Tag Archive: family


rice pudding

I woke this morning knowing that I was going to make rice pudding for breakfast. Despite the simplicity of its preparation, I have only made rice pudding three times in my life, so the strength of my conviction that we were having rice pudding for breakfast is somewhat of a mystery.

rice pudding

Photo Credit: cyclonebill; Licence: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I know that rice pudding is traditionally a dessert but it is definitively labelled in my mind as a breakfast item. I know that my mom made rice pudding when I was a kid, and I can only assume she served it for breakfast, thereby creating the association. But I can’t trust my memory. My memories of childhood are so poor that I think I must have been in a coma for half my life and no one is telling me. I wish I were joking, but the reality is that most people I know can relate their childhood experiences in vivid detail while I sit there smiling politely, wondering what’s wrong with me.

My apparent childhood blackouts aside, I can say that rice pudding is a comfort food for me. I didn’t wake feeling any particular desire to be comforted, but when I sat down with my family to eat the pudding, a smile burst forth on my lips, and a warmth circulated through me.

When the kids were finished eating their pudding, both boys came to me separately to thank me for making them a delicious breakfast.  Zachary, my 3-year-old, actually made a point of finding me upstairs where I was employed in the glamorous task of cleaning out the bathroom sink drain. He gave me a hug, thanked me for breakfast, and then on his way down the stairs he commented to his mother that the rice pudding “was sooo yummy.”  Clearly, the rice pudding was a hit.

Sometimes my kids are so sweet I can only assume they have an agenda. And sometimes they do.  But then there are the occasions where their sweetness is genuine.  For all the times their antics make me think I’m going to lose my mind; for all the times I am driving to a symphony of sibling rivalry and I toy with the idea of  stopping the car and dumping the kids by the side of the road;  for all the seventeen thousand times I’ve had to tell one of them to stop picking his nose or to wash his hands or to flush the toilet or to sit up straight at the table or… or… or…  Those rice pudding moments make absolutely everything right again.

Today, I am thankful for… well, rice pudding, I guess.  I’m thankful for these talismans of tradition, the vehicles into which we pour our comforts and memories and transmit them to our children to be carried forth into future generations.  For some, they are lockets, or vases, or figurines.  For me, it is rice pudding.

I picture my boys, older.  Maybe they haven’t achieved something they worked hard for, maybe they’ve lost someone special to them, maybe work is stressful.  Then maybe they start cooking some rice on the stove and the soft bubbling of the thickening liquid calms them.  They add their milk or cream, then vanilla, cinnamon, raisins, reducing everything to a creamy consistency and filling their homes with a sweet aroma.

And if their memories of their childhood are better than mine, maybe they’ll remember the stillness of that one Sunday morning when the sun peeked through the window and they ate a breakfast that warmed their bellies, while they sat with people they loved and in whose presence they felt safe and happy. And maybe they’ll have little ones who will give them big hugs afterwards and thank them for yummy breakfasts.

Then maybe, for a little while, the world will be right again.

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shutter

Photo Credit: James F. Cline III; Licence: Public Domain

Photo Credit: James F. Cline III; Licence: Public Domain

National Geographic today released the results of their 2013 World Photo Press Contest, which awards news photographers for astounding work completed in the previous year.  It’s well worth a gander.

I was so struck by some of the photographs that I knew instantly I had to write something about it.  If you’re a writer — and by “writer,” I don’t mean that you have something published, or that you’re recognized for your writing, but simply that, when you are moved by something, you know that you will be restless until you can write about it — you will know that sometimes there is an irrepressible imperative to share your thoughts with the world by writing them.  My first thought looking at the photographs was that they made me feel grateful for many things.  My second thought was that I’ve written about all of those things in other posts, so it would be cheating to say I’m thankful for them again (even though I am continually grateful for them).

Some of the feelings of gratitude the photographs elicited?

Let’s start with the first photograph in the series, taken by Paul Hansen, and which won First Prize.  Moving in a most breathtakingly devastating way, it depicts family members carrying two Palestinian children to their funeral after they were killed when an Israeli missile struck their home.

