Wednesday, January 30, 2013

They Play

I was making supper the other night, when I was stopped in my tracks mid stir by what I saw and heard.  It wasn't anything mind-blowing.  It happens all the time and I don't even notice it.  But for some reason, that time, it made me pause.

Ellie and Sasha were crawling up the stairs from the basement and then running across the floor before taking wild dives onto the area rug in the living room.  They were in the middle unraveling an intricate and detailed drama of sorts.  Something they created about rushing rivers and currents and swimming upstream.  From there it was a pilgrimage to another swimming spot where tensions were high and danger imminent.  There was some screaming and laughing and crazy swimming moves.  I stood in my kitchen and I got to be a witness to the magic as it unfolded.

I've been more aware lately, of play.  I think it might be the stage of life Hannah is in.  She's moved through the hoops of transition from child to teenager, though she still clings to some shreds of childhood, (and for that I'm grateful).  Truth be told, Hannah stopped playing quite a while ago.  She's always preferred a book when given the choice, unless the people and the plan were just too good to pass up.   So I am aware of the transitions and the balance and the giving up of one for another.

That makes me afraid sometimes.  I wonder how long it will be until Ellie puts her "play things" away. Ellie has always loved and embraced play in a way Hannah never did.  She immerses herself in it - lives and breathes whatever she is creating or making happen.  The only thing, other than slippers, on her Christmas list this year, was Playmobil.   She spends hours setting scenes spinning yarns - picking names, inventing histories, conflict and intertwining the stories.  She sometimes begs for Sasha to join her in Playmobil land, even hiding her books to prevent her from starting to read, just to make sure that playing is the best option on the table.  When she and her friend Grace are together, the two of them spend hours with Playmobil, hardly coming up for air.  When I hear them, I get a warm feeling in my body and I want to savour the uncomplicated and simple beauty of their ability to play.

Other times it is Sasha who is pursuing Ellie, looking to her big sister to make whatever it is she wants to do, more fun.  Ellie is like that - she brings fun and silliness and adventure to whatever she is creating.  They are truly best friends in their play - I've often wondered what life would have been like for Ellie if Sasha hadn't been born - how lonely she would have been without a playmate.  It's OK to play alone, but it comes alive when there is someone beside you.

But Ellie is nearly 10.   And I wonder how long she'll still want to play...  To pretend and invent and construct and act out.   How long until her Playmobil sits in a bin and the dress-up box lid stays closed?  Will Sasha be the one longing for a partner to make up a story with while Ellie has moved on?

I don't let myself think about that for too long.  I know that time is coming.  It makes me sad.  After the play is shelved and the world gets bigger, your worries and problems get bigger too.  Things get complicated and confusing and the demands and expectations around you make the Playmobil around you look even smaller than it really is.  So this week, as I stood in my kitchen and listened and watched, I had to stop and savour it.  I know it's not going to last.  The expiration date is getting closer and I'm not ready.  I know I could be surprised. Ellie could play for years to come and with the flavour of girl she is, I'm sure there will always be a layer of make-believe in her life.

But it there is ever a time when you wish the "pause" button was real, it's when the belly laughs erupt, the ridiculous stories unfold, and for a moment their world is a whimsical colorful and simple place.  I hope they take up residence there for a little while longer.

Friday, January 25, 2013


I'm married to an old man.
A 40 year old now lies beside me and holds my hand.

I like 40 - even if Mike isn't crazy about it.
     40 means chapters instead of pages.
     Steps and layers and substance.
     History, knowing glances and even some "remember when"...

In the last year or so Mike has been known to complain a little of his "older body".
It aches and hurts and doesn't cooperate with his plans and goals.
I always say, Be glad you're getting older.  Just look at what the alternative is.
And it's true.
The getting older part is a great gift, and he knows it.

We know it too.
We sat around the dining room table tonight - Mike and his girls - and we raised our glasses and toasted to the old guy.  It was satisfying and sweet.  Just like birthday dinners should be.

