My last night with our baby  

Tonight as I tucked you in, I knew that this was going to be the last time I would kiss a sleepy infant good-night. Tomorrow night I will sing “Goodnight Willow” to a toddler.  I shed a tear, not out some imagined grief over “losing my little baby”, but out of sheer wonder, amazement, and gratitude. How did we get so lucky? How did we get this far?

The past twelve months have been filled with incredibly powerful and overwhelming moments of physical, spiritual, and intellectual growth. You have changed the world with your presence, little miracle. You brought hope and light with your ability to not only survive but thrive in difficult conditions, from the very moment you decided to stick. You earned your name before you were even born. You have challenged, taught, and loved us with your whole being. Life on this planet will never be the same. 
Daddy and I started to dream, think and talk about you in 2001. In 2008, we received the blessing of mommy’s family physician and specialists, a Cuban official, and Rev. Dr. (Great Uncle) Julius to try to bring you into this world. On the first day of Spring in 2014, you arrived in the wee hours of the morning, to the sound of your new mother laughing and singing with tears streaming down her face. Years of dreaming, praying and loving you into existence. You were finally here, and for that moment all was right in the world. 
You took away the empty arms and the aching hearts. You replaced them with a whole new set of challenges. Challenges that we were ready, willing, and grateful to face because we had been so well-prepared and had waited so very long to finally meet you. 

Every day I find so many reasons to celebrate your life, and our life as a family. I see you and Daddy building block towers and playing with cars on the living room carpet and my heart melts to see the amazing father and person he has become because of you. I watch you shake in anticipation as you reach for a tambourine and feel the goosebumps rising on my own arms. I smile as you stare in wide-eyed wonder at the fish in the aquarium, laughing gleefully with you when Sparkles comes to kiss your fingers through the glass. I marvel at your budding sense of humour as you pretend that a bib is a hat. I admire your determination and ability to figure out baby gates, doors, drawers, and how to get around anything that might be standing in the way of chasing a kitten. I love how you spontaneously break into dance when you hear music or rhythmic clapping, how your face lights up when we sing the toothbrush song at the table, how you turn the pages of a book and stare intently at each page, how you thoughtfully choose and then tap the pair of socks you want to wear. I love that you feel your feelings so intensely and can cry and laugh with equal amounts of passion. I love how you love with abandon, with every fibre of your being, delivering full-body hugs and open-mouthed kisses to the cheek. I love how you constantly pull me out of my thinking brain and into my body, into the present moment with you. I love who you have made me become and how you have made me see the world so clearly. I love being your mommy. 
You may never fully understand how truly loved and wanted you were and are. God willing, we will both live long enough for you to roll your teenaged eyes at me while I remind you of this fact with absolute conviction, and to smile wearily down at me when we are both in the Silver Fox Club and I continue to tell you how truly wanted and loved you were and are. 
You will always be MB in my heart, our little miracle baby who finally found her way into our loving arms.  You will always be cherished for the unique and beautiful human being that you are and will become. You will, without a doubt, continue to be my greatest teacher and the person who challenges me to grow more than I could ever dream possible. 
Thank you for choosing us to be your “Mama and Dada” and for being patient with us as we stumble along and grow into the best people, partners and parents we can be. Thank you for coming at just the right time, even if we didn’t realize it as we waited for you. Thank you for teaching us about strength, determination, faith, hope, patience, forgiveness, healing, and love.
 I cherish you. 
Happy birthday, my sweet baboo.


Hostility, digital footprints and the post that went “small town viral” 

I sometimes worry because I know that word choice, phrasing and the ordering of ideas can either help or hinder the author’s intended message. I endeavour to be respectful in my written communication, whether on social media sites such as Pinterest, Twitter, or Facebook, or while blogging or emailing. 
 
A few hostile responses posted in social media channels or directly on my blog can seem to overshadow the many supportive and respectful ones and can actually create a snowball effect by empowering others who are feeling negative or hostile to join in and create drama and conflict, whether in support of or against the original comment. Hostile discussions can become an endless cycle if we let them, and it is often easier in the short run but more difficult in the long run to give in to the urge to “feed the trolls”, even when this is done with the very best of intentions. 
 
I am starting to think that I could completely rewrite my previous blog post that has received the most flack via social media and still have a handful of readers/responders who believe that I am personally attacking them (possibly because they are already having a bad day, have already felt judged, and are feeling insecure about their own parenting choices). As one very kind early childhood educator reminded me, “You can’t please everybody all of the time… nor should you.”  Or translated into Twitter hashtaggery, #hatersgonnahate. 
 
