To the One We Lost Too Soon

I’m learning how therapeutic writing can be for me.  It allows me to make sense of emotions that sometimes I have trouble processing.  I was struggling with whether I should write down my feelings about the last couple of days.  I’ve been struggling with processing the news I received on that fateful evening.  The evening I learned that a friend from my home town had passed away….

I’m learning that while writing helps me to process what I’m feeling, it also helps others to know that they are not alone.  I have fears about sharing my feelings…What if I over step my boundaries?  He was my friend but I was not as close to him as many others were.  I don’t want to write anything that might upset anyone, especially his family and close friends.  I can’t begin to imagine the pain and grieving that they are going through at this moment.  So, there is a chance that I might write this and it will never be placed on my blog, there is a part of me that hopes the end result will be something that may help people as they grieve the loss of a loved one gone to soon. 

To the one we lost to soon:

It breaks my heart to know that you are gone.  At times, I’m not sure that it has completely sunk in.  I’ve been wrestling with a lot of different emotions since getting the news.  I find myself at times getting caught up in the what if’s….. What if, I would have picked up the phone to talk to you every time you crossed my mind, especially over the past couple of months.  But it occurred to me that the what ifs aren’t going to bring you back, although I wish they could.  While I wrestle with this range of emotions, I’m realizing that there is comfort in the memories of the time we got to spend together and the life lessons that you shared, by how you lived your life, with those who were fortunate enough to know you.  I know I will never forget them and I’m hoping by writing them down I will be able to ensure that I become a better person because of knowing you.

Live Life to the Fullest

You my friend knew how to live life to the fullest.  You had this enthusiasm when it came to things that brought you joy that was completely infectious.  And the variety of things that you found joy in is inspiring.

Be Kind

You are one of the kindest people I know.  You had this ability to make people feel accepted and comfortable.  I don’t think it took people too long to consider you a friend.  Anyone you considered a friend, knew that you would give them the shirt off your back if you thought they needed it.  I wish you knew how many people would have reciprocated had they known you were in need.  I want to believe that you would have found some comfort in that.  That maybe that would have made it easier for you to bear the pain and hurt you were living with.

Let those in your life know you love them

You never missed a moment to let people know you loved them.  You had the biggest heart and everyone you cared for held a special place in it.  This is one of the many things that people loved about you and will never forget.

You had the brightest smile and heaven gained one of it’s brightest stars the day you passed away.  The world is a better place because you were in it.  I will think of you often, whether it’s sitting around a campfire, relaxing at the lake, riding on the quad trails, taking a horse drawn wagon ride or seeing a combine rolling during harvest.

I promise to keep your family and close friends in my thoughts and prayers.  I will try my best to hold space for them as they grieve and try to give them support without imposing.  I promise you that I will never forget you and that I will embrace your life lessons daily.

Thank you for letting me get to know you well enough to have such wonderful memories.

Love you my friend.

 

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Orange Shirt Day and Learning to Hold Space

In Canada, September 30th is Orange Shirt Day.  This has become an annual day that “opens the door to global conversation on all aspects of Residential Schools. It is an opportunity to create meaningful discussion about the effects of Residential Schools and the legacy they have left behind.  A discussion all Canadians can tune into and create bridges with each other for reconciliation.”

I have deleted the above paragraph and retyped it at least ten times…I struggle with whether I have any right to post my thoughts on the topic.  My knowledge of this part of Canadian history is extremely limited.  When I was attending high school, the last of the residential schools had recently shut down and it wasn’t an area that much (if any) time was spent discussing.  I had heard about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada on the news but it wasn’t until I became a parent and watched the CBC documentary 8th Fire that I realized that my knowledge about  our nation’s history is extremely limited and what I did know left out some important details.  But as a parent, I’m feeling the urge to share the thoughts that have been swirling around in my head….

Every time I watch the 8th Fire episode, I get emotional.  There are usually a range of emotions that I feel from sadness for the children who didn’t return home from residential schools, to anger with our government that this continued for as long as it did, to guilt for what our nation has done.  This part of our nation’s history is something that has been silent for far to long and while there has been a lot of progress, we still have a long way to go.

I’ve just recently started reading Brene Brown’s book Rising Strong.  In her book she outlines “The Rising Strong Process”.  Brene says there are three phases to getting up after you fall.  I feel like when it comes to our nation’s relationship with First Nation’s people, our country has fallen flat on it’s face.

The Reckoning:  Walking Into Our Story – I feel like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada would fit into this part of the Rising Strong Process.  We as a nation were starting to “recognize the emotions, and get curious about our feelings and how they connect the way we think and behave.” (pg. 37, Rising Strong).

We need to hear the stories from survivors of residential schools.  We need to resist the urge to deflect and try to minimize their pain.  When they say that they are hurting, we need to resist the urge to try and find the right thing to say.  We also need to work through the emotions that we experience when we hear their stories, so that we can “get curious about our feelings and how they connect the way we think and behave.”

The Rumble: Owning Our Story – This is where I feel Orange Shirt Day with the desire to “open the door to global conversation” will allow us to truly own our nation’s story.  This is the phase where we need to “get honest about the stories we’re making up about our struggles, then challenge these confabulations and assumption to determine what’s truth, what’s self-protection, and what needs to change” (pg. 37, Rising Strong).