During the meal we read off our list of 40 things about Mike we really love.
Here's just a sample....

"You're good at making our stuffies dance."
"If it wasn't for you, we wouldn't always have chocolate milk in the fridge."
"You helped me write my sax solo."
"You introduce me to cool music."
"You're really good at folding laundry."
"We love having fun with you in swimming pools."
"You're good at putting Playmobil together."
"You don't care if I wear lots of make-up or any make-up at all."
"You take the bus or bike so that we can have the van."

Pretty ordinary stuff, really.
But that's where the treasure lies, doesn't it?  In the ordinary?
     In the laundry and grumbles and floor covered with crumbs.
     When the alarm clock rings and supper is late and we're out of milk again.
     In the speeding tickets and cracked bumpers and practicing violin.

I like doing the ordinary with Mike.
He's constant, dependable and solid.
He's a problem solver, a peace giver, and a steady stream.

There's a Stephen Hawking quote I read recently that immediately made me think of Mike...

                                  "Quiet people have the loudest minds."

It's true.  His mind is loud and full and vivid.
And when he speaks it's best to listen because what he says is thoughtful, contemplative and sincere.  Just like him.

So, I like 40.
I think I'll like 50, 60, and hopefully 70 too.
Just more chapters to read in a book I've grown to love.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

13 Years Requires a Party

So, we had a party for Hannah on Saturday.  It was fun.  I like her friends.  I think they like me.  I think the fact that this next picture from the party appears as though I think I'm "one" of them kind of says it all.  Thankfully Hannah is laughing in this picture.  Usually she'd be saying something like, "Mom, get out of here, you're so embarrassing." 

In my head I'm still 13 and I just want to be accepted, OK?

We started the ball rolling by having the girls paint a canvass they were going to use to create something that told a bit of a story of who they are.

They're all pretty beautiful.  I hope they got that part.

While the canvasses were drying, Hannah opened her gifts.   Her friends picked things that told me that they know her.  That's pretty neat.

Part of the "gift" they brought was a favorite quote they would share with Hannah on a piece of paper.  I  thought it would be special if they'd read their quote before she opened their gift.  They all indulged me.  Their chosen words were thoughtful and laced with inspiration and goodness.

Have I mentioned how happy I am that one of my kids is of the age in which birthday party food doesn't have to consist of pizza, hotdogs, cheezies, and ketchup chips?   Nothing against all of those things.  It's just that it's been a few years of sweeping up cheezie crumbs off the floor.  I loved the way these girls dug in and got excited about food just the way I did with my friends all those years ago. 

Hannah's birthday tree had 13 gifts she gives us written on little pieces of paper.  
It was easy to think of them.

After fueling up it was time to rip and tear and snip.  And yes, Mod Podge was involved.  Doesn't every good party involve Mod Podge?  Well, it should.

While the Mod Podge dried the lights went low and the chocolate fondue was served.  
Birthday cake is for kids!

There is no better way to end a party than a rousing game of Dutch Blitz.
No friendships were harmed and no blood drawn in the playing of this game.

See?  They're still friends.

I am grateful that Hannah has girls in her life that are coming to know her.  Girls that build each other up and help to draw her out.  Becoming a teenager marks the start of some interesting chapters.

She's going to need them.


Hannah turned 13 this weekend.  Sometimes I think that certain birthdays are over-emphasized and a big deal is made out of nothing.  Not so with 13.  At least not for me.

13 is the gateway into this incredible chapter of life that is so vivid and rich and full.

I can remember 13 like it was yesterday.  Maybe that's what fills me with a little bit of trepidation (and a whole lot of expectation) for Hannah.  Like most of my life, 13 was full of the highest highs and the lowest lows.  I know that's coming for Hannah.  All the best stories are full of them.  And even though it's hard and often painful, I want her life to be a great story.  So bring on the living, I say, and let the adventure come.