Sometimes a piece of writing can come across as incredibly judgemental and harsh to one person, and completely rational and respectful to another, although both may disagree with the content or point of view.  It is hard for me to know how much of it is my writing style (possibly creating an overly negative tone) and how much is a result of people working through their own insecurities and issues. How much, if at all, should I be modifying or censoring my work to avoid upsetting random strangers?
 
If my blog were used to generate income, I would likely feel more pressure to please my “customers” by removing certain posts or by changing them so much that the integrity of the original piece would be lost.  As a blog primarily written for me and my daughter, with a typical audience of roughly 25 family members and friends, I thankfully have the luxury of not having to jump through hoops to try to achieve the impossible task of pleasing everyone who might possibly stumble upon my blog. 
 
As a writer, a teacher, and a mother, I feel strongly that while I am not responsible for the happiness or opinions of others, I do have the responsibility to ensure that my digital footprint does not include cyber bullying, the unnecessary creation or furthering of conflict for the sake of conflict, or any other kind of behaviour that I would not want my daughter or my students to witness or replicate. 
 
Does anyone remember learning about the ink blot test in introductory Psychology class? Different people saw completely different images and inferred different meanings based on their own states of mind, their experiences of the world, and the things that were lurking in their subconscious. One person might have seen a mother lovingly holding and nursing her child while another might have seen a small animal viciously biting a person.  Both saw the same ink blot picture, but had completely different interpretations. An ink blot picture is a randomly generated image with no artist’s intended meaning, so there really is no “right or wrong” interpretation, although the interpretation can give us some insight into the state of mind of the viewer.  To use a Hundred Acre Woods metaphor, Eeyore and Rabbit will always take away a much more negative message from a situation than will Pooh or Kanga or Roo. 
 
I wonder if we were all completely honest with ourselves if we would discover that the strong negative emotional responses to things we read sometimes have less to do with the original intention of the author and more to do with our own filters, fears, and experiences.  I have read Huffington Post articles about marriage that evoke anger in me after a sleepless night or a disagreement with my partner, but the same article can seem completely inoffensive or might even seem to offer a nugget of truth for me when I come across it on another day when I am happier and well-rested. 
 
Case in point: I wrote about respecting preverbal babies and toddlers by watching for and responding to their nonverbal cues, and gave an example of a five year old child demonstrating empathy and compassion for Willow by moving from treating her as a “doll” to decorate during a game of dress-up to respecting her as another (albeit smaller and nonverbal) human being with needs and desires of her own. I introduced this story with anecdotes about our family’s attempts to give Willow some reasonable and developmentally appropriate choices about her clothing, and shared my thoughts (as a teacher and a parent) on the need for children to be allowed access to appropriate, comfortable, functional and safe clothing (whether or not it is “pretty” or “name brand” certainly was not the point) for a variety of activities. The intended take-home message or “big idea” was about respecting all children, even ones who are not able to verbally express their needs and desires. 
 
My blog post received almost 18,000 views in a single day after it was shared on various Facebook groups and pages, then picked up by some social media news feeds. Needless to say, this was a huge increase from my usual 25 readers (Hi, Gramma Judy!). Many of my new readers, particularly those familiar with RIE practices, were cheering me on for sending an important message about respecting young children, even if they were confused about the association with clothing choices or felt strongly that their children should always be dressed in a certain way or even disagreed with my choice to allow Willow to wear mismatched clothing in public. A vocal minority reacted with a great deal of hostility, claiming that the post was personally attacking them by accusing them of being bad or even abusive parents because they dressed their baby girl in a fancy dress or their baby boy in a tie and designer suit. Talk about the author’s purpose not being clearly understood!  The post was not meant in any way to shame or judge parents for picking out aesthetically pleasing or expensive clothing for their kids, but apparently some are perseverating on the mention of toddler fashion, and completely missing the main idea of the piece. 
 
So …to answer what has become too overwhelming a number of similar questions to continue to answer personally, and to avoid wasting precious time on social media sites repeating myself when I could be spending that time playing and learning with and from a delicious toddler:
Yes, everyone including me has the right to enjoy fancy or dressy clothing, whether for attending a weekly worship service, a party, for photographs, a visit to Gramma’s house, or just to feel special. I have a pair of “happy shoes” in bold colours that make me smile when I am sad. It’s great when kids are given opportunities to have some (reasonable) choices about clothing, but we all know that societal expectations can and do interfere with individual choice, particularly when it comes to dressing up as a flower girl, ring bearer, or for a choir or dance performance, etc.  If given the choice as a child I may well have worn a tutu on top of a Winnie the Pooh costume to school and to Gramma’s house at every visit (and also in the bath tub if allowed). Tutus are not the focus of the post. I repeat, tutus are NOT the focus of the post. 
 