Nothing but nothing makes me feel more helpless than when children die.  Nothing but nothing makes me more furious than when children are the victims of violence.  But I also feel gratitude.  I am chilled at the thought of losing my child to something so senseless, and I am so profoundly thankful that I live somewhere that is not war-ravaged.  This isn’t to delude myself into a false sense of security.  Who knows what the future holds?  The parents of the children who attended Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut thought their kids were safe too.  But, still: it stands to reason that, when missiles are flying around your ears, people are going to get hurt, and eventually those people are going to be children.

But I’ve already talked about my appreciation for my safety and the safety of my family.

Let’s look next at Second Prize winner in the News Single category.  This photograph, snapped by a very brave Emin Özmen, depicts a man being tortured by Syrian Opposition Fighters by, I gather, having his feet whipped, for being a suspected government informant.  I can’t fathom the searing pain he must have experienced.  I am so grateful that I live in a country where torture is illegal, and where it is not so commonplace that torturers seem to have no problem with being photographed doing it.

But I’ve already written about my gratitude for the country in which I live and the basic human rights which that country protects.

I’m moved too by the First Prize winner in the Contemporary Issues Single category.  Photographed by Micah Albert, the picture shows a Kenyan woman taking a break from her labour picking through trash at a dump near the slums where she lives.  She’s sitting, reading through a book she found at the dump.  I live in such a wasteful culture, and we dissociate ourselves from the waste so easily because we’ve worked out this great system where we ship it off and hide it in giant landfills.  The concept of someone making a living from picking through garbage is a pure testament to so much of what is wrong with the world.

But I’ve already mentioned by thankfulness for having a meaningful job, and my gratefulness for having so many luxuries and amenities in life.  I’ve even expressed gratitude for books.

I think the most astounding of all of the photographs in the series is one by Fausto Podavini which claimed First Prize in the Daily Life Stories category.  It shows Mirella, a 71-year-old Italian woman, assisting her husband Luigi — who has dementia — drying off after a shower.  I am so thankful that I have the full capacity of my mind, and thankful too for the ones who love us and take care of us even when we have lost so much of who we are.

But I’ve already discussed my gratitude for family and those who stick with us through thick and thin.  I’ve expressed thankfulness for my health.

I find the photographic talent represented by this series of award winners to be mesmerizing.  They haven’t just snapped a picture: they’ve captured a moment.  It is their work that has helped me revisit and remember so many of the things that make me a lucky person each day.

And so, although it seems inadequate or trivial given the content of the photographs I’ve shared, today I am thankful for photography and photographers.  I would have such little insight into what goes on in the world — both the heinous and the beautiful — if it weren’t for the fact that those things have been brought to my doorstep through the efforts of others in capturing those realities and bringing them to my doorstep.

A Christmas Tale

mother reunited with child

Photo Credit: Joshua Adam Nuzzo; Licence: Editorial Use Authorized

In a former life, I was a Child Protection Worker, which is the type of job that earns praise from some, and boos and hisses from others.  It’s an exhausting and nearly always thankless job, though that isn’t the reason I left it. Challenging though the position was, it was the intra-agency and inter-agency politics that ultimately drove me away. The problem with employment that carries with it a great deal of liability is that everyone is eager to “pass the buck.” If you’re the type of person who is in the job because you want to do something good, it can become very frustrating to work in an environment where people want to be competitive instead of cooperative.

That sort of environment also tends to breed a more intrusive way of working with families. My informal statistic from personal experience is that 99% of the parents with whom I had involvement were not bad parents. Sometimes they were victims of bad circumstances, sometimes they just hadn’t had good parenting role models themselves, but all of those 99% wanted to keep their children safe, and maybe just didn’t know how. The other 1% were bad people and — perhaps unfortunately — you can’t licence baby-making. Having not come from the circumstances that the 99% group  had experienced, I didn’t really feel I was in a position to judge. Other workers had a different opinion.

Mind you, this wasn’t my experience in all of the child protection agencies for which I worked, but it was my finding in 2 out of 3, and that’s enough to make me feel there is a systemic problem that needs to be addressed before we as a society can effectively ensure positive outcomes for children.

I don’t want to downplay the incredible work that Child Protection Workers do.  There are a lot of children today whose lives have been improved, and a good number whose lives have been saved, because of a Child Protection Worker.  I just want to illustrate: the job ain’t any picnic.

Several years ago, I was involved with a single dad and his kids, and it eventually became necessary to remove the children from the father’s care.  The man was riddled with addictions and his children were subjected to the most appalling neglect.  The children — a young boy and older girl — didn’t have much hope of being reunited with their father. Although it was always my intention to work with parents such that their children could be returned to their parents’ care, it was clear early on that this father didn’t want to put in the effort.

