Archives for April 2010

Casting My Fears Out to Sea

It’s Thursday and I’m Crafting my Life! April’s theme is dealing with negativity. When you decide to go in a new direction you can encounter a lot of it, from yourself and others. In the past few weeks I spoke about that pesky voice inside my head and how I’m learning to understand it. I also discovered who I think I am, anyway. Today I’m discussing rituals that help me deal with negativity.

Talking and reasoning through fear can be really valuable. Sometimes. Once in a while, by using logic I even have a big epiphany that changes the way I view the world. And who doesn’t love an epiphany? But rare epiphanies aside, logic isn’t always effective because fear is not always logical. My fears most often stem from irrational thinking on my part, or that primitive part of my brain that is dead convinced I am going to starve or be eaten by a large predator. It’s awfully hard to reason my way through that.

When I am worried or afraid, I find that rituals can be comforting. They can bring me out of my head and re-ground me in reality. My rituals aren’t always elaborate. They can be as simple as making myself a cup of tea and drinking it, or taking a few deep breaths. Meditation, prayer, walking, kneading bread, knitting or exercising can also be calming rituals. Most of us have at least a few of these that we engage in without even thinking about it.

Once in a while my simple rituals don’t cut the mustard. When I’m really worried about a lot of things, I like to expand my repertoire a little. I was feeling that way at the beginning of April. And so, when we were in Birch Bay I crafted an impromptu ritual in which I cast my worries out to sea.

Private beach

I walked on the beach and picked up a couple of stones, holding one in each hand. I held out my right hand and said, “This stone is …” and named one of my worries. Then I held up my left hand and said, “This stone is …” and named another worry. I squeezed those stones good and tight, filling them with all my fears. And then I threw them into the ocean. And I repeated the process, again and again, until I couldn’t think of any more worries.

Worry stones

When I was done, I felt much lighter. I didn’t feel worried anymore, at least for a little while. It didn’t change my life forever, but it did help me to regain perspective for the moment, and that’s all it had to do. My ritual got me out of my head just long enough to examine my situation with a better frame of mind. I’ve heard of many other, similar, rituals that other people use. Like writing all your fears on little slips of paper and burning them. Or burying objects that remind you of a bad time in your life.

I think that the physicality of rituals can be very valuable. Fear is a very physical thing. Even if I’m not afraid for my physical self, I have lots of physical symptoms. For me worry is sweaty palms, wobbly legs, a cracking voice, a racing heart. And so literally throwing my fears away carries a certain power. It’s like I’m meeting that part of my mind on its own terrain, and sending it a message it can understand. I’ve slayed the beast, and I don’t need to be afraid that it will eat me anymore.

Now I’d like to hear from you about rituals you use. Do you have big or small actions that you take when your fears overwhelm you? How do they work for you? I’d love to know!

April’s Crafting my Life series is about dealing with negativity. On the last Thursday of the month, which just happens to be the 29th, I will include a link up. To participate, write a post on this month’s theme anytime in April, or track down a post you’ve written on the subject sometime in the past, and add yourself to the list. Then read everyone else’s ideas and thoughts and be inspired! Check out the link-ups from January, February and March to get a feel for how it works.

Fun-But-Random Facts

Whether you come here often or not, there are limitations to the blogging medium. For example, it is not readily apparent that I am short, and you may not know what my voice sounds like. That gives us something in common, since I refuse to believe that recordings of my voice sound anything like me, so I probably don’t really know what I sound like, either. (Admit it, you sound way better in your head than in a recording, too. Right?)

Anyways, I thought that today I would share some fun-but-random facts about myself. Because who doesn’t love fun-but-random facts? So, without further ado, here we go.

Amber had a very plain Halloween
A fun but random photo of me, from Halloween 2003

Fun-but-Random Facts About Me

  1. I am afraid of snakes. The way that they move is just unnatural. Spiders, I can stomach. Heights, no problem. But keep those snakes away from me. Poisonous or not, I don’t trust them.
  2. I am 5′ 2″ tall. My sister is 5′ 3″ and my mother is 4′ 11″. When I was dating Jon in high school, we’d get him to do all the ‘tall person’ jobs when he was over, like changing light bulbs and putting away infrequently-used dishes.
  3. I have a steel plate on my right forearm. It does not set off metal detectors. But it does mean that I am not a candidate for an MRI.
  4. My middle name is Dawn. Amber Dawn is an adjective + noun, making my name a compound noun. I’m not sure it means anything, other than that my parents were hippies.
  5. I sang in the choir in high school. I was an alto, although I could do second soprano in a pinch. Or second alto.
  6. I read my horoscope every day. On the hand, astrology is totally illogical. On the other hand, I feel like I need to know what it says before I leave the house, just in case it will somehow help me.
  7. My first pet was a dog named Kali. He was a german shepherd cross who was just a few months younger than I was, and he was the best dog ever. I still miss him, if I think about it.
  8. I can (still) turn a perfect cartwheel. I think that maybe I should get some video evidence, so that you can all stand in awe of my mad cartwheeling skills.
  9. I was spelling bee champion at Philip Sheffield Elementary for two years running. Which, incidentally, were the only years I entered. (Although, in fairness, it was a ridiculously small school.)
  10. I came in dead last out of all the first graders in the foot race on my first Sports Day. Apparently, I stopped to pull up my socks. When my mother asked me why I didn’t run faster, I told her that everyone got a ribbon anyway.

