Tuesday, 6 January 2015

A piece of home or heaven

This morning on the way to school I played Simon and Garfunkel for the kids. I turned the volume up louder than usual and we rode in silence as we listened to The boxer. Midway through the song, I adjusted the rearview mirror to see how they were taking it in. Both boys were looking out the window, watching the cars slide gingerly along the cold snowy terrain.  I turned my attention back to the road, lost myself in the story, musing over  the genius blend of music and poetry.

It filled me with glory despite the dim, blustery January morning.

We poked around a second-hand music store, a relic in today’s uber-tech environment, over the Christmas break and although we were looking for some inexpensive copies of Star Wars - Shaune has been anxiously waiting for the right time to introduce the saga to the kids, I thumbed through the  CDs hoping to find something on the mental checklist I’d been keeping. 

I hit the jackpot when I saw the familiar cover of their Greatest Hits album; I’d owned it almost twenty years ago in university. In the days that followed, I listened to it a handful of times, as a mother and grown woman now, and still it felt like I’d found a piece of home or heaven, just like it did all those years ago.

We didn’t do much else over the break. I spent many early mornings running outside, eight or so kilometers and just as many mornings looking for workouts on the internet, which I did in the basement amid the Lego builder and budding artist who were given plenty of warning about what could happen should they interrupt me for the 45 minutes I needed. 

We also tinkered with our new phones (Loving the LG G3!), met up with family, made it to hockey practices and spent the rest of the time eating curries, when Shaune felt like cooking, and eating salads when I had to, assembling toys, picking up Lego, assessing dozens of new drawings the kids churned out at what felt like break-neck speed, and lounging around the now familiar living spaces in our home, on this very first Christmas here. 

It was a good end to the year.

These guys spent two uninterrupted weeks together. Most of the time they played really well together but if I'm going to be honest there were also many trying moments. Lots of tattling. Lots of fights needing mediation. Lots of tears. Lots of wine.

Deaglan spent a good deal of time building Lego. Cars, spaceships, submarines and even a Woolly Mammoth. And I spent just as much time picking tiny pieces out of the rug, off the kitchen floor, from the bottom of staircases, out of my hair, my teeth...etc.  

And Naveen, well he refused to do anything or go anywhere unless it was in his pajamas. So because we understand that he values comfort above all else, together we gifted him four new pairs this year. 

Here's what we ate on New Year's Eve. Shaune made mussels in a tomato broth and chorizo sausage topped with scallops and lobster. And because our brother-in-law doesn't do seafood, there was also grilled steak, mushrooms, crusty garlic bread and Caesar salad.

We cut the tree out of the house when all was said and done. It was such a nuisance to get into the house that it made things easier to just trim it branch by branch. Here's how it looked after its substantial haircut. 

Speaking of haircuts. 

Naveen's friend Lawson's Mom, Diana is a hairdresser and when we told him she would be cutting his hair he sat still and quiet while she clipped away. It was a first!

I know not to ask these people to smile when I point a camera at them because this is all I ever get, yet I do it all the time. 

I hope the end to your year was just as good.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The wise and ageless you

Dear Deaglan,

Tomorrow you turn seven and I can’t help but think back to when I turned seven. I had short hair like yours and was also missing a few front teeth. But I didn’t own any toys and had never watched TV.  I shared a room with 40 kids and no one ever read us a bedtime story or hugged us goodnight. There were no birthday parties or cakes; no presents. To be honest, I didn’t even know my own birth date. It didn’t matter though; no party or present could give me what I wanted that year.

I turned seven in the orphanage and the only thing I wanted was my mother.

We’ve talked about this a few times.  And on each occasion, your deep self, the wise and ageless you, snapped to attention, listened quietly and searched my face to find the sadness. Tears threatened your big brown eyes and you hugged me tight to let me know I was loved.

