Archives for April 2014

Defining Forgiveness

forgiveness friday dandelion

It’s the weekend, so I’m writing another Forgiveness Friday post. I should probably change the name of this series to Forgiveness Weekends, but I like alliteration so I’m leaving it as is. Either way, once again I’m thinking about forgiveness. Today, specifically, I’m contemplating what forgiveness means to me. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I am (very, very slowly) making my way through Forgiveness Is a Choice by Robert D. Enright. I finished school for the semester on April 11, so I’ve had a little more time to read lately. In the last chapter I finished, Enright suggested that I define forgiveness for myself by writing in a journal. Since this blog is the closest thing I have to a journal, this seemed like the best place to do it.

When I started my forgiveness journey, I was at a total loss over what the word really means. I referred to the Wikipedia entry on forgiveness, which said that forgiveness isn’t condoning, excusing, pardoning, forgetting or reconciliation. This was revelatory for me, because I have a tendency to excuse bad behaviour unless and until it passes the point of reason. It was also revelatory for me to think of forgiveness and reconciliation as different (albeit related) concepts.

Some months later, I’m still struggling to understand what forgiveness means. I have, however, made some inroads. Keeping in mind that I am not a mental health professional and I do not hold a philosophy degree, I’m going to give it a go. Here’s what I mean by forgiveness:

Forgiveness is the process of recognizing that you have been hurt through the actions of another, whether those actions and their consequences were intentional or not. Recognizing that you have been wronged, and that you are not responsible for having been hurt, in forgiving you acknowledge and deliberately let go of your anger. As you let go of your anger and hurt feelings, you are able to move forward more productively both in your relationship with the person who hurt you and in other areas of your life.

Perhaps a clearer way to explain it is to define forgiveness as a three-step process:

  1. Recognize that you have been hurt.
  2. Acknowledge your anger and hurt feelings.
  3. Release those feelings, not because the person who hurts you deserves to be forgiven, but because you freely choose to forgive.

The third step feels the hardest to me, because it begs the question of how to go about releasing those feelings. I’m coming to that part of the book, so I may have a better answer for that question soon. Right now, however, I’m doing some work on actually acknowledging that I have been hurt, and recognizing the anger I still carry around with me. It’s been surprisingly helpful.

For example, I always had a difficult relationship with my father, who passed away when I was 16. Three months ago if you’d asked me whether I was still angry with my dad I’d tell you that of course I wasn’t. I’d moved past it. However, the truth is that I have never really made my peace with my father. I’d simply decided that we didn’t have much in common and that it wasn’t worth my time to think about. In reading the book and realizing how much my relationship with my father continues to impact my life in major ways, I could see that maybe I’m not as over it as I believed. Even just seeing that, and allowing myself to the space to admit that I actually am hurt, and I have a right to be hurt, has been helpful. My hope is that by seeing it for what it is, I can actually deal with it and move on.

So, that’s where I am. I’m beginning to understand what forgiveness actually means to me. Now I just have to see how it impacts my life.

Home Improvement Update

If you’ve been following along, you may recall that my husband and I are embroiled in something of a home improvement nightmare. If you haven’t been following along – or you don’t remember the details, and really, who would? – let me fill you in:

  • Almost 11 months ago we signed a contract with a home improvement company to renovate our house.
  • A team of people came, measured, and made a list of the work to be done.
  • Fairly shortly afterward they came and installed a new bathroom fan. It was nice. I was feeling optimistic.
  • Another team of people came, measured, and made a list of the work to be done.
  • Two months later we went and picked out the fixtures for our new ensuite. It took longer than promised to get to that point, but the explanations for the delay all sounded reasonable and I didn’t over think it.
  • A little less than two months after that they finally started part one of our kitchen renovation. They finished it – mostly. It was nice. I was feeling optimistic again.
  • A couple of months later our ensuite renovation still hadn’t started. After a flurry of emails my husband got our contractor on the phone and he apologized profusely. He said that since it was November at that point, it would be best to wait until after Christmas to start the work. We had a start date of January 13, and I was again feeling okay.
  • A few details were finished on the kitchen portion of our renovation, although they still haven’t replaced our light as promised, built the walkway connecting our new door to our patio, or installed gutters.
  • In early January our contractor explained that his project manager was having a family emergency and our renovation would have to wait. I didn’t want to be a heel, so I accepted that.
  • Another team of people came, measured, and made a list of the work to be done.
  • Finally, we had a confirmed start date of February 17. On February 16 Jon and I cleared out our closed and moved our bed downstairs to the family room so that we would be out of the way. They did in fact show up the morning of February 17 and started the demolition of our old bathroom and closet.
  • By the morning of February 19 the demolition was done, and by noon the demo team left. They explained that the next step would be delayed until the following Monday (February 24) as the electrician was in Disneyland with his family.
  • I didn’t hear from any one on February 24. On February 25, when no one had showed up, I started making phone calls. I called the project manager and didn’t hear back. Then I called the company owner and didn’t hear back. Finally, I sent an email to the owner. He replied, and his message contained these sentences:
  • Unfortunately a new problem has arisen over the last few days. As part of our organizational restructure to reduce overhead costs and become more efficient, and better able to properly service our customers, Ecowest has recently voluntarily entered into a creditor protection process … Therefore our goal of a seamless project timeline has not come to fruition. Unfortunately at this time I can’t guarantee that we will be back on-site over the next couple of days…

  • I freaked out. My husband contacted my father-in-law, who is a lawyer who works extensively with construction companies and he gave us some good advice. One of the things our contractor had done was arrange 12 month interest free home improvement loans, and we started rounding up all the paperwork on our renovation and our loan.
  • On March 2 we moved our bed back up to our bedroom, realizing nothing was going to happen anytime soon. We still have no closet, though, and are living out of suitcases.
  • Living in a construction zone

    Living in a construction zone

  • On March 11 we got news that our contractor was no longer in creditor protection, but was now officially bankrupt. My husband appeared on the local news to talk about it. The paperwork confirmed that the contractor was $2 million in debt, and had only $160,000 in assets. We also discovered that we were far from alone. There’s even a Facebook group dedicated to the situation.
  • At the end of March we got confirmation that the bank would be forgiving all of the home improvement loans. This was a big relief, because it meant that we weren’t on the hook for work that hadn’t been done. My husband contacted a contractor recommended by a co-worker.
  • On April 14 my husband and I picked out bathroom fixtures yet again. The good news is that our new contractor hooked us up with some more affordable options. He’s scheduled to start work on Wednesday, and there are no sketchy home improvement loans involved.

Until the whole situation was resolved I didn’t want to share the whole sordid story here. I alternate between feeling angry at the first contractor and feeling angry with myself. It has helped immensely to know that my husband and I aren’t alone – there were dozens and dozens of families listed on the bankruptcy paperwork as having outstanding work. I researched the company online. I verified that they were active and busy around town. I did my homework as best I could.

At this point, I’m less angry at myself and more angry at the guy who was clearly facing financial difficulties and demolished my bathroom without any reasonable hope of finishing the project. It may be the case that he really thought he would be able to finish it. It wasn’t fair, though, to proceed without giving me a full explanation of the situation. I’ve now been living out of a suitcase, and been without an ensuite, for two months. If I’d had the full story, I wouldn’t have okayed the demolition. Is this a first world problem? Yes. Was I treated fairly? No.

I’m glad that there’s hope on the horizon. I am glad that this situation is being resolved as well as I could have hoped for. Next time I have to make the decision of whether I should renovate or relocate, however, I’m relocating. I no longer have the stomach for all of this stress.

School as Childcare

school childcare parenting

This coming weekend my kids will have four days off of school, since public institutions are closed for Good Friday and Easter Monday where I live. Last weekend they got three days off, because Friday was a professional development day for teachers. The week before that was a full week where they went to school five days in a row, but it followed on the heels of a two week long Spring Break.

