Dec 10, 2011

Picnic by the Waterfall

Worchester Massachusetts is hard to spell but easy to get lost in. On a road trip 19 years ago from Akron Ohio to Hartford Connecticut, my friend and I decided to veer off the interstate in favour of a backroad on our map that went by a waterfall. One hour of city overwhelm later, we were back on the interstate and pulling over at the first rest-stop.

But this was 19 years ago and we were young and visionary and hopeful. We turned out backs to the endless 70 mph roar of trucks & RV's and pretended it was the steady reassuring roar of a waterfall. Turns out that they're remarkably similar sounds, and with that simple re-classification we enjoyed a tranquil, natural picnic in our self-created oasis.

Fast forward to last Sunday when we hosted over a dozen Friends for a Quaker meeting for worship. As host I was hyper-aware of the sounds of the fireplace expanding and contracting, the cat scratching at the door, the children whittling outside, the phone I forgot to unplug. But I remembered the "waterfall", remembered that Silence is a state of the mind and the soul, not some idyllic condition in the surrounding world. True "centering down", to use Quaker-speak, is finding a quiet space that embraces and integrates the world, not shuts it out.

Or fast-forward to any busy week in our lives. We hold onto a constant illusion that with just one free day we'll get caught up; when this one big project is done I can slow down; if only I hadn't got sick or my child didn't have a fundraiser I could have had time for myself. Time for the waterfall re-classification trick, only this time it's not a self-deception. Those little "if only" events are not keeping us from living - they are living. The juiciness of life is in the interruptions.

Dec 3, 2011

Twinkly Ten

This time 10 years ago, I was biting my newborn baby and he was crying for the first time. A soft whimper of "What are you doing, Papa?" that was a precursor of many odd times to come together. No, I wasn't trying to replace the doctor's traditional spank of this country song:
Baby born in the middle of the night, local delivery room
Grab his feet, slap him till he cries, goes home the next afternoon
Our first-born splashed into the world at 3am in a metal Texan farm trough full of hot water under our indoor Christmas lights, and we spent the beautiful rest of the night sleeping in our bed together as a family. Next morning when we woke up, protective Papa wanted to pull the blankets up over baby without waking him. So instead of flailing my arms, I carefully used my teeth to grip and pull the covers. Not carefully enough, apparently.

An elusively short decade later I'm proud papa of a proud double-digit soccer-playing, whittling, joking, ivory ticklin' and fiddle pickin', origami obsessed, delightful boy who is positively sparkling with the Joy of life. More than any other time of his first decade, he is alive and confident and Happy and fun and funny, a charm to be around and an uninhibited spark of light.

The struggles he's faced socially in the past, these days he's facing head on. Still not the most popular kid in class, he is nevertheless eager to get to school, enthusiastically engaged on the playground and in the classroom, recklessly playing tag with boys he used to shy away from. He's truly comfortable in himself, in his unique dreamy goofy self, and that's all it takes to exude a positive energy that bounces back from those lucky enough to be around him.

This emergence of a valiant knight is what we've been dreaming of and working towards for a long time. While the majority of the credit has to go to him, to his bravery and persistence and refusal to let go of his own identity, some other kudos bear mentioning.

1. His teacher, arriving mid-year last year, has been a true savior to the class, to our family, and to each child in the class. He understood immediately the urgency to establish himself as the loving but strong authority in the class, the centre of gravity around which the levity of the children could revolve, and has done it with a grace and clarity that has let every child (and parent) breathe a deep outbreath of "I can relax, I am safe here, I can enjoy and grow and explore."

2. A community of adults who have Held him. In their prayers, in their loving words and looks, in hugs and gifts and time together. Fellow parents, work colleagues, grandparents and uncles, neighbours, Quaker elders, piano teacher, soccer coaches... the list is seemingly endless of people who have openly and unconditionally shown our boy that he is loved and respected and honoured for who he truly is. It takes a village.

3. Experiences of excellence. He has always found niches in which he excels, and that confidence spills over into other realms of his life. His breakthrough moment in kindergarten was teaching his classmates to make fancy paper airplanes. To this day, origami is a source of wonder and mastery for him. As is singing, piano and now violin. We enrolled him in soccer camp last summer and did a lot of playing/practicing together so that joining a team this fall was a major success that has also given him a place of respect on the playground (just look how he shines in this photo!) I watched his class play kickball, and when he went "to bat" his whole team said eagerly, "Get us a home run Galen!" As he comes to believe in his abilities, his constant "Aren't I good at that" calls for reassurance have given way to a shining confidence in many parts of his life.

4. A Papa letting go. With a lot of help from wife and friends, I finally let go of my own anxiety around my son's popularity and happiness and just starting loving and enjoying him the way I wanted the world to love and enjoy him. Let go of contriving playdates, using that time to just Be with him and let him blossom in the safe warm enduring love of home and parents and brother and constant neighbours. Stopped inquiring about conflicts and just asked about feelings. I do believe that he somehow perceived a different energy from me - "My papa believes in me; he's not worried, so I don't need to be worried either."

There are still soft moments of tenderness and vulnerability, but that's a part of childhood (and adulthood) that we learn to accept. In safe moments he shares that no-one sits with him on the field trip bus, or wonders why he never gets invited to birthday parties. Instead of jumping to a Mr. Fix It or an Angry Injustice mode, or try listing the names of children who do call him Friend, we just hold him and agree that it must be hard. Gord Neufeld asserts that one of our most important jobs as parents is to make it safe for them to be vulnerable, to help them to that place of tears, so that they don't build up a wall. Our ten-year-old is vibrantly happy and openly sad and deeply aware that he is loved and cherished and celebrated (and hopefully safe from being bitten).

Dec 2, 2011

Easy Lay

They're outside my window now, just doing their thing. Scratch, peck, screw, scratch, it all looks so easy.

Canada, the rooster, efficiently scrapes back the leaves to look for bugs and seeds. Sometimes he gobbles them up, sometimes he exposes the food then backs away for a hen to get some. Sometimes he gets some, efficiently jumping on her with no forewarning or forethought or foreplay, biting onto her neck for leverage as he flaps his wings and does his fertilizing thing. Then he just as quickly hops back off and pecks at another bug, while the hen shakes her tailfeathers and gets back to her business.

While I hunt and peck on my keyboard, he humps and pecks. So easy, so natural, so unthinking. I don't really wish to be a chicken - not even a rooster with 21 hens at my disposal - but I do envy the uncluttered natural rhythm of their lives. I'll finish this posting then look at my dayplanner and things-to-do list and inbox to decide what comes next. He'll just look for the next juicy bug or hen and do his thing.