A few nights ago you came home from school, excited about your unity cup, a craft you’d done at school. You told me that the class had learned about Kwanzaa and explained how a black lady (whose name you’d forgotten – Rosa Parks I told you) refused to give up her seat to a white person when the “white” seats were full. You had lots of questions when I filled in pieces of the story. Why couldn’t she sit where she wanted? Why did the bus driver tell her to give up her seat? Why couldn’t the other lady stand? Carefully I told you more about slavery and racism. We talked about skin colour. We talked about the hardship that black people have had to endure. You got quiet and sad.

Your bursting heart and endless compassion fill me with hope every day.

We live in a world where just last week, Dad’s colleague told him our house was on the wrong side of town – that maybe someday we’d be able to move to his neighborhood.  People more than ever seem to feel justified in judging each other based on area codes, the tangible shows of overspending and the titles mounted on their office doors. 

I want so much more for you and your brother.
I want to see that generous heart of yours soar;
Give you every chance to feed the compassion that threatens to split you wide open.

I hope someday you do bring "truckloads of food to the starving kids in the world," as you so often tell me you will. I hope this world doesn't change you. 

During the next year while I watch you embrace seven, I’ll be thinking about when I was the same age. Each time I hold you tight, my yearning to hug my own mother will fade a little. When I see you and Naveen love each other, I’ll thank God my sister was with me through those lonely times in the orphanage. When I catch you jumping from couch to couch because you think I’m not looking, I’ll delight that in the best possible way I get to be seven again.

And each time your eyes sparkle with tears at the mention of where I’ve been, I’ll know the journey was all worth it because it brought me to you.

Happy birthday my seven year old love,


Monday, 15 December 2014

The usual December

We went to Sloan Christmas tree farm again. As usual there was a lot of Christmas cheer and music. People wore their Christmas smiles and there were far too many families wearing matching Christmas hats and sweaters. Many hot dogs were roasted and this year Gramma brought hot chocolate. 

It was hard not to love it.

I'm not sure I needed the hat, the overkill parka and the boots. But you know how we Canadians are at the beginning of the season. P.R.E.P.A.R.E.D.

I love these two. They were born 10 months apart and this year they've totally cemented their Cousin Love for each other.

 I insisted on the biggest, fattest tree on the lot this year. 

It set several questionable events into motion. Right after this picture, Deaglan smacked into that yellow contraption (the one on the right with wheels), bit through his tongue so that blood was spurting out of his mouth like it had released a small bubbling brook. Shaune and I sprang to action like any good parents, holding our foreheads, screaming in horror.

Thank goodness for Gramma Fran, the retired nurse. She (spiritually) smacked some sense into us, tended to our injured boy and set us back onto the right path.

When we got home the tree fell over twice, once almost on  top of little Naveen and broke most of the ornaments we were hanging onto from our first Christmases together over 15 years ago. 

We finally got it to stay up and upright by tying it to the railing.

Needless to say, I've had to confirm several dozen times since, what a good choice I still believe it is, praising it's majestic breadth and size.

And as usual, we threw a birthday party for this  Christmas Eve baby in early December. 

Same place as last year, a few different kids. A lot more action.

 Angry Bird eyebrows and mustaches.

 The birthday boy. Too much adrenaline. Too much energy. Too much cake.

 Cousin Leo. Not ready for the spotlight just yet.

  Calm and steady Gramma Fran.   

 And like we always do, we celebrated Grampa's birthday. 

 It's been the usual, predictable, fun and wonderful December made all better by this little guy - Cousin Leo.

Monday, 24 November 2014

His ordinary days

I really like Deaglan’s teacher this year.  I like her quite a bit. I wasn’t sure at first but after a few encounters I realized she was the perfect teacher for  him to have this first year at a new school.

A few weeks ago, on a Sunday evening, Deaglan lay between Shaune and me on our bed and cried. He was dreading school the next morning and didn’t understand why he couldn’t just go back to his old school. We explained again about zoning and reminded him that three of his best friends had also moved schools this year and were feeling the exact same way – something I was sure of because I’d texted back and forth with all of their moms.

