I spent the last two weeks preparing for, photographing, and editing images for a dear friend’s wedding. It wasn’t a fancy or expensive wedding, just an intimate affair with their children, close friends, and me as the photographer. It was one of the best kinds of weddings there are.
Romance has been the theme these past two weeks so it seems. I watched as she went through the elation of marrying the man that she loved back in the days of climbing trees and skinning knees to saying the emotional and heartfelt vows they wrote to each other. Life took them on different journeys; but thirty-some years later, they finally realized their youthful dreams of marrying each other. I was honoured to be part of their day in any capacity. I was even more honoured to be asked to capture their day for them.
Blended families can be a challenge; but they can also be an amazing new chapter in life. The man she brought into her child’s life is truly in love with her, and as I observed them as a whole over the weekend, I noticed things that perhaps only a photographer sees. I saw how he discreetly kept an eye on his young step-son while he continued on doing what he was doing. I saw how she included his adult daughters as if she had known them all her life, like lifelong friends. Most of all, I saw how he watched her. I saw how even though his exterior has been weathered from life, his eyes were soft. I saw how his eyes softened even more every time he looked at her. She didn’t notice most times because she was busy being a hostess to her family, but he always had the look in his eyes that showed his soul whenever he laid his eyes on her. There was no doubt that this man has always loved his bride, and I sense he wanted to take in every single moment of this day so that he would never forget it.
Love. The greatest of these truly is love.
This weekend, my youngest son and I went out for a while, just the two of us. There is a local centre that has a few boutiques that was having a family fun day. We decided to go and check it out. We wandered around and looked at the fun garden pieces they had for sale, and looked at the delicious organic candies and cookies. I offered to buy him a cookie so we could sit and enjoy the moment, but he opted not to. He asked instead if we could go and find a present that he could gift to his brother for Christmas. We decided to go to Indigo, but before shopping for his brother, we opted to sit and have a drink at Starbucks. He loves the vanilla bean Frappuccino, so I ordered him one of those, and I bought one of their specialty holiday hot drinks for myself. We sat and talked about the holidays and the excitement. We watched people as they came and went. He sipped from his straw as his feet dangled and swung while he sat in his chair. I watched my youngest son as he showed pure happiness by just having some one on one time with me, his mother.
Families often do things together, but it is so important to give children one on one time with their parent too. My older son gets his one on one time as we share our common passion of photography, but there was something magical about this time with the younger one. He is still so full of holiday excitement, seeing the magic of the season. I love the shimmer in his eyes as he talks about our traditions. And the most wonderful part is that none of it involves receiving gifts. It is all the other stuff: the holiday treats, the music, the friends that we gather with, and the special dinner that we decide collectively on having.
This was one of those moments where my heart swells with pride and love. My son is growing up with love and compassion in his heart. As he grows, he is thinking of others more and more. He is becoming more like his older brother every day. They both make me very proud.
With November comes the prelude to the holiday season. The buying season. It makes me cringe thinking about it sometimes. There is nothing that I need, except for a few renovations around my house. My children have everything they need too.
The holiday season is that time of year where you feel that push…that obligation to buy things that really have no business coming into my home. I do not need more kitschy knick knacks. My kids don’t need more useless toys that they won’t play with. And I certainly do not need to get deeper in debt for a holiday that seems more and more to be focused on spending money instead of time.
I am digging in my heels this year. Yes, we have preplanned gifts from my parents, and that will still happen. But, I have already forewarned my children that there is a strict budget in place for Christmas spending, and I will not go beyond it this year.
The great thing is, they are old enough to understand that the less we buy, the more money we can save for vacations and adventures. This appeals to them; well more so to one of them, but the other can be fairly easily convinced…
As a minimalist (in the making), I feel that I need to cultivate the principal of spending more time together over spending more money on each other. I hope this will become a trend with my loved ones. Life is expensive enough without having to keep up with the Jones’, or even the exes for that matter. I hope that one gift I can give to my children is the understanding that the holidays are meant for spending together, and not for overspending on the budget.
Vacations are wonderful. You plan and prepare for the trip, decide which sights you want to see and when. You plan every day to be a full as possible so you can fit everything in to your limited time, because if you don’t, you won’t have a chance to do all the things you wanted to do.
But during that vacation away, did you think to take a day to just relax? Maybe sleep in a little, or spend a lazy day exploring the forests or the beaches?
These vacation days create a lot of memories too. Sometimes, I wonder if maybe they create more memories than running from the art gallery to the science centre then to the zoo…you get the idea.
We did all of the planning. I had every day scheduled with where to go and what to see. In the end, what my children wanted to do won out. We peeled away one activity for another. We didn’t do all the things we had planned. We spent way more time sitting on the beach watching sunsets and looking for crabs instead of going to the sights that we had on the schedule. We took a morning and strolled through a forest and created a fairy home at the base of a giant redwood tree.
We created memories.
Yes, we did a lot of the scheduled stuff and hit the highlights. But in retrospect, the highlights really were about exploring nature that was new to them. About seeing the glimmer in their eyes as they discovered something they had never seen before. It was about their pure excitement and joy the first time they dipped their toes in the salty ocean water.
These are the things that will create the memories that they will remember for a lifetime.
I value quality time with those I love. Spending time together is worth more than any store bought gift, in my opinion.
This weekend was one of those weekends where we didn’t have anything pressing to do. Being a long weekend on top of it, we decided rather last minute to take a trip to the zoo. Since it is a three hour drive each way, we made sure to get up nice and early. We packed up the cameras, water bottles and music for the drive and away we went. We always stop for coffee and breakfast before leaving town. It’s just what we do. The kids eat while I drive, and I have my caffeine fix. Sometimes they fall asleep on the drive, sometimes we all sing along to whatever song is playing. Sometimes they read. It’s always enjoyable no matter what.
