Somewhere recently I heard the term “The Facebook Lie”, which refers to the lies we tell on Facebook about our lives: the glowing portraits of a healthily functioning family at play, the hilarious things that we say to each other on a daily basis, the delicious meals, the serene setting in which we live. It’s not that those things individually are not true, but the overall picture we paint is a false one. Our lives are not living Norman Rockwell or Thomas Kinkade paintings. Where are the arguments, the tears, the yelling, the mess? It’s one sided. I’ve thought more than once that maybe I should record some of those messy, ugly times with stylized Instagram photos and gritty Facebook statuses. I haven’t done that yet, except in what follows I guess.
I went to bed quite late last night. I knew it was a bad idea and all that prevented me from going to sleep was mindless browsing of the internet and hitting “refresh.” My body was tired, but I just didn’t want to go to sleep yet. I guess I did eventually watch a movie, but still, not a good reason to stay up these days.
Dixie was in Calgary for the week and I chatted with her a bit toward the end of the evening. I said, “I shouldn’t have stayed up so late. Now I’ll be grumpy with the kids tomorrow and generally useless.”
And so it was.
I turned my light off at about 12:15 or 12:30, about two hours later than we normally do. There was no school today, so I let the kids stay up a little later on the assumption that they would sleep in. They did a little, but not much. I was woken up at 7:39 by Olivia’s tapping on the railing of her bunk bed. That’s about 40 minutes later than I normally get up, it wasn’t enough to make up for the late night and I couldn’t get back to sleep.
Until about mid-afternoon, it was one of those days in which I repeatedly wished I had a “RESTART” button I could press to have a second (or third or fourth) go at the day. I was tired and didn’t feel like doing what the kids wanted to do (“The Game of Life”? Really?) and I was edgy. I’d snap at the kids, show them very little mercy (in other words: wouldn’t let them be kids), raised my voice in irritation and anger. Of course, they were the problem. My day would be much better if they would just stop…being them.
Later on the day I reflected on this. The problem wasn’t the kids. I mean, they had their moments of fighting, loudness, rudeness, disobedience and poor listening, but that’s not unusual. They’re kids, after all. The problem was me. I was cranky, I was on edge, I was impatient, which meant that I reacted where I didn’t need to react and, worse, I would set both them and myself up for further failure. One of them does something that isn’t wrong in itself, but it really bugs me because I’m tired, so I tell that one to stop it. They do it again and so I get angry with them for disobeying me. And things escalate. My crankiness leads me to set up unreasonable and unnecessary expectations for my children, which leads to further crankiness when those expectations are inevitably not met.
I attempted a couple of restarts today. I walked the few hundred yards to the mailbox and back, in hopes that the blue skies and fresh winter air would brighten my mood. It only worked for a couple of minutes. I tried napping after lunch but was woken twice by the kids right at that moment of transition between wakefulness and sleep. Then I just laid there restlessly for a while, unable to get back to that transition point. Later, at Madeline’s request, we went out for a walk. Luke and Olivia didn’t want to go outside initially, but pretty soon they were having some fun sliding down some piles of snow-covered dirt in the yard. They wanted to stay outside, but none of us (except Olivia) were dressed properly and I, being grumpy and the attempt at revival failing miserably, wanted to go back inside.
I hate those kinds of days. I loathe myself as a father on those days. And that loathing feeds my crankiness. I feel much regret on those days, cycling through failure and regret, failure and regret, failure and regret. And then I experience low levels of anxiety about alienating my kids, so I give them big hugs and tell them I love them and that I sometimes have grumpy days and that today is one of them. Moments later I’m likely to be Unreasonably Grumpy Dad again. Failure, regret, reconciliation attempt, failure, regret…
But you know what’s crazy (and this is perhaps what I should really take away from the day)? The kids are unfazed. They know their dad. They know I have grumpy days, and they are always forgiving. At lunch I apologized for my grumpiness. I asked them if they would forgive me. Luke said, “I’ll always forgive you, dad!”
What a gift! What a gift! It encourages me and it shames me.
It’s difficult to forgive myself on these days, to do that thing that seems to come so naturally to my own children. Is it possible give ourselves as parents the room to be who we are on these days without also justifying the way we are? Our kids seem to give us that room, but we are left only with regret.
Jesus seemed to think we had quite a lot to learn from children. I think he was onto something.
The afternoon was salvaged with pop, a big bowl of popcorn, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and the kids with me on the couch, Luke snuggled up under my arm.
The mouth of the irresistibly-named Rat River, which forms the meandering southern boundary of the Providence campus as it flows toward the Red River of rebellion and flood fame, lies about 20kms northwest of Otterburne. Dixie had heard that someone had caught some fish at the mouth and since it was nearby I planned to try fishing there with Olivia. That plan was waylaid by a brief but painful bout of strep throat. Today, however, was the day.