He was dreading Monday morning because sometimes at recess he found he had no one to play with. Closer to the beginning of the year, when he was in a similar predicament, he’d make his way to the Kindergarten playground, and while away the time, chatting with his brother, separated only by a fence. They’d even invented their own sport where they threw a hat or sweatshirt back and forth over the fence, a makeshift game of catch. But lately, he explained, Naveen is always busy playing with his own friends.  

We told him that this was all a part of the experience of being a new kid – he was having a harder time establishing a set group of friends because most of his classmates had been friends since Junior Kindergarten but because  everybody in Naveen’s class was in the same boat - they were all new, it hadn’t taken as long.  We tried to assure him that by the end of the year, he’d feel like he belonged and always have a gang of guys to hang out with. In the meantime we promised to continue to have friends over as often as possible to help him develop these relationships.

He cried for a long time.

Our hearts ached. 

Up until now his life had been one fluid ride surrounded by friends, family and familiar places. He loved the old house and was blissfully unaware of its shortcomings. To him, it was the perfect size, filled with the perfect people situated on the perfect street. He didn’t notice the graffiti piling up on the neighbor’s fence or worry about the endless sea of unsavory characters coming in and out of the house across the street.  He didn’t care that we were tripping over each other all winter long, stuck together in one small living space.

Several days ago, I had to pick him up in the middle of the day – he had a temperature and upset stomach. I had a few minutes alone with his teacher in the office before collecting him so I told her about the Sunday night. Tears sprang to her eyes and she vowed to help out. I told her that although we tried to teach our kids the importance of all experiences, that each feeling played an important part in who they were,  we felt completely helpless watching our guy go through this transition.

The next night when we were doing homework, Deaglan told me that he’d felt really special at school that day. Not only had his teacher moved him beside one of his friends (a kid we’d had over to our house twice already) but she'd also told him that everybody missed him when he went home sick the day before. 

At parent-teacher interviews this past Thursday, I had a chance to connect with her again about it. After we discussed his academic progress, we chatted about other potential friendships she saw developing. We talked about our childhoods a bit, how sweet six and seven year olds are in general , and how important their friendships are at this age.  

I left feeling overwhelming gratitude that my son was spending his days being guided by this special person. 

We built gingerbread houses to welcome the Christmas season. Deaglan was meticulous with his, taking the time to carefully place jube-jube shutters and M&M doorknobs. 

Naveen looked like this the entire time. 

He cared very little about shingles and doorknobs. He wanted us to cut to the chase. "When can I eat my house????"

Which is all to say (as you can see from this picture - thanks Honey!) that I could have used a good stiff Christmas toddy to relax my jaw muscles after insisting over and over the Christmas house was supposed to be a decoration. Oh what fun!

When we looked at Naveen's gingerbread house this morning, it was no longer on the tray. The candy and icing were cleaned (read licked) off and there were several bites out of the roof.

Sunday, 19 October 2014


When I get home from work every afternoon, Naveen shouts out from wherever he is in the house, “Mommy?!! Is that you?!!” And when I confirm that yes it is, he lets out a whoop, and in his loudest most joyful voice he lets Deaglan and Shaune know that I’m home. 

This announcement is made despite the fact that usually both are in my plain sight and can see clearly that I am indeed home. And once my arrival is confirmed and properly celebrated, he wraps his arms around my legs, looks up into my face and asks in his most sober - finally I can relax voice if he can have a piece of gum and get into his Batman pajamas.  

He then tells me about his day, each event, a 28 minute long story, in the middle of which, if he senses he’s not getting my complete and undivided attention, scolds me for not listening and starts the story again from the very beginning.

After dinner, while Deaglan and I sit together to do reading homework, he stands behind me against the back of the couch, arms around my neck, chin on one shoulder listening to his brother’s slow and steady telling of each story.

