Are family.

It was Family Day in Ontario yesterday (and in Alberta, BC, and Saskatchewan).  This meant a long weekend and extra time with the most special people in my life.  Family Day is one of my favourite days of the year, and something that I was used to having, growing up in Alberta.  Moving to Ontario in 2002, I missed it for a few years, until this province first observed the mid-February Monday in 2008.

My long weekend started out bumpy.

I ran on Saturday morning, as I often do.  With one of my very best friends, as I often do.  But this time, instead of venturing out in the pre-dawn darkness, our schedules allowed us to leave slightly later, and we got to enjoy the sunrise along the shoreline of Lake Ontario.  Our plan was a 14km out-and-back along the rolling hills of North Shore Boulevard; our pace was quick and the conversation was easy.  Because that’s why I run now- I’ve tried to set aside race times and self-imposed pressures, and to focus on the changing role of running in my life.  Now it’s about fitness and health and mental clarity and friendships.  You see, I first met Michaela in 2002, when I began Chiropractic College and was training to qualify for the Boston Marathon.  Running has always been something I love deep-down-in-my-bones, it’s “in my blood” my husband says.  But until my move to Toronto fifteen years ago, I had never met someone with such raw talent for endurance running.  To say this girl is fast is a gross understatement, and she’s raced internationally with the maple leaf proudly on her back.  But she’s fast in an effortless sort of way, and has maintained that graceful stride and incredible talent through the last decade of motherhood and business-building.  And although competitive running has taken a backseat in her life too, her and I have recently rekindled our training partner days and managed to run together most weekends for the last several months.

Our friendship was initially built upon running, and we got to know each other on the sidewalks of Toronto and the trails of Sunnybrook Park.  As the years passed, our relationship grew and evolved, and we were bridesmaids in each other’s weddings, she’s the Godmother of my son, and we get our families together every couple of months.  A forty-five minute drive separates our front doors, but the fibers of running continue to weave themselves through our lives; pre-wedding 5k’s, post-baby Chilly half marathons, 20km long runs on deserted Milton side streets.  And all Winter long, she’s gotten in her car before the sun comes up to make the drive to me so we can run.  And talk.  And be together.  She doesn’t mind, she says, she listens to audiobooks, she says, she gets home in time to enjoy the day with her family, she says, this is a way to make it work, she says.  I say she’s amazing.  And this past Saturday morning, she reminded me why.

At the halfway point of our run, I began to hurt.  Not injury-hurt, more like the hurt that overexertion brings.  Usually I welcome fatigue on a run, but not until the end, and not until I feel like I’ve earned it.  This time it snuck up on me at the halfway point, 7km from home, with 7km of hills to go.  I had been sick for a few days earlier in the week, and the lingering effects of that illness were rearing their ugly head when I’d asked more of my body than it was willing to give.  I began to feel dizzy, my legs felt heavy, and I suffered quietly while she held up her end of the conversation.  A few kilometers from home, I asked her if we could walk.  “Of course,” she said, concerned for my well-being and not the training we were missing out on.  We walked a block, and I began to pick the pace back up.  As we neared the lake, I asked for another walk break.  “We can walk home if you need to,” she said, not aware of the guilt I felt for slowing her down and the failure I felt for stopping.  Us runners are strange breeds, and we always take a bad run as a personal affront that means we will spend eternity seeking a runner’s high and die slow and out-of-shape and alone (or perhaps that’s just me).

I rallied, we ran the 2km back to my place, and after some stretching and water, we went our separate ways.  I texted her that afternoon, thanking her for her patience, and this was her response:

“Running these days is not about how fast we go but just about being together and having my Ashley time.  I could have walked the whole way with you.  Love you!”

And there you have it.

To segue back to Family Day, she’s part of my family and I love her like the sister I never had.  Family is support and loyalty and appreciation, love and gratitude and friendship.  I’ve written about the importance of friendships before, and I’m lucky to have a handful of girlfriends that feel like family.  Are like family.  Are family.

