Imperfect Impermanence

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I think Aedan is really struggling with his dad being gone right now, and it manifests in him treating the rest of us like crap. Lots of name calling, hitting, toy throwing…it’s a challenge for me to keep in mind that it’s because he’s having a hard time. Yesterday morning, after unending insults and fighting, I loaded everyone up in the truck with the plan to drive out to Tombstone Territorial Park.

The drive wasn’t any better than the morning at home. Lately, whenever I get the kids into the truck, they do nothing but bicker. Is this a thing siblings do on car rides? Someone always complaining loudly that someone else is bothering them, touching them, took their thing, bit them…I have, on more than one occasion, threatened to “pull this truck over right now” or “turn around and go right back home”, even though we all know full well I’m not going to do that. Who have I become?

I’ve become a woman doing her best to keep her shit together, I guess. We arrived at the Interpretive Center and hit the trail to the beaver pond. It was overcast, the sky low and moody over mountains just on the verge of fall brilliance. The dog wouldn’t stop pulling on the leash. The kids alternated by running ahead on the path and running up to hug the dog, and then we’d all get tripped up. I’d step on the dog’s paw and he’d yelp and then I’d stumble over a kid and they’d yelp and then I’d yelp at everyone to get out of my way. Fun times, right?

We got to the bench by the beaver pond and immediately everyone asked for a snack. The snacks I bring are never what they want and there is never enough. Still, I tried to relax and take in the surroundings, tried to be present even if that meant fully existing in a moment of kids and dog tugging at my limbs. It was not relaxing, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes. At least we were out of the house.

On the walk back to the Interpretive Center, where the path skirted the highway, I could see three young women hitch hiking together further north. They had big packs on their backs, the hoods of their Gortex jackets drawn tight over their heads. They chatted and laughed, the one in the middle clutching a cardboard sign with their destination written on it. I thought of all the adventures I never had, will never have. Slipped out of the moment and into longing for a life that is not mine. Charlotte tripped over a root and fell, and I went to comfort her. The dog, forever tugging on the leash.

We arrived back at the truck and I loaded Winston into the back before we went into the center. It was relatively busy in there. The boys went to play with the animal puppets; Charlotte sat down to colour. I poured myself a cup of tea (labrador tea leaves, yarrow and cranberries) and sat in front of the blazing woodstove. Here. I’m here. This is my family, this is my life.

The irritation I’d felt on the path subsided. It was cozy inside, the kids were happy. As we left, it started to rain a little. I passed those women on the highway, silently wishing them a ride soon. I felt grateful to be dry and heading home.

Lest you think the day was perfect after that: I yelled at the kids to be quiet on the drive home. While I was changing the oil in the generator, the dog decided to become a car chaser and not come when I called him. I cried. I wanted very much to drink the bottle of wine my friend left here in case of emergency.  But I also didn’t want to drink the bottle of wine. I made tea instead. Aedan saw me crying and told me he cared about me. And then I texted with P about how I was feeling and he just listened and didn’t try to fix it and that felt good. And then our friends came to visit and had dinner with us and by the time they left, things were better.

As I headed up to bed with the kids, I was reminded that it all passes. The moods, mine and the kids’, rise and fall like waves, drift like clouds in the sky, whatever metaphor you prefer. Nothing lasts forever. This difficult moment in my life, the bad mornings, the bad days, the sadness: they pass. I don’t have to be the uncomfortable feelings. I don’t have to believe the shitty things my mind tells me, or act on them.

This morning we all woke up in a better mood. We’ll go to the pool, we’ll visit our friends, I’ll make pizza for dinner. I may or may not yell at everyone to be quiet when we drive to town. It can’t all be perfect.

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A Word for 2017

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This morning as I browsed some favourite bloggers, I noticed that Lindseay Mead of A Design So Vast had written a post about her word for 2017.. She writes that sometimes, if a particular word presents itself in the days and weeks leading up to the new year, she’ll choose it as something to guide her in the coming year. I like this idea because it seems simpler and more general than listing resolutions and trying to stick to them all. I like to think of choosing a word as a touchstone, something to come back to again and again. A way of checking in with yourself.

Last year, I chose the word “connect”. I’m not sure how I did at connecting, overall. It was meant to encompass my self, my children, my partner, the present moment. In looking back through my blog, I see there were days where I absolutely chose to connect with those around me, and also days when I made a very concious choice to disconnect. I don’t feel like I’ve succeeded or failed. Rather, I set an intention and came back to it when I needed to.

