Thursday, April 26, 2012

Blind Spots

I think we all have blind spots. There are areas of our life and personalities that are hard to look at, to admit to, to take responsibility for, to feel the whole pain of, or even to let in the full extent of gratitude that we feel. I believe these blind spots are linked to our triggers, to the buttons our loved ones are so good at pressing. We don’t want them coming to light. We have built motes around these areas with crocodiles and high, iron gates and guards surrounding electric fences. We have gone to great lengths to make sure that nobody can access our protected areas.

But like every elephant in the room, they are impossible to ignore.

I finished a book last night about a man who’s wife dies of cancer leaving behind a motherless 6 year old daughter. The man then gets wrongly accused of being a sex offender and loses his daughter to his inlaws as well as his job, his house and everything he owns. As with most books that I read, I am immersed in the story and I can’t stop reading it. I become it. But the situation has taken me so deep down into its reality that I spend my days trying to get over it. I try to force myself to feel grateful that I am not experiencing any of these kinds of trials right now. I even try to put the book down. I believe the story is meant to show how one human can survive the worst of tragedies and still prosper. I can’t help but think that such a situation would break me.

I lay awake for hours after finishing this book. Anger and fear spend the night bubbling under inside my body. Why did I need to read such a story? After spending my days unwinding my own life, I can’t figure out why it is worth my time to read this stuff. The tension in my body is palpable. But no matter what I do I cannot find release. The buzzing will not go away. Finally after hours of resistance I find a forbidden room. The hidden compartment. A key that unlocks a buried treasure. After a night of digging, I have accidentally hit the Blind Spot.

At first the Blind Spot is shocked to have been uncovered. It does not often see the light of day or receive any kind of consciousness from me. We have an unspoken agreement that we will leave each other alone. The Blind Spot squints in the light, as though it has been awoken from a long, dark, sleep. The Blind Spot is annoyed. The Blind Spot is scared. The Blind Spot isn’t used to being interrupted. Not like this. Not with my awareness present. Usually I experience an irritation I can’t explain. Or start obsessing about something someone says in ways that don’t match the gravity of the problem. Usually I have someone else I can blame for all of THEIR problems. But this book. Who can I blame? The one who wrote it? The one who leant it to me? I am reading online reviews on the title (which I’m not sure I should share with you!) to see how others reacted to the book.

I did not find a way around it. I spent the night coiled up with that feeling you get after a major confrontation. I still don’t know exactly what I was confronting because it was a blind spot after all. But that doesn’t mean the car ain’t still driving along beside me, right next to me, affecting where I can go next. If I could see it, I would yell ‘get out of my blind spot you idiot!’

I arrived late at work after a sleepless night to wander the hard hallways that I have become accustomed to navigating each morning. I hear a voice. The beautiful sound of someone singing. The voice is echoing off of the ceramic tiles. She doesn’t stop when we step on the elevator together. The elevator is full. She has no headphones on. She is just singing. Loud enough for everyone to hear. And she sounds lovely. She doesn’t make eye contact and she doesn’t stop singing.

Tears start to form in my eyes. Not a very well-timed release but a release nonetheless. The elevator keeps stopping at different floors but she does not get off. She keeps singing. I feel my body let go. It isn’t convenient. I have 4 more floors to go.

I’d love to tell you the nature of this blind spot I met last night. Or what it was that I finally let go of. I can’t quite say. Fear, perhaps. That would make sense. Then I wonder if it matters whether I put words to it or not. I think about Chinese medicine and how healing by this practise does not require the label that western medicine covets so highly. Similarly with homeopathic medicine. The symptoms are far more important than the ‘disease’. The treatment focuses on the state itself, not the analysis of the state. I’m not dissing either side, just noting their differences.

But what seems more important to me now is not why the fear manifested, but how it was healed. From a song. The voice of another human being carrying on her way, not minding what others thought of her. I wanted to find her – to tell her thank you. But I imagine it would seem crazy. Much more crazy than singing to yourself in an elevator full of people, right?

Healing in its very nature requires faith. So it seems strange that it would matter what we call it. Naming allows us to tame a thing, control it, make it do our bidding. When all we really need to get to is the healing, who cares how we get there? Yet is blind faith enough to heal?



In science there are things called double blind experiments that ensure neither the researcher nor the subject knows which treatment is the control (blank) and which one is being tested for its effects. In other words, there is a belief that the outcome will change if either side knows what to expect or what to hope for. In fact the blindness is essential to the proper functioning of the trials.



It occurs to me now that the day I built those protections, I obviously had a very good reason to do so. I shall not go digging about where the ground is not ready for new seeds. I shall let her sleep, whatever she is, until she is ready to wake up on its own terms.

And one day maybe, maybe in the presence of a beautiful song, in the cold elevator of a government building the Blind Spot will gain faith and reveal itself again. Or is it I who needs more faith? Faith to believe that whatever comes my way, I would handle in the best way I could? And I would get the support and help I needed from whatever people and powers that were willing. That I am not alone in this.

Blind maybe. But not alone.

Monday, April 23, 2012

So You Had a Bad Day

There is nothing more beautiful than catching a child in a moment of joy. Seeing their heads tilt back with the light of the world sparkling out of their eyes. There is nothing more healing than the sound of a child’s genuine laughter. I once imagined producing a CD of laughter tracks of children. Surely someone has done this already. One track after another of different laughs echoing through the air. It would be a sure way to bring people out of their darkest hour.

Some days I get tangled in my thoughts. My ideas get dark, my obsessions grow large, my assumptions are aplenty. People don’t like me. That friend is mad at me. My husband wishes he had married someone else. I’m a terrible mother. My family wants to disown me. I don’t do enough in a day. My body is betraying me.

Other days I feel peace and gratitude. I see the gifts I have been given in every corner of my life. I am humbled by the possibilities that present themselves. How did I get so lucky? Where and when was I at the crossroads that led me here? How narrow were the windows for the choices that were made? I cling so strongly to this path I am on for it has everything I have asked for. And so very much more.

I awoke one morning after a particularly hairy day the day before to the usual sunshine coming into our bedroom window and noted that the darkness had lifted. After a night of sleep, all of my concerns had gone away. As though darkness had packed its bags in the night and left for good.

Or is it that a spontaneous joy had overtaken me? Like children, we can squeeze all of the juices out of each moment no matter what story lies behind or ahead of us. This is what is remarkable about children. They can go from being incredibly unhappy to whole body giggling within seconds. They can clean the slate that easily. Wash away the black paints and cover them over with brightness.

Every day we wake up and paint a new mural. A new story for the day. Some good things happen. Some bad things happen. Some big. Some small. Some important. Some meaningless. Some background. Some foreground. We respond, react, recreate, reenact, interpret, extrapolate, expand, and exaggerate. We have a story to tell, darnnit, and we’re going to tell it loud!

But what story does a child have when they erupt into whole laughter in an instant? What about when their eyes dance with glee? There is no story there. Is it that their storage spaces are too small for extended versions of their moment? So few years to hold onto, therefore, so little is of importance. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a child cling to darkness quite like an adult can. We attach so much to our stories. Put so much detail into our murals. And we can pay so very much attention to each and every brush stroke in that picture we make.

A child is only starting its painting. We parents can make a difference which colours they use, which stories are told, which parts to focus on. The larger picture won’t come into view for many, many years for most children. Especially those that can exercise the right to live out their childhoods fully.

But as an adult with a mural to talk about, I think I should learn a thing from the perspective of a child. It is pink right now. End of story. There is wind. I am on a chair. He is smiling at me. Sometimes that whole story we tell ourselves isn’t worth hanging onto. Only the tiny detail in front of us matters. At least for right now.

So you had a bad day? The sun will come out tomorrow with a new canvas, a new brush, and new paints. Hang on to the laughter. Its what will heal you in the end. Untangle those dark thoughts. They may not be worth the space you’re giving them.

