May 31, 2011

Haircut and a Real Job

It's gone. Seven years of long and longer hair, long hair identity, freedom from regular haircuts, repetitive offers/requests of drugs in Vancouver (though not here, and none taken Mom), ponytails and pigtails and Cousin It imitations, all gone in a whim and an hour of careful pruning (for the cancer kids).

It started as a sudden random thought, in the garden missing my family - "Maybe i should cut my hair." It was the first time the idea had sprung from me at all, and the first time it made sense. Grandma's 97 and there won't be that many more Easters to give her this long-begged-for present. And unlike before, i couldn't drum up a single reason to stop that noble impulse.

For the past many years, anytime grandma tried to beg/threaten/bribe/reason me into cutting it off, there were good reasons not to. It felt good, i enjoyed it, it wasn't blocking my social or professional life. Cutting off a healthy part of Me just to please one ancestor just didn't sit right.

I was never trying to make a statement with long hair. Wasn't openly thumbing or bucking the system, wasn't aligning with any particular subculture, was't trying to directly annoy grandma. It just felt good, and i enjoyed the freedom of being at a place in my life where i could do it without consequence. So when it stopped feeling quite as good - or when the alternative felt just as appealing and more of an adventure - it was equally as natural a decision to cut it off.

That is to say, moving to short hair is equally as neutral a choice as growing it out. I'm not suddenly a Harper supporter, looking for a "proper job", blending in, or thinking it'll give me a leg-up for the Black Tie business award next year. I'm just good ol' me, with less hair (though still just as capable of frizzing it out, much to sarah's chagrin.)

I was a bit motivated to see if i'd become too attached to long hair. Had i confused that look with who i am? And had others done the same? Now over a month into it, i really don't see friends or strangers or business acquaintances responding any differently (beyond the initial shock, which ranged from outright shrieks in the grocery store, to my wife not recognizing me at the bus stop, to a young friend rolling down his mom's car window yesterday to tell me i looked better with long hair.) It's reassuring to know that it's a deeper core me that shines through shags or stubs.

Until that moment in the garden I hadn't been able to think of when I'd get it cut, what would impel me to do so. Turns out i didn't need a reason to cut it off, just an impulse to enjoy something different and to make a dear old woman happy. It's all good, it's all me.

May 27, 2011

Family Bedroom

The family that sleeps together stays together.

While co-sleeping in the family bed is a standard in attachment parenting, staying with it becomes a challenge with one aggressive snuggler and one obsessive thrasher. Our family has always found creative ways to continue the spirit of night-time bonding while still managing some sleep, and it may be time for another version of Together.

First came the co-sleeper - a crib with one side open onto our bed, so that the baby lay right beside me but still in his own space. With each nighttime cry I could simply lean over and try to soothe him back to sleep, or hand him over to the Dairy Queen if necessary. I learned the nighttime rhythms of each boy through that intimate side-by-side sleeping.

In Vancouver the boys shared their own room, first on a queen-sized floor mattress then on bunk beds. We could still lie with them for blissful falling-asleep time, then have our own love-nest to return to. A love-nest that was wall-to-wall bed (queensized with a twin squeezed in beside it) to allow for morning snuggle time and special sleep-overs.

When we moved to the island, we put the boys on a queen-sized mattress on the floor in our bedroom and they've been there ever since. Plenty of room to lie in the middle as they both fall asleep scrunched up against or on me (on good nights I fall asleep with them for a while), and a full night of being right there when a scared nightmare cry or confused dream-talk breaks the silence. I love hearing their safe secure breathing, their secret morning whispers, monitoring the clock until a resounding "7:00 SNUGGLE TIME!"

I treasure this extended together time, subconsciously melding our energies and dreams - somnastic synergy. I deeply believe that it brings us closer together, strengthening a connection that will last a lifetime. But with the boys now at 7.5 and 9.5 years old, how much longer will it work for them (or us)?

Most people would probably argue that we've long passed the appropriate age for this form of attachment. I hear society accusing me of wanting to keep them as babies, asking why we can't just be "normal" with one room per kid. But I search deep and still see the pure intention to hold our children close in a healthy, nurturing way. I celebrate their growth and unfolding much more than I fear it, but they are still little boys and the night is a big dark scary world. As long as they derive security from sleeping with us, and as long as that's feeding a trusting loving attachment, I don't want to artificially sever that link just because "everyone else" has their own room or theory or rules.

I've always envisioned a time when there would be obvious signs or verbal expressions of a desire for their own space, but the random calls for "my own room" are about as infrequent and non-passionate as requests for a horse or a pick-up truck. It's just not a pressing concern for them.