The children’s mother was absent. Rumours were that she, too, was addicted to crack cocaine and the children had not seen her in two years.  I anticipated that these children would become part of “the system.”

It is required by law to expend a great deal of effort in seeking out parents of any children brought into care, and so I began searching for the mother, not holding out much hope of finding her, or finding her to be a parent who could provide appropriate care to her children.

Then, one day, I managed to locate her.  She’d gotten off the drugs, was receiving treatment for her addictions and mental illness, and was working hard to turn her life around.

I am not going to say that this mother didn’t have a lot of obstacles to overcome before she could adequately parent the kids but, after my initial conversations with her, I arranged a visit between her and the children, and it was clear that she was extremely motivated to care for her children.

There was one question I had to ask, though: why had she abandoned her children?  I understand that addictions take over a person’s life, and pretty soon nothing much matters but where to get the next high.  It’s a condition that deserves pity, not ridicule. But I had to know the answer if I had any chance of convincing a judge that this woman had been sufficiently rehabilitated to be a good caregiver.

She told me a harrowing tale of having left because she was so terrified of the children’s father, who had abused her.

“Didn’t you worry about him caring for the kids?”

“Of course!” she replied.  She then told me that she had even gone back with an intention of taking them from him, but she realized, as she was bringing them outside into the snow, that she couldn’t provide them the care they needed.  So she left, and fell into a two-year depression, laden with drugs and all sorts of self-abuse.  It was a decision she regretted, but she was ready to make amends.

Readers, it took a long time, but those kids were eventually placed in their mother’s care, and it was a happy ending for them.

The mother lived about 400km away and I had to transport the children to her home.  I was buried in work, though, and the only day I could do it was December 23rd.  It’ll be a nice Christmas present, I thought.

That day, a fierce blizzard raged.  Coworkers tried to encourage me not to drive the children that day.  I looked outside and figured I’d driven in a lot worse before.  I wasn’t anxious to do that long drive in such conditions, but then the thought of calling up their mother and saying that they wouldn’t be home for Christmas didn’t appeal to me either.  So, in a decision that hindsight later rebuked, I felt that, if I drove slowly and carefully, I would be able to make it without incident.

I drove into the storm, so it got a lot worse as the trip wore on.  I also had to drive through a stretch of Ontario that had no gas stations for a couple hundred kilometers, no lights, and no cell phone signal.  There were steep hills and, a couple times, as I inched my way down one, I prayed that the person behind me would be just as cautious.  I began to realize what I wished I had realized earlier: I can be careful all I want; it’s the other drivers who might kill us!  One wrong move, and the mother’s Christmas present might be her precious children at the bottom of a frozen lake.

I’ll alleviate your anxiety now by saying that we made it safely to their new home — albeit about 4 hours later than I had planned.  An incandescent Christmas scene awaited them, with sparkling tree, shiny wrapped gifts, and warm beds.

Today, I am thankful for the capacity of people to change.  No matter the profound depths to which each of us might descend, no matter what bad decisions we might make, no matter what abuse we subject ourselves to, there is always a chance that we might turn it around and make a life worthy of awe.  That is what these children’s mother did, and the beautiful difference she made in her children’s lives cannot be measured.

My professional relationship with the family now long severed, I can’t tell you how everything turned out for those kids in the end.  Work with the family was transferred to another agency shortly after the children were placed in their mother’s care.  I checked in about a year later, though, and am pleased to report that they were still doing well.  Of course, like any family, they had their bumps in the road, and I’ll even acknowledge that their bumps were maybe a little bigger than the bumps most other families experience.  But despite the obstacles they faced, there was a lot of love in that family, and I can confirm something I have learned from experience: with enough love, pretty much everything works out alright in the end.

little graces

Advent

Photo Credit: Petr Kratochvil; Licence: Public Domain

Sandra has an Advent tradition with the kids that I love.  She calls it “The Giving Tree.”  She makes up a Christmas tree out of construction paper and posts it on the wall, then decorates it with paper ornaments on which she writes instructions. Instead of simply asking our boys to donate to charity some of the money they’ve collected from their allowances, each day of Advent she has them take an ornament off the tree.  The ornament will instruct them to count a specific thing in our home or lives for which they should feel grateful — something that less fortunate families do not have.  Then, the boys are asked to deposit a unit amount of money for each item they counted.

