expected, and there’s a good chance he didn’t arrive like you expected. (Unless you’ve ever swallowed a moving freight train, you can’t really anticipate that kind of force taking possession of your insides.) And so began the loss of control – now your home, your sleep, your schedule, your wallet are no longer totally your own. Your once widened belly gave way to a widened life.

There were a lot of things I didn’t know before I became a parent. (And some things it’s just better not to know before you get there.) Here’s what I wish I had known:

1. Where ever you go there you are. Motherhood didn’t miraculously change my personality overnight. You’d think the responsibility would come with a divine dose of wisdom and maturity but it doesn’t. You don’t become a super-spiritual saintly missionary the day you get off the plane in Africa. You don’t become a great dancer the day you enroll in ballet. Just as Zachary will grow gradually so will you. So be patient with yourself and don’t compare yourself to anyone else.

2. Just like I’m still me, my husband is who he is. And your husband is still who he is. He didn’t turn into a younger version of his father or a cuter version of James Dobson or a white Bill Cosby overnight. I know T. didn’t fit the picture I had in my mind of what he’d be like as a dad – he doesn’t throw the kids in the air (because of his back injury), and he hates rollercoasters. But he does read the Hobbit with crazy voices and he plays piano while they dance. Let Dad be who he will be.

3. You need community. Even if you’re an introvert, motherhood is too big to do all alone. Not every mother will understand the unique challenges you face as a parent, but someone out there will. Find her. And find other mothers who feel alone or misunderstood, because you have gifts to give them as well. Get involved in a small group, mom’s program or Family Centre. (St. George School has a good one.) Motherhood is a tie that unites women across cultures, generations, and languages. (We all have days we want to sell our darlings to the circus.) When you’re in pain reach out for community, don’t isolate yourself.

4. Just because your child came from inside you, doesn’t mean he’ll think anything like you! Take time to understand Zachary’s fears and dreams. When children feel understood they are much more willing to listen. I used to take it personally when my kids disobeyed because I took it to mean they weren’t respecting my authority. But I learned that responding to misbehaviour isn’t to protect our honour as parents, but to use it as an opportunity to teach them kindness and self-control.

So is a child’s willfulness a manifestation of original sin, the divine image, or immaturity? Those who say children are inherently sinful let babies cry because they’re being “selfish” and punish toddler’s “nos” because those must be defiant. People who say children are innocent give them everything they want and excuse their inappropriate behaviour. Those who answer “immaturity” believe kids are just blank slates, raw clay waiting to be molded.

The truth is children are all three, just like the rest of us. We all assert our wills and raise our voices in sometime selfish, sometimes immature, and sometimes divinely prophetic ways. Don’t assume too early that you know which it is.

Galatians 5 says, “When the Holy Spirit controls our lives he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Whether you use time-outs or sticker charts, whether you decide to let him cry it out or rock him to sleep a little longer, aren’t the most important part of discipline; Zachary will learn to follow the Spirit most by watching you model gentleness, self-control and patience, even when he’s flushed your earrings down the toilet. That applies not only to those with children at home, but to all of us as spiritual mothers and grandmothers to others in the family of God.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Where dreams really do come true

We took our first major family vacation this month, the kind that requires passports and plane tickets (but no shots).

There are two types of vacations. Our honeymoon 14 years ago was spent soaking in a jacuzzi, feeding ducks, making puzzles and sandcastles, and drinking sparkling apple juice while watching "Sleepless in Seattle" in a little cottage in the Whiteshell. That's the restful kind.

A couple weeks ago we got on a jet bound for Disneyworld with our kids, my parents, and my brother. We left the house at 3:45 AM and spent every day from 9 AM till 9 PM on our feet in the Florida sun exploring all Mickey Mouse had to offer, from a 13 story elevator drop, to a white water soaking, to a singing Nemo swinging from the rafters. That's not the restful kind! It was a memory-making, relationship-building, mind and body-stretching kind of vacation.