In the final weeks of 2016, there was a word that popped into my mind over and over. An idea that intrigued me. I wrote about it here and here: daily practice. Or, for the purpose of this exercise, just “practice” will do.

This has to do with my writing, first of all. I’ve wondered how a daily writing practice would change me. I’ve been inspired by Sarah Bousquet of One Blue Sail and her daily blogging, as well as blogger Elan Morgan and their daily poetry practice. I’ve toyed with the idea of doing either of those things, but in the end, I feel like life with three kids is a little too hectic for me to commit to any one specific form. So instead I would like to practice my craft, somehow, every day for the next year. Just practice coming to the page every day, even if it’s just a 10 minute freewrite in my journal.

I’d also like to practice showing up for myself. Practice coming back to the present moment as many times as I have to in a day. Practice self-care. There are so many things that I wish I just had perfect right out of the gate, and it’s my nature to give up when they’re not. So I’d like to let this word remind me to be gentle with myself and to keep at it, whatever it may be, doggedly, even when it feels messy or lame.

What about you? Have you ever chosen a word for your year? What word would you choose for 2017?

P.S. I had to Google how to spell “practice”. The internet says that as a Canadian, should be using “practice” for the noun and “practise” for the verb. It also notes that Americans use “practice” for both noun and verb and so I’m going to stick with that for ease!

Turning Towards

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I’ve made a habit of turning away from life, lately. It was a means of survival, at first. Checking out from intense emotions was getting me through. Now it’s just a thing that I do mindlessly, reflexively. And I feel like I’ve been writing this post over and over for a year now. I’m tired of it. Are you tired of it yet?

Today I’m making a concious choice to turn towards life. Limited time on social media. Actually getting out of the house, out of the driveway, out of the neighbourhood. I took the kids to the woods today and although it was a grey day and the path was solid ice, we made our way through the dry brown leaf carpet along the edges. And instead of looking for the exit, as I always do, I chose instead to notice what was around me. The constant hum of distant traffic and the lonely sound of crows. Red berries clinging to a bare, thorny bush. Frozen puddles and how the ice shattered like glass under the kids’ boots. The bright green creep of moss on deeply furrowed tree bark, the texture of it. Coyote scat. My breath, in and out. How impossibly tired I am. The weight of the baby in the carrier on my back, the ache in my shoulders and neck. Noticing all of it. Turning towards. Choosing to stay.

It’s been easier, in some ways. It means less yelling, because I can see the shit before it hits the fan. It means happier kids, because I’m paying attention. And I suppose, grudgingly, I will admit that it means happier me, too. Turning away from life is no way to live life. Even if what you’re turning towards is mind-numbingly boring, or uncomfortable, or cold or whatever. At least it’s mine, right?

Running Towards Fear

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I don’t want to write today, so I’m doing it. I didn’t want to take the kids outside to play, so I did. I’ve spent a few days now running from the present moment, from my reality. Although I suppose my awareness of the fact that I’m doing that: “now I’m going to eat this whole bag of chips; now I’m going to pick up my phone again; now I’m putting the television on to distract the kids;” is something in itself. I’m not sure it counts as true awareness, true mindfulness, but it’s a start. It’s a moment of space around the unconcious acts that take me out of my self.

I’ve been thinking a lot about daily practice, as I’ve written about a few times now in the past month or two. My thought process goes like this: I’ll write a poem every day for a year. No, too hard. I’ll write a blog post every day for a year. No, too hard. I’ll just write something every day for a year. No, too hard. I’ll meditate every day for a year. No. Then the inner critic gets real loud and I tell myself the only thing I’m capable of doing every day for a year (or 5) is surviving. But there is some hopeful little part of me that whispers: you’re worth it. You matter. Your voice matters, if only to you. I am enough.

So, like I’m doing right now, like I did this morning when I suited the kids up to go out in the snow, I am going to do the hard thing I don’t want to do. It feels a bit grim, truth be told. Like running as fast as I can down a slippery dock towards a cold lake. And I’ll launch myself headlong into that lake, I’ll plunge into the icy water and be reborn as I break through the surface for air. Each moment is a chance to be reborn. I can only stay stuck for so long. And that’s what the binge eating, the screen time, really are for me. I think of them as escapes, as I’m indulging in them, if I think of them at all. But they aren’t escapes. They’re not things that move me forward. They’re things that keep me stuck and the present moment just keeps battering against me like waves against a sea wall. What if I let the water do its work? How would it reshape me? I’m drawn by the thought that instead of just surviving, just numbly stumbling through each day, I could be awake and alive to it all.

