Category Archives: parenting

The Year of Hard Lessons

We have a houseful of books and videos and educational games that declare in cheery tones “Learning is FUN!!!” – usually accompanied by an obnoxious rhyme and catchy tune. Unfortunately, growing and learning in real life isn’t nearly so sparkly and bright. And you’ve learned a lot this year.

Hard lessons – an injury that sidelined you, a sister in danger, a family in chaos, a shift in belief systems, a body and mind rebelling, refusing to be controlled. The kinds of lessons that teach empathy and resilience and important coping skills. The kinds that change you forever. That leave childishness is the dust.

This year you’ve learned:

You can’t white knuckle your way out of everything. This, my hardworking, overachieving, plan-making perfectionist, is actually a good lesson in the long run. But it was oh-so-hard for you of all people. Painful to watch. Painful that we couldn’t rescue you out from under it either. BUT

You can get through almost anything. Sometimes the only way out, is through. We spend so much time trying to avoid and evade suffering in our lives that this can be ridiculously hard. Even that very first step of accepting reality and realizing there are no quick fixes or shortcuts. It takes a lot of courage and strength to press in and press on. When anxiety and depression were weighing you down, I know that you didn’t feel it, but you truly are both brave and strong. Some days just getting out of bed is an accomplishment. AND

You gotta do, what you gotta do. Breathe. Live in the moment. Give yourself permission to take a break, say no, worry about it later, fail, let it go… Sleep is the best medicine. Except for laughter, that’s even better. Drink water. Get some fresh air. Move around. Wear what makes you feel good. Take long baths with candles and music and a pillow. Chocolate. True friends will understand. Meditate/pray/breathe in life. Thinking and Feeling are both important parts of life. Find balance. Sometimes you need your mom. And counselling. And medication. And that’s okay. FINALLY

You never really understand something, until you live it yourself. Knowing this, really knowing it, will give you a depth of compassion, a patience and a humility that makes you a quality friend, and a quality human being. We all struggle, the ins and outs of a person’s struggle aren’t nearly as important as this common ground.

I’m so proud of you – this year more than any other. Part of me wishes it had been a year of simple pleasures and innocent fun for you. But another part is grateful, because I see the extraordinary young woman you are becoming as a result. Who needs normal anyway?

Happy 15th birthday!

Love

Mom

balletishard

Happy Birthday, young lady! After the year you’ve had, you deserve a happy day indeed.

I’m sure when you turned 14 you had no idea you were about to have the hardest year of your life thus far, but life has a way of surprising us like that, unfortunately. It seems so unfair, though, that you should have to deal with knee injuries and anxiety and school drama on top of everything that was going on with B. So many times I have wished I could take some of these trials away from you, and lift the things that have been weighing you down. That’s not the way it works, of course. You’re becoming an adult (faster than I would like!), and the courage and perseverance you have developed during these tough times will only help you in the future.

I have been so proud of you this year. You have shown admirable wisdom in knowing when things are getting to be too much, and discipline in cutting back when necessary. You’ve bravely made difficult decisions, like your choice to change schools in September. You’ve shown tremendous maturity in your relationships, recognizing when you needed to pull back from people who weren’t providing the support that you needed. And you’ve displayed tremendous resilience as you fought through pain to deliver the best dance performances of your career.

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that your contributions to our family this year have been invaluable and very much appreciated. As the oldest kid, you’ve had to carry responsibilities well beyond what is normal, as mom and I have bounced between hospital and work and everything else that demands our attention. Thank you for all the hours of babysitting, meals cooked, and the understanding you’ve shown when you get less attention than you deserve. I love you, and I can’t wait to see what your 16th year brings you. (Surely it can only be better, right?)

Love,

Dad

So here we are – continuing our family tradition of letters written to our kids for each birthday. 15 years has gone way too fast…

 

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Teenager In The House

You’ve been celebrating for days – the “last days of my childhood” you call it. As you binge watch Hannah Montana, play Mario Kart with your brother, and request a My Little Pony cake. No more ordering off the kid’s menu, no more cheap movie ticket, no more school with the little kids… Teenagedom is officially here.