Here are my highlights:

My return to childhood: Other than the fact that I was responsible 24/7 for making sure my kids didn't get lost in a crowd in a strange country, I got to be a kid again. I screamed on the wild rollercoasters. I got little heart flutters when I saw Cinderella, Goofy and Jiminy Cricket. (K. kept reminding me, "Mom, it's just someone in a suit!") And I got to see G.'s wide eyes when she met the Little Mermaid. ("See K., she is a real mermaid with a tail!")

The garbage can: Our first day at lunch K. came running up, jumping and giggling about a robotic trashcan that thanked him for the fries. G.'s response: "See K., I told you everything at Disney was alive!"

The surprises: I listened to G. scream all the way through Thunder Mountain, a runaway train in a old mine. But when the train came to a stop she yelled, "That was great! Let's do it again!" I was afraid the Haunted Mansion would freak K. out but he loved it! I thought the kids would go batty in all the 20-60 minute lineups, but they were so patient.

The star of the show: We went early to "Storytime with Belle" and got a seat in the front row. When Belle came out she said, "I need someone to help me tell the story. My father Maurice was a great inventor. Who will play my father?" and she pointed at K.! She called him on the stage and asked him, "If you were going to invent something what would it be?" He said, "Actually I have plans to build a Hovermobile, which is part airplane, part helicopter." She was so impressed! He was great on stage, quivering with fear in the dark forest and dancing with Mrs. Potts and Lumiere at the happy ending!

The gratitude: As we were getting out of the boat in "It's a Small World," K. told my mom, "Thanks so much for this trip!" She turned to me and said, "You coached him to say that, right?" And I hadn't.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I'll grow into it

My prayer since Christmas has been "God, stretch me to fit my life." Because what he's called me to do feels way bigger than me. Teaching college for the first time is tough. Teaching college while writing a bi-monthly column, working Wednesday mornings at FLN, and raising 2 needy kids is HUGE. (Did I mention the course was on the Book of Revelation?)

Thankfully I'm growing into it.

I'm learning not to sweat the small stuff. There just isn't time or energy. Instead of freaking out I'm saying things like:

"I'm not mad you accidentally broke the antique coffee table. Go choose a story while I carry the pieces downstairs and then we'll read together."
"I hear you spent the morning in the principal's office. What are you going to do differently next time?"

I did not used to sound like that!

The kids have had a rough winter in school and at home. Everyone seems to be jumping to the conclusion that it's because I'm teaching now. Without asking they "know" I must have less time or less patience for my kids than I used to.

Like I said, nobody asked. But I'll tell you anyway.

As far as time: I started prepping for my course 8-10 hours per week in September. Now I'm doing 25 hours/week but I've cut way down on the time I spend on church meetings, shopping, coffee dates, blogging, and watching TV. Before Christmas I spent my weekends napping/cleaning and then prepped while the kids were at school; now I nap while they're at school and prep for my Monday class on the weekends. So mom's still not available Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon, just for different reasons!

G. and I still read and play for an hour every afternoon and I still help K. with his spelling and piano practice after supper. If I'm studying and they get hurt, I still come running to kiss their boo boos. And if it's the middle of the night before I have to teach and they get growing pains, I still get up to rub their feet.

As far as managing my stress so it doesn't affect the kids: I relax, not study, after I put them to bed and I'm asleep by 11:30. I take Tuesday and Thursday (the days after I work) off to nap, watch stupid TV, and make up teddy bear puppet shows from behind the recliner (but only by request).

Those who think the extra "anxiety" of teaching has created a shocking decrease in my motherly patience obviously didn't notice how anxious I as about teaching before I started! And perhaps you've forgotten: I never was the patron saint of peace and patience to begin with!

Today G. said, "When I grow up I want to be a teacher. What do you want to be when you grow up?" When I told her "I already am a teacher" her gasp of delight rocked my world.

I believe God gave me this teaching contract as a gift because he thinks I can do it - without sacrificing my kids! Yes, it's stretching. But I'm not about to snap - I'm growing into it.

And who wouldn't want a mother with an even bigger heart?