Saturday, May 29, 2010

...a sidewalk

Over the last two years I have walked hundreds of thousands of steps along a very special stretch of sidewalk. Laughter has resounded, tears have been shed, magical discoveries have been made and true friendships have been formed as we share that stretch of sidewalk with some other special people.

Over the last year alone I have walked about 800 kilometers on that strip of concrete. That is over 1 million steps. It's 1 kilometer each way and I do the walk twice daily on school days. At a brisk pace it takes 12 minutes from door to door. But most of the time it takes a great deal longer than that.

In the two years we have been making this trek to school and back there have only been a couple of mornings that we called the walk due to weather. I kid you not, it was about -50C with windchill and I still briefly considered braving the elements. Now those who know me well know that I am not an outdoor winter sports fanatic by any means. When I was a kid I was the first one to come in from the cold while my sisters continued tireless work on a snowfort or made an extra loop around the field on their snowshoes. But this commitment to my walk is different. It is soulfood.

On winter mornings we feel like arctic explorers. The only parts of our bodies you can see are our eyes. Peeking out over our thermal neck warmers. Our breath creates condensation on our eyelashes, which then freezes to stick our eyelids shut. We are captivated by the beauty of each sparkly snowflake as it falls to rest on our coat sleeve or the hood of the stroller. We were quite late for school one day because we stopped to admire the hoar frost on every branch we past. School could wait, we were in Mother Earth's classroom that day. Some days the ice mist over the river valley is so dense that the city skyline disappears completely and makes you feel as though your world has shrunk to the span of a few square blocks. On the way home we have more time for, climbing snow mountains, trekking through fairy forests, sitting on snow drifts to shoot the breeze, pulling each other in sleds, snow angels, collecting icicles and general tom foolery.

When the warm weather returns we feel the freedom of our unencumbering attire. The pace doesn't change much. Snow angels are replaced by cartwheels and climbing snow mountains shift to climbing trees. We are still almost late for school some days because the pace of our walk does not reflect the urgency to come in out of the cold.

Watching the trees and flowers blossom in spring has certainly been remarkable but it is even more remarkable to watch our children blossom, their relationships blossom, our admiration for them blossom and our sense of community and connections with our neighbours blossom. We share our walk regularly with three other families and a ragtag bunch of siblings, hitchhikers, dolls and pets. One mom calls it "the walking school bus". Some days there are as many as 10 kids and 6 adults. We have been known to block traffic and we attract a fair amount of honking and waving. This group of mom's have become a bit if a lifeline for me. I know that I can always count on them. The option is always there for them to walk Meg to school or bring her home for me...but I just can't stay away. Lola and I need that time as much as Meg does. We wake up to the world in those 30 minutes in the crisp morning air. Breathing in the peace of our block, breathing in the joy of our union with our comrades at "kids corner", breathing in the excitement and anticipation of a new day to learn and soak up the spirit of community. And at the end of each school day our children have a chance to slowly and gently transition back into our family routines. To shift and squirm their bodies in an effort to shed the weight of their day of independence and burrow themselves back into the bossom of their mamas.

This stretch of sidewalk has seen and heard some of our lives most revealing and authentic moments. I have knelt down on that pavement many times to offer comfort for a scraped knee, a bruised ego or a broken heart. I have thrown my head back and laughed into the canopy of our big old elm trees at the sheer delight of a crazy outfit or a knock knock joke. And I have grinned foolishly at the joy of it all.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

...definitely not 1984.

Everyday on my way to and from Meg's school I pass by Concordia College.  It is anchored by a beautiful old building and surrounded by incredible mature trees.  I went to school here almost 20 years ago.  I never walk by without being captivated by the youthful vitatlity that kind of oozes from the old bones of this historic building and the charming exuberance that is characterized by the students laughing, studying and cavorting on the front lawn. The other day on my way to pick Meg up from school I saw something that still amazes me...

Even 10 years ago this sight would not have been so mundane.  Hell, I still don't find it mundane.  I thought it remarkable enough that I couldn't stop thinking about it and asked if I could take her picture as I passed by on the way home. 

This tree has easily outlived the person that planted it many decades before.  It has massive, sprawling branches that have given shade to many a student on a hot, sunny day.  When I went to school here I sat with my back against that gnarled old tree trunk listening to Sonata No. 11 on my big, yellow, Sony Sports Walkman. 

My friend, Chris, is writing a musical called "St. Aggie's 84".  It's about an all girls private school and is set in 1984.  Around the time that Sony Sports Walkman was all the rage.  For the last few months he has been completely immersed in the 80s. As well as writing this musical he has also recorded an album for release in June that is about 50 percent 80s cover songs.  Needless to say this has led to a lot of refelction about how our world has evolved since then.  Or more specifically the contrast between what we thought the year 2010 would look like and what has actually come to pass.  We thought that the future was in artificial intelligence, robotics and space travel.  And to some extent all of those things have made advances but the dark horse of the technological race has been in telecommunications and wireless devices.  Making the above scene just part of the landscape.

My 6 year old thinks nothing of this sight.  For her "google" is a verb that has always been a part of her vocabulary.  She can't understand that there was ever a time when the world wasn't at our fingertips.  I find myself talking about encyclopedias and having to go to the library to study like my grandparents did about their horse and cart transport to school. 

Every day I wake up and the first thing I do after kissing my sleeping baby on the head is reach for my IPhone to check the days weather forecast.  I mentally prepare three outfits.  I can't resist checking my email and facebook while I am at it.  All this before I roll out of bed.  This is only the start of a day in which I am completely connected without tether to almost anything in the world.  And at night I often end the day as I am today.  My laptop perched on the bed, me under the covers crosslegged and cozy, tapping away at my keyboard.  And yet I am still jarred (and amazed) by the image of a young woman researching a term paper, composing an email or doing her online banking under the shade of a gnarled old tree.