And I’m sad because you’ve been such a fun kid. Quirky and headstrong and tender hearted.

And I’m happy because you’ll be such a fun teenager. Still you, just more focused and deliberate and every bit as headstrong.

This year has been one of exponential growth for you. Perhaps it is your age, but more likely it’s been the steady stream of changes and crises. First, our change to a new church (one you didn’t approve of or enjoy) and your decision to stay at the church you grew up in – forging a new type of independence. Secondly, your sister’s cancer diagnosis and the household chaos that followed. You stepped up to the plate in ways we never expected: babysitting, preparing meals, helping with housework… learning to navigate our new, unpredictable life.

My messy hoarder now has an immaculate room. You’ve learned the thrill of decluttering and re-organizing. You’ve embraced the practical art of interior design, constantly moving items around, creating new decorations and perfecting your space. You still see beauty in unexpected items and appreciate the sentimental value of things, but you’ve learned to filter and focus that gift. Sometimes the obstacle of best, is an overabundance of good. You inspire me to streamline, not just for its own sake, but so that I can truly enjoy what I have.

My fellow candy fiend and food lover has become a healthy eater and diligent exerciser. At first this project worried me, even though we’d been talking a lot about making good choices and being more active. Too many girls your age become obsessed with weight, vain, judgemental, unrealistic, unhappy… launching themselves into a vicious cycle of self-loathing. I know I did. It’s taking me years to recover and I’m afraid I don’t set the healthiest example for you. But you’ve been remarkable balanced: not giving anything up, just moderating, adding better foods, trying new things. “It’s good for the liver” is your new catch phrase. You can rest easy, I’m sure that your liver is in fine shape.

My little rebel has found her own faith. Where you once insisted that “the sneaky snake” was the hero of the Eden story, you’ve now become quite devout. It’s always been important that you do things in your own way in your own time, and that’s something we will respect. We may not see eye to eye on theology, fundamental and progressive beliefs are bound to clash. We do understand where you are coming from (we spent many years there ourselves) and we value the strength of your convictions, especially as you live that out with increasing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We are probably wrong about some things. And you are bound to be too. On who God is and what life is all about. Yet love will never fail, it is the greatest commandment for evangelicals, emergents and confused agnostics alike… so we will make that the final word, the one we can always agree on. The purpose and the measure of life is how well and how much we love.

You’ve changed more in the space of a year, than in several before this. A dramatic switch from underachiever to workhorse, as if you’ve finally taken the reins of your own life. You are going after what you want. You are growing up. You are totally up for this teenager thing.

Me, not so much. Thinking your Mom’s an idiot is as much a part of teenagedom as hormones and emotional outbursts. It’s right up there with certainty that you know best and seeing the world in black and white. Your all-or-nothing approach to life comes with a side order of impressive willpower, but it also has the downsides of that particular brand of perfectionism too. It’s my job to give you perspective, even when you don’t want it, and keep boundaries up until you prove you can find balance on your own. I’d rather just be your friend and do the fun stuff (sci-fi movies, cooking projects and drinks at Wendells), but you still need a mom. So we’re going to keep butting heads. Just remember that I’m a person too (and still get my feelings hurt) and most importantly – in the middle of the very worst fight we will ever have, I will still love you fiercely and unconditionally.

Also, I like you a lot. And that doesn’t always happen with Moms and daughters.

Happy 13th Birthday!

Love

Mom
Dear C,

Happy Birthday, Teenager! Your age has finally caught up to your attitude – and I mean that in all the best ways. You are my feisty, independent, self-assured girl who knows exactly what she wants and how to get it.

I can’t even count the number of ways in which you have impressed me in this, our toughest year. While the rest of the family was falling apart, you somehow seemed to overcome every challenge and thrive. You killed it at school, excelled at dance, set an example for the rest of the family by embracing a healthy lifestyle, created amazing works of art, organized and decorated the best looking room in the house, and helped your mom and I by picking up lots of responsibilities at home when we were at the hospital with B, or just plain exhausted.

