March 26, 2010

The Turning Point

Often in the summers of my childhood Mom would ask me to go out to the garden and cut her a handful of parsley or chives. I particularly enjoyed this act of harvesting, which felt like an honour somehow. When I returned from the garden, fragrant bouquet in hand I would present it to Mom.

"How's this?" I would ask.

"That is just perfect," she would say with satisfying approval glowing through her chocolate brown eyes. My heart would lift when I heard these words, seemingly so simple but striking a chord so sweet and true in my young heart, just like when my dad called me 'Princess'. No words could be more welcome to me than those few syllables of love, ultimate acceptance and encouragement. No matter how tricky the world became to navigate I could always count on those occasions when all felt right in my world. I knew deep down that 'perfect' and 'princess' were exaggerations. Neither word described me nor my actions in actual fact, but both terms embodied the hopes of every child - to be held precious and full of promise in their parents' eyes.

Twenty years later I was living with my husband and young family at a remote outdoor education lodge on Vancouver Island, and finding the experience emotionally taxing. My husband was the lodge's program director, a position that required his full time presence. Unfortunately, family accommodation was scarce and we were living in a previously condemned cabin that we had fixed up to the best of our ability, yet it became infested with three kinds of ants every spring and was overrun with mice year round. We vacuumed the ants and spray-foamed the hole where they were getting in. We caught at least one mouse every night that first year, and once, we caught two at once by their noses in the same trap. The mice ran inside the wall behind our bed all night and, though once I would have cried at the flap-flapping sound of a suffering mouse caught in a trap, I now rejoiced - YES! Nevertheless we were cozy in our wood heated cabin with the marine-blue painted floors and the loft where we all slept together. The forested lakefront location was stunningly, achingly beautiful, and I was writing a lot - letters, a rewrite of my novel, limping attempts at poetry - but the population of the lodge was small, about twenty in the winter and sixty in the summer, and my children's relationships with the few resident children were at times fraught with difficulties. My nerves were often strung to their limit during our first years there and every situation was easily blown out of proportion.

One day during a run through the kitchen into the toy area my young boys asked me what had been the best time in my life. I responded without hesitation that it was when I had married their dad and had them and their sister (the other sister came along a few years later). They both stopped in their tracks.

"Really?" said my six year old with a glowing face full of surprise and delight. He had recently seen me in some of my darkest moments and had often given me that deep questioning look that shows parents how emotionally tuned-in children can be. "Hey brother, Mom says the best time in her life was when she had us!"

"Really?" chimed in my five year old, jumping up and down with a toy in his chubby little fist.

It was as if I had turned on a light switch in their little bodies with my words. I admit I was just as surprised by their reaction. Hadn't they known this all along? Perhaps I had been lacking in the praise department or spent far too much time growling at them. Either way, I realized rather sharply that whatever muck I was wading through personally, or no matter what difficult phase each child was struggling with, I needed to let my children know very often how much they meant to me, how precious they were in my eyes. I needed to find time to focus in on each child and give them a gem of hope to hold on to when the world and/or their parents seemed to be against them.

From that day on, our household was more peaceful. I gradually, stubbornly learned the importance of digging deeper into myself in order to give my children more and the kids soaked it up like the little sponges they were, miraculously forgiving me for all my past wrongs, and aiming increasingly to make me proud of them. I am not saying every day was without challenges. It was just that we were getting better at loving each other within our family and that freed up more love to give outside of it, which I began to realize was one of the purposes of a family.

I have found that parents create a sort of climate within the family they can live in and though this may be different for every family, peace ends up being the ultimate goal when all is said and done. Living at the lodge gave us the opportunity to grow as a family and I will admit the growing had to start with me. I had to rid myself of all preconceived notions about other people as I learned that most social trails are the result of misunderstandings and presumption. I poured myself into home schooling my children, which I did for four years and which turned out to be an excellent experience for all of us. It gave me an unavoidable focus and a way to keep my children's interactions with the community scheduled and, therefore, manageable. I also got to know my children in ways I would not have otherwise. Before then, I think I was a subsistence parent - I did what was required, but I don't believe I was as deeply invested as I could have been, or as my husband steadily had been from day one. Waking up to that cold fact on that fateful day, and, in readily answering my son's question, realizing that deep down I did at least want to put my family first, was a very hopeful first step in my new life as a mom. Everything in my life now seemed washed in a mellow light. I knew difficulties would come again, but I might be ready for them next time if I remained open, attentive, and purposeful.

