Mar 31, 2009

Birthday vision

Double vision, more like it. Started my birthday celebration early by staying up till 4:30am laying floor in the garage rental suite, in for a quick 2.5 hour nap then up with the family for birthday breakfast pancakes. By 3:00 I was half-hallucinating while picking up Galen from school, not sure how much of what i remember from it is real or imagined. Even for me this is a bit too far out-of-balance. But damn that suite is looking good!

My birthday treat was coming in at dinner time for a real sit-down portabello-mushroom burger dinner with my family, telling Sarah that this is the only place I really want to be for my 42nd marker. Then I let myself fall asleep with the boys for 2 magical slumber hours while she did the PTA thing (discussing shared expectations around playdates and birthday parties - will Kool-Aid be in or out...?) Could there be a better celebration? Well maybe when Sarah gets back later...

So for this next hour I will celebrate by NOT going back out to the garage. Maybe watch some Dirty Dancing and eat more of the coconut-oil brownies the family made for me. A weekend hike up Mt. Tzouhalem with friends will satisfy the social creature in me, but for now just quiet time with my beautiful family is all this old country boy needs.

Mar 28, 2009

Pee on a tree

I pee outside alot these days. In city life it was a rare camping-expedition communion with nature, but here it's just every day.

And not in the hunched up, hide behind a tree and hope no one happens by way, but in a relaxed, natural, free way, like Clyde the orangutan from Every Which Way But Loose.

Will the wonders of country life never cease?

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Mar 27, 2009

Lost in the garage

I've been lying to you. Maybe lying to myself. Definitely lying to my children.

I write of a life of balance. Promise my kids oodles of relaxed, fun, quality time together. Promise myself a new life of following passions, honouring relationships, living in right relationship with the world. Have even questioned if I sleep too much.

The reality of 2009 has been anything but balanced. A quick renovation of an old garage into a one-bedroom rental suite and two grant writing contracts have all, predictably, increased in scope to become an all-consuming. These projects have swallowed up every bit of playtime, writing time, friends time, wife time, me time. I haven't taken the kids to school in weeks, haven't played Scrabble or read written a book, haven't slept more than 6 hours. Haven't even started planning or planting the spring garden.

When I did rush up to school to get the boys yesterday, it wasn't until I saw the reactions of the long-lost moms in the parking lot that I realized I hadn't showered, shaved or changed my grubby purple construction pants and rubber boots in 6 days. Even for me, that's crossing a line.

"It'll be over soon," I whisper to my clinging boys at bedtime. "Just as soon as this last project is done." "Just one more week." "I just have to get through this one thing then it will all come back to normal."

How often do we tell ourselves this? And more scary, is it ever true?

It is true that we committed to an insanely short timeline to get our renters in, and that I have no intention of taking on too many contracts at the same time. But it's also true that farming season is about to start, and that I do want to start investing time into writing a book. Those trees that fell over the winter still need to be chopped up. We want to get a sheep and 30 more chickens...

It's also true that part of me has loved this. After a relaxed fall/winter of play and sleep and family, it's felt invigorating to have projects to fully launch my everything into, lose myself in. I feel powerful with every new wall that goes up or grant section that gets written. I feel productive and needed in an instant gratification way that the deep, slow rewards of parenting rarely brings. Where does this drive to martyrdom and hyperproductivity come from; what does it feed?

And it's more true that this is a pattern. I've uttered the "just one more..." line too often to really believe it anymore. Was the slow, balanced fall just a lull rather than a true new lifestyle? Was the relaxed, balanced Rick just a visitor, and now the true, driven Rick is back?

Or maybe this is my version of balanced. Overwork, then crash and recover. Or putting a more positive spin, a time to sow and a time to reap. Maybe I just need to level a bit, shave the top peaks off the manic times and pull in a little more energy into the slow times. And accept that it's OK to be a person who needs to "accomplish" things, and then find a way to make that happen without sacrificing all the other commitments and people and values that I want to colour my life.

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Mar 25, 2009

Tommy can you hear me?

Morning came early. That seems to happen when you stay up until 3am working on the garage reno (more about balance in an upcoming entry). When the boys wanted attention at 7am I tried my hardest to ignore them, silently praying that Sarah would figure out from my silence that I needed to sleep in and needed her to take care of everything. After a few minutes she hadn't received my telepathy, so I grumpily jerked out of bed and snorted, "I guess I'll take care of them."

The next morning, after another late late night, at that same daybreak moment I whispered to Sarah, "I'd love to sleep in - could you take them?" Up and out she was, with a quick hug, and I drifted back to a much-needed sleep.