You have had to deal with way more than any 13-year-old should have to face, and I am both grateful for and proud of the way in which you have responded. Thank you for all you have done to help us through this difficult season of our life.

At the same time, I want you to know that you don’t have to be supergirl. It is okay to not succeed sometimes; perfection is not the goal. All we ask from you is to do your best; I hope that’s all you expect of yourself, too.

I know this year has been tough for you in other ways, too, especially with the rest of us attending a different church. I admire the strength of your convictions, and your determination to follow the path that you think is right for you. Please know that I am always behind you 100%, even when we find ourselves going in opposite directions.

I’m excited about your trip with Mom this fall. I hope you both have a fabulous time making memories and connecting in a way that isn’t always possible in the midst of our crazy life. Have fun – you deserve it!

Love,

Dad


The Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very-Bad Week

…or year… or life. Or maybe it just feels that way.

Sometimes when everything seems to be going wrong, and you think “at least it can’t get much worse” – that’s when life winds up and punches you. Right in the throat.

So there you are. Gasping. Stumbling. Grabbing at everything, anything you can touch. Mind spinning. Thinking… what the actual hell?

All the other people in the room seem to be breathing without any thought at all. Like it’s easy. Like they’re entitled to it.

Our reality took a turn for the laughably pathetic last week. While my daughter was in Children’s Hospital for the week, receiving a particularly nasty round of chemo, and in isolation (because of course she had a miserable cold on top of everything else), her Dad took a shift sleeping over, so that I could see my other kids and my Dad (who’d come to help out at the last minute). But mostly so I could sleep at home, in a bed – a special gift I’ve learned to cherish at this point in our journey.

I was buzzing around, tidying up, while my freshly-washed, pajama-clad boy stalled bedtime with a cookie treat. He’s easily distracted, and doesn’t always remember to chew, and on this night, he also had a miserable cough due to cold. You can see where I’m going with this? It wasn’t the first time. Probably won’t be the last.

Which was why I was pretty calm when I first noticed him choking and sputtering. “Here we go,” I thought, as he coughed up cookie pieces and mucous, then cried and vomited in my arms. I gave him both puffers. It didn’t help. He began itching at his throat and his feet, hives spreading faster and faster. That was new.

At this point I’d recruited my Dad to drive us to the ER; my daughter to fetch a new bucket and my purse. Still calm. Still old territory for us. He was still talking, as only my little chatterbox can manage while still coughing and puking.

I crouched by his seat all the way to the hospital, Mommy-auto-pilot fully engaged – first aid edition. I sent my Dad home, sure we were in for a long wait and the usual procedures. As I walked through the door I noticed he was working hard to breathe. Not good.

I interrupted the receptionist. “He’s having trouble breathing!” While he dry heaved in my arms, I juggled a bucket and purse and an increasingly heavy 4-year-old.

She used her calm, customer service voice on me, informing me that I would need to find his health care card while she finished helping the couple at the desk. The volunteer guarding the door chastised me for jumping the line. “These people were here first.”

Does no one hear my panic and repeated “He’s having trouble breathing!” – anyone?

He goes limp in my arms. I can’t wake him up. He’s still breathing, but it’s shallow.

The triage nurse calmly waves me over to another desk, pulling out the O2 sat monitor. “He’s having trouble breathing. He’s choking. He has hives…” I must have explained. I can’t remember it now.

She sprang into action after the clip took it’s reading. Waving us through. Bringing another nurse to our side.

Now there’s a bed. Now there are people everywhere. Hands and equipment and tubes everywhere. I’m surprised that they don’t push me out of the way. I’m stunned by how quiet my busy little boy is. Barely conscious.

“Is he normally this subdued?” they ask. I’m completely panicked by this question. There’s no way he’d lay quietly for any of this poking and prodding. Now he’s passed out entirely.

One of the nurses calls for someone to “bring the peds crash cart – right now!”

And that’s when the world stopped.

