“Momma, when you cry, I cry. When you hurt, I hurt. It’s because we are connected. I grew in your belly. I feel what you feel. Because we are connected.” -Willow, on empathy and connection (explaining why she cried when I cut my lip).
I married the person who picks nails up off of the road so that others won’t puncture their tires. I married the person who picks up plastic 6-pack beer rings off of the sand to cut apart and prevent animals from being harmed. I married the person who will touch my hand just when I need to feel connected. I married the person who quickly picks up on patterns and can identify what our child needs before she can. I married the gentle person. The kind person. The conscientious person. I married the right person.
“They shouldn’t call that a right angle. It should be called a left angle, because it makes an L for LEFT.” -Willow, on angle nomenclature
“Momma, you break open your brain and see what you see. That’s Art.” -Willow, on Art
“Momma, the elephant’s real name was Jumbo Junior in the movie. His momma didn’t call him Dumbo. The mean elephants called him Dumbo. It’s not nice to call someone dumb. So we need to call him Jumbo, NOT Dumbo, when we read the story about the movie. Okay, Momma?” -Willow, on compassion
“Unfortunately, Momma… dreams don’t just come true. You can’t just wish and things happen. You have to work hard and make your dreams come true.” -Willow, on determination
I think I have found my new life coach. She’s five years old and is full of wise words. I’m in awe of the way in which she sees the world.
When we slow our lives down enough to listen-really listen-to young children, we often hear very profound statements. We gain insight into how their minds work and how they process new information and ideas… and sometimes we are given the gift of a better way of looking at the world.
One of the gifts of having an only child is the ability to really listen without interruptions from siblings. I know that one day Willow will not want to share all of her innermost thoughts with me, so I will store these precious moments in my heart and cherish them.
Marie Kondo has a famous question that many people use when they are de-cluttering their homes and deciding whether or not to keep an item: “Does it spark joy?”
How many of us have holiday traditions that may have sparked joy once upon a time… until they became an expected and joyless chore? Are these traditions adding to and enriching our lives? If not, perhaps it is time to de-clutter them.
When I was a new teacher, I carefully and lovingly wrote out holiday greeting cards to every member of my school staff, in addition to mailing cards to all of my friends and family members. It felt wonderful to take the time to record special things that I appreciated about each person, and to thank them for the positive impact they were having on my life. I made myself a nice little checklist of everyone with whom I worked. This simple act of gratitude took about four minutes per card, and it made me feel incredibly happy. It filled my heart, helped me to watch for the best in my colleagues, and truly sparked joy.
After a few years, it became my tradition, and as I took on more tasks leading up to the holiday season, I found it harder and harder to complete the cards on my checklist, not just for staff members but also for friends and family members. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the cards had stopped sparking joy and had become a chore that I felt obligated to complete.
One year, I only had time to deliver about half of my cards to staff mailboxes before the morning bell rang, and could not complete my deliveries until my afternoon break. On my way to the staff mailboxes to deliver the remainder of my cards that afternoon, I overheard a colleague complaining to another colleague about not having received a card. He was bitter because he felt that I was “playing favourites and obviously had no respect for him”. I felt devastated and confused by his interpretation of events.
It was at that moment that I really stopped to reconsider my card tradition. Something that had once sparked joy and added to my spiritual and mental health was now apparently creating hurt feelings, and I was frankly resentful about his reaction to not receiving a card. Nobody likes to feel as though their efforts are being taken for granted.
Sadly, when the kind things we do for others become expected, they are often no longer appreciated or valued. Equally sad is the way in which doing kind things can lose their appeal once we feel obligated to do them.
This unexpected remark by a colleague prompted me to ask myself some tough questions. Why was I spending so much of my time writing cards for people? Was it really about sharing my love and gratitude at this point, or merely about a sense of social obligation and people-pleasing? Was I actually experiencing any of the happiness I had once felt when I started my card tradition? What else could I be doing with this precious time? How else could I incorporate gratitude in a way that did not cause my hand to cramp up and my tendonitis to flare?
The truth is that holiday greeting cards are not a bad thing in and of themselves. Taking a moment to share love and gratitude is always a good thing, and if that takes the form of a greeting card, then so be it. If writing cards still sparks joy in your heart, then you should do it. The real lesson here is to give ourselves permission to let go of that which no longer serves us. Sometimes it takes an unkind remark to wake us up to what really matters.
