Spontaneity

Like most other families, when I was a kid our family had its own particular rhythm. While our household wasn’t highly regimented, certain things like mealtimes, bedtimes, school, extra-curricular activities, and general guidelines for acceptable behavior and kid-endeavors remained constant.

While my brother and I often complained about our early seven pm bedtime and the fact that our parents were sticklers about us going to school and doing our homework earlier in the day rather than later before bed, we did it more out of habit than real dissatisfaction. We knew what each day would bring in terms of what to expect and what it would require of us. The boundaries that formed the perimeter of our world were firmly established, making us clear on the limits that we could push against. Ultimately, we knew that someone else was in control of the bigger picture, leaving us free to focus on having fun and discover the world and ourselves.

And so, on days when our father would declare that the regular rules didn’t apply, my brother and I were ecstatic. On these days, which would come without notice and for no discernible reason, he would take us on an adventure that lay outside of our preconceived notions of what was acceptable or possible.

Sometimes, it meant going to the biscuitariam. Unknown to residents outside of Montreal, these are stores that only sell cookies. From floor to ceiling, cookies line the walls in vats from which you can fill your bag in any mixture and quantity that your heart and appetite can image. Being given permission to go wild in these stores was like having an amplified Halloween dropped unexpectedly in our laps.

Other times, it meant going to a museum, out to lunch at an exotic restaurant whose food we didn’t even know existed, or going on a kid-friendly road trip down to the States for a shopping expedition or simply to taste some blueberry pie at a mom and pop roadside dinner that my dad had heard was out of this world.

As we grew up, the nature of these expeditions changed to incorporate our own dreams and secret desires. And, while they occurred less frequently with larger intervals between expeditions, their importance never diminished.

An adult, the memory of these childhood and young adult flights of fancy in which our father was both initiator and co-conspirator has taken on a larger significance. Not only did they allow us to explore our interests that lay outside of the prescribed educational curriculum and expose us to a variety of different and usual experiences, but they taught us the value of following our own curiosity and that, occasionally, breaking free of society’s established rules of conduct can be rewarding, allowing us to find hidden treasures in the ordinary.

As a parent, I find myself trying to find this same joy in exploring the known. And, as I discover the world with my son I find that with the gift of his vantage point, I too am learning to see things that I know so intimately that they are rote from a new angle. As my son grows and our escapades evolve to include things that I have never even thought of, it is my hope that he too will come to absorb the maxim that adventure is always just around the corner – it’s all a matter of perspective.

A work in progress

The part of me that I hate the most is my temper. Arising quickly, seemingly as if out of thin air, it resembles the summer storms of my hometown: the sky darkens, electricity gathers, lightening strikes, and the heavens open up to a torrential downpour. Within minutes, the storm passes through leaving a clearing or, sometimes, a hot uncomfortable residue of oppressive air in which it’s hard to take the next step or think clearly. Paradoxically, my display of temper is often followed by anger directed inward or shame for allowing myself to express the full force of my feelings in such an unproductive way.

Having recently had an interaction in which my temper made itself known, upon thinking about how the scenario unfolded, aside from wishing that I had kept a cooler head and having to think about how I’ll do some damage control, I’m suddenly reminded of my dad who likes to say that “every man has his Garibaldi” noting that my temper is certainly mine.  In the same moment, I remind myself that life is a practice and a journey in which we take each step with the ultimate hope of becoming a better version of ourselves.

As I reflect on this, I think about my son who has his own Garibaldis to climb. And I remember how, at an early age, I explained to him that we all have a black dog and a white dog that live inside of us and that at any moment of any given day, we have the singular choice to choose which dog to feed, knowing that the one that’s fed will ultimately grow stronger, potentially creating a situation where an untamed dark side can come to control us in ways that don’t serve our higher selves.

In the end, it’s my hope that as my son develops, he will practice feeding his white dog more regularly than his dark one, even when temptation exists, learning to make choices that serve him in the long run. And that when he invariably gives in to his darker impulses, he’ll  remember that, like all interesting journeys, life’s trajectory is not direct but involves twists and turns and ebbs and flows that sometimes make you feel as if you are making progress while at others as if backsliding into an uncomfortable but familiar abyss.  Throughout the process, however, I hope that he treats himself with compassion for his flaws, is kind to himself, and that he accepts his human frailty while learning from it to create a narrative in which he can momentarily fail and still see himself as lovable to himself and others.

Chocolate chip banana bread

This banana bread is the best! The recipe makes three loaves all of which can be easily frozen. This has been a staple of my son’s lunches for five years and I have yet to meet a child who does not ask for “just one more piece please”.

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 500 mls sour cream
  • 2 tsps baking soda
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 5 black bananas
  • 3-4 tablespoons vanilla
  • 2 cups chocolate chips or raisins

Instructions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Beat eggs, sugar and oil together. Add bananas and vanilla. Once completely combined, add in dry ingredients (except chocolate chips) and beat until perfectly blended. Add sour cream and beat until blended. Add chocolate chips. Divide into three well greased pans and bake for 1 hour or until center is cooked.

