And now for the choice

This is the final post in the Career Cornerstones for a Lit-Up Life series ūüôā If you didn’t catch the other three, here they are: Values, Tools and Purpose.

It’s summer 2001. Cell phones flip open and don’t have cameras. AOL is the most popular website. Social and media are just two words. Britney and JT are an item.

It’s a while ago.

I’m living out of two Rubbermaid bins, moving between tiny plywood structures with no electricity on a weekly basis. I’m showering irregularly but swimming often. I’m singing my heart out every night at campfire.

I’m a camp counselor in a place where I was an overnight camper for a decade prior. Meaning all my dreams have come true. I’m a role model for kids, I’m responsible for their wellbeing (including supervising dangerous activities like water trampolining, ziplining, developing grit and independence from their families). It’s silly, it’s creative, it’s demanding.

I’m trusted. I’m growing into it.

I’m the most alive I’ve ever been.

More than once, on “night out” from my cabin (note to self: immediately implement regular night out policy in parenting life), I experienced a lapse of consciousness. I felt as if I was completely alone at camp. For just a few moments, I would see myself standing there under the huge sky, surrounded by trees and nature and all the camp buildings, but with no other soul for miles.

Like it was all there just for me.

Perhaps it was the silence, the expansiveness of the brightly lit sky. Perhaps it was an invitation to come into oneness with the higher power that brought me there, that united that community. To let all the distractions fall away.

I mean, it was eerie.

But it was thrilling too.

Have you ever felt that?

A while ago I took an inventory of all the jobs I’ve had, and it’s a lot. Retail, food service, garden centre, telemarketing, customer service, tutor, church musician, yoga teacher. And those are BEFORE I started my HR career as a consultant, manager, director of programs, educator and coach.

But that camp job. Until now it was THE ONE that led me closest to a lit-up life. All the cornerstones were there – it aligned with my values, it made use of the tools I had to offer, it gave voice to my purpose and – it had me walking down a path that felt right.

The fourth career cornerstone is the path you choose to walk. Your values are well established, even your tools are largely your natural gifts. Your purpose is your unique contribution to the world.

Your path is different because it’s a choice. It’s the context. It’s the wrapper. It’s the industry and workplace and job that usher your offering into the world. It’s the scenery around you while you’re making your magic.

So what’s been the job that gets you closest to a lit-up life, and how do you know? Was there a sign? Like the vast wilderness holding its breath just for a moment, just for you?

And now for the choice: what path do you belong on now?

Me, I’ll take what I’m doing right this minute.

…with a few more starry nights and campfires thrown in. ‚ô•

 

 

Recommended this week: release your words and share your shirt

I get this feeling in my legs when I don’t get enough exercise. My whole family is like that, we get agitated when we can’t physically move. We’re like those dog breeds people feel sorry for in condos.

It’s super weird, especially in a world where so many people can’t get motivated to exercise. It’s like we can’t NOT exercise.

I get the same jumpy feeling when I can’t find a place to put the thoughts in my head. Sometimes sentences weave themselves in my brain and just stay there, spinning, crowding each other out.

They’re like “LET US OUT OF HERE”. Tapping loudly on the inside of my eyeball.

The sentences are usually about my babies. How I can’t stop kissing them. How we are still one body, somehow, even though there is open space available between us.

We have no use for it. We choose to sandwich up against one another most of the time. Baby F (FL now… my almost-preschooler) usually has at least one limb INSIDE my shirt. Arm up a sleeve, arm down the neck hole, whatever. My body is her body.

RD is still nursing. We cuddle up lying next to each other and he drinks and falls asleep. His expression is so peaceful, open, distant. A saint, a sage.

I lay them down side by side on the bed after their bath, wrapped up in towels. I ask FL – “who should I moisturize first?” and she says “Baby”. So I unwrap him and distract him with tickle-me-elmo in one hand while I put lotion on him. Then I put lotion on FL, and she escapes to sprint up and down the hall naked, squealing with delight.

