What The Sun Dogs Mean

It has been a long silence here on the blog. A long silence indeed. The reasons are many, not the least of which is moving back overseas, but tonight, as I have internet access, I pull a entry from the archive that never made it to posting. (A little bit of winter love for those of you who still are waiting for spring to fully come.)

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This last week, the sun has been rising as I drive my oldest son to school in the morning. As we drive down the back alley, the sky is awash with pinks and purple-y grey hues. As we return, the colours have reached a crescendo and quickly fade. It is enough to make me leave a few minutes early, early so I am pulling back into our back alley before the fade, back in time to see the sky at the brightest point, back to put on the brakes and breath in beauty. At supper, as I scrape dishes and rinse and load the dishwasher, the sky to the right of our house is aflame. I love our house for this reason. Even if the whole place fell apart, I think I’d still be left standing on our deck, watching the wide-expanse of open sky and the way its rhythms paint my days.

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Last week was frigid. Enough to see sundogs, days in a row. And I’d run out, camera in hand.

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In the middle of the cold week with dramatic skies, I read a blog post (and if I had any memory or posted this when I wrote it, I would have a lovely little link for you), where the author says, “To be beautiful, fill yourself with beauty.” And I have felt so small, with such a shrivelled heart, that I hope by standing under these wide skies, wide-mouthed, that my heart may open a bit, rehydrate.

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A friend sent me an email at the beginning of this year. “My watchword for the year” he said, “is beauty. I see that in you”. I ached. Wondered what sort of word there might be when things ahead feel as cold as the Prairie outdoors.

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I want to teach my children to love beauty. I want them to learn from me how to stop, slack-jawed with wonder. I want them to see in me a tenacity, resilience, a stubborn pursuit of what is whole and good and right even when it means tearing hard realities into the tiniest pieces to find something of beauty.

So one of these sun-rise mornings, I pull my two-year old out of the car and set him just beyond the open garage door.

“The angels help Jesus paint the sky,” he says smiling. He looks out over the field and turns to me crestfallen, “But the sun is broken.”

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“Oh Sweetie,” I reply. “The sun isn’t broken. We just can’t see all of it because it hasn’t come up yet.”

“Oh,” comes the reply, his voice small with hope. We stand there a few minutes longer before the cold chases us inside.

 

 

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Day after day, the sun rises still, even if for a time it looks broken.

On the coldest days, it is crowned with rainbows, interrupted by bursts of light.

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Santa Through The Eyes Of My Child

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My 6 year-old walked in the door today in a flap.  “EVERYBODY in my class believes in Santa!  How can they believe in Santa?!  He’s not real!”

He tugged off his ski pants.

“I mean, think about it,” he continued, “can you fly around the world in just one day?”  He didn’t even pause for a response.  “No!  No, you can’t.  And the night is shorter than the day.  So how is he supposed to go all the way around the world?  You just can’t do it.”   He pulled his toque off his head and tossed it in the basket and stooped to collect his mitts that I had pointed at.  I couldn’t get a word in edge-wise if I tried.

“So you know what they should do, all those kids in my class?  They should stay up ALL night long and watch and then they’ll see.  They will see there is no Santa and it is just their moms and dad!  Then all those moms will be in big trouble.  Because they LIED!”  He finished dramatically, mitts flying in two directions.

At this point, I explained calmly, once again, that just because he doesn’t believe in Santa doesn’t mean he needs to tell everyone else that Santa isn’t real.

“But Mom!” he exclaimed, “Why do parents want their children to believe in something that isn’t real?  Why do they lie?”

I explained, or tried to, that some parents think that it is fun for their kids to believe in Santa.  He wasn’t buying it.

“You know what the kids in my class say to me?  They say, ‘how can they get presents from someone who isn’t real?’  Well, you know what?  He doesn’t give them presents.  The presents are from their moms and their dads and their uncles.”

He lowered his voice conspiratorially, “They just write from Santa on it!”

I nod. “You are right.”