For those of you who would like a “healthier version”, use raisins instead of chocolate chips. Cinnamon is a great addition to this version.

Alternatively, for those who have picky eaters, you can add protein powder to the mix and no one will be the wiser. This is especially true if you use a vanilla flavored organic protein powder.

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The best banana bread ever!

 

Sparkle

When my son was born, like most parents, I was presented with the most perfect gift – a healthy, peaceful, miniature bundle of happiness that filled me with a warmth and satisfaction that I could not have hitherto imagined existed on this planet. In my son’s first few months, people would often comment to me on his beauty and his easy-going nature – quickly followed up with a comment of ‘but it will change’.

Put on notice by the general public, I waited for the fussiness and orneriness commonly associated with babies and toddlers to kick in. But, aside from the odd display of defiant willfulness, it didn’t. My son radiated happiness, contentment, and a joy in being present and in the world.

From the moment that he learned to do the royal wave at the age of nine months, within moments of meeting a stranger’s eyes he was able to captivate their attention and capture their heart. He was safe and secure in his world. In other words, he was a kid who didn’t yet know that the world isn’t going to love him.

As my son grew, his talent for commanding a room swelled. With a simple display of his irresistible smile, he would easily become the central focus, generating good will and inspiring feelings of love and generosity. Upon reflecting on this phenomenon that seemed to me nothing less than miraculous, I realized that, quite simply, my son sparkles.

When I tentatively asked my cousin if she had ever noticed how some people sparkle more than others, she told me a story about how her mother, a social worker who worked with kids that had behavioral problems, used to bring her to work with her when she was a child. One time, observing the kids that her mom was working with, she noticed that while most of the kids were obviously damaged in some way, she could never figure out what was ‘wrong’ with Anna. When she asked her mother, her mother explained that there was nothing actually wrong with Anna, it was just that she had such a life force that her family, so unimaginative and staid, couldn’t relate to her and so had sent her in to social services to be ‘fixed’.

As a parent, this story resonated with me since I find myself constantly on guard against the inner voice that occasionally tries to tame my son’s spirit, threatening to teach him that you could be great, if only you were different: less than, more of, other than whom you are. Instead of this lesson, I want my son, as he grows and develops, to incorporate the fact that he is entitled to love, just the way he is, warts and all, into the very fabric of his being.

Often, I find that my greatest challenge is to prolong the illusion that he is perfect just being who he is while creating the conditions that will clear the obstacles impeding him from becoming the person that I know he can be without dimming the light that makes him shine. And so, between the battles of what to eat, how much to eat, when he has to go to bed, and what activities and behavior are acceptable, I am constantly reminded that my greatest role as a parent is not to dictate and micromanage, but to stand back and create the conditions that will allow my son to evolve into the person that he is meant to be without diminishing the light that attracts the world to him.

Happiness

For years, I was involved in a bad relationship. It’s not that the man I was involved with was a bad person or ill intentioned. In fact, he had a lot of great qualities. Nevertheless, being with him felt off, a slight but constant irritant that eventually became an abrasion as if sandpaper were rubbing against my soul.

Once we parted ways, I realized that not only had I become the worst version of myself, but I had started to protect myself against his fear and negativity by putting up walls that eventually turned into fortresses against which nothing could permeate. For a long time, nothing touched me – not pain, not pleasure. It was as if I existed in an emotional wasteland where reactions beyond a narrow range were frozen in ice – I could see the emotions in others, and even identify them by name but could no longer feel them myself.

As I emerged from my turtle’s shell, it was as if I were watching the icy barrier around the world slowly thaw and the innate beauty of my surroundings come back to life as they shimmered with vibrant colors, textures, and emotions. And while I often found myself tearful or veclempt for no obvious reason other than something mundane touching my heart or a feeling of general gratitude overwhelming me, one day I woke up to the sure knowledge that I was happy. The world was once again a sparkling and welcoming place in which I could dance.

Reflecting on the notion of happiness, I realized that happiness is not about always having a smile on your face, being positive, or even laughing with joy. Instead, happiness is a more encompassing state defined by being fully present in each moment, open and vulnerable to whatever arises without judgment, withdrawal or self-condemnation. Ultimately, happiness is the acceptance of what is and the freedom to feel any and all emotion that arises while holding the intention to feel good high in your heart. For it is in the fullest experience of emotions coupled with complete acceptance of what is that the richness of the universe presents itself, the miracle of life can be felt, and you can take the next step on your journey with grace and ease.

As a parent, what I hope to pass on to my son is the knowledge that while no one can make him happy, surrounding himself on an ongoing basis with those who have a negative perspective or who operate from a place of fear can whitewash the color from his life and lower his own vibrations. By nurturing the seeds from which happiness can thrive I hope to help him develop a nature that is positive in orientation and open to the richness and complexity that a full life provides so that when encountering adversity or negativity, instead of buckling inwards, he can hold true to his innate self, retain his vulnerability, and remember to surrender to and rely on his own happy nature.