Tag Archives: gratitude

Day 11: Making It Enough

gratitudeWhen life is hard Thanksgiving, both the act and the holiday, become more taxing and somehow more meaningful than ever.

In fact, I think the diminutive “Turkey Day” fits better for those whose world is shiny and carefree. Let them focus on setting a festive table and keeping family traditions happy and undemanding. It’s so obvious and easy.
Which is fine. Nothing wrong with it. Easy sounds nice.

Yet… I don’t envy the tame gratitude of the undamaged. There is something precious about hard won contentment. Not the phony kind that represses and retreats, but the shards of hope than shine brightly in broken places.

Our hardest Thanksgivings have been our most beautiful. This year more than ever.

I feel a deep, desperate, primal gratitude that my children are alive today. Thankful that my husband is close – when it would be so easy and so predictable to give up on us. Thankful that we have been carried and cared for by so many loved ones for so long. Thankful for words to write and music to dance to and bodies that are (mostly) strong enough to do it. Thankful for laughter and frustration and even tears – because it means we are human and we are family and we are here.

I’m not prepared to say I’m thankful for cancer or genetic syndromes or anxiety disorders or complications of adoption or the dozens of other enemies we face. But I am so very thankful for what I’ve learned and who we are all becoming as a result. I’m so proud of my people: family and friends, and strangers even, who face the same struggles with such resilience, honesty and courage. The world is full of amazing people, more than I knew before.

It’s not been an easy year, but it’s enough.

Have a more-than-merely-happy Thanksgiving!

Note for confused American readers: It is Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend.

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Grown Up is Hard to Be

There’s this thing about growing up, about working and moving out and moving away, about relationships and making commitments and parenting. This thing we don’t talk about very much. This thing that doesn’t make for great copy in hallmark cards or lyrics in the hell-yeah-life-is-sweet-and-I’m-so-cool songs that they play on the radio.

Sometimes being a grown up sucks.

Not in the grand romantic tradition of great tragedies. Nothing you could write an epic ballad about. Or turn into a memoir. But in small, petty ways that rub and chafe and make us seem like whiners for bringing it up at all. Whether we choose to moan and complain, or bottle it up under the label of positivity, we feel the sting.

It’s no wonder we make heroes of those who throw off societal convention to chase their whims (something every toddler does on a daily basis). That’s right Kerouac, I’m looking at you. They seem glamorous. Romantic. When they’re more likely immature and selfish.

Deep down, we long to escape the menial, the mundane, the constant drip of urgent. We drool over travel brochures and retirement ads. We imagine that if we make this much money or get that job or our kids reach such-and-such a milestone, it’ll be easy and fun all the time. We tally up the costs of selflessness – lost time, lost energy, lost dreams, lost sleep, and some days, lost sanity.

Then a little voice chirps “I love you!” and places a slobbery kiss on your cheek. Or that someone special brings home your favourite treat because they just happened to be thinking of you. Or you sit down with a good book in your favourite chair in your own home that fits you exactly right.

It’s so much more gained than lost.

Day-to-day, being a grown up can suck, but in a long run, it’s a win. So we choose meaningful over happy. We have faith that this path is the right one, the one we were made for.

Until I find another dirty, wet towel thrown on my bed. Then, all perspective is lost.

I’m only human.

So here’s me, in my journey toward maturity. My continuing mission to explore this strange old world, to seek out a good life and civilize my children, to boldly go where so many have gone before.

Yes. I’m a dork.

A great article on the benefits of being a grown up:
There’s More to Life Than Being Happy


Damsel in Distress Part 759

It’s that time again. Time for me to dust off my recurring role as the damsel in distress. I’m beginning to fear I’ve been typecast by fate. So far this blog has entertained… well, not millions, but my definitely my husband as I lock my keys in the car, get stuck in the snow and give myself a black eye, just to name a few.

I have no one to blame but myself. Or my children, and the significant sleep deficit which is definitely their fault. But what kind of Mom blames her own children for her frazzled, overwhelmed and far-too-often absent minded performance?