Hannah is ready to tell a great story.  Her mind is inquisitive and curious.  She wants to be found where there is life springing up, and the best part is, I see the new growth shooting up from just where she's standing.

She sucks up books and knowledge and narrative as though her life depends on it.  She always has.  I used to pray and hope that her hunger for reading wasn't just a passing phase.  I wondered if she'd set that aside as she got older to move on to something else.  But she hasn't.  She continues to devour books as though she has a hunger that cannot be satisfied.  I am so grateful.  Those words she's read haven't remained on the pages.  They have written themselves onto the skin she lives in and the way she sees the world.  Those words have added layer upon layer of compassion and empathy and a world view that few her age have.   She is full and rich and informed and challenged and perceptive and appreciative of beauty mostly because of the hours she has spent seeing the world through someone else's eyes and through their pens.  I like what I see written on her skin and her mind and her dreams.  Those words are full of promise.

You can often tell what a person is like by the people they surround themselves with.  It's like a bit of a reflection of who they are.  When Hannah was in the middle of school in Vancouver, and was experiencing a crisis of identity and friendship I said, surround yourself with people you want to be like.  You will begin to be like the people you surround yourself with.  Choose wisely.  She did.  She still does.  This is not to say that she only has room for a certain kind of person in her life.  She has lots of room, but she has built herself a little cocoon of people who breed goodness and positive ways of living life.   Her friends make me proud to be her mom.  I see her reflected in them.  I am so grateful.

Lest you believe that we are all prancing around in peace and tranquility in teenage land over here, let me be the first to tell you that we live in a space filled with outbursts, volatility, and emotionally charged ups and downs.  There can be angst and confusion, anger and frustration.  And that's all before we even get dressed some mornings.  This may sound strange, but I'm OK with that.  It means that there is an edginess and reality to Hannah's life that she is not afraid to expose.  It can be barbed and loud and painful.  But it's real.  And real is all I really want for her -  the freedom and willingness to live authentically and expose the ragged parts of herself that exist under the neat package.  They are there, and they are a part of her.  I'm not afraid of them because I know they're only dangerous if they stay concealed.

And so, for Hannah, on this, the beginning of her foray into the world of being a teenager, I mostly hope that she lives.   Really lives.  Doesn't remain behind or underneath because she is afraid to try.Is willing to get dirty and broken and bent just for the chance to say she took a chance.  Perfect isn't what I'm looking for.  Clean and neat and shiny isn't what I'm after either.  It's in the broken places and the parts where the dirt's been rubbed off where the stories reside and the living has happened.  I hope some of her own words get written next to the stories that she's read and become etched onto who she is becoming.

I'm looking forward to a great story.
It's one I can't wait to read.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Spinning Wheels

The analogy of spinning wheels has been on my mind a lot lately.  Last Sunday night, the night before work and school was set to begin again,  the picture of the spinning wheel was vivid in my mind.   I was envisioning it like a giant hamster wheel, already in motion.  My job was to find the right moment to jump back on.  The thing was, I didn't feel ready or capable to jump on again.  It brought back thoughts of being a little girl and "jumping in" when two other people are turning a long skipping rope for you.  You need to feel it.  Otherwise your feet just get all twisted up in the rope and the game comes to an end.

The spinning wheel that's part of my life that fills me with fear consists of the everyday parts of living life with 3 busy girls.  School, band, piano, violin, (which reminds me, I have to stop and buy a new set of strings for Ellie's violin today), basketball, dance, friends, birthday parties, homework, science fair, library due dates, my master's program, assignments, readings,  meetings, subbing, volunteering at school, grocery shopping, meal-making, cleaning, friends, and more.  This isn't different from most of your lives.  In fact, most of your wheels likely have more spokes and are more full.  "Full" is a relative concept, I think.  One person's capacity for life can be vastly different from the next.  From where I sit, my wheel is pretty much full.

