The Summer Of Running Free

IMG_3274This summer has been glorious. It has been slow, uncluttered and deliberate. It has been uncomplicated. Moments of serenity have peppered the routine whining, that at this stage of the game is more like the soundtrack to my life; a white noise that occasionally demands to be hushed.

Almost one month in and I can say so far this has been my favourite summer with my boys. My favourite summer since becoming a mom.

The choices that I have made this past month have been mindful. After a grueling winter trapped much of the time inside, my only desire for this summer was to be outside.

It was years ago, my first born was still an infant, tucked into his snowsuit with just his rosy cheeks exposed to the cold air, when I pushed our red stroller up and down the city sidewalks. The thick treaded tires ploughed through the snow and my son cooed contentedly. It was when I was stopped at a traffic light that an older lady, weighed down by her heavy wool coat peered into the stroller. She smiled and asked me if the bundle was a boy or a girl. When I replied a boy, she said that she had one piece of advice for me. I bristled. I was hesitant to listen. I was tired of well-meaning strangers giving me their two-cents on everything from feeding to sleeping and hat wearing.

“Sometimes a boy just has to run free outdoors.”

Most intended perils of wisdom have been forgotten over the years, but this one has stuck.

It didn’t take this crippling winter juxtaposed with the summer that proceeded it for a what felt like a fleeting minute to confirm that, yes, sometimes a boy just has to run free outdoors.

This summer has been the summer of running free.

The boys have passed more of their waking hours outside. They’ve toiled in the garden, snorkelled in the sea and fished the lake. Untethered by any schedule they have indulged their curiosities. They’ve asked questions and sought out answers. They’ve collapsed in bed exhausted with tanned skin, grazed knees and dirty feet.

I’ve watched my sons gently pick up snails, caterpillars and geckos. I’ve watched them marvel at how small a person is in comparison to an ocean, but how powerful a human’s actions can be.

My middle son, devastated to learn how lionfish are encroaching on Caribbean sea life schooled his brothers resulting in a serious discussion that united them together as eco-warriors. My misty-eyed boys have brought the plight of the monarch butterflies and the serious threats facing the bee population to my attention. It’s humbling and inspiring to witness how awestruck they are by nature.

The idea of nature-deficient children and what Louv suggests that will mean for the well being of our society, is frightening to me.

It’s as frightening to me as drowning polar bears.

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Summer Curiosities

IMG_4999I used to love the Fall: the reddening of the leaves, the crisp air, the blue bird skies but now it’s the summer that tugs at my heart.  I love the slow-down, the indulgence, and the warm weather but more than anything I love the break from routine.  Most people look at me like I am clueless, an amateur, when I say that my kids take a break from all organized activity in the summer and yes, that includes camp.

It’s a conscious choice- a more mindful one.  Before we became parents we would dream about our future family.  We never discussed what to name our babies (that could explain why we found it so stressful), how cute they’d be (given!), or what we thought about attachment parenting, but we did talk about the big picture.  And by big picture, I mean huge.  What sort of foundation would we lay?  What are the most important values we want to instil?  What memories of our own childhood do we hope to transfer to our own children?

A seed that grew from those early conversations was meaningful together time.  Admittedly, in the early years of parenting survival was key, and escaping for alone time topped my list of priorities.   Now, just like everyone said that it would, things have changed again – in what seems a blink of an eye.

No more diapers or strollers or sleepless nights.  No naps or a constant stream of illnesses.

We’ve crossed a bridge and I find myself on the other side, somewhat weary, a little bruised; simply amazed we made it through.  Now it’s time to put into action our plan for our family.

There are downsides to being a stay-at-home mom but there are a lot of incredible perks too.  It’s taken a long time for me not to feel guilty about enjoying them.

And so this summer, I did just that.  I made a dream become a reality.  I crossed off two weeks this summer, packed-up the boys and rented a house far, far, away from our everyday life.

These two weeks have been void of anything overly familiar (except whining and bickering), very limited screen time, and heavy on the family time.  What I have learned is without the constraints or pressures of our lives, our family unit grows stronger.  We challenge each other to try new things and spend time really talking and listening.  Most of all we each feel more vulnerable without the trappings of home and we only have each other to lean on.

I see my boys’ personalities developing.  I see their strengths and admit to myself their weaknesses.  I see them become more pack-like: defensive and protective while playfully mauling each other like lion cubs.

I have slowed down and allowed myself to indulge their curiosities.  How do seashells get their colouring?  Where does sea-glass come from?  Why do some fish swim in schools while others glide along the reef independently?

I hope to increase the time we spend on summer retreat over the years to the full two months.  I may be unrealistic.  It may be a harebrained plan.

But I have made it across one bridge and I see another on the horizon and experience has taught me that objects are closer than they appear.

Mindfulness and Holistic Heart Health

2012_03 - Florida 189aWith February being Heart Month, here is my heart health checklist for last week:

~ exercise:  two (kind of short) yoga sessions, one skating trip with the kids, and a considerable effort scraping off the ice from our walk.

~ food intake review:  lots of legumes, steady flow of fruits and veggies, sugar remains a food group most days.

~ love and friendship:  lots (lucky me).

~ mindfulness:  5-10 minutes at school council meeting.

?

But that’s what happened, I swear.  Two teachers came to our monthly parent council meeting and, as part of their presentation on the mindfulness that they seek to bring into their classrooms, they asked parents to participate in a guided mindfulness exercise similar to what our children are doing at school.  Every one of us stood up, closed our eyes or kept them softly focused, and breathed and moved our bodies together.

I don’t know what your school council is like, but ours is active and strong and fueled by passion around holistic education which, as it turns out, means different things to different people.  The energies parents bring to the school are often positive and productive, but as with any concerted effort, we have bumps along the way.

Last week’s meeting was no exception but I’ll tell you this:  breathing and swaying my arms alongside dozens of people who had not convened for this purpose, was a surprisingly powerful experience.  For those few minutes, we were unified:  not just in our hopes for our children’s education, but in our own bodies and minds.  A frequent tagline for holistic education is that it embraces the head, heart, hands and spirit equally, but as parents we still often operate primarily in our minds, especially at meetings.  It was a beautiful thing, if fleeting, to move into our hearts for a change, and to do it together.

My heart health could be improved by more exercise and a better diet, but I’ve got some momentum in those areas, and these things can’t alone create holistic heart health.  Last week’s school council meeting reminded me that what my heart might need most is greater openness and softness, through the mindful practices that keep us grounded and patient and present.  I could cite evidence of the benefits of mindfulness and meditation on heart health, but for now I’d rather focus on how it feels.  Simply, my heart liked it, and so I resolve to give her more.