This one. I blame them. I love them, but I blame this crazy, relentless, exhausting life and my subsequent doziness on those adorable mini people. I don’t know who I’m going to blame when they grow up and leave me.

cartMy latest drama begins in our local supermarket. I sped through my list as fast as humanly possible while the boy alternated between screaming at the top of his lungs (and he has some impressive pipes on him) and cheerfully pulling everything off the shelf as we rolled by. By the time I got to the checkout line I was frazzled and nearing defeat.

$188.33

More than I’d like, but par for the course these days for the feeding, cleaning and diapering a family of 6, at least in our part of the world. Four of us don’t even need diapers, so that’s a huge savings right there.

Feeling a little smug about my foresight, I pulled out my newly activated credit card. My wallet was stolen last week and I’ve been slowly re-making my plastic identity. It’s one of those extra tasks which seems insurmountable in the face of our usual daily grind. But I did it. I called the number. I even signed the back.

I did not, however, take note of the new pin number which would be arriving in the mail also.

*sigh*

So here we are, with a fully loaded cart of groceries, a half eaten bag of fishy crackers (see above re: screaming), a grumpy three-year-old, and the Perry the Platypus sticker he just stuck on my chin. Embarrassed, but not unused to this position, I tell my story and ask them to hold my groceries until I can return with yet another new credit card waiting patiently at home to be activated.

I felt so bad for the man waiting behind me. He had a bag of oranges and a couple bananas. He was about my age, but polished, put together. The kind of guy who drives a nice car and goes to the gym a lot.

I wonder what he saw as I stood there in my second-hand boots, bags under my eyes and hair falling out of its clip. My son whining and grabbing me while sporting a wicked black eye and a runny nose. I was cringing inside. Feeling judged. Feeling humiliated.

As the checkout lady begins to wheel our cart away, he says, “Wait!”

He leans over and peers at my receipt. He pulls out his credit card. He waves his hand, like it’s no big deal.

“I’ll pay for it. Then you won’t have to come back. It’s my gift to you.”

“Uhhh… oh no, no.” I stammer. “It’s, like, $200. Really, it’s okay.”

He insists. He pays. He acts like it’s no big deal.

This was an extremely rare moment for me. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t even know how to start. I was struck dumb. I hope I remembered to say Thank You. I hope I said it a lot.

As I packed my free groceries into the van, he began to drive away. I flagged him down, standing outside his window in the rain, so I could at least shake his hand and find out his name.

He told me that it seemed like I was having “a day,” plus having my wallet stolen and all… He said something about putting good out in the universe and it’d come back eventually. His name was Nick.

I had a lot of feelings about this. My first was pride. I didn’t want to seem pathetic (though, let’s face it, I probably was), and I could take care of it myself. My second was practical, and just a little bit mercenary. I’m going on a trip this month that falls outside our budget and we are feeling it. $188.33 is a lot of money to us. My biggest feeling, however, the one that has followed me around ever since, was bone-deep, soul shaken, faith-in-humanity-restored, just got a-hug-from-God, giddy and amazed GRATITUDE.

It’s not the $188.33. It’s not the time, hassle and embarrassment saved. It’s the unexpected, unsolicited, unassuming grace of the moment.

I’ve been tasting it ever since.

And that’s worth a whole lot more than $188.33.

$188.33

So here’s me, thanking Nick. Because I needed that. 


Nothing Left to Give

Sliver by sliver they carve off a piece of me.

From my heart. And my time. And my energy.

It’s an all you can TAKE buffet.

They need cleaning and feeding and calming and leading.

They need talks and rides and hugs and hi-fives.

He needs reassurance and affection, and he deserves perfection.

I should meditate and pray and examine all my ways.

But there is scrubbing and mopping, with no sign of stopping.

Work needs focus and insight, to get it done right.

I want to keep in touch, but it’s already too much.