It must have sputtered back into existence at some point, a blur of tears and questions and steadily beeping machines. He starts fighting back, pushing the mask off his face and protesting over the IV in his hand. What a lovely sound that unhappy shriek is to my ears! I hold him as close to me as I can with all the tubes and wires and nurses in our way.

At some point they bring me a chair, which I ignore, climbing onto the very edge of the bed with him. I text my husband, “he’s okay” – not yet ready to explain how very close we came to not-okay. They’ve pumped him full of meds and oxygen, and are monitoring him closely.

The doctor comes to explain that they will be admitting him to hospital now. I ask if we can be transferred to Children’s Hospital, where his sister is already a patient. She looks at me like I must be joking. It’s only a few hours before April Fools Day, after all.

It did feel like a terribly cruel joke.

5We got to ride in an ambulance. Though he could barely breathe, the boy thought this was pretty exciting. He was also thrilled when he recognized the ‘big hospital’ which has always been a lot of fun for him to visit. Not at all happy when he realized he would not be going home and that, yes, they were going to keep this needle in his right hand and the uncomfortable prongs taped into his nose.

For two days we had both littles and both parents on the same floor of the hospital. Thank God, repeatedly, that Grandpa was back at home to take care of the teen contingent.

It took them longer than expected to wean him off of oxygen, but once they did he bounced right back. His sister was discharged the day after he was.

We’ll be back again next week.

None of this is actually happening to me. Not really. But I’m gasping all the same.

So here’s us, where we don’t take our next breath for granted.


All That Vaccine Ugliness

Vaccine articles abound these days. Not to mention Youtube rants, Facebook debates, pithy graphics and pinnable quotes. It’s the issue-du-jour in the parenting universe; one that doesn’t seem to be losing traction, even as both sides make little to no progress in changing minds.

In fact, those most invested in the issue seem to be polarizing to greater extremes – discussions devolving into calls for lawsuits or criminal charges, shocking rumours of evil intent and ugly name-calling.

Straw man arguments are all the rage in this discussion. You know the kind. Present your opposition’s case in the most ridiculous, laughable way, then swoop in like a hero to knock them down to size. Be sure to add a few nasty insults disguised as jokes. Appeal to fear. Appeal to a sense of superiority. People eat that stuff up.

It’s fun. Fun to read about all the ways I’m right, right, right. Fun, even, to sneer at the ridiculous claims made by the “other.”

I was prepared to jump right in. As much as I like to think of myself as a moderate, a conciliatory voice in a sea of extremists, this issue hits me right where it hurts.

So I wrote a post. Out of fear, anger, even pain. Lashing out… but, you know, in a funny and readable way. It probably would’ve done well, if I’d gone ahead and published it. I’ve seen a lot like it out there. No doubt read and shared by only those who agree already. And this one pushed all the right buttons. With a so-adorable-you-could-die picture of my cancer-fighting daughter at the end. The KO punch. Take that straw-morons!

Self righteous. Self indulgent. Pointless.

Because most parents don’t lead with their minds, they lead with their hearts. Especially when it comes to the safety of our children. Which is why this vaccine debate can get so very ugly, so very quickly. It taps into our primal defense system.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think I’m right. But I’m going to try to set Mama Bear aside to make my point. This is important. But it’s not personal.

At the core, it is an issue of world-view.

Do you trust the scientific and medical community?

What do you value most highly: personal liberty or communal responsibility?

Ultimately, what do you fear?

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate, it all comes down to fear. Either way, parents take a risk. A risk because vaccinations are neither 100% effective (and wane over time) nor are they 100% safe (not much in this world is). A risk because these diseases might (and in some cases are) making a comeback, putting my child at risk to contract, and spread, a preventable illness.

I’ve been a homeschooling mom, on the granola-crunching, tree-hugging, all-natural west coast. I know many families who choose not to vaccinate. My kids are friends with their kids. In our corner of the world, about 30% of children aren’t fully immunized. These parents are simply behind or doing what they think is best for their children. I know this. I even understand why.