“It is creepy to think of someone coming in your house.  Besides, he lands on your roof and then what?  We don’t have a chimney.  He can’t come in the front door or he’ll set off the alarm.  Who made up this idea of Santa anyways?”

He must not remember last year’s explanation.  So I recounted the story of good old Saint Nicolas and the way he helped others and before I finished, Lucas ran off to play Lego.  I’m surprised the flying reindeer didn’t fit into his dissertation on the implausibility of Santa.

This is what happens when you combine a very logically minded child with growing up in countries where neither Santa nor Christmas for that matter are the enormous deal that they are here.  Without effort on our part, he doesn’t buy the whole Kris Kringle business.  (Judging from the fact that my 2 year old refers to Santa as “A Christmas guy” I don’t think he does either).  From Lucas’ perspective, Christmas is about family, presents and the simple story of a baby in a manger.  And I don’t think he is any less excited than the other Grade 1s who are laying out plates of cookies and glasses of milk.

I am not criticizing those who believe in Santa nor their parents who teach them to believe.  I am all for children being children and wonder and the spirit of the season, giving.

But you know what?  I’d rather my children get presents from me, not from some remote fat man who somehow monitors their behaviour, and finding it meets standards, breaks into their house at night to leave gifts under a tree.

I’d rather teach my children how to give and care for others by my example.  I’d rather him see a spirit of generosity modelled all year long, not just by a fictional character one day a year.

I’d much rather remind him that the most important gifts aren’t presents, given or received, but the way we love others.

You can argue with me, but I think in kids’ eyes, Santa=presents not Santa=love.

If I want him to learn wonder, I’d rather him see it in my eyes as we set up the nativity set; I’d rather him hear it in my voice as he asks for the Christmas story to be told him at bedtime.  I’d rather the wonder be resplendent like that first Christmas star as we contemplate how the hands that hung the stars flailed wildly and small, like the infant brother waving snow angels on his lap by the light of the Christmas tree.

I will tell my children the story of Saint Nicholas, yes, the one of a man who selflessly cared for others.  But I won’t change that into some man at the South Pole.  And you know what?  I don’t think they are missing one little thing.

Random Theories

Posting theories on the internet can be dangerous business.  Come up with an idea, do an unscientific poll of your workplace or Facebook friends, post the results as fact and people buy it.  Heck, if you have a good title, some people won’t even ask for proof.  Baby carrots, vaccines, infant sleep, nothing is immune.

I have this theory.  I am my own test group.  It goes like this: the gravitational pull of certain objects is enhanced by cleanliness.  For example: you wash your kitchen floor and inexplicably you spill peanut butter and oatmeal and a full cup of tea all over it.  Or, you put on a clean shirt and everything on your plate falls on it.  Clean cars are more highly subject to flying mud splatter; new cars to hailstones.

I have another theory:  mothers of newborns may make promises they intend to keep but can’t.  For example, we may publicly state that we’ll have a blog post up the following day and three weeks may go by without so much as logging in.  My solution, avoid specificity at all costs.  The word forthcoming is far superior to tomorrow.  It carries more literary weight, don’t you think?  So even though I’ve started another post for today tomorrow some day, I will say there is a new post forthcoming on a hard-to-navigate topic.

And since today is apparently the day for all things random, I leave you with this–my theory on practical floor washing instructions for families at various stages.

For the family without (small) children

hand wash

 

For the family with small children

spot clean

For the family with a newborn

do not wash

P.S. Anyone know the symbol for spot cleaning??

P.P.S  I did wash my floors yesterday.  I promise.  Well, the kitchen one at least.  The kids flooded washed the bathroom floor tonight with their bath.

P.P.P.S And if I told you my 6 year-old did the graphics for me, you’d probably believe me, wouldn’t you?

An Amateur’s Guide To Photographing Newborns Like A Pro

IMG_8300Congratulations!  You have just welcomed a brand new baby, a precious gift from heaven.  Understandably you want to capture the moment, the fleeting smallness.  Yet newborn photo sessions and prints can set you back hundreds of dollars if you choose a pro with a good reputation.  With all the money you are dishing out on diapers and baby gear and RESPs, the thought of coughing up another $500 can make you want to run back to the hospital and get an epidural.