I mentioned "silent expectations" recently as one of my theories of why being together can be more difficult than flying solo. That first morning I was resentful of Sarah not fulfilling a wish that I hadn't even expressed - not particularly fair to expect her to always know what I'm needing, particularly at groggy wake-up time! Maybe I'll try this "asking" thing again...

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Mar 19, 2009

Safer and tamer (older and wiser?)

I don't run the risk of being killed as often as i used to. Don't cross the road to avoid drunk 18-year-old policemen with automatic rifles. Don't have an evacuation plan and backpack ready as civil war encroaches. Don't cliff jump, land 4-seater airplanes in mountain-top cow pastures, or have bottles thrown at me by angry unemployed youth demanding a job. Don't swim with crocodiles or walk along the edge of Victoria Falls. Don't dry hump in the back of the parent's station wagon while my buddy takes cul-de-sac's at 60 kmh and swears he only drank a few.

Is this age, marriage, responsibility, parenthood? I certainly don't feel immortal or immune to danger like we do in our youth. I'm more aware that death happens, and of the effect my death or injury would have on my children, family, community, chickens.

Or maybe I don't have anything pressing to die for right now. When I knowingly placed my life in danger by returning to civil war Zaire in 1997, it was because I believed it was important enough to take that risk. That was where I needed to be to contribute to the world. Now my important contribution is here raising good kids and crops and community.

Maybe I don't need to be so close to the edge to learn and feel full anymore. I guess I sometimes miss the thrill, even the notoriety, of being so far out on a limb without (or ignoring) fear of falling. But it's been replaced by a Joy of being so far in - in love, in myself, in natural rhythm. I don't need to experience death's whisper in my ear to embrace or understand life. I live a grand adventure in every child's tear and am part of a full circle with every fresh egg.

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Mar 12, 2009

Diverse definitions of diversity

Moving from multi-ethnic Commercial Drive to all-white small-town island bowling league - that was a fear before coming here, and a question I was asked yet again just tonight. But diversity , we got it, lots of it. Just in Galen's grade one Waldorf class of 24 we've got kids and parents from Korea, China, Armenia, Ghana, First Nations, Bulgaria, Germany, England, and Italy, as well as various parts of English and Francophone Canada.

And why is diversity always defined, at least to start with, by race and colour? In the same school parking lot we have a fabulous diversity in terms of professions (business owners, garbage truck driver, bush pilot, army lawyer, accountant, farmer, stay-at-home parents, nutritionist, childminder, yoga instructor, carpenter, teacher, retired circus performer...), religion, education, money, rural vs urban (former and current lives), commuters and home-office folk, divorced/together/single parents and one set of 4 co-parents, etc etc. One day last week it was all dads doing the noon kindergarten pick-up. Sarah took a fermentation workshop from two of the moms, and I go to vocal improv class led by another mom.

But even with that broadened scope of "diversity", it still sounds an awful lot like "I've got a black friend." The measure of diversity is not something you can count, but something you live, or rather how you live. It's about how open I am to learning about and from other people. How often and deeply I am challenged in how I view and interact with the world. How many times someone helps open my eyes a little wider, thinking "I've lived for almost 42 years and never thought that or that way before." How willing I am to sit with someone who maybe makes me feel uncomfortable.

So tonight I sit in this predominantly white town and lift my water glass to the patchwork diversity that colours my world. There may not be a great burrito or Ethiopian joint in town, but there's certainly a rich tapestry of peoples and cultures to learn from and grow with.

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Mar 6, 2009

Wandering in a clean, lonely house

It's 9:00 and I've already sent 5 emails to Sarah. Every time I hit Send, I remember something else that touched or happened or occurred to me today that normally would have been passed on to Sarah like table salt. Telling her about Galen's cut or the newly-discovered purple flower patch or my oddly itchy elbow makes it all real, breathes life into already-dusty memories. I live once for me, then once again in sharing it with her. She's my second helping that makes the flavour last, deepens the experience, and takes it out of a lonely me into a loving us.
If you want to go fast, go alone
If you want to go far, go together
Our dear friend Chantey sent the quote just minutes before I posted yesterday's entry about life being easier without Sarah here. It's a good lead-in to this follow-up exploration of the emotional side of separation - that life may be simpler and clearer, but it sure aint richer. To quote another friend who left a comment on yesterday's entry,"ENJOY this ease, this difference when you're on your own...but remember that it is a rather empty perk."