With social media, there is a lot of false information and assumptions that people are willing to believe as facts and are influencing how we are forming opinions and beliefs.  We need to take the time to sift through and educate ourselves about the history of our country, so that we can stand in the truth of what happened.  We need to take the time to dissect our opinions and beliefs to determine if we have created some of these opinions and beliefs to help us deflect the hurt of the survivors because it makes us uncomfortable.  Empathy is probably the most important thing we need to practice so that we can own our story.  This means that we are showing up to hold space and leaning in despite what uncomfortable emotions we, ourselves, might be feeling.  Through hearing the survivors’ stories and taking the time to sift through what emotions we experience, this is how we will learn the truths and help to determine what needs to change.

The Revolution –   This is where we “write a new ending to our story based on the key learnings from our rumble and use this new, braver story to change how we engage with the world and to ultimately transform the way we live, love, parent and lead.” (pg. 37, Rising Strong)

“The Process for Rising Strong” isn’t going to be easy but I think we all have a role to play in helping our country rise strong after the fall, we need to show up and put the hard work in.  I recognize that our country rising strong is going to be a process and that we are in many ways moving in the right direction but there is still work that needs to be done.

My children are helping me to grow in ways I couldn’t have imagined.  Because of my children, I understand just how important empathy is. Because of my children, I am learning that when people are hurting it’s not my job to fix the problem or say the right thing.  The most important thing I can do for my children is to hold space for them when they are hurting.  Because of my children, I am learning that when they are expressing emotions that make me feel uncomfortable the most important thing I can do is lean in.  Before I became a parent, I never knew how powerful the role of acknowledging someone’s emotions played in helping them to own their stories and process their hurt and pain.  Because of my children, I am able to recognize how important it is for us to embrace Orange Shirt Day.

While I recognize that there are a lot of moving parts with respect to reconciliation, Orange Shirt Day is helping to bring awareness that we all have a role to play.  They chose September 30th because this was the time of year that children were being taken from their homes to residential schools, many of those children never returned home.  This is a day to help us realize that we need to show up and hold space for the survivors and their families as well as take a moment to remember those who lost their lives.

How Will You Take the Lead?

I have traveled across the country on a plane with a child on two occasions both within the first two years of being a parent…..

The first time, my son was nine months old.  The second, he was a year and five months and I was four months pregnant.  They were two completely different experiences, as I should have expected.  I have not traveled with my children via a plane since the second trip….Partly because we made a choice to wait until our children are older to continue with travelling and partly because we haven’t had the need too (…our family has been able to come to us to visit…).  Please know that I am not judging anyone who travels with young children, I have a lot of respect for those families that have embraced travelling and all that comes with it.

When I was preparing myself for travelling across the country, I stressed about a lot of potential scenarios.  How would my child travel?  How would the other passengers respond if he was fussy?  The list really goes on and on.

I had just recently gotten a smart phone and thought that downloading a couple of educational and ‘age appropriate’ apps would be harmless to have, just in case things went sideways while we were travelling.  It was going to be my back up…

But what happened, was that the few apps I had on my cell phone became convenient.  The apps and games became a quick fix for me, as a parent.  I’m going to give myself a little bit of credit here.  I wasn’t using it everyday and for an excessive amount of time but I was using it a lot more than I wanted too.  It kind of snuck up on me and took me a while to realize how the technology was slowly seeping into our daily life.

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Gordon Neufeld speaks about how screens are a tool of the information age (Raising Children in the Digital Age).  Screens as a tool.  As a parent, I had never given much thought to the idea of screens being considered a tool of our day and age. I feel that in our society screens are marketed as a convenience, a source of connection, a necessity to function efficiently.  But if we started looking at screens as tools of the information/digital age, would we be more open to taking into consideration our children’s readiness to use them.

I wouldn’t place the blender into my children’s hands, if they weren’t developmentally ready for it.  I have introduced it to them and put some restrictions on how they can use it (I love how excited my children get when I give them the opportunity to push a button).  But, I have taken the steps to make sure that this tool is used safely.  I am easing into my children having the opportunity to use this tool independently.

Would the use of smart phones and tablets be thought of differently, if we considered them a tool of the digital age?

I’d like to classify us as a low-tech family.  Although, in some ways we have embraced it more than I like.  In our house, we are trying to be mindful about how screens/technology are incorporated into our lives.    While I recognize that I still have a lot to learn about technology, teaching and modeling healthy habits has to be a good starting point.

These are just a few of the ways that we are trying to be mindful in our house when it comes to our children and technology.

  • Modelling for my children healthy choices when it comes to screens.

This might be the most important thing we do in our house and it’s something I am constantly working on.  My children need to know that they are important enough to me that I can be present with them, instead of distracted by my handheld device.  I have a spot designated on top of my fridge for my phone, when I am home with my children and need to be present with them this is where my phone is placed.  My husband complains that he can never get a hold of me on my cell phone but I don’t think that it’s necessarily a bad thing.