Lately, I feel as if I am wavering above and below the line of calm. I am at times overwhelmed in my new role as a parent of teenagers. The lodge seems long ago and far away. It has been a long time since my husband and I were the sole educators of our children in a remote location. We share that role with their schools, television, their friends, and the internet. I know this is how it is supposed to be. One day not far from now I will need to start letting them go, refocusing my desire to educate them into letting them make what their dad and I have taught them their own, so it will truly be theirs to take when they go out into the world.
The view is from the shore of the lodge where we used to live.


  1. Rebecca, what a fascinating life you have lived. And the parenting perspective is amazing. I too feel like me husband is more of a natural as a parent, but he is only at it a few hours a day, so I try to cut myself some slack.

    Thank you so much for sharing your insight.

  2. The advantage men have in this is that we have not thought about pregnancy in the fore or in the background of the mind from the age of eleven. In reality we men do not really connect with the notion until we see the squalling brat.
    But I think that's a help after the birth for we have nothing wired-in that needs re-wiring.
    That's as far as I can go on this, expecting more understanding from a man on this topic is like cooking an egg in a coffee percolator.

  3. Ok You've got me with this thought provoking post - and I found you by accident.

    You have another one signed up......

    Kind regards....Al.

  4. Tracey: There is a wonderful song by Nancy White, a comedic singer/songwriter from Ontario, that goes, "Here he comes, the chidren's entertainer" and it goes on to say that the moms get all the guts while the dad gets the glory, but we're still relieved to do the 'handover' when they get home! So yes, indeed, cut yourself some slack :)

    Vince: That is very good insight and I believe it to be true! Thank-you.

    Alistair: I'm so glad you found me by accident. Welcome!

  5. Thanks ever so for the award. It may take a while to frame the 10.

    And an addendum. I think what I wrote above about men works for teenage mothers also. Where they can just pick up their kid and park it someplace without discussion or debate. Call it the firm hand. But one that is not over-thought or worse expecting kids to have an understanding through osmosis.

  6. Children do hear our every word when they are young and impressionable. I remember Oprah saying that parents' faces should light up when their child enters the room. I know she isn't a parent and sometime eyes are too tired or stressed to light, but it's a nice thought. I try to be the same way with our grandchildren. They really are the light of our lives. But again, that isn't a 24-7 job like parenting. It sounds like you are doing a great job : )

  7. A beautiful reflection about telling our children how important they are to us, and how this can bring healing and hope within parents.

  8. Lovely post. A little appreciation does go a long way. No matter how stressful a day I have, when my husband and I put our kids to bed with hugs and kisses and 'I love you's', I'm happy knowing that they feel secure, loved and truly matter here in our tiny corner of the universe. A simple thought but it means everything as a parent.

  9. I haven't had time to read my favourite blogs for a whie so I've just come across your post. I found this very moving and very honest. Being a mother is such a very very difficult job - I'm constantly measuring myself against the kind of mother I want to be and constantly failing. I often spend the day feeling guilty if I've shouted at the kids before school - I know that shouting will not achieve the kind of peace and quiet I want in my household. But still, it seems a hard habit to break. It's all so much easier in theory. You sound like a very thoughtful and hugely loving mother - the best kind!

  10. Vince: You're welcome. And that's another good thought. I remember seeing a young mom in the park with a little girl. The little girl seemed tired and just stood by the slide and cried, while the mom just sat by and yelled at her - like it was a standoff. I really wanted to go up to the mom and say, "just give her a hug, that's all she needs."

    LadyCat: That's how my mom's always looked when we came home from school. I was lucky.

    Paul C.: Thanks. And Welcome!

    Ellen: A agree 100% :)

  11. Dearest Kate: Your comment snuck in while I was answering the others'. In the early years I often felt just like you do. Little kids really try our patience and I was so sleep-deprived a lot of the time. The fact that you try so hard is huge, and I don't think it's bad for children to know how their parents honestly feel about their behaviour sometimes, as long as its bolstered by enough exhibitions of love to go along with the shouty times. xx

  12. what a wonderful memory! a revelation for your children and for you. reminds me of those things you hear or read over and over again that suddenly make sense. surely they knew - they just suddenly realized. x

  13. Just discovered your blog via Ellen and this post resonates with me right now, as my boys are in the process of becoming independent and things happen that mean their focus has shifted away from the family. I can only hope that we gave them a good enough foundation for their adult years.

  14. E.P.: Just discovered your comment today as I was reading another's new one. Yes, I'm sure they knew, but that knowledge was maybe deep down and when it had an opportunity to surface it was truly realized, as you say.

    Andrea: Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! Yes, that is what we parents of teenagers all hope for, isn't it. I think, though, the foundation comes from the good example I'm sure you have been, more from the 'teaching'. For example, I always hope, by trying to be a strong, secure woman, that my sons will choose well when it comes to relationships.


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!