Days are OK - busy, productive, great social contact with neighbours and parkinglot parents and telephone friends. It's the nights that get cold and still. The kids are well-fed (tofu-broccoli pizza tonight - the slabs of tofu looked like cheese mountains and made the whole pizza moist and decadent) and long since asleep, kitchen's clean, and it's me and this laptop. The long list of tasks and projects that I've been dying to either get off that damn list or really dive into - the list that I admittedly blame Sarah for distracting me from, but which I now have all night to address - just looks tiring. It looks like a list of ways to distract myself from the emptyness of this night. Rather than being something I eagerly move towards, it feels like a crutch I'm leaning on.

Sometimes when she travels I watch bad pirated movies. Sometimes I just sleep more. Sometimes I find it's almost midnight and I've just doddled around emails and Facebook and other e-attempts at connection. Usually I eat too much peanut butter or brownie batter without much enjoyment. On good trips I read or write, or wake up long-lost friends 3 times zones away. But it's always at some level a filler, making up for her not being here.

So this is love after 10 years of marriage - co-dependent, entrenched, heavy? Feels more like a full deep beautiful entwinement, from deep down roots to tickling new growth needles, we twist around each other at the trunk even as branches reach out to different shafts of sunlight. And when she's gone, I have more space to bend and blow with the wind, more sunlight and air to grow, but I'm shaken at the roots. Nothing to lean on or hold up, no one to share the day's Joys and passings with.

In college they taught that passionate love gives way to deep friendship, and we young poets all shuddered at the thought. But as much as I sometimes miss the thrill of discovering a new love, exploring her secret gardens and creating new paths and patterns together, on a night like this I just miss my best friend. Not with sadness or despair, not as despondent or melodramatic as some of the above poetry might suggest, but with a heightened appreciation for her daily, hourly, minute-by-minute rich and real presence in my life.

This has turned from an exploration of how it feels to be alone into an ode to (temporarily misplaced) love. That's all I can know tonight. I can't remember how it felt to be truly alone, sitting in my Tanzanian house musing in my journal by kerosene lantern about what marriage would feel like on a Tuesday night. I can't write about real lost love or abandonment, about full-on single parenting, about anything other than what it feels like to be deeply in love and then to be apart for long enough to more keenly experience it.

As for the kids, they get along remarkably well, eat my cooking, wash and dress and have playdates and do all the things they ought to. But snuggled in at night, they snuggle a little closer. This is when they feel safe to tell me that their least favourite thing of the day was not getting to see Mama. Her absence is a real, tangible lump deep inside their hearts.

On the night before her trip, we walked under a half-moon around our fields, through the forest, alongside the creek. I told her that we'd get along just fine without her, that life would be simpler and more efficient, that we really didn't need her. Hopefully she understood it as a most romantic realization; that I would be missing her not for any utilitarian reasons, but just for the simple reason that she brings richness and meaning to my life.

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Mar 5, 2009

Why is life easier when she's away?

When there's no girls, we can stand on our heads and eat hotdogs all day."
- Zekiah's assessment of our life during Sarah's 8-day trip

Of course I've played the "Mr. Mom" card and cooked hotdogs and perogies the first two days of Sarah's absence. But the side dishes were broccoli, carrots and corn, breakfasts were the usual steel-cut organic oatmeal soaked overnight in a bit of yogurt, and car snacks were homemade raspberry-grapebutter-almond muffins. And today we got more adventurous - sausages from the organic Providence Farm down the road. Snack time was an artfully decked out plate of tortilla wraps (homemade cream cheese, carrots and cucumber), cashews, sliced pear, and leftover pb&j sandwiches from 2 days ago. I've cooked more and better than when she's home.

This nutritional and (in my mind) tasteful culinary success begs the question, why does life get logistically easier when the wife's away? I don't know if it encourages or frustrates her, but the boys and I quickly get into a rhythm on our own. Dishes and laundry get done, the living room got cleaned up while I cooked dinner, Thursday morning showers still happened, and we hosted a 4-kid playparty all afternoon while I worked on the garage. We work together well as a team, and everything gets done and done well. We become synchronized, like Dustin Hoffman and his son reading their morning papers over coffee and unburnt toast in Kramer vs. Kramer.

I'm certainly not suggesting that Sarah interferes or that anything about her is a problem or encumbrance. There's just something about having two adults in a house that bogs things down. But the "why" question remains, and it's a genuine question. Here are a few theories:

1. We are (thankfully) still two individual people. A friend staying with us recently commented about how often Sarah and I are arranging things, talking details and business. I'm still not sure if she meant it in a positive or negative way, but it's true that it takes constant communication to keep up with each others' schedules, desires, & needs. Today was faster and easier because I didn't have to consult or inform or accommodate anyone about decisions to have friends over, go shopping, work late on the reno or eat mashed potatoes. I just did things, got things done.