Chatting with other moms on the playground after school, I often hear the comment that it can feel like there are a whole lot of days when the kids aren’t in school. I can relate. Days off from school can really disrupt the usual routine with kids. As a work-at-home mom (and student) I rely on school to give me kid-free time. When my kids are out of school more, I find myself working in the evenings more, and scrambling to keep up. Many parents love that school gives them free childcare, including me.

Chatting with other people, however, I’ve noticed that many people view this tendency of parents to use school as de facto childcare negatively. I’ve heard a few comments from a number of quarters recently along the lines of, “Well, you know, many parents think school is just free daycare.”

The funny thing is that parents who extoll the virtues of school as childcare, and critics who deride the idea of school as childcare, are actually saying exactly the same thing. They may even be using exactly the same words, just with a slightly different tone of voice. There’s no dispute that some parents use school as childcare – there’s only disagreement over whether this is good or bad.

I spent the past four months studying the philosophy of education. My textbook has this to say: “… schools do as a matter of fact serve as child-minding facilities, regardless of whether that was either the community’s or the parents’ intention or wish.” I think that sums up the issue very well. When you put a whole bunch of kids in a classroom for six hours a day, five days a week (most weeks), you are freeing up their parents to do other things. If those same parents were already doing other things, you’re reducing the amount of daycare they need to pay for outside of school. Either way, the parents come to depend on school to some extent. However, it may be the case that nobody actually meant to establish a state-run free daycare system. Hence the conflict.

It’s true that my primary aim in sending my children to school isn’t for the free childcare, but for the educational benefits. It’s also true that before I had children of my own I would have viewed school-as-childcare with some level of suspicion. I likely would have thought that daycare was something that parents should handle themselves. Now that I’m a parent my opinions are different.

When my daughter Hannah turned three years old she aged out of her infant and toddler daycare centre. Her father and I had a difficult time finding a new childcare setting for her. She ended up spending six months at a local Montessori school that just wasn’t a good fit for her. At the time I was pregnant with my son Jacob, and I needed to continue working to qualify for maternity leave. While my husband and I knew that our daughter was safe and engaged at the Montessori school it was very stressful for us, because she wasn’t happy. When she got a spot at another school that was a better fit for her, it was a tremendous relief.

This is just one example of how difficult it can be to find good childcare. I’ve had other experiences, and virtually every other parent I’ve ever met has stories to share, too. It’s emotionally gruelling when your need to work conflicts with your child’s need for quality care. It’s even harder for lower-income parents, parents of special needs children and single parents. That’s what makes public school so great. The staff are highly-qualified, the program is educational, and your kids are guaranteed a free spot. It may not meet all of your childcare needs, but it meets a lot of them, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.

At its root, I think the conflict comes down to the question of whether or not we believe society should be involved in childcare. It’s clear to me that we don’t believe this, speaking in broad terms. In most of Canada the daycare system is privately-run – we leave it to parents and businesses to sort it out. Some people still believe that mothers shouldn’t work, especially while their children are small. Culturally, we value self-reliance, encouraging parents to raise their own children.

Not every country holds this view, however. In Denmark, for instance, all young children have the option of enrolling in a childcare centre, and parents must not be charged more than 25-28% of the cost of the child’s care. And why do other countries provide affordable, universal childcare and early education? Because it frees parents to work and pursue outside interests, which benefits their families. Systems with more oversight tend to provide a higher level of care from more qualified staff. And children who may not otherwise have access to educational opportunities can learn. Society benefits from more educated citizens who come from more economically secure homes.

It’s true that the primary aim of school is educational. However, it serves many other purposes, some very intentional (think hot breakfast programs in inner cities) and some not so much (think making sure your child is exposed to the Rainbow Loom craze). I am inclined to think that that some of those maybe-not-so-intentional benefits of school are still very valuable, including childcare. Not every parent will take advantage of it – I know many homeschooling families who are very happy with their choice. I don’t think those of us who do rely on school for child-free time need to be embarrassed about that, though. We’re benefiting as parents, but our kids, our employers and our society are benefiting, too. These are all good things.