As a non-visual learner with the fashion sense of a rock, please be assured that if I see you or your child at the grocery store, I can pretty much guarantee you that I will not even register what either of you are wearing, let alone judge you or harass you or your child in some way for wearing something “nice”. I will be too busy finding my own groceries and focusing on caring for the most important people in my life: my own family members.
 
Having worked in both daycare and elementary education settings, I really did want to stress the safety, comfort and function factors when it comes to choosing appropriate clothing for the task at hand. As a colleague once reminded me, sometimes common sense is not as common as we’d like to think it is when it comes to what is safe and functional. I have experienced young children showing up for outdoor gross motor play and physical education activities wearing slippery, stiff dress shoes or heeled boots (tripping/slipping/falling hazard), outfits that severely limit movement and thus participation in active learning, and decorative necklaces (strangulation hazard, especially on the climber) because they look “pretty”, with no regard for safety, comfort or function. There is most definitely a time and a place for certain types of clothing and accessories. Thankfully there are gorgeous shoes and other pieces of clothing that are aesthetically pleasing as well as comfortable, functional and safe.  
 
No, I do not insist that all children must show up to school in mismatched, stained, or hand-me-down clothing, and I don’t believe that anything that is pretty must automatically be uncomfortable or restrictive. Thankfully, the world in which we live is not only black and white, although it is certainly easier to demonize someone and feed the desire for conflict by assuming that she is an extremist. 
 
Not everyone is ready or willing to accept a viewpoint or parenting choice that differs from his or hers, and that is okay.  I know firsthand that examining one’s own long-held beliefs is a scary and painful process to go through, and many people are just not in the right head space to accomplish this task.  And that is okay.  But it’s never okay to be cruel or rude, whether we are speaking to someone’s face or hiding behind internet anonymity.  It’s neither respectful nor responsible to create conflict for the sake of conflict, even if we are having a bad day. 
 
I understand that it can be easier to lash out defensively than to reflect and respond by providing suggestions, alternate viewpoints, or constructive criticism from a calm place of mutual respect.  I also understand that anything any of us writes on social media sites never really disappears. Once something is published or posted to the Internet, we no longer own it. We live in an era of instant screenshots and digital archiving. The web owns anything that we create (even if it is later modified or erased) and it can come back to haunt us years later. I, for one, hope that my own digital footprint is not something that I will be ashamed to have my daughter see in ten or twenty years. 
 
Here is what I know to be true: There is no such thing as a perfect parent. We parents are all just stumbling along and learning from our kids and experiences as we go, none of us any “better” than the rest.  Certainly none deserving of cruelty, taunting or name-calling.  We are all doing the best we can with what we have and what we know, and although it is easy to feel judged by others, most of the time the “others” are so busy taking care of their own families that we are not even on their radar!  The “mommy wars” only exist if we allow them to exist, and trolls can only have power if we feed them.  I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve discovered that I am too busy chasing after a delightful little toddler to bother wasting any more time feeding comment wars.  
 
I will not apologize for loving my daughter and the experience of parenthood so much that I am inspired to blog about them, nor will I stop writing at anyone’s request. I will not apologize for sharing my ideas, reflections, beliefs and “aha” moments, even if they do not align perfectly with those of all roughly 18,000 readers. BUT I will feel free to choose not to respond or to censor those attempting to elicit a strong negative reaction (creating conflict for the sake of “drama”) from me or others, especially when the language and tone used is purposely offensive, hostile, or contains profanity.  
 
Readers are more than welcome to comment if they wish to provide helpful, constructive and specific feedback about my writing, to reflect on emotional responses that were evoked, and to share their own divergent ideas, opinions and experiences in a respectful manner.  I have had some wonderful reflective “aha” moments about my writing and parenting choices after seeing some respectful discussion on a parent group when some of my articles have been posted. Readers also have the right to refrain from reading and responding to my work at any time. I may reflect on a piece and choose to tweak the phrasing or word choice in a post as a result of feedback.  I may add a comment or an explanation to respond to concerns. Or, I may choose to do nothing if I feel that no action is required. 
 
