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MayBE 2019: Day Twenty-Four.

MayBE 2019: Day 24

On Woman.

There is no good answer to how to be a woman; the art may instead lie in how we refuse the question.

― Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions

I was on the phone with my eldest yesterday and I had to hold back the tears. We had the most honest conversation about naming ourselves and more specifically, naming our dual natures, and all the ways the outside world and other people distract us from this work of seeing ourselves.

But how can I want my independence and feel taken care of? How can I want to stay small and safe while yearning to be big and courageous? How can I be vulnerable but never want to be hurt? How did I want this yesterday and not want this today?

I nod because I still ask these questions today.

Before self-love, before acceptance, we have to name.

I am a 40 year old woman with four daughters. I looked in the mirror in my twenties and thirties and thought, “Good God, I barely know how to be a woman myself, how am I going to prepare them for this?”

I did a lesson block on “Power” with one of my daughters when she was fifteen. We read Mary Beard’s book, Women and Power and Rebecca Solnit’s collection of essays, The Mother of All Questions.

I also bought these books for my eldest to read when she turned nineteen.

We started the block with a lesson in anatomy on the spine and how we stand. Are our feet completely on the floor? Can we feel the ground giving us energy to stand upright? How do we carry ourselves? We looked at the angle of our hips to our knees, and due to the wider hips, I told her how we have to have a wider stance to feel more stable than men.

We talked about our voice. The subtle ways we are silenced.

There are different standards that have been established by a system that had nothing to do with what we really wanted: what a woman should look like, how she should dress, “the message” she is sending, what is appropriate behavior, how to walk in the world and when and where we can walk without “getting ourselves” into trouble.

We are all given that “extra” advice from this system that has even turned our own against us so that it also comes from our own grandmothers, mothers, and aunts. Don’t scream, don’t fight, don’t make eye contact, dress appropriately, don’t make a fuss, don’t disagree, don’t speak up.

Silence is what allows people to suffer without recourse, what allows hypocrisies and lies to grow and flourish, crimes to go unpunished. If our voices are essential aspects of our humanity, to be rendered voiceless is to be dehumanized or excluded from one’s humanity. And the history of silence is central to women’s history.

― Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions

Silence is a language that has been imposed upon us whether we are conscious of it or not.

Needless to say, I messed up a lot trying to project my own shame and insecurity onto my own daughters.

I will never forget the day my eldest called me out on my bull shit and told me that I had made her feel ashamed about her body for the first time in her life when I made a comment about her clothing choices. I said I was concerned for her safety (which was a lie). And she saw right through it and named the thing that I was ashamed of – that I cared what people thought of me as a mother, that her choices reflected my abilities as a mother. What if people knew I really didn’t have control? What if they all figured out that I wasn’t the woman everyone thought I was – this peaceful mama who packed perfect lunches? What if they knew I was a raging banshee half the time because I was just so tired of this bull shit to be everything to everyone? What if everyone knew we had problems and issues and tears and late-night conversations where I cursed and fucked up over and over again?

That was a huge fail for me because I knew it had nothing to do with her but my own confusion about what it means to be a woman and a sovereign woman at that.

I am not perfect. I am a hypocrite. We all are. We all have had moments when we have had to choose to speak or to stay silent and weigh the costs involved. That is the nature of being a woman today. I am not proud of the times I have chosen stability over speaking out. I am not proud of the times when I have shamed my daughters. I am not proud of the moments I rolled my eyes at other women’s struggles or belittled their progress because they weren’t moving at the patriarchal pace expected of us. I am not proud of the way I have judged other women and their choices. I am not proud of competing with and betraying women instead of collaborating and celebrating with women.

But to say that I haven’t done any of those things would mean that I can’t name myself – my whole and the pieces of it – so that I can love all of it and give permission for my own daughters to give a name to these things that we remain silent on. This is what’s going to change the course for all of us and our commitment to each other.

In Toronto and here in my little community of Costa Rica, I have been able to sit and do this work alongside some of the most courageous women who tell the truth daily. My daughters and son witness the way we communicate, the way we support each other, the way we are vulnerable enough to be honest when we disagree and still show up for one another.

Yesterday I had the most honest and amazing conversation with a group of women at our community space about something I disagreed with and they met me with compassion and held that space to listen to my concerns. Later in the afternoon, I was at the beach with another group of women because all of our kids were playing together. These are the women who I have depended on and needed and who never once hesitated to support me when I made the call.

We totally fuck up with each other too but talk it out and ask how we can do better again the next day. We are women who are also mothers telling the truth about our lives and our frailties and our missteps and all the ways we feel we come up short because we are still measuring ourselves again a standard we never created in a structure, as Mary Beard says, that is “already coded as male.”

I agree with Solnit. There really isn’t a good answer to how to be a woman. The question itself is the problem. Maybe all there that has to be done is to reclaim the name for ourselves to help our daughters do the same.

