Being a teacher and spending my days with young children has taught me to embrace living in an imperfect world. The lives of children are often messy and complicated, but that messiness is usually short-lived and turns into joy and exuberance more quickly than we adults anticipate. I am always amazed watching children make mistakes as they are learning or as they are navigating the social world of the playground because I am also witnessing them build resilience and their inner strength, which I know they will carry into their adult lives. Watching them build their resiliency or come to accept when their ideas don’t work out as planned makes me remember it’s okay to exist in a place that isn’t always neat and tidy, where it’s okay to fail because we often learn more from our failures than we do from our successes.
We love the way that Brandon Stanton, the creator of Humans of New York, can create a biographical moment in one image, sometimes with as little as one sentence. HONY began as a catalogue of the people of New York. It became an internet success (nearly 10 million followers) and now Brandon is travelling the world with the UN, telling stories from developing nations and nations in conflict.
Inspired by HONY and its piercing brevity, we wanted to pay tribute to some of the teachers in our kids’ lives and ask them about their work.
Stay tuned as 4Mothers1Blog puts the spotlight on teachers for our back to school theme week.
Last week, with intentions to squeeze every last bit of summer fun out of what remained of the summer days, Carol, Nathalie and I took our boys to explore no. 9’s Eco-Art Fest.
Just off Pottery Road in the Don Valley, is a tucked-away enclave sheltered by a canopy of trees where art and green collide. Andrew Davies, Executive Director, is a man with a vision. Having spent years in New York City working for the Museum of Modern Art in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Davies became enamoured with the emerging art scene that seemed to couple art and social consciousness so seamlessly. Upon his return to Toronto, he learned about the Evergreen Brick Works, at that time in its planning stages, and envisioned a place where art and the environment could not only flourish but also serve to inspire people to live more sustainable lives.
Drawing on his extensive art and architecture background Davies went on to found no. 9. It is an arts organization that uses art and design to bring awareness to environmental concerns through school and community based programs. Earlier this summer when I explored the Brick Works with my boys we were able to view My Sustainable City, a collaboration between no.9 and the Toronto District School Board that is on exhibit at Brick Works until September 23.
Davies and his staff of artisans offer daily programs for children. Our boys got their hands dirty throwing clay and enjoyed a water colour painting workshop where they learned about endangered animals and just how interrelated the creatures in our environment really is. We ended our morning activities with a guided tour of the various outdoor art installations by celebrated artists Dean Baldwin, Nicole Dextras, John Dickson, Sean Martindale, Ferruccio Sardella, Penelope Stewart, John Loerchner and Laura Mendes.
It was an enriching opportunity to learn how art is not just paint, paper and brush strokes. Art can be just as much about aesthetic and expression as a social message. In particular my boys enjoyed Sean Martindale’s installation of the word HISTORIES created from the earth, and depending on perspective history could be rising up from the ground or buried.
Saturday nights offer live music after 5 pm, delicious artisanal charcuterie boards that are works of art in themselves, and organic beer and wine all under the lights of Helliwell’s.
Nearly four hours passed before I looked at my watch. The green space combined with the art, and the easy-going, light-hearted atmosphere was enough to make me forget that I was in the city, less than a few minutes drive to the centre and its hustle and bustle. It was four hours of appreciating art in many forms, learning about our environment and most importantly connecting with each other.
Time is running out to experience the wonder of Eco-Art-Fest this summer. The festival ends on September 21 but will return next year. To learn more or to register for the activities and tours please visit Eco-Art-Fest.
Please head over to Toronto Mom Now and check out the other nominees. Lots of great reading out there!
We love what we do, and we are so grateful that one of you nominated us for this award. (We’d love to thank you in person if you’d like to send us an email!)
Please check out the blogs on the list, and vote for your favourite three. Voting closes on Monday, July 14.
I hosted a Mad Mums’ Martini afternoon for some other half-day Kindergarten kids and mums. This is the aftermath:
Note that the jello salad is almost all there, the spam is untouched and the vodka … well, not untouched.
One of us wore pearls and heels. One of us wore a twin set. One of us wore one of 200 dresses in her closet from the fifties.
All of us had fun.
Because sometimes in this crazy journey we call motherhood, we have to make a detour for the carnival.
There’s something I’ve noticed about the way I occasionally think about and judge myself as a parent. I love structure and order and discipline, and for the most part, I stand by the parenting decisions that fall under that category of order and predictability. Sometimes, though, sometimes the further outside of my comfort zone I stray, the more unlike my usual self I am, the more I feel that I deserve some kind of a parenting gold star. It’s as if by not being myself, I am being a better self. The hard work of keeping life on schedule and enforcing rules of civility actually feels pretty effortless to me. It’s allowing the rules and the schedule to relax that feels like hard work. To be honest, sometimes fun feels like hard work, and that’s when I most doubt the parenting path I have chosen.
