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love note no. 8: dear mama.

Dear Mama,

I almost forgot to show you the following picture tonight before we left your house.

sharbot lake

Chris and I woke up to watch the sunrise across the lake, steps away from a tent that housed all the pieces of my heart, the day after we moved out.  We sat in silence for a bit listening to the early morning birdsong and the lone frog in the marsh. Then we took a moment to talk about home, loss, and what we left behind.  But this act of watching the sun rise reminded us not to forget that this was also a beginning.  A beginning of dreams coming true and a choice to live differently.

Thank you for this.  Because of you and Mike, we were able to sit in this beautiful spot to breathe it all in, to sit in all of it without rushing to move on to the next step.

You invited us camping again this year.  Because camping coincided with the closing of our home, you offered to take care of all the food.  We even asked if you could set up our tent since we would be arriving in the evening.  You and Mike did that and so much more.

We arrived after dinner and the sight of the tent set up beside your tent and the smell of food almost brought me to tears.  Mike and the rest of your friends made sure we were fed.  Mike told me you went on a hike to watch the sun set.  He also told me how you got into trouble from the park ranger the night before for laughing too loud.  Amazing.  This is all a miracle to me: camping with you, you hiking in the woods, and you having way too much fun with your girlfriends.

For the last couple of years, I thought I was the only one pushing my edges.  I never imagined we would be camping together or that I would need you this way.  I would need my mom.  Not the mom of my childhood, the mom of my teenage years, or the mom who was around in my twenties.  I needed the mom who continues to show up for all of us.  This is the mom right in front of me.  The mom I have always wanted.  What we have now, what we have worked so hard to build, is a miracle.  The product of unrelenting forgiveness and a liberating love.

I have never seen you have so much fun outdoors.  I don’t think I have ever even seen you in hiking shoes before.  It’s very cute. You even used the outhouse a couple of times instead of driving to the “nice” washrooms.  After pointing out the white pine to you, I watched you use a needle as a toothpick.  I think our jaws dropped at that point.  You were playful, relaxed, peaceful, and soft.

I am so grateful for not having to worry about food or pretty much anything this whole weekend.  I could sit and have my coffee and rest.  You didn’t let me help.  You puttered around the stoves and the prep area, doing what you do best – cooking for others.  You spent time with each of the kids and made #4’s birthday on Saturday a special one by finding a place to buy a birthday cake.  And when we got home, you invited us to the movies and threw a surprise birthday party for #4 with the rest of the family.  We slept over last night and you kept on cooking.

Thank you for holding the space for me in a setting where I least expected you to.  Thank you for taking care of me, Chris, and the kids.  Thank you for laughing out loud.  Thank you for being you.

I am so grateful that you are my mother.

I love you,

Sunny

***

100 days of love notes…

 

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love note no.7: dear new owners.

After we did the last bit of moving and cleaning up on Friday, we headed camping which explains why I have missed another day of love notes.  I needed a day to reflect on the following love note.  It was a tough one to write but a needed one…

Dear new owners,

On Friday you moved into our old home.  I want you to know that I did my best to clean it out especially because in our closing agreement, the term “broom swept” was emphasized.

That little bit of housekeeping was the last thing we did while the house was still ours.  We swept it out.  My oldest daughter took the broom and swept the main floor first.  I watched how she silently she swept it.  The rest of the kids were outside.  I stood there watching her sweep not sure what to do with myself.  I wondered what she was thinking.  She never really volunteers to sweep but she wanted to do this today.  I feel like she had to do this.

After she was done, she passed the broom to me.  I had already swept most of the debris the day before.  The bits of lego, crumbs, and stray bits of our everyday had littered the floor.  Today I felt that this last chore was a formality.  I was going through the motions.  I was going over every bit of floor space as slowly as I could.

Sweeping had always been meditative for me.  When the kids were little, I would grab the broom four or five times a day.  Some think it’s a futile endeavour but I happen to love the act of sweeping the floor.  When life was chaotic with five children, I could grab the broom and focus on this one thing.

Sweeping was the first thing I did when we arrived in the house after we took possession almost ten years ago.  We only had three kids at the time and they weren’t with us that first night when we moved in.  I was exhausted from moving from a small townhouse to this larger semi-detached home.  As I swept the middle bedroom for the last time, I smiled to myself as I came across a white paint splatter that was still on the floor.  I remember not putting a tarp down as we painted in a hurry those first few days in the house.  I wanted the middle room painted before the kids came home.

The middle room was for #2 and #3.  They were getting a bunk bed while the eldest would get her own room.  It was a perfect sized home for a family of five.  But the night we moved in, I didn’t feel well.  That night I would make my husband run out to the store to buy a pregnancy test.  That night we found out we were expecting our fourth.

I swept and reminisced.  With each sweep, I came across yet another mark we made on this house.  Two coats of trim paint couldn’t cover the growth chart that is outside the middle bedroom door – a physical reminder of time passing. I did a sweep under the master bedroom window and stopped in front of it to look out at the kids playing in the driveway for the last time.  This is where I would stand and watch.  I would stand and watch all of them as I rocked a baby to sleep, as I sipped my coffee, as I gathered myself for another round of refereeing.  I swept inside the linen closet which is the perfect hiding spot for hide-and-seek and even better for a game of sardines.  My second daughter once decided it would be her bedroom when our fourth was born.  I think she moved all her things in there as a protest for having to share her room with yet another sister.  It’s also perfect for a clubhouse or secret hiding place for extra snacks.

I want to tell you how the basement can fit three mattresses side by side for family sleeps for those hot summer nights or those rainstorms that scare your babies.  And the basement is perfect for a haunted house.   Sorry there are no locks on any doors.  We just never got around to it. The upstairs bathtub can fit three kids comfortably, but four if you can rinse them in less than a minute.  Watch out for the corner on the top high counter when the kids are going through a growth spurt.  Each of my children except the last one who hasn’t quite grown tall enough yet have pierced their head on the corner closest to the dining room.  The shed can fit ten bikes easy.  The best place for a Christmas tree is in that corner to the right of the fake fireplace.  (Trust me, we have tried every possible place in that living room.)  The stairs are perfect for mattress sliding (if that’s the type of thing your family is into).  The kitchen can fit five kids around the stove taking turns to flip homemade perogies. The dining room can also be a volleyball court, an art studio, and a school room.  Speaking of the school room, there used to be a chalkboard painted on the wall where the stairs are – it is where I learned to be an artist again.  The porch is perfect for star gazing, lunches and dinners al fresco, private (enough) talks, and a perfect spot for an adult time out.  The front window is perfect for looking out at our magnolia tree through the seasons.  Make sure you are around in May when it blooms.  We missed it a few times over the years and the kids were always disappointed to come home to green leaves on the tree and pink petals on the ground.  I’m sorry we got rid of the tree stumps in the back.  I wasn’t sure if you saw them as “debris” or as my kids saw them: endless props for their make-believe narratives.

Oh and the floor creaks and we love it that way.

I swept down the hall to the small bedroom at the back of the house.  It was my eldest daughter’s room for most of our time there.  There were a lot of cuddles and conversations in that room.  A year ago we moved her with her sisters to the master bedroom while my husband and I took this room for ourselves.  I wanted the morning sun and my growing girls needed more room.