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • What does it mean to be powerful? In what ways have you been silenced?
    • Draw/paint your name.
      • Copy any quote above.
      • List all the aspects of your dual nature.
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MayBE 2019: Day Twenty-Three

MayBE 2019: Day 23

GIFTS.

My fourth daughter stopped me in our outdoor hallway on the way to pee.

“Mama, should I wear sporty clothes today? I mean, are we doing anything active today?”

I looked at her confused and said, “What do you mean by active?”

“You know, like running and jumping,” she said while acting out the actual movements in case I really didn’t understand.

“I don’t know. Why are you asking me? Let’s review something for a moment. I am the artistic parent and your father is the active parent. If it were up to me, and if the laws of biology and muscle atrophy did not apply, I would sit and create things all day and never move the lower part of my body. However, I canbe active although I am not naturally inclined like your dad. Your dad can be artistic like when he draws the ‘cylinder’ of the body or stick figures to show what joints are connected to what and he can sing great car karaoke, but let’s be real, I am the artsy one.”

She thinks for a moment and then yells downstairs, “DAD!!!! ARE WE DOING SOMETHING ACTIVE TODAY?”

Chris yells back, “YOU MEAN LIKE RUNNING OR JUMPING? OF COURSE SILLY!!! EVERY DAY!”

She looks at me, gives me a kiss, and changes to activewear.

It’s not that I am not an active person. I have played sports, run half-marathons, rock climbed, and hiked the West Coast Trail. It’s not my first choice. Any physical thing that I have done was to push my comfort zone.

There are seven people in my family with very different gifts to offer the world. In our house, we celebrate the gifts and contributions rather than focus on what’s missing.

I have two daughters that used to work side by side at the dining room table when they were little. One loved math practice and struggled with grammar and spelling. The other loved grammar and spelling practice and struggled with math. The one who struggled with math would get frustrated and compare herself to her sister.

I read her a story about this mama rabbit that had many bunny children who used their different talents to help the mama around the house.

I tell her in the end that the world doesn’t need to be full of mathematicians and engineers. We also need the poets and writers who tell stories like this.

From that moment on, I refused to associate their learning with anything other than joy. I would not focus on what they were “lacking.” Nope. My job would be to feed the passion.

When my eldest was interested in art history as a teenager, I pushed her to apply for the youth council of one of the largest art galleries in Canada. She collaborated with artists-in-residence, installations, and had the opportunity to ask curators questions about the latest exhibits. This led to her applying for a university program in Barcelona when she was 18 to study 20th Century Spanish artists.

And math? She quit math after Grade 10. But she worked for a small business and in a restaurant.

And grammar? She hated writing. She wrote her first essay ever in her first university course. She googled how to do it and taught herself. She averaged an ‘A’ in all her courses. I asked her why she loved writing now and she said it was because she loved the content she was writing about.

My son isn’t a proficient reader yet. He will tell you that he doesn’t practice his reading because he spends all his time drawing.

My daughter, who taught herself to read at 10 for the simple reason that she really wanted to read a book about Harriet Tubman, only wants to sew right now. I asked her if she was continuing doing questions from her math book. She looks at me with a know-it-all face, as if I didn’t get the memo, and says, “Mama, I have been doing math all week, trying to figure out how to make this bag!”

When they show an interest or passion or aptitude for a subject, we go full steam but I do provide a feast of possibilities for them to taste.

Today, the math and grammar sisters are still the same. One does Khan Academy math problems for fun and the other reads Dickens for fun.

What would the world look like if we did things we loved? What if we were allowed the time to discover the gifts we were meant to share with the world and have the opportunity to “make a living” sharing them?

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • Copy the Holstee Manifesto.
    • List your gifts. (Think of what people have appreciated about you.)
    • Draw your gift.
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MayBE 2019: Day Twenty-Two

MayBE 2019: Day 22

Plate Tectonics and a sixteenth birthday.

We have experienced more than a few earthquakes since moving here. A few weeks ago, my daughters were sitting on the beach while the rest of us were bouncing around in the waves of the ocean. They run to the water and ask if we felt it and of course, no we didn’t because we were afloat. We did feel the one that shook the car while it was parked. I was about to scold the kids for jumping around in the back and then I turned and saw everyone sitting still with eyes wide open.

I covered a unit on Plate Tectonics with my teen group.

The driving question that set the tone for the unit was

“How do theories become generally accepted?”

Plate Tectonics to Geology is what the Theory of Evolution is to Biology but it was initially proposed by Alfred Wegener. Although he had evidence, this theory was only accepted after fifty years when others could corroborate it.

He wasn’t a geologist which is why it took so long to become accepted. He was an astronomer and a meteorologist who loved to fly hot-air balloons. He also refused to see boundaries between disciplines.

His natural curiosity for the world allowed him to look at a map one day and

noticed the east coast of South America fits exactly against the west coast of Africa, as if they had once been joined. He looked for further evidence, found it, and, in 1915, published The Origin of Continents and Oceans. In it, he claimed that about 300 million years ago, the continents formed a single mass that he labeled ‘Pangaea,’a Greek word meaning ‘whole Earth.’

  • Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

He also used other types of evidence – the fossil record, similar geographic features of land masses that were in different parts of the world that may have been part of one mass at another point in time, and he even proposed that’s how mountains were formed – when the edges of continents drifted together and collided and folded instead of the prevailing theory that the land simply wrinkled like a rotting apple.

Wegener announced his findings at a Geology Conference and was promptly ridiculed. He sat smoking his pipe and listened to his critics. He died before Harry Hammond Hess, a geologist who found himself commandeering a submarine in WWII, was able to use the sub’s sounding gear to “see” what the ocean floor actually looked like. His theory of “seafloor spreading,” easily proven through ocean-core samples, completed matched with the Wegener’s theory of plate tectonics.

Now plate tectonics is an accepted theory and the history of earth and its movements can be written more clearly.

The world, literally, does not stop shifting. “We are all Lava Surfers,” an article written by Peter Stark, a travel adventurer, tells of earth’s violent history and its continuing volatility beneath the surface. Our brain “floats” in cerebral fluid under a protective skull just like our earth’s plates move due to mantle currents in hot lava beneath the crust.

Stability is an illusion. The teens loved the article. We talked about the relevance of political borders in terms of the longer timeline of our earth’s rock records. One thing is certain, the geography of the land will change.

My daughter turns sixteen today. Adolescence is all about movement and volatility (which is why I teach plate tectonics at 15-16.) As she took notes while I lectured about the Earth’s movements above and beneath the surface, she turned the pages furiously in another notebook, obviously searching for something.

She says, “Mama, I have the perfect quote.”

She reads it out loud. It is from one of her favourite books that she wrote down a year ago.

Earthquakes are the consequences of tensions built up over long spans of time, imperceptibly, incrementally. You don’t notice the build up just the release. – Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

Happy birthday my sweet girl. You are surfing the ocean of adolescence with grace and with just the right amount of fire.

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • Copy the above quote or the poem below.
    • Draw a map that moves.
    • What if feeling “grounded” is an illusion because the land shifts? Are there more places that allow feeling relatively more grounded than others? (The Canadian Shield is roughly 4 billion years old and the land beneath my feet in Costa Rica is roughly 3 million years old.)
    • What theories in your life have shifted with new evidence?
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MayBE 2019: Day Twenty-One

MayBE 2019: Day 21

SMELL.

On our drive back from the airport, as we approach the road to our house, we turn of the air-conditioning, and open the windows.

It has just stopped raining and the leaves are many shades of green with a a shine on each of them, as if each one were made of plastic. I take a deep breath in and the air is thick yet rich with freshness.

My daughter speaks the words I am trying to formulate, “Oh yeah, this smells like home. Like earth.”

Smells like earth.

Smells are one of those phenomena that are difficult to describe with words, especially if the person you are describing a smell to has never smelled that particular scent before.

Imagine describing how a rose smells or the smell of cookies baking in an oven.

In A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman describes this challenge of smell:

When we see something, we can describe it in gushing detail, in a cascade of images. We can crawl along its surface like an ant, mapping each feature, feeling each texture, and describing it with visual adjectives like red, blue, bright, big, and so on. But who can map the features of a smell? When we use words such as smoky, sulfurous, floral, fruity, sweet, we are describing smells in terms of other things (smoke, sulfur, flowers, fruit, sugar). Smells are our dearest kin, but we cannot remember their names. Instead we tend to describe how they make us feel. Something smells “disgusting,” “intoxicating,” “sickening,” “pleasurable,” “delightful,” “pulse-revving,” “hypnotic,” or “revolting.”

Do you remember the first time you smelled a newborn baby or your child after a day outside in the sun? What about that smell of a ripe melon? Or a car full of adolescent teens after playing beach volleyball all afternoon?

Some smells evoke repulsion to some and absolute pleasure to others. Take the fruit, Durian, for example. It is both coveted and disdained. The search for it at certain times of year have people using their noses to literally “sniff out” the trees while others dread this time when the scent wafts through the jungle.

Smell can reveal the truth of a situation. When we were hiking in the Redwoods of California, there was a forest fire just north of us that was under control but the smoke filled the forest. When you look at this picture, it seems as though I placed a filter or there’s an elegant mist covering the forest. Nope it’s smoke. I needed to hike to see Cathedral Redwoods. Despite protests, we did it. But I can still smell the smoke.

A fun activity is to ask a young child to describe smells. My son had described the smell of cinnamon buns coming out of the oven as smelling like “happy.” When my third daughter was four, I remember her standing on the porch watching dark clouds roll in and as if to agree with the appearance of the clouds, “It does smells like thunder and lightning.”

I remember my children would shove things under my nose and say with delight, “Mama! Smell this!” And I would hesitantly lean over, having been burned before by rotten items left in the fridge that needed to be verified before eaten. When the first time one of them smelled the root of Queen Anne’s Lace, the recognition spread slowly across their face. “Mama, it’s smells like a carrot!”