This blog is a safe space for me to reflect, learn, grow, and share. I am open to sharing this space with others, but please know that it will be on my terms. I know that is upsetting to those wishing to use my blog as a springboard for creating conflict for their own amusement or emotional outlet, and you may feel free to continue to create a negative digital footprint for yourself, if you truly feel the need to do so, on your own blog or other social media sites over which I have no censorship rights.  I ultimately want this blog to be a place where my daughter can one day go to be able to read and understand a bit of what was going through my heart and my head in these early days. I do not want her to witness bullying, name-calling, shaming, profanity, or any other kind of behaviour that I would not encourage her or my students to engage in as they learn to become respectful digital citizens. 
socil mEDia

My Daughter Is Not A Doll

Willow’s everyday clothing is functional.  She wears items that feel soft on her skin, are generally loose and allow for easy movement, are often stretchy, and have closures that make them easy to put on without a fuss.  Everything is able to go in the washer and dryer.  Most items have been previously well-loved by other people’s children, so we don’t have to stress if food or bodily fluids land on them.  Willow wears clothing that matches the weather and her activity level.  She wears clothing that makes diaper changes as easy and as efficient as possible.  She is encouraged to choose which diaper cover, pants, shirt or bib to wear.  She sometimes looks as though she’s dressed for clown college, but she is comfortable, happy, and able to move and play with ease.

When discussing clothing choices for young children, my husband commented, “you wouldn’t wear your wedding dress to the gym, so why would you send your daughter to playgroups or daycare wearing Sunday clothes?”

Why, indeed?

Dress-up clothes are fine in limited quantities for photos and special occasions, but do babies and toddlers really need to wear restrictive, uncomfortable clothing every time they leave the house?  I know that people love to gush over those decorative yet tight and stiff embroidered denim jeans, those scratchy polyester dresses with crinolines that make the skin crawl, those shiny little dress shoes with the rigid soles that hinder healthy foot development and are unsafe to wear while running or climbing on playground equipment… but when we force children to wear non-functional clothing, we are often taking away their physical ability to learn, play, explore and move freely. We make them uncomfortable solely for our viewing pleasure. We are treating them like little dolls instead of like human beings who deserve both respect and comfort.

While working in child care, I remember repeatedly asking a parent if she could please send appropriate play clothing with her immaculately-dressed toddler. This little girl regularly came to school wearing tight miniskirts, high-heeled knee-high boots, tight jeans, belts, etc. Her hair was always perfectly styled. She literally looked like a doll. She did not want to play in the sensory bin or finger paint because she might get her outfits dirty or wet. She couldn’t run outside with the other toddlers (and could barely walk some days) because her high heeled boots made her trip and were not allowed on our small climbing structure. She was afraid to dirty her tights by sitting in the sand box. She couldn’t use the riding toys because her skirt didn’t stretch enough to allow sufficient movement. In short, she missed out on a lot of our gross and fine motor activities, sensory play, and therefore many major learning experiences that we had to offer.  But she looked ever so cute…

A few months ago Willow and I were staying at a friend’s house and playing with her two daughters. The youngest, a kindergarten student, wanted to play “dress up” with her many hats after school. Willow loves hats, so this was a fun game for everyone. We took photos and had a lot of fun. Our little friend excitedly cried out, “Here, make Willow wear this!”. I explained that we wouldn’t MAKE Willow wear the items, but would offer them to her to wear, because she “is a person, not a doll”.  I also explained that we would only play this game for as long as Willow enjoyed it and was having fun. That five year old child thoughtfully considered what I said, and completely understood when it was time to stop. She independently read Willow’s cues (squirming, turning away, no longer smiling or laughing), turned to me and said, “Oh. I think she’s all done playing dress-up now”.

This kindergarten student demonstrated the kind of sensitivity, empathy and respect that I wish all people could have with preverbal children. Just because Willow doesn’t have the words to tell us to stop or that she’s uncomfortable or not enjoying something doesn’t mean that we have the right to force her to do things for our amusement or pleasure… including treating her like a doll instead of like a person.

***NOTE: Thank you so much to everyone who has taken the time to read, share, and respond to this post.  I am frankly a bit overwhelmed right now, and ever so thankful to Janet Lansbury for getting the ball rolling.  My follow-up musings in response to the almost 18,000 views of this post in 24 hours and the resulting flood of comments can be found in this post.***