91, each with a story.

My family got our Christmas tree on the weekend.  It’s a bit earlier than we usually do, as December is not yet upon us, but the kids were asking and we had a free weekend afternoon with mild weather, so we took full advantage.  We get a real tree, and we do as city-people do, and trek to one of the local rural Christmas tree farms for the full urban Instagram experience.  Gone are the days of my Albertan prairie childhood, when we would drive country roads and walk through waist-deep snow in search of “the one.”  The opening scene of Chevy Chase’s ‘Christmas Vacation’ comes to mind.  These days, my husband and I do our best to give our kids a new version of that experience, and it’s definitely a Christmas tradition that we all look forward to.

We borrowed my father-in-law’s saw, again part of the tradition, as my husband remembers his childhood Christmas trees being cut down with that particular saw.  I marvel at the changes in our children each year, and remember the early years of babies in carriers and blankets, sneaking in tree-cutting between naps and feeds, worried about the cold and the little legs that couldn’t hike very far.  Now our kids are involved in the whole process, from cutting to carrying, unloading to decorating.  My daughter’s choice of tree got the nod this year, a point of pride for her, and my son placed the star on top.  In fact, once we got it home and in the tree stand, the kids decorated the whole tree by themselves while my husband and I sat on the couch, acutely aware of the fact that we’re in the midst of a wonderful stage of parenting, sandwiched between the emotions of toddlers and the moods of teenagers.

We carefully unwrapped the ornaments from their newspaper homes and laid them on the coffee table one by one.  And as the table filled, we counted: 91, each with a story.

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Each year, I get a family photo made into an ornament.

Many come from my parents, as they give both of my children an ornament based upon their current interests- we’ve got everything from Thomas the Train to Elsa, Captain Phasma to Dora, Harry Potter to the Toronto BlueJays.  When my kids move out, they’ll take their ornaments with them and have a head start on filling a tree of their own.  Many come from my husband’s childhood, the most precious being a tiny stocking from the year he was born.  Some come from gifts from friends, some from Winter weddings, some from school crafts.  But consistently, year after year, the most magical part for me is not the ornaments themselves, but the stories they tell.

We’ve got 91 stories on display;  91 feelings of nostalgia, 91 tokens of gratitude, 91 memories of happiness, 91 reasons to give thanks.

Merry Christmas.

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Sundays, puppies, baseball, and books.

I had a moment on Sunday.  Life is moments strung together, isn’t it?  And this one was a moment for the top of the string.

Sunday was a beautiful Fall day, one of those crisp air days, with blue sky and sunshine and the crunch of Ontario maples beneath my feet.  It was the second day of an atypical under-scheduled weekend, two full days in which my family of four spent no more than a couple of waking hours apart.  Just how I like it.  After an early Sunday dinner, we decided to wander over towards the library to return some books and play some baseball.  We grabbed the bat and the ball, the books and the bag, the pup and the dog treats, and away we went.

It’s a short ten-minute walk from my house to Burlington’s Central library, located on a huge urban greenspace with ball diamonds, soccer fields, and a playground just outside the library doors.  As we wandered along, the sky began to shift towards an early sunset, another reminder that Winter is on its way.  We entered the park, and my daughter and I headed towards the book drop bin, while my husband, son, and puppy headed for the baseball diamond.  We called the dog back and forth, a few hundred metres separating ourselves, practicing her recall command, marvelling at her temperament, and showering her with praise and treats.  At the book drop bin, I passed pile after pile of Berenstain Bears books, as my daughter happily loaded them into the drawer, waiting for the thump of a book deposit success.  Job done, we headed back across the expanse of grass, towards the baseball diamond and our family game.

And that’s when the moment happened.

“Mom,” she said, her six-year-old hand in mine.  “I……. I……. I,” she stammered, searching for her words.  I could hear the emotion in her voice and see the depth of her feelings splayed across her face.  “I love you Mom,” she said as she turned towards me and reached her arms up, her unspoken signal to be picked up.  At fifty pounds and four feet tall, she’s not a toddler anymore, but she’s still my baby, and I’ll happily take a wrap-around hug anytime she’s giving them out.

I picked her up, breathed her in, squeezed her tight.  And as her little cheek pressed up against mine, I felt the moment overwhelm me too.

Bliss.  Gratitude.  Joy.  Presence.  Whatever you want to call it, we felt it.

Green grass under our feet, pink sky above our heads, a puppy at our side, a baseball in our hands.  It all came together on Sunday night.

A moment, that’s all.

But a big moment for us.

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Saving/Spending/Charity

I need to throw in a plug for the remarkable people that my children are becoming.  Every once in a while, I turn up the sap on this blog and make some of you cry on the GO train.  Today might be one of those days.

Let’s start with a little back-story…..

Since my children were very small, we’ve piggy-backed an idea from my sister-in-law in regards to their money and finances.  We use a three-jar system; one jar for “savings,” one jar for “spending,” and one jar for “charity.”  Any money that comes into my kid’s hands, everything from birthdays or shovelling neighbour’s snow or the quarters that Grandma and Grandpa hide around the house when they come for a visit, gets divided into three equal parts and put into their jars.

The “savings” jar gets taken into the bank a couple of times per year and they see their bank balance grow.  The “spending” jar can be used for whatever their hearts desire, from Beyblades to Pokemon, video-games to candy.  And although I encourage them to think long term and “save up” for a special purchase, they are young enough that the spending jar rarely gets above $15.  The third jar, arguably the most important, is the “charity” jar.  They know that this is the jar that we use to help others, and it’s another tool that we, as parents, are utilizing to try to grow our children into compassionate, caring adults.  This weekend showed me that it’s working.

We were watching the news coverage of Hurricane Florence.  I have a close friend who lives in North Carolina, so Florence has been at the top of my mind for awhile now.  As we watched, I was texting with my friend, and was relieved to hear that she was safe and relatively unaffected.  My kids sat there watching the devastation on TV, whispering to each other on the couch before heading upstairs conspiratorially.  They came down with their charity jars in hand: “Mom, we want to give our charity money to the people affected by the Hurricane,” they said.

In years past, we’ve donated to whatever cause is closest to our hearts.  My husband and I have a “charity jar” too, and a few times a year, depending on the circumstances of our world, we give it out accordingly, usually pooling the kid’s charity money in with ours.  We’ve given to friends fallen on hard times, needy families at Christmas, natural disasters, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Food Bank, and most recently, to the Humboldt Broncos tragedy.  We always talk about this giving with our kids, putting our money where our mouths are, and my son has taken to asking if we can bring our “charity” money whenever we go to BlueJays games so that he can pass it out to those in need along the PATH system.  So when they came downstairs with their jars, my heart swelled with pride; $86 is headed down to the Hurricane Florence rescue efforts, but there’s been far more than $86 worth of lessons learned.

Good job, my babies.

Be kind.  Always.

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