Bringing Her Into Our Peace

We choose not to yell at our daughter as a means of communication or discipline. I recognize that one day I will likely end up yelling at her or saying something quite unkind that I will immediately regret, and I know that I will have to be gentle and loving with myself when I make that mistake (or series of mistakes), and to trust that she will not be scarred for life as a result. 

I have never yelled at the children I teach, other than to shout a name across a playground or gym to get someone’s attention for safety reasons. I do my best to avoid contributing to the escalation of big feelings and behaviours by raising my voice or using unkind words. I try to invite kids into my peace instead of engaging in their rage, getting down on the same physical level as them, making eye contact where appropriate, speaking respectfully, gently, and confidently (often so quietly that children need to literally stop what they are doing to hear me-after all, everyone wants to know what the teacher is whispering, as it could be something juicy!). At both school and home I have found this to be the least stressful way for me to cope with being knocked off guard by kids’ verbally or physically aggressive outbursts. I often have to remind myself to take that extra moment to slow down, breathe, and calm my own mind and body before I can confidently and calmly respond instead of react to a situation. I find that I have to work a lot harder on this style of parenting and teaching on days when my own needs have not been met, such as adequate rest and nutrition. 

I try my best to set limits and speak to children the way that I would like to be spoken to in a time of crisis and confusion. The way that a surgeon spoke to me when telling me that my father’s cancer had unexpectedly metastasized and that he had done all that he could do. The way that my husband assured me that despite the hard patch we were going through in our marriage during our years of infertility and loss, that he wasn’t going to let me push him away and was not going anywhere. The way that my sister gently and lovingly told me that even if I spent thousands of dollars more on further diagnostic testing to determine the exact cause of his pleural effusion, my cat was never going to get better. 
Big emotions can rock our worlds and make even the most level-headed and peaceful person feel like they are going crazy. I want to model a loving and peaceful way of coping with my own big feelings. I don’t pretend that nothing bothers me, or ignore my own feelings. I let my daughter know when I feel angry, upset, sad, frustrated, etc. by naming the feelings and talking about what I can do to make myself feel better. 

Tonight I was privileged to experience a reinforcement that what we are doing is working. 
 Willow was in tears this evening and told me that she was “frustrated” because her dress-up bin necklace was “being very difficult”. I asked her what we should to do solve that problem. She asked for help to unravel the knotted necklace, then decided that she needed some time without the necklace because it made her feel angry. She requested her monkey to cuddle so that she could feel better. I could almost see her cortisol and adrenaline levels decreasing and her oxytocin and serotonin levels increasing as she smelled and snuggled her monkey and covered him in kisses. I wish that I had been able to both recognize and cope with my big feelings at 2.5 years old (or even 25 years old) with the maturity and grace that this child demonstrated tonight. 

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“Terribly” Terrific Twos

 I’ve always hated the term “terrible twos”. I heard it used by parents while working in a toddler program for 18-36 month old toddlers, and always assumed it was a sort of joke. The children I was working with were far from “terrible”. Sure, they tested boundaries and explored the world around them in sometimes incredibly messy ways (Did I ever tell you the story of the toddler who tried to “paint me” using his diarrhea?). They sometimes cried or whined when they were overtired, hungry, sick, teething, or when big life changes were happening (especially during the addition of a new baby to the family). Sometimes they hit, kicked, bit, or pushed when big feelings overtook their little bodies. This did not make them “terrible”. They were just tiny humans learning how to cope with the confusing and sometimes terribly unpredictable world within and all around them. 

 The children I worked with fascinated me. They experimented with power and ownership, they slowly learned to use words instead of physical acts to get their needs met, and they learned to take turns and to share resources. They learned to follow daily routines and safety guidelines, and to create guidelines for themselves based on lived experience. They figured out how to ask for help when things became overwhelming, and how to verbalize their big feelings. They observed and experimented to find out how the world around them worked, and slowly developed the vocabulary and structural language skills to begin to question, reflect upon, and discuss their findings. I was amazed and excited by the changes that would happen literally overnight. Some of their learning came out of painful experiences such as skinned knees, hurt feelings, or broken structures. But nothing they did was “terrible”. 
 Referring to one’s child as a “little monster” or saying that he or she is “going through the terrible twos” is neither healthy nor helpful, especially when spoken within earshot of the child. I can attest to the vast differences in teacher attitude and treatment of the children in a centre where teachers were allowed to refer to the children in demeaning terms in the staff room, and those where that kind of name calling was forbidden. Our words reflect our thoughts and can shape our experiences and actions. Name calling creates a me-versus-you mentality, even when used half in jest. Referring to children as “beasts”, “monsters”, “terrible twos”, “jerks” (or other terms that I will not put in writing) is just a bit too close to Hitler’s use of the word “vermin” for my liking.  
 