For example, an ornament this year encouraged the boys to be thankful for their mobility.  So Sandra had them count all of the stairs in our house and deposit $0.10 for each stair.  Another ornament wanted the boys to be thankful for water, so had them count all the faucets in the house and deposit $0.25 for each.  Yet another had them deposit a sum for the number of grandparents they have, in order to help them be appreciative for family.  The boys raised $32 for charity this way.  Just a drop in the bucket of need, perhaps, but a fairly substantial donation given what they have accumulated in their allowances.

Instead of the boys simply donating money from their allowances without really understanding why, and possibly begrudging the donation because of that lack of understanding, they come to understand why it is so important to help others in need, and to be thankful for the things they have. It also gets them excited about the donation because, in a sense, they worked to achieve it.

It’s a wonderful tradition, and I admire Sandra for remaining faithful to it each year.

The Giving Tree tradition reminds me of all the “little graces” in our lives: the items which individually might go unnoticed and never make it into this blog, but which collectively bestow immense benefit on our lives.  Today, I am thankful for them.

last minute

Christmas ornaments

Photo Credit: James Hawkins; Licence: Public Domain

In past years, despite the faithful nagging of my wife, despite my own distaste for crowds, despite the promises I had made myself in prior years, I have always left holiday shopping to the last minute.

It’s not like I have a lot to do.  Both our extended families, having found that the prospect of purchasing for everyone fostered a sentiment of bitterness about giving (which ran rather contrary to the whole spirit of the season), have opted — and I daresay, after a good amount of urging on my part — to adopt a gift exchange approach.  Each person draws or is assigned a single name and purchases a $50 gift for that single person.  It has restored the proper atmosphere of the holidays in our homes, has eliminated begrudging gift-buying, has reduced the pure commercialism of the season, and has eradicated the nauseating surplus of impractical “junk” we don’t need.

My wife takes care of purchasing all the gifts for the kids, which she usually has finished by May.

Sandra and I do not purchase individual gifts for each other but instead have a tradition of taking each other away for a weekend in January or February.  We don’t get away together very often, so it really is the most meaningful gift we can give each other.

As a result of these traditions, I am only responsible for two gifts and, frankly, I rarely even have to do that, as Sandra has an endearing penchant for returning home from a mid-October shopping trip with a grin on her face and a declaration that she found a gift for So-and-So.  “I thought I was purchasing for So-and-So this year,” I’ll comment quizzically.  “You are!” she replies proudly.

That usually leaves me nothing but Sandra’s stocking to take care of, and store cameras typically capture me dashing in frantically on December 23rd or 24th, an expression of frustration on my face.  So much for holiday cheer.

This year, I learned my lesson, and finished all of my holiday shopping in October.

Just kidding.

did, however, go a day earlier — today, December 22nd — and I did adopt a few practices which very legitimately removed all stress from the experience.  Having tested these practices, I want to pass the knowledge on.

So, today, I’m stepping away from my “Today, I am grateful for…” recipe in favour of something a little different.

Behold, I give you the 11 Tips for Surviving Last-Minute Holiday Shopping.  Why 11, you ask?  Read on.

Tip 1. Don’t leave holiday shopping to the last minute.

I anticipate you will feel a little cheated by that one, which is why I will produce 10 more.  That said, if you remain faithful to Tip 1, you can ignore the rest.  Happy Holidays and I hope you’ll come back for tomorrow’s post: Little Graces.

Still here?  Figured as much. Let’s continue.

Tip 2. Estimate how much time you will need to do everything you need to do, and then double it.  I find myself always getting angry at the delays. I’m screaming at drivers who don’t accelerate as soon as the light turns green, I’m tapping my foot impatiently at the person ahead of me in line who is confirming the price everything against the flyer, etc.  If you block off ample time and don’t waste it with procrastination, you won’t feel rushed.

Tip 3. Patronize local, independent businesses. They need your business more than the conglomerates, and because everyone else is at Walmart and the like, the independent businesses aren’t as busy.  Less busy = less stress.

