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.

 

 

****

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.

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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To My Little One

Tonight we set up your bed.  It is a portable, cozy bassinet that folds small enough to be tucked into a carry-on suitcase.  I think you’ll be snug there, beside us.  Now, though the walls around you will change, at least your little bed will stay the same.  Your life may be like that bed though, portable, but always close to us.

Daddy kindly emptied two of his three dresser drawers for you.  He scrounged up more hangers and piled things on shelves in the closets so I could place little stacks of your clothes within easy reach.   Such tiny little socks you have.  We want you to know we will make room for you.  We will rearrange our plans and ideas so that your little feet can march through our hearts comfortably.  We will juggle and shift so that you fit just right.

I erased about 400 pictures off of the camera so we’ll have enough space on the memory card for the first few days of your life.  People say parents stop taking pictures after the first child or two, but I plan otherwise.  We will still celebrate  and document your smiles, your grimaces, your little teeth poking through, your first steps.  That is until you run faster than my shutter can keep up.

IMG_7904Your brothers are excited to meet you.  They ask me often when you are coming.  We made you birthday breakfast yesterday and toasted to your coming, celebrating that you’d soon be with us.  You, unfortunately didn’t grace us with your presence yet but since we found out about you we decided to make a party out of it.

Micah is rather concerned that you don’t have socks on your feet.  He doesn’t want your toes to be cold.  You know his voice, the one that sings you “Shinkle, Shinkle Little Stawr” to make you feel “SOOO happy”.  And he’s waiting to pounce on you with nuggles and tisses.  He will have to get used to not being the baby but he will love you tenderly and care for you deeply.

Lucas assumes your coming is imminent.  “Maybe he’ll come RIGHT NOW!”  All the Grade 1s cannot believe you aren’t here yet.  He is older now and wants to hold you all on his own and read you stories.  He wanted you to be a girl at first so he could protect you but now is quite happy that you, as a boy, can join his rescue squad and Lego Building team.  He will, nevertheless, be a fierce protector for you and a relentless teacher.

I know now, on the inside, it must sound like a lot of commotion out here, and you get elbowed a lot during story time.  That may not change actually but I hope you’ll grow to love it.  I hope the commotion grows just a little bit louder with your little voice in the mix, laughing and jabbering and collaborating.  My dream is that you three boys will be best of friends.  No one will understand your third culture life the way your brothers will.  You can have secret languages wherever you go and built in friends and protectors.  It is my prayer that you three will band together, a cord of three strands.

We didn’t know if we’d have you.  Were three kids in the same room too many, three car seats in the back of a rental car too hard, three little people too hard to juggle in airplanes and customs and other countries?  It is easy to make you fit in Canada, easy to spread out but overseas it isn’t the same.  But God knew.  He knew you’d fit perfectly, like a missing puzzle piece in the picture of our family.  And we are so very glad.

You are taking your time coming.  We thought you’d be here early and now the days keep ticking by.  But for now, my body is your home and you are welcome to stay as long as you are comfortable and safe.  That’s the way it will stay.  You are always welcome to find safety in my arms, Little One.  Day or night.  Little or big.  That’s my job and my delight as your Mommy.

Our departure date will have to shift now.  We can’t get our paperwork and your vaccines in the time we have left.  But we’ll continue to wait–for you to be born, for you to tie your shoes at the door, for you to choose which flavour ice cream you’d like.  I know many times we’ll rush you when we shouldn’t, but we’ll try to be patient and let you take your time.

Little One, many are praying for you and loving you already.  You are blessed to be anxiously waited for.  We can’t wait to meet you and kiss you and find out just what a treasure you really are.

Love Mommy

XOXO

What To Say to the Woman Who is Overdue

People say a lot of things when you are pregnant.  I have heard mostly kind, well-intentioned comments.  Occasionally people will say silly things, like the time when the middle aged man told me I was too early for Halloween in my orange shirt.  Luckily, he picked me (picked on me?) on a patient day and I merely replied, “Pumpkin smuggling” and kept on going.  On the wrong day, he might have got a burst of tears or a blaze of sarcasm about how many of his shirts still fit over his belly.  People will tell you that you’ll have your hands full with three and that you won’t sleep but they are just reliving their lives, when they were young and herded a pack of beautiful, rambunctious children through the grocery store.

There reaches a certain inevitable point in pregnancy where people you know no longer greet you by name; they greet you by exclamations with phrases such as “You are still here?!” (where was I supposed to be going?) and “No baby yet?!” (Well, there’s certainly a baby, isn’t there?).  When you call anyone, you must say, fast, “Hello.  Nowehaven’thadthebabyyet.  How are you doing?”

At this point, strangers everywhere start asking you, “When is your due date?  It must be soon!”

And a dramatic shift occurs in the cosmos when your due date comes and goes.  And the days keep on going.  And going.  People’s eyes get wide.  Their mouths drop open a little bit.  And compassion hits you from every side.  You poor thing.  This week I have been blessed by the kindness of people who have decided it is in my best interests to say only nice things, perhaps stretching the truth at times.

So, based on my recent experience, here’s a short list of niceties to say to a very pregnant woman if you don’t know what to say.  Save your own overdue story and murderous induction tales for another day…

1.    You are beautiful. 

I cannot walk properly, though I try.  This had me giggling the other day as in my brain I went to go power walking down the mall for a quick errand and realized my body couldn’t keep up.  So I cannot walk.  I have exactly 2 shirts that still fit me.  The scale keeps going up and up and up….well, you get the idea.

I posted a picture of my orange shirt pumpkin belly on my due date, half for laughs, and my friends and family kindly told me I looked great.  Yesterday both a middle aged man and all the teachers at my son’s school told me I am beautiful pregnant.  It didn’t matter that my hair was frizzy and that I was desperately tugging on my long shirt that doesn’t seem so long anymore and that I had circles under my eyes.  You can’t go wrong telling the woman who is thinking that perhaps she will be pregnant forever that at least she doesn’t look like a whale.  Even if she does.

2.    You are all baby.

Now this isn’t one little bit true.  The majority of pregnant women pack on weight in places that aren’t just belly. I am all baby if you count one baby on my belly and one on each thigh.  And I can tell you right now which two are going to take more work to get rid of.

Maybe the belly distracts you now from the extra padding everywhere else.  And the belly is distracting.  It is large.  When you reach full term and beyond, your belly is no longer cute and round.  It is lopsided, leaning to the side where the baby is.  It develops corners and bumps where little knees and bums and elbows are. But for now, distractions or not, your words make me think that you look at me with kinder eyes than I do myself.

3.    Don’t you have a good attitude!

Well, I have an okay attitude at this moment.  In this particular moment, I am trying to be patient and unselfish in letting this baby grow as long as he wants on the inside.  But sometimes I am cranky.  Sometimes I want to be done.  Sometimes I think I am going to be pregnant and sore for the rest of my life and never have a baby at all.  So overlooking my meltdowns and congratulating me on my sketchy attitude is mighty kind of you.

4.    Good for you to be out and about!  Usually this is not something that we are congratulated for, going to the grocery store, going to the library, going to church.  But we’ll take it.  Productivity and energy is at an all time low so for you to say we’ve accomplished something by walking out the door makes us feel much better about our lives.

5.    Fat babies sleep better.

This is the winner, hands down. You can tell me I’m all baby and have a good attitude and I know the real truth.  But when you remind me that with more fat stores comes a greater probability that this child will sleep better sooner, I buy it.  I don’t care if it is substantiated or not.  It sounds plausible.  It sounds hopeful.  It sounds like just the right thing to say.