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What Have you been up to?
Recently, a friend (and colleague) came to visit who I hadn’t seen in about 6 months. We work together each summer at the wilderness canoe tripping camp I own and direct (with my husband) in northern Ontario. My friend Eric leads young people on the same canoe trips I did (to remote rivers emptying into the arctic ocean) many years ago. We sat together one evening and he casually asked what I had been up to. I hemmed and hawed and searched for something (anything) that sounded remotely impressive, adventurous or ‘out of the ordinary’. I came up with not much so deflected with “Let me think about that, but in the mean time, how about you?” He began to report on the comings and goings of his late-20s life. I listened to him speak about his travels to the Northwest Territories, his musical endeavors with a start-up blues band, his brushes with fame in the documentary film industry. At the end of his update I responded with a comparatively lame “Oh, I did go to the Dominican Republic for a long weekend with some friends.”
“Yeah? Cool. How was that?”
“It was fun! We laughed a lot, relaxed, did some crossword puzzles…” I trailed off, self-consciously.
Ultimately, we had a great visit. We shared some wonderful meals and time together. He played with my children – two teenage boys and a 9-year-old girl, completed work on a promotional film he was working on for a local Waldorf School, and headed back to his life in Toronto. After he left I experienced a nagging, frustrated feeling I couldn’t quite make sense of. As I was out walking in the woods that same afternoon, I began to collect my thoughts and try to bring clarity to my emotions – they all seemed to amass around my inability to articulate what I had actually been up to.
What have I been up to? Well…
I’ve been having difficult but important conversations with my children about racism – in the world, in our community and our family.
I’ve been having recurring, uncomfortable (but vital) discussions with my sons about sex, pornography and the internet.
I’ve been reading books aloud, watching movies, playing air-guitar, lip-synching to Bohemian Rhapsody, watching trampoline tricks and searching for signs of fairies in our woods.
I’ve been having weeknight, family dinners while exploring concepts of religion – which have lead to (frightening but important) discussions about tolerance, politics and terrorism.
In and amongst these conversations I have been driving my children places – to and from practice, to and from lessons, to and from games, to and from performances, to and from defeat, to and from victory, to and from friendship, to and from heartbreak. All the while listening, comforting, empathizing, arguing, supporting.
I’ve been burning cookies and baking banana bread. Packing a variety of mostly healthy foods (I hope will be eaten) in school lunch boxes. Conjuring meals with limited time and scouring the internet for recipes containing the random ingredients in my refrigerator before a weekly grocery shop.
I’ve been grocery shopping.
I’ve been spooning away nightmares and an alarm clock that sings.
I’ve been trying to make the right decisions about giving my children responsibilities at home. Their schedules are demanding and require both physical and mental dedication (almost) every day of the week. I find balancing their free time and play with household responsibilities difficult. I often compensate for their need to unwind.
I’ve been trying not to feel resentful.
I’ve been working to keep my marriage intact and my relationship with my spouse healthy. I am not giving it as much attention as it deserves and know that I should give it more.
I’ve been trying to remember to water my plants, feed the birds, walk the dog and I’ve been concerned about my daughter’s one surviving fish.
I’ve been encouraging my children to take risks, step outside their comfort zones, make decisions independently and be accountable for their actions.
I’ve been pretending not to worry about them when they are out with friends.
I’ve been cleaning, dusting, vacuuming and doing laundry, but probably not as much as I should.
I’ve been thinking about the conversation I will be having with my daughter very soon—about puberty, her sexuality, sensuality and power. I find the right words and toss them around in my head in a way I think she will best understand and embrace them.
I’ve been making time for myself when I need it—exercising, being outdoors, making music and creating opportunities to gather with friends and family.
In a nut-shell, I’ve been dedicated to raising informed, empowered, healthy, compassionate, resilient children in a beautiful, ugly world that I care deeply about.
This is what I’ve been up to. This is my adventure. This is my ‘out of the ordinary’. It challenges me and makes me weary to the bone. It feeds me and fills me with hope. Some days are easier than others, but most days, I feel like I showed up and did the best I could.
In some ways, my expedition in parenting is similar to leading a canoe trip in the far north with a group of young people. The wilderness is unpredictable, the landscape always changing and facilitating a group with the perfect balance of empowerment and support is the key to success.
This is how I know that despite me not articulating it, intuitively, Eric gets it.
Walking that wooded trail, I begin to realize how fiercely committed I am to staying my course. I will be present in my life and the lives of my children. I will do what I can to raise young people who see the world for what it is and are not fearful to live whole-heartedly within it.
To every Mother, Father and Caregiver out there who is doing the very best they can to raise children with intention, I salute you. I ‘like’ you. I acknowledge the work you do every day and your conscious approach to doing it. Thank you for making the world more beautiful by guiding your children into it with grace and integrity.
-Jodi Browning, Owner/Director