Google maps’ satellite view indicated that access to the mouth of the Rat River was a short gravel road off one of the main highways. The map didn’t indicate anything topographically or otherwise significant, but in fact there is a gate there indicating that we would be entering Mennonite Memorial Landing Site.
I thought it wasn’t much more than a reasonably well-kept nature area until I noticed the marble monolith standing some way back in the forest.
On it was engraved this significant historical information:
THIS IS THE SITE OF THE FIRST LANDING OF MENNONITE SETTLERS IN CANADA. ON 1 AUGUST 1874, THE “INTERNATIONAL,” A STEAM-POWERED RIVER BOAT, LANDED HERE WITH THE FIRST CONTINGENT OF 65 MENNONITE FAMILIES. BETWEEN 1874 AND 1880 SOME 7000 MENNONITES CAME TO MANITOBA FROM GERMAN-SPEAKING COLONIES IN SOUTH RUSSIA (UKRAINE). THE MAJORITY ARRIVED AT THIS SPOT… (read full text here)
How about that? If that isn’t a significant historical site, I don’t know what is. But why isn’t it on the map? Why isn’t there any signage on the highway nearby? How many Manitoba Mennonites know that it all started here?
All of this is on the Red River floodplain. You pass through treeline fifty yards deep, in which the monolith marking the site’s historic significance stands. The other side opens up into clay covered in fresh vegetation–the water on the Red River rises high in the spring even in non-flood years such as this one. The boot-sucking shore of the river is littered with old cans, broken beer bottles, recently gorged-on watermelon husks, and other detritus. It’s a shame that such a significant point of interest is treated more like a dump for those fishing there. But it’s otherwise a beautiful spot (and great company)!
(The Red River is about 30 feet to the right. It didn’t occur to me until now to take a photograph facing west to the place where the two rivers meet!)
But I’m not writing this piece of faux travel literature to bore you! No, I say, it was a monumental day in the Vandersluys household!
So Olivia and I came here to go fishing together. We made our way down the dirty, sticky shore. There were a couple of men already fishing. They spoke in a foreign language. As we approached, I assumed it would be German, but it sounded more like Ukrainian. We moved off to our own corner of the shore, farther into the mouth.
The men were casting their lines and letting their poles sit on forked branches jammed into the clay on the shore. I couldn’t tell what they were using for lures, but I felt conspicuously wrong in taking my standard cast-and-reel approach. They brought in a fish each as we were setting up. The caught a couple more while Olivia did some practice casting with a de-hooked weighted lure and I cast-and-reeled my generic rubbery/wormy lure. I kept spying on them to see what they were using. I couldn’t tell. Looked like fresh bait–chicken livers, maybe?
Olivia was ready to fish with a real hook. I asked her which hook and rubbery lure thing she wanted (you can tell I’m a fisherman, right?). She picked what she thought were the brightest and best colours. Away she went. One of the other guys had switched his lure to a large spoon/floating-fish kind of lure.
I cast out my line a couple of times. Then I hear splashing and–what do you know!–Olivia has a little jack on her line! Huzzah!
Closeup of the fish and the lure:
The other guys noticed. A friend of theirs who must have been fishing around the bend came and I think took a picture. I slipped and slided around the shore trying to get a quick picture of Olivia with the fish so that I could unhook it and let it go before it died. I got the picture and the fish jumped off the line on its own!
A good morning with Olivia.
Life in the trailer goes on these days. It’s finally going on. In fact, last Friday (June 1) was the first time since graduating near the end of April that I truly felt done with school and that I was resting. Dixie did some calculations and, beginning with the candidating weekend following graduation weekend, in 34 days we were gone from home for 15 days, 14 of which were out of province. Out of four trips, 3 were planned with a couple of days of actually leaving. Between Dixie and I we spent 10 days in classes, 10 days with sick kids, 8 days of soccer for our kids, a major birthday party, school plays, and so on and so forth.
We’re exhausted and fighting illness and I’ve been sleeping more than usual (multiple naps in a day). I’m not sure if that’s the month of business or the 3 years of seminary finally taking its toll now that things are slowing down a bit.
I don’t say this to complain, but simply to point out that things really do feel like they’re “normalizing” a bit. I realize all this busy-ness is life, too, but it’s not a good life. So I’m recovering and relaxing and doing some odd jobs around the house and reading.
The biggest kick in the butt was the impromptu 2,800km round trip to Alberta and back two weekends ago. Dixie and I were in constant disagreement about where we should live when we move. It became clear that the only solution would be to drive out and have another look at our options. We took the kids this time.
It was worth it. We agreed on where we should live (in The Field, about half a mile or so from Randall and Lauralea and not much farther from a number of people who attend the church). And that did it, that settled things down in our minds so that we could relax and carry on with our remaining time in Otterburne.
We will slowly pack. I hate packing, but for now Dixie has encouraged me to pack up the books, which I find to be a reasonably tolerable task. We will move in the first week of August or so.