Our accessibility to screens has grown exponentially over the recent years.  From smartphones to tablets to screens in our vehicles and campers, the options seem endless.  We have recently had to start shopping for a new van and I’m not sure I will ever get use to the look those working in sales give me when I tell them that a screen is not a selling feature for me.  If I had access to a screen in our vehicle, it would be in use all the time or become a source of frustration between myself and my children.  At this stage in the game, although at times it’s a little bit more work, my kids will entertain themselves with the toys we pack and the books we bring.

  • Limiting the Apps on our smartphones.

The moment I realized how often my phone was coming out to entertain or in some extreme instances to comfort my son, I deleted the apps off of my phone.  He still will ask to use my phone, but at six years of age he is making me lovely voice memos, playing on the calculator, taking pictures and writing notes on my phone.

I’m learning to respect that video games and technology might be an area of interest for my son.  The other morning, he woke me up excited because it was “PlayStation day”.  We had been away camping for two weeks.  He had wanted to play when we got home, but the remotes had not been left on the charger and were out of commission.  We had told him that he could have an opportunity to play once the remotes were charged.  He was required to get dressed and have some breakfast before he could go downstairs to play.  We also set a time limit on how long he was playing so that we could ensure that he was not playing for the entire day.  Technology is something that fascinates him.  He enjoys that he can create movies and play games on them.  I just have to make sure that I am engaging with him while he is exploring this new world.  I’m not saying that as parents we have to be present all of the time when they are engaging with technology, but if my son wants me to play a hockey game with him or watch one of his “movies” he created on his VTech camera.  Then it might be best for both of us, if I take the time to appreciate his interests so that when he gets older hopefully he’ll still want to share his interests with me.

  • Educating our children about how to use technology responsibly

My children are at an age where we can be present with them when they are online.  But I’d be kidding myself, if I think that I can be present to monitor their online activity 100% of the time.  We have a role as parents to educate ourselves, as well as our children, about how to use technology in a responsible and safe manner.  I can tell you with 100% certainty that I will stumble along the way but I owe it to my children and myself to make sure that this is an ongoing process.

  • Asking what is it replacing and why am I using technology.

Reflecting on how I do my role as a parent has helped me grow in so many ways.   When I am providing my children with the use of technology or turning on the television, I try to take a moment to reflect on why I am handing them the device.  I’m learning, as a parent, that usually when something is convenient in the world of parenting it means that our children our missing out on something else.  Just because something is convenient doesn’t make it a good thing.

I believe we need to stop buying into the lie that our children need to be stimulated 24/7 and that the latest and greatest gadget is exactly what our children need and is going to meet their needs.  When given the time and space, my children will entertain themselves for hours with a stick and some sand.  It is not our jobs to show our children the beauty of the world around them.   It’s our jobs to take the time to see the joy that they experience through play as they explore this wonderful world.

I am not an expert in this area.  I’m a parent, who as a result of my previous post (Technology and Taking the Lead….),  is hoping that by sharing some of the ways we’ve chosen to be mindful about technology in our house we can continue the conversation.

How do you lead your children into the digital age?

Technology and Taking the Lead….

I’m not sure if I’m the only one, but I’m going to admit something to whoever’s taking the time to read…As a parent, I have this list of topics I’m slightly terrified to have to discuss with my children.  Each one on the list will inevitably need to be addressed, at some point in time in our family, with each of our children.  There is a wide range of topics on the list ranging from loss of a loved one, comforting them through heartache and the difference between a want and a need….I feel as though the list continues to grow as my children become more independent in our ever changing society…

We were getting ready to get out the door the other day, when my son uttered a sentence pertaining to a topic I was hoping I could avoid having to talk about for a couple more years.  It took me off guard when he said it.  We were both frustrated at each other.  Me, because I was feeling ignored; him, because how dare I try to get out the house on time (at least in the moment that’s how I was interpreting his frustration)….

The words that came out of his mouth were….. “Why don’t you just get me a phone, already?”……He’s in kindergarten and just recently turned six………

I took a deep breath and resisted the urge to launch into what I feel will be the 21st century version of an “I walked uphill to school both ways in six feet of snow” story.  I feel that there will be plenty of time for me to tell him about how old I was when I got my first phone.  How at the age of twenty-three, my father felt that a cell phone was a want for me more than a need.  Looking back now, I realize in many ways he was correct.  I love my father and appreciate that he was always willing to make sure the conversation about a want versus a need remained constant in our home.  I’m sure at times he felt that these conversations fell on deaf ears, but they still sit with me.  Although, at times as his daughter, I couldn’t get past the irony that he worked in the telecommunications and mobility industry.  As a parent, I can appreciate where he was coming from.  Especially, now that I’m having to start the conversation with my children at a much younger age.  Hopefully, somewhere along the line when they are older, they will appreciate that we are being mindful about how and when we will place technology into their hands….