When it came time for us to decide, we put our trust in traditional medicine. Not because I believe in blindly following the dictates of medical professionals like the infallible gods that they are (read this with a great deal of sarcasm), because it makes sense. This is not an unstudied and untested field – the medical evidence is public, accessible and clear. This is not a money-making scheme – vaccinations account for less than 2% of Big Pharma profits. This is not a conspiracy by a powerful elite – these are fellow parents who choose to vaccinate their children also.

Ultimately, I decided to do what I could live with. What if my child became ill, suffered permanent damage, or even died, because I chose to flout convention? What if another child did? I’d heard the stories my Grandpa told of a year spent in an iron lung. Of many who died. Polio. Small pox. Measles. Entries in a text book about deadly epidemics that seem like ancient history to us. Is it right for our family to reap the benefits of progress without doing our part for the future?

But none of that matters now.

You see, I don’t have a choice anymore. My daughter doesn’t anyway. Chemotherapy is stripping her immunity and we are at the mercy of the herd. At a time when every illness looms large and terrifying.

This is fear. Not a remote, theoretical possibility of harm, but one more skirmish in the day-to-day fight to keep death at bay.

So you understand why the question of “preventable diseases” seems SO much more important right now. Our instructions are clear: if she is exposed, even briefly, to one of these illnesses (or to someone who has been) we are to bring her immediately to the hospital. Full on emergency.

Did I mention that my best friend caught Whooping Cough last year? It was brutal. Nothing theoretical about it. And right in our own back yard. My daughter’s already so sick, I don’t know if she could survive that. Did you know that measles kills 400 children per day? North America used to be protected, but it’s back now and it’s a deadly disease. There were over 300 cases of it in our province last year. Did you hear about the NHL mumps outbreak? And on and on and on.

Danger lurks around every corner. Especially for us.

Despite my initial reactions, I’ve always known that those of us who choose not to vaccinate our children are neither monsters nor idiots. Though we’ve come to very different conclusions, we are the same – concerned parents.

Do the risks of immunization outweigh the benefits? Are reports of outbreaks overstated? Are the effects of measles, mumps and whooping cough (among other things) less dire than we’ve been led to believe?

I don’t think so. I really don’t. Since my daughter’s life is at stake I wish I did. I would rest so much easier. For once, I hope I’m wrong.

All I ask, from all my fellow parents, is that these decisions not be made lightly. Do the research. Not just the stuff that’s fun and easy to read, that makes you feel good. Look beyond the condescending attitudes and prejudices on both sides to examine the evidence. Consider the source – is it reputable… qualified… is there accountability… is there an agenda?

Be wise.

Be thorough.

That’s all I can ask.

Because you’re deciding, not just for your own kids, but for all of us who can’t vaccinate. For all the infants, for those with allergies, for those whose vaccinations have worn off or didn’t take, and for those whose immune systems are already damaged.

Be absolutely sure that you are doing the right thing.

She’s counting on you.

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So here’s me, using the emotionally manipulative picture anyway. Couldn’t resist…


That Terrible Twist that Changes Everything

Two days ago the biggest worries on my mind were: securing funding for speech therapy, my children’s potential texting addictions, and getting my butt out the door for book club.

In the space of a single phone call that all disappeared. In fact, it feels like the ground beneath our feet disappeared too. A cosmic upending. As if some powerful hand has shaken our world like a snow globe. We are left dizzy, reeling, surveying the damage to our orderly plans and expectations. And terrified.

Was it God?

Or something less mysterious, some faceless force?

Chance?
Biology?
Cancer?

I blame Leukaemia.

Our 10-year-old daughter has it. Our tiny, charming, iron-willed sweetheart has this disgusting disease.

She wasn’t sick that day, the morning before we got the call, just infuriated as I forced another routine blood test on her. Screaming and betrayed by it, as usual. Then happy as a clam 20 minutes later, also, as usual. Everything seemed normal that day. She hadn’t been sick. We had no warning, no foreshadow, just a punch in the gut when we least expected it.

