There are seventy-seven days left until summer officially arrives.
I was born in ’77. I love the number 7. I have seven children. Need I go on?
I have seven main areas in life I feel I need to focus on at the moment. I would like to make a more concerted effort to do so over the next seventy-seven days. I love summer. I would like to begin it… solidly. Happily. Perhaps this is a bit of a reflective awakening or spring cleaning of sorts. But these things are important. They need to become priorities. They are in no particular order, so please do not take their particular number as an indication of their degree of importance.
Here they are:
1. Keep reading.
Consistently. I could say “a book a week” but I know I’ll blow it as soon as I type it out. Something about Gemini’s and imposing strict regiments… But read. Like I’ve been doing. It takes longer to get through some books than others, because some are amazing and interesting and you just get lost in them, and others are a little more difficult and don’t quite reach into your soul, but they’re still good.
I used to read (devour/absorb/live for) books and then with all the children things got busy and I kind of… stopped. Or was sporadic about it. I have enjoyed savouring books again lately. Savouring. Like, Bugger off peeps, I’m reading! savouring… Another shift in the transition from Mother Of Babies, to Mother Of Children And Teens…
I have also noticed that when I make a point of reading in both languages (English & French for any international visitors) as opposed to doing all of my reading in English my mind functions differently and actually seems to work better in other aspects of life. I guess it’s the Pushing Your Brain thing. Awesome.
2. Treat exercise as a natural part of life as opposed to a means to an end.
Hiking. Biking. Even biking to work 3.5 km away. Jogging around the field out back. Yoga. It all helps a person sleep better, improves their outlook on life, sets an example for their children. In our age of sitting in front of our computers and orchestrated physical activity, there is a huge decrease in natural physical activity. Kids playing. Adults walking, biking, dancing… I am one of those mean moms who kicks my kids outside. I don’t sign them up for hockey, softball, soccer, partly because there are SEVEN of them, and also because I am a little Old School and think kids should spend more time in imaginative creative play and less time being told what to play and how to play it. Not that I have anything against the sports thing; it’s just not us. Maybe if I only had two kids, I would be one of the local Hockey Moms, who knows? Off on a rabbit trail here, my apologies… Working out used to be a means to a bikini for me. Now the bikini is simply the bonus. At 35 (almost), I am fascinated by the power of my own body. The way within a few short weeks I can develop strength and endurance. The way if I continue to care for it, I can climb mountains, canoe rivers, keep up with children and grandchildren, explore…
I love me. I don’t think I have ever truly been able to say that before. But I love me now, and I want to care for my body, as it is my vessel, my vehicle, the shell in which I will experience this world, this life. My body is connected to my mind, my soul. It all needs to be healthy. I love my body more now, with stretch marks, scars, the weathering of the decades on it, then I ever have before. It is mine. It is Me.
3. Intellectual development.
Some of you may think this falls under “reading”, but not quite. In fact, I was pretty surprised to learn that a person actually retains only 10% of what they read. Wow. That’s not much. I remember in nursing school having to memorize binders of notes to prepare for tests. Walking around repeating them to myself… I needed to be in physical motion and I needed to repeat the words to myself and study diagrams in order for the subject matter to sink in. No wonder those study periods in the library or in class never actually worked for me.
As a full-time SAHM I studied natural childbirth, natural health, nutrition, homeschooling methods… As a Christian in a previous lifetime (I say that because it truly seems like a dream now) I studied the Bible and inspirational literature. I also enjoyed Lexicons which laid out the text in Greek, Hebrew & English. It was fascinating. I taught myself how to cook, how to bake, how to make healthy food on a limited budget… It was a learning experience.