Tip 4. Try to go to stores that don’t have shopping carts. It seems trivial but, really, the chaos of holiday shopping can bring out the worst in people, and those shopping carts can quickly turn into vehicular weapons.  Steer clear of those and you can avoid frustration at shopping cart traffic jams and avoid injury too.

Tip 5. “Brain shop” before you shop. Try not to take the approach of wandering around a store trying to find stuff. If you’re leaving shopping to the last minute, spend your time in traffic on your commute home from work in the days leading up to the holidays by thinking about what you are going to purchase. Then, see if you can find out online who has those items. It will make battling store traffic a lot easier and faster if you know exactly what you’re getting at the store and can just go in and get it.

Tip 6. Have alternatives. Don’t rely on an item being at the store or at the price you expected it to be. If you show up and it is not there, or three times as expensive, you won’t feel so much frustration or anger if you have a “back-up.”

Tip 7. If you’re able, walk to the stores, or take the bus or, if you drive, park far away from the store entrance. A good portion of my last-minute shopping stress comes from fighting other drivers for those parking spots near the store entrance.  Today, I parked way at the back of the parking lot and walked.  I enjoyed the walk, and never had to fight anyone for the parking spot.

Tip 8. Smile, and be helpful. I kept a smile on my face throughout all of my shopping today. The effect was two-fold: (a) studies have shown that the very act of smiling makes the person smiling feel happier (it works); (b) when you smile at everyone, you find that a good number of them smile back. Everyone wins. Being helpful takes it a step further. If you see someone struggling with taking shopping bags to their car, or someone who doesn’t know where something is, offer to help. That’s what the holidays are all about, right?

Tip 9. If possible, shop without children. I know. This falls into the same category as, “and while you’re at it, I’d like a pony.”  No matter how bad you expect it to be, shopping with children right before Christmas WILL ALWAYS BE WORSE THAN YOU EXPECT IT TO BE. If you have generous friends, family, or an available babysitter, don’t guilt yourself out of asking for their help.  Maybe they’re too busy to provide their help, but it can’t hurt to ask.  Don’t forget to give a small token of thanks for their help: bring back a coffee, or offer to make them dinner, etc.

Tip 10. Be charitable. Organizations like The Salvation Army always have donation kettles at places where people shop. If you can spare a dollar, two, five, ten, twenty, it finishes your shopping trip nicely to deposit it in the kettle and know that someone else’s holiday will be a little happier because of you.

One last thing: Shopping doesn’t have to be done in stores. Make a gift for someone, give something you already have.  At my youngest’s last birthday, my niece very proudly gave him one of her favourite stuffed animals.  Also I, for one, would much prefer to open a card that informs me that someone else in need has benefitted from the giving, than to unwrap baubles.  Donate to a local charity and let the person know that the gift you gave them is that someone else has been made happier, or safer, or healthier.  Will some of those recipients think you’ve “ripped them off?”  Yes, some will.  Tough luck for them.  Like I tell my kids: that warm feeling you get in your belly when you do something good or right is better than any reward in the world; and it is the very essence of this holiday season.

a morsel of gratitude

cornucopia

Photo Credit: Jina Lee; Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0

Today was one of those days.  You all know them.  Just as I was starting to feel like I was getting back on top of my workload at work, I was dealt a blow when I learned of a decision made higher up the ladder that translates to a major undertaking being dumped on my lap for the next few weeks. That pile of tasks on my desk was just officially pushed to the back burner.  I worked late in an attempt to get a head start, and to put out a few fires.  Then I picked up the kids and arrived home to start making dinner.

Like a lot of people, I’m so exhausted by the time I get home most days that my kids are lucky they’re not fed a bowl of chips and some HoHos for dinner.  But one of the commitments I’ve made to my children is to make an effort with dinner.  I want to serve them good, healthy food to help their bodies and minds grow.  I confess my love of cheese sometimes results in an over-representation of it in my meals, but I try to pack the meals full of nutrients too, using fresh vegetables and foods as little processed as possible.

My boys are pretty good eaters.  My eldest loves vegetables, and both boys will eat lots of things lots of kids (and many adults) won’t: fish, seafood, mushrooms, spinach, etc.  But I still get my share of whining, and after coming home from work feeling defeated but still putting the effort in to make a nutritious meal (that I thought was delicious), I was deflated a little more to hear the tiny violins start playing.

“I don’t like this.”

“Do I have to eat the onions?”

etc.