Now it’s your turn. Care to share a fun-but-random fact or two about yourself? I do love fun-but-random facts.

When Your To-Do List is Done

When I was younger I had a to-do list that went something like this: graduate from high school, go to university, travel, meet someone, get a job, get married, do some more traveling together, buy a house, have kids, live happily ever after. In this to-do list, having children was always the last item. It was the ultimate goal, and it implied that I was done. Also, maybe, that my life was over.

I was surprised that I didn’t feel remotely done when I became a mom and crossed the last item off of my to-do list. Having children really is the culmination of many threads of my life. It brings a different purpose to my marriage, to the home I live in, to the money I earn. It changes my focus, since my life isn’t about me anymore. But it didn’t bring me a sense of completion. I feel less finished than ever. There is this expansive vista before me, which I like to call The Rest Of My Life. There are, with any luck at all, many decades in The Rest Of My Life. And there isn’t much of a plan, since I seem to be fresh out of plans. The Rest Of My Life is shapeless, formless and it sort of scares me a little.

I will dedicate a good portion of The Rest Of My Life to parenting. I still have a couple of decades worth of work on that front. I will probably also dedicate a good portion of it to such exciting tasks as trying to avoid cleaning with varying degrees of success, sitting in front of a screen and grocery shopping. Oh yes, I will do a lot of grocery shopping in The Rest Of My Life. I also hope to pursue a career (or 3), learn some new skills and stop caring so much about what everyone else thinks. I’ll wear purple, and all that jazz.

I have discovered that I didn’t spend a lot of time in my youth considering what it would feel like to be 35. Or 40. Or 63. I guess I never expected to be that old. I absolutely wanted to live a good long life, but somehow the decades between age 30 and age 90 were a blur in my head. They would just magically happen without much thought, because all the heavy lifting would be done. Once I got married and had babies, surely the rest would take care of itself.

While I don’t know exactly where I’m going, and it can be a little scary, this is not really a bad place to be. I feel more confident and accomplished, now. Even if I don’t know the ending of my story, I have gathered enough from the plot to know that it’s going to be OK. I am not as afraid of the future as I used to be, because my past experience tells me that I can probably handle whatever it holds. I am basically competent, and I have a basically competent husband, so together we can (mostly) pull this off.

In spite of having no plan, I do see a few faint glimmers of The Rest Of My Life. They promise things like writing and speaking and making way too many sandwiches. They hint at family vacations and starting businesses and bicycle rides on sunny days. If my life so far has been about society’s expectations, The Rest Of My Life is about my expectations. Maybe it’s not so scary, after all. Who knows, it could be kind of cool, living life without a to-do list.

Tell me, did you have a to-do list like mine? And do you have one now, or not? I’d love to hear how you’re planning to spend The Rest Of Your Life, too.

Cultivating Cleaning Enthusiasm

My kids are top-notch mess-makers. First class all the way. There’s no cutting corners when they’re covering the floor with crackers and jumping on them. They absolutely ensure that not a square inch is devoid of crumbs.

Into the carob at 14.5 months
Hannah gets into the carob chips at 14 months

Oh, yeah, I'm feeling the tomato
Jacob demolishes a tomato at 12 months

The good news is that when they’re little they’re generally willing to help clean. Of course it doesn’t begin to compensate for the stains on my carpeting, but I appreciate the sentiment. If you put a cloth in front of a small toddler they’ll grab it and wipe. They may even show great enthusiasm for the task, and take joy in imitating their parents. They want to help and do the things you do.

Cleaning up afterward
Hannah wipes off a chair at 14 months

Jacob does some vacuuming
Jacob does some vacuuming at 20 months

When I see this joy in cleaning I want to pounce on it. I want to cultivate it and encourage it and grow it like a precious, precious flower. Or, at least, part of me does. Because if the kids think that cleaning is fun, maybe they’ll do more of it. Maybe they’ll love it so much that by the time they’re 8 I’ll never have to wash another dish again. How awesome would that be? (Answer: So. Awesome.)