The "spinning" analogy doesn't stop there.  It revs up into full force when I lay my head on the pillow at night.  Only it's not a wheel then.  It's a soundtrack that loops over and over again in a circular motion.  Last night my soundtrack loop sounded like this:

"don't forget jazz cafe on Thursday.  Hannah needs new black pants.  Her pants are too short, remember?  Where am I going to find black pants that she'll like that will be long enough?  OK, don't forget.  Black pants.  Dessert.  I have to bring a dessert to school for the cafe on Thursday morning.  What am I going to make?  I hope I don't get called to sub on Wednesday.  IF I do, how will I have time to get what I need and make a fancy dessert for Thursday morning?  Piano. Sasha has piano tomorrow.  We didn't set her books out tonight.  What if I forget?  I can't forget.  Sasha would be so sad.  My reading has to get done tomorrow for Tuesday's class.  I need to email my prof about missing class in February.  What if she's miffed?  What's my plan to make it up?  How will I cover what I miss from her lectures?  Car rental.  We need to book ours for our trip.  I hope I remember to tell Mike that we need to get on this.  Should I go to the Y in the morning?  Will I have time?  What if I get a call to sub tomorrow morning?  Can I swing it?  I should have showered tonight just in case....."

And on and on it goes.

Miraculously I fall asleep each night with the steady hum of my loop playing at a solid volume in my mind.  And for awhile - for the night - it stops, and my mind can rest.  It begins again the next morning, whether I choose to press "play" or not.  That's the kind of loop it is.

The thing about these spinning wheels is that they wait for no one.  You aren't consulted about how you feel about the speed or the timing.  I've imagined in my head how wonderful it would be to be able to press a giant "pause" button when I need to.  Pause life.  Pause people.  Pause schedules.  Pause the noise in my head.  I see myself walking slowly to each of the areas that spin and checking them.  How is band going?  Is she keeping up with practicing?  Talk to the band teacher.  Get a feel for things.  When I've satisfied myself at that spoke, I could move on to the science fair spoke and check and double check that she's on track and feels comfortable and confident in her decisions and plans.  Smooth out the wrinkles of emotion, put some pieces back into place, and then move on to the next one.  Once I'm satisfied that all the areas of life are in a good space, I could press "start" and the wheel could begin spinning again.

A fantasy.  That's what a "pause" button is.  These wheels don't stop.  I can't either.  If I don't get on, they'll spin away from me and I might not be fast or agile enough to get back on.

 And so I jump on.

Ready or not, (mostly not), here I come.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

I Don't Know As Much as I Think I Do

I spent a big chunk of the day with Ellie.  We were a dynamic duo - babysitting the most amazing and delicious one year little girl together.  Ellie is a "babysitter in training".   She's only 10, so she's got a few years to go before she can make the foray into the world of real (read paid) babysitting.  Ellie is a natural.  She is relaxed and engaged and very silly.  Wherever we go, babies and toddlers gravitate to her.  Tonight was no exception.  Together we played, fed, bathed, dressed, and played with little Lucie.  Over and over during the evening Ellie would stop to tell me how much fun she was having.  "I wish we could do this more often", she'd say.  After sweet Lucie was peacefully curled up in her crib and Ellie and I were snuggled on the couch watching yet another episode of Storage Wars she said, "I really love this.  I hope we can do it again."

I felt the same way.

It's funny because I think that a good night out with one of my girls involves something "big".  A big event.  A big production.  A big plan.  A big deal.

Ellie's idea of a good night out involves ...  me.  Plus  a squishy one year old who giggles and drools.  Chunks of banana on the end of a plastic fork. Toys that talk and crawling around on your hands and knees.  Sleepers and bottles, a soft couch and brainless TV.

I don't know as much as I think I do.