There’s only so much to go around,

and I’m done.

April 017

Nothing left to give.

I distract myself with things that require nothing,

Silly books and tv and internet and food.

But they are empty and give nothing back.

I’m as depleted as ever.

Nothing left to give.

Then I notice, the people and tasks that take so much,

give so much back as well.

If I take the time to receive it.

If I slow down long enough to appreciate.

Just a little space to notice, to accept,

and I’m renewed!

A sloppy kiss, a snuggle in my arms, filling my heart with their sticky charms.

Without being asked they lend a hand, turning out better than hoped or planned.

A willing partner, a listening ear, a hand in mine and I’ve nothing to fear.

A still, small voice that whispers “peace”, not one more person I have to please.

A place to hide, my own retreat, messy but mine, and that can’t be beat.

Knowing and learning, measured success, giving purpose, letting me be my best.

Family who walk beside me, even far away. Friends to cry with and laugh and play.

There’s more than just me to go around,

and we are strong.

photo project 001

I’ve been given so much.

They aren’t my burden, they’re my blessing.

So here’s me, tired, but so grateful for my babies, and my big kids and my partner in crime.

For my faith, my home, my calling, my family and my friends.

It’s not an easy life, but it is a good one.


Teacher, Teacher, Can You Teach Me?

Petty Tyrants. Jaded Clock-Punchers. Half-Assed Retirees in Training. Sexual Predators.

There are plenty of reasons to worry about the kind of teacher your child has. I can never forget that it was my Grade 2 teacher who taught me that grown ups can be mean, really mean.

Three years ago, we traded in our home school lifestyle. It was daunting delegating some of our children’s education to perfect strangers, especially our (then) nonverbal and sometimes challenging youngest. We went a bit overboard researching schools in the area – and got mixed reviews for every single one.

I’m not such a Pollyanna that I don’t realize the frustrated/disappointed/outraged stories are often true, or at least have some element of truth/hurt/miscommunication to them. I’ve had my own scuffle over speech therapy in our school district.

But we have good stories to tell too. And too often those are ignored or downplayed. They aren’t nearly as entertaining as the Bad Teacher tales, after all.

We are very happy with our little country school. The teachers there are the good sort. And we think they can teach us something too.

The Gentle Encourager: The Grade 6 teacher is a quietly enthusiastic, fun-loving and genuinely sweet lady. When I close my eyes, this is the kind of woman I imagine my eldest will be someday. It’s a good daydream.

The Challengers: We’ve seen a sharp increase in homework and level of difficulty in Grade 4. There has been complaining, muttering and foot dragging… so I gave out stern talks: “Christie, you are the Mom. Set a good example and just make it happen.” This teaching team has won us over with their great communication and creative projects. Our dinner table has been awash with interesting facts about whale blubber and pirate ships and the antics of Ramona B Quimby. C has never been so engaged!

The Supporters: We call them Special Education Assistants, and they are the hands and feet of inclusion. This year we had a great team. They consistently go above and beyond and are more friends than staff to us. Mrs. H is always reading and learning and sharing her ideas. The resource teacher and her daughter raised money and joined our run for Down Syndrome. Mrs. A is a kindred spirit, an extension of our own nurturing and parenting. Her whole family has taken B under their wing.

The Advocate: Every morning B runs into the classroom, throws her arms wide and yells, “Smelling!” This is her version of “Ms. Fleming,” and it earns her a hug and an enthusiastic greeting. Kids can tell if you really enjoy and appreciate them, especially B. Which is why she has continued to blossom this year. She has always been loved by her teachers, and in turn by her classmates, which is no coincidence. It’s not because she is all sunshine and gumdrops, but even in her difficult moments her teachers have seen HER beneath it all – especially Smelling.

The biggest gift this year has brought has been Ms. Fleming’s choice of thesis for her Masters degree: Teaching B to Read.