And then my 3-year-old — the same one whom I’ve asked twice in the last three minutes whether he has to go to the washroom, the same one who has twice replied “no” — suddenly starts squirming in his seat.

“Do you have to pee?” I ask.

“Yes!” he exclaims, his eyes betraying panic.

Knowing it’s an emergency, I throw him on my hip and bolt up the stairs, only to feel a warm sensation spread down my leg as I reach the bathroom.

By the time I got him cleaned up and get us back to the dinner table, my originally comfortingly warm dinner was now stone cold.

And while I scowled into my tilapia and (cold) warm vegetable salad, I searched my mind to find some morsel of gratitude from the experience.  Gratitude is my refuge against the chilling tendrils of bitterness which, on occasion, start creeping into my heart: if I can shift perspective, I can chase away the sting of antipathy.

So here it is: Today, I am thankful that, as a child, my parents (more specifically, my mom) exposed me to the types of foods my kids might be disinclined to eat.  You might feel ripped off by that one.  Don’t. There are lots of people in the world who grew up eating a lot of junk, so are at a disadvantage in knowing how to prepare for themselves or their children the sorts of foods that will keep them healthy.  I had the benefit of a mom who, long before the nutritionist craze that pervades our lives and the media, exposed me to good-for-me foods so that they wouldn’t be foreign to me.  I am grateful for that, and I hope that, one day, my kids will be thankful for it too.

(But I won’t hold my breath).

remember

remembrance march

Photo Credit: big-tom-84; Licence: Public Domain

We visited a cemetery today to pay respects.  Although we had no family members buried there, we located a soldier’s grave and placed on it poppy wreaths the boys had made.  The man buried beneath the headstone had been 20 when he died.  In a quiet moment with my eldest, I recited In Flanders Fields… and explained what it meant.  He’s 9 and I suppose he understands it all about as well as I did at that age, when the overwhelming beauty of a person sacrificing their lives for the values we as a country hold sacred is still a pretty abstruse concept.  But this is why we remember on Remembrance Day.  It’s not that we shouldn’t remember every single day we draw breath, but having one day devoted to remembrance helps instill our children — and re-instill us — with an understanding and appreciation.  Maybe they don’t “get it” at first, but eventually they will.  This is how we pass “the torch” and “hold it high.”

Every day, thousands of men and women risk their lives to protect us, keep us safe, and guard our freedom, and there are hundreds of thousands before them who have risked — and, far too often, lost — their lives in service of our country with the same noble objectives.  Some of those who have died have been almost children, the incandescent glow of youth still visible on their skin.  Those who have fought have been separated from their families, subjected to grueling conditions.  They have witnessed horrors most of us could never imagine.

Today, I am thankful for them.  Today, I remember.

“best day ever”

It’s a good thing I’m not paid to write this blog. If I were, I would be fired. I discovered today that I only posted four times in October.  I’m not precisely sure how I should feel about that, but “ashamed” seems close to the mark.

And it is not that I’ve had no feelings of gratitude. But the last few weeks have been tumultuously busy, both at work and at home. It hasn’t been an unpleasant busy. I’ve felt a sense of efficacy and productivity at work, and home life has been packed with the sort of activities that are exhausting, but nevertheless remind me why having a family can be a great thing.

Today was an exception from the fast pace that has characterized the last month.  After bundling the kids into the car and getting my oldest on the bus, I discovered a text message from our child care provider saying she was ill.  What started as any other Monday turned into a “Daddy-Zachary” day.

father with son

Photo Credit: John H. White; Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0

When I was young, my mom and I would sometimes go out together for a muffin and coffee (muffin and hot chocolate for me).  Sometimes I would save up my money so that it would be my treat, though I’m willing to bet my money never made it to the till, my mother being so very much like a mom.

One of my regrets as a parent is that, after the birth of my youngest, spending time alone with either of my boys became a rare occurrence. No doubt all children with siblings appreciate an opportunity to spend time alone with a parent.  For the child, the absence of another sibling is the very thing that makes it special: for a little while, the child isn’t just “one of the kids” but a friend, a confidant, “chosen.”  For the parent, the experience is visited with a quietude that must otherwise seem like a distant memory.  Although my sons have a fraternal affection for each other I doubt my brother and I ever shared, spending time with both of my sons together still usually leaves me feeling like a referee, and I am sure most parents feel the same way.