Just outside this room is a special place where the stairs meet the hallway.  We have a decal of words up that our family has lived by all these years.  We have spent many times reading it to the children reminding them of who we are.

decal

But you may notice that the space slightly to the right of it is worn out.  It is the space where once you get upstairs you are turning to head down the hallway.  I stop here with the broom because I feel it the most here.  I feel the overwhelming love for this house.  I feel the weight of knowing that I will not have this spot to stand in anymore.  You see, this is the place where I have stood and embraced every member of my family.  It is the place where we meet in the middle.  It is the place where we soften. I go up the stairs to say sorry or to check on them and they come out of their rooms to seek me to try again.  They know where to find me.  In that spot.  In front of those words  – our intentions, our family statement.

As I stood there one last time reading it, my fourth child came up the stairs beside me.  She read it out loud.  For the first time, I heard her read it all out loud.  Our theme song. I started to cry and she hugged me in that spot and went downstairs.  And then another child came out of the middle bedroom.  She saw me standing there.  She ran to me and fell into my arms sobbing.  I held her one last time in this halfway place.

goodbye

I held her there for a long time.  And then we all held her together.  It was time to leave.  It’s time to move forward.

As I swept this house for the last time, I wanted to tell you our story.  I had this idea of making a map for you.  I wanted to be able to give you a tour of this house through my heart.  Maybe you would understand then what this house means to me.  I want to tell you that I leave here feeling mostly relieved.  Relieved that we did it – that  did it.  I did the thing that I never thought I could do, that I was scared that I would never do when I had my baby eighteen years ago.  I made a home.  The first home I never wanted to leave.  The first home that my kids will hold all their future homes as a standard – a home filled with tradition, a home filled with laughter, a home filled with love.

But of course, I won’t leave you a letter with all of this.  That wouldn’t be fair.  You will create your own manifesto and write your own story with your family.  I hope you feel how much love circulated through the walls and in all the rooms.  I hope you take care of this place that has given so much to us.  I have swept out the old for you so you can make it new again.  We did our best to leave the most beautiful energy for you to start your life in this house.

And maybe you will see a yellow bird on the wire outside the bedroom window.  If you do, it’s probably just my grandmother making sure we’ve moved on.

Love,

Rozanne

***

100 days of love notes…

 

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love note no. 6: dear community…part 3.

I know, I know. I am a day late but for more than 24 hours, with a small sleep break, I have been occupied with moving.  Packing, cleaning, donating, moving, negotiating, compromising, and having our last supper of shawarma in our beloved house.

But of course, we didn’t and couldn’t do this final move by ourselves like pretty much everything else in our lives, we had help.  So this letter today is for a special group of people that have had my back during our years in the east end.  My tribe of peeps.  

Dear east end girlfriends and my homeschool peeps,

You guys.  No words. Well, of course I have some words for you.  I have had lots of words for you, some of them vulgar and unbecoming.  But you loved me nevertheless.  And you have listened and laughed, mostly at me, but laugh you did.  You commiserated and we bitched in unison which at times sounded just as sweetly as birds in song.

You know the saying, Birds of a feather, flock together and talk about our kids over a bowl of chips and hummus and a cup of coffee, and on those bad days, a bar (or two) of chocolate. (That’s obviously the homeschooler version.)

In When Women Were Birds: 54 Variations on Voice, Terry Tempest Williams writes, “There are two important days in a woman’s life: the day she is born and the day she finds out why.”

My grandmother passed away in 2006.  I have told you this story before. After she died, I felt her guide me back to East York – back to the place of my beginnings and the place where I have felt some of the happiest moments of childhood.

The first morning that I woke up in our beloved east york home, the one we have just said goodbye to, I saw a yellow bird sitting on a wire outside my bedroom window.  She just sat there staring at me.  It was if she was saying, “You are home.” I haven’t seen her since.

I was re-born in East York in 2006.  And I didn’t know why at the time. I didn’t know why my grandmother was pulling me back.

But now I do.  It was to find you all.

Our biggest life choices began at that time – having a larger family, homeschooling, Chris taking a risk to work online to spend more time at home, eating food grown closer to home.  Choices that I don’t think I would have made without being surrounded by a tribe that nourished me in every stage I needed it.  They shone light on things that I took for granted.

Each of you have taught me something about myself.  A different variation of my own voice.  With you at my side, I could safely rewrite the story of a girl spending childhood in apartments overlooking a ravine system I would come to know dearly because of you.  I hiked weekly with a baby strapped on my front while “gently” guiding a three year old while my other children frolicked ahead in all kinds of weather.  We mamas camped on our own with our babies which I never in a million years imagined I could do.  I jumped in Ontario lakes for the first time ever because of you.  I learned that to know when to soften and when to be firm enough to set boundaries is probably the greatest strength a mother could learn which I did while listening to all of your stories.

I stood in awe of women holding space for their children to be who they’d to be, nursing outdoors and in cars in below freezing weather, building fires and tending them so we all could stay warm, giving permission to their children to dream big, and saying yes over and over again despite exhaustion and illness.

But we can say yes to these people over and over again because we have had each other.  I take your kids.  You take mine.  You have taught my children when I couldn’t.  You have hugged my children when I couldn’t.  You have taught me to forgive myself when I couldn’t by saying, “Yeah, me too.”

“Word by word, the language of women so often begins with a whisper.” – Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds

We may have begun with whispers. But the memories of how we met elude me.  You are my everyday.  My normal.  Our language is a different one.

In one of the kids’ outdoor programs, their mentors taught them how to do a bird sit.  Everyone goes to various places in the ravine and sit quietly for a length of time and then listen.  They listen to the bird talk and the bird song.  They map out where they heard it and roughly when.  And then we all gather back and compare notes.  From all these different perspectives and songs, a story is told.  Someone talks about a group of chickadees totally freaking out.  Someone else says from their position they saw hawks circling.  The kids learn the different types of birdsong and what they might mean – mating, frolicking, danger, hunger, etc. Once you can interpret the song, you understand the language of the forest because birds are the storytellers.

I know your song.  I know your eyeroll and that heavy sigh.  I know when you say “I am looking into this other math curriculum” that means I should come over and talk you off the ledge. I know what February to April does to your homeschooling: sledding, skating, and afternoon playdates.  And friends who don’t homeschool or who are ex-homeschoolers, I know your frustration with school and the busy-ness of life.  This is my song too.  All of it.

We all sing different tunes and have unique flight patterns.   But I have found a tribe of women, my squawking flock, that find solace in knowing that we all end up singing the same song.

“The sin we commit against each other as women is lack of support. We hurt. We hurt each other. We hide. We project. We become mute or duplicitous, and we fester like boiling water until one day we erupt like a geyser. Do we forget we unravel in grief?”  – Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds

Fortunately, I have had you all during the good times and the bad times.  But now I am unravelling in grief.  I have nothing to say.  My cries are my song.  Thank you for knowing when to ask and not to ask how I am doing.  Thank you for the hugs and the gentle arm squeezes.  Thank you for the laughter to break the seriousness.

Thank you for helping me clean out my house and pack it up.

I am sure I will write another love note to you all within the next 100 days. I am sure I have forgotten some act of kindness and camaraderie that needs to be acknowledged.  But mostly today, I appreciate you for helping me through this process.  You understand this decision even when the outside world may not.  By virtue of being a homeschooler or being my friend in general, you probably do things unconventionally.

And of course, I can’t find a decent picture of all of us together.

East ender forever.

Love you,

Rozanne

***

100 days of love notes…

 

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love note no. 5: dear community…part two.

For the next few days until we leave our house for the last time, my love notes are dedicated to our neighbourhood and community we have built for the last ten years.  They are love letters to places and people that have helped raise our children and who have supported our family in different ways.  In ten years, we were able to create a small town feel in the middle of a big city.