 Since becoming a parent to a “terrific two”, I have become even more offended by the term “terrible twos”, and have corrected those who try to tell me that our daughter is “a terrible two”. We have an intelligent, charismatic and energetic almost two and a half year old daughter who experiments with the world around her, including testing to see if mommy’s answer will be the same as daddy’s answer. She can melt down into a puddle of toddler rage and sadness if we are out and about too close to nap time or meal time. She can become defiant or cry for seemingly no reason (although in retrospect, there is ALWAYS an underlying reason-oncoming illness, fatigue, sudden change in routine, blood sugar drop, etc). Like most humans her age, she thrives with a predictable routine and warnings about upcoming transitions, adequate rest, exercise, play, and good nutrition. She can be easily overstimulated in loud or crowded environments and needs quiet time to reset. Proactive preparation for outings (including escape plans if necessary) and frequent check-ins keep our ship running fairly smoothly on most days.  
 Parents and teachers are not in a war with our kids. There are no “front lines” or “trenches” in a family or an educational setting. Children are not obstacles to be overcome, nor barriers to adult happiness. They are gifts to be cherished, loved, taught, and learned from. It is our privilege and responsibility to be the adults in the relationship, to model the kind of behaviour and self-regulation skills we want to see in the next generation, including refraining from hurtful name-calling. The way we choose to think and speak about children’s behaviour and how we deal with meeting our own physical, emotional and spiritual needs (ensuring that we do not become overburdened and burnt out) have so much to do with how we experience our reality with children, how we treat them, and how happy or miserable we will be as parents and teachers. Even said jokingly, words can and do hurt not only the person spoken about but the person speaking.

Big Girl

You did your very first swim lesson without me in the water, like a “big girl”. You also started climbing out of the crib, and have quickly transitioned to a “big girl bed”. You bought some “big girl underpants” to wear while toilet learning. I never thought I’d be one of those parents who weeps over a child growing up. And yet here I find myself. Frightened and proud. Broken and blissful. Mourning and celebrating. The dichotomy is overwhelming. 

I love you. I am so proud of you. Your snuggles and sweet words melt my heart, but please know that you are not responsible for meeting my emotional needs. Your smile brightens up a room and is contagious… but you are not responsible for my happiness, nor the happiness of others. You can and should be responsible TO others but not responsible FOR them. I hope you remember that as you continue to grow up, my loving and open-hearted child. 

Before bed, after reviewing the day together, you ask me to pick you up to do big cuddles and tell you all of the things that I love about you. You are brave. You are smart. You are determined. You are a good friend. You are gentle. You are strong. You are kind. You are loving. You are beautiful. You are hard-working. You usually remind me of a good description that I’ve left out. Tonight you reminded me that you’re a “good snuggler”. Indeed, you are. 

You are growing and learning so quickly every day. Sometimes I forget that you are only two years old! You seem like a wise old soul in a tiny body. At times, you observe the world with such seriousness, and you can get lost in a state of flow like no other toddler I know. 

You are such a remarkable and intuitive little girl. You make being your mommy both a gift and a challenge. You continue to help me to grow as a parent, teacher, artist, and a human being. You challenge me to prioritize my life, and to live in the moment. 
We won the lottery when we took a chance on you. You were totally worth the wait. 

A Year of Willow-isms

When I do language assessments, I try to record phrases or sentences spoken by the child, as this helps me to see growth over time. Verbatim scribing allows me to more accurately assess oral language proficiency and develop appropriate programming based on the individual’s strengths and needs. It also helps when referring children to speech and language pathologists, who might find specific samples helpful in assessing articulation difficulties, word retrieval issues, etc.  

Observing a toddler who is actively developing oral language skills is a language-geek’s gold mine.  I have been fascinated by her every utterance since her first “Dada” and “Kit-n” (kitten) and am frequently found recording videos of random conversations just so that I can play them back and hear her little voice. I seriously geek out when I analyze her speech. Articulation. Syntax. Vocabulary. Intonation. Volume control. It’s one of the many reasons that I call this stage the “Terrific Twos”. I present to you a collection of adorable quotes that show some  amazing oral language development from 16 months of age right up to today (2 years 4 months old), affectionately known as “A Year of Willow-isms”. 

