Five Years Later

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Oh hello there, five-year-old photo. Fancy seeing you here. Today you came and danced in front of my eyes, woke up my memories, and tripped up my heart.

You are a photo from so long ago — if I'm to count the years in baby days. Because baby days are long aren't they? And yet baby days are also mysterious and magical, because I can remember this day and what I was feeling as though it just happened. The hardest days of motherhood were also the ones that had my senses most turned up. It's why the memories are so vivid. 

I had four kids under the age of eight. It was the last day of school for the oldest three. JB was working out of town, like he did every week. The idea of stepping out of our well-structured routine was always daunting back then, and I often avoided any attempts. A pre-dinner trip to the ice cream shop wasn't anywhere on my agenda. 

Yet, off the yellow school bus came hopeful and excited faces. Much more grown up than they had been when I loaded them onto that same bus in September. They didn't show any signs of worry or dread about the long days of summer that lay ahead. 

And something shifted inside of me then. I realized how much my kids had been the ones carry me through the year. Perhaps much more than I had carried them. How patient they had been with the changes that always come with a new baby. How hard they worked to care for each other. How much they stepped up their independence when Daddy wasn't home to help. 

Who wants to go for ice cream for dinner? I heard myself saying. 

They were so thrilled and excited to see me "break the rules". I could see their chests puff out with pride knowing they must have done something to deserve this treat. And I could see they were proud of me for taking them somewhere I normally would have said needed a second adult. Even if we dropped our ice cream on the floor (we did) or the baby cried (she did) or we didn't have enough room for dinner (we didn't), we were going to do it together, and it would be okay.

If there's one great lesson I've learned in the five years since my weary self snapped this photo, it's that when I make my kids feel like we are a team, we really are. And as much as the necessary rules and boundaries have made them thrive in the game of life in a big family, running gleefully in the opposite direction has too.  

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I wish it hadn't taken me so long to worry less about how one moment would impact the long-term goals I hold onto as a parent. Because they don't. Kids are wise. They know when colouring out of the lines is for fun. And they respond to it in the most beautiful ways.

This afternoon, five years after our first attempt, hopeful faces came off the yellow school buses again. So much more grown up than they had been when I put them onto the bus in September. And even though it has now become an annual tradition, each of them waited for me to say it first.

Who wants to go for ice cream for dinner?

 

 

The End Of Another School Year

There's something so magical about the seasons that bookend a school year. The spring and fall gifting us with changes in colour and landscape. We see those changes with our eyes and we feel them in our bones. It's like a coordinated dance between nature and nurture when it comes to moving our family through those transitions. 

It is funny, though, that spring comes and wakes everything up at a time when the school year is coming to a close. And then fall comes along and ushers us into hibernation, just as our kids are preparing to take on the challenges of a new year. 

Maybe that's how the dance is supposed to go. We quiet the noise around us, so we can focus on the steps we need to take to learn new things and navigate new relationships. And then colour and light come and splash themselves everywhere and we wave our arms and celebrate how far we've come. 

A few weeks ago, I had the idea that my sister and her kids should take time out of their busiest season of the year to join our parents and my kids for a long-needed grandparent/grandkid photo session during my family's busiest time of year. 

It's never as easy as I tell myself it will be, but we pulled it off anyway. Thanks to the patience and skilled eye of local photographer, Lisa Tullett — who had to put up with photographing six squirmy kids under the high noon sun — we now have a lovely collection of photos taken during on a gorgeous spring afternoon. And they're perfect. 

With my oldest graduating from elementary school and my youngest graduating from kindergarten, I'm so glad to have photos of this moment in time. It has been a year of great changes and triumphs; a year when family was a priority and individual accomplishments were met. And we were able to do so much of what we hoped to because of the support and help my parents gave us so generously — thanks, Mom and Dad.

I'm of the mindset there can never be too many photos. Because with each photo comes a story. And with each shared story comes the strengthening of a family's bond. I see so many stories when I look at these photos of my kids and my family. And it makes me glad to know my kids and nephews will be able to look at them someday and have their own versions of these shared moments. 

Thank you for this beautiful gift, Lisa. Local friends: you can find out more about Lisa's gorgeous photos on Facebook and Instagram. Lisa is also offering one day photography workshops for budding photographers of all levels during the week of July 11 -14th. Check out her Facebook page for details.

Happy summer, everyone. Thanks for lifting me up and carrying me through another school year. I'm so glad you're all here. 

xo

 

 

 

 

A Week of Bento School Lunches

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Every Sunday afternoon, I drop my tiny dancer off at class and head to the grocery store nearby to stock up for the school week ahead. It's a newer ritual I've started in the past few months, to help me stay organized when it comes to my bento school lunches — something I'm still learning and perfecting after 10 years of lunch-making (somebody pin a medal on me).

Now I realize some of you may find it ridiculous that I make a dedicated trip to the grocery store for school lunches, but I find it keeps me on track for planning and only buying what we need. I also end up with less impulse purchases this way. It helps that I only have 45 minutes before I need to go back for my daughter, leaving me no time for distracted browsing.

I couldn't do it without my list. And, yes, I use one for my weekly grocery trips, too. I created a specific lunch box list on my favourite app, and it's been so helpful (it's easy to add and delete items when changing things up week-to-week. Or you can just ignore an item, but leave it on the list so it's there for a future trip). 

