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.  

  

 

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Love Is A Drive-By Fruiting

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I have “banana hair”, and I couldn’t be happier.  Tonight, our daughter was so excited to give me a hug that she was literally shaking.  I knelt down to her level with my arms out and she squealed and ran toward me.  In her excitement, she forgot to put down the banana that she had been eating, and it ended up mashed into the back of my hair and neck.

I have received the gift of being able to find the “bless in the mess”, thanks to the miracle that is Willow Mei.  From the mess of daily nausea and vomiting during pregnancy (which assured me of Willow’s continued presence right up until the day she was born), to the mess of experiencing hours of solid screaming (when she finally had the energy to find her voice after being too weak to open her eyes or cry), to the mess of waste products streaming out of multiple orifices simultaneously (proving that she was finally taking in enough nutrition to eliminate appropriately after three weeks of being unable to eat properly after birth), she’s given me reasons to find joy in all of the little things.  These things that others may take for granted or even possibly resent when they are happening, but may look back upon with a certain degree of fondness one day.  Like many of my silent sorority sisters who have been lucky enough to graduate from spending years praying for a child to finally having a living, breathing miracle, I don’t have the luxury of taking any of this for granted.  Perhaps one of the most precious gems in parenting after infertility and loss is that I don’t have to wait for “one day” to look back and feel love and gratitude for the messes, big and small.  I can and do appreciate it all now.

I remember working in a childcare centre where a little boy in my group was working in the sensory bin.  He looked up to see his mommy entering the classroom and broke out into a huge smile.  He toddled toward her, arms outstretched, with a look of pure joy on his face.  He reached his mommy and grabbed her around her calves, getting the mucky sensory bin material all over her legs.  She recoiled, disgusted by the material that had been lovingly deposited on her legs.  The little boy began to wail, likely upset by both his mother’s unexpected and sudden movement away from him as well as by the expression on her face. The mom wasn’t trying to upset or hurt the boy in any way.  She was just grossed out by the yucky contents of the sensory bin being smeared on her.  Who wouldn’t be?  We were able to clean everyone up and dry the boy’s tears, and everyone eventually went home happy.  It was a small moment that left a big impression on me, as it made me think about how our automatic reactions might be perceived by children.  If we string together enough of these small moments we can make a big impact on a child’s self-image.

With practice, we can be mindful of our reactions and of the messages we are sending to children with our body language and our words.  When I change Willow’s diaper after she has accidentally eaten a dairy product at daycare, what does my face look like as I register the sensory explosion before me?  What words am I choosing to use as I speak with her during the change?  When Willow helps me to tidy the kitchen after dinner by dumping the dirty cat food dishes into my drawer of freshly washed and folded kitchen linens, what does my body language communicate to her?

So… when I became the unwitting victim of a rogue banana, I giggled.  I held our little girl tighter for just a minute, kissed her sticky little toddler cheeks, and let her know with my words and my body that I was just as happy to see her as she was to see me.

Love is a drive-by fruiting.

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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. 
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Farewell Ginger

Dear Nougat (a.k.a. Ginger),

You’ve had a hard two months. Likely the hardest in your short little life. You lost your home, your cat sibling, your three human siblings, and your human parents. You learned to survive on your own in the harsh Canadian winter with no reliable sources of food, water or shelter for the first few weeks. You roamed the freezing cold streets until you finally found a water dish, food bowls, and a cozy, insulated cat shelter with straw bedding on a porch belonging to two other ginger cats and their people. You endured bullying by hardened neighbourhood strays and bigger cats who technically have homes but who spend a lot of nights out in the cold with empty bellies. You learned when to slink off to the window well to let Felix have the warm spot between the doors, and when to hold your ground. You are such a resilient little creature. I have so much respect for you.

Despite all of the loss, violence, and harshness that you experienced on the outside, you always remained a gentle soul. I mistakenly thought that you were declawed at first, because I never really saw or felt your claws in action. You timidly accepted food and water from a distance, skittishly hiding around the side of the house at first, until we were safely back in the house. You slowly allowed the gap between us to decrease over the weeks, first letting me talk to you across the porch, then smelling my hand, then head-butting and meowing greetings to me, then sniffing Willow’s stroller or car seat every time she crossed your path, until you finally decided to jump right into my arms for cuddles this week, and to crawl all over Willow to cover her face in kisses. You snuck into the house and made yourself at home on the stairs, and I knew that it was the right time to coax you into a carrier to visit the veterinarian so that we could have you examined, treated, and hopefully find a loving home for you if you didn’t already have one.

You are a very lucky cat. Your human parents loved you so much that they had you microchipped. When we asked Dr. H. if she could scan you for a microchip, we were so excited to find out that you had a family that loved and missed you terribly. A family that had given up hope of finding you. Dropping you off at your home and seeing the children gush over you as you were reunited with your loved ones made my heart sing. You were home at long last.

Thank you for choosing our porch to claim as your own for the past several weeks. It was a privilege and an honour to gradually win your trust and affection, and to have you as a temporary member of our family. Thank you for being so gentle with Baby Willow and for playing “hide and go meow” with Tobi through the windows. Thank you for your patience when possessive Hana would hiss at you through the screen door to tell you to stop cuddling HER mommy. Thank you for reminding us that miracles can and do happen. You have left tiny ginger paw prints on all of our hearts and we will always remember you with love and warmth.

Congratulations on finally finding your way back home, Nougat. We will miss you.

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A “Working Mother”

I am currently a working mother, as I am at home every day taking care of my beautiful daughter and two fur babies. This job does not grant “sick days” but it is full of benefits, including delicious post-nap snuggles and the privilege of learning with and from a gorgeous cherub of a baby (almost toddler). In a few short weeks I will be a mother who also works outside of the home five days per week. I recognize that this will be a huge shift for everyone in the family.

A wise mother and teacher recently mentioned to me that parenting books always focus on how to prepare a child for daycare, but never seem to focus on the separation that mothers go through when they return to the paid workforce.

I will miss many things about not being with Willow every moment of every day. I will miss witnessing and being a part of the incredible growing and learning that happens every day. I will miss seeing some of her “firsts”.  I will miss the quiet contemplation of mid-morning and mid-afternoon nursing sessions when we shut out the world and snuggle in a dark room with a kitten or two curled around us. I will miss having the time to finger-paint without worrying about bedtime creeping up, the spontaneous midday moments of singing, playing the piano, ukulele, guitar, and assortment of percussion instruments. I will miss the spur of the moment walks together through the park, rolling in leaves, and finding things outside to squish in our fingers. I will miss cloud-watching in the early afternoon and listening to the sound of squirrels nattering in the trees. I will miss being the one to kiss boo boos and teach “open hand” gentle cat patting techniques. I will miss making up words to songs to match our activities, reading book after book after book, and coming up with chants to describe what we are experiencing every day. I will miss smelling freshly-sink-bathed baby after a lunchtime spinach explosion. In short, I will miss all of the precious time together that someone else will be enjoying with our daughter.

BUT… I am also really happy and excited to be returning to the other job that I love.

I’ve had some well-meaning mothers in my various circles ask me about my upcoming return to work (many of whom are mothers who did not return to paid employment after becoming mothers, or only did so briefly before deciding to leave their paid jobs to raise their children). The conversations usually start with a sympathetic tilt of the head, a frown, and the phrase… “So… I guess you’re going back to work soon…” Some of the comments and questions have been of a supportive nature, and some of them have been meant to show me the error of my selfish, career-loving ways..

-“But aren’t you dreading going back to work?” No. Not at all. In fact, I am excited to be returning to a fabulous job in which I feel valued, competent, and appreciated on a regular basis. I am thrilled to meet my new crew of munchkins and to find new and exciting ways to teach and learn from them. I am happy to work with caring teachers, settlement workers, specialists and parents who all want the best for our newcomer families and students. Am I sad about my time at home ending with my daughter? Of course I am. But am I sad enough to quit a job that is a huge source of my identity and feelings of self-worth? Not on your life.

-“Oh my goodness… how can you just leave your baby with a stranger like that?”  Riiiiight. Because carefully choosing a loving childcare provider with over 22 years of experience is pretty much the same as dumping our child off with the guy asking for spare change at the bus station.

-“Don’t you enjoy spending time with her?” Obviously I am going back to work to get away from my beautiful daughter. A mother couldn’t possibly enjoy spending time with her child AND still want or need to work, could she? Please refrain from implying that I am any less loving of a mother because I am choosing to return to a job outside of the home.

-“I’m so sorry that you have to go back to work. Are things that tough financially? Can’t you find some way of staying home?” Yes, we’ve had some unexpected financial shortfalls in the past year or so. Owning an older home in need of serious maintenance, a trimester of bedrest and having a baby will do that to you. But having major appliances die and unexpected structural repairs on the house are not the reason I am returning to paid employment. I am not being dragged back to my paid career against my will in order to pay off our line of credit.

Here is what many may not realize about Willow’s mommy:

I LOVE MY JOB. I mean REALLY love my job. I decided that I wanted to be both a teacher and a mother before I entered kindergarten. I am a proud third generation teacher who delights in seeing the light come on as a child makes each new discovery. I am obsessed with language development and watching children learn to not only navigate this new language, but also a new land with new clothing, food, customs, and often a whole new way of experiencing things and interacting with others.. I love helping newcomer families to find resources in our community, and it is such a privilege to see so many families, many of which did not come to Canada by choice but as a means of survival, not only survive but thrive in their new homes. The same part of my heart that makes me love being a mommy also makes me love being in a helping profession such as teaching.

In all honesty, if I was returning to my old factory job, I may not feel as strongly as I do about returning to work. I am one of the lucky few in this world who worked hard enough to finally get paid to do something that I am incredibly passionate about. I recognize that many of the women who are incredulous about my positive attitude toward returning to work may have left paid positions that did not fuel their souls or make them feel fulfilled and happy at the end of the day. I completely understand that leaving a child in someone else’s care to toil at a job I despised would feel different than returning to a career that is such a huge part of who I am.

I am so happy that women of my generation living in Canada have the choice to stay at home for up to a year after the birth of a child, with the guarantee that their jobs will be waiting for them upon their return. I am thrilled that we have the choice to either return to paid employment or to continue staying at home taking care of a child or children, and I respect the individual decision that each mother will make about her own situation.

I know that returning to paid employment is not for everyone once they have a child, and I am thankful that so many women today have the CHOICE to do what their hearts call them to do. I will not apologize for going back to a career that fuels my soul and pays for a mortgage (not to mention the benefits that pay for a lot of expensive medication and medical testing supplies). I will not apologize for willingly and lovingly choosing to share my time with newcomer families, students and teachers. Teaching is an identity, and many of us who love teaching find that we consider ourselves teachers forever. Most retired teachers that I know still think of themselves as teachers, and many are doing things that seem suspiciously teaching-related in their retirement. You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the classroom out of the teacher…

I will be a mom who will be modeling having both a career and a family, and hopefully one who can model setting appropriate boundaries and achieving a good work-life balance. I will be a mom who is lucky enough to be returning to a paid employment situation that I love and that makes my heart sing, even on the tough days (often especially on the tough days). Yes, it will be strange to be with other peoples’ children instead of with my own child.

Yes, I will likely shed more tears than Willow on that first day (although I know from my three years of working in daycare facilities that it is best to save those tears for the car if I want her to settle into her day and routine at daycare as easily as possible). But those tears will eventually stop, and I will sit with and breathe through the ache in my heart, and then I will get through my day and remember how much I love my other job. I will put one foot in front of the other like the incredibly resilient, strong and capable human being I am, and I will be okay.

“‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright.” -B. Marley

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Choosing Happiness and The Silver Fox Club

“Woo hoo! I’ve joined the Silver Fox Club! Look! I just found my first grey hair,” I shouted excitedly from the doorway of the bathroom, as I rolled the tough strand of gleaming silver between my fingers, admiring it in the mirror.

My friend gaped at me in disbelief. “I have NEVER seen someone happy about finding a grey hair. You’re HAPPY to have grey hair?”

“It’s a rite of passage. It’s beautiful!” I beamed back gleefully.

We went on to discuss my excitement over joining the Silver Fox Club, as well as her attempts to flee the Club. She had never dyed her hair nor worn make-up until the day she saw her first grey hair, and then everything had changed. She feels compelled to “hide the grey”, even though hair dye is no longer remaining on the strands for very long, and she is bothered when she has gone too long between appointments to adequately cover it up. She, like many women I know, doesn’t feel emotionally ready to allow herself to “look old”.

Why are we, as a culture, so obsessed with youthful appearances? Why do so many women, in particular, eagerly pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for hair dye, cosmetics, Botox injections, cosmetic surgery and various programs aimed at creating an illusion of youth? When did we fall so utterly out of love with our beautiful selves? When did changing over time become a bad thing?

There is a lovely quote (unknown author) that resonates with me: “Never regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many”.

That quote helped me to get through some tough days. When going through infertility and loss, it sometimes seemed as though every month, every year, every milestone, every holiday was yet another brick in the wall of impending childlessness. During the low times it was easy to focus on the fact that my chances of a live birth plummeted with every tick of the clock. It would have been easy to brush aside a happy occasion like my birthday and turn it into a pity party. The hard work was in choosing to see the light through the darkness. I never regretted doing the hard work it took to choose happiness in times where I could have defaulted to misery, even before my happy ending came about.

My first boyfriend didn’t live to see his mid-twenties, let alone to bemoan his first grey hair. Fatal illnesses, accidents, suicide… there are so many ways to lose those we care about far too soon. It is heart-wrenching to watch parents grieving the loss of their child. I will never forget the gut-wrenching sobbing and the face of the grieving mother at the first funeral I attended when I was in the eighth grade. My classmate, Ragheesh, had died after battling leukaemia. Seeing the pain that his mother was going through left a huge impression on me. I remember my own mother commenting that a parent should never have to see her child die. I remember wondering what it would be like to know that I wouldn’t live long enough to grow up, to grow old.

When I was a teenager I remember seeing a lovely photo of my paternal grandmother, with her gorgeous hair in contrasting shades of black with silver streaks framing her face. Graceful. Beautiful. Radiant. No cosmetics, no hair dye, no anti-aging creams or cover-up. Just 100% natural Asian beauty. A youthful smile dancing in her eyes, which were surrounded by the sweetest little “smile lines”. I remember hoping that one day I would look like her. I even went as far as putting silver streaks in my own dark hair on my sixteenth Halloween, and proudly approving of my “future self” in the mirror.

I have earned this silver hair. It has a mind of its own. It is tough. It is resilient. It is gloriously resplendent. It came just at the right time. I will neither dye my hair nor chop it shorter in an attempt to “look younger”. I will not highlight my hair or arrange it in clips in the hopes that my silver will “blend in”. I will proudly watch my beautiful new hair grow in, showing the passage of time, showing my journey through adulthood and womanhood. I will hold my head high and enjoy the privilege that it is to be alive, growing and changing, choosing to age with dignity and grace.

I want my daughter to see me celebrate and love my body at all stages of my life. It is my hope that she will be able to readily tap into a well of self-love so deep that it will drown out the voices of those who would claim that women should look a certain way in order to be considered “beautiful”. May she be granted the privilege of growing old along with her loved ones. May she laugh at those who equate age with ugliness or weakness. May she never starve herself to fit into a dress or to fit into a peer group. May she know that she is enough, just as she is, without the addition of dyes, perfumes, cosmetics or fancy clothing, and without the loss of any part of herself. May it be so.

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