Category Archives: Arlene Somerton Smith

Lawns, mothers, children and rough Mother’s Days

Two lawns: Which do you prefer?
It looks like one is in sun and the other in shadow, but they both lie in unobstructed sunlight.

It was Mother’s Day on Sunday in North America, and on my walk yesterday I ruminated over the dark side of the day that I kept bumping up against over the weekend.

  • The father of young children whose mother died too soon. Her young boys braced for a Mother’s Day where the empty space where her unconditional love used to be loomed large.
  • A mother estranged from her teenagers due to a difficult family break-up.
  • A note from an acquaintance on social media to “everyone, but especially to those who never got the mother they deserved. Today can be a rough day, but I’m here with you. I see you.”

As I walked ideas bounced around my brain, but when I arrived at those two very different side-by-side lawns, it led my thoughts to perfectionism and unconditional love (freely given, withheld or ripped away). 

Mothers

The lawn at the bottom of the picture is Perfect Mother as we all want to be: an unblemished Plato Ideal.

But the lawn at the top is the mother we really are: messy, rutted, and weed-filled.

I imagine that the carefree state of the lawn at the top drives the owner of the dark green manicured lawn crazy, its imperfections judged and remarked upon. Every mother knows what it is to be judged. Too lenient, too strict, too involved, too arm’s length, too busy working, too much at home, too preoccupied with appearance, too slovenly . . . too, too, too . . .

We are human beings that make mistakes. We lose our tempers. We’re tired. We can never live up to the many variations of Ideal Perfect Mother, and our children are the first to home in on our failings and foibles.

If we’re lucky, our children grow to understand and accept our imperfections and love us unconditionally, but that’s not always the case.

Children

The lawn at the bottom is Perfect Child: the unblemished Plato Ideal.

But the lawn at the top is children as they really are: messy, rutted, and weed-filled.

Parents usually come to the task of parenting with the misguided belief that their children will grow into miniature versions of themselves who will follow the paths laid out for them. Surprise! Children are singular and self-directed and not at all what we expect. 

They are human beings that make mistakes. They’re figuring out who they are and trying to find a way to love whatever that is. They can never live up to the many variations of Perfect Child, and parents are the first to home in on their failings and foibles.

The most important thing parents can do is love their children unconditionally as imperfect as they are, but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes it happens, but the parent is taken away too soon. 

A rough day

Messages all around us on Mother’s Day portray the Perfect Mother and Child ideal. One could easily be mislead into believing that every family situation is unblemished and shiny like that manicured lawn, instead of complicated, sometimes painful, and ever-evolving.

On my walk, the first lawn struck me as falsely green, drugged into submission and more concerned with appearances than authenticity. I preferred the messy lawn. No pretense, no trying too hard, and no plastering over imperfections.

I enjoyed a wonderful Mother’s Day weekend, I hope you did too. But if you had a rough day, it’s okay and ever-evolving. 

My own lawn: Cared for, a little clover mixed in, and no shortage of weeds.

 

 

 

 

 

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Kids know: Sharing and including is way more fun

A surprising lesson from a kids game:

I played musical chairs with my Sunday school kids in two ways. First the traditional version with chairs numbering one less than the players participating arranged, music played, and when the music stopped the children scrambled to claim a chair. One sad-faced child did not find a seat and skulked away, excluded to watch forlornly while the other children played. One more chair removed, and so on.

For the second version, we started out with one less chair at the beginning, same as always, and we removed one chair on each round, same as always. The difference was no child was ever eliminated or excluded. When the music stopped, the children found chairs BUT everyone had to have a place, even if it meant sharing.

What warmed my heart more than anything? The kids shared their chairs even when they didn’t have to.

They didn’t evenly distribute themselves to claim space and only share when there were no more empty chairs. We removed one chair per round and when the music stopped there would be two or three left over. Kids reached out to take other kids by the hand to say, “Sit with me.” They were smiling and laughing and hugging. It was wonderful.

Including everyone was happier than excluding and rejecting. Sharing was more satisfying than staking out space alone.

The first time the kids played they did as they were told and followed the rules of the game. They didn’t question the dog-eat-dog nature of the game. The second time they also followed rules, but they were better thought-out rules, and it was way more fun. Inclusion is important in our affirming church. The kids lived that intuitively when playing a game.

How often do we follow dog-eat-dog rules without question when we could easily change the rules to a much more fun, satisfying option?

We must be careful and mindful of the rules we teach our children. What an awesome responsibility.

Time . . . because will you see the next sunset?

We have an art gallery in our church. A recent display featured the work of Leonard Minni, an artist who lived in Rwanda before during and after the 1994 genocide.

He visited our congregation to tell us about the theme for his exhibition: Time.