And on my luckiest nights, a few times throughout the evening, he either asks to be picked up or if I’m sitting, plops down on my lap so that he can plant a dozen or so kisses on my face. His small hands cup my face and he tells me over and over that he loves me.

Oh, we have plenty of other moments too.

I tell him he has to take a bite of broccoli.
He tells me I’m no longer his friend.  
I tell him for the fourth time to put his shoes in the closet.
He accuses me of bad mothering (he really does!).
I side with Deaglan in one of their arguments.
He promises to cut me off from all affection for good.

But it occurs to me, in the hustle and bustle of school, extra-curriculars and work where structure and routine must necessarily rule, these moments glisten like flecks of gold in the monotonous terrain of our everydays.

He got new pajamas today.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The loud and gentle voices

Last winter I gained something like 7 pounds.

On my small, apple (not pear) shaped, child-birth-ravaged, could-actually-stand-to-lose-15-pounds frame, that’s a lot of extra weight. To be honest I was in complete denial (even though my skirts had been screaming Uncle every time I zipped them up) until a very truthful colleague at work pointed it out. We only see each other every few months, so when she visited from the Toronto office last spring she asked me flat out.

She is soft spoken with a very thick accent and was smiling while pointing to my mid section; naturally I assumed she was paying me a compliment. She must be, I remember thinking, for there can be no other good reason to so intentionally spotlight a middle aged woman’s most vulnerable parts.

In response to what I thought I heard, I told her no, I hadn’t. She insisted that I had and then, to prove it, she pointed to my face. She was gesturing that it had gotten fuller.

Then light-headedness.
Was I dreaming? Was this woman really telling me that I’d gained weight?

Yes, I do still speak to her.

But it did hurt to know that the long wretched winter we had last year had left its mark on me. I can’t say for sure but it might likely have been the many Saturday afternoons I spent snuggling up with Dexter and Ms. Vickie.

A deadly threesome.

I’ve been a regular exerciser most of my adult life but it was clear that I could no longer afford to eat like I did even five years ago. This broke my heart.

Sorrowfully, I unfriended Ms. Vickie.
Dexter and I became exclusive.

I started adding in a sixth workout when I could and played soccer with the kids most nights after dinner throughout the summer. The weight did not budge. I read about perimenopause and how hard it could be to lose weight in the years leading up to menopause but didn’t want to believe it was impossible. Finally, I took a good hard look at how I was eating and accepted that while most of the time I did make good choices, I was still eating too much.

That’s when I turned inward.

I started listening to the voices in my head before each meal and noticed that just before lunch and dinner there was one particularly loud voice that told me there was not going to be enough food. Eat as much as you can, it insisted, before it’s all gone. And eat fast!

Obviously, those first seven years in Bangladesh when full meals were rare and the subsequent years as part of a large family where you had to act fast at the dinner table, had done a number on my relationship with food.

I started a dialogue.

How about we eat this much and if we’re still hungry in a half hour we’ll grab something else?  I asked gently at every meal. The voice began to listen and eventually quiet down. That was three weeks ago. I’m happy to tell you that I’ve shed six pounds.

That’s like an average sized newborn.
An uncarved pumpkin.
A small turkey. I’ve lost a small turkey!

The voice (along with so many others) is still with me but we’re learning to co-exist. And I still think about Ms. Vickie at least a few times every month but so far have not renewed our friendship. But Dexter and I? 

We’ve still got some unfinished business - Season 8 is finally on Netflix (!).

Here's Naveen yesterday morning in his favorite outfit - the one I mentioned in my last post. He insisted on wearing it again this morning. Oh how I love to do  laundry at 6 am on a weekday!

Thursday, 25 September 2014

My spiritual guides

Last night when I told Deaglan it was time to turn his TV off, he lost his mind. He wasn’t tired, he insisted and besides his friends at school had been discussing this very thing earlier in the day and they all get to stay up later than him.