I let the kids splash in rain puddles, I give myself a pat on the back for not freaking out about the mess (while secretly freaking out about the mess).
I say “yes” to letting the kids dog-sit, professing a kind of generosity of spirit while feeling anything but generous.
I let them stay up late to watch the hockey game, and for most of every minute past bedtime, I’m on edge, but I congratulate myself for being able to let fandom prevail over clock-watching.
More troubling, I herd my children home from the park for bath and bed and watch other parents letting their little ones stay up later and get dirtier than my kids (ie. letting them have more fun) and I wonder if they are doing it better. Do those Other Mothers have more gold stars? Are the mothers who say “no” less often better in some essential, incontrovertible way?
Fruitless feeding of the mommy guilt machine. It’s the dark side of empathy: moving so much outside of yourself that you begin to question that self and all it holds dear.
The really refreshing thing about reading many of the essays in The M Word: Conversations about Motherhood, was that I could really immerse myself in other ways, in others’ ways of being and simply enjoy that otherness without thinking, “I have to be more like that.” It was glorious to look into that kaleidoscope and feel as much myself as ever; it was wonderful to look at difference without feeling the need to be different.
Carrie Snyder’s wonderful essay about reveling in being a mother of four did not make me feel like I had to have a fourth in order to keep up. I simply enjoyed her telling of her tale of motherhood.
Heidi Reimer’s essay about adopting her infant niece made my heart fill with joy that there are such generous and daring people in the world, people who can let love into their lives, and make it multiply, in spite of the enormous emotional risk.
But I was most affected by the essays by women who are not mothers, by choice. It’s dangerous territory, walking with the happily child-free. It’s not like I, a mother of three, could ever go there. Would they make it sound too appealing? Would their profession of their child-free bliss, their certainty, open some part of me to gnawing jealousy or doubt? Would my hard-earned share of parental satisfaction be diminished by opening myself to their stories?
Not in the least. As certain as they are about being childless, I am certain that motherhood, and the way I am practicing it, is exactly the right choice for me. It was the best kind of exercise in empathy. It was a chance to have a privileged perspective on another way of being without feeling in the least bit diminished by it. On the contrary, I felt enlarged by reading these essays, I felt certain about my own choices without the least trace of smugness or self-righteousness.
Sometimes what defines us is what we are not. Sometimes that’s a tricky thing to negotiate. In this collection of essays about motherhood, in all its manifestations, nothing felt tricky. None of the stories about what I am not made me think less of myself. Some of the essays were difficult to read because they tackled difficult topics, but they did what good art does: it moves you, it purifies and purges the emotions and offers renewal and restoration.
Our guest post this week is written by Farah Allen, the founder of Mellowed Mums in Burlington, Ontario.
This is the story of how and why she founded her mother’s group.
What is it about this day and age, where we are most connected with our phones, ipads, social media groups and twitter, that we feel so disconnected? Where is our sense of community? Who is our community?
These were the questions I was asking myself everyday when we packed up our family of 6 and moved from Toronto to… the burbs. My community has always been my working colleagues, my friends and family. But as a mom on maternity leave and living in a new city, who is my community now?
My kids are too young to be in school where you meet other parents that you connect with, my friends are in Toronto are going for walks in the Beach or having coffee on College St., and my hubby is working. So where does that leave me? Isolated? Trapped?
Too often I have spoken with other moms and they tell a sad story of how lonely and frustrating their year of maternity leave really was, and even more so after their second child is born. Having a new baby and a toddler is really hard. Trying to get out of the house can be an epic battle some days and more often than not it just doesn’t feel worth the effort. It is sooo much easier to just stay home. But as days of staying home turn into weeks and then (gasp) a month…you start to lose a part of yourself. For me it was my mind! I wasn’t the same person. I wasn’t fulfilled. If I can be honest, I wasn’t happy.
What was I missing? What was I craving?
The time had come to make friends and build the community I wanted for myself and my family. Making friends sounds so grade school, something you did on the playground as a child and not something you do as an adult, not as a mother of 4. Or was it? I have always worked and had an active social life, but now being at home with a couple of toddlers and newborn twins while learning how to live in a new city it was time to brush off these “making friends” skills and put them to work.
I started a meetup group called Mellowed Mums using the meet up web tool. The intro I wrote in the about us section reads like this:
Like many of the finer things in life… we mellow with age.