In my current life, I buy or make just a few select holiday cards. I no longer have a must-write checklist of colleagues, friends, and family. Willow and I send cards to the people that we truly want to receive our messages of love and gratitude. We don’t stress about the rest. Willow is not being raised to believe in obligatory card-sending as a non-negotiable holiday social expectation. She gives cards from her heart, and they mean so much more as a result.
It was “backwards day” at Willow’s school today. She tried her pants and shirt on backwards and decided it just wasn’t for her. Too uncomfortable. No thanks. (Even though everyone else was wearing backwards clothing). When asked about her clothing this morning, she calmly explained to a peer that it was not comfortable, and it was her choice if she wanted to participate. May we all grow up to have the self-confidence that this child possesses to march to the beat of her own drum.
I recently saw an article on my twitter feed about ways to cope when “disappointed by a baby’s gender” at an ultrasound.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to be “disappointed in your baby’s gender” at an ultrasound, instead of just being relieved and thankful for the miracle that your fetus is actually still alive, but obviously it’s a real concern for some prospective parents with different life experiences than mine.
Discussions of cultural gender bias and gender being a fluid social construct aside (which could take up another entire series of blog posts), this article really made me think about how easy it is for us to take things for granted in our lives, and how important a sense of perspective can be to our happiness.
People who have been through the trenches of infertility and the loss of a pregnancy or a child rarely have the privilege of being disappointed by the sex of their child. People who have lived in refugee camps with no running water rarely have the privilege of being disappointed about the size of the shower in their apartment. Perspective is everything.
I have the privilege of working with amazing newcomer families from around the world, many of whom experienced a great deal of trauma before coming to Canada. The themes of resilience and gratitude are ones that I see every day with the families who are thriving instead of simply surviving. Not sweating the small stuff, the ability to positively reframe challenges, and finding joy in simple pleasures can really help to create a positive outlook and resilience to bounce back from a less-than-ideal situation.
On the days when I start to stir the pity pot over the speed bumps that life throws my way, I need to come back to these important skills that my families have taught me are vital to a positive outlook and a life of happiness. It’s okay to feel disappointed, angry, frustrated, and sad, but we can’t stay stuck in those feelings forever, or we will drown.
Many years ago, I used to think that happiness was a privilege granted to those who had not experienced pain or hardship. As I get older, I now realize that the happiest people I know are not those who have had the easiest lives. They are the ones who fell down or got knocked down repeatedly and then got back up. They are the ones who walked through the fire. They are the ones who are leading others through the fire.
“Hi. I’m Willow. A moth landed on me, right on my arm. Let’s be friends, ok? Let’s play chase and pretend we’re birds. Follow me!” -Willow Mei, on making friends.
Willow met a lovely little girl at the splash pad today. The two chased each other and played in the water. They exchanged silly faces and noises, hugged, made up stories about imaginary creatures, and shared facts about insects and birds of prey (Did you know that an insect only has six legs? Did you know that a mommy eagle chews up food and feeds it to her baby because the baby can’t eat the food on its own?).
The grandmother of the little girl that Willow befriended today looked over at me and commented wistfully, “It’s so simple when you’re that young”. We shared a knowing nod and smile, then continued to watch the girls play together.
As I reflect on the simplicity of this summer playground moment, I find that I am relieved that Willow is able to introduce herself to others and to engage them in play. I am thrilled that she has the social skills to make fast friends wherever she goes, and I am happy that she is learning to negotiate and solve problems through her play with others. I know that she will not be the child about whom teachers worry in terms of making friends. The ability to seek out new friends is a real blessing, and an important survival instinct for many only children who do not have built-in playmates.
I am also saddened by the realization that it truly isn’t this easy to make and maintain friendships when girls get a bit older, and that Willow will one day feel the bitter sting of rejection and exclusion.
I know that I have to work hard to heal my own wounds around rejection and “mean girl” trauma before I can be fully present to witness and help Willow cope with her own relational aggression issues as they arise. We also have to work hard to build up Willow’s own self-esteem, compassion, kindness, and empathy in order to ensure that she does not end up being the “mean girl” herself.
There is much work to be done. I am exhausted just thinking about it.
Just for today, I will remember to take the time to breathe and focus on the present. I will cherish the innocent and loving child that we have, and appreciate the ease with which this sweet girl connects with other human beings of all ages. I will enjoy experiencing this stage with her and watching her enjoy these easy times while they last, and try not to wait for the other shoe to drop.