Today’s note is a blanket love note to all our neighbours on our street who have offered comfort, solace, encouragement, care, support, and love to our crazy homeschooling family of seven…

Dear neighbours,

First an apology.

our lovely burdock

I am sorry for letting the burdock grow to heights that make you cringe.  But I love this plant for many reasons besides it’s medicinal qualities. I am sorry for leaving the bikes out and the porch full of beach gear.  I am sorry for the after dinnertime ball bouncing in the alley. I am sorry for forgetting that I have left the windows open and you had to hear for the thousandth time my rhetorical questions such as “Why do people leave dirty dishes on the counter when they should know what to do?” or “Am I the only one that notices the spilt rice on the floor?” or my personal favourite, “Can someone tell me why on God’s green earth would anyone put back an empty fill in the blank  in the fridge?”  I am sorry that we knock on your doors to borrow an egg or two or a cup of something at least once a week.  I am sorry I may have missed returning a greeting because my head was down while I marched five kids in the van to avoid being late.  I am sorry for my kids sounding like elephants while they went up and down the stairs on the other side of our shared wall.  I am sorry for turning up the dancehall so loud first thing in the morning because it was the only music that would wake my body up.  I am sorry for all the house parties with my rowdy family and out-of-control homeschooling friends (you know who you are).  I am sorry that my husband works out daily with his shirt off in the backyard. (Actually, I’m not so sorry for that one.)

Not once did you complain about any of it. (Okay, maybe you did mention the burdock a couple of times.)

Instead you bought and planted native flora in the front yard because it was an easy-to-take-care-of solution when my hands were filled with babies. You accepted my children’s baked goods on festival days, sometimes choking down the pastries with burnt bottoms with the kindest of expressions.  You asked sincere questions about homeschooling in the beginning and became open to another option of learning.  You embraced me with pride when my first born got accepted into a university program of her choosing, an achievement that I think we felt we all shared.  You talked to me about spirituality, childbirth, single motherhood, poetry, travel, parenting, trauma, and of course, the damn burdock.

I could confidently send my children out to play each day, sometimes locking the door from the inside for sanity reasons, and know that there was a whole street looking out for them.  Rather than berate me for letting my children play outside unsupervised (and perhaps without enough clothes on in the winter), you looked upon it as refreshing and wished the rest of society would follow our lead.

You talked to my children about their sidewalk chalk art, their volleyball tournaments, and their driving lessons.  You took the time to show them the tiny cracked robin’s egg you found and the hawk that might have been the guilty culprit.  You let them pet your dogs and smell your pretty roses, both of which I couldn’t keep while raising little ones.  You gave them babysitting jobs which allowed my second born a sense of independence and confidence while being an arm’s length away from home and which also helped fund my first born’s world travel.  You hosted a lunch so that I could meet your friend’s daughter, an ayurvedic postpartum specialist, and sat for hours as I picked her brain.  You egg on the kids as they chase Chris and I around the house with the hose on a hot summer’s day.

You were our little village.  You made us feel safe to be unconventional out loud.  You even offered my oldest a place to stay if she needs to be in Toronto.  Home would not be the same without any of you.  We all live so close together that we can hear each other’s phone conversations and yes, even intimate exchanges (again, sorry that I left the windows open).  We know when each other is home and look after each other’s houses when we leave.  When we were away in Costa Rica these past two winters, you shovelled our driveways, collected our mail, and emailed us updates.

We take turns taking the garbage/recycling and green bin to the curb.  Sometimes we do it, sometimes you do it.  Whoever gets there first.  No one keeps score.  We all know that each one of us are just trying to do our best.  When I mentioned to a neighbour how rage-y I had been as a teen and how I do succumb to lady rage from time to time, she looked at me shocked and said that I was the most peaceful person she had ever known. Cue hugs and tears.

We may not know every detail of each other’s lives but I know enough to see that my family has been surrounded by genuinely good people for the last 10 years.  We were the last ones to move in and are the first ones to move out.  I can’t believe we are saying goodbye.

We love you and thank you for loving us right back.

Love,

Rozanne

P.S.  My last parting gift will be removing the burdock.  You’re welcome.

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love note no. 4: dear community…part one.

For the next few days until we leave our house for the last time, my love notes are dedicated to our neighbourhood and community we have built for the last ten years.  They are love letters to places and people that have helped raise our children and who have supported our family in different ways.  In ten years, we were able to create a small town feel in the middle of a big city.

Today’s bite-sized notes are addressed to various places and people who have supplied some of our food that fed us physically – fresh and local fare mixed with grocery runs.

Dear local farmer’s market,

The kids spent the morning making thank you cards and letters for you.

farmers market cards

With images of sweet potatoes, honey bees, and strawberries, the kids wrote to their favourite vendors. The ones who we have visited every Tuesday from May to October for almost 7 years.  The Honey Lady.  The Sweet Potato Guy.  The Smoothie Man.  Mr. Cinnamon Bun and Mrs. Pepperette.  The Melon gals. To name a few.

You have been a reliable homeschooling resource.  Because of you, I have been able to teach my urban children where their food comes from, how it is grown, and what “seasonal” truly means.  We have had some great discussions at the dinner table about whether we should continue to buy bananas because of your presence.  They have taste tested a variety of apples, peaches, mushrooms, and melons and have an appreciation for growing their own little plant gardens from seed.  They have had the opportunity to learn to budget and to meal plan with just using local foods.  In addition to locally grown fruits and vegetables, you have surprised us with your other wares. We have bought Indian food, sprouted pea plants, chocolate mint, the fanciest stinky cheese, and bread named “Maria” from your stalls.

For the last six years, we have celebrated our first day of school with you.  As kids and parents hurried to get to school, we leisurely strolled down the street to hang out and have our first lessons in the park next door to you.  I remember pulling a wagon with two, then three children with one in the wrap.  We would buy a couple bushel of tomatoes and bring them home for freezing.  And we soon became known as that “homeschooling family” because we would be there to chat and to sample and to enjoy your presence on an ordinary Tuesday morning in the spring, summer, and fall.

We have made scavenger hunts centred around you and sang seasonal songs based on the treasures you keep.  You have also been a place to go when I needed a break, buying myself that sweet potato golden brownie and shoving it down in sweet bliss while the kids were off looking for that elusive rainbow zucchini on the bottom of the shopping list.  Thank for playing along. Wink. Wink.

We shared our love for you with other homeschooling friends with whom we would meet and sit on those park benches by the secret passage through the hedges.  One friend introduced us to the service berry trees that lined your perimeter and it always made me giggle a little to watch our children pick the trees when they ripened while market-goers shopped for berries.

Like many things in our neighbourhood rhythm, I will miss you.  Tuesdays are actually called Market Day in our house. Thank you for being a 10 minute walk away.  A 10 minute walk to fresh food and familiar faces…

honey lady

sweet potato guy

This year they are changing the way you look.  They have ripped up the grass in the centre where the vendors used to set up.  There is a little more concrete.  You are still a work in progress and we may not see you finished any time soon.  But goodbye and we love you.

farmer's market reno

Love,

Rozanne

***

Dear local grocery store ladies and gentlemen,

Today the kids also made thank you notes to you.  You beautiful people who have spent the last ten years watching my kids grow as we shopped at our local grocery store.

You are wonderful cashiers, customer service staff, stock people, bakers, deli and cheese staff, and managers that have made grocery shopping an amazing experience.

Yes. You heard me right. I had five young children and LOVED going to the grocery store for a decade.  This was because the people that work at our local grocery store became our extended family.

