Go Wild, Go West!

This blog post comes at you two days late, and with more than 7000km of travel under my belt; 6000km of it by plane, and over 1000km by car.  Such is the Alberta way: road trips.

Late last week, my kids and I took advantage of some soon-to-expire Westjet vouchers and hopped on a plane to Calgary for six days of soaking up family and friends and exploring Southern and Central Alberta.  (Unfortunately my husband couldn’t join us, since he’s a teacher and the school-year has not yet wrapped up in Burlington.)  I grew up in Sundre, Alberta, an hour’s drive Northwest of Calgary, but until I was ten years old, I lived in the tiny village of Hughenden, about 100km west of the Alberta-Saskatchewan border.  I still have lots of relatives in and around Hughenden, so this trip was a chance to see many of them and to give my kids a taste of their heritage.  My children are older now, and at nine and six, they’ve got improved stamina for car travel and a bigger interest and awareness of their surroundings.  So while they’ve been to Alberta many times, it’s usually a Christmas visit, and it’s usually centred around Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  This trip was the opposite of that, and we put in more than ten hours of car travel, slept in three different beds, and threw in lots of coffee and cookie visits with their Great Aunts and Uncles for good measure.

Our first adventure was the Sundre Pro Rodeo.  Sundre hosts a three-day professional rodeo annually, on the third weekend in June, so if you want a true Western experience, this is it.  And….. since I’m not one to do things halfway, I registered my daughter as a mutton bustin’ contestant.  For those non-Albertans reading this post, mutton bustin’ is a children’s rodeo event, whereby five and six-year-olds who weigh less than 50 pounds can don a hockey helmet and ride a sheep across the rodeo arena.  Hang on the longest, win a prize.  I’d prepped her for months; YouTube videos, storied descriptions, and promises of fun and accomplishment.  My city girl was about to get a country girl experience.  After taking in the local pancake breakfast and the main street parade, we headed to the rodeo grounds, and in true Sundre Rodeo fashion, the infield was a mud pit from the rain the night before.

Undeterred, my brave girl stood above the chutes thirty minutes before her event, and we scoped out the sheep, who were corralled and waiting.  The grandstand began to fill, the rain-jackets and hoodies came off, and after a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, it was time.  Into the chute I climbed, onto the sheep she went; the whistle blew, the gate opened, the sheep ran.  Fast.  If you’re picturing this scene in your mind, you can now picture a sheep darting across the mud, then slipping and falling onto its side, with a little girl still attached; orange rubber boot in the air, she only let go when the sheep got up. rodeo discussionShe came up crying, upset not about falling off, but about being covered in mud.  As I’d hoped, dry clothes and a trophy quickly changed her tears to laughter.  Oh, what a show-and-tell she will have at school today.  

Our next adventure took us to Provost, Alberta, my birthplace, to visit my Aunt and Uncle’s farm.  We spent two nights there, under the big prairie skies, and had more fun than I can describe within my word count here.  Ironically, my kids missed their end-of-the-year field trip to a farm earlier this week, but got an up-close-and-personal look at a working farm instead.  We checked on the cows, played with the cats, and rode the ATVs for miles across wide open spaces.  We breathed in the fresh Alberta air and watched a storm roll in across the prairie, we shot slingshots and pop cans, rode in tractors and played cards and boardgames and shuffleboard.  I saw my childhood flash back through them, saw life come full circle, saw the next generation see and feel and taste my memories, my nostalgia, my experiences.

I should also mention the several Aunts and Uncles and small towns that we stopped in throughout our 1000km of travel; we drove by the house I grew up in, we visited two cemeteries to see my grandparent’s headstones, and we climbed the big dinosaur lookout in Drumheller.  I saw dozens of high school friends, ran on my favourite trails, and threw rocks along the riverbanks where I learned to skate.  Our final night in Alberta was spent in Calgary with my brother and his family, who had also joined us in Sundre earlier in our trip.  We filled up on pizza and ice cream, playgrounds and cousin hugs, neighbourhood walks and familiar streets.   

All in all, this week was about roots.  These people, these places, these experiences; these are the components of me.  And while my life has changed dramatically over the years, their importance and value remains, so sharing these people and places with my children is something I’ll cherish forever.  You know, roots and wings and all that…..


This has tipped my balance

My mama guilt has been running high as of late, pun intended.  You see, for the past three months, I’ve been focused on a lofty running goal: the Around the Bay 30K, a Southern Ontario pinnacle event in distance-running.  I’ve done the full 30km race only twice; once in 2004, with the youthful abilities of speed and recovery on my side, and once in 2008, as an under-trained newlywed, happy to be running alongside my husband.  Since then, running has been bumped down my priority list.

