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)

  

Bedtime Rituals

A lot of parents say that their child’s bedtime is their favourite part of the day. Usually comments like these are said half in jest, but with the core truth reflecting a feeling of relief about finally having some time to oneself or with a partner, about having a break from the daily chores associated with parenting, about being able to use the bathroom without an audience…

My favourite part of the day is Willow’s bedtime routine, but not for these reasons. Sure, I love having time in the evening to connect with my partner, to write, to read, to play with social media, to practise yoga, to plan, and to reflect.  But I also absolutely cherish the uninterrupted hour that I have the privilege of spending with a delicious little toddler every single night. The hour of slowing down and quieting our bodies and our minds, the hour of distancing ourselves from electronic devices, bright lights, loud sounds, and the rushed activities of the day. The sacred hour of enjoying each other and being entirely present with one another as we naturally lower our cortisol and blood pressure levels, and naturally raise our oxytocin and endorphin levels.

The routine has changed over Willow’s lifetime, from just nursing in a glider at first, to including saying goodnight to daddy and kittens, having a shower or a bath, a coconut oil massage, tooth brushing, potty and hand washing, picking out Jammies, turning on a sound machine to mask the motorcycle-enthusiasts and windstorms, bedtime stories while cuddling two monkey loveys before turning out the lights, singing a goodnight song, and mommy tiptoeing out while Willow sings or whispers herself to sleep. 

While turning down an activity request, it occurred to me this evening that, in the roughly 20 months that I have been Willow’s mommy, I have not missed a single night of her bedtime routine. I’ve gone out after bedtime and left her in the care of others, but I have never actually had anyone else “do bedtime” with her. 

I tell myself that I don’t want to disrupt Willow’s routine. We have a good thing going. Why mess with it?  Ultimately, though, my decision to be here every night has just as much to do with me as it does with Willow. 

Before I became pregnant with Willow, I was very active as a volunteer on a variety of committees, sang in a choir, jammed as many workshops and other professional development activities into my schedule as I could, was active in my church, and was quite engaged in the work of my local federation executive, in addition to fully committing to my full time teaching job and extracurricular activities. Whenever anyone asked me to take on another task or leadership role, I eagerly agreed, relishing the feeling of being needed and appreciated.  For the first five years of our marriage, my husband and I rarely ate dinner together.  I filled the aching hole in my heart with busy-ness. Meetings and workshops filled my waking hours and decreased the time I had to focus on the pain of infertility and pregnancy loss. 

Nowadays, my heart is full. It is so full that sometimes it feels like it is going to burst. I want to relish every second with the family that I have been blessed with. I want to slow down time and soak it all in while I can. I want to bask in this love and in this gratitude for the miracle we have been given.  Life can never go back to “the way it was”. I am not the person I once was. 

Now that Willow is beyond the “infant” stage and I have been back at work for awhile, I’ve been asked by several different colleagues and friends about getting back into volunteer activities, committees, music in the community, and professional leadership projects that would involve late afternoon and early evening meetings or rehearsals. I have made the decision to “turn them down rather than let them down”, and I am surprisingly okay with this.  I am choosing to be involved in a few small projects and an online course with flexible timelines, but the tightly-wound super-woman who worked day and night in order to outrun her feelings is gone. I’m not sure that she will ever return, even when Willow is older.

This is what I know for right now: I will be home for dinner with my family. I will be home for bath and bedtime routine. I will be entirely present with my family for this time, since we are apart all day during the week. There is no meeting or event that is so important that it needs to rob me of this precious and fleeting time with the two most important people (and kittens) in my life.  

  

 

Processing past “mean girl” trauma as a parent

This morning, Willow tried to offer blocks to an older girl at a play group as she was building a structure (a gesture that I was so happy to see, after she had been more of a “toy taker” for a few weeks and had been learning to wait for a turn). The girl yelled at Willow, “Go away! I don’t want your blocks!” Willow looked at me questioningly and I rephrased in a gentle voice, “She is saying “no thank you” to the blocks. You can build your own tower, or you can help me build”.  

Willow tried to offer the girl two more blocks and was physically blocked from doing so. I repeated, “She is saying “no thank you” to the blocks. You can build your own tower, or you can help me build”. 

The older girl then knocked her structure over and said, “Haha! I broke it now so you can’t play. So, go away!”

Willow looked startled and a bit frightened, like she often does before she cries. She quickly climbed into my lap, clung on for dear life, and nuzzled into me, hiding her face (which is rare for my independent little social butterfly to do unless it’s close to bedtime). I felt like I had been punched in the gut. 

Luckily, Willow was able to switch gears and move onto snack and home time very quickly after a short lap cuddle and reassurance from me that it was very kind to offer to share and help, and that it was okay if someone else didn’t want to play with her, but it was not okay for her to yell. 