The same goes for motherhood. Whether you have 1,2,3 or more children in your life, your mummy style changes with every child, adapting to their different needs and personalities. This is a group for moms who have multiple kids with multiple interests. Or one kid with multiple interests…
I have had one too many playdates for my 8 month old, only to have my 3 year old bored to tears (and then I`m in tears). Let`s get together to find local activities that appeal to the varied ages of our kids. Burlington is an awesome city with family focused events that we can enjoy together that are fun and economical. Or if you need a night or afternoon away from your kids – we can do that too!
I am still surprised at the response. In under 6 months we are now 128 Mellowed Mums strong and growing every week with over 130 meetups under our belt. We do all kinds of things: taking trips with the family to the local farmers’ markets, exploring our local parks, going for walks, going for drinks (without the kids of course), organizing book clubs, wine clubs, attending kite festivals, Canada day parties, pajama and movie days, St Patrick day crafts at someone’s home… and the list goes on and on.
The response to my group tells me I am not alone, there are hundreds of other moms out there searching to fill a void, to find their community, to make friends.
I can honestly say that those lonely days are long gone… I continue to build my community, explore my new city with new friends and along the way I am finding pieces of myself around every corner. So for any of you out there… moms or dads… who are feeling isolated and don’t know how you are going to stand another day stuck…check to see if there is a meet up group in your community… or start your own – I think you’ll love it!
This week at 4Mothers we are participating in a blog hop about why and how we write. We were invited to participate by Kristina Cerise at Defining Motherhood, whose blog is one of my all-time favourites. I love the combination of the polished and provisional in her posts: she begins with just a word, and it’s a word that could take her anywhere, and I’m always curious to see where her essay will go.
I feel like I have a bit of a split personality in answering these questions. I do two kinds of writing: this blog, which is fun and effortless, and essays, which take a lot more out of me and are, therefore, often left to languish.
I write essays about motherhood because reading essays about motherhood saved my sanity. For two years after having my second son, I was unable to read for pleasure. I was still teaching university English, and at the end of the day, I was just too tired. It felt like grief. Then I read Rachel Cusk’s A Life’s Work, and it was so filled with exactly the right phrases for so much of my joy and trouble as a new mother. I wanted to make sense of that joy and trouble with my own words. I get enormous and indescribable joy from reading. Writing is … less joyful. What I’m aiming for is the sense of satisfaction of having worked something out. I’d like one day to achieve the sense that what I write is as important to me as what others write. I’d still much rather read than write, not having reached the point of believing that what I can write could make a reader as happy as I’ve been made by others’ words on the page.
I write a blog about being a mother because I love the community it makes. I love the women I write with, and I love that it’s introduced me to so many other women to admire. I learn a lot from this community.
How is my writing different from others in my genre?
What am I working on/writing?
In addition to this blog, I’m also working on a collection of essays about how becoming a mother brings us back to childhood, in good and bad ways.
How does my writing process work?
When I’m writing an essay, I begin with just the kernel of an idea, an image or a phrase. This was true of my university papers, of my doctoral thesis and of the essays I write now. The main idea is always the last thing to appear. It’s counter-intuitive, but my thesis is always the last thing I write. (This is not advice I would ever give to my students.) When the paper comes together in the final stages, it feels like magic, and I have to make myself believe that the magic will work every time I set out to do it. I begin with an enormous amount of procrastination and doubt and work towards faith and a final product.
Kristina Cerise, author of one of our favourite blogs Defining Motherhood and previous guest poster, has invited us to participate in a blog hop asking bloggers why we write. This theme is right up our alley; as some of you may know, the 4 mothers of 4Mothers met in a memoir writing class about motherhood, and writing has been in our lives in one way or another for quite some time.
So we are more than ready to jump in and join this blog hop, we’ll be sharing this week the ins and outs of why and how we write. We’ve been offered the following questions as a framework:
Why do I write what I do?
How is my writing different from others in my genre?
What am I working on/writing?
How does my writing process work?
Which means, quite possibly, that some people consider blog writing a genre, which I think I’ll go off and ponder for a bit.
We’d also like to introduce the bloggers who accepted our invitation to continue this blog hop and keep the conversation going. Without further ado, please meet:
Jhanis, self-described “grunge mom” of The Vanilla Housewife, blogging from all the way over in Cebu, Philippines. Jhanis writes about mothering and life in general, which special attention paid to the vital nerve centre of the home, also known as the kitchen. If you’re looking for fun, varied musings as well as some great recipes, it’s time to pay this blog a visit.