Today, I am thankful for the few moments in life when parents are able to move beyond the parent-child roles and be friends with their kids.  After Zachary and I returned from a visit to the library, I suggested that he go use the washroom, and then we could read all the books we borrowed.  As he began climbing the stairs, he exclaimed, “this is going to be the best day ever!”  It’s uplifting to see that much enthusiasm over something so simple as reading books with Dad.  It’s not like we don’t read books together every day!  But today was special: it was just us.

the new world

passenger ship

Photo Credit: Unknown; Licence: Public Domain

I was on an ancestry kick several months ago.  Ancestral research is a difficult process made infinitely easier by services such as ancestry.com, which permitted me to research my family history in my pajamas.  And if that isn’t the very definition of progress, I don’t know what is.  I was also helped along by my poor grandmother, who did all of her family research before the advent of online ancestry databases.  Without her immense initial effort, I never would have gotten anywhere.

For some, researching family history has been simple.  In one line on my father’s side of the family, I’ve gotten as far back to the 17th century with nary a bead of sweat on my brow.  My grandmother’s paternal line, on the other hand, has been a thorny maze fraught with dead ends.  Her father seemed to have a penchant for adventure (read: trouble).  He changed his name, and his life before moving from England to Canada is shrouded in mystery.

After a month of solid research, during which I spent almost every waking second not otherwise absorbed by obligation poring through records, I finally had to shut it all down.  I am highly obsessive.  Faced with a problem, I’ll skip meals and sleep in an effort to reach an answer.  I was very literally exhausted.

But the process was not without reward.  The beauty of ancestral research is not only that it tells you something about yourself, but it also gives you a glimpse of history in a personal way.  Though I am cognizant of the class system in England, both now and — more prominently — in the 19th century and earlier, seeing that my ancestors were lower-class labourers opened my eyes to how fortunate I am to live where and when I do.

Today, I am thankful for living in a society that ascribes greater value to determination and ability than it does to birth.

My parents and I have all had the benefit of a university education.  If you told my great-great-grandfather, who was a coachman and domestic servant, that his great-grandson (my father) would be a university-graduated accountant, he would have laughed.  There was virtually no opportunity in his day for anyone to rise above the limitations of their birth.

How incandescent my ancestors must have felt, travelling by ship across the dark waters of the North Atlantic.  Crammed into third class accommodations, the journey must have seemed endless, but on the other side of that horizon stood a new world, laden with possibility.

famous painter

A cherished Canadian Thanksgiving family tradition is to go apple picking at a local orchard.  This year, a severe spring frost damaged any hope for a quality yield in a number of apple varieties.  On Saturday, we visited an orchard which has quickly come to be our favourite for the range of apple varieties it offers, and for the on-site bakery and store where we can purchase pies, streudels, cider, and other marvelous apple products, either to eat there (warm) or to take home.  We were able to come home without empty hands, but with none of the mutsu or empire varieties I love to use  in pies.

Sunday, we went to greater lengths to find an orchard with my wife’s family.  We were wholly unsuccessful.  But the weekend was not wasted.  We had the opportunity to take in the beauty of autumn’s palette.

autumn foliage

Photo Credit: Fg2; Licence: Public Domain

Having young children, my wife and I have limited opportunities to get away, so we have to use our anniversary as a basis for doing any activity we want to do without our children.  This year, though our anniversary is in July, my wife and I decided to forego our standard weekend of unbridled vanity in favour a simpler trip in late September to Ontario’s Muskoka region to relish in the splendour of autumn foliage.  For a number of reasons, that plan withered, so our local foliage would have to do.  It might be less breathtaking than the vistas of more northern climes, but it’s still breathtaking.

It’s difficult to get one’s children to share appreciation for important things.  During those drives this weekend, there was a good amount of complaining from the back seat about how I wouldn’t let my 9-year-old watch a movie or play video games.  On Saturday, I finally said in exasperation: “Outside your window is the most beautiful picture ever painted. It was painted by a famous painter you might have heard about: God.  So look out your window and keep quiet.”

Then I smirked at the silly things parents say… except, it was true.  In my travels, I have seen a plethora of really stunning works of art, but never anything so beautiful or brilliant or phenomenal as the one we get to see every autumn.

Today, I am thankful for autumn.  The science of the changing of the leaves is exceedingly simple; the visual result is magnificent.

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