Smells also trigger memories unlike any other sense. The smells of cilantro and the jasmine flower trigger memories of my grandmother. The back of my husband’s neck remind me of the moment I fell in love. For my husband, and for most Filipino adults of our generation, Vick’s VapoRub still conjures nostalgic childhood memories.

I wonder what scents and memories exist for my children. I know that cinnamon and ginger signal happy Christmas memories for one daughter. They tell me how certain smells remind them of people – their grandparents, their sister who loves fragrances.

In a number of tribes, “the word for ‘kiss’ means ‘smell’ – a kiss is really a prolonged smelling of one’s beloved, relative, or friend.” – Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses

Ackerman also writes about Helen Keller’s had a gift for smell and how Keller observed that smell was “the fallen angel” of the senses. She was able to recognize “an old-fashioned country house because it had several layers of odors, left by a succession of families, of plants, of perfumes and draperies.”

Did the house we lived in for a decade have “our smell”? Did our family scent overpower the other “layers of odors” of the people that lived there before us? I wonder if we went back today, almost three years later, would I smell a trace of us still there?

Or will the smell of earth, like my daughter’s remarks, remind me now of home?

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • Describe with detail, using luscious vocabulary, one of your favourite smells and one of your least favourite smells.
  • Journal about one smell that triggers a memory.
  • Paint a smell.
  • Copy a quote on smell or any of the above quotes.

I made this today using only objects found in nature, in my home. It smells exactly the way it looks.

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MayBE 2019: Day Twenty

MayBE 2019: Day 20

This morning my daughter, my second oldest who will turn sixteen in a days, came downstairs at 8:00am. She had just woken up.

A typical morning conversation with my children:

Her: “Good morning, Mama.”

Me: “Good morning. What time did you sleep last night?”

Her: “Right when we got home. 9:00.”

She received 11 hours of sleep.

Me: “Awesome!”

Although I had already been awake since 5:00am, I too, woke up on my own without an alarm clock and received my normal 8 hours of sleep. I rarely use the alarm clock when I am here where the light signals my waking hours.

Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,

The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath,

Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,

Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”

― William Shakespeare, Macbeth

SLEEP.

(Shouty capitals because this is an important topic.)

On average, I get 8 hours of sleep a night. Sometimes a half hour more sometimes a half hour less. But I try not to veer lower than 7.5 hours.

My younger kids get on average 9-10hours. The teens get roughly 10-11 hours of sleep.

When my kids get sick, the first thing we do is survey the amount of sleep, continuous sleep, they have had. Almost always, sickness coincides with decreased quantity or quality of sleep. (Diet and stress can play a factor but sleep is ALWAYS a factor.)

(Routinely getting an inadequate amount of sleep demolishes the immune system.)

Quality is just as important as quantity. I ask if they dreamt. I ask if they woke up in the middle of the night. They tend to sleep through everything – powerful windstorms, barking dogs, howler monkeys, cicadas, bright full moons.

In Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, a prominent medical sleep researcher, he writes about the last twenty years of research around sleep. A topic we take for granted.

A balanced diet and exercise are of vital importance, yes. But we now see sleep as the preeminent force in the health trinity. The physical and mental impairments caused by one night of bad sleep dwarf those caused by an equivalent absence of food or exercise. It is difficult to imagine any other state – naturally or medically manipulated – that affords a more powerful redressing of physical and mental health at every level of analysis.

Based on a rich, new scientific understanding of sleep, we no longer have to ask what sleep is good for. Instead, we are now forced to wonder whether there are any biological functions that do notbenefit by a good night’s sleep. So far, the results of thousands of studies insist that no, there aren’t.

Emerging from this research renaissance is an unequivocal message: sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day – Mother Nature’s best effort yet at contra-death.

Let’s repeat that in bold:

Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day.

When we began homeschool, I noticed something immediately. In that first week that we were all home together with no where to rush to in the morning, my children slept. And slept. And slept. I slept even with a baby. (And of course, without having to be at school by 8:30am, we were all less stressed.). The later mornings changed my life. I maybe netted an extra half hour but I felt a world of difference and so did the rest of my family.

Without adequate sleep, we accumulate an incredible amount of toxicity in our brains. Sleep allows for our brains to drain the “sewage” that builds up during the day. The brain can only perform this function during sleep. This explains a lot.

Sleep is the symbol of re-birth. In creation myths, souls go to sleep while a transformation of some duration takes place, for in sleep, we are re-created, renewed. – Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With The Wolves

When you consider brains of children and adolescence, the research consistently shows that they require MORE sleep than what we think they need.

There are things that we hold essential in our life where the majority can’t wrapt their heads around. Sleep is one of those things.

Chris and I are very protective of our children’s sleep. Most people assume that our teens are lazy, staying up all night, which explains why they sleep in. They do fall asleep a little later because of something called “sleep phase delay.” There is a natural shift in the circadian rhythm of teens. The need to sleep is delayed about two hours but they still at least 9-10 hours of sleep.