There were times when I was exhausted and you held my crying baby or gave a balloon to a toddler distracting them from a tantrum.  There were times when I was functioning on so little sleep that I couldn’t remember why I was there and you helped me find what I needed through guess-and-test and charades.  You signalled me over to the express checkout even when I had more than eight items (more like 300 items) because the kids were starting to get restless or the baby needed to nurse and you didn’t flinch when people complained.  When we had extra long chats and you talked to the kids individually at the checkout, and the customers behind us would start grumbling, you ignored them.   You always had our back.

You saved 50% off items for me.  You directed me to the organic items on sale even though you thought I was crazy trying to feed a family of seven paying an arm and a leg for this food.  You helped me search high and low for Borax when we needed it for a science experiment.  You took time to listen to my third daughter ramble on about her fourth birthday party even though you had about a million boxes of crackers to stock.  You gave us all hugs every time you saw us. You gave my fourth daughter free cookies at the  bakery when she went to get the sourdough sliced. You were the village aunties and uncles I needed in the middle of winter when all I could manage was to get four snowsuits on to go to the grocery store.

And you knew our names. You knew each and every one of our names.

It was not hard to be a young mom of five in that grocery store.  There was no judgement. No one made assumptions. You only showed compassion and support.  Everyone knew we homeschooled and looked forward to our daily visits in the morning when the store was empty.  While we homeschoolers worry about letting our kids out of sight in fear someone may “report them,” the grocery store was their safe haven where everyone took care of them.  And lately I would sit and have coffee and chat with one of you while my kids did the shopping.

This is Lorraine.  We love her. She opens a cash register up just for us every time we go so we don’t have to line up. Her son just got married.  She is an amazing woman.  She’s a young mama too.

lorraine

I remember watching my daughter try to order at the deli.  I don’t think the deli guy could see her and she wasn’t speaking up.  Customers kept ordering ahead of her. I watched a manager come out of nowhere and help her himself.  He noticed her standing there and I could see him asking her what she needed and he went behind the counter and took care of the order himself.

You taught my children that the world is a loving place and that they matter, that their existence matters to you.

And today I cried in the middle of this busy grocery store.  I cried because I told them all how much I appreciated their small acts of kindness and patience and how grocery shopping with five children is a feat in and of itself and how they made it such a pleasant one.  We said goodbye and hugged.  You called people on the P.A. to come say goodbye and all of our favourites came off their break to give my children free chocolate and the biggest of bear hugs.  You took our picture and placed our thank you note and our pic on the staff bulletin board and expressed how nice it was to hear something good instead of another complaint.

When I first entered that grocery store ten years ago, my goal was to feed my family’s bellies.  What I didn’t expect was how you all would feed their hearts and spirits too.

Thank you all and we love you.

Love,

Rozanne

***

100 days of love notes…

 

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love note no. 3: dear first born.

Dear first born,

I miss you. I envy you. I think about you.

I have just received a text from you containing another slew of pictures from where you are.  You are staying in a hostel with a view of the Mediterranean from a small Italian coastal town.  Your views are stunning but your words accompanying the picture make me miss you even more.  You mention the hundreds of steps it took to get up the hill carrying your backpack.  You said you had felt like Frodo climbing the steps to get to the secret passage to Mordor. Yes. My worldly, yet nerdy, teenager just referenced her romantic Italian experience to a piece of Tolkien literature.

frodo

That’s my girl.

You have taught me many lessons but there is one very important one that I keep learning through you.  I’ll get to that in a second.

Before you left, you gave me my birthday gift which I opened a few days ago. Included in the gift was a beautifully packaged chocolate bar.  Let me rewind a bit.

soul chocolate

Your love of chocolate-making began unexpectedly in Costa Rica when Paul gave you a chance to volunteer at Caribeans. I knew you were bored and needed something to get you going in the morning.  You expected that this would be a chance to brush up on your Spanish and to make friends which you did.  Your interest in learning about cacao and how to make chocolate was probably low or an afterthought.  This volunteer gig allowed you to hop on the bike and be independent, something that you are so accustomed to being born and raised in the city.

You fell in love with the process of making chocolate.  You appreciated it as an art in and of itself – the making was artist work and the final product was a delectable masterpiece.  We came home from Costa Rica and you were full of life – ready for the world and all its possibilities.

But then you couldn’t find a job.  That sucked.  No one was going to hire you since you were leaving for Italy in the summer and leaving the city in the fall.  At least you were honest about it.  But then, as the synchronicity of life would have it, you were offered an internship by some local chocolatiers who had just started their business, Soul Chocolate.  They were eager to hear about the cacao in Costa Rica and the process you had witnessed.  You declined their offer because you wanted a paying job.

I think after that awkward interview at the local wax salon, and the fact that they were concerned you couldn’t do the receptionist job because you didn’t have a high school diploma, made you hit a low that you had never experienced.  You weren’t used to not having a job.  You have been working since you were twelve to save money for your travels.  At one point, you were working four jobs when you were sixteen.  You learned so much about life and what you enjoyed doing through work.  And I could only stand by on the sidelines now watching you becoming increasingly frustrated with life.

I remember one night you came home and sat your dad and I down.  You said maybe you weren’t going to do your semester abroad in the fall.  You said maybe you should stay in Toronto and work at a cafe and live in a basement apartment with roommates.

Do you remember what I said?

I said, “That is probably the stupidest f*cking idea I have ever heard.  You are scared.  You are living deep in the unknown right now.  And that can be scary.  You have been talking to too many people scaring the shit out of you about the ‘future’ and ‘being responsible.’ Choosing this option is what frightened people who live inside boxes would do.  You are not that person.  Go to bed.  Write about it in your journal.  Confront it.  This is what I am here to be for you – not your friend who keeps her mouth shut but your mother who is here to tell you the truth.”

I am pretty sure you thought I was harsh that night.  We spent the next day together hanging out and I took more time to patiently explain what I meant.  If money is the motivator, you will miss out on other opportunities that can lead to places where you least expect.  Holed up in a basement apartment working at a local Starbucks probably won’t lead to adventures that take you deeply into yourself.  Surrender and have faith.  Make your intentions clear and look out for signs.  And I also suggested you read The Alchemist.

And do you remember what happened?  In the next day or two, you received a text from friends that needed you to babysit their kids while they were away for a few days.  You were able to make some money taking care of children you love and who you have looked after since you were twelve.  And then you received an email from those chocolatiers.  They wanted you.  They really wanted you.  They felt really bad about not being able to pay you but they thought that they would reach out one more time.

And here is our text exchange after you received the email and you didn’t know what to do:

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 11.24.11 AM

And you accepted.  And you fell in love with making chocolate.  You made chocolate from bean to bar.  You brought home samples for us to taste, teaching us how to delight in the texture and identify the tasting notes.  You talked about the cacao beans and where they came from.  You talked about the experiments that you participated in with the owners who you adored – a young couple that LOVES what they do.  Their passion reignited your own passion for enjoying life again.  You started to make choices that brought you joy without worrying about the cost, the future implications, or what people thought.

And when I opened my gift a couple of days ago and I saw that chocolate bar you made, I was reminded of that lesson that you keep teaching me.  When you sent us that video from Genoa, that video of you slowly finishing three scoops of gelato sandwiched in a freshly baked brioche, I couldn’t help but laugh at the lesson you were giving all of us.  (Your siblings weren’t impressed at your callous disregard for their feelings, but I appreciated it.)

gelato and brioche

And this lesson that you keep teaching all of us is TO SAVOUR.  To enjoy something slowly and completely.  The word is derived from Old French, savorer “taste, breathe in; appreciate, care for.”