 

A letter to baby F

One night last week you ended up in bed with us. I brought you there. Because lying down was more important to me than making sure you know your crib is where you sleep. You know that. 

You know so much. 

When you’re in the bed I don’t sleep as well. I’m aware always of where you are, that you have space to breathe , no pillows in the way. Not too close to the brick wall behind the bed. Sometimes you cuddle close and then you flop around. I think you’re restless too, in bed with us, at least at first. But you tend to be quiet there. You know you’re safe. With your people. 

Watching you wake up in the morning I think of baby animals. It’s a process. Stretching and little cooing sounds. Back to sleep for five more minutes. Hips in the air, then feet flung over one of us. And then finally, sitting up with a big smile. “Uh oh”. Softly. Your favourite word these days, at fourteen months. Sometimes you get the context right. Other times you unintentionally hit on adult irony. Baby’s up… uh oh!

Yesterday I came home from work and you said the other word. “Mummy”. For the first time! All through dinner and bath time and bedtime mischief.  “Mummy”. 

Sometimes I get down and I think the world is leaving me behind while it makes plans for Saturday night, or exotic vacations, or career advancement. Or anything. When I’m exhausted and uncertain and overwhelmed. But then you say my name in your sweet little voice, you cuddle in close in my bed where I held you the day we brought you home (and in utero for nine months before that). And everything is right and perfect. 

I guess I’m realizing something about the world: that it’s too big anyway. And the best thing I can do is concentrate and creating my own little world. That matters to me. And right now you, my darling, are in the centre of it. 

What a moment to myself looks like

Baby F is sleeping and I have a moment to myself. I finish folding laundry. I think about cleaning the kitchen counters but instead I brush off the bits of dirt that came loose when I unwrapped the potted tulip that’s sitting there. All red with yellow insides, opening coquettishly.

Last weekend a friend told me about how tiny dogs are being bred to fit into purses but are developing terrible health problems in the process. I already knew this but she seemed pretty rocked so I went along.

“That’s terrible”.

It is though, actually. These dogs are just not meant to be that small.

Did you know that human newborns are the most vulnerable, under-developed mammal at birth? Our little brains are only 25% developed when we come out of incubation. It’s because of the mother’s physiology – as upright walkers, we can only grow the baby so much and still be able to safely birth it.

No other animal needs to care for their young in the way that humans do.

I want to love my red and yellow tulip, but I have this ominous feeling it will die in here. My Valentine’s day roses fell and wilted in a matter of days. This¬†can’t be good.

I’ve become comfortable with the untidy mess of my house. On account of I’m caring for a human infant twenty-four hours a day. And I’m used to disappointing my partner who will come home and see the counter I brushed off but didn’t clean and he will just see a slightly dirty counter. I imagine that he imagines this is some negative reflection on me, but to be honest I don’t know if that’s true.

Another¬†friend recently told me about her experience getting on anti-anxiety medication. She’s been on it for about eight months. Is that past the honeymoon stage? I thought so, but I don’t know. She¬†says the meds have profoundly increased her enjoyment of life.

She’s a mother, by the way. ¬†I wonder how I would do¬†with a little medication…

I wonder how it went as we evolved to upright walkers – as our physical bodies put limits on the development of our babies, did our emotional intuitiveness expand so that we could care properly for our newborns? Or is it possible that we gradually developed this immense capacity for caregiving, and that meant we could start to stand on two feet?

I googled “are tulips naturally two-toned?”. Nothing but ads for tulips.

You know what? I will keep this tulip alive because it might be a genetically modified mutant. And that seems unfair. I’m going to water it for all those poor tiny dogs.

I can do this because I’m the master nurturer of the animal kingdom.

Even when unmedicated.

And for this, I don’t know whether to say thank you or you’re welcome. I think both.

Cycling in the rain

I forgot how unpleasant it is to bike in the rain without a back fender.

That slice of Scot somewhere in my blood has left me with a solid attitude of making-do. As if using money and modern convenience to solve a problem is somehow too bourgeois.