At least.

The judgment feels similar to when I breast-fed on demand and co-slept: people assume we are overindulging them.

No. We just did our research and are interested in the long game – mental and physical health over the course of a lifetime for our entire family, including ourselves as we get older. (For more information and links to studies, read this article.)

As we talk about sleep in our house, the teens ask about the “real world.”

What if we want to go to university and have to work and change our sleep patterns or sacrifice sleep?

I tell them at the end of day, they have to believe that they can dictate the rhythms of their day and night, to craft a life that cherishes sleep. And I also add, “Take comfort, there is a sleep revolution afoot.”

When we shrink our whole reality down to pending projects, when our life becomes our endless to-do list, it’s difficult to put them aside each night and let ourselves fall asleep and connect with something deeper.” ― Arianna Huffington, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time

Steven Pressfield, in his book Turning Pro, outlines what a “pro” life looks like versus an “amateur” life, and it is a life with more simplicity and in the end, more sovereignty:

It changes what time we get up and it changes what time we go to bed. It changes what we do and what we don’t do. It changes the activities we engage in and with what attitude we engage in them. It changes what we read and what we eat. It changes the shape of our bodies. When we were amateurs, our life was about drama, about denial, and about distraction. Our days were simultaneously full to the bursting point and achingly, heartbreakingly empty.

Lofty goals, I say to my kids. But what is the alternative?

This is why sleep is essential. We start with something small. Something easy to protect in a world that glorifies “being woke” literally. If we manage to make sleep a priority, we are one step closer to opening up a life of more possibility.

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • Copy a quote.
    • Pay attention to your sleep tonight. Try to sleep when you are tired and wake up without an alarm.
      • Can you remember the last time you dreamt? Look up the importance of REM and non-REM sleep.
      • Paint/Colour/Sketch a starry starry night.
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MayBE 2019: Day Nineteen

MayBE 2019: Day 19

Poetry.

This post is a little long but I dedicate it to all the moms who have walked and continue to walk beside me and who keep me company along the way.

In a letter to Louis Untermeyer, Frost wrote:

A poem…begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion finds the thought and the thought finds the words.

I discovered poetry late in life. As a teen and as a child, I knew of poems. The “Roses are Red” kind. The ones that rhyme. I remember memorizing “The Messy Room” by Shel Silverstein for school and became enamored with his poetry and its strange absurdity mixed with common sense. (Common sense for a kid).

Then I found myself in my early 30s overwhelmed at home. I was underwater and couldn’t breathe as a mom of many little people. Looking back, I was severely sleep deprived for at least a decade, starting in my twenties.

Every day was the same insanity.

Feed, change, put to sleep, clean, repeat. Try not to run away.

And good God, the laundry.

The monotony and repetition of my days felt stifling. I couldn’t breathe. I tried to get into a routine of at least showering first thing in the morning to put a new set of clothes on but the futility of it all felt even worse.

Was it just me that did not find this miracle of motherhood enchanting and magical? Where was the magic in poop smeared on the walls and a never ending spilt bowl of rice on the floor? (RICE?!).

Sure there were cute moments. But there was also drudgery.

In those days, not many moms were brave enough to tell the truth of what we were craving – walks in the woods alone, coffee dates where we could put on a little lipstick and pretend to have important things to talk about, or simply create art all day and make love all night. This semblance of being “a civilized woman” was the stuff of my daydreams.

I used to send a message to my friend at around 4:00pm – the witching hour. She is a mom of five too. I would tell her that I was sitting by the window having my pretend brandy and my pretend cigarette.

One day I was at one of my two favorite places to take the kids where I could wander aimlessly while they preoccupied themselves – the library. (The other place was our favourite grocery store where we would go when it was empty and the kids could run the aisles and no one cared.)

As I roamed the library, carrying the latest child in the wrap, bargaining with the gods of sleep to grant my wish so I could sit for a moment, a book caught my eye. Its spine stood out and so did its title. I picked it off the shelf and turned to the first page and the bottom half of the page contained these words:

I wanted the past to go away, I wanted

to leave it, like another country; I wanted

my life to close, and open

like a hinge, like a wing, like the part of the song

where it falls

down over the rocks: an explosion, a discovery;

I wanted

to hurry into the work of my life; I wanted to know,

whoever I was, I was

alive

for a little while.

I want to say that it took my breath away but it actually gave me my breath back. I gasped and took in a full breath air for the first time in maybe a dozen years. How could this arrangement of words become the balm that I didn’t know existed?

This excerpt is from the poem “Dogfish” by Mary Oliver. It can be found in her selection of poems in the book Dream Work .

Needless to say I borrowed that book from the library. I carried the book around the house, sometimes standing and reading a poem while eating the leftovers I scraped from the kid’s plates.