So, instead of going on a complete tangent and guaranteeing that we did not get out the door on time, I simply said to him….”with a phone comes great responsibility and you still have a long way to come before I am willing to put that burden on you.”  It took a lot of will power to not launch into a lecture…

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My mind has been reeling since that conversation…….We are parents in a day and age where technology is becoming more and more ingrained in everything we do.  We would be doing a disservice to our children and ourselves, if we do not have the conversation about how this shift in lifestyle impacts our families…

I know that technology has become a huge part of the fabric of our society, but I’m listening to my gut on this one.  I’m not willing to just embrace something that we don’t fully understand and completely immerse my children in it. Now, don’t get me wrong I’m not completely against technology, but I have a strong belief that we need to be mindful and keep the conversation going about what it means to put this technology into the hands of our children.

Here are just a few of the questions that I have been wrestling with since the initial conversation with my oldest….

  1. How Does Technology Impact Connections and Relationships?

 If I provide my child with his own handheld device, what will he miss out on?  What will I miss out on?  I want my children to value the relationships of the village that surround them.  I want them to have a connection with their family and friends, face to face.  Them understanding the value and importance of having those connections is important to me.  That might be my biggest fear with technology, the smoke screen of connection that it can create.  Even as an adult, sometimes I find it challenging to navigate daily life and make sure technology and social networks don’t interfere with the relationships of those present in my life on a daily basis.

I want my children to feel comfortable approaching me with their problems and questions about life.  If I give them their own mobile device, will they come to me or will they turn to peers and the internet???…

How do I teach my six-year-old to recognize the difference between the connections made through technology and the connections made face to face? 

  1. How Does Technology Impact my Children’s Ability to Develop and Practice Empathy?

Empathy is an important skill for all of us to have.  Our children develop empathy through interactions with their parents and other children face to face.  Learning to read body language and seeing how their words and actions impact others can’t happen from behind a screen.

How do I make sure that my children know that the words they choose to type and share have an impact on other people?

  1. Does Technology Interfere with Our Sense of Self?

Sherry Turkle, in her TED Talk from 2012 (Alone Together), talks about how technology has not only made it difficult to relate to others but also difficult to relate to ourselves.  And if we can’t relate to ourselves, we don’t have the capacity for self-reflection.

With technology, we have the ability to be entertained during our every waking moment.  We have lost our ability to be comfortable in our solitude. Sherry Turkle talks about how important having the capacity for solitude is and defines solitude as “the ability to be separate to gather yourself.  Solitude is where you find yourself so that you can reach out to other people and form real attachments.”

 How do I make sure my children still have space and time to develop a healthy sense of self?..

When I started to do some research on being a parent in this new era, I came across Dr. Deborah MacNamara’s address to the United Nations from June 2016 (Parenting in a Digital Age ).  The one statement she made that resonated with me was…

“The answer to parenting in a digital world is quite simple: we need to believe we are what our children really need. It is a story as old as time, just retold in a digital age.” – Dr. Deborah MacNamara

…..I’m not sure how many times in the short six years, I have been a parent I have not felt like I am enough.…We need to recognize and honour the importance of our relationship with our children.

The questions that run through my head when I think about when my children will be ready to have access to that type of technology are endless.  Especially as technology and social networking continue to evolve.  While I agree, there are many perks to technology, it also comes with many down falls.  It’s important as parents, that we are mindful about how and when we introduce technology into our children’s lives.

We, as parents and a society, need to recognize just how important it is for the conversation to be continuous…This is how we ensure that we can best support our children as they grow and develop in this day and age.

It’s not always going to be easy, because we can’t set our children up to be successful with the tools of the digital era, without taking a good, hard look in the mirror…..but it’ll definitely be worth it…Let’s make sure we’re doing what Dr. Deborah MacNamara and Gordon Neufeld (Raising Children in a Digital Age) are advocating we do for our children….Let’s lead our children into the digital era, instead of following them.

Choosing Empathy and All That Comes With It.

“I frustrated you mommy!”  My youngest says to me in the heat of the moment. I can’t recall exactly what was going on, but I am fairly certain it had something to do with how persistent my two-year-old can be.   I recognize it’s not the first nor will it be the last time one of my children will express being upset/frustrated with me.  All I remember was picking her up to remove her from the situation, when she uttered the sentence and resisting my knee-jerk reaction which would have been to vocalize my frustrations as well.  “You’re frustrated with mommy” I said calmly as I walked with her down the hall.  With that simple phrase, I remember her nodding her head and feeling some of the tension release from her body.

 It doesn’t always happen, but when I can remember this wonderful quote by Andrea Nair. I’m always amazed at how much quicker my children can process their emotions and move on with their day.

“Empathy is when a person accurately communicates that they see another’s intentions and emotional state.  It means watching our child’s frustrations and focusing on how life feels in that little child’s body, while putting our own anger and agenda into the background.” – Andrea Nair  

While I agree that our children need to know how others feel, I’ve realized that I can at times be quick to dismiss letting my children express their emotions. I am learning that through expressing their emotions they are better able to process them.  Besides how can our children truly understand how others feel, if we don’t give them the space and opportunity to process their own emotions.

As a parent, I’m learning that being empathetic can be an uncomfortable place to be.  The big emotions my children are processing through out the day are, at times extremely challenging for me.  And there tends to be two ways that I want to react when my children are expressing their emotions.  I either want to try and fix their problem for them (which as they get older isn’t as simple as it used to be) or I want to dismiss what they are feeling and tell them they are fine.  These were my go to responses when my children were expressing emotions that made me uncomfortable, almost an automatic response…..