So what’s a parent to do?  Take your own photos!  This guide for amateurs will walk you through how to take professional style photos of your precious little one.  Today we’ll outline what to expect in a photo shoot.  Tomorrow we’ll cover a list of tips to ensure your photo shoot is a success.

IMG_8385Block off at least two afternoons of precious napping time.  Instead of doing something pressing such as showering, iron a black sheet.  Feed the baby.  Drape the sheet over some chairs and use hair clips to secure it.  Better yet, tape it to the fridge while ignoring the lunch dishes that are still on the counter.  Next dump your children’s books out of the basket in the living room and spread the books all over the floor.  Feed the baby again.  While you are feeding the baby, browse Pinterest and YouTube for inspiration.

When the baby is well fed, stripped down and sleeping, take some test pictures. The lighting should be too bright.  Now your living room is a mess and you have no photos.  You are right on track.

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Move half the mess to your bedroom and try there.  The lighting will be too dark. Feed and redress your baby.  While you do this, upload the test pictures.  Delete them all.  This is your first day’s task.

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On the second day, get started sooner.  The lighting should be perfect.  Strip the baby down and get him into position.  Just as you are ready to take the first shot, he should pee all over everything.  End the photo shoot.  Throw in a load of laundry.  Feed your baby.  While you are feeding your baby, browse Pinterest longingly.  Check your bank account balance.  On your way to change the baby’s diapers, trip over the pile of books.  Put them all back in the basket.  You have successfully completed your tasks for Day 2.

On the third day, decide to take a nap. On this afternoon, your baby will, after 5 minutes, decide not to nap.  You will get neither rest nor photos, except for one of an empty basket.  Listen to lullabies on YouTube and eat more banana bread than you’ll admit to.
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On the fourth day day, pull the sheet out of the dryer.  Don’t bother ironing it.  Change your mind and use another wrinkled blanket instead.  Dump the books out of the basket again.  Take about 500 frames of three poses.  When the baby is feeding, upload the pictures.  They should look decent except for the wrinkled background, which, when combined with your ineptitude in Photoshop (and the fact that you don’t even have Photoshop) effectively renders them useless.  Throw them all in the trash.  Leave the books on the floor so that when unexpected company drops by, they think you’ve been stimulating your infant’s cognitive development instead of dragging him half-naked all over the house for days on end with nary a photo to show for it.

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On the fifth day, pull some of the photos out of your trash bin and write a satirical blog post on newborn photography.  You will feel better about yourself until you remember you need to send out birth announcements.  Then go book a professional photo shoot.

Notes Part 2: Immersion

This post is a part two in a slightly quirky series on what we learn about life and pain from the lens of labour.  If you missed the first post, you can find it here.

No-Peeing-In-Pool-Sign-S-8748I’m not a big water person.  The pool and I don’t get along.  I have a hard time getting past the ick factor of pool floors, kids peeing and everyone in bathing suits.  Lakes fare slightly better but carrying the sand in every crevice where algae is not is problematic.  Hot baths, however, in your own nicely disinfected tub get the thumbs up.

When I finally made my way to the hospital, 17 hours into labour, and was offered a Jacuzzi bath, I thought I’d give it a try.  The big signs posted on the bathroom wall about the disinfecting process (which involved a whole lot of bleach) reassured me.

The distraction of the jets really helped me cope with the pain.  Occasionally the nurses would pop their heads in and remind me that no, I could not deliver in the tub.  I stayed in for hours until my fingers and toes were as wrinkled as my baby’s when he was born.

It was a good reminder to me of the importance of looking outside ourselves.  In our pain we can be so consumed by it that we burrow inward.  When we expose ourselves to the forces and currents outside of ourselves, the good and the hard, we become aware of how much is moving beyond the stillness of our pain.  When we immerse ourselves in a world that is fluid and constantly changing, we are reminded of just how small we are in a great big world and just how small and temporal our own problems are in the face of the suffering of many.

