Nov 29, 2010

Good dad, by the numbers

There's nothing like being accused of being a good dad to make you act like one for awhile. I spent most of today being attentive, self-sacrificing, fun and constructive with the boys. I just counted (usually not a smart thing to do), and it was a full 10 hours of full-on parenting today.

Transport (3.5 hours):
Walked back and forth on snow/ice through a steady rain to the school, usually toting the sled the boys made over the weekend, often with one or both of them on it. Took detours, slid down the scary steep Billy Bonker Breaker Hill, meandered through the forest/ravine path behind our house... played, with no agenda or rules or timetable. Kicked an iceball the whole way on one of the trips, marvelling with Zekiah as it melted smaller and smaller and finally into nothing.

School involvement (1 hour): Stayed for the school assembly where Zekiah just happened to be the brave grade one to represent his class and go first in front of the whole school through the magical advent spiral, lighting the first candle to bring light into the dark season, preparing the way for the birth of the child of light and other such symbolism. Watched as older and older children progressed through the same spiral, seeing the path my own boys will take toward their adolescence. Powerful feeling of an upward spiral circle, deeply appreciating where each boy is right now and where they'll be as the years unravel.

Whenever I get too far into worrying about them growing up and leaving, I just need to meet them in the Now, embrace and celebrate whomever they are right now and trust that each new age and stage will have similar Joys and points of connection.

Work and Play Together (3.5 hours)
Involved the whole family in two good work projects - culling potatoes for the root cellar, and culling 4 chickens to take to the abattoir tomorrow morning (which they'll also get to come to). Coached (and cajoled) Galen's piano practice, lost repeatedly at UNO, built a fire together, cut out and put up paper snowflakes. Bedtime teeth and story and snuggle.

Logistics (2 hours) - Oatmeal breakfast, packed lunch, snacks, dinner. Morning clothes, boots and gloves, dry the wet school clothes.

The numbers would be even higher if I included all the background stuff - dishes, laundry, cleaning, setting up playdates and birthday parties, etc. And all the time that Sarah also put in. But for this musing I wanted to focus on Together Time. 10 hours of direct, hands-on parenting, consciously doing nothing but serving and enjoying my children.

I could list many clever or creative parenting tricks I did today to earn the Good Dad label. But whatever woven-in life lessons, gentle discipline, spontaneous song creation, etc are just what each of us do, building on our strengths and giving what we have to our kids. Beyond or underlying all those tricks is the foundation that made this day, this time of our lives, and this relationship I've built with these boys: Time. Focus. Dedication. Attention. I wasn't going anywhere today, wasn't running to my emails, wasn't trying to shunt them off on friends or each other, and we all knew it. "THE PAPA IS IN" read the sign on the door, and the boys came in and stayed.

10 hours is not, thankfully, a normal day (for those of us blessed with school-age children). I do have work and reno and writing and various other projects that are still on the week's to-do list after this Super Monday. I am tired as only a good day can make one feel. But when I signed on for this stay-at-home dad gig, it was with the understanding that my number one job was being there for and WITH my children. Whether that means 2 or 10 hours, the more I can remember that priority, the closer I'll be to truly giving myself to my family the way I pledged to two and a half years ago.

Nov 28, 2010

My Strong Boy

"Papa, you're being more strict these days," my 8-year-old moans from the back seat.

I laugh, but it's true. He's pushing a lot these days, needing strong loving boundaries to meet the growing power he's feeling. On bad days (my bad, that is) I worry he'll become a bully, an outcast, a juvenile delinquent. On good days, I celebrate his confidence and inner strength.

There's been incidents of hitting his brother (usually provoked and understandable), a classmate with a ball of wool (absent-minded teasing/flirting, not maliciously intended), pushing another classmate to the ground and breaking her wrist (over-excitement, not trying to hurt). All of these had to be dealt with, but I have to remember are not indicative of a bad nature, just bad judgment or body awareness.