In the meantime, life goes on. I have the feeling that there is some work-related reading that I should probably start doing before I get there. But not just yet.
Olivia loves playing “Just Dance” on our Nintendo Wii. She usually just sticks to one or two songs, such as “Walk Like and Egyptian”. But today all three kids were playing on some kind of “medley” mode, where different songs came up consecutively and Elvis’ cover of “Viva Las Vegas” came on. It’s a fun song and the dancing character we were supposed to imitate was even more fun: he was basically wearing a Three Amigos outfit. Good times. I had to dance that whole song through. Here are 4 out of 5 Otterburne Vandersluyses dancing to “Viva Las Vegas”:
In some senses it’s a shame that we’re likely moving out of Manitoba just when we’re settling a bit. I guess at the moment I’m thinking mostly about the fact that we’ve found a place of our own to retreat to.
If we were staying in this fair province, we would probably make an annual pilgrimage to Falcon Lake and Falcon Trails Resort:
Last week was the kids’ spring break. No school for a week. What do you do with three energetic young children in a small trailer in a transitional season (i.e. neither snow nor beach weather)? Dixie threw around a couple of options, all of which involved a lot of travelling and, ultimately, exhaustion. Then Dixie suggested a couple of nights at Falcon Lake. Agreed! And less than two hours away!
A year and a half ago we spent Thanksgiving weekend in a cabin on Falcon Lake (post and videos). It was an great weekend and has established itself in my mind as one of those few special memories that can’t be replicated. In fact, I worried a bit that this weekend, if it didn’t go well, would undo the memory of the first weekend there. That did not happen.
The weather forecasts leading up to this weekend were all over the map, starting with hot and sunny and moving to cool and rainy. We got the middle: cool and sunny. The weather was actually great for walks and much time spent on the dock.
Madeline’s favourite place:
Unfortunately, as early as our spring has been, the ice was not yet melted on Falcon Lake, so we did no canoeing this time. We were all disappointed. You can see the ice is almost right up to the dock. By the time we left, the ice was well beyond the crack in the ice above Madeline’s head. I imagine by Easter weekend it’ll be open water.
But we relaxed. And we hot-tubbed.
And we played games.
And we threw lots of rocks at and onto the ice.
And we went for walks along the lake.
And we read. And we napped.
On Monday, we realized that we were so close to the Ontario border that it would be silly of us not to cross it. Madeline at first didn’t believe us that we were going to Ontario. She thought we were joking, that we were just going to a city called “Ontario”. Then we got to the “Welcome to Ontario” sign.
We briefly considered driving to Kenora, which was just 45kms away, but we had no good reason to do so beyond being able to say that we went to Kenora. So we didn’t.
All in all it was a good, relaxing weekend.
Madeline: Luke started crying because I was making him laugh.
Luke: Well it hurts when I laugh.
Madeline: Luke, laughter is good medicine.
Me: They say laughter is the best medicine, Madeline. “It’s good for what ails ya,” as Opa used to say.
Madeline: What does “ails” mean?
Luke: Is it good for eczema?
Madeline: What does “ails” mean?
Me: No, but good question, Luke.
Madeline: What does “ails” mean?
Me: “Ails” means something that makes you sick or hurts you.
Madeline: Well, laughter ails Luke, so…
Me: Good point, Madeline. I guess laughter is the best medicine except for when laughter is the thing that is hurting you.
This week the kids spent some time at a friend’s house and made some masks. This morning they dressed up with clothing appropriate to their costumes. Madeline is a cat; Olivia is a bat; and Luke is a pumpkin.
With lunch, they decided that they should drink something appropriate to the animals they were dressed as.
Madeline, being a cat, wanted milk.
Olivia, being a bat, wanted to drink something red like blood, so she chose cranberry juice.
Luke, being a pumpkin, wanted iced tea, which is brown and is therefore, in his own words, “worm poop juice”.
On Sunday, Luke and I drove Madeline three hours north-west of us to Covenant Heights Bible Camp. It’s on Clear Lake in Riding Mountain National Park.
Here she is at her cabin:
That was a bit of an emotional experience for me. I’m just leaving her there to fend for herself with (mostly) strangers for five days. She’s growing up.
Rather than drive the three hours back on the same day, Luke and I decided to pitch at tent for the night in the national park. We roasted some hot-dogs, played some badminton, played on the beach, and slept through a storm (or, in my case, laid awake). In the morning we went fishing. He caught his first fish!
This is him holding the fish (a Northern Pike/Jack) at a distance. He was a little nervous. It’s at Deep Bay on Clear Lake:
I also caught two fish (not much for two hours of fishing). One of them broke the leader as I was trying to unhook it (I’m a bit skittish with the flipping and flopping and took a little long) and it swam off with the lure still in its mouth. That can’t be good, can it?