I think of mindfulness as meaning peaceful and content and calm. But I’m learning that I can be mindful of the turmoil in my brain. I can be mindful through the worst parts, I can be present through the confusion or anger or fear or sadness. And it’s uncomfortable. Being present doesn’t mean it’s going to be more pleasant. It just means I’ll be there for it, whatever it may be. I’m going to run straight at my fears and discomforts, because that’s when the growth happens. I can’t grow if I keep checking out. So I come home to my breath. Come home to the present moment, ever changing moment, ever changing me.

Image via Flickr user Tracy

The Stories We Tell

Less than two months ago, this is the story I told myself: you are a tired, overwhelmed mom. You don’t have time in the day to do things for yourself. Wine is your thing now: you live for that bottle of wine at the end of the day.

I let this story become fixed in my mind. I let it define me and shape my days. By 2 in the afternoon, I began to wonder: will I have a glass of wine tonight? Will I have the whole bottle? When can I have the first glass? Do we have wine? Should I get more wine? How much wine is too much? By 5 o’clock I was well into my first glass, and by 7 the bottle was empty. I’d get the kids to bed and fall asleep too, full of guilt. By midnight, I was wide awake, hungover, beating myself up.

This story became my truth, and I lived it almost daily. And because I believed it so completely, I let the important things that I’d worked so hard for slip away: a daily writing practice, exercise, connection with myself and my kids. We tell ourselves these stories, we let them become fixed, forgetting that a story has a life of its own. Stories change, can be reinterpreted, rewritten. The person I am today is not the person I was yesterday, is not the person she was a week ago, or even a moment ago. Everything about us is in constant flux, and so too are our stories. But we forget that and we get hung up on what might have been true for a moment, but is no longer true and no longer serving us.

What other untrue stories have I told myself throughout my life? And what have those stories held me back from? Stories about not being good enough. Stories about what people expect from me. Stories about what I can’t do. Stories about sex and love and friendship that kept me stuck in unhealthy patterns.

The stories I tell reach beyond myself. There is a story my partner and I sometimes share about the kids: they are out of control, they are monsters, they are unlikeable. We pass this story between us like a drug, feeding each others’ irritation, anger, dissatisfaction with life. And then this narrative bleeds into the way we interact with the kids, and they pick up the thread. Yesterday, coming down from a particularly difficult week, my oldest said of his explosive behaviour: “it’s just the way I am.” And this is how it starts: if you hear often enough that you are bad, that you are mean, that you are hurtful, you start to believe it, don’t you. Boys will be boys. Boys are aggressive. Boys fight, there’s nothing you can do about it.

I refuse to believe that story. When it ramps up in my mind, like on the difficult days, I tell myself a new story: a story about little brains still developing, about big scary feelings that are hard to deal with. Our stories aren’t so different, mine and my son’s. We are both trying to escape uncomfortable things, me with wine and screen time, he with hurtful words, spitting and slapping hands. We both need to rewrite our stories. I need to help him rewrite his, and to give him the language to do so.

Today, I tell myself a new story: you are capable. You are aware. There is a spaciousness in your day if you allow it. You are worthy of your own love and attention.

How might this new story change me, if I let it? How has it changed me already? I’ve stopped turning to a bottle of wine every night. See how I don’t need it. I’ve started to find my way back to healthier forms of self-care and I see and feel how they fill me up. I tune in to my body, now. I ask it: what do you need, right now? I see 10 minutes or 30 minutes or an hour open up and I fill it with what would feel best right then. I press on doing this, and I know that I’m not starting from nothing this time. I’ve already done this once before, and I know I can do it again. It’s easier, this time, to go back over and make the changes I need to make.

What stories do you tell yourself? Are you stuck in a narrative that’s no longer serving you? Maybe it’s time for a rewrite. What stories do you tell yourself about others, and how does it change the way you interact with them?

The stories we tell ourselves are powerful.  Going forward, I choose to use that power for good.

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Image via Flickr user Daniel X O’Neil