So you had a bad day? Paint me a new picture please.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Bullying: A Mama’s Place

My daughter is shy. At least that is the word that others like to use. In my view, she tends to keep her loud, complicated, busy personality inside of herself. I think she might be like her Mama, and come to think of it, her Papa that way. When she started day care at 17 months old she did not say a word to her provider. Nor any of the other kids. For about a year she only whispered to the person in charge of her care. Her second day care experience at 2.5 years old was not much different. Other day care providers at the centre would hear her chattering away to me when I was helping her with her coat in the locker area and remark that they had never heard her voice before – one year in.

She speaks quietly when asked a question from a new person (defined as someone on the scene for only 6 months – 2 years), and can usually only carry on a conversation at a detectable level with her close family members (brother, grandparents, parents, maybe aunts or uncles) or her friends and cousins. Otherwise, you may just have to guess what she is thinking. If you’re lucky you’ll get a slightly perceptible nod.

When the doctor handed me this little baby girl, I could tell immediately that she was a wise sort of human. In fact I recall thinking: ‘oh no, she is going to know so much more than me’. There was something in the way her eyes were acute and focused from the minute she came into the world. This girl was taking it all in. And I was afraid I couldn’t guide someone like that.

Fast forward to the beginning of her first school year. How I managed to let that kid walk up the driveway toward that rumbling big, yellow bus without completely spazzing out with emotion, I’ll never know. She climbed up those stairs all brave and stoic, with her little backpack (actually half the length of her body) perched on her tiny pink back, and waved through the window with a delighted smile.

My daughter is a wild kid. She will sit quietly for hours doing puzzles or role-playing with figures. But there is no roller coaster crazy enough for her – no notion or concept she doesn’t seem to be able to wrap her head around and comment back on later – no new adventure too foreign for her. Yet it has always been difficult to know what she needs. She doesn’t always tell you. Or what she does communicate can be cryptic.

Around most other adults, she appears to be an angel. A quiet, well-behaved, gentle sweetheart. And that she can be. But there is a whole other side there that receives little light out there in the world. I suppose most kids are like that. Home is the safest place to let it all rip. Or where they know they can test the hardest. Or where they must finally release all of the pent up frustration from their day when they had to hold it all in.

It appeared at the beginning of the school year that my little girl was adjusting very well considering she was learning in a new language at a new school, with all new friends, in a different town than her day care had been with a new teacher and a new way of getting there. The fact that she didn’t implode with adjustment issues still amazes me. Instead she took it all in stride. She seemed to be able to handle everything that came her way.

To try to ease her way into school, I made sure I had a presence whenever possible. I would go on the field trips and volunteer at lunches or outings. I picked her up at the school as often as I felt comfortable doing while still letting her adjust to the bus routine. I got to know the names of the children in her class. I invited the girls to play.

When asked, she reported many new friends. She would have played with each of the children at any point in time. Gangs were already forming and she seemed a part of all of them. The girls and the boys. The francophones and the anglophones. The sporty kids and the more cerebral types. Then more and more I would hear about how she played alone both from her and other children in the yard. And that she doesn't speak to the other kids.

Finally, in an effort to find out if there was an issue, I put a group of toy cars in front of her and named them all after the children at the school. “Tell me what playing looks like in the school yard,” I said. She got very excited and unfolded a story that had me losing air and holding back a river of tears. But I let neither of those things show. I needed her to be able to tell me without having to react to my drama.

There were some uncomfortable words spoken to her. Ones that were not acceptable to me. Ones that made me want to park outside of the school fence and keep a very close eye on how my daughter is managing. There were some mild threats made and some very stern direction that controlled what she could and couldn’t do. She said she was fine with it all and wasn't hurt by it. She didn't think anyone was being mean. But after hearing this, I spoke with whoever would listen. Some friends who are kindergarten teachers, a favourite blogger who also teaches kindergarten, other parents, my own mother and childhood friends and then finally the teacher.

While the situation was definitely not okay, I was unsure of what to do. Who to tell. How to approach it. If I pushed too hard, would I make my daughter recoil and never share any of her school yard experiences again? Or if I didn’t do anything, would she deem herself unworthy of protection? Somewhere in the middle was the answer where there was neither blame nor apathy.

Here is what I have learned. It is not entirely my daughter’s responsibility at the age of 6 to protect herself from threats at school from any age of child. She must learn to stand up for herself, yes. She must learn to use her words. She must assert her position when faced with any kind of uncomfortable situation. But I do not believe that because she is a quiet sort she deserves to be pushed around or threatened. Not in the least. And so teachers should be told what is going on – even if by a third party. Parents should talk, try and get as many angles as possible on what is happening to help assess the reality of the situation, whether from the teachers, the kids or other parents.

It does not surprise me given my daughter’s character that she has come across some ‘bossiness’ from other children. She is not likely to push her way into any situation. In fact, left to her own devices, she may just as easily choose to play by herself. This makes it difficult to know if she is being excluded or if she is just not interested in the games the others are playing.

Worse yet, I think my daughter is smart enough to know what we want to hear from her. She may not necessarily be protecting the other children when she says she is fine with it all. She just simply wants to please her parents with the ‘right’ answers. It will take many indirect miracles to hear from her how her day actually went. She carefully chooses her stories and stays completely in control of how they are doled out to us.

The one thing that I have learned in the past few weeks of fretting and feeling helpless over my daughter’s social situation at school is that I have no say over who she will choose to be around. I can find out what I can, make my opinions known and forbid or exclude where I can (no, you can’t give that thing of yours to her). But I cannot make others be kind to her. I cannot make her walk away from trouble. I can bend these things, but not control them completely.

Where I hold the most power as Mama Bear – and this has taken a lot of sorting to figure out – is that I must teach my daughter to think very highly of herself. To treat others with great respect as she would wish to be treated. But to see herself as equal to those around her. To understand that nobody has a right to threaten her, take things from her because she is afraid, hurt her, say mean or scary things to her.

She needs to become untouchable. Untouchable. We do not define this as something you cannot touch. It is something that cannot be reached. A spirit so strong, a personality so vivid, a colour so bright, a heart so courageous – that nothing and nobody can sway its position. Untouchable. Something I never quite grasped.

I pray over the coming years (and there will be many, many more of them to come) I can find a way to support that wise, baby girl as she becomes a woman in this world. That she will tell me when she is afraid even if it is uncomfortable to do so. That I will be able to say or do the right things. That I will not project my own childhood fears onto her or try to correct my own problems through her.

I can build her up without putting her on a pedestal. That I can protect her without building her a bubble. That I can let her fly when her wings start to grow without holding her back in fear that she will get hurt. Teach her that it is okay to be quiet, to feel deeply, but it is not okay for others to mistreat you.

Surely she will get hurt. There is no way to keep that from happening. But I can still do my part as a mother.

And near as I can tell my job is to let her know she is wonderful. I cannot be responsible for teaching the world how incredible she is. That, for a mother, is too large a job. But should they try to make her feel a little less, I will do everything I can to stop the arrow from meeting its mark.

I can listen. I can protect. I can avert. I can educate. And try as I might, I must turn those wise eyes back onto her. Effectively spending my days helping her see what I saw in the first moment that we met. She sees everything. She takes it all in.

Now my job is to help her see herself for the good person that she is. And let her know that she has a Mama who will protect her in the spaces where she can’t.

Please feel free to let me know any strategies or concerns or perspectives you have on mean kids in the school yard. For those who home school, is this a large reason why? Where can you make a difference as a parent in your child's life?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Face Value

We live in a world where it is possible to see images from across the world instantly, learn about babies being born seconds after it has happened (with photos!), find out anything about anything the instant we conceive of wanting to know it. We can pretty much get a hold of anything we want if we are willing to pay for it or take a moment to seek it out. We can know where our children are at any time of the day if we hook them up with gadgets. Information is readily available. What is scarce? Face-to-face time with people.

Over the course of the last few months, my husband and I have been hashing out scenarios that would enable us to go to the Farmer’s Market this year without losing our work/life balance. Going to market every Saturday is the best thing about farming for me. Where on earth can you go, once every week, and interact with hundreds of human beings who are…always…ready for it? Happy. I mean it. I couldn’t have found a grumpy sort if I tried.

The appreciation, and willingness to support our efforts, the interest and engagement about our products, the flow of conversation about what we grow, what you can do with it, how we could do better, new ideas for preparation. These things knocked my socks off every time. I would leave feeling tired, fulfilled and incredibly satisfied every single week. The world made sense every Saturday.

So what was the problem? Preparation. The late Friday nights of packing greens until the wee hours. The readying of bushels and bushels of beans into quart baskets onto bread trays at 5am so that we could prepare for the hand-over-fist selling without a moment to spare. The poking of children awake to make them eat some oatmeal and get clothes on. The packing of sunhats, sunscreen, rain coats, boots, swim suits, sleep wear, toques, mitts, snacks, games, bikes, helmets, toy cash registers. The seemingly endless mental check lists. Table cloths, baskets, which new products needed a display, price stickers, information pamphlets, special orders, banners, tents, scissors, labels, the trays from here, the tables from there. Then there were the morning chores before we could leave. Last year that meant pig-feeding, cow watering, chicken feeding and moving the pasture pen, dog securing and bone-offerings. All of this before we started the van at 7am to hitch on the trailer and pull out of the farm driveway. It was a full day before we even left. I began to dread Friday evenings.

Upon my return to work in the city, I knew that coming home after a full week to prepare to go to market would be a stretch. Could someone else go in my place? Could I stay home with the children while husband went alone? Would he enjoy doing it all alone and not seeing us for the majority of our weekend home from work or school? Could we take separate cars and meet up later?

None of these options seemed feasible. Yet leaving market altogether to focus solely on the mid-week deliveries to restaurants and stores seemed too great a compromise. We deal with many loyal establishments who will take whatever organic vegetables we can grow at a fair price. But when you pack a 100 pound box of green beans for a restaurant, there is something far less intimate about the process. You do not hand pack a quart of beans for the person who will be eating them. They are boxed up and weighed and shipped out on delivery day. Done.

You know how great it feels to hear that your tomatoes were a real hit at someone’s dinner party? To have someone from Europe who fancies them selves a food connoisseur nod approvingly after grabbing a bean in one hand and breaking it in two with a satisfying snap.
To hear that your arugula has just the right amount of bite, the perfect sized leaf and lasts in the fridge for weeks? To know that what you are selling is some of the best stuff you can find anywhere. To have someone come early and fill up three shopping bags without a single question week after week. That feels awesome! It really does. Nothing more satisfying than this. To work hard for something you believe in AND be able to serve others. What a combination.

In the new context, however, going to market every Saturday in the city for 6 months was going to kill some aspect of us. So we thought about compromises. Maybe a shorter season? We could show up late in the year and leave before the end of the season. Perhaps we could grow specific things and time our visits with certain specialized crops. There did not seem to be a way.

So we lived with our decision to give up the market and turned our efforts to other things. My husband ordered seeds that would complement his wholesale market better. He planted more of some things, less variety, fewer market-friendly items.
Then some time passed.

It just wouldn’t do.

We made a new plan. We would go just once a month. This way we could see all of our regular customers, friends and family members who come to the market without losing our minds in the process. This way we could expose our children to what I think is such a valuable process to show to a child. How do people buy food and where does it come from? How do your mommy and daddy earn their living? Where does what we do meet the world out there?

And how many sunflower plants does a kid have to sell before they can go and buy a cookie?

We feel good about this compromise. It won’t be entirely comfortable. Surely an onslaught of peas will come on the week after our one market day and we’ll be scampering to find a place to sell them. Some days we will go with less than we could have if we were committed to going regularly and growing for this purpose. But no matter what happens we will show up with a smile and make the best of what we’ve got.

So off we go to our happy place. Blessed we are to have this opportunity.

We live in a world where it is easy to get anything you want, whenever you want it. But sometimes all you really want is a direct exchange with another human being. Taking the time to do things more carefully, mindfully, wholeheartedly, with presence and intention. To see with your own eyes where your efforts make an impact on the world.

And when the work you do leads to passing goods along with your own two hands to a smiling face that can give you direct feedback?

That has immeasurable and unique value. The value of a human voice. Another human’s story. A human face. My kind of face value.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Dear Pregnant Woman

Dear Pregnant Woman,

With the questions in your eyes and so much hope in your heart, I’m watching your little belly growing. Only now can I look at you and remember what it was like to have a baby inside of me and understand what it was all going to mean.

I remember when I was pregnant and a crowd of woman a half of a generation ahead of me would surround me with a knowing look. Like they belonged to a club that I would soon be allowed into. I became a spectacle. A vessel for their memories. I heard their stories, I asked them questions, I shared my fears. Sometimes they would answer with great detail and honesty. Other times they would lower their heads or look away. There was something that couldn’t be put into words.

You see, I thought they were imagining how much it hurt to give birth. Remembering what it was like to be hungry all the time and not be able to eat. To have trouble getting out of a chair. To feel your stomach under your nostrils. To eat buckets of Tums in one night. To lie awake wondering how something so large was going to make it out from inside of you. And whether ambulances would be involved.

I thought they were thinking about the weight they had gained, the names they had picked, the cribs and strollers they were going to buy. I thought they remembered photos of their naked bellies, pictures of their belly button, new bras that were outgrown monthly until all that was left was the uniboob sports bra.

Dear Pregnant Lady. It is only now that I know what I want to say to you. But I can’t say it to your face. Because there is so much for you to find out between here and there. There is so much distance you’ll have to travel alone. Knowing that many, many billions have done it all before you. The births, the feeding, the changing, the sleeping, the shelters, the carrying, the protecting… Billions have done it before in millions of different scenarios and ways.

What I want to tell you is that I don’t think about how much it hurt to give birth. I think about how to reconcile the difference between what I want for my children and what the world wants for them – what they want for themselves. I think about the mean girls in the school yard that pushed my baby into a gate last week and there is so little I can do to protect her. I think about how I expected to know these humans inside and out, and even though they came from my insides, I most of the time can’t figure them out.

I think about how much I have learned from these small people. In such a short period of time. And there is so much left to learn. Without question, it is far more than I have taught to them.

I think about how there is no vessel large enough to house the worry I feel for them some days. There is no apology deep enough to fix some of the mistakes I have already made. There are more hours needed in the day to do all of the things I want to do with my kids. There are other hours needed to spend time away from them!

I think about the relief I feel when another mother tells me a story that helps me understand my own children, my own parenting, my own mother.

I think about how there was absolutely no way I could have been warned about the distance the children were going to create between me and the man I chose to spend my life with. How ironic is that? How did it become possible to be in such a small space with another human and find yourselves not making eye contact for hours on end?

I wonder how I never got around to losing that pregnancy weight. Why I pressured myself so much about it. Why I always, always, always, in every circumstance, felt like I wasn’t doing enough for my children. (Is there ever enough?)

Why being away from them for any length of time feels like leaving my right arm behind. Yet being in their company for only a few short minutes can sometimes lead me to wanting to run far, far away again.

Nobody in the world has ever driven me so close to (or past) the point of being crazy. No human in the world has filled me up with love, perspective and belonging quite like these ones have.

I have heard myself yell to the point of avoiding my neighbours in the grocery store (and they live pretty far away from us). I have cried behind closed doors afraid that I was never going to figure this parenting thing out. I have pulled over vehicles to the side of the highway waiting for balance to restore. I have been so lacking in sleep for weeks on end that it became a feat to hold a thought for more than few seconds at a time. When the patience ran out, the tears were spent, the resourcefulness left the room, I was still asked to give more of myself. I could never have imagined it so difficult to come by a shower, a warm meal or 3 hours of sleep at a time.

What nobody ever told me was how much children can bring to a person's life. It is easy to talk about what they take. It is also easy to rhyme off things about joy and love and satisfaction but none of it makes any sense until you can feel it in your own blood and bones.

Dear Pregnant Lady. I can’t really tell you any of this. Because you’re going to have your own story one day. And that is the only one that will ever matter. Some of this may ring a bell. Much of it will be entirely different for you. It will be the story you tell one day that will make it all make sense.

You are now bringing your own life into this world. Not just the one in your belly. But the new one that we shall now call You, The Mother.

I look forward to hearing how the story plays out for you.