Since taking the Quistic masterclass on personality type, I’m¬†obsessed with typing everyone I know (type yourself here for free). When I’m feeding baby F, I go through the people I know and search for type patterns. For example, every member of my and J’s family is an I for introvert. Except for big old¬†extroverted me.

It explains so much about my adolescent “behavioural issues” – convinced my parents didn’t love me¬†when in fact they just didn’t ever feel like talking.

I get it now. Mind and heart open.

In British Columbia they have a problem with exotic birds finding good homes. This former nurse found her calling helping these birds and their adoptive humans find peace in their relationships. The birds are anxious, often bought and returned more than once by well-meaning but ignorant animal lovers. She implements simple systems rewarding good bird behaviour. When the birds scream in their cages the people leave the room. When the birds are quiet the people come back.

It works because the birds just want to be close to the people.

Social creatures, comforted by the presence of warm blood nearby. By a face and a voice and a beating heart. By the possibility of connection.

In choir we are working on this glorious piece.¬†The first line ends with a tone cluster – notes sung together that don’t conventionally match. As singers our job is to¬†find¬†the heart of the dissonance and lean into it, often fighting against our¬†instincts in order to¬†do it correctly. But when we¬†lock into it, it feels so right.

Only after the darkest hour, does the light emerge.

Our conductor asked us to sing those notes as if we were removing the lid from a canister containing pure light.

Un-cage-ing something unexpected, bursting forth.

This week one of my favourite podcast hosts Jonathan Fields published a manifesto. As a mother, as a carer, this jumped out: Self-care is the beating heart of other care.

That’s why this week’s yoga is about¬†self care. Picture self massage, guided meditation and opening the heart chakra. Imagine a light shining out of your heart right now – bursting through your rib cage. Your heart cage. Are you sitting a little taller, making a little more space for it? You see, my personality type is all about inspiring people.¬†I’m programmed to cultivate light. You know, me and Oprah (actually). ¬†

In the coffee shop where I’m sitting all the men pick up the barista. So far they’ve talked¬†about snowboarding, Toronto’s dashed baseball dreams, astronomy, California. The Adele concert. Butter croissants. Halloween costumes. I’ve been here for a while.

It’s time to bike home now and get back to baby F.¬†Her hedgehog hair that looks like baby bird feathers. Born jet black and inexplicably lightening by the day, to wheat, butter or strawberry depending on the light.¬†I love her so much. I’m the parrot that just wants to stay close.

Making do as I am with no fender in the rain, I’ll count on that ethereal¬†light coming from inside¬†my rib cage to carry me through all that¬†splatter.¬†A canister containing pure light.

It’s worth so much more than new bike parts¬†anyways.

Don’t panic¬†

It’s evening in paradise. Today I stood by the ocean, reading the “beware of the rip tides” signs and observing the plentiful red warning flags,  and thought: so stunning and so dangerous. Nature’s paradox.

There were instructions posted on what to do if you were swept out to sea.

1. Don’t panic! 

Followed by a swim guide  for a safe return to shore.

After months of hearing that traveling with a baby is “so easy” and “the best”, I’m calling it. Guys, this is not easy. 

Baby F is a full time job and that job continues here, just with better scenery. She is with us everywhere we go, as she should be. That includes the beach which is hot and terrifyingly loud for her, the pool which is a touch too cool, the shuttle bus which is surprisingly comfortable but also totally unsafe.

Everywhere, she’s nursing or crying or cooing or just being a baby. Cooped up in our arms or her stroller, she gets restless and wants to explore. In public parks, in fine dining establishments, the hotel lobby. I’m looking around constantly  to see if we’re making anyone annoyed, uncomfortable or both.  

I’m deprived of sleep. I’m not at my best, uncharacteristically irritable. Craving time alone. 

I see other mothers. For the first time, I really see them. I see them rubbing sunscreen on their kids. Watching their toddlers go down the water slide again and again. And again. Patiently folding the towels, packing up the beach things to head back to the hotel. Making sure everyone is safe and fed and having a good time. Doing their best.