For many of his almost 9 years, Galen has felt (internally, and to me) like a victim. Taking the brunt of some bullying, feeling on the outside, unsure. Sometimes told he's not allowed to play, more often not knowing how to jump in. Now suddenly he's realizing that he's bigger than the "bullies", that he's strong, that he's special and can assert himself. Two examples:

An after-school snowball fight pitted him against 3 of the more "in" kids. Galen's had problems with two of those kids over the past 2 years, and one of them was throwing snowballs hard and mercilessly. There was nothing different in that boy's "attack" from other times that Galen has ended up crying or feeling picked on, but this time Galen's response was to fight back, thankfully in a fun way. He was laughing and dodging and throwing snowballs back when he could. There was a bit of fear in his laughter, but triumphing that fear was his thrill in being strong enough to stay in the game, turn an aggressor into an opponent in an equal game.

The other morning his little brother warned him that "the kids will laugh at you" for wearing ski goggles to school. The Protective Papa in me wanted to agree, wanted to help him not have anything to make him stick out more and increase likelihood of being picked on. But he just shrugged and said he wanted to wear them, so I had to trust him. Sure enough, the minute he walked into the classroom he was met with three classmates sneering and challenging, "Why are you wearing those?!" Completely unfazed, he simply said, "I felt like it." And that was enough for the others - they could feel his confidence, and it became a non-issue. That afternoon, one of those boys asked to borrow the goggles.

We've been trying hard to have him well dressed, clean, polite, take away any obvious bloopers to make him more of a target. But it's not the goofy goggles or the bell-bottom floods that he belovedly calls his "knickers" that matter, it's how he wears them. And these days he's wearing them with pride. Rather than becoming bland and just hoping to survive by fitting in, he's embracing his unique nature, his goofy humour and his beautiful sensitivity, and he's shining.

So when he takes a classmate's sled and won't give it back all recess, there is a cause for celebration. No, the behavior isn't acceptable and we address that with him, but there's a brave new strength that lets him assert himself rather than complain that he was never given a turn. He's finding himself and the will to stay on his own special path; our task is to celebrate his uniqueness, supporting and drawing out that strength that lets him Gloriously be Galen, while helping to channel it in positive healthy ways.

Nov 25, 2010

Snow wonder

Thank you friend, for a walk as pure and beautiful as the snow on the fields. Thank you for your tears and your laughter, often in the same stretch of country road; the two need never be far apart. It's all real and it's all you. The more we share our ups and downs, the more we are.

There's no rules in friendship or in sadness. Except honesty, maybe, but even that means more about honesty to our feelings than to our expression. Whatever is ready to come out whenever will be met with love and openness, and whatever needs to stay inside will be equally respected and met with love and openness.

Still the gentle snow falls, covering the world in softness, muting and slowing and making it safe for long walks and slow talks. I could lie on my back all day and watch the world fall into my eyes, waving angels into the world and dreaming of hot chocolate.

Nov 19, 2010

Tired enough for winter

Bring on the snow - I'm tired.

Took a gloriously unexpected sunny day to finally finish harvesting potatoes (left), planting the garlic, then mulching it with 5 inches of grass and shredded leaves (below). The new field still needs a bit more seaweed and 2 trailer loads of horse manure. Woodshed needs restacking, but has enough in it for winter. Winter greens transplanted into the greenhouse. The garden is pretty much put to rest for the winter, now it's my turn.

I want shorter days. I want to be unable to farm because it's under a white blanket. I want afterschool sledding and cold nights by the fire. I want books, games, guitar. I want a 4-month snow day.

Fall has been wonderfully productive with final gardening, building an addition onto the rental cottage, running the Who Knew talent show, and doing a final pre-Christmas marketing blitz for my business. I've kicked into high-efficiency mode and felt that familiar high-energy buzz. But it's only OK because it's temporary, putting aside more personal stuff knowing that my time will soon come.

Winter is a time to cultivate me. Time to dream and read and plan next year's garden, farming with a pen instead of a shovel. Time to get back to yoga three times a week, brisk morning walks with friends. Time for frozen world hot-tubs and early bedtimes. Time to relax, recuperate, and rejuvenate before spring comes to wake us up again.

Thank you dear Autumn for lasting long enough for me to store up for the winter. Now bring on the snow.

Nov 11, 2010

What are we remembering?