And THE POEM that brought me to my knees, that shone a light onto the answer ofwhy the fuck I am getting up every morning to do this WORK,why I am standing here right now waiting for the muffins to finish in the oven to pack up for our weekly excursion into the woods in winter with all five of my children, and how can I love any of this?:

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

This. And so many more poems. After I digested Dream Work, I couldn’t wait to go to the library to find more of her poetry books, to name a few:

House of Light

Twelve Moons

Blue Horses

A Thousand Mornings

With Ms. Oliver as my oracle, my witness, my confessional, my reflection, I shifted my view of my life. One line in one of her poems became my mandate for parenting and especially homeschooling.

There is only one question: how to love this world.”

(See below for the poem in its entirety.)

After this journey with Mary Oliver, I went on others with Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Maya Angelou, David Whyte, John O’Donohue, W.H. Auden, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Walt (mothereffing) Whitman, and more.

It was Rainer Maria Rilke’s collection of poetry in Book of Hours that I randomly found at the library that helped me connect the dots to create my own Book of Hours Project that changed the course of my life.

As I integrated poetry in my life, I noticed that all the moms in my life were poets, including that one who literally was a beautiful poet (my pretend brandy and pretend cigarette friend). Taking the essence and turning into what we could because we couldn’t bear the length or drama of a life of prose. A poetic life was more forgiving. Like Mary Oliver says in her book of essays, Upstream:

“…the poem is a temple – or a green field – a place to enter, and in which to feel…I learned that the poem was made not just to exist, but to speak – to be company. It was everything that was needed, when everything was needed.”

As mothers, we keep each other company as we do everything that is needed when it is needed for our families. We are poems.

TODAY’S PROMPT:

Pick one or more…

  • Copy one or more poems today.
    • Paint with abandon.
      • What is your relationship to poetry?
      • Discover a new poet today and read a poem. (You can pick one of the above poets I have mentioned if you don’t know where to begin.)
      • Share a poem that moves you right now with someone.

Spring

by Mary Oliver

Somewhere

a black bear

has just risen from sleep

and is staring

down the mountain.

All night

in the brisk and shallow restlessness

of early spring

I think of her,

her four black fists

flicking the gravel,

her tongue

like a red fire

touching the grass,

the cold water.

There is only one question:

how to love this world.

I think of her

rising

like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against

the silence

of the trees.

Whatever else

my life is

with its poems

and its music

and its cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness

coming

down the mountain,

breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her –

her white teeth,

her wordlessness,

her perfect love.

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MayBE 2019: Day Eighteen

MayBE 2019: Day 18

(Dis)connection.

We have no wifi at home. In fact, I am sitting outside a restaurant to post this quickly before heading home because I have been on the ocean all day. (I am not complaining.)

We disconnected unintentionally. Chris and I didn’t deliberately plan to live offline for over a year and a half. We planned on getting internet as soon as we had electricity.

We are rethinking it now that the solar power system will be installed soon.

Intentional and unintentional connections and disconnections.

After doing some reading on the brain development, especially in teens, it’s amazing how synaptic connections work. From about twelve years old to twenty-four years old, there is a ton of pruning. The connection is reinforced wherever you place your attention. The rest gets hacked away. It’s a complete renovation happening in the brain at the time which explains the emotional fluctuations.

For adults, we can still re-wire. We can’t do the massive renovation that happens in adolescence but we can loosen some hardwired connections. When we focus on something, we reinforce the connection. Where the attention flows, the connection grows.

As Mary Oliver says:

”Attention is the beginning of devotion.”

In one of my favourite books, Upstream, Mary Oliver says on the first page:

In the beginning I was so young and such a stranger to myself I hardly existed. I had to go out into the world and see it and hear it and react to it, before I knew at all who I was, what I was, what I wanted to be. Wordsworth studied himself and found the subject astonishing. Actually what he studied was his relationship to the harmonies and also the discords of the natural world. That’s what created excitement.

When we are strangers to ourselves, we expand and venture out – to connect with who we really are through interacting with the world and through what we pay attention to.

I choose to be careful with how I focus my time on the Internet especially not having it at home.

For me, connection on the Internet means a FaceTime call with my daughter or reaching out to friends on social media, or showing up here. Unintentional connection to the Internet leads to unintended focus that leaves an imprint.

What is it that we want to connect to and disconnect from? What are you paying attention to?

TODAY’S PROMPT:

Pick one or some…

  • Can you remember the days when you didn’t have 24/7 online access? What were they like?
    • What do you want to connect to and disconnect from?
    • Copy the quote above.
    • Track your online usage today vs being outside.
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MayBE 2019: Day Seventeen.

MayBE 2019: Day 17

Practice.

“So…we’re having pancakes again,” whispered Chris.

“Yup. I think we are on Day 17,” I whispered back.

We sat and watched our son make pancakes for breakfast for the 17th day straight and for the next two weeks after that.

A MONTH of pancakes. Hold that thought for a moment.

Let’s take a trip to Japan.