I’ve realized that our society has set the bar for our children’s emotional development ridiculously high.  As a parent, I feel bombarded with messages that when my children are expressing their emotions, whether that be them being angry and having a temper tantrum or being sad and crying, it is a direct reflection of what type of a person my child is.  Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson reminded me that “feeling(s) need to be recognized for what they are:  temporary, changing condition. They are states, not traits.  They’re like the weather. Rain is real, and we’d be foolish to stand in a downpour and act as if it weren’t actually raining. But we’d also be foolish to expect that the sun will never reappear.” (The Whole Brain Child, p. 103).  As a parent, sometimes the messages ingrained in me over the past 35+ years of living in a society where crying meant you were weak or whiny, have overshadowed the importance of me practicing empathy….

I have struggled with trying to figure out why I react the way I react to my children’s emotions until I saw this video on Empathy (Brené Brown on Empathy).  Brené Brown talks about how empathy is a vulnerable choice “because in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.”  When I’m practicing empathy with my kids, it means that I am connecting with emotions that I, myself, haven’t taken the time to process.  These emotions are sometimes messy and while I would love to take them and shove them right back where I found them, I know that I’m better off to lean in and be my children’s safe place to land.

I  truly believe that empathy will make the world a better place.  When we choose empathy, we are making a conscious decision to not judge.  As a parent, when I choose to be empathetic with my children, I’m modelling to them how I hope they will interact with others as they grow up.    (how-children-really-learn-empathy)

As I have said before, I am a work in progress, so choosing empathy is not something I am successful at all of the time.    Some days I find it exhausting, especially those days where I could use a little empathy thrown momma’s way.  Some days I fall short, and I’m not the parent my children need me to be.  But I’m making progress by learning to silence the blame and shame in my head, that makes me feel like I’m not worthy to parent my children.  I’m learning that making mistakes isn’t the end of the world, as long as I’m willing to own up to my mistakes and reflect on why I reacted the way I did.   This will help me react differently next time.

So, here’s to taking it day by day….Making sure that I’m kind and respectful to myself as well as my children and reminding myself that being vulnerable and leaning in when my children need me the most, is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength.

 

Being Present

“You enoring me mommy.”  My daughter emotionally states.

I was in the middle of trying to get lunch on the table when she became upset.  After making her statement, she declares that she just needs to be alone and then storms off to her bedroom.

I followed her to her room and laid down on the bed beside her.  “I know you want to be alone right now.  When you are ready to talk come find me, okay?”

“Okay, mommy” she says with her back to me.

I started back to work part time this past week after making the choice to stay home for two years following the birth of our youngest.  There has been a full range of emotions experienced and expressed by all of my children.  The morning my daughter expressed her feelings occurred on my first day off after being at work and away from my children for three consecutive days and I was definitely not fully present.  I had a to-do list in the back of my head that I was distracted with that day.

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My husband and I recently had an opportunity to hear Dr. Jody Carrington speak.  It was amazing!!!  And whether you are a parent or not, if you ever have an opportunity to attend one of her sessions I would highly recommend going.

We almost didn’t go…It was a day where I was feeling like life was trying to knock me down a few notches…I was completely deflated by the end of the day and when I spoke with my husband he had asked if I still wanted to go…While there was part of me that wanted to seize the opportunity to hide away in my house and not have to go out in public, my husband had actually agreed to attend and we already had a babysitter lined up…I’d be crazy to give a chance like that up!

What I heard that night resonated with me on soooo many levels…It was exactly what this tried momma needed to hear.  I’m going to try and resist the urge to share everything I heard from her that night as I know I will not do her justice and this post would be ridiculously long…When Dr. Carrington spoke to us there was no shame or blame in what she had to say, only compassion and encouragement.  This is what I’ve come to find I need the most as a parent and am grateful that I had the opportunity to experience when I heard Dr. Carrington.

While there were many points she made that I loved during the evening.  The one that stood out was that the most important thing we can do for our children is take the time to be fully present for them and let them know we love them.  That taking time to make a connection with our children is our superpower as parents.

But what does being fully present mean? And why is making a connection with our children so important??  I was physically present with my daughter when she expressed feeling like I was ignoring her.  Brené Brown defines “connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” (Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, p. 19)…Crap….I may have been physically present with my daughter that morning but I was not fully present, which is definitely what she needed.  During the days that I was at work, my children had their world turned upside down, the one individual who was a constant in their life was away for longer then they were use too…That has got to be scary for a little person.  My daughter needed me to make her feel seen, heard, and valued….And I failed to do that for her on that particular morning…

Being able to be fully present for my children has been a work in progress for me.  I remember when my son was younger, for the first couple of months I had put this insane pressure on myself that he needed some of my attention all the time.  That I was somehow failing as a parent if I wasn’t present with him in some way during his every waking hour.  My husband was constantly trying to reason with me that our son would be okay, if after he woke in his crib I finished what I was doing before going to get him.   Whenever I decided to give him some time in his crib when he woke to play, there would be this anxiety that would creep up on me.  Had my husband not been there to be a voice of reason, along with stumbling upon parenting experts like Janet Lansbury, Lisa Sudbury, Andrea Nair and Magda Gerber, I’m fairly certain I would have lost my mind.  The quote that seemed to turn the light bulb on for me was Magda Gerber’s quote “Whenever you care, do it absolutely with full attention. If you pay half attention all the time, that’s never full attention. Babies are then always half hungry for attention.” Magda Gerber believes 100% attention some of the time is better than 50% attention 100% of the time.  It really hit home for me when I realized that when I was trying to give my son some of my attention all of the time, I was never fully present with him….

If I’m going to be completely honest with you, being fully present has been something that I’ve struggled with even before having kids.  It has always drove my husband crazy that I would talk on the phone and be emptying the dishwasher, folding laundry or have the television on in the background.  While at times I have become more aware of the fact that I am not fully present, I am definitely still a work in progress.  There are so many ways for our attention to be pulled in different directions.  I find that while I’m going through the daily grind, before I know it little things sneak in to pull my attention in ten different directions without me even realizing it.

Starting back at work this past week has come with a whole new set of tasks that pull me away from being fully present with my family and friends.  The to-do list of tasks to keep us somewhat on top of getting out the door with what we need seems to be never ending…

I have decided to make being fully present a daily practice for me.  I know that there are going to be things that I have no control over that will contribute to me being distracted.  But, there are things I do have control of and putting them in their place is going to be a priority for me in 2017.

One of the major factors that cause us to divide our attention in this day and age is technology.  Brené Brown talks about how “technology…has become a kind of imposter for connection, making us believe we’re connected when we’re really not – at least not in the way we need to be.” (Brown, The Gifts of Imperfections, p. 20).  While there is part of me that lets the guilt and shame start to creep in, I know that banning all technology 100% of the time is not realistic.

I love this article from Janet Lansbury (Do wired parents need time out or less guilt) and I’m committing in 2017 to put technology in its place like Sherry Turkle suggests.  My phone will be put in its place and be set aside when I am in the presence of my family and friends.  The television will be turned off when I am talking on the phone or visiting with family and friends.

Coming out of the gate, I know I will definitely stumble along the way…But, if making these changes means that those in my life will feel heard, seen and valued, then being fully present is something that I am willing to commit to on a daily basis regardless of how I did the day before.

Encouragement

“You guys are doing a great job.” The couple encourages us, as I attempted to calmly help my 3 ½ year old son while he protested having to leave the playhouse at the restaurant.

The first thought that crossed my mind was “What?!?!”…I was certain I hadn’t heard them correctly but as I processed what they said there was a wave of relief that came over me.  In a moment when I was feeling defeated trying to figure out how I was going to get my son to exit the restaurant, this couple offered us encouragement not judgement.  With their words, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders, my breathing became slower and I was able to continue, calmly, helping my son process his emotions.

My children are teaching me that…“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not to join their chaos.” – L.R. Knost…While it makes sense to me that as an adult I should be in control of my emotions as a parent, my track record is not always stellar….

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The other day I was not so successful at sharing my calm with my children…

I was on social media and I had a lapse in judgement…I read an article by some lady who was proclaiming that parents need to be stricter with their children (now I’m sure some of you reading are nodding your heads right now but these articles are not helpful for anyone).. I’ve figure out a pattern when I read articles like this, but yet I still will peruse them if they cross my news feed thinking, this time it’ll be different.

The pattern goes like this….

First, I read the article and think that it’s ridiculous that the author is using examples where they don’t know what happened before the event or after the event they have witnessed.  But their observations are enough to justify their declaration that parents aren’t strict enough or need more control.  What if that parent had a rough day and set boundaries on a hundred other things but let the one incident at the playground slide?  What if that little person and that parent just lost something/someone who means the world to them? When I read about the incident where the mom did not respond as the author thought she should, I saw a parent that shared her calm with her child instead of her chaos.

I am the type of parent that over analyzes things.  If I’ve over reacted, I usually review the incident in my head a hundred times to figure out why I over reacted and what I might want to do differently next time.  In the corners of my mind there is this negative Nancy that has set up shop (she really is a pain in my a$$).  When I read articles like the one I talked about above I can feel her, with her little know it all smirk on her face nodding at everything the author says.  “see you really do need to have more control of your children”.  I always feel defeated after reading these types of articles but the worst part of the entire thing is that I always get short with my children…My temper flares and I just want my children to listen to me and do what I asked them to… And when they don’t, I feel like it’s a direct reflection of how I’m doing my job as a parent.

So, that afternoon when my son got home from school, I was still feeling defeated and took it out on him. We locked horns on a couple issues and I was going to stand my ground because I’m the parent, damn it..

He looked at me completely terrified and said, with tears running down his face, “Mom, I’m in the blue zone right now.”  After taking a deep breath and realizing that this is not the way I want to parent, I asked him what we needed to do to help him get to the green zone…He quietly responds “I need you in the green zone”…. I needed to ask him a couple of times to repeat himself and it took me a little while to really process what he was saying but that was when I realized I was not sharing my calm with him.