And yet, a big part of me lacks the patience to nurture the toddler cleaning love. If you’ve ever had a toddler for a helper you know this part – it’s the part that just wants to get the job done without splashing dishwater everywhere so that you’re making a mess faster than you can clean it. It’s the part that doesn’t want to take 20 minutes out of the day to watch a toddler sweep (badly). It’s the part that just wants to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Let's turn the noise off, shall we?
Turning off the vacuum

I don’t know if it’s because I was not as patient as I could be, or that after so much wiping it loses its appeal, but these days my 5-year-old Hannah lacks her former cleaning enthusiasm. When I ask for her help in cleaning up a mess that she made she says, “No thanks!” If I insist, there is much sadness in the land as she holds the dustpan for me. My mantra, “In our family we all help each other,” falls on deaf ears. My daughter will happily pull out that mantra herself when she needs a hand, but reciprocity appears to be lost on her. Which I understand, because she’s 5. It’s not really supposed to be reciprocal at her age.

But there is a new hope on the horizon. My 20-month-old Jacob is in serious love with the vacuum cleaner. He points at the utility closet door, where it resides when not in use, and shrieks and cries until I pull it out. He cries when I put it back after a vacuuming session. He also loves the dustbuster, and he’ll happily bust dust for 10 minutes while I make dinner or eat lunch. It’s not all sunshine and roses, but I don’t care because I want this kid to be the one who loves to clean. So I agree to his requests to suction our household surfaces as often as possible.

Now I need your input on my efforts to cultivate a love of cleaning. Do you have a pint-sized cleaning star? Did you do anything to help that process along? Or do you think that, naturally, cleaning will become drudgery for everyone? Tell me, please!

Playing Hooky

Yesterday morning I got a call from a friend asking if I wanted to join her and her son at a nearby beach. It was a sunny Friday, and I wanted to get out of the house. But, of course, I had some work I needed to do at home. In the end, the sunny Friday won out and Jacob and I were off. We picnicked, we played in the sand and walked in the muck, we blew dandelion seeds on the wind and chased seagulls. Jacob attempted to wake up people napping in the sun, and wandered off with toys that didn’t belong to him more than twice. Good times!

Sometimes, I think, you need to blow it all off and play hooky. Before I was at home with my kids all the time I would have thought that every day as an at-home mom was like playing hooky. But it really isn’t. Even if you don’t go to a traditional job, you still have responsibilities. You still never get through your to-do list. And you still need to blow off an afternoon once in a while to chase your toddler around outside.

Jacob and Josh teeter totter

Chasing a seagull

Examining a daisy

View of the beach at Old Orchard Park

Amber playing hooky

Jacob meets a new dog

What’s your favourite way to blow off some steam when you should be doing something productive? And who do you bring along for company?

PS – I will most definitely not be playing hooky tomorrow, when I’ll be speaking at the Bellies to Babies Celebration. If you’re in Vancouver, drop by and say hi!

Laughing at my Pain

My son Jacob is 20 months old. This means he is solidly in toddler territory. He does things like stack objects on top of each other and knock them over. He empties my underwear drawer, throwing my unmentionables down the stairs for me to trip on at some later date. He uproots the seedlings from my garden, sticks his fingers up my nose, and does a lot of pointing and grunting.

Like his sister before him, Jacob the toddler is not aware of the feelings of others. Or, more precisely, I’m not sure he believes other people can have feelings. When he hits me and laughs, it’s because he doesn’t understand that hitting hurts me. After all, hitting me doesn’t hurt him, and he is the centre of the universe. My protests are like some sort of odd performance, which he seems to find highly amusing.

Professor Jacob
I’m pretty sure he’s thinking, “Come over here so I can poke you.”

I’m not that worried about my toddler’s lack of empathy. It’s pretty normal, and he will outgrow it in time. I do find myself saying, “No hitting! Hitting hurts!” rather a lot, even though I know it’s not really sinking in. But at some point it will, so I’m laying the groundwork. Or at least I’m making myself feel better, and a little bit less like a doormat.

Toddlers are this totally crazy combination of absolutely adorable and completely uncivilized. They imitate you, they master new skills with great frequency, and they live with abandon and exuberance. You can’t help but love them and think they’re the sweetest and smartest little people ever. But then they find a stick, and hit you with it, and laugh. And then they scream and cry when you take the stick away. So you find yourself comforting them, because they’re sad you’re not letting them hit you with a stick. It’s very odd, but the squeaky wheel gets the grease and no wheel is squeakier than a toddler.