So how do I come up with my list? I map out a week of lunches — taking into account glorious pizza and hot lunch days — and then take a peek in my refrigerator and cupboards to see what needs to get topped up. Sometimes, I do a Pinterest search (I've been slowly building a board) for new ideas and add a new food/recipe to the weekly rotation (best not to try too many new things in a week). The kids are allowed (and encouraged) to throw their ideas in the ring, too. I also love this cookbook: The Best Homemade Kids' Lunches On The Planet.

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I recently wrote a piece for Savvymoms about how I put my bento boxes together, but here is my simple formula for planning out the week: bite-sized + easy + colourful + familiar + healthy. 

I always include one or two foods I know my child will willingly eat, and then I might try something different or not as favoured (but healthy, nonetheless) in the other containers. By not overfilling the bento with too many options, I have also found they are more likely to eat what's there. 

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Last week, I saved my list so I could share it with all of you for some inspiration/ideas (note: photos don't necessarily correspond with menu...I'm not THAT organized)

Day One:

Day Two:

  • bagel and cream cheese (I toast it in the morning, put together, and wrap in foil)
  • berry and pineapple fruit salad (left overs from a weekend fruit platter)
  • carrot sticks
  • muffin (again, from my freezer stock)
  • veggie straws

Day Three:

  • leftover beef stew (in a thermos)
  • watermelon slices
  • edamame beans
  • air popped popcorn (sprinkle some nutritional yeast on for cheesy, vitamin-packed flavour)
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Day Four:

  • mini quiches
  • orange slices
  • red pepper strips
  • mini muffin
  • cheddar rice crackers

Day Five: 

  • mini naan bread pizzas (naan + pizza/tomato sauce + shredded mozarella for 8 mins at 375)
  • grapes
  • cauliflower and broccoli florets (and ranch dip in a dippers container)
  • tortilla chips and guacamole
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I'm always happy to share more ideas or talk shop with my readers. Feel free to find me on Instagram, where I do the most sharing of the insides of my kids' lunch boxes. 

Back To School: With The One Who Always Believed In Me

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I was the first one to say something when we were introduced.

Some things haven't changed about who we are when we're together. 

My roommate had tapped me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear, 

This is the guy I was telling you about. The one who's in your program.

I think she nudged/gently shoved me forward and said something similar to him.

I looked at him, did my best to ignore the firework show that was setting itself off inside my body, and said something like, 

So how did you find that anatomy course last semester? 

We still laugh about how such an awkward exchange could feel so natural. We ended up continuing that conversation through the night and into the following day. We talked about our lofty goals and the plans we each had for our future. 

It's a conversation we're still having. 

We were in our third year of university then and, as our relationship grew, so did our mutual support for reaching those goals and achieving those plans. We developed rituals like sitting in certain cubicles in the library (though never on the same floor, because that ultimately proved too distracting), meeting at the doors when the library was closing for the night, pulling through a drive-thru on our way home for milkshakes. 

We held each other accountable for showing up at class. He used my computer to write his papers, I borrowed his meticulous study notes when I got overwhelmed. When we walked across the stage at convocation two years later, we very much had each other to thank. We continued on in school together and crossed a few more convocation stages in the years that followed. 

But being on similar career tracks and committing to a long-term relationship came with its challenges, of course. Sometimes one of us took the lead, while the other had to fall back. Sometimes, and especially after parenthood became part of our story, resentments would make themselves known. Eventually, we ended up in completely different places in our careers, and we're doing okay with those roles today. 

A few weeks ago, we settled on a documentary for our family room date night, about a talented life that ended too soon. As often happens with the two of us, it inspired a long-into-the-night conversation. We revisited our individual goals and plans. And with years of experience behind us, we spoke openly about regrets and missed chances. 

When we finally went to bed, I lay down beside him with a full heart and busy mind. But our conversation rattled around for days afterward. Have we done enough to keep regret out of each other's lives? Have we continued to hold each other accountable for showing up for ourselves, as well as each other?

Last week, we accepted an invitation to return to that first campus and meet with undergraduate students from our program who are planning for their futures. We were placed at different tables, because we have very different careers. And as I snuck glances at him from where I sat, I wondered what advice he was giving the students who lined up to speak to him. 

I was surprised by the more philosophical questions I was getting about how I knew I was on the right path (I didn't) and how I decided to get on it in the first place (accidentally). I spoke with students at the beginning of their journeys, while being pummeled with memories of being in that same position, on that same campus, years ago.

When the event was over, and we made a last-minute decision to return to the campus pub where our paths first crossed, we talked about how we had been asked very similar questions. And we both wondered whether we had been able to answer them with the passion and sense of possibility those questions deserved—being that we were so far from those days now.  

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I looked at him on the other side of the table, only a few feet from the place I first passed him my dreams and he gave his to me, and I thought about our recent late-night exchange about regrets and missed chances. It struck me that none of those regrets and missed chances live in the time and space we've spent with each other. 

Resentments and frustrations dot our timeline, yes, but they were never given enough light to cast shadows on our goals and plans. Even when my conflict about stepping off a full-time career track to focus on our children had me lashing out at him for the ease with which I felt he could stay on his, he held on to the bigger picture for me. Possibility is as close to us now as it's always been.

Thank you for the pep talk, one student said after we spoke about her next steps. It was nice to hear those things from someone who doesn't know me, because the people who love you are supposed to say those things about you. 

I looked over at him again, before I answered her. 

If you're very, very lucky, I said to her, that's true