I see other couples. The ones without kids, the young ones. They are rested, they are getting tipsy. They are fresh as they recharge -from their work, with their partner. Well fed and probably well sexed. Remember? 

The sweet slow drip of time is changing all of us. Into the next incarnation of ourselves. So gradual you can barely feel it.

Until you land in paradise. 

And manage to feel more anxious because you couldn’t very well bring the jumperoo. But oh how you wish you could have!  

Now all you want is a glass of wine and a good night’s sleep. A short break from all this responsibility that came along as a package deal… with the  ocean of pure love you jumped headfirst into – arresting beauty and  breathtaking power – the day your kid was born.  

Welcome to the new normal. 

Dangerous. And yet. 

Through the fog of too little sleep and the inconvenience of being in  a foreign  place with a tiny human, you are grateful every day. Achingly so. For that spectacular ocean of love. 

So long sweet summer

And just like that, the summer comes to an end. Those who will get tanned have done so. Those who will have barbecues, go waterskiing, see outdoor concerts, go to the zoo and have picnics have done so.

There’s a nip in the morning air, like clockwork. I like to think I was the first to know about the first cool morning since I poked my head out at 4:30am and felt it. What mother is sleeping at that time, really?¬†Not this one.

The end of summer in this town is bittersweet. We’re season people so we like the change. We cheer: cozy sweaters! pumpkin spice lattes! Plus this summer was especially hot, especially humid, especially heat warning and UV index “Very High” and all that dangerous stuff. Hard to enjoy your spiked lemonade when you’re busy trying to shade yourself so you don’t get a third degree burn. Ah, my pale English roots.

But summer is the universally fun season and everyone knows it. It’s loud and extroverted, untamed. The childhood thrill of no school leaves a hangover for life.¬†Only now as adults we mix in finding entertainment for our kids (computer camp – woo!) and battling weekend traffic to cottage country. But a cold beer by the lake? Just beautiful.

Summer 2016 was the second season of transformation in motherhood Рcoming out of the haze of birthing, awestruck in the presence of newborn life, and settling into the new normal. A twosome come threesome. A mother first. A wife and daughter, distant second. Somewhere a friend. Somewhere, way down there, everything else.

So long sweet summer. Wow, that song is from 2000. A sobering reminder of the speed of life. The speed of light.

Breathe and savour this¬†moment. It’s unlike any other in your¬†past or future. Happy Fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going shoeless

This summer has been unlike any other summer. Thanks to caring full time for baby F, my schedule is pretty flexible. It’s been almost¬†a decade since¬†my family sold their¬†cottage in Muskoka, but I find myself freshly missing it. I romanticize it – boiled hotdogs on the front patio, squatting to pee behind trees as a kid. Building things out of moldy wooden planks leftover from a building project in the seventies. That vertical beam that held the heights and names of all my aunts and uncles and cousins. That beam was a piece of family history. An¬†orphaned piece. Driftwood.

We are taking our first family vacation this Fall. And I wondered to myself whether I should buy water shoes for baby F. Who doesn’t walk. Who stands occasionally. Then I caught myself. What am I thinking? Real old school cottagers understand that shoes are optional. Putting on shoes to go anywhere but into town is, well, a bit tame for the wild North. I’ve noticed the skin on my feet tells this story.¬†What should one expect after spending weeks on end just¬†plain shoeless in the woods? All those pine needles and sharp rocks and sticks. But, oh those soft wet mossy cushions! And the heavy¬†sand at the shore!

Running around like a wild animal. Developing accidental grit.

No, I will not buy water shoes for baby F. Even if there is no more family cottage, she will have her share of shoeless moments.

After watching¬†this documentary, I think Tony Robbins is a phenomenon. He’s really floating my boat this week. Him and Oprah. Seriously, these guys are just full of great messages for humanity. They remind us to take all of the wonder that we are – our pasts and presents in all their skin wrecking, family and nature treasuring glory – and own it.