So it falls on us to project the healthiest path for our family. Can we milk this beautiful nocturnal togetherness for another year or two, or do we look at an alternative that might yield other opportunities for growth and connection - one that they haven't had the space to envision for themselves? A place for the boys to call their own, decorate, keep their treasures, have sleepovers, whisper their fantasy life to each other unrestricted by sleeping parents, retreat into a book from a busy household - are they at an age where this would be even more beneficial than integrating their snores into our dreams each night?

Whenever the shift happens I will dearly miss the feeling of having our family so close each night, even as I anticipate a new cosy lovenest just for me and my beautiful lover (and nightmare kids and morning snuggle fests). But separate rooms does not mean separate lives or loss of intimacy. Perhaps it will mean more space to grow and blossom and all of that will shower back on us with renewed vigor and Joy. Distance couldn't possibly make our bursting hearts grow any fonder, but it just might allow a little more sunlight and air in to nurture new growth.

May 21, 2011

Classical Ricky

Usually more classic than classy, the side of me most people don't know is Classical. At last year's "Who Knew" i surprised the community with Rachmaninov, and this afternoon i once again don the suit and tickle the ivories in a benefit concert.

Growing up as an extremely active, athletic boy, piano provided a balance and artistic expression i somehow knew i needed. While still in kindergarten my parents declared me too young for lessons, so i walked 3 blocks down to johnny hannah's teacher and asked her to teach me. "How are you going to pay me?" asked the stern Dutch woman. "I'll cut your lawn" answered the determined blond boy. And so began the piano career (she then called my parents and convinced them to relieve me from child labour).

I loved playing, singing along, and mastering. I loved performing and being part of the bi-weekly chamber music concerts - a group of older musicians and music-lovers who helped me grow up as a musician. I loved tug-o-wars with her crazy dog Flip - a necessary distraction for a boy who could rarely sit for more than 10 minutes.

Then one afternoon - i remember the exact moment - i started to love the music. After playing Chopin's Valse in G Flat, my beloved Mrs. Verkirk (who like most Dutch people I've met since, have a heart of pure gold under that gruff manner) had tears in her eyes and said I'd played it "with feeling." I didn't know i had - was just letting it flow - but from that moment i defined myself as a person who played with feeling, and learned to share my emotions freely.

Decades later, while courting Sarah by email from Africa, she casually asked what I was like as a lover. In an inspired and earnest line that pretty much sealed the marriage deal, I wrote, "Like my right ring finger lingering on F-sharp in La Sarabande by Gabriel Grovlez."

Piano's been useful for many things in addition to picking up wives. One high school ski trip I was excused from all dishwashing duties if I'd play during clean-up. I earned much of my college money playing in Vancouver restaurants and fashion shows, and regular meals at the Holiday Inn in Costa Rica. Stuck in Windsor Ontario after my first time (of many) being refused entry into the US, i played in the student lounge until a group of girls took me home for the night then smuggled me across the border the next morning.

But mostly it's been useful as an outlet, a connector, an explorer. I get deeply lost in music, freely floating between my fingers and soul, dancing through a new musical world and trusting my fingers to somehow follow. I love to look at a new piece and hear it singing in my head, then let it unfold as i learn the mechanics of playing it. Other times, especially in adolescence, a good pounding of Beethoven was the only way to let it all out, and a gentle stroking of Chopin the only voice of my awakening.

This afternoon i'll share Chopin's Valse in E Minor, long one of my favourites. From when i learned it at age 15 to when i finally mellowed ('matured') as a performer/man, i'd be literally shaking by the climax, and needed every one of those final ten "colando" bars to bring myself and the music back down to a resting place. I'm a bit less of a method actor these days, able to bring true emotion balanced by enough control to make the performance a bit less naked and more musical. But playing piano is still a unique and intimate exploration and expression of my Self, every bit as surprising to myself as to those who haven't met that part of me. So come on out to Duncan Reformed Church at 2:00 and share an afternoon with Classical Ricky.

May 15, 2011

If Tupperware Could Talk

I've measured community before by the number of people on our land. Today, it's measured by the number of friends' Tupperware we have to return.

Genevieve's will be the first to go today, taking with it the tasty memory of dinner at her house while my family was away. She sent me home with enough leftover chili for 3 lunches, figurin' i needed more than easter eggs and Doritos to survive the long lonely month. Guess Adam figured the same, 'cause his container came with moose sausages from our friend Gus' last camping trip.