“I think so. Yes, I will wear a sleep sack to bed. When I am crabby I will take it off. And maybe I will take off my diaper. Yes, I think so.”-Willow Mei, on planning ahead (July 2016). 

“I love you, mommy. I love you so much. Need a kiss and a snuggle. Yes, I love you and you love me. Goodnight little bee.” -Willow Mei, on the importance of bedtime rituals (July 2016).

“I’m cranky and tired and I need a nap!!” -Willow Mei, on self-care and the importance of rest (July 2016). 

“I tested my blood sugar. I need some insulin, please.” -Willow Mei, on the diligent management of imaginary diabetes (June 2016).

“He’s not going a good job. He’s doing a medium job!” -Willow Mei, on the moderately adequate performance of toys on a ramp (June 2016).

“I’m so lucky. I’m so beautiful. Everyone loves Willow.”-Willow Mei, on the importance of the development of self-esteem (June 2016).

“See? My lips [chapstick] is a choking hazard for Baby Gemma. So I’m a just put lips in my purse so Baby Gemma can’t get it. Is a choking hazard.” -Willow Mei, on responsibility (June 2016)

“I need a skip to my lou because I have endergy!” -Willow Mei, on a child’s right to play (June 2016)

“That’s not nice! Listen to mommy! Listen to the doctor! They not listening, mommy! Jumping on the bed! Bumping a head!” -Willow Mei, on the disturbing noncompliance of the five little monkeys, even after repeated warnings from a health professional (June 2016).

“I neeeeeeeed to peek at daddy at work. I need to peek at him. Just quick, quick, quick. Because I need to. Thank you-please.” -Willow Mei, on sneaking up on Daddy at work (June 2016).

“Mommy, that too difficult for me. I’m a CHILD!” -Willow Mei, on practising oral hygiene skills (May 2016).

“Daddy sick. Daddy havin’ a big cough like me in a bathroom. Daddy is sad. Need a kiss and a snuggle and feel better. Poor daddy.”-Willow Mei, on compassion for those we have infected with VomitPalooza (May 2016).

“It’s fweezing, mommy. My panda boots say ‘Brr! Too chilly! Time a go inside and have some snack!’ “-Willow Mei, on Spring mornings (April 2016).

“I love you, Panda. I love you so much. Could Panda BE any cuter? No.” Willow Mei, on loving those who comfort us when we are ill (April 2016). 

“What’s a matter, mommy? Sad? Need a panda? Need a Noam-Noam Chimpsky? Need a kiss and a snuggle?” –Willow Mei, on the importance of compassion and comfort (April 2016).

“I’m not tired anymore. Baa baa white sheep, three bags full, right? One for a master. Okay, Baa Baa? Okay? That’s why. That’s why. I’m not tired.” -Willow Mei, on bedtime (March 2016). 

“Good-night, Daddy. Need a snuggle. Need a kiss.” -Willow Mei, on the importance of demanding physical affection as part of one’s basic toddler rights (March 2016). 

“Mommy, don’t eat a red thing. Is a choking hazard.”–Willow Mei, on food safety (March 2016). 

“Hello, neighbour. Nice to see you again. Bye, neighbour. See you another day!” -Willow Mei, on the importance of being a good neighbour (March 2016). 

“Mommy and Daddy best friends.” -Willow Mei, on the importance of parents who actually like each other (March 2016). 

“Mommy? Daddy? Go daycare? Go shopping? Go swimming? Today? Another day?” -Willow Mei, on the importance of predictable scheduling (March 2016). 

“Mommy, mail in a mailbox! (Placing foam letters into her backpack, pretending it is a mailbox). ACTUALLY, it’s a backpack.” -Willow Mei, on separating reality from fantasy (February 2016). 

“Vroomy-vroom-vroom! Willow at the wheel!” -Willow Mei, on Mondays (January 2016). 

“Down, up, down, up, W for Willow!” -Willow Mei, on the importance of the letter W (January 2016).

“Why? Why no charger do it? Fix it! Fix it pease, momma?”-Willow Mei, on the sadness of an uncharged old-timely phone that just won’t plug into an iPhone cable (December 2015). 