You are the expert on savouring.  Whether it be a new scent you wear that makes you happy or the taste of well-made chocolate, you remind me to savour, to get lost in my senses.  Savouring is the gateway to feeling ALIVE.  I remember you describing a cacao husk tea infused with maple syrup with frothy milk added to it, something that they were experimenting with at Soul Chocolate.  You described it in detail and with such appreciation for the combination and the way it made you FEEL.  You made it for me one morning and I understood.  Instead of rushing through a hectic morning, I stopped long enough to enjoy this moment with you.  We were at your grandparents’ kitchen counter and we sipped it slowly together.  The smoky sweetness hit the spot.  And when we had finished, you rushed out the door to catch a train to the test kitchen and I continued the day with a greater appreciation for just about everything.

You may not want to make chocolate forever.  But choosing to accept the internship was a gift.  As you sit on top of the hill watching the sun go down in Cinque Terre, I know you understand how to savour it.  Every experience is fleeting but you are learning to tap into the eternal NOW each time you stumble upon beauty and joy.  By accepting that internship, you felt it.  You felt that electric feeling of doing and creating something you love.  Hold on to that.  That is your compass by which you should live.

cinqueterre hostel

I know that there will be times when you doubt and you are afraid of not having enough and start aligning your choices based on money like buying Mr. Noodle in Italy to stay on budget.  I get it.  I lived on Corn Pops and Mr. Noodle after I moved out at 18.  I wish I knew to trust that by doing things that brought me to that place of creative bliss, I would be fed.

I should have bought myself that good piece of chocolate that would have cost a week’s worth of food.  You have taken it one step further by making it yourself and understanding that it is the process of creation that we learn to savour.

Thank you for being you.

I love you so very much.

(And I am out of chocolate.  So hurry back will ya?)

Love,

Mama

P.S. Thank you for giving me permission to share this private letter.  You are amazing and I am blessed to have you be one of the greatest teachers in my life.

***

100 days of love notes…

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love note no.2: dear lady rage.

Dear Lady Rage,

I didn’t have a name for you until a friend of mine sent me a newsletter on this subject by Two Bossy Dames where you are the topic of conversation:

DM: WELL, it’s hardly surprising, given the way Society pathologizes ANY emotion women express that’s not Bright Sunny Pleasantness, that women tend to shove anything more complicated or powerful than that under the rug UNTIL we explode with a marginally incomprehensible level of incoherent fury.

DS: Oh, my goodness, yes, when your palette of Officially Acceptable Emotions runs the whole entire gamut from Very, Very Mildly Annoyed (But It’s Fine, Totally Fine) to Absolutely Transported By Joy (But Not Too Often, Lest Ye Be Mistaken For a Manic Pixie Dream Girl Or Hysterical), it’s easy to see how that would be a problem. People get really worked up about female anger, and it’s a strong undercurrent in these pixel pages every week. Maybe it’s a stronger leitmotif in our minds than it is in the actual words, though? That feels uniquely feminine, too.

Around this time of naming you, I was learning about Oya in my Sacred Female Soul Journey course from my friend Hannah.  In Yoruba, Oya means “She Tore.”  She is the only African Orisha brave enough to confront death.  Oya would definitely be the poster-lady of rage.  But where Oya is the goddess of winds and tempests and signals a dignified and powerful rage, you sometimes seem like a toddler throwing a tantrum in the guise of a mature married woman with five children…

pre-rage

You arrived as an uninvited party crasher yesterday morning on my birthday.  See this picture above?  This was taken right before you came.  A mild incident blew the door wide open enough for you to make a grand entrance, sashaying to centre stage wrapped in a pink boa of arrogant self-righteousness disguised as justified indignation.  Each step you took in your piercing stilettos detonated a slew of f-bombs and cries of outrage.

Thank goodness I escorted you outside on a stroll through our city ravines.  In an amazing display of sacrifice and unconditional love, my Ever-Patient husband accompanied us both on our rage walk.  You needed both a spectator and audience participant and with a deep sigh he reluctantly volunteered.

For a while I thought I had exorcised you out of my psyche.  You had disappeared.  I looked for you at a certain time every month but all I found was Lady Weary with her signature eye roll and slouched shoulders.  Maybe I missed the signs of your presence.  I couldn’t detect you when I took the path of least resistance.  As far as I can tell, you went to sleep when you figured you weren’t needed.  I had a bag of tricks that repelled you and kept you in the shadows.

But you were in fine form yesterday morning.  For the first hour of our rage walk, you performed the first act rather convincingly but very predictably.  You began with the usual Rant n’ Rage and then progressed to the Cuss n’ Cry.  Even in the tangle of our beautiful ravine system, you managed to disturb the peace of cyclists, pedestrians, and animals alike.  You even snapped at hubby dearest for saying Good Morning to every passer-by because you really held tight to the belief that in fact, it wasn’t a good morning.  To each her own, I say.

About halfway through, you threw my flip flops in the brush.  Apparently, in addition to cheery morning greetings and amicable head nods from strangers in spandex, your footwear was aggravating you too.  You definitely got your badass Leo self on at the expense of everyone in your roar path, including me.  At this point, you took pleasure in berating me as a deplorably annoying hypocritical earth mother that not too long ago hated walking barefoot and killed insects at will.  In that moment, I knew that this rage was different.  It was from a desperate place.  A place that wanted to stay hidden and dark.  A place where my sorrow burrowed a hole where it stayed worried about being unearthed and caressed.

Lady, you taught me what sorrowful rage could feel like.  It was a descent I had put off.  A descent into shadow. When I saw this, I wanted to tear my clothes off and sit on a rock like that Van Gogh sketch I had found.  And in the midst of walking barefoot with my husband who was now walking at a safe distance apart from me – far enough away for me to flail without him getting caught with a sharp elbow to the face and close enough to hold a space of love and compassion so I could just let it all out without fear of judgement and reproach.  With this act of love, he withheld opinions, solutions, and defensive tactics.  He saw you, Lady Rage, and he dared you to try your best to conquer love.

Obviously, you were no match.  You had no idea what walking barefoot would do to you.  You had no clue that it would stop you long enough for me to stop the Cuss n’ Cry and move to Surrender n’ Sob.  You weren’t prepared for mama earth herself to step in and take care of us – both of us.

You fought hard.  I admired your tenacious pursuit of being right and how you spewed with reckless abandon, weaponizing words like ‘should’ and ‘can’t.’  I admit that I felt the thrill and liked it – the rush of heat that churned from an ancient and wounded place, an unmapped territory found deep within the female body.

When my hand grazed the Queen Anne’s Lace, the softness of the flowers softened you.  I noticed your brief hesitation before saying out loud, “Nice try you little weed.  You can’t wake me up from this.  I have her and I am not letting her go.”  Then you tugged me back to the darkness even as my toes were tickled by the stalks of plantain.   I heard you faintly murmuring, “Oh plantain, you son of a bitch.”  I formed a small smile recalling memories of the kids and I using its leaves for healing on our nature walks.

Then there it was, all alone in a perfect green patch of grass.  The buttercup.  Golden and innocent with a sheen that sparkled in the sunlight.  You started to tell the buttercup to f*ck off when I just couldn’t take you seriously anymore.  You were cursing at a freaking buttercup.  I started to laugh at the absurdity of it all.  It was beautiful and perfect as-is, that little buttercup. As-is. Completely ignoring you and going about its business almost flaunting its natural ease at being.  How does one rage at a buttercup?  Come on.  That was the beginning of your demise.