In Japan, there is the concept of “Ensō.” It is a sacred symbol in the Zen school of Buddhism and is one of the most common subjects of Japanese calligraphy, even though it is a symbol and not a character.

Creation of an ensō symbolizes a moment in time in the life of the artist when the mind is free to simply let the spirit create through the physical body. Ensō is a fascinating expression of individuality as expressed by variations in ink tones, brushstroke thickness, shape of the circle and even the positioning of the single point where the circle begins and ends.

Back to pancakes…

One day, before his month-long journey of pancake-making, my son asked me to make pancakes.

I hate making pancakes. I did it for a good number of years because, you know, moms are supposed to make pancakes and then I realized that moms are supposed to be happy too. Upon that realization, I quickly announced my retirement in 2012.

I encouraged him to ask his sisters to make pancakes since they all know how but he said they always said no. Of course they said no. After they learned how to make pancakes, they hated making them too.

I told him, “Because I love you, I will make pancakes again, just this once. But pay close attention. In the event you want pancakes again, you will probably have to make it yourself.”

We made pancakes together that morning. I showed him how to flip them and when they would be ready to flip. I eyeball all the ingredients so I could see him concentrating on how much of what item I added to the batter.

For the first few times, he asked a lot of questions and we had many misshapen pancakes, some burnt on the bottom. Then some were too wet in the middle because he became afraid of burning them. Some had too much salt. (Ugh, I remember those.)

And just when I thought I couldn’t take anymore experimental pancakes, he served me a plate of them with a grin on his face and I knew that he did it. He figured out the pancake. His dad and his sisters were impressed because it was better than any pancake they had made themselves.

One sister said with a little trepidation, “I think this is better than mom’s.”

A hush fell over the crowd, forks were dropped, and they all looked at me as I took my first bite. It was good. Really good.

I smiled at him and said, “You did it buddy. Nicely done.”

He used up the last of the batter to make his plate of pancakes after serving us first. Then he sat by himself on the hammock enjoying each bite (and his sisters washing up for him in appreciation.)

After that day, he became more daring with his recipe. He tested different flours, milks, and consistencies. He even made different shapes. Sometimes he invented a completely new thing like the yuca dumpling he inadvertently made in coconut oil. We loved it and were also grossed out by it.

Sometimes there were failures where the dogs wouldn’t even eat it. He would show up again the next day and make his go-to pancake. The one that he mastered.

Back to Japan.

Enso is a practice and not just a single moment. The form and void are interdependent of each other – the success and the failure are interdependent. Without one, we can’t know the other. And we know them through practice.When we show up and practice whatever it is, we make a commitment to this process of success and failure.

Even if it’s just pancakes.

“I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one’s being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes, in some area, an athlete of God. Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.” ― Martha Graham

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • Draw Enso. Only one try. No erasing. Don’t overthink.
  • Copy the Martha Graham quote on practice.
  • What would you practice every day to get better at if you had the insert constraint here (E.g. time, money, empty house, etc.)?
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MayBE 2019: Day Sixteen

MayBE 2019: Day 16.

Handwork.

Yesterday I saw the delight in another mom’s face as she finished one her first sewing projects on the sewing machine. One of my daughters had helped set her up on the machine a few days ago and felt very proud in being able to help an adult and for me, it was a proud moment because I know what it took us to get there.

There is this joy in the ability to mend things. The ability to make one stitch at a time to create a whole textile or piece of clothing or item to hold precious things. The power of a line of thread.

Ever since she was born, she has needed to move from the moment she wakes up until the moment she sleeps.

It was cold in Toronto on our recent trip. My children have outgrown their winter wear which I won’t replace. On the “warmer” days, my daughter rode her bike for the entire morning. On the colder days, she did one of two things: she baked or she pulled out the sewing machine.

Toronto weather reminded her of practices that help direct her energy on days when she can’t unleash it outdoors. When she was little, I spent many years trying to understand how to contain her incredible outburst of energy when the weather (and a gaggle of siblings) prohibited us from going outside all day.

“When you can step back at moments like these and see what is happening, when you watch people you love under fire or evaporating, you realize that the secret of life is patch patch patch. Thread your needle, make a knot, find one place on the other piece of torn cloth where you can make one stitch that will hold. And do it again. And again. And again.”

― Anne Lamott, Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair

As a three and four year old, she loved kneading bread dough. She would wake up early with me and make bread. She would stand on a chair beside me and pound the dough using her whole body. We would prepare the dough early so by lunch, we would have freshly baked bread (or bagels, or challah, or pretzels). There were mornings when I didn’t have the energy to get up and make the bread and I would pay the price with a screaming child who could not handle any transitions throughout the day – getting dressed, brushing her teeth, going to the bathroom, coming downstairs to eat, putting on shoes, going to the car, getting out of the car, etc.

In the afternoons, I needed a plan too. For those afternoons when I couldn’t satisfy her need to be outside and moving or heading to a rock climbing gym or ice skating or gymnastics class, I set up a handwork basket. I would put an embroidery hoop with a linen cloth and a few blunt needles threaded with different colours.

When I would sit and sew, she would sit and sew. I remember her first creation was “sprinkles.” It was multiple colored stitches of short lengths all over the cloth. It lasted twenty minutes but I could see her focus all of her energy on moving the needle to where she wanted it.

Next she asked if I could draw a rainbow shape on the cloth so she could follow the lines to make a rainbow. I threaded rainbow colours on needles and every afternoon she worked on following the line. Again, I could feel her energy focused on that needle. Once she was good at that, I taught her other stitches to embroider.

Then she saw her sisters knitting. She taught herself finger knitting in one sitting and wanted the needles immediately. I thought she was too young and that I would just get frustrated with her but as I sat with her and patiently guided her hands to knit each stitch, she quickly had the rhythm of it. After years of knitting and hand sewing, she was ready for the machine.

She tells me now that I didn’t inspire her to sew. (Let me just say that as a mother of five, I am humbled by my kids every day.) She says that she remembers how her teddy needed a blanket and her sister went to the sewing machine and made a tiny quilt for her.

Not all of my children love to sew and to knit. I initially taught them so they could help me make gifts and mend things. They can still do it if they must but the interest has waned as they have gotten older. But not for this child.

Her older sisters made things with their hands because they could. She makes things because she needs to use her hands.

At times when I didn’t know what to do with my spirited child and felt overwhelmed, she taught me how to be patient and focus on the stitch in front of me. This one stitch leads to another and to another. Sometimes you just need to patch a hole. Other times you find scraps that you salvage for a quilt pieced together to give warmth. Or sometimes, you mend something that you never knew needed mending in the first place.

Form Drawing inspired by Stitches.

TODAY’S PROMPT:

Pick one…

  • Make something with your hands today: Mend something. Hand-sew something small. (You simply need a needle and thread and fabric.) Make bread.
  • Draw/paint.
  • Copy the Anne Lamott quote above.
  • Do you have any memories of making things with your hands as a child or recently? What would you like to learn if you could now?
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MayBE 2019: Day Fifteen

MayBE 2019: Day 15

Fools.

Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.

-Feste, Twelfth Night, I.5.328

My second eldest who is about to turn sixteen years old (gasp!) is reading Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Yesterday she told that she loves the story, highlighted her favourite phrases, expressed her frustration with Orsino, and quoted her favourite character, Feste, The Fool. He inserts himself into situations often causing a little mischief while reflecting the truth. He is a jester with words, juggling them with subtle and not-so-subtle tones of sarcasm.

In Elizabethan times, the twelfth night was a holiday known as the Feast of Fools. Feste represents the festive spirit of the play, and he makes an important contribution to the action.

Feste says, “Foolery sir, does walk about the orb like the sun, it shines everywhere.” He is pointing to the fact that he is surrounded by fools. The difference is that they are unaware. In the play, Feste seems to be the wisest of them all. His main job is to speak the truth.

The fool, the trickster, and the mischief-maker.

At around eight years old, the kids begin their pranks. They hide behind corners waiting to jump out and scare me. They plan their April Fool’s Day pranks months in advance. They love those gag store items like whoopee cushions and buzzer rings.

It is a familiar archetype in mythology: Loki, Anansi, Coyote, and others. The trickster tale is among the favourite types of stories. We tell the stories so the children can recognize themselves in them but also show the other side of tricking and being foolish.

According to the site Kid World Citizen:

WHAT IS A TRICKSTER TALE?

  • a story with a leading character who is often an animal with human traits and magical powers
  • at the same time being wise and a fool, “the trickster-hero serves as a sort of folkloric scapegoat onto which are projected the fears, failures, and unattained ideals of the source culture.” (from britannica.com)
  • convey folk wisdom, especially helping us understand human behavior within a culture
  • historically used to teach lessons to young children about the values held in a community
  • the trickster plays tricks but also is the victim of tricks

While our society celebrates the archetype of “the hero,” “the teacher,” “the princess,” “the king,” “the artist,” “the mother,” “the maiden,” “the crone,” and even “the victim” and “the villain,” rarely do I see “the fool” being awarded its rightful place among them.

This is the one who cracks jokes to break the tension and the seriousness of the situation, who plays pranks to dust out the dull. We laugh at the Fool and his antics because they cut through the facade of “the real.”

At home, I sometimes play the fool. I dust off the court jester bells. I prank and joke and badly perform karaoke when the atmosphere has been heavy too long – like a snow globe that hasn’t been shaken since last winter. A long face starts to twitch into a smirk. The lopsided grin turns into a full smile which ends in a belly laugh all at my expense sometimes. The glitter that settled is stirred up and the air sparkles again.

There is a time and place for playing out this archetype but we need more of it. More fools to whisper asides with eyerolls. More fools with twinkles in their eyes that make mischief. More fools to reflect our silly seriousness.

TODAY’S PROMPT:

Pick one or some…

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