Today, Remembrance Day, I will hold in my heart not just Canadian soldiers, but all soldiers who senselessly lose their lives. Russian, Taliban, Congolese, German soldiers are equally worthy of my tears, my poppies, my heartfelt sadness at their loss.

They all fought for their countries. They all were told the same lie that young Canadians were told - that war would bring freedom and Peace.

This is my annual day of discomfort at our society's glorification of war. On this Remembrance Day we always get it wrong. Just a glance through the local paper makes that clear:
"Let's remember and pay tribute to the sacrifices made by veterans and their fallen comrades in their efforts to build a more peaceful world." - Doug Routley, MLA
"We have freedom because of what veterans have done." - Wes Everitt, sergeant at Arms

War doesn't bring Peace. It can't. These soldiers were indeed brave to sacrifice their lives in service to their country, but it was a misguided service. I salute their bravery, and lament the societal influences that deceived them into thinking that war is the answer.

Today let's remember the terrible loss to society that war always causes. Let's feel saddened by the death of so many young women and men in the service, and the many many more innocent victims of war, mostly women and children.

But let's not fall into the trap of using that collective global sadness to garner more support for the troops, to add further fuel to the fire and continue the circle of killing. This is not a national recruitment day. Let's take that sadness deep inside our collective soul and let it feed a strong light of Peace, a collective determination to remove all causes of war.

Nov 8, 2010

A peopleful, purposeful weekend

Friday - two parent-teacher interviews, full workday with Chad on the cabin extension (new office for Crystal), then a glorious friend's glorious birthday party in her intimately packed kitchen/living room, stumbled home exhausted at midnight.

Saturday - all day building with Chad again (finished building a box by the end, into which we'll pour the foundation, not too impressive looking for 2 days with 2 men but it is, really!), then an overnight visit from former roommate Meribeth and her partner and 2 kids. Much too exhausted to also slip out to another glorious friend's glorious party.

Sunday - 8-person sourdough pancake breakfast feast, very centred 15-person Quaker meeting, big final lunch visit with our visitors, potato-harvest and garlic planting all afternoon with the kids, long-awaited 8-person dinner party at our friends' new house, then straight to another friend's basement for our annual 10-person candle dipping extravaganza (prep for the school's Christmas Fair). Stumbled home exhausted at 10:30

Too many good people, just enough time. I am looking forward to a rebound day of no friends, just intensive construction and gardening. But a weekend packed with friends and good work was, to use Zekiah's word, suuweeeeeeeet.

Nov 4, 2010

Would the Real MC please stand up?

What's the point of hosting a talent show fundraiser if you can't dress up? Multiple times...

At the second annual "Who Knew," featuring 12 parent and teacher acts ranging from country duet to stand-up comedy to seven desperate housewives doing things with irons that Mrs. Brady and Alice could never have imagined, I got to play several parts (not all planned).

First I opened the show as Billy Squire, singing the timeless 1981 classic The Stroke - "Stroke me, stroke me, give me the business all night long." Those tight shiny pants and curled-feathered hair soon gave way to a formal suit as I had the high honour of accompanying Patrick and Marissa's beautiful contact dance performance. For some friends, the biggest "Who knew?!" surprise was that I even own a suit (thanks mom, it didn't get me a job but did get a laugh.)

During break I was told to ramp up the energy a bit, so I started doing a striptease, removing one item between each act. When I caught myself seductively licking my own belt buckle in front of 130 community friends I wondered just how wild the night would get. But fortunately (for the audience), when down to just trousers and undies it was time to do a quick backstage change and come out as Cari's wife for her funny song. I explained to the disappointed audience that the grand finale of my striptease had been canceled now that I was a married lady.

For the second year in a row, we parents and faculty had the glorious chance to let our hair down and just enjoy ourselves as adults. If I as MC go a bit further than most others, it's just blazing a path so that others feel more free to express themselves however that comes out - fighting cats, boot-stompin' sex kittens, banjo-strummin' Kermit covers, clothes-pegged unmentionables, we had it all on stage and on the dancefloor till 1:30am, and all was gloriously received in the spirit of fun and cutting loose. Who Knew setting the tone could require so many costume changes?