“Oh, no! Happened? Dopped it. Want it. Get it. Help, pease, mommy. Turn? Turn?”-Willow Mei, on the sadness of dropping a toy and having your cat siblings snatch it (November 2015). 

“No monkeys jumping!!” -Willow Mei, on the common urge to defy physicians’ orders (October 2015). 

“Stah-bewwy? Stah -bewwy? Where? Where stah-bewwy?” –Willow Mei, on the intense sadness that comes with the sudden realization that summer is truly over and strawberries are no longer in season (October 2015). 

“Boys! Mine!” -Willow Mei, reflecting on the concepts of gender and ownership after her first day back at daycare (September 2015).  

“Bubbles?!?”–Willow Mei, on the futility of washing dishes which shall be dirtied again within the hour (August 2015). 

“Beep, beep! Go! Go! Car! Car!”–Willow Mei, on traffic jams (August 2015). 

“What id it? Kitten! Kitten! Meow! Meow!” -Willow Mei, on furry friends (July 2015). 

Daddy Love

Willow has a pretty awesome Daddy. He is not afraid to jump in the kiddie pool or splash in the puddles. He knows that a clean floor is not more important than an inquisitive child who is learning about capacity and mass through experimentation. He recognizes that a job that removes you from your family is not worth pursuing. He understands the power of a snuggle and a kiss, and the importance of keeping a spare Noam Chimpsky lovie on call. He is learning how to be a parent, just as I am. He has strengths and weaknesses, just as I do. He is not perfect, and neither am I. There is nobody else on this planet I would rather have as my parenting partner, and I am so glad that he is thriving and growing in his confidence as a father, and helping me to grow as a mother and as a human being. 
Involved and loving Daddies of the world, thank you for doing things “your way”, even when you are told it is not the “right way”. Thank you for loving your children in the way that only a Daddy can, and for doing all of the thankless everyday jobs that we so often forget to notice. Thanks for taking things in stride when your partner is repeatedly praised by society for her hard work as a parent and you are often left out or even ridiculed for your efforts. An involved and loving Daddy is a gift to a child that leaves a lasting imprint on both the child and the human race. Thank you for making our kids and our world kinder, gentler, and more loving. 

Happy Fathers’ Day to all the daddies, with extra love to those who mourn the loss of their dads, those who mourn the loss of a relationship with their dad or their child’s dad, dads who mourn the loss of a child, and my friends in the silent brotherhood who are praying to one day be called someone’s “Dada”. 

“Do you want a little brother or sister?”

Please don’t ask our daughter if she wants a little brother or sister. Just don’t.  

A 2-year old does not understand that this question is just a passive aggressive jab at a parent whom you have just branded “selfish” for “only having one child”, instead of a literal offer of a sister or brother. She only hears you asking her if she wants a younger sibling, right after you just offered her a free sticker. She says “yes” and looks around the room, apparently to see if the little sister you just offered her is in the same basket as the stickers, ready to come home with her. 

If you only knew how many years I prayed for a living child. How we didn’t share the news of this pregnancy with coworkers and friends until I was over six months along (and Willow had finally reached viability stage). How much it hurts every time someone tells me it’s “time for another” or makes disparaging remarks about children with no siblings.  If you only knew how my heart aches when Willow’s daycare provider says that she is so gentle with the new baby at daycare and would be a good big sister. If you could feel just a fraction of the yearning and grief that we have lived through, or the overwhelming gratitude that we have for the miracle that we have been blessed with. 
But you do not know, you cannot possibly know, nor do I know you well enough to even start to explain why your question is inappropriate and hurtful.  

Willow Mei is enough. She is more than enough. She fills our days and our lives with joy, love, laughter, challenges, learning, and  so very many reasons to be grateful. She brightens up the room and lightens even the heaviest of hearts. She has given hope to others, and has been a blessing to all who know and love her. Please do not insinuate that we are any less of a family for having one perfectly loved and wanted child, and please… please do not offer our little girl something that she cannot have. 

Toddler Bath Time 

Willow: “Not working! Broken! It’s crap!” (Throwing plastic bath toy into the water, after discovering that it doesn’t have enough water inside to squirt anymore)

Mommy: “Pardon me?”
Willow: “It’s crap, mommy. CRAP. Stah-fish, seahorse, occo-pus, CRAP”. 
Mommy: “Oh, yes, it’s a CRAB. A CRAB.” (Audible sigh of relief)