One of my problems (or gifts, depending on how you look at it) is that I am unhappy when my mind is not being challenged. I actually become depressed and feel useless. Now that I am no longer in Baby Stage (no more diapers since summer of 2011—woot woot!), I have a bit more flexibility to study and explore new things again. My eldest child will be 14 in a few weeks, and takes after me in this way. I enjoy when he and my 12yo become fascinated with something and I wind up looking into it as well. It becomes a bit of a family affair. I am soaking in all info humanly possible about Tom Thomson right now, whose paintings make me want to cry and touch them at the same time (I need to touch things). I am revisiting French grammar which I once excelled in and now feel like a second grader when faced with typing any document whatsoever. Hopefully it will all come back to me soon. And I got suckered into playing chess with my husband (something I had not done since I was about 13) the other day and really enjoyed it.
Brain power. It is so important. Not snotty intellectualism, or shallow elitism, or even formal academics, but opening our minds, learning, studying, understanding, absorbing… So important.
When we are kids, we play with anyone and everyone. When we are teens, we become more selective, associating with people whom we seem to identify with more easily via hobbies & interests, opinions, even backgrounds for some. This continues in college, as we continue to evolve. I always found that I became fast friends with whomever I worked with. The friendships would often dissipate when one of us left the workplace in question (we would try to keep in touch), but it was never with any hard feelings, just a part of life.
When we have children, we often become friends with other mothers who are in the same boat as us, who participate in the same activities that we do. Where I grew up, the moms attended Dancersize at the local community centre while the kids were read to at Story Hour by a really awesome lady named Erica who had a thick accent, which just made the stories all the more interesting to me. We were in ballet, brownies, soccer, softball… I liked the ballet, and softball was fun in 3rd grade thanks to my coach Sheila. But when I look back at old photos, all the same faces are in them, and my mom was “friends” with all the other moms by default.
I didn’t, I don’t, live in a town bustling with activity. I have lived near one for the past few years, and near a village where hockey and ball are The Thing. I have not always had access to a vehicle, and have a fairly large brood to be shuffling here & there anyway. A lot of the “friends” I made, even dating back to days in QC in a cabin a few km outside of Mansonville, were made online via groups and forums of moms with similar interests, several of whom I have met in person and visited with since then, and most of whom I am still in touch with to this day.
I am more mobile now, with older children who seek to earn a few $ through babysitting (don’t hate me; I have EARNED this…). I have noticed that the friends I gravitate towards at this stage in life are those with whom I feel that I can be myself with and with whom I feel there is a give and take and a focus on the positive, even when life gets tough. I have a husband who is deep and heavy duty. I am not saying that I seek “shallow” with my friends. Not at all. I want them to know that I am there when they want to kill their spouses (not in the literal sense!), when they are worried about their children, when their mom is sick, when they find a lump somewhere and are terrified. I am there. And I know they are for me. But I think we gravitate towards each other because we lift each other’s spirits and bring laughter to our gatherings. That is important to me. You need to laugh. You need to see the beauty in life. You need to keep your chin up and see the positive. Yes, you need to bitch sometimes and get it off your chest. But you need joy. I choose friends who bring joy. I choose friends to whom I can bring joy by being who I am. Some people don’t like me. Some people take offence at whatever seems to come out of my mouth. Yes, I am blunt. I will just say it. I call it like I see it, and I don’t sit quietly when others shoot off at the mouth. This can wound the thin-skinned of the world, even when it is laced with diplomacy. I try to watch myself. I notice that some people love this about me and enjoy knowing where they stand. The bantering goes back and forth. I notice that some people like giving it but not taking it — we don’t mix very well. And some are just plain sour pusses. While I don’t begrudge a person’s natural personality (it takes all sorts), at 35 (almost) I can sense whom I will “blend” well with in a way that gives us each something positive to hold on to and enjoy. And I can also sense whom it is not a good idea to be close with, as we are not what the other one needs. I do not want to upset another person’s world, or be harmful to them in the way that I may even be enabling them in their own self-destructive negativity. But I no longer sacrifice who I am and my own self-respect to make others happy. True friendship means that you can both be yourselves, eggshells not included. I am almost halfway through my life. I don’t have time for toxic crap any more. And I certainly don’t want to be toxic crap in someone else’s life, either.