I’ve come to crave these little day trips. The adventure of getting away, of taking a trip unplanned. Just drop everything and go. Sometimes these are solo trips if the kids are not home that week, but I love the ones where they come along the most. It’s good quality time well spent. On top of that, my eldest had a chance to continue developing his photography skills in a different setting. He’s getting very good at it, and I am very proud of him. But there’s something to be said for getting away from home for just a little while. A change of scenery. A little excitement. Spending time outdoors, and believe me, we were out there walking around and enjoying the sun and the setting for a good five hours at least. These are the little things that they will remember as they grow into adults. These are the things I will remember as they grow up and move on to live their own lives. I will know that they will have those happy memories to draw upon. They will have that influence for how they might like to live their lives, and should they have children, to do what they enjoyed as kids for their own.
Quality time. I read somewhere that you have 18 summers with your children before they are grown. This is what I’m doing with my 18.
Mothers, enjoy your children. While they are young, as they grow, and when they are adults. Every stage of development for your child is special. I don’t need to tell you that; you already know. Every stage my children have been at has been my favourite. Why? Because it’s where we are in the present.
Don’t wish for the past when they were young, or perhaps before they were born.
Don’t wait for the day they’re grown up and out of the house so you have peace and quiet or a clean home.
Be present. Enjoy what today gives you. It is the ultimate gift. Love your children no matter who, what, or where they are. Love yourself too.
Enjoy this day as if there are no others. Give thanks for the life around you. Be grateful for the ability to have them in your life for not every woman is as fortunate as you. Hug your children. Tell them that you love them. Mean it. Every day.
Creativity is a huge part of my world. I see my world through the lens of a photographer, remember things with a writer’s pen, and dream with a painter’s brush. My soul breathes creativity, and it warms my heart to know that my children have inherited that gene from me. While it sometimes breeds frustration when we cannot achieve the product that we have dreamed of in our mind’s eye, the process is still very important. As I watched my younger one crochet his own creations at the tender age of ten years old, he can see what he wants to create. He has taken my guidance and moved beyond what I have given him and created more…turned it into his.
What comes with this territory is frustration, upset, sometimes a couple tears, but then it ends in pure joy. The joy that you don’t get from buying an item, but one of soulful satisfaction for doing it yourself. It may not be perfect. It may not be the product envisioned, but it is a unique, one of a kind item that was created with love, determination, creativity, positive reinforcement, and joy.
I have had a week where I was able to spend time doing the things I enjoy. There were still things that needed to get done, like take the little ones to school and make dinner, but I did these things in a way that I preferred.
We walked to school, which is a convenient 5 minute walk. We brought the dog both ways. We didn’t need to use before and after school care this week, and that made a huge difference in how much time we had to do things together and the free time they had without having homework or meal time. Our days suddenly gained a lot of time.
We made meals that were fun and delicious with organic whole foods that were deliciously vegetarian. Dinner became a joy instead of a chore.
It’s amazing how the simple things take on more enjoyment when you have time. Less stuff means less to clean. Less to own means less to owe. This gives way to freedom. The less you need to work to pay the bills for the stuff you need to clean. Seems pretty straightforward, no? With less, you can do more of what you love.
This Christmas was the best one I have had in as many years as I can recall. It wasn’t the gifts under the tree. In fact, it was the absence of them this year that made me happier than before. Perhaps it is a change in perspective. Perhaps it was a change in me. I did not need gifts under the tree to make Christmas special.
I needed my family and I needed my friends. I needed to do things for others and for strangers and for those in less fortunate situations than I found myself in.
I kept the gifts lean this year, yet my youngest thought it was the best Christmas ever. This tells me that it isn’t the money spent that makes Christmas special for them either. It’s the love that is shared.
Having said that, there was a surprise for me this year. One of my very best friends took it upon himself to ensure my boys had gifts under the tree for their mom. He did it without me knowing and it was particularly touching.
I have noticed that in removing the pressure of gifting, I have found space for enjoyment of the holiday season. I have discovered there is time for social gatherings and enjoying the company of my loved ones. I have removed the pressures of creating the perfect holiday setting with the decorations and lights and the tens of thousands of calories in baking that I certainly do not need to eat, but would if left to my own devices.
I have found joy in spontaneity and planned outings. I have frozen my toes just to spend two hours with a small circle of friends as we enjoyed the subzero temperature outdoor concert on the CP Holiday Train. We have those memories to share. Of finding a new restaurant and a wonderful new ginger cider. Of bonding and sharing. Of quality time without expectations.
I have five holiday parties planned just by my colleagues and employers…departmental, multidepartmental, corporate, family, and our own small staff. These things do not pressure me this year because all those other stressful components of the holidays are now gone.
Don’t misunderstand me, please. I do have some decorations up and I adore them. I have bought presents for my children. I have asked for them to please stop worrying that they cannot find a way to buy me a gift. I asked for them to create with what they have if they want to give, but that they themselves are the greatest gift I have or could ever get. I will bake cookies, but just two kinds and it will be a labor of love to be enjoyed with my children, not one where I scoot them out of the kitchen because they are underfoot.
The holidays are about people and joining together. Enjoying each other and giving back to the community and those in need. It’s supposed to last year long, but we all know that people tend to give more at the holidays than they do year round.
This year, I am truly enjoying the holiday season more than I have since being a young child and having all my extended family nearby for that wonderful multitable, multifamily Christmas dinner. That is what remains in my memories. It isn’t the gifts I was given. It was the people that I was with.