I asked for specific examples.

“Brandon gets to stay up like really, really late,” he said.
“How late?”
“12 hundred o’clock.”

He was completely serious. I bit my cheek and added telling time to my mental checklist of things I needed to teach this kid.

“I’m sorry buddy, but you have a hard time getting up in the morning and your body needs a good amount of sleep to be healthy.”

“I hate you!” he said, “I’m not going to fall asleep. I’ll stay awake all night in the dark.”

“Listen, I get it. I remember how much I used to hate having to go to bed when I was a kid. It did seem unfair. I especially hated it when I was in the middle of doing something. (I figured this was not the time to tell him I didn't have a TV in my room until third year university) But I’m the Mom and it’s my job to take care of you.”

“But I’m not tired!!!” he yelled.

“You will be once you lay your head on the pillow, I promise. It's time.”

I left the room then.
He was forlorn. He cried out of sheer frustration. He was a kid with very little control over this circumstance. I sat in my room and wondered if I’d done the right thing.

Five minutes later he was sound asleep, snoring softly, long limbs askew. Relieved, I patted myself on the back for handling it the way I did. I didn't raise my voice. I  didn’t react to his anger the way I typically might. I’d taken a deep breath and found a way to connect with him.

I’ve been practicing.

In the Conscious Parent  Shefali Tsabary says there is a way to be firm with our kids without getting caught up in the drama of the situation. “As much as conscious parenting is about listening to our children, honoring their essence, and being fully present with them, it’s also about boundaries and discipline.”

It’s a beautiful book.

There’s such goodness and wisdom on every page. I’ve underlined and asterisked something in just about every chapter. I’ve wanted to call each and every single one of you with kids in your lives to say OMG, you have to read this book.

It’s that good.

One of my favourite things she says is that although we believe as parents that we hold the power to raise our kids, the reality is that our kids hold the power to raise us into the parents they need us to become.

I find this profound.

For me, parenthood has been deeply satisfying. It’s been hard at times but so, so fulfilling. I do believe what she says in her book that our children are spiritual guides put into our lives to teach us to become our best selves.  

This morning my little guides were doing a lot of teaching but I was in no mood to learn a thing.
We all slept in. I made the lunches and fed the kids breakfast to help Shaune get out the door sooner. He was grateful and asked if there was something he could do to help before leaving. 

"Dress Naveen" I said without hesitation. 

It's the part I dread the most every morning. He's very particular about what he will wear. His most favourite outfit is a vivid green ninja hoodie paired with a pair of Disney-blue sweatpants, a hand-me-down we received for Deaglan several years ago from a co-worker of Shaune's a few jobs ago.

They have the word DINO written down one leg. 

I've let him wear this get-up at least three times each week since school began but have had to put my foot down the other days simply because it was filthy and I hadn't had a chance to do laundry. He refuses to wear most of the new clothes we bought him for school.

Shaune wasn't successful with the first or second outfit he suggested. I could tell he had to go so I offered to  take over. 

A lot of crying and angry words ensued. We finally settled on some old worn shorts (I thought I'd gotten rid of these ages ago!) and a hand-me-down red Lightening McQueen hoodie. He let me know a few times that he really dug this outfit. 

Great, I thought, your teachers can continue to think I found your clothes in a dumpster.

I know there is a spiritual lesson in these morning struggles somewhere but as a fashion-conscious soul, I am very resistant to learning it.

When I got home, he'd ditched the T shirt underneath and was just Marky Mark-ing it. I'm definitely getting him some white Calvins.

The move and all it entailed did Shaune and me in this spring and summer. I've taken no pictures to show you the new house. I wrote no posts to tell you how we're settling in. A sad state of affairs!

Here's a few pictures I found on our camera. The kids love the pool and despite the crummy weather we had all summer, they used it all the time.

By the end of the summer, Deaglan was swimming without the floatie. Swimming lessons courtesy of Dad.


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