So… The Husband and I have reached that point where we cherish and protect what we have, even though we still get on each other’s nerves and want to smack each other once in a while. We have, through many struggles and hard times, built something worth having, both in the marital sense and the physical/tangible sense. He is priority #1 for me, and I am for him. This is a good thing, yet I know it may upset some. And this does not happen without arguments or difficulty. Anything worth having is generally gained through blood, sweat and tears… I can say that about both our marriage and about the little nook we have carved out for ourselves here.
I enjoy time alone with him. I enjoy dating him. I enjoy the idea that we do insane things that only people who are in a “new” relationship tend to do, except with a depth that comes after 15 years together and a hell of a lot of water under the bridge. I am protective of this. So is he. We didn’t used to be. To put it plainly, so there are no doubts: “meddlers” are not welcome in our life together. F*** off, work on your own relationship, and get your own life. This one belongs to us.
I respect my husband as a father to my children. He has things to offer them, strengths, where I am lacking. This works both ways: their education is pretty well left in my hands, whether it involves homeschooling, unschooling, sending them to English school, sending them to French school… He trusts me to know when it is time to make a change, or to leave things alone. He trusts me with their health as well. There is nothing worse than arguing about how the kids are raised. We have both learned respect and compromise. Which makes it easier to be in love with each other… 😉 I love seeing him working hands-on with the kids, teaching them practical skills. He enjoys hearing me read to the girls, or seeing us head out for a walk on the trail. I enjoy this about us.
I recently read an article about the differences between parents in France and their American counterparts. A significant point made was that French parents’ lives did not revolve around their children: they put their relationship first. After supper, instead of shuffling the kids here & there, most made it pretty clear that the kids were to do their things while the parents enjoyed a glass of wine and relaxed together. I long for this. We try to do something similar. We try to get our “dates” in. To us a date does not have to be dinner and a movie, it can simply be hitting the grocery store together alone with no children, and grabbing a coffee somewhere. It is time alone together, enjoyable time. If you can only enjoy yourselves with your spouse eating an expensive dinner somewhere and not simply sitting by a river or taking a walk, then something is wrong. Something needs to be fixed.
There are things he enjoys that on their own mean nothing to me, but I do them because they make him smile. There are things I enjoy that on their own mean nothing to him, but he does them because they make me smile. I enjoy having a companion who knows me, whom I know, who is up for anything these days, and who has grown to trust me as I have matured over the years, and I him. Marriage can take a back seat during the Baby Years, which is why so many marriages either break up or come close to it. It is a hard stage. I am enjoying feeling like a “girlfriend” again. I enjoy making my partner in life feel loved.
Jo needs to paint. Jo needs to draw. Jo has murals to finish and sketchbooks to fill and is surrounded by beauty. Jo feels better and full of life when she does this. Jo is a better mom when she paints because she is being herself. Jo likes to draw with her kids. Art is a gift. Art is… imperative. Need I say more?
I live on an island. It is beautiful. Sandy beaches, waves, birds, stony beaches, red soil, country roads, foxes making unexpected appearance, bald eagles soaring outside of my upstairs windows, vineyards, streams, woods… so much to savour, and yet I ignore it. I remain inside all too often. I used to make a point of hiking with my children, baby in backpack, toddler and young kids trailing along, on a daily basis. I would notice sunsets, sunrises, deer (when I lived in QC). We would explore streams and forests, study plants, pick mushrooms along Confederation Trail. I need to do this. I need to go out, get the kids out, every day. Every evening. Perhaps a Charlotte mason type of nature study journal is in order, who knows? But I need to connect, barefoot as I used to, to the earth under my feet and what it means to me. I need to connect and appreciate. I need to explore. And I need to bring my kids along for the adventure.
Perhaps Seventy-Seven (or Seventy-Six now, as I began this post last night and have finished it this morning) photos to accompany this journey? We’ll see.
Stay tuned… 🙂