From the Philippines to Australia: one of the wonderful things about writing on-line is discovering just how small the world is. Our next blog hopper, Pip Marks, writes about environmental and social sustainability. I particularly enjoyed this post about walls and fences in Australia. It was lovely to see the dry stone walls from my Yorkshire childhood appear in photos from Australia. Like I said, small world.
Hop over and check them out!
In the spirit of the holiday, we decided to write briefly today about acts of kindness we have been meaning to perform, and have
recently finally performed. If, as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, we took a few steps heavenwards this week by following through on our good intentions. We met in January to discuss our editorial calendar for the next few months, and thought that planning this post would put into motion all of our good intentions when it comes to committing random acts of kindness. Resolutions met! Here are some other wonderful stories of random acts of kindness.
For two years I’ve been carrying around a bookmark from The Children’s Book Bank, a charity close to my heart, but, apparently, not close to the top of my to do list, because for those same two years I’ve had bags of books waiting, waiting, waiting to be taken to them. The Children’s Book Bank collects and distributes gently used children’s books and distributes them free of charge to children who might not otherwise have a chance to own their own books. Today, they are getting a few dozen more to distribute.
Since Valentine’s Day also happens to be International Book Giving Day, won’t you please join me in hauling a bag of books to your local book bank, school, shelter or charity? It will make my terrible procrastination feel a bit less weighty if I know I have at least added to my haul by encouraging others to give, too!
I find the term “random of acts of kindness” difficult to define. Buying an unsuspecting person a cup of coffee is both random and kind and not to mention surprising for the recipient. I am sure that the receiver goes about their day with an extra spring in their step, not from the caffeine but from the generosity of a stranger.
But in my books most random acts of kindness fall squarely in the “be a good human” column and sadly, being the receiver of a “good human act” is often just as random, kind and surprising as someone buying you a cup of coffee.
Being a kind human isn’t that difficult. It’s the little things: shoveling a neighbour’s walk, bringing in your neighbour’s trash bins, sending an out-of-the-blue email to a friend letting them know how fabulous you think they are or waving a polite thank you when someone gives you the right-of-way. These are the things that make people feel appreciated and feeling good is contagious.
In the midst of the polar vortex, with the sidewalk slick with inches-thick ice, I happened upon an elderly woman pushing her grocery buggy tentatively on the sidewalk, using the handle for balance. I pulled my car to the side, much to the confusion of my son, and rushed to the woman’s side. Together we navigated the buggy to a stretch of cleared sidewalk where it was safe for her to make her way home.
The woman was shocked that I had stopped my car to help her and her thank you was so genuine, it reminded me of the weight those words can carry. However, it was what she said next that filled me with a deep sense of gratitude: God bless you!
I am not an overly religious person, but it was the way she said those words, with such feeling and authenticity that made me feel worthy, appreciated and valued.
I’m into honesty (maybe a bit too much), so I’ll tell you that I googled “random acts of kindness” when 4Mothers decided to write about it. At first I considered this a testimony to how lost the art of kindness may be, that I needed to “research” examples. As it turns out though, most suggestions for performing random acts of kindness is just a long way of saying “good”.
To put a little extra intention into “good”, I took into account the distinction of today, and tried to think of who might benefit from a good valentine but wouldn’t ordinarily receive one from me. Two people came to mind: a friend whose husband has gone overseas to say goodbye to his ailing sister, and a friend whose long-term relationship is ending and for whom the day will not be especially celebratory.
With the help of my oldest son, I made a three-layer peppermint bark (not nearly as well as the first time I tried it, I might add), but with enough heart that I hope it’s decent enough to be given away. I have no idea whether this sugar treat will be eaten by the intended recipients, although their children may enjoy them well enough. But it almost doesn’t matter; in truth, it’s me who needs to give them something, and whatever its contents, I hope the package tells them that someone is holding them in their thoughts.
It’s this that makes me wonder whether an act of kindness can ever really be random. What creates the kindness is the intention behind it, whether it’s long pre-meditated or spontaneous. It’s the difference between good luck (also nice) and a good turn.
And the icing on the peppermint bark is realizing consciously and joyfully how much kindness is sent my way, be it an unexpected card in the mail, the woman at the restaurant who commented on how well-behaved my boys were (true story), the pediatrician who cast no impatient glances when those same boys crawled all over her office and my youngest threw a slipper at (and hit) her, and the driver who didn’t honk even though I probably shouldn’t have made that turn.
With this in mind, we wish you lovely valentine vibrations that we hope will carry you through the day and well beyond. Happy Valentine’s Day!