Chantey and Justin both sent me yogurt cultures when mine accidentally got all eaten (forgot to save a bit to make the next batch). And Marty's tupperware contained a "scobie" - a floating jelly-fish-like thingie that ferments black tea and sugar into a nutritious sweet non-alcoholic treat called kombucha.

Add in the sourdough culture that Maki shared with us last year (and has since been passed on to many other friends), and we can easily taste our friends' love throughout the day with yogurt, bread, kombucha and leftover carnivorous treats. Very last-supperish.

This morning the boys are helping carry on another fine tradition started by our friend Mamata in Vancouver. We had brought her a pot of soup after her second son was born, and a few weeks later she brought it back full of a delicious Indian dish. Never return an empty pot, she told us her tradition is. So dear friends, I have not been hording your precious tupperware idly; I've been waiting for the boys to invent one of their recipe-less muffin creations to return the giving spirit. Full bellies, hearts and tupperware - now that's community.

May 9, 2011

Maypole Mayhem

That's my boy - the tall blond one, holding the red ribbon at the Sunrise Waldorf magical Mayfest. There he goes dancing, skipping, brilliantly keeping time and looking so free inside and out. Lost in the music, the beauty of the ancient pagan dance, embodying the freshness and fertility of the season. I'm one proud papa.

Look at how intricate their dance is! Grade 3 children weaving in and out of each other in a complex pattern, building a new design on the old maypole with their interlocking rhythms. How on earth could they keep track of all this? What teamwork! I'm proud of the whole class.

And now, Oh No!, there's my boy going the wrong way! His red string passing over the whole class, around and around he gaily skips, oblivious to the impending doom he's creating. My heart knots up, I w\ant to will him to stop, want to turn back time and tuck him back into the design, want to protect him from the pain he's about to feel. I'm a protective papa watching my child about to get hurt.

Then a classmate yells his name, and he realizes it's him. In the middle of his class, the middle of the whole Waldorf community, he holds his red ribbon of shame and wills a thousand tears not to erupt from his bulging eyes and red face. Hold it in, hold it in, be strong, I silently signal. This too shall pass. I'm the hurting-for-him Papa.

But hold it in he does. He bravely works with the teacher and his classmates to unwind the tangle, three full rounds and more ins and outs as the fiddle band continues to play and the parent community holds the sacred space with compassion and hope. An eternity later his ribbon suddenly emerges and the crowd cheers and my boy has saved the day. Not only has he survived, but he's somehow thrived, and the cheers are as much of admiration as condolence. Not just for my boy, but for the whole class that held it together and worked together. I'm back to the proud Papa - proud of my boy, his class, our school, our community that holds each other.

Our children are going to go through - have to go through - trials much worse than this to find their strength. And we're going to have to helpless watch them through it and hopefully hold them after. This day I've seen my boy's resilience, his composure, his faith, and I hold less fear about his adolescence and lifetime of challenges. He learned, or perhaps always knew and just showed me, that he can dance to his own drummer, skip gaily in the sunshine, then stand just as strong and free in the rain.

I'm not glad this happened, but I wouldn't take it back for the world.

Osama Bin Harper

What do Osama Bin Laden and Stephen Harper have in common? Two men I don't like, even fear. Two men who, based on deeply-held faith and convictions, deliberately plot and implement destructive assaults on freedom and security. Last Monday one was murdered, the other given more power. Both present a challenge to treat with respect, love and fairness.

As a Quaker I seek to find and respond to the Light, to "that of God", in everyone. As a Peace activist I believe in finding common ground, believe that violence and anger just propagate a cycle of more violence and anger. As a parent and global optimist and lover of Broadway musicals, I deeply believe in Goodness and reject catastrophic pessimism - the sun will come out tomorrow.

Monday morning radio brought macho chants of "USA! USA!" as proud/relieved Americans figuratively stomped on the grave of the man they had just murdered. Part of me joined in that rejoicing of the removal of a man who had caused/fed such fear and hatred and suffering in the world. I pragmatically recognized the wisdom of the quick execution of an unarmed man in front of his wife rather than bringing him in for a prolonged judicial mire. Obama's troops had finally delivered the clean and instant psyche-salve they'd been wanting for 10 years.

Then a gentle sadness settled in like mist, making it hard to see anything clearly. This was murder, capital punishment. No-one's pretending that Al Queda is finished, or that Western-Muslim relations are any better today than they were yesterday. Stopping a person from causing harm is right and necessary, but it was still violence that doesn't take away the root cause of the historical conflict. How can I rejoice at the end of this one man's reign of terror while at the same time condemning the methods of his removal?