So happy Family Day to them, and to you.  May we all feel at home with our family and with our friends.

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“If Children Live with Friendliness, they Learn the World is a Nice place in which to Live.”

I had a group of friends over one morning through the Christmas break.  There were five of us, just a casual coffee-and-muffin kinda thing after our workout.  It was a chance to catch up and snag some girlfriend time in a world that needs more girlfriends.  Meanwhile, my kids were loving the extra action in our living room, and proudly demonstrated their toy saxophone skills, played Spot It with a new audience, and snacked right along with us on the food platters spread out on the coffee table.

I loved it.

I loved it because I love low-key, last-minute get-togethers.  I loved it because I love to show my children the value and importance of nurturing friendships.  I loved it because they were involved too.

We host friends quite regularly and as much as we can, we try to keep our children involved in those gatherings.  Come to think of it, we try to keep our children involved in everything we do.  They often visit my workplace, watch sporting events at my husband’s school, and tag along to the gym.  We take them to festivals and rodeos, baseball games and the movies, live theatre and hotel overnights.  We try to expose them to a life well-lived and well-loved.  I take live-in-the-moment advice to heart, and I’ll chose experiences over stuff every time.

But I think these friendship experiences are especially important for them to be a part of, and help to build the idea that it takes a village to raise a child.  In those couple of hours on a wintery holiday morning, they learned some important social lessons like not interrupting a person’s story, how good a belly laugh feels, and how fulfilled someone can be just by hosting people in their home.  They watched, they listened, they observed, they contributed.  They grew.

“What was your highlight today?” I asked them, as I often do, during their baths that night.  “Having your friends over,” they said.  Me too kids, me too.

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Little Girls and Big Cities

I am finding that raising a little girl is different than raising a little boy.  I am finding that raising kids in a city is different than raising kids in a small town.  And I am discovering both of these things fast and furiously as I venture into the realm of two school-aged children.

Let’s talk about the gender factor first.  My four-year-old daughter is now coming home from Junior Kindergarten using phrases like “best friend,” “she said she didn’t want to play with me,” and “hurt my feelings.”  These are all phrases that her brother, three years older, has never spoken.  She feels things deeply, she notices friendship nuances, she’s finding her way amongst her peers.

And the big-city versus small-town element, well, this is something that I’ve written about before.  I’m a small town girl, and I was raised in a town of 250 people until I was ten years old and we moved to a town of 2000 people.  Everyone knew everyone, for the good or the bad, so it seems unnatural to me to send my children into a classroom, knowing few other families, and having them talk about kids that I’ve never met.

Now, to be fair, we moved into this neighbourhood less than two years ago; we’re still finding our way and meeting people as we go.  But I suspect that this not-knowing-everyone is simply a side effect of city living, even though my kids attend a school of just 300 students, small by city standards.  So, while there are more and more familiar faces at pick-up and drop-off, and more and more hellos at the playground gate, the fact remains that I want to know my children’s friends and their families.

I was chatting about these things with a friend; this friend lives in a different neighbourhood and has children that are older than mine.  She’s been down this road before, and like the good friend she is, she sent her parenting wisdom down the motherhood pipeline: she suggested that I host a friend party for my daughter.  Now, why oh why, I hadn’t come up with this simple solution on my own accord is one of the reasons I often preach that “The World Needs More Girlfriends.”  Girlfriends help and support, and help and support she did.

A friend party it would be.

We printed off eleven invitations, one for each girl in her class, and asked her teacher to put them into the children’s backpacks.  “We’d like to get to know you,” the invites said, “please join us on Sunday afternoon.”  So, this past weekend I had six little girls running around my basement, laughing and playing and building their friendships.  And I had six families in my kitchen, meeting and talking and building their community.

This friend party was for her, but as it turned out, it was also for me.  You see, she’s nurturing relationships with girls that she’ll go to school with for the next decade and beyond (girls like this and this), and I’m nurturing relationships to build my small town within my big city.

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