You weren’t prepared for Act Two.  We came to one last hill and a set of stairs that we had to climb to get out of the ravine.  I could sense your confusion.  Normally, there was nothing that could get you to back down so fast.  Your eruption was almost always followed by days of irritability or guilt or shame. But I was smiling.  That was new to you.  I was smiling because I finally knew that I needed it all – coming face-to-face with you and letting you loose.  I needed to descend and face the parts of me I keep hidden and locked away in my own Pandora’s box.  Yes, someone accidentally opened it but instead of struggling to shut it, trying to catch all the demons by their tails and shoving them back in before anyone sees them, I voluntarily emptied it out with a little bit of affection, a little bit of acceptance, and a little detachment.

With each step up out of the valley, I prayed.  I prayed for you mostly.  I prayed for help from all the deities, spirits, angels, and saints I could think of.  Every step was an act of invoking grace.  When I reached the top, I told you something you have never heard before.  I said, “I love you Lady Rage. Thank you for being there when I need you.  But we’re done for now.  Goodbye.”  And you left quietly with the next gust of wind that came through on top of that hill.

And so I grabbed my husband’s hand in silent gratitude and walked home barefoot.  I walked through neighbourhoods and city streets, stepping on lawns to give my feet temporary comfort from the hot pavement.  But it was stepping on all the unintended soft patches of growth between the cracks in the sidewalk that reminded me to leave the welcome mat for you the next time you came knocking.

And by the way, I wrote this poem just for you:

She ToreJPG

 

Love,

Rozanne

#normalizeladyrage

***

100 days of love notes…

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a birthday + a 100 day project.

Today is my 38th birthday and I am ready to blog again.  There I said it.  I put it out there to all of you.  Now I am accountable.  Now I am about to get my creative ON.

And I am ready because of two miracles that happened today which I will get to later in this post.

I’m sure you can imagine why I have stayed off this very public forum.  This space is for me.  It has been a safe place to document, to reflect, and to share.  I write about what’s going on in front of me.  I have found that this makes it very freeing and less about what I think people want to read about.  I tried blogging about parenting only or homeschooling only or creativity only.  But I am all of it and none of it.  I write for release.  I write for the me now.  But what happens when what is in front of you is very private and very raw? I have two teenagers, a pubescent, and two children who are old enough to play on their own but still young enough that they need me to read bedtime stories to them.  We are making some dramatic changes to our life and to some they have been abrupt and unwanted.

Shit is getting real here.

I have been holding space for all of us.  There have been outbursts, freak outs, and full on biblical lamentations.  I have held children in embraces in the middle of the hallway, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a song. A dear friend called me last week asking who was holding space for me as I talked about giving my kids room to feel it all.   I burst into tears.  I realized that as I held the space for my family, I had to hold it all in.  Hold back the tears, hold back the emotion, and hold my breath.  I needed to put it all on hold so I could stand and be what they needed me to be.  There were times that I folded into my husband, collapsing to take a small reprieve. But even then, I held it in.  There was just still so much that I could not let out.

And in that moment, I understood “how I was.” I finally could put a name to the all encompassing feeling that filled me but I didn’t want to give space to because there is so much to be grateful and happy about.  But here I am, steeped in this unfamiliar emotion.

SORROW.

Here is what wikipedia has to say about sorrow:

Sorrow is an emotion, feeling or sentiment. Sorrow “is more ‘intense’ than sadness… it implies a long-term state”. At the same time “sorrow — but not unhappiness — suggests a degree of resignation… which lends sorrow its peculiar air of dignity”.

Moreover, “in terms of attitude, sorrow can be said to be half way between sadness (accepting) and distress (not accepting)”.

This completely defines how I have been feeling throughout the spring and into the first bit of summer.  As much as I have felt grateful for it all, there has even been a tinge of sorrow in the gratitude because it has a lot to do with saying goodbye and moving on.

And looking at the etymology of the word, I find this:

Old English sorg “grief, regret, trouble, care, pain, anxiety.”

Grief. Another piece to the puzzle.

Grief is another can of worms I can open right now.  I know it’s there.  I know there will be more especially in September.  But simply acknowledging and giving a place for sorrow and grief to mingle is already helping me exhale.  I am sure, if you continue to read this blog for the next 100 days, there will be plenty of reference to grief.

I have been sad and distressed before but this is not what it is. It is exactly somewhere in between that I have taken up residence.  And sorrow does have a “peculiar air of dignity.”  It is almost romantic.  An ode to an age where there is a beauty in staying still in sorrow instead of distracting ourselves out of it or numbing the feeling all together.

An underlying sorrow has tinged most of my emotions.  Like a thin layer of dust settling on undisturbed furniture pieces in an abandoned home, sorrow blankets the things I have not faced yet.

Accompanying the Wikipedia entry on “sorrow” is Van Gogh’s aptly-named sketch, Sorrow:

Vincent_van_Gogh_-_Sorrow

I love this sketch.  And to be honest, it looks like me.  Sagging boobs, paunch belly, unbrushed hair, and all.  But in a strange way, it gives me comfort to look at it.  It’s as if she is saying to the world, “Leave me be. I am going to sit right here stripped and exposed, feel both beautiful and disgusted sitting in my shit, and I just don’t give a fuck.”  YES.

Which brings me to my 100 day project.  100 days of love notes.  I used to write a love note for my oldest daughter every day and put it in her lunch box when she was in school.  They were more for me than her.  I see that now. I needed to know that she knew.  I wanted it written down to make it official and so that she knew I took the time to record what I loved about her.  For the next 100 days, I want to give space to what I love that’s in front of me – the big and the small because this is why I have felt the sorrow.  The sorrow of anticipated missing.  The sorrow of looking back.  The sorrow of letting be.  The sorrow of loving across distances. These love notes will be my way of giving a place at the table for sorrow and grief.  It is my way of disturbing the dust just enough to shift things around.  Letters to write to make enough space for miracles.

As I wrote in my journal today, two miracles occurred to get me here again.

  1. My daughter sent her flight info to us and is not returning on July 29 as we had thought.  She is returning on July 28 which means we can say one last goodbye to the house as a family.
  2. My friend, Ulrike, commented on an old post of mine, expressing gratitude for having this blog as a reference.

These two things happened one after the other.  Two tiny miracles that made me shift a touch.  (And reading last year’s birthday post helped a little too.  Making those birthday intentions led to a year of unbelievable adventures and life changes.)

And the third miracle is that I found my Book of Hours.  I had lost it and didn’t have the heart to start a new one until I found the old.  I was also not in the creating place I was in last year at this time. But I am going to return to it.  The last page that I had touched was a page full of the warmest colours.  We were in Costa Rica and the kids were getting a lesson in natural paints from a German botanist we had met.  We had used different tropical plant material including turmeric, hibiscus, and other flowers to paint the page.  And here is my entry today:

boh july 23 2016

***

Today’s letter is a love note to myself.

Hey girl,

Oh sorrow.  To give something a name begins the story of it.  Now that I have found a name for this place, I understand it.  Sorrow prepares you for joy.  Let the sorrow carry you.  Let it move you deeper into life.  Let it tug at you when you least expect it.  Let it  violently sweep everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. Curl up and hold yourself as the housecleaning dispels the dust bunnies you’ve made friends with.  Allow yourself to sink just this once because I guarantee you won’t feel like you’re drowning this time.  Because guess what my love?

You are a motherfucking mermaid.

With love and forgiveness and the most gentle embraces,

The Love of your Life – You.

***

If you wrote a love note to yourself, what would YOU say?  Would you be kind?  Would you accuse?  Would you give comfort or criticize?

 

 

 

 

 

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waxing nostalgic…friend or foe?

7peasinapod

We bought snap peas at the farmer’s market this morning.  My youngest daughter calls out to me and says, “Mama, I found 7 peas in a pod! It’s our family!” She urges me to take a pic and I smile trying to hold back the tears.