The crowd listened in awed silence as he told us that many of his pieces involve sunsets, because when he watched the sun set during the trauma in 1994 he wondered if he would live to see the sun rise, and would he live to see another sunset?

The art of Leonard Minni

One never knows what life holds.

Savour moments as precious. Soak up those sunsets. Be mindful with your Time. 

My family in an Anna Maria Island FL sunset

 

 

 

Phases of our lives that happen to someone else

Our car pulled up at the end of the long rural driveway that leads to the farm I lived on for the first sixteen years of my life. As I looked over the property, the nooks and crannies of the place felt both intimately familiar to the marrow of my bones and foreign at the same time. I can’t believe I used to live there. That feels like it happened to someone else, I thought. As those unspoken thoughts ran through my head, my mother said out loud, “I can’t believe I lived there for 24 years.”

With my dad on the farm.

That was on Easter weekend when we drove the hour up Highway 417 to visit my mother. On our way back from our lunch together, we did what people used to do as a form of entertainment: We went “for a drive.”

We drove by my old high school. Memories, fresh and distant at the same time, popped around my head. In high school I was a shy girl who followed every rule and never challenged authority. That girl is so different from me now she feels like a different person. (The one time I got kicked out of class was when I rolled my eyes at a history teacher for showing yet another film instead of actually teaching us something.)

1980s hair

We stopped at the corner of that rural road  beside the former one-room schoolhouse where my mother used to teach. I missed attending that school by one year. It was still open when I was five, but there was no kindergarten in our area at the time. That school closed and I started Grade 1 “in town.” I remember the building as a school and my own start at education, but it’s so long ago and far away and different that it feels like it happened to someone else.

The old one-room schoolhouse where my mother came to teach. That’s how she met my father.

The trip triggered memories of other phases of my life: university years, when the things I did had to have been done by a different person; the early working years, when I managed to have a lot of fun with no money; and the thrilling exhaustion of new motherhood, a time that turned me into a different person more than anything else could have ever do.

Statistically I have thirty or forty years ahead of me.That’s a lot of room for new phases for me (the one that I am in any given moment) to live to the fullest, and for me (the future me) to look back on someday.

What will those phases will be? I can’t wait to find out. 

 

The love in a name

The newel knob of our banister is a catch-all for items of clothing, headphones and strappy purses. Yesterday, those items coincidentally fell into place so it looked like we had a new family member.

I posted the picture on my Facebook feed and immediately received suggestions to give our creation a name. All of us picked up a “he” vibe even though the scarf and hat belong to my daughter. Stumpy, Lanister, and Billy Bannister were some ideas. A clever friend suggested Roger to pay homage to the runner.

Cows with names make more milk, so there must be something to the idea that to be named is to be worthy of love. We name or pets, cars, boats, and stuffed animals. When we name them we make them part of our family, and we love them.

If we number things things—or people—on the other hand, it deems them unworthy of love, dehumanizes them. The Nazis knew this. 

When we bestow a name, when we take time to ponder possibilities, filter through meanings, and find just the right feeling, it is an act of love.

For some reason, I found the name Philip hilarious. Welcome to our family Philip Banister. I can tell you’re the kind of guy who has never relied on looks to get by so you developed a killer sense of humour. I expect we’ll have lots of laughs together.

I’d love to hear about the named things you love.

 

 

 

 

Surprise memory, surprise visits

Near the end of my lunchtime walk around Parliament Hill last week, I felt called to take a closer look at a monument I had passed many times but never really looked at.

 

The gold sphere balancing as if by magic on the edge of a white stone wall grabs the attention.

I had to see what that balancing act was all about. I crossed a small bridge to a piece of land that juts out into the Ottawa River. The first thing I noticed was a shallow wall into which the names of Canadian naval vessels had been carved. My brother served in the Royal Canadian Navy on the HMCS Terra Nova, so I took a picture of the engraved name.

From my new angle on Richmond Landing, with Parliament Hill in the background, I got a different perspective. From there I could see the naval overtones of the prow of a ship, ocean waves, and the gold orb as the sun. 

 

Up close I could read the Navy motto: Ready, Aye, Ready.

I stood there and wondered how it was that I never knew about The Royal Canadian Navy Monument, something that has a personal connection for me. I wondered, “Why did it come to my attention today?”

I thought about the date and realized it was the anniversary of a surprise visit I made to Halifax, NS to welcome my brother and his ship home for the first Persian Gulf War. He had no family in the area, so he didn’t expect anyone to be there when the ship pulled in. Surprise!

My brother’s ashes were committed to the deep six years ago, but I felt he had paid me a surprise visit in return.

Surprising my brother in Halifax, 1991.

 

 

 

 

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