I realize that it ended up upsetting me way more than it did her, as she eventually moved on to a variety of other activities and parts of her day, living in the moment as toddlers do. Sadly, this small incident is still taking up prime space in my head and my heart. Enough so that I need to spend nap time blogging in order to process this. 

I’m not sure that Willow fully understood what was being said or actually felt rejected, but she definitely does not like being yelled at (we are very quiet/gentle parents and her daycare provider is also a quiet/gentle person), and was probably quite confused by the girl’s behaviour.  

Part of being social creatures means that young children need to experiment and learn how different behaviours make different people react in different situations. They need to test and re-test. They may not like the results of their scientific inquiry, but they move on and forge ahead with further discoveries. 

She’s too young to go into any explanations about vocal tone, pitch and volume, power or lack of power, exclusion versus inclusion, how to cope when someone is unkind, etc. She just needed her mommy to hold her and let her know that she was safe and that everything was okay. Then she was fine and ready to move on. 

Part of my own bruised little psyche felt incredibly powerless and hurt to see my child being rejected and purposely excluded. I know how I might have responded had I been the teacher of these children in a classroom setting, but I have no idea how to respond (or even if I should respond at all to someone else’s child when the parent is sitting right there, watching and smiling at her daughter). Perhaps this mom was just thankful that her daughter was using her words (albeit yelling them) instead of clobbering Willow. Perhaps, like me, she had no idea how to respond in this situation, and was just watching, letting it play out as long as nobody was being physically harmed. 

I now recognize that raising a little girl is going to involve me working through some residual “mean girl” bullying trauma that I thought I had left behind. I’m also starting to have a lot more compassion and understanding for those parents who tend to overreact when they feel their child is being treated unfairly at school. 

All of us have our little red wagons from childhood that work their way into our adult lives. Having a child can bring them out in full force. 

Being a parent means always having a piece of my heart walking around outside of me. It means being more vulnerable than I ever thought possible. It means examining my own past and its implications for the way I interpret the world and the people in it. Learning to let go. And then learning to let go again. 

Once again, this beautiful child is teaching me more valuable life lessons than I ever picked up in seven very expensive years of post-secondary education. 

  

Toddler versus lunchbox: A lesson in determination

Sometimes it is hard (and frustrating) to watch Willow struggle with something that is challenging for her. It can be really tempting to interfere with her learning by doing something for her instead of patiently watching and trusting that she can solve a problem on her own.  My first instinct is to want to make it easier. To do it for her. To remove the frustration. To make her happy.  

Thankfully, my teacher training and understanding of Willow’s proximal zone of development have allowed me to tune out the voice in my head that says that I am a bad parent for allowing our child to struggle and experience frustration as she learns about the ways things work in the world around her. 

Thank you to Grandma Judy for shooting this 60 second video today, and to Willow for reminding me that it is only through the discomfort of struggle that determination and problem solving skills are truly developed.

Middle Path Parenting

Do all parents and parenting styles need a label?  I doubt it, but I have been asked by several different people which “parenting style” I follow.  It sometimes frustrates people when I cannot clearly define myself or my beliefs by producing an appropriate label. I do not fit neatly into a preconceived category.  I’m the kind of person who reads many books and articles on a subject and gathers information from observations and discussions, then synthesizes all of the information into something that makes sense to me but does not really resemble or resonate with any one source.

I’d like to say that I’m a “common sense parent”, but if common sense were common, then everyone would have it, right?  So perhaps I can say that I am a “middle path” parent.  Maybe my “style” can be better defined by what it is NOT than what it IS.

I wouldn’t consider myself to be a hardcore “Attachment Parent”, as Willow has slept in her own room since four months of life, but I did wear her skin-to-skin in a sling for the first weeks of her life and still happily wear her in a soft-structured carrier when she needs a bit of TLC or when a stroller is inconvenient.

I’m not a “Diaper-Free/EC” mom, but I am happy to let Willow sit on the potty after a nap or whenever she shows interest in doing so, to save a diaper.

I’m not a “Cloth Diaper Extremist”.  I love the frugality of our cloth diapers and the lack of landfill space they take up compared to disposables, but I have no problems putting Willow in a disposable diaper to help her sleep longer at night, or to make clean-up easier while we are out and about.

I’m not a “Pro-Vaccination Propagandist”, but I do believe in protecting both our child and immunocompromised children who cannot be vaccinated by being part of the herd of immunity.

I’m not a “Nipple Nazi” but I worked very hard to transition our daughter from expensive formula to free breast milk after a rocky start in the hospital.  I have nursed Willow in public places as a manner of feeding our baby on demand, not to make some sort of political statement.

