Sturm und Mom

The Storm & Stress (& Joy) of Motherhood

Archive for the tag “Community”

Community That Lifts You Up, and Holds You Down

I love my new backyard!!!!

I am now typing this in my brand new address.  The movers came a week ago to take the heavy furniture and the too large boxes in their (what would turn out to be too small) truck.  Auntie took the little kids, school took the big ones, and an installation appointment took my Sweetheart to the new house, leaving me all alone with an open front door.  Desperately needing to keep out of the way least I cause a Worker’s Compensation Board claim, I stood at the kitchen island, trying not to look indolent.  The multi-coloured activity that is recess at the playground of the school down the block caught my eye.  Suddenly, I realized now that I was leaving, how much I had connected myself to that swarming mass, even though they weren’t necessarily my children out there.  I had a kinship to those kids and those parents that I saw everyday out my kitchen window, even when my own little ones were sitting beside me eating apple slices and Triscuits.  The melancholy realization struck me that my moving way meant losing a community that I didn’t even know I had.

How much of our sense of community is more than just physical?  Location, work, Church, sports — these are the easy identifiers to where we belong.  But we all carry around in our heads an idea of who we belong to, and who belongs to us.  Much the same way that search engines customize their results based on past search requests, we start to view the world as a collection of groups, placing ourselves as members in or out of them.  But what happens when we find that our self-selected group doesn’t think we belong?  Like when your favourite comedy suddenly turns the jokes on what you hold most dear, and you realize that they see you not as a co-conspirator but as ridiculous.  Or when a group of Moms organized a playdate in front of my friend, making a conspicuous effort to let her know she wasn’t invited.  There is something psychically jarring about finding out that as far as part of your identity is concerned, everyone voted and you don’t belong.

People often write, often quite beautifully, (like Jen at Conversion Diary did recently about a horrible motorcycle fatality in her neighbourhood,) about how community can stitch us together, bind us up, and make us whole.  But in my sadness in leaving my familiar haunts, I also mutter “and good riddance to that.”  Community can lift us up, but sometimes it keeps us down.  My last neighbourhood paired streets of McMansions straining at the setbacks of their city lots, with blocks of status seeking starter homes and condominiums.  People worked so hard and long to take constant trips to Mexico, carry flashy purses, and buy their 8 year olds Macbook Pro’s for Christmas — they got their iPhone for Kindergarten Grad — that they were never around.  Every evening at 5:55 PM, it was a line of luxury cars down that same school street as parents rushed to make it to After School Care pick-up before the fines kicked in.  I saw my neighbour with kids twice in the year that she lived 5 doors down from me.  She was such a stranger I walked right by her at the Public Pool, and didn’t clue in until I was 20′ past, that I had just snubbed her.

I hoping, praying, that things will be different in our new digs.  We’ve already met more neighbours here, than I did the entire 7 years I lived in my old house.  Perhaps this house will bring more of the same, but it’s too soon to tell.  And until then, I am hoping that we have landed into a community that’s more chatting on the sidewalk, and less chasing after the latest win.

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Big Lip Stamp

When someone is whinging around here, we chase them around the house threatening to give them a “big lip stamp;” to basically, plant a pouty lip on them.  This is supposed to cheer them up and snap them out of it.  Whether this works, or if this is some therapist’s future summer home remains to be seen, but with the frequency that protruding lower lips seem to fly up and down the stairs, I doubt it’s being retired around here any time soon.

Except that today I need a big lip stamp, because I am sick and it’s about -1 zillion degrees outside.  Actually, it’s -35° Celsius with wind chill.  That’s -31° in Fahrenheit and 238.15 in Kelvin.  (Aren’t conversion widgets great?)  It’s so cold that the birds that bother to rest on our front tree are twice their normal size.  The kids have to leave for the one block walk to school covered with so much winter wear, only a sliver of eye is exposed.  Both the worst and the best time to be sick.

The best?  Because you can’t really do anything anyway, so it’s a good excuse to let the kids watch a Rugrats DVD and recuperate.  Except that I’m not, really.  Just like on Sunday morning after spending all night being sick to my stomach, I was up folding laundry.  Same thing today.  In between swoons, I was stacking little boy pants and little girl pj’s.  It reminded me of when I took some time “off” over the Christmas break.  No one got dressed and we all just sat around eating Caramel Pecan Squares and leftovers.  One afternoon, I stole a nap.  While I slept, I dreamt that I was doing laundry — folding, stacking, running around with hampers.  And when I work up I felt, well, great.  I hadn’t realized until then how much industry begets cheerfulness.

Those Puritans used to say that idle hands were the devil’s workshop.  And for the first 29 years of my life, I sure was glad we were all done with that attitude.  I was constantly “taking it easy,” “needing a break,” and I forever was “stressed out.”  I didn’t know from what.  I never had to toilet train a 2 ¾ year old, who really couldn’t care less what happens to the carpet in his bedroom.  Or stay up all night with a teething baby, only to be up by 7:00 the next morning to get the big kids out the door.

Whatever I did, I did it for me, and that was the problem.  I really was stressed out and burnt up.  I thought that by running after a life based on the virtue of “that sounds fun,” I would have a fun life.  But I didn’t.  I had a life increasingly without meaning.  It took me a while to realize that we were made to be useful, and live in a community.  Not necessarily a community of a common Postal Code or socio-demographic grouping, but one of connections based on interdependence.  For years I thought that if I only got enough time to do what I really wanted, I would discover my purpose in life.  Instead, I found my purpose when I did what someone else needed.

No man, or Mother is an island.  As I stand in surrounded by my sea of laundry and Kleenex boxes, I realize that I am not afloat, but finally grounded.  Just another of many surprises on this journey as a Mom.

Feel Free to Kick Me If I Nod Off

Goodnight!

Last night was my fourth(?) Sparks Mother-Daughter Sleepover, this time with Art Girl.  What a blast!  It’s so much fun to have some one-on-one time with your 6 year old, especially in a big family.  Last night sitting in the “Camp Fire Circle,” (since it was inside the fire was 2L pop bottles filled with water and glow sticks,) my girl leaned into me in the darkness and whispered, “I wish this night would never end.”  Me too, sweetheart.  Later, trying to fall asleep, I was struck by how much I missed all my family at home.  Should everyone have my problems!  Too much love.

Sleeping was another story.  About 30+ people all laid out on air mattresses and Thermarests in this huge room at the local Community League Hall.  It sort of had a barracks or emergency shelter vibe, all we needed were cots.  I kept waking  just to assuage my fear that the new air mattress I bought two days before had shipped to the store with an air leak.  Or that Art Girl had fallen off the air mattress.  Or that the baby was crying — oh, yeah, the baby’s at home….With my wonderful husband, who gets Dad of the Year for staying home with a partially-breastfed 7 month old.  I love you, Sugar!  You are totally awesome!

As I said above, I think that this is my 4th Mother-Daughter Sleepover with different daughters, and depending on Girl Guide uptake, I may still have 2-4 more coming.  One thing that struck me as I lay staring at the ceiling last night, was how different the room sounded.  After the girls fell asleep five years ago, the only sounds you heard were the quiet chuckles of the Moms still chatting to each other.  This time, it was full of chirps and beeps, and various points of the room glowed with the backlight of touch screens.  The texting technology has permeated the world so far and so quickly.  It was also a little sad, that instead of chatting with the ladies next to us, we were messaging with someone miles away.  It’s similar at other places Moms gather.  Where once you would strike up a conversation with a gal with small children like yourself, now everyone is hunched over their screens, typing furiously with their thumbs.  It’s impossible to make eye-contact, or any other contact for that matter.

The other thing I wonder about, is the bizarre proliferation of “activities” we drag our kids to.  Over the course of these Mom/Daughter events I have learnt of 5 and 6 year olds enrolled in acting, yoga, and pottery, just for starters.  Isn’t that just the average afternoon at home for that age?  Is the tuition and commute really adding anything?  And how do you teach acting to a Kindergartener?  Do they do Baby Hamlet? (“To tantrum or not to tantrum…”)  I once saw an episode of Oprah on family over-scheduling, where an expert “helped” a busy Mom balance her daughter’s pitching coach and voice lessons.  This brought to mind an image of a soft ball game with the pitcher winding up on the mound,  simultaneously belting out, Ethel Merman-style, “Take me out to the ballgame…

But maybe that just the natter of the sleep-deprived.  I’m just glad to have my girls and my boys and my home, and be with all of them now.  There is nothing like coming back to that which you miss to make it all the sweeter.  Like my bed will feel right away.  Sleep tight, everyone!

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