If you are relying on school for childcare, though, there is one thing you need to do. Keep on top of those professional development days so they don’t sneak up on you. They have a way of popping up when you least expect it, as the other moms on the playground can tell you.

Five Things I’m Forgiving Myself For

It’s the weekend, so I’m writing another Forgiveness Friday post. Once again I’m thinking about forgiveness. Today, specifically, I’m forgiving myself for a few things that have been nagging at me. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

As I said, today I’m thinking about forgiving myself. It’s not the first time I’ve written about the importance of letting go of your own shortcomings. Today, specifically, I’m forgiving myself for five little things that have been weighing on me, and causing me to castigate myself, but that aren’t really a big deal in the long run. Here’s to learning to forgive yourself and embrace your imperfection.

I’m Forgiving Myself For …

1. Leaving the kids’ toys outside in the rain, because I haven’t been able to muster up the energy to bring them inside to dry off.

2. The fact that I put lemon peels in vodka to make limoncello three years ago, and haven’t touched the jar it’s all in since. (I actually thought it was only two years ago until I visited the recipe page and saw my comment from 2011.)

3. My failure to start studying for my final exams as far in advance as I should have. I also forgive myself for taking the time to write this post instead of studying for my final exams.

4. The fact I haven’t tried any of the recipes from Homemade Cleaners: Quick-and-Easy, Toxic-Free Recipes yet, in order to share my experiences with you. I will do it soon, I swear.

forgiveness friday book

5. My vacuuming delinquency. I literally cannot remember the last time I vacuumed the whole house. It’s been at least three weeks, but probably more. And I have kids, and a cat, and all that jazz. But you know what? On my deathbed I’m pretty sure I won’t wish I’d spent more time vacuuming.

What about you – are there any things you’d like to forgive yourself for?

What I Learned in March 2014

Strocel.com What I Learned Last MonthIt’s April already! Where does the time go? Once again I am, in fact, overdue for my monthly review. I didn’t want to let it go, however, because monthly reviews are one of my favourite traditions.

Here’s how it works – every month I come up with some things I learned, and not always the easy way. Then, I ask you all to join in with some recent revelations of your own. Or this time, perhaps you can share some less-than-recent revelations that occurred over the past year. Either way, we all learn and grow and what-not. Or at least share a laugh at our own expense, because some of these lessons are both hard-fought and funny. Sound good?

So, without further ado, here is what I learned in March – or some of it, anyway.

What I Learned Last Month

1. I re-discovered the joy of seeing those first sprouts poke through the soil.

what i leanred last month

2. I learned the injustice of rain during Spring Break, and a gorgeous first day back at school.

3. I found out that you could drink maple sap … and it’s actually not bad. Much better than coconut water, in my book.

what i learned last month maple water

4. I re-discovered the process of letting go that is writing and submitting a term paper.

5. I found joy in raising my own Mason bees.

mason bees what i learned last month

6. I learned that when teaching your child their first song on the recorder, you become well and truly tired of hearing that song long before your child tires of playing that song.

7. I painted the playroom, and re-discovered just how much prep work is involved in that. Luckily, the result is worth it.

what i learned last month

8. I learned, yet again, that I cannot be trusted around a bag of Cadbury Mini Eggs. Not even a little.

9. I discovered that cooking and cleaning is much more pleasant when listening to a podcast. You would think I would know this, having recorded 80+ podcasts of my own, but it was a revelation.

what i learned last month podcast

10. I went for a world record in the number of times in a row I can turn on a kettle and then completely forget about it until the water is too cool for tea. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I’ve shared what I learned – what did you learn in March? Leave a comment and tell me! Or, if you’d like to play along by writing a review post of your own, link to it in the comments. And please feel free to grab the button from the top of this post.

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