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Somehow, our society has set the bar higher for children’s behaviour then most adults.  These little people, who are still trying to figure out their emotions and impulse control, are not suppose to express their emotions, touch things, be seen and not heard and be able to sit still.  Sometimes I feel like we expect our children to come out of the womb with the ability to regulate their emotions, know how to share, etc…

When I started to have the urge to write down my reflections about parenting, it was because I was tired of reading about what we, as parents, are doing wrong.   It didn’t sit well with me, that I could read someone’s opinion about how I should parent my children and that it could negatively impact how I interact with my children.  These articles that point fingers at parents and how we need to get our children’s behaviour under control not only perpetuate unrealistic expectations for parents and children but send out the message that judgement is more important than empathy.  I could just roll my eyes and ignore the posts the come across my newsfeed that offer judgement and blame or I could add a little bit more noise to the internet and offer encouragement to parents.  Just like the couple who offered me encouragement at a time when I was struggling with how to best support my son, I’m hoping that this will be a space where we can come to feel the weight of parenting get a little lighter and find a little breathing room.

The Last Time(s)

There is a house in the city that has been a constant in my life for the past thirty-six years.  It’s got six foot hedges that surround the backyard I used to spend hours playing in as a child.  I loved picking mint leaves from under the old fragrant apple tree in the backyard.  My grandpa had this amazing green thumb and rose bushes were one of his specialties.  He would beam with pride talking about how to prune them or when someone would comment on the beautiful colours throughout his yard.  Even though the house sits just off a road that is constantly humming with traffic, there is a calm that comes over me when I visit.  There has been a lot of change in the house over the years but when I walk through the door I always feel welcome and although I never lived in the house it still feels like home.

Yesterday, I visited the house for the last time.  The memories and emotions came flooding back when I got the call that my grandma was moving out.  The house that I grew up visiting would no longer be there for me to visit.  I always smiled when I walk past the drawer in the formal dining room where my Grandma use to keep her candy stash.  There were a lot of miles put on running around the bathroom and furnace room in the basement.  When I was younger a visit would consist of a couple of days at a time, as I got older the visits were shorter but the conversations grew richer.  I loved talking with my grandparents to hear about their experiences as parents, grandparents and just life in general.   This house, which has become a symbol for some of the people who have played a significant role in me becoming the person I am today, will no longer be there for me to visit.  There is a chance that it might not even be there for me to drive by and just see, as the houses that use to surround it are being knocked down for more modern houses. I’ll be forever grateful that the stars aligned for me to visit that house for the last time.

I’ve been thinking about the last time(s) in life a lot over the past couple of weeks.  We’ve been preparing to transition our youngest from her crib to a bed.  This little girl has been itching to get into a bed for a couple of months now.  Why is it the youngest (the one I would like to stay my baby) is the one who is determined to grow up the fastest?!?! At least that’s what it feels like to me.  Earlier this week I laid her down in her crib for the last time.  Unlike many of the last time(s) in our lives, this one didn’t sneak by me so I was able to cherish it a little.

In the span of two days there have been two lasts that have occurred for me that have pulled at my heart strings and reminded me that change is one of the only things constant in our lives.  But when thinking of the lasts, I can’t help but think of the ones that snuck past me….

The last time my children could curl into my chest and cuddle comfortably.  I’m not even sure the last time my two oldest could curl up on my lap comfortably for a snuggle.

The last time my hugs and kisses could comfort my children and “make it all better”.  I’ve been replaced by band aids at this stage in the game.

The last time I “slow danced” with my two oldest in the kitchen to settle them at night when they were experiencing discomfort.

The list goes on an on…

Sometimes I get so consumed in focusing on the firsts to come that I forget to breath and just take in what’s happening in the moment.  I feel as though this week life has thrown a couple of lasts my way to help remind me to try and be present in the moment and just take it day by day.   Although to be completely honest with you, there have been a couple of times this week where I wasn’t even sure I could take it minute by minute….

Change

So, there’s this boy who stole my heart the day I finally met him.  He’s got these big brown eyes, this deep voice and a laugh that comes from his belly.  He’s full of energy, inquisitive, easily excitable but can be kind and gentle as well.  After nine months of anticipating his arrival into our family, the day this boy made me a parent was the most terrifying and exciting day of my life.  From day one he has turned my world upside down and challenged me in ways I never thought possible.

I remember when we got home from the hospital.  My husband and I were still trying to wrap our heads around the fact that the hospital staff had let us leave with this tiny little human.   I was stressing over the most insane things (it was the hormones, right???).  You know the conversations….”Yes, I know that you boiled the bottles and soothers but did you boil them for 8 minutes or 10 minutes? Is that long enough?”.  My poor husband was bombarded with questions ranging from how the nurse had taught us to bathe him to how much should we adjust the temperature in the house.

I’ve stumbled along the way….and made more than my share of mistakes as a parent.  It’s amazing to me that at the end of everyday my son still wants me to tuck him in at night, even when I’m not at the top of my game.  This little boy has helped me realize that even though I might not have all the answers in this gig as a parent, he still loves me and we will get through this together.