I thought this was the year to get back into "church".  It's been a long while.  And that is a long story for another night and another post.  Part of the reason I was so determined and committed was because of the girls.  I was sure that they wanted  programs and groups and bells and whistles.  "Don't all kids?" I thought.  Surely that's what they want.   Organized chaos, icebreakers, games, speakers,  sessions, and throngs of people.  Especially Hannah.  I was sure she'd want this.  Don't all middle schoolers?

I was wrong.

She doesn't want it.   She wants intelligent conversation, connection, and living rooms in people's houses.  She's an awful lot like me.  (Why would I have thought she'd be any different?)  This weekend she had "youth" with some kids way older than her in a living room.  There were no prizes, no mayhem, and no throngs of kids.  There was no leader reigning the masses in.  And she loved it.

I didn't know as much as I thought I did after all.

Sometimes I like being wrong.

I like being struck with the truth of simplicity.  Stripped down with a bare, but sturdy foundation.
I hope I'm wrong more often.  It's where the rubber meets the road.
I kind of like living there.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


Things I know...

I'm not ready for the real world to begin again tomorrow.
I am my own worst critic.
I would choose sleep over nearly anything else in the entire world.
    I use sleep to escape and hide.
When you have 3 girls, one usually feels left out.
Breaking Bad is a brilliant show.
    It's not all about meth and gore and violence.
    It's human drama under the microscope.
I miss BC.
     I miss the simplicity of my life and the warm acceptance of all of me.
I let people down a lot.
I think I'd be happy hibernating.

Things I hope for ...

A job that's not subbing.
A job that I could balance and manage.
A job that I'd feel born to do.
The kind of job I dream about in my head.
True and deep friendships for all of my girls.   Circles of them.

Things I wonder about ...

Why do some people seem to have it all?
Why are easy things so hard for me?
Would life feel easier if I had a bigger house with a mud room and a garage?
Will I ever feel like I fit?
Am I meant to fit?
Is "fitting" overrated?
Am I messing up my kids?
Why don't I want to go to church?

Things I like ...

Fuzzy blankets.
Stacks of books on my bedside table waiting to be read.
Old friends.
Hearing my girls belly laughing.
Not pretending.
Crossing things off a list.
Five Guys Burgers.
Dan Mangan.
Listening to Ellie and Sasha play Playmobil for hours on end.
Sharp pencils.
Black fineliners.
Feeling free.

Saturday, January 5, 2013


Here I write - back at the very beginning.   Rodgers and Hammerstein said it was a "very good place to start" and I suppose they're right.  Quite honestly, I prefer the middle.  I'm settled there and my feet have been able to sink in for awhile.  But new beginnings are good too,  so I will embrace this one.

Perhaps you've arrived here from the place I used to hang my writing hat - a 2 1/2 year blog of adventure and family reflections called "Pennerfive's Take on The West".  I found myself, a little, over at that blog.  I have a soft spot for it because it's where I began to write again.  But we've found ourselves back on the prairies, and my need to chronicle the life and times of our family has ended.

If you're looking for a "mom blog" full of anecdotes and silly stories and tales of my kids, you're in the wrong place.  If you're looking for a "how to" for anything at all, you're also likely lost.  If you like to read stories or stop to look at ordinary, everyday things with a lens that burrows in a little deeper you might be where you want to be.  If you're not sure, stop and stay awhile and we'll see where we end up.

"Hide and Seek" is a phrase that has played itself over and over in my mind and memory for years.  It's a label I can live with.  It's elusive and mysterious with a touch of play thrown in for good measure.  It conjures up childhood memories and hints at darkness all at the same time.  You see, sometimes I hide - in the darkness or in the light of day.  I have my ways - they've been practiced to near perfection.   There are times I'm the one chasing, pursuing and seeking.... whether it be truth, peace, solitude, answers, stories, God, relief, or something I don't even know the name for.  Seeking keeps your feet moving and Hiding lets you rest awhile.  I hope this will be a place where we can do both.