Notes from the Delivery Room: Pain Is Not the Enemy

Today, I start a series of (one-handed) posts. 

Yesterday marked one week since Liam was born.  As I glanced at the clock throughout the day, it was hard not to draw the parallels: Last week at this time, I was at this point, etc.  It offered me a chance to step back and think through the process a bit.  While I feel a bit funny posting a full birth story, this series is born from the process.  These posts are essentially thoughts on how we deal with pain and difficulty from the lens of labour. Having just walked through it, my perspective may differ from most.  Forgive me if I am too much in my little newborn world and the connections are trite or contrived. 

In my first two labours, both long and drawn out, it was easy to see pain as the enemy.  As things progressed and intensified, my response to the beginning of a contraction became, “Oh no, here’s another one.”  I began to dread them.

The more time passed, the more I wanted the pain to end.  It was wearing me down with its relentlessness.

I wanted the baby here and I wanted the pain to stop.  Obviously the pain needed to continue for the baby to arrive but I wanted to separate the two.  Baby, yes.  Pain, no.

Many good things in our lives are born of pain.  Yet, we despise the pain.  We dread and reject it.  We tense against it, medicate ourselves in a million ways to numb its sting.

This time, I thought it through carefully before.  Pain is not the enemy.  Pain is precisely the vehicle that gets me to where I want to be.  This time, I needed to welcome pain as an integral part of the process.  I needed to cooperate and let the pain accomplish its work.

Curtis was such an encourager.  Having done this twice before, we both knew what I needed to hear.  One step closer.  That one is done.  Instead of viewing it as an obstacle we renamed each contraction progress, another step on the journey.  I didn’t reach a breaking point where I thought that I couldn’t do it without medication.  My mind was made up.  I wanted to be present.  I wanted to be clear-minded.  I wanted to feel the process.  I only needed to do it one contraction at a time.

This is easier with labour than with life.  Labour is finite pain.  Labour will end even though there are moments when it feels like it never will.  The trouble with the rest of life is that there are no guarantees.  There are no promises of emergency C-sections if things get too stuck or stalled or scary.

So pain becomes the obstacle, keeping us from a comfortable life.  Hurt discourages us because it stands in the way of what we desire.  We see pain as an interruption.  Its agony wears us down.  So we stop counting steps.  We stop marking progress.  Neither are easy to measure.  We find something that numbs us, distracts us.  The pain around us keeps on going but we don’t feel it so much.  But what if God is working in our pain? What if He can use it, redeem it, rework it so that it isn’t wasted?  Would that change anything?

I am not saying we should like pain or even desire it, but when it comes, and it will come, what would happen if we welcomed it as a step on our journey?  What if we worked with the difficulties instead of bracing against them so they form us and shape us?  Just maybe, they’ll birth something new.

Welcome Little One

As you may have guessed, the sudden silence in the month of near-daily posts has been a result of the most welcome type of interruption.  Late Monday night, October 21, we welcomed our third son into the world.  Liam Daniel was born at 10:47 weighing 7lbs 11.5 oz.

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After the fiasco with the spinal and my knee surgery, I didn’t even want to entertain the idea of an epidural.  Morphine makes me loopy even thinking about it.  So I told the nurses not to offer me anything, even if I begged and pleaded.  There was no begging or pleading and with the consistent encouragement of my wonderful husband, I had the natural delivery I wanted.  Though it was long (22 hours!) and obviously intense (they don’t call it labour for nothing), I was very thankful for God’s peace in the midst of it.

Liam is feeding and sleeping well.  He loves to be snuggled and swaddled and is a very calm, peaceful baby so far.  We are more than thrilled with our new little blessing.

My older sons, Lucas and Micah are thrilled with their new baby brother and love to hold him.  We can’t believe how they have adapted so well.

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We came home from the hospital on Wednesday to a turkey dinner my dear mom cooked.  The table was full as my sister and brother in law had come to visit.  It felt like a Thanksgiving celebration.  And it was.  One week late.  Every day, in fact, finds our hearts full of thanksgiving for this new and precious gift.  Welcome to the world little Liam.  We love you.

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