I’m not an “Authoritarian Parent”, as I understand discipline to mean lovingly and consistently teaching and guiding, as opposed to punishing a child for not following arbitrarily set rules.   I’m confident setting appropriate boundaries and using the word “no”.  I believe that it is not only okay but essential to say “no” to something that I do not want to happen, regardless of whether or not it is a safety issue.  Allowing children to do anything and everything they want to do, regardless of how it makes others feel, can lead to resentment, frustration, and confusion.  Willow deserves for me to firmly and lovingly set boundaries well before either of us loses our patience, and to follow through by lovingly helping her or removing her from a situation when it becomes more than she can handle.

I am not a “Food Purist”. Willow ate homemade baby mush, and she also tried a few store-bought jars of mush. Luckily, the mush stage was very short-lived, since this girl hates the sound of the blender. We buy some organic and some non-organic foods. We buy some local and some imported foods. We love bananas, which will never be “in season” in Canada. We eat some things that contain sugar, salt and preservatives. I try to follow reasonable nutritional guidelines and include vegetables with most meals, but I’m not overly concerned if the cucumbers are not consumed at breakfast.

I’m not a “Helicopter Parent”, but I still watch our unsteady toddler like a hawk when she gets anywhere near the pond, road, or anything she can climb.

I believe in empowering children by offering them reasonable, age-appropriate choices. I won’t let Willow choose whether or not to wear a sweater on a cool day, but she is welcome to choose between the grey sweater and the purple sweater. I won’t let her choose whether or not to go to bed, but she can choose to wear the red pyjamas or the blue pyjamas. She can choose whether to walk across the street holding my hand or to be carried. She can choose to take off her shoes by herself or with help. I can empathize with her unhappiness at being strapped into the car seat when we need to drive somewhere, and she can have the choice of bringing a transition object with her in the car seat, but I will not let her choose to ride on my lap, as much as she would prefer that seat!

I’m not a “happiness is the only goal” parent.  Of course I want Willow to have a happy childhood (while accepting that even if I do the best job ever, she will likely still require therapy at some point).  BUT I believe that it’s healthy for children to experience conflict and disappointment and to not always get their way. I believe that a frustrated or upset child should not always be immediately distracted and prevented from experiencing and working through tough feelings.  I believe that it is okay for a toddler to experience sadness when a parent leaves, or frustration when a limit is set or a challenge becomes too great.  I believe that it is okay to accept a child’s feelings and allow him or her to express them in a non-violent way. I think that it is far more productive to help a child identify strong feelings and to try to empathize (even when the problem he or she is getting upset about seems trivial or even ridiculous to an adult) instead of taking photos to post on child-shaming social media sites.

I believe that preventing situations in which small children feel overwhelmed is vital. Predictable routines and reminders of upcoming transitions are respectful and comforting ways of keeping the train moving along peacefully for everyone. Packing extra snacks, water, comfort items, etc. can mean the difference between a lion and a lamb on trip to an unfamiliar place. I also believe in preventing low frustration-threshold meltdowns by ensuring that children are fed, well rested, and comfortably clothed for the weather and the activity at hand, whenever possible.

I have what I believe to be reasonable developmentally appropriate expectations, and I choose not to set kids up for failure. I don’t expect Willow to sit quietly on my lap for a one hour church service that runs into her nap time. I don’t expect her to just chill out while we visit friends or family beyond her bedtime. I don’t expect her to happily wait for food for thirty minutes in a restaurant without any snacks from home.  I don’t expect her to play outside without getting dirty.

I wonder if sometimes when other parents ask me what my “style” is, they really just want to know if I will secretly or overtly judge them if they pull out a bottle to feed their infant, or talk about their co-sleeping arrangement, or use a package of disposable baby wipes, or open up a non-organic, non-local, pre-packaged, GMO-filled processed snack for their toddler.

The truth: I’m too busy wiping off my own child’s grimy hands that were just reaching into the urinal in the public bathroom to worry about whether or not you believe in anti-bacterial soap or sunscreen.  I’m too busy trying to find that banana in my backpack to feed my hungry child to even notice if your child is eating goldfish crackers.  I’m too busy getting packed up at the park so that we can get home in time for a successful nap (and avoid an overtired toddler meltdown) to wonder about who sleeps where at your house. I’m too busy trying to keep my own child’s diaper explosion contained long enough to get to the bathroom to notice that you are using local mompreneur cloth diapers and wipes.

I am not a purist. I am not an extremist. Nobody will want to claim me as the spokesperson for any parenting philosophy or program. I am a middle-of-the-road, moderately educated momma who fiercely loves her child, and who is not afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. I may not be doing what you are doing, but that doesn’t mean that either of us is wrong.  I don’t know about you, but I’m too busy making my own choices and loving my own delicious miracle to really worry about the choices you are making for yours.

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