Own your wonder. Without clinging to the driftwood, without questioning other people’s¬†choices, without doubting the rightness of how we got here.

Just throw off your shoes, face forward and smell the fresh air!

 

Embracing failure 

It starts raining and J’s car is smart so the windshield wipers come on automatically. Even though the car’s not running, save the radio. Even though I’m sitting here in the parking lot of Planet Organic, I’m not sure why, I have no intention of going in. I never sat in grocery store parking lots eating granola bars and thinking my life is amazing for this peaceful moment until I became a mother. Now I seem to do it a lot. 

This car. It knows I’m still here, steeling away. Senses my weight on the seat, the key in my pocket.  

I’ve been in freedom mode, giddy and playing the music too loud and driving like a boss. Because baby F is with her granny.  

I wonder: will baby F drive a car one day? Or will it drive itself? 

I remember a time my dad took me to practice driving. I must have been sixteen. I was making a lefthand turn and failed to stay in the lines. Luckily it was a quiet suburban street and there was no opposite traffic for me to crash into. But  I felt like an idiot, like if there had been a car coming the other way, we would have collided. I was upset.  

My dad told me to relax. He said if there had been a car there, i would have taken the turn differently. No need to catastrophize a hypothetical alternative. One wonky turn  wasn’t a fortune cookie for every other future turn. 

I hope people are still driving cars when it’s time for baby F to learn. So many valuable lessons to learn behind the wheel. 

This must-watch documentary talks about how babies and very small children need to develop self esteem so they can handle the failure inherent on the path to learning. Apparently there’s scientific justification for the wild encouragement I bestow on baby F when she smiles / coos / kicks / rolls over /etc. Which is nice. 

Failures – losses – they help us learn. They show us when we’re off track. They give us tools to course-correct. Even Oprah says so

These perceived failures, they don’t need fanfare, just acknowledgement. Not to be exaggerated or downplayed. Just to be recognized for what they can teach us. Our job is to listen, to pay attention, to grow and evolve. 

The rain continues. Nourishing gardens in this, Toronto’s hottest and driest summer in ten years. I start the car and drive home. Clean windshield, clear mind. 

Goodnight laundry (a bedtime story)

Parenting today was letting my teething four month old gnaw on my knuckles. And sleep on my body like I was a piece of furniture.

Four short months ago, baby F was literally part of my body.  Attached, inside. No wonder we are connected, no wonder she regards my appendages as comfortable infrastructure for her to lie listlessly on, convenient bits and bobs for her to chew.

She has fallen asleep tonight within arm’s reach of the bedtime I’ve decided is appropriate. Which is a win.

Remember bedtime as a kid? The. Worst. Something to look forward to as a parent.

But actually, watching J moo at baby F while she waited – naked, wriggling and giggling on the kitchen counter – for her sink-bath to begin, I couldn’t contain my joy. I think they call it Unbridled Joy.

Not much else happened today. But such is life with a baby at home. Some days conventional, productive, adult-type things take place. Some days, not.

And so the fridge is still a mess. And while I’ve discovered great satisfaction in starting the¬† laundry process, I’m less jazzed about finishing it. Which means there are stacks of clean folded clothes literally covering the dressers and ottoman, waiting to go home to their drawers and hangers. ¬†To return to service.

Why do I leave them in limbo?

I don’t know.

Sometimes those still viable, useful and even prepared, spend time in limbo.

But wait. The word limbo is flawed. It’s just a fearful name for a new place, perhaps an in-between place, but the present place after all.

Sometimes those still viable, useful and even prepared, spend time in the present and find Unbridled Joy,  passion, purpose and love there.

So.

At present  I am in a new place where my flesh is furniture and a teething aide for a perfect tiny creature I created out of love, for whom I am guide and keeper on this earth.

Goodnight ego. Goodnight manicure. Goodnight sangria.

At present I’ve decided the clean clothes will stand out in the open another night. It’s time to watch Mad Men and go to bed.

Goodnight laundry.