Before I could reconcile these conflicting reactions of relief and condemnation, the unfathomable news came that my fellow Canadians had rewarded Stephen Harper's contempt -- contempt of parliament, women, the global south, indigenous peoples, climate, free speech, the non-profit sector, democracy, public health care, workers rights, etc etc etc - rewarded this contempt with unfettered majority power. The long-term harm he caused as a minority leader was already impressive; what he can do now that 40% of voters and a ridiculous first-past-the-post electoral system have handed him a majority is truly frightening.

But just like Osama, or Obama for that matter, he's just one man. Yes he has great strength and political astuteness and drive, but he didn't invent all the fear that led so many to follow him. He didn't invent disregard for the environment. He's not the founder of the Church of Unlimited Economic Growth, just its latest pope who believes in his own infallibility. When he's done, others will rise in his place, and even if he'd stayed in the minority or lost to the NDP, the set of beliefs he represents would continue.

So just as I can't rejoice at Osama's end of power, I can't despair at Harper's increase in power. Both rejoicing and despair do nothing but increase their power. Instead, I have to try to understand what they believe, and operate from a place of compassion and respect for all. I don't pretend to be spiritually evolved enough to love either Obama or Harper, but I can and must respect that their extreme actions are motivated by a strong faith, love for their family, and vision for what the world should look like.

May 8, 2011

Happy Mother-of-my-Children Day

As she lays sleeping in and the children fetch their cards and flower baskets out of their hiding spot in the chicken coop, I muse on how blessed the boys and I are to have a woman like Sarah. I'm a damn good dad, but she's a Mom in a way I could never aspire to.

She teaches all 3 of us compassion. She's the rich black humus of our soul garden, moist and nourishing and helping us to grow healthy and true. She shows us that a kitchen is more than a utilitarian feeding trough, that art can and should spring from and flow into all the little cracks in our routines, that music is 50% harmony and 49% creativity. She is the land that lies beyond efficiency and excitement, and makes getting there just half the journey.

And bless her heart, she lets me be the papa I love to be. That deep trust that we're in this together, and that she's got my back and all of our hearts, creates a freedom that brings true Joy and creativity to parenting. I too am released from just functioning. Together, we're not just managing a household and caring for our kids; we're co-creating childhood and family and a bright world for all four of us to blossom into.

May 1, 2011

Strategic Voting

In tomorrow's national elections, I'm unabashedly and enthusiastically voting strategically. It's often bashed and often mis-used, but I believe it's the best way to go.

Strategy 1: Vote. It's the simplest strategy, yet only half of us do it.

Strategy 2: Encourage others to vote.
Encourage young people, disenfranchised people, women, people with the most to lose if Harper gets back in.

Strategy 3: Vote with my kids.
From the day my first boy was born, my children come with me to every election, from national to neighbourhood council. My boys will grow up treasuring their right and responsibility to vote.

Strategy 4: Vote for my kids. When analyzing platforms and wannabe leaders and parties, I'm not looking just at what they'll do for my pocketbook and inflated standard of living for the next 4 years. I'm looking at how they'll help build or continue destroying the world my children and grandchildren will inherit. The Council of Canadians has a great analysis of parties' stands on right to water, climate change, public health care, and respect for our democracy.

Strategy 5: Vote like it means something. It does. True, there are no Obama's among the party leaders, but a clear message needs to be sent that we will not tolerate Harper's fascist regime. Every vote that blocks his return to power matters.

Strategy 6: Make it mean something. This is the point of controversy, of course - do I vote for the person/party I believe in most even if they don't have a reasonable chance of winning? Normally I'd fall more in that camp, and in the long run press for electoral reform to scrap the first-past-the-post craziness and bring in a system that would respect the true will of the voters. But at this point in our country's decline, the prospect another Harper reign is so potentially disastrous that I do believe that people in tight ridings should vote for the candidate best poised to oust the Conservatives.

Interestingly, this year it appears that in many cases that means Liberals voting NDP, not the other w around. I don't know if Jack Layton will be the greatest Prime Minister in history, but I inherently don't trust Ignatieff, and apparently a growing number of Canadians believe the time has come to give the NDP a try.

So don't just vote tomorrow. Vote with your kids, for your kids, with your friends, and for whatever candidate/party can help put Canada back on the road to democracy, sustainability and freedom. Anyone but Harper's Conservatives.

PS. - Now reading this a few days after Jack Layton's death, I wonder if I couldn't have had more faith in his potential to make real change in our country. I've posted these updated musings at: