Archive for the ‘volunteering’ category

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Lights

November 25, 2011

The other day I made one of those careless parenting decisions that backfired in an explosive way. When my four-year-old son insisted on “helping” to fill the van with gas, I succumbed.

His father started this with him (during those first few months following our latest move, when the boy was terrified of being left alone in the vehicle). I’ve allowed this before too, back when the baby was little enough to sleep in his car seat. I would hover over my little man, making sure he had the nozzle properly inserted into the mouth of the gas tank. This time, the baby, now twelve months old and much too impatient to wait quietly while his big brother did something fascinating, began to scream. I stuck my head inside the van to distract him. My normally very coordinated four-year-old decided for some reason to slide the nozzle out while still squeezing the lever, causing the gas to explode all over himself in a river of the strong-smelling liquid.

This was all taking place on a day in mid-November, which is a freak-out time of year if ever there was one. You know how it goes, Christmas is approaching, the anxiety of all the extra work to do leading up to the holidays is closing in. The first colds and flus of the season are sweeping through families whose time is already taut with activities, appointments, Christmas card lists and wish lists, fundraising and all those seasonal events we are obliged to attend.

That night, with the gasoline smell permeating the entire house even after putting the clothes through the wash four times, I was on my way to Brownies with my daughter where I’ve volunteered as a leader. As usual, I couldn’t find our inside shoes, or the binder I’m supposed to have with me at all times for these meetings, or the cookie money I’d collected. I succumbed for a second instance in one day, this time to my frustration. “I will NOT do Christmas cards this year, I will NOT go to your stupid party, and no one better expect me to do any decorating or baking this year!” I yelled all this at my husband, but it bounced off his back as he turned away from me, no doubt rolling his eyes as he did so.

I got home later that evening to find my husband putting up a string of lights in our kitchen. He told me quickly that if they look silly, he could take them down. My nose twitching, I went into the laundry room. I got those gassy clothes out of the wash and took them outside to hang them on the line. When I came back in, the lights twinkled at me.

I stayed up late that night, writing madly. The Christmas lights sparkled. Outside, it began to snow.

Over the next few days, I finished a story I’ve been working on for years. I sent it to another new friend I’ve met here in St. John’s, a very talented poet with whom I’ve been sharing work back and forth. He encouraged me to submit my story to a contest. I also completed a non-fiction piece, and submitted that one to CBC Radio’s Winter Tale competition.

My kids were playing outside in the snow the day I finally retrieved my son’s clothes off the line. They smelled fresh as fresh could be, not a trace of the gasoline odour left. My son asked, “Mommy, what’s on your Christmas list?” At the same time, my daughter announced she wanted to go in and do some baking with me. We all went in and plugged in the lights. As my children and I worked together, the mess in the kitchen grew. I embraced the magic of the lights, even began to mentally prepare my Christmas card list. I discovered my answer to my son’s question.

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Women need a wife

July 9, 2011

It’s finally set. Our moving date, that is. After nearly five months of being displaced, we will be moving into our new house next week.

I have much to say about the house hunt, the house choice, and the efforts thus far to work towards settling into the house (including bashing down walls, tearing out flowered wallpaper, and repairing a door after being broken into). But first, bear with me, because I’m gonna go all chicken soup for the soul for a moment.

Great vistas are like true friendships; they inspire me to be a better person.

As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve had quite the friend drought since moving from Manitoba to Newfoundland. But the tides are changing and I’ve started to meet new people. Most importantly, other moms. One in particular who went out on a limb and reached out to me, after discovering my blog. Boy oh boy am I ever glad she did! I can’t promise where the friendship will go (onwards and upwards, I hope!), but for now, having someone here I can call on is truly magical.

I’ve learned a lot about friendship in the last several years. It’s a different beast now compared with what it was in childhood. Back then, backstabbing was as much a part of socializing as was playing (remember those hurtful days of being excluded from a game or a birthday party?). As an adult, as mentioned here by my new friend, courting new friendships is like dating. I know myself better now than I did before, which is the first step in reaching out to others, and it doesn’t take long to realize what (or who) will work, and what (or who) won’t in a friendship.

I don’t like to think of myself as discriminatory, but I’ll admit, there is one thing in particular I look for in a friend these days; motherhood status.

I have a man in my life, and while I have other male acquaintances who are great, I must admit that between my husband and my two sons, I have all the testosterone I need. What I need besides, is a wife.

I bestowed this title on a good friend of mine in Thompson before I left. It was like being torn away from my wife, having to move away from her. She (and it wasn’t only one close friend there, but a network of great girls I wish I could have enjoyed daily life with longer) and I could trade off kids at a moment’s notice, whip up dinners to enjoy together or for each other (okay, it was her making dinner for me, adamant I wasn’t allowed to say thank you or it wasn’t a gift), enjoy coffees, walks, wine, sick and sleepless night stories, and laugh it all off as shared experience.

Another way to put it: something I read, can’t remember where, that stated how there’s no monetary value you can put on stay at home mothers (or fathers, for that matter), but that they (we) are the ones creating communities. Forming playgroups to get our kids socializing. Soliciting governments for parks, sidewalks, community centres, libraries. Volunteering when possible, taxiing children to school, sports and arts events. Filling in the gaps left by the rest of the world immersed in the workforce.

Men need wives for support, companionship, for partnership through life’s journey. I declare that women need wives, too, not in an erotic way, but in a partnership way. Call it stalling feminism if you like, but I find that our roles as men and women are still quite defined. I’m okay with that – my husband wields the hammer, I wield the calendar of family events. My husband needs his boys (best friends) to let loose with once in a while, and I need my girls to do the same. Each in our own way. It all works if we don’t fight it. Admittedly, the lines are often blurry, and I love that about modern families – sometimes not one mom and one dad, or sometimes it’s the man who is chatty, the woman who fixes things around the house. That’s life in all it’s varied, glorious colours and combinations.

True friendship, for me, is more to the point now than it was in childhood. I choose friends, now, not based on what they wear, or whether or not I’ll be invited to their birthday party. I choose people who make me feel good about myself.

And here’s the most important guideline I follow in choosing a friend, mother or not: I choose friends who make me want to be a better person. Friends who inspire me to work harder, learn more, take better care of myself, so that I’ll be there longer for all the people I love and care about.

There’s also something mysterious about girlfriends at this point in my existence. I don’t know if she brushes her teeth right after dinner, or before she goes to bed. If she wears socks under the covers. If she kisses her children in the same order each night. These are secrets no longer sacred in my married life. I know everything and then some about my husband. There’s a great comfort in that (and in the fact that some of those habits do change with time, and we’ll grow and learn to adapt to them together). But the mystery about a new friend, a mom with whom I start several conversations yet finish none, constantly interrupted as we inevitably are by children needing a tissue, or acknowledgment of a somersault completed, or a boo boo kissed; that mystery remains. It hangs in the air between us, waiting for the next playdate. It keeps me smiling into the night, wondering if I’ll ever know the tangible answers to the questions about a person I somehow already and innately trust completely.

Cure for what ails – volunteering!

June 4, 2010

I love action, solutions, solving problems (as long as numbers are not involved….I’m a words girl, barely comfortable with anything to do with numbers or math!). And, thanks to a dear friend here in my new home who made a very insightful suggestion to me, I have found a cure for my problem of “extra time” which I wrote about in my last post.

My friend heard on the radio that the local boys and girls club was looking for someone to help write grant proposals. Volunteering! Of course. That makes sense for me right now. I can’t (and won’t) look for a job while I’m half-way through a pregnancy. But I would love to be using my skills for more than just “mommying” right now. I want to be a part of my community, not just the network of moms I’ve met here. I want to feel like I’m doing more than just following my husband and his career across the country.

The last time I volunteered was with the literacy guild when I was living in Mississauga. It was great – I attended a seminar, with a group of other volunteers, to learn some teaching techniques. Then, I met with a small group of high school kids once a week to help them reach their goals of graduating on time. These kids already knew how to read, but they struggled with writing skills. They were falling behind when it came time to write essays or reports. It felt great to be able to help them, to see them progress even a little bit each week. And it was good for me, too. I find myself using some of those techniques I learned in the seminar, with my daughter, now, who is just starting to read.

So I am now embarking on a new volunteering adventure, and so excited about it. I was giddy, when I met with the executive director the other day, just to be having a “business” meeting. To be discussing anything that doesn’t involve laundry, meal plans and play dates was refreshing. And it doesn’t matter that I won’t be submitting invoices and getting paid (some jobs here are so low paying, I find it insulting, and I’d rather be “giving” than trying to do some thankless job, right now, for little more than enough to cover my daycare costs). I’ll be learning, contributing. And I didn’t realize until I went there, just how great the need is for the services provided by this wonderful organization.

Yes, I am lucky to have the choice right now to stay home with my kids. I love being part of all their moments (aside from the hours they are in school), seeing the large and small changes in their growth day by day. I am grateful that my husband can keep us afloat financially, and grateful that we’ve learned to live comfortably on one income, barely noticing, any more, the small sacrifices we make to do so. It IS possible! But I do look forward to getting back to my career, at some point, for more than financial reasons. My mom was a career woman, and I’ve always felt very proud of her. I want my kids to think of me that way. I want them to see that they can have more than one thing in life – a family, a job they can enjoy, hobbies that keep them active in mind and body. And I don’t ever want them to hold back from giving of themselves, whenever and wherever there might be a need.