From my last post, you must have gathered it’s been a bit of a circus show around these parts.

Well, yes, and then some which is why I haven’t been here even though I have needed to write about the process because that’s how I deal with stress these days.  But I haven’t been able to write because I don’t know where to begin.  This post has been sitting in drafts for a week because it feels like an emotional discharge that is impossible to water down or edit to under a thousand words.  Finally, today I am posting as-is because I have to start writing again to save myself from living in my head and to find what I always find when I put words down – clarity.

We sold our house quickly and recently moved back in to say goodbye.  We are living out of boxes and purging and purging and purging.

Needless to say, the month of May was an emotional roller coaster ride for my family.  There was A LOT.  Just a lot – A lot of explaining, a lot of questions, a lot of emotions, a lot of avoiding, and a lot of busy.  We spent April in the unsettling state of getting things in motion, making choices that began a tidal wave of change in May.

I haven’t considered myself a sentimental person.  I am the one that throws out photos and looks back on the past with a feeling of relief – a kind of “glad that’s over and we can move on” type of outlook.  I toss out the kids’ artwork like moldy leftovers always praising the process and not the end result.  It’s only over the last few years that I have had both the time and inclination to step back and notice that my family keeps changing.  Even my blog posts have grown more reflective as opposed to my early years of blogging when it was just about getting through the day with a house full of little ones.

It’s hard to zoom out when you are mama to babies and toddlers.  At that stage, life is very moment to moment and all one’s energy is placed in getting people’s physical needs AND emotional needs met which is something that only Mama can do.  Multiply that by five and there is no time to wax nostalgic.  Heck, in those moments, I couldn’t even remember the last time I had showered or the day of the week.

In those early years of motherhood, waxing nostalgic was a time-waster and an activity for fools – fools that had the opportunity to shower daily and spend hours wistfully looking out the window.  It was for someone who could remember what they said five minutes ago, let alone ten years ago.  It was something that old people did when they complained about today – today’s youth, today’s society, whatever was right in front of them.

Now I find myself in a jarring state of departure.  In this house, we are all finding ourselves in different states of departure.  I am leaving something behind that used to care for us in the way that I needed. This house was the third parent.  It was more than a roof over our heads.  It has been a safe harbour, a shoulder to lean on, a witness to this little family we have created and nurtured – a scrapbook of who our family has become.

It held space for my children when I couldn’t. Like extra ingredients in a haphazard recipe, new children were added to the mix over the years changing the chemistry of the dish but the house was the constant.  The house was the container that held us all in as we figured it all out.

So of course, what do I do for almost an entire month?

I become what I can only describe as a nostalgic mess – an addict of the past.  It’s as though I have turned in my badge as the champion (and sometimes the annoying authoritative expert) of the present moment in favour of the illusory consolation of returning to the past.  Returning to an imaginary place of ease because the present is so rife with chaos and uncertainty.

When all of your children take turns in waging mutiny on decisions you make on their behalf, challenging your faith in the present moment by becoming shape shifters in every instant, and demand that you be that unshakeable and confident mother you professed to them all their lives, you take shelter in the cozy confines of a past where you could nurse your babies to comfort them and the most serious quarrel in your day had surrounded taking a bath (and in most times, you would acquiesce and tuck them into bed dirty feet and all).

For the last month, my husband and I talked about the past every chance we had alone. Every person we have told about our move wanted more information but it really can be summed up in one question, “How did you get here?”  How did we get to this place of choosing to leave our home when everything was for all intents and purposes, perfect?

We all returned to the past in different ways this month.

My husband and I dissected our life over the last 20 years trying to figure out how to explain how we have gotten here – looking back with a sense of wonder at our miracle journey.  (“Dude, we are STILL together after all that hoopla. High five.”)

My children have needed me in ways that are reminiscent to those early years when they needed assurance of my presence to feel safe and when really they just needed us to LOVE them.  They didn’t need me to go over pros and cons or give practical explanations or dole out Hallmark card promises that chapters end and it’s only through change that we grow.  They needed hugs that held on for eternity, nights to sleep with me under the crook of my arm even if they couldn’t fit in it anymore, moments where I only listened and held back the tears to give space for them to cry, and allow them to cling to memories without tainting them with a real behind-the-scenes play by play.  The one gift I can give them right now is to let them believe in fairy tales, happy endings, and that we will always be here to make everything better.  (And why not? Happy endings come in many shapes and forms.  It is the happy middles that we all seem to have trouble with.)

The danger in nostalgia is the longing that is associated with it.  The wish to be somewhere else – in another place and another time.  The word is made up of two greek words: nostos (homecoming) + algos (pain, grief, distress).  Basically, it means to be homesick.  It is a yearning to return home where “home” just means a simpler place and time where things were predictable and familiar.  A place where life is static and immovable as if we could go beyond capturing moments in photographic stills and actually freeze that candid mid-laugh moment or that group picture where no one leaves.

As much as I want to curl up with photo albums and scrapbooks and talk about where we have come from or immerse myself in pinning jungle house ideas on my pinterest boards, the present moment beckons me again.  I can’t fast forward through this in-between and middle space.  Today my children wake me up from my reverie of days gone by with a baby nursing, a toddler or two under my arms, and a older child laying across my legs.  They jostle my eyes open to who they are now – struggling and rejoicing in the same moment, needing me and not needing me in the same breath, dipping in and out of the hot and cold pools of confidence and insecurity.

We are in the in-between – the stage just before adolescence, the stage immediately before adulthood, the summer before our family changes from seven to six, spending our days in a house that is no longer ours, dreaming about a home not yet built, and answering questions with “I don’t know yet.”

It is in this space where hope springs eternal I am told.  It is here where that magical moment before dawn resides.  The edge of becoming where possibility dwells. The day before the birthday.  The waiting in traffic.  Any type of waiting.  It is in this waiting place that nostalgia sneaks in.  Hope and wait are the same word in Spanish.   Our mind wanders and we would like to be in any place but this place of anticipation.

I sink into a place where even my children or my husband can’t come or have visited, a secret place of motherhood past – a place where I tell myself that I did the best I could even when I know I didn’t.  This is the secret in-between place of motherhood – a place between guilt and acceptance.  It is a place I find myself more and more as my children grow older.  As we wait to see what’s around the corner for all of us, as we wait for the time we have to say goodbye to each other and to this place and this time, I wait and hope.

Maybe this is the problem with waxing nostalgic.  You always end up waiting.  You end up tricking yourself that those days will come again soon even if it looks like something different and you will get through this middle.  Hope is waiting for something to come around the corner that will save you from this middle.  But it always takes you away from HERE. The middle part.  The transition from arrival to departure to arrival.  It is only in this middle place where I am saved – the awareness that it is always the middle where life thrives.  In the thick.  In the juiciest part.  It is here, in this place of infinite potential that I can appreciate it all.  The past.  The present.  The yet to be.

My second daughter bought fully bloomed peonies at the farmer’s market today.  She bought half a dozen for $10 of her hard-earned cash.  She took the bouquet, closed her eyes, and inhaled the scent of them.  The farmer gave her an extra one.  I think he saw what I saw – a perfect example of the glorification of NOW.  She spent an hour’s worth of babysitting on impermanent beauty.  The flowers will probably last another day or two but that expression on her face, that will be with me forever.

 

 

 

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I will be holding one last Book of Hours Workshop before we leave for Costa Rica in October.  And I will be beginning another 100 Day Project soon.  Stay tuned for details…

 

 

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how my dreams came true.

Do you know what that moment feels like when you realize that all your dreams have come true?

I had this moment this morning when I went downstairs and saw this:

emptyhouseandstudying

An empty house and my daughter studying for her first university exam.

(In fact, she is writing it now as I write this post.)

Before I get to the empty house, let me explain where I am right now.

Life is beautifully perfect.  We are living the life of our dreams.  Our days look like summer afternoons in July.  My husband and I have slow mornings and have our coffee together as the sun rises in our bedroom.  The kids slowly wake up and have time to learn at the slowest of paces.  We are financially stable.  I have healed and continue to heal all of the relationships in my life.

I love myself and I love my life.

We have lived in this home, that I love as an eighth member of our family, for 10 years in a community that loves and supports us.  I have lived in this city all of my life and love what it has offered my children – a homeschool community, close proximity to family, diversity, the arts, and a chance to understand a little bit more about their parent’s childhood stories.  We live on a street that my mother walked daily to school when she first immigrated to Canada as a young girl.  We live in a neighbourhood that embraced my immigrant grandparents who came with nothing,  We did not intend to live in this area, let alone this house.  My grandmother died and I wanted to be closer to her.  We sold our home in another area of the city and bought this house because I felt her presence.

I have never been happier and felt more peaceful.

Back to the photo of the current state of our house.  It’s empty because we have decided to sell it.  Now that our life is absolutely amazing and perfect, we have decided to move and begin another adventure.

We have bought property in Costa Rica and plan to move there.

On our last trip to Costa Rica, we discovered a community of people with whom our family fell in love with.  I connected to the land in a way I hadn’t connected to a place since we bought this home 10 years ago.  For the first time in a long time, I felt my grandmother with me as she guided me to this new dream.

Over the course of the next few months, I will talk more about our plans and what’s on the horizon for our family.  But for today, I wanted to talk about how I sit in my empty living room overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude.

I was speaking to some our neighbours the other day.  They are so sad at our pending departure from the hood.  They also mentioned how courageous we were to take this step.  As we make this big leap, I have felt a little anxious and nervous.  I have felt sad.  I have felt excited.  I have felt a little stressed at the daunting list of things that we need to do in order to sell our house that I haven’t even wrapped my head around what comes next.

But courageous?  No.  I haven’t felt that.

And as we tell more and more people about our plans, that word keeps popping up.

You guys are so courageous for doing this.

This is such a brave action.

Wow, it’s amazing you guys have the courage to uproot your family and make this change!

For some reason, I don’t feel particularly courageous or brave.  Yes, this is a huge deal.  I get it.  It’s a big deal to give up a long-term investment in this city.  It’s a big deal to explore a different lifestyle abroad.  It’s a big deal to leave comfort zones.

It’s only when I walked down the stairs this morning did I realize why this decision to leave this home doesn’t feel like an act of bravery.  Seeing this picture of my daughter, happy and studying something she loves at a higher level, in a home we made for our children, reminded me that it took 19 years of courageous acts for us to live the life of our dreams, far more courageous than this choice to leave this city.

Flashback to 1997.  I am five months pregnant, alone, and homeless.  I was on my way to a friend’s house temporarily before heading to a shelter for young women when at the last minute, my father offered his couch for me to stay. He helped me move out of my mom’s house and into his home which he shared with his extended family.  I remember those days vividly.  I worked part-time and went to school part-time at the university.  My university tuition for that year was covered by a scholarship and I made a small wage at a receptionist gig at the university.

I was so afraid.  I remember not knowing what my future looked like and thinking I ruined my life and that of my unborn child.  I didn’t know what I was doing.  I didn’t know how to take care of myself.  I didn’t know how I would pay for school.  I figured I would have to quit and just find a job somewhere.  Where was I going to live?  I couldn’t stay on a couch.  The house was full of people and I knew there was no rush for me to leave but there was just no room for me.

To get to my part-time job, my dad would drop me off at the train station.  He lives in the suburbs and I would have to take the train into the city.  I would buy myself a snack and then sit on that 2:00pm train and cry.  One day, instead of buying a bag of chips and a can of pop, I bought chocolate milk and a bag of almonds.  I decided that I was going to start taking care of myself and my baby.  Then I started writing letters to her in a notebook instead of cry on that train ride.  I began with a commitment to myself and to my child.  I began writing all the things that I actually didn’t believe would happen – we would be ok, life would work out, we would always have enough.  And I wrote the only thing I knew to be true at that moment – I loved her from the very beginning.  I would write about how much I loved her because at that moment, loving her was the only thing within my control.

Each day, for months before she was born, I wrote to her.  And that’s when the miracles began to happen.  I received two government grants which allowed me to continue to go to school.  I was able to get Employment Insurance after she was born.  My grandmother, my dad’s mom, ended up going to the Philippines for a few months so I was able to move into her room just before I gave birth.  I remember feeling so grateful to have a bed.  My dad and I began a father-daughter relationship that changed my life.  After my daughter was born, my family started to lend support.  And just when my grandmother returned from the Philippines, I received notice that I was at the top of the list to receive a subsidized family apartment on campus.

There were still challenges after that but it was in that moment when I decided to create my reality and live as if everything was always going to be ok did I take the most courageous act of my life – to have faith.  I would look around and my physical senses would show me that I have nothing but then I began to believe that I had everything I would ever need which changed the course of my life.

When I remember those train rides, I look at my life now with complete gratitude – every day is the cherry on top.  Every single day.  We dreamed about owning a house in the city and our daughter growing up and being able to have more opportunities than I could imagine for her laid at her feet.  And this is what I saw when I came down the stairs this morning.  Thousands of small and large courageous acts of believing and dreaming and choosing.  Choosing to listen to what makes our hearts sing.  Choosing to love when everything else seems to fall apart.

And choosing to trust ourselves when it’s time to follow another dream.

When we first had our daughter, we wanted to prove to everyone that we could do it.  We could make it.  We could make a ton of money and buy real estate which we did.  I was 21 when we bought our first home.  I was driven to succeed but somewhere along the way, I forgot about those train rides where love was really all we needed.  I became obsessed with making money, shoving my daughter in daycare when we probably didn’t need to do that.  After things started to go south in my relationships and I became disgusted the way I was absent as a mother, we shifted our dreams again.  We wanted to expand our family to two kids and do things that we were passionate about.  I gave up my job in banking and investments and went back to school for Interior Design at the same time my husband gave up his stable IT job and followed his dream to start his own business as a personal trainer.

So this move may seem like we are being courageous.  But for us, it’s how we roll and we can’t live any other way.  We are making space for something new.  And we have had two decades of life just getting better and better as we adjust our dreams to our changing paths and to take advantage of opportunities that fall into our laps.  It never ceases to amaze us.  Every time we did things that made people outside our inner circle scratch their heads – five children, a tiny house in the city, entrepreneurship, homeschooling, travel, joining a cow share to buy raw milk and other unpasteurized dairy products, we started to understand what that feeling was like to carve out a life that brings you joy.

This will be a spring and summer of closing chapters, endings, and goodbyes.  But before we start that process, before we move the last bit out so we can stage our house and sell it in the next few weeks, I will take today to remember the most courageous act of my life that took place on a train on an ordinary day in 1997.  A day that brought me here – a place where dreams come true and still come true and where it is no longer a courageous act but a natural way for us to live.

It is the day that I chose love.  It is the day where I may not have trusted myself or loved myself but I was on my knees with nothing else to try.  And as I face homelessness with my family on a far different and intentional level, I will remember that love has always been more than enough for us and it is only through love that has led us to live out our wildest dreams.

 

 

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