I’m sure it’ll have a long complex academic title, but for us it means that next year B will participate in the reading program (newly developed by the Down Syndrome Research Foundation):
the one we couldn’t afford
daily
one on one
with her favourite teacher.

She asked if we would be okay with that. If we would mind her basing her project on B. If she could spend several days training with DSRF to know how to use it. If she might be able to establish it in our school and district.

Ummm… duh.

Today we will add our Thank You notes and gifts to the pile and pray that somehow they will adequately express our gratitude. We’ve entrusted them with the most precious part of ourselves: our children. This is why the outrage is so fierce when we feel betrayed, and this is why that coffee shop gift card seems so paltry when we feel so amazingly well supported.

So here’s me: school’s out for summer and I’m going to miss the help. What are the chances that we’ll have so many good stories next year?


My Sunday School Lesson

It was my birthday this weekend and I had BIG plans to do very little. It’s a wonderful family tradition in our house: a day of complete, guilt-free laziness. Of course, since it happened to fall on a Sunday, this wasn’t entirely possible.

I’m not going to lie, I was a bit choked when I realized that I would be teaching Sunday School that day. Mind you, in a contemporary church like ours we call it something much more hip and fun-sounding than “Sunday School”. But regardless of the name, I wasn’t looking forward to the workload on this, my special day of sloth.

It’s not a lot – arranging the supplies, reading through the lesson a couple of times, then wrangling some adorable little first graders into some semblance of order until parents arrive for pick-up. I’ve done it a thousand times. In fact, I started teaching Sunday School when I was only 16. After a little quick math, what with it being my 36th birthday, I realized that this means 20 years of nose-picking, pee-pee dances, barely audible answers and completely unrelated stories about parents/siblings/pets/somebody-they-once-met-somewhere-they-can’t-remember.

And though I may have dragged my feet upstairs, by the time I was sitting around that table in an absurdly small chair with ten sweet little faces and three eager helpers, I was kind of glad to be there. We talked about gratitude, that we always have something to be grateful for.

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thesselonians 5:18)

Closing our eyes, we imagined happy circumstances (a surprise trip to Disneyland), sad circumstances (too sick to go to the birthday party) and frustrating circumstances (losing the ice cream off of your cone), then came up with a list of all the things we could be grateful for in each situation. Being alive, parents who love us, siblings to play with, not getting friends sick, more birthday parties still to come, a funny story to tell… they hardly needed any prompting. I’m sure our Pastor preached a fine sermon that day, but I doubt it could have done me as much good as that table full of 6-year-olds.

I’m 36 now (or “almost 40” according to my husband) and I keep coming back to this same lesson. I don’t need to be thankful for bad things or, as I once thought, pretend that they are actually good in some twisted form of Christianized stoicism. But wherever my life ends up, good or bad, I need to make it a place of gratitude.

Immediately after I finished writing this post, before I had a chance to post it, I had a chance to put this into practice. Not the easy kind of gratitude I found on my birthday while I sat with my feet up on the couch, watching my husband clean the house and spending quality time with my new i-phone. Not the kind that spontanteously wells up in me as I eat the chocolate cake my daughter made for me and open even more presents (fair trade chocolate bars – yes!). This kind of gratitude is hard.

It is the kind of gratitude that hears disappointing news about a friend’s health, but chooses to see the time we have with him as a gift and the skills of the doctors as a blessing. Even while I wonder why life is so cruel and so unfair. I hate cancer.

It’s hard for me to see the silver lining when once again we are “not what they are looking for in an adoptive family”. What’s wrong with us? It’s been more than two years and I can’t spend the rest of my life in waiting mode. Yet, I am thankful for the things we’ve learned along the way, the deep conversations and the wrestling with who we are as people, as parents, and as a family. I am thankful that we can enjoy our family holiday without wondering if we will get a call. I am thankful to have more time to organize and paint the future baby’s room. I am thankful that we are free to find the right child for us.

So here’s me, thankful for another year and the circle of first graders who taught me an important lesson this week.


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