Flexing our muscles ;-)
As an infant, Hannah was unaware of the damage she inflicted

Having been through toddlerhood before I have a little bit of perspective. The very tiniest bit. My 5-year-old developed empathy, and a sense of fair play. She no longer hits me with sticks and laughs, or throws her food on the floor just to watch it splatter. I trust that Jacob will get there, too, in his own time. Having experienced that first hand does help me not to take the slings and arrows of my daily life too seriously. Usually.

Parenthood is a wild ride, and toddlerhood is one of the wildest parts. At least, so far. I will admit that I’m a little bit of afraid of what adolescence will bring, when I get to the end of my day with two little kids and just want to pull my hair out. But for now I usually prefer not to think that far ahead. One day at a time is my motto. The most I can do is try to make it through grocery shopping without crying. The future will have to take care of itself.

In the meantime, if you have any tips for de-compressing after a day spent retrieving items from the toilet and grabbing a little boy by the hood of his coat before he escapes, I’d love to hear them. Because I can use all the help I can get.

Who do I Think I am, Anyway?

It’s Thursday and I’m Crafting my Life! April’s theme is dealing with negativity. When you decide to go in a new direction you can encounter a lot of it, from yourself and others. In the past two weeks I spoke about that pesky voice inside my head and how I’m learning to understand it. This week I’m answering one of the biggest questions that nags at me when I start dreaming – who do I think I am, anyway?

The truth is that I have it pretty good. Actually, I have it more than pretty good, I have it really good. I live in Canada, I’m married to a man I love dearly, we have two beautiful children, and we own our own home. Well, the bank sort of does, but still. Between us, we have 3 computers and 2 cars. Our fridge is well-stocked with good food. My children each own more than 2 pairs of shoes. I own more than 10, even if I usually only wear 2 or 3. These facts mean that I am really freaking affluent, globally speaking.

When I start dreaming and writing lists and thinking about how great it would be to be totally fulfilled and have a house on the water and a super-cool bike, I sometimes start to feel guilty. I feel like maybe I am asking for too much. I feel like maybe I should just count my blessings, be grateful for what I have and not ask for anything else. I don’t want to be greedy and ungrateful. The more than 3 billion people in the world who live on less than $2.50 a day would give anything to enjoy the life I have. Who do I think I am, anyway, wanting more?

I struggled with this one for a long, long time. I think that cultivating gratitude is very important. I have been around the block enough times to know that this is the real secret to happiness. Buying a new handbag or taking a fancy vacation are fun, but in the long run they will not bring you the same sort of contentment that you get from acknowledging the bounty your life already contains. If I already have so much, and I want to be grateful, should I even be asking about my dreams?

Yes! Yes, yes, yes. And here’s why. When I set goals and pursue them I am not taking anything away from anyone else. Not a thing. I am also not denying that I already have a whole heck of a lot of good stuff in my life. Not for a second. There is a big, huge, monumental difference between asking myself what makes my heart sing, and feeling that I am somehow entitled to only good things in my life. Dreaming is not about wanting or entitlement, it is about tapping into the essence of yourself.

When you pursue your dreams, you are working hard. You are working with passion, to build and create new things. Along the way some people open businesses that employ others, create art that inspires us and establish charitable organizations that help the less fortunate. Following your heart enriches the world around you. When you’re doing work you love, you do more of it, more fully and more boldly than if you didn’t believe in your cause. People pursuing their dreams create Etsy boutiques and multi-national conglomerates. They advance the frontiers of science and stage fantastic plays. Their actions benefit us all.

So, to come back to my original question, who do I think I am anyway? I am no one special. I am a middle-class, thirtysomething, suburban mom. I am good at math and horrible at mini golf. I suck at chess, but I will kick your butt if you are so foolish as to challenge me to a game of Taboo. Like everyone, I have passions and dreams and fears and pet peeves. But I believe that you don’t have to be anyone special to follow your heart. I believe that passion is for everyone. That dreams are for everyone. And that they enrich our lives, and the lives of those around us.

In the end, I don’t think the question is who I think I am to pursue my dreams. It’s more like, who do I think I am, that I frequently ignore them? Who do I think I am, that I would rather hide than try? The world needs all of us to get in there, roll up our sleeves, and do some good work. Some passionate, soul-filled, dream-inspired work. I believe that. It’s hokey, and it’s a little bit rah-rah, but it’s also the truest thing I know.

April’s Crafting my Life series is about dealing with negativity. On the last Thursday of the month, which just happens to be the 29th, I will include a link up. To participate, write a post on this month’s theme anytime in April, or track down a post you’ve written on the subject sometime in the past, and add yourself to the list. Then read everyone else’s ideas and thoughts and be inspired! Check out the link-ups from January, February and March to get a feel for how it works.

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