2. Diffusion of responsibility. I cook about 95% of the breakfasts and lunches in our household (she does most dinners), but still there's always the fallback that she'll do it if I don't, and still the slight uncertainty that maybe I shouldn't be doing it because maybe she was planning on it. Same with bedtimes, garbage day, chicken feeding and counter wiping - even when we have fairly established roles, it's not as clear as right now when it's either me or no-one doing the job. While she's away I don't stop to think about whose turn it is; I just do it (or don't, and that's my sole decision and consequence too.)

3. No silent expectations. I know that the kids, cooking, cleaning, etc are 100% my responsibility this week; there's no part of me thinking, "If only she'd wake up early and do breakfast so I can sleep in..." Even though it's clearly my job as stay-at-home dad to do the school drop-offs and pick-ups, and even though I thoroughly enjoy it, there is a bit of mental and emotional energy that goes into thinking that maybe she will/should do it this time.

4. Intrinsic motivation. When it comes to some chores like cleaning or gourmet cooking (by that I mean following a recipe), Sarah will happily admit to having higher standards than me. What that means, unfortunately, is that when I am doing dishes or wiping out the bathroom sink (yes Sarah, I do that sometimes :) there's an adolescent voice grumbling inside me that I'm just doing this for her. And that grumbling voice is sometimes louder than my own desire to have a clean kitchen or sink. Now on my own, I'm still doing these cleaning chores, but just for me (and to be a good role model for the boys) and to the level that satisfies my life view. My own motivation is clearer without the superimposition of hers, and with that clarity comes Zen-master efficiency and Joy of doing.

5. Going to the Mattresses. When it all comes down in The Godfather, they hunker down in one house with mattresses all over the floor, eating men's cooking and somehow surviving. Maybe the boys and I know we have to pull together while she's away so we all increase our efforts - physical and emotional.

Big disclaimer: This is not a call for nor a glorification of single parenting. I cannot claim to know what one or ten years, or even one month, of this would be like (though I would be interested to hear from some of you if this "simplification" I'm experiencing continues long term).

Bigger disclaimer: This whole entry is only in relation to logistics, not emotions. I've already got a companion piece brewing in my mind about how it feels to be without her this week - stay tuned.

So, that's 5 theories off the top of my head, all which I believe to some extent, and none of which seem to fully answer the question. So please, share your own experiences and theories about why (or if) life gets easier when your partner is away. I've wondered about this for a long time, and would appreciate any help in better understanding it.

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Mar 4, 2009

Butter church and better crank

There's nothing like the promise of a picnic at the "Butter Church" to keep kids inspired for a day of chores. When we finally got to this 139-year-old stone relic overlooking Cowichan Bay, we'd already done photocopies, post office, thrift shop, locksmith, bank, grocer, and tool-fixer. But a ramble up the steep stone walkway to the hilltop vista rewarded our patience, as did a delicious creation from Zekiah's Chirp magazine - tortilla wraps with homemade cream cheese and organic (though not local) cucumber and carrots. Not too sure how I got kids who view this as the ultimate treat, but I'm not complaining.

The church was built in 1870, funded by the women of the church, who came up with the idea of churning and selling butter to raise funds. The stones were broken up by the firing of a cannonball. Later abandoned due to church politics (not due to any curse as fabricated by Ripley's Believe It or Not), the beautiful doors and windows were relocated to a church on Saltspring Island, but there were no pews to take because parishioners sat on the floor in those days.

The boys enjoyed the building, though the predictable graffiti and broken bottles were "too many litter" for Zekiah. They were also thrilled at the slightly decomposed skull in the grass where we picnicked - a very large dog, perhaps, though the boys are sure it was a dinosaur and begged to bring it home.

Refreshed and inspired, we then took my bike to the youth centre where social workers engage at-risk (and any) youth by teaching them bicycle repair and building skills, along with the adjoining art centre. We ended up spending an hour finding and installing a new crank with the help of our 10-year-old mechanic Dwight, and adding our artistic inclinations to the brick graffiti wall (much more welcoming than the butter church's defilement). What a beautiful space for youth to have positive modelling and a healthy outlet for their emerging passions - I left inspired, and with a functioning bike since just before the Dec.13 snows made cycling a distant memory for over a month.

Home (via Rona) at 6:30 for a quickie bachelor dinner of, you guessed it, veggie dogs, though may not have guessed the accompanying carrot-broccoli-corn stirfy. Bedtime rendition of Day is Done "(Peter Paul and Mary) rounded out a healthy together day with my boys.

Tell me why you're smiling my son
Is there a secret you can tell everyone
Do you know more than men who are wise
Can you see what we all must disguise to your loving eyes
And if you take my hand my son, all will be well when the day is done
And if you take my hand my son, all will be well when the day is done

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