But now, two kids and a decade later, it’s been bumped back up.

My kids are a bit older, and we’re beyond the all-consuming baby/toddler stage, so I’ve had the time to rekindle my love affair with my sport.  For the last year, that’s meant mostly solo miles, with the highlight of one run per week with my dear Michaela.  Our ultimate goal is the 2019 New York City Marathon, but I felt my mid-week motivation waning as the cold weather and dark mornings descended upon us in the late Fall of 2017.  When my wheels came off in June last year, I knew things had to change if my New York dream was to come true.  So, in November, I joined a new training group, thanks to the advice of my friend Sarah.  And it’s been a game-changer.

This group does their long runs on Sunday mornings.  Although this is nothing new for me, the difference is that my long run used to hover around 15km, but for the past three months it’s been almost twice that.  More milage means more time required, and my quick-run-while-my-children sleep Sundays have been put aside for the last number of weeks; this has tipped my balance.

Balance is a fine line that I tiptoe along, often trading sleep for other priorities.  I’m sure many of you are in the same boat.   And so, with minimal family disruption, the bonus being other like-minded people who think it’s normal to get up before 5:00, my alarm clock rings at 4:45am on Tuesdays and Thursdays; my run is done and I’m back home before the rest of my house wakes.  The same can be said for my 6am 10k on Saturday mornings.  But as my Sunday group long runs have progressed in distance, I’ve had to rally my village.  My husband has been on his own for breakfast duty and hockey practices, for transporting kids and mobilizing sleepy children into cold vehicles.  My father-in-law has helped juggle back-to-back practices for two kids on two ends of the city and my neighbour has stepped in to carpool when other plans fell through.  The village for my children has become the village for me. It-Takes-a-Village-to-Raise-a-Child-6001

But there’s guilt.

Guilt at missing kid’s activities.  Guilt at putting it all on my husband’s shoulders.  Guilt at asking for help.  Guilt at doing something that’s all for me.

But there’s also joy.

Joy at doing something I love.  Joy at running times that seemed impossible only months ago.  Joy that my children see me value my health and my fitness and myself.

Joy that I didn’t quit when it GOT DAMN HARD.

Bring on the taper, let’s chase more joy.

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This is my heart rate data from my last long run in this training cycle (33km).  Most of it was done in the pre-dawn darkness of Sunday morning.


“You are the joy of my life”

I was snuggling with my five-year-old daughter before she went to bed the other night, as is our normal routine.  She’s got a chiropractic-approved mattress in her bedroom, but for the last couple of months, she’s insisted on sleeping on a double air mattress on her floor.  This came about after my brother and his family visited at Thanksgiving; we set up the air mattress for additional sleeping space while they were here and, well, she’s staked her claim and insisted that the air mattress is her preferred sleeping spot.  So, there we have it, an expensive mattress sits unused while a cheap air mattress is favoured and cherished.  Kids are weird.

But, back to my story.  After we read bedtime books, we shut out the lights, and I lay beside her for a snuggle.  This is one of my favourite parts of the day; the part where she tells me her thoughts and asks me lots of questions.  This is uninterrupted, one-on-one time, the stuff parenting dreams are made of.

“Mom,” she whispered, her sleepy face snug up against mine, “you are the joy of my life.” joy

My heart filled and my tears welled up.  She said it just like that: “you are the joy of my life.”  Could there be a more perfect statement?  In just seven tiny words, she articulated the feelings I’ve had for years.  Joy, yes.  Joy of my life, definitely yes.

My eight-year-old son is also still in the snuggle-with-mama stage of life.  Last week we walked to school hand in hand, and I marvelled at the little boy who is growing up right before my eyes.  “When do you think you’ll be old enough that you don’t want to hold my hand anymore?” I asked him.  “Mom,” he said confidently, “I will never be too old to hold your hand.”  Oh, my sweet boy, how I hope that’s true.

My husband and I have been talking recently about how we’ve found ourselves in the “sweet spot” of parenting as of late.  We no longer have the physical challenges of babies and toddlers and we’re not yet into the emotional challenges of tweens and teens.  We can take our kids anywhere without worrying about naps and strollers and baby food, and yet they still want to be with us, with the full, unbridled enthusiasm of youth and naivety.

This is very likely our final Christmas with two Santa-believers still intact, and you can be sure I’m going to soak it all in, just like I’ve tried to do throughout their childhood.  I’ve heard that “the days are long but the years are short,” and I’ve found that to be true as this parenting train has rolled along, picking up speed as it goes.

Oh yes, you are the joy of my life.

the days are long