I’ll never forget the wooden blocks set he got for Christmas one year.  I remember the day he came out with the blocks and asked me to help him build the castle that was on the container. It wasn’t the first time we had played with the blocks but it was the first time he had shown interest in recreating the designs on the container.  I was thankful for being invited into his play and to have the opportunity to build with him. So, what did this momma do…She rolled up her sleeves and dived right into “help” him build his castle to match the one on the container.  We played for thirty minutes trying to re-create the designs on the container.  After cleaning up those blocks and putting them away, they sat untouched for over a month, my son had no interest in playing with the blocks.  I had gotten so wrapped up in the product that I forgot to enjoy the process….I had lost site that the process was the most important part. My son felt he couldn’t make the castle as well by himself and so had lost interest in enjoying the process of building with the wooden blocks.

This little boy has taught me to enjoy the process.  He has shown me that it’s not my job to teach him to do certain things (I.e. – building towers, colouring, etc….) but that I can be there to observe and support him. That I should be there to make sure he’s not going to hurt himself or others but that I need to let him figure things out on his own.  That might be the hardest part of being a parent…And one of the many things I am still working on figuring out.

This past week has been a challenge for me…My son is starting kindergarten in a couple of days…I have found myself on the verge of tears frequently.  Our days of being able to hang out at home and build castles and play with trains for hours are even more limited. His opportunity for daytime baths where he can spend 1+ hours in the tub playing are fewer and farer apart.  My chances to see the power of play at work as he explores his world and learns how things work will be limited to evenings, weekends and holidays.  Every ounce of my being wants to resist this change for our family…

I’m going to have to remind myself constantly in the days, weeks and months to come to take a deep breath…..A part of my heart is going to kindergarten and it terrifies me.  He’s got this, right?!?!?….

Reflections

“You Bootiful, Mommy!!” She proclaims as she wraps her arms around my neck.  My hair in it’s typical ponytail, I’m wearing my outfit from the previous day and more than likely my rosacea has flared up.

The words make my heart swell and break all at the same time…

In a world where society bombards us with images of flawless complexion, minimal wrinkles and various versions of “healthy” body weight, that are supposedly what beautiful looks like.  My daughter thinks I’m beautiful.  Of all the times I have heard this compliment before, this one means the most.  At the moment, I’m a bit confused as to why I feel my heart break a little.  I decide to acknowledge the feeling and file it away to try and pin point the reason at a later date.  I smile and embrace my daughter thanking her for the compliment.

When someone tells my daughter she is beautiful and she replies “My mommy bootiful!!” with a smile stretched ear to ear.  Again, my heart swells and breaks at the same time.  This time there is some clarification as to why my heart breaks a little when she shares these words.  How can I help this little girl, who is looking more and more like me everyday, develop a healthy body image…. if I, myself, am still working on developing a healthy body image?

Growing up I have always struggled with loving and accepting myself unconditionally.  I was always pretty good at faking it.  You know, smile when someone compliments you and thank them.  But I never truly felt that I could stand in the truth of those compliments.  It shook me to my core when I realized that my little girl thinks that I am beautiful and she looks like her mommy.  My heart broke with the realization that I could pass down my insecurities onto her.

Looking at this little girl, who is my mini-me, I get worried as I have not yet been able to unconditionally love and accept myself.  Living with rosacea, vitiligo and extra pounds that hug my frame, most days when I see my reflection in the mirror I struggle with being loving and accepting of what I see.  When I have a moment where I see the beauty I often feel like the reflection is unfamiliar.

When she hears she looks like her mommy, but mommy has trouble finding the beauty in her own reflection…. What message do I send my girl?

When she hears she looks like her mommy, but mommy avoids pictures like the plague…. What message do I send my girl?

My children developing healthy body image is important to me.  I want all three of my children to learn to love themselves the way they are (my boy included).  This little girl who proclaims that her mommy is beautiful and looks just like me, at two and a half years, has forced me to do some pretty serious personal reflection and soul searching over the past couple of months…. As much as I want my children to have unconditional love and acceptance for themselves as they grow older… How can they develop that, if they don’t see me doing the same thing?

The moment I realized why my heart broke when I heard my daughter tell me she thought I was beautiful, I made a promise to my myself.

A promise to be thankful for the body I have.  This amazing body that has given me three healthy children, even after being told repeatedly that I may have trouble conceiving.

A promise that I would work on being able to look at the mirror everyday and see the beauty in the reflection staring back at me.  I will try to make sure that no more negative words slip past my lips about the conditions I live with that affect my appearance.  These are part of who I am and while they make it challenging to see myself as beautiful.  There is still beauty to be found….

If I want my children to keep their own ideas of what beautiful is and begin to love and accept themselves unconditionally, I need to provide them with a model of what that looks like.  Then they might have a chance to look at their reflection in the mirror and not let it be overshadowed by outside influences.

No one prepared me for the amount of personal reflection being a parent would force me to make.  I am so thankful for these amazing little people in my life who are helping me to grow as a person.  I know I will struggle along the way and it won’t happen over night but I owe it to my children to be a work in progress….