I’m writing to make some sense of all this. It’s moving so fast. And my brain is moving so slow. That feeling when you walk into a room to get something, but you can’t remember what. The fog. I feel like that – all the time.

They kept asking us “do you understand why you’re here?” Over and over. Were they expecting more tears? Are we doing this wrong? What a stupid thing to think at a time like this. But I need to know we’re helping her, somehow. Even by going through the right motions in the right way.

We must looked stunned and stupefied. Which, of course, we totally are. But I’m hoping it plays as competent and calm.

There are already sparks of hope in the story, hints of Providence and amazing wonderful generous people all around us, holding our world, and us, together. There will be more, I know. I’m grateful. I’m making a list.

But I don’t need to write about that, not now. Maybe not ever. There are already lofty, inspiring stories out there aplenty. After all, kids with cancer = sentimental goldmine.

Which, you know, kind of pisses me off. I’m so sick of being brave and inspiring and wise. Since I’m actually weak, scared shitless, and incredibly ordinary. In thousands of ways I cleverly conceal. Because who wants to be known as the mom who just fell all to pieces and swore in front of her kid (and in her prayers, and on her blog) and yelled at her shell shocked husband for sleeping too much and not helping out enough?

Well, not me. That’s for sure.

So I’m writing to process, to make sense in my own mind of all that is happening so quickly. And hopefully get through it with less yelling and falling apart, and more loving my family.

The best I can at least, because it is happening so fast. And I’m pretty sure when this stuff happens we’re all weak, scared, and incredibly ordinary in the face of it. That’s life.

Right now I’m hoping that they can surgically implant a tube near my daughters heart, so that we can pump powerful drugs right into her bloodstream. The sooner the better. That’s right. Two days ago we were planning for Halloween and tonight I’m praying for chemo to start ASAP. Surreal.

Feel free to follow this journey in my blog, but don’t expect the pretty version. So far this experience is raw and exhausting, yet somehow closer to the pulse of life than usual, with gusts to boring and mundane. A bizarre mix. That’s life.

Our daughter, meanwhile, is the hero of the story. As usual.

So here’s us, in the well staffed, cheerfully decorated hell that is children’s hospital.

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On Any Given Lunch-hour

Three little toes curl over the edge of the table. Flexing his entire body he catapults himself, his booster and his chair across the floor. “NOOOOOOOO!!!”

Today is a blueberry day. NOT a leftover mac ‘n cheese day.

Big sister disagrees. Pushing her bowl of blueberries disdainfully to the side. The boy eyes them from across the table.

“Look! Ketchup on noodles!” I say, in my best infomercial voice.

She nods enthusiastically.

I grin widely, flourishing his toddler-sized fork… demonstration bite. A lesser woman would have spit the lukewarm, congealed horror onto the floor immediately. I maintain the smile, tactfully depositing it into my napkin.

Blueberries it is.

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For Word Press Weekly Writing Challenge: Lunch Posts – simple, short, descriptive.

So here’s us, at lunchtime.


The Best Way to See NYC

She’s a lot of fun – my travel companion, my new friend. She laughs when I do and sees humour in our misadventures (which is fortunate, because we’ve had quite a few). She’s patient with my map-fumbling and missteps. We’ve seen the same streets of NYC several times over, ridden the subway in circles and taken the could-have-built-the-Empire-State-Building-by-now ahem, long way, several times.

Sadly, her sense of direction isn’t much better than mine. But her sense of adventure is bar none.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had our spats. She thinks she’s always right. Since I KNOW that I’M always right, it’s a problem when our respective rightnesses clash. What’s worse, I’ve learned that older isn’t always wiser and have had to concede to being slightly less right than her a few times. Ouch. She’s even less gracious in her concessions than I am. Like mother, like daughter, I suppose.

Getting the Party Started

The red-eye flight out here was no picnic. After only 30 minutes of sleep I startled awake knee-to-knee and nose-to-nose with the unfriendly man in the next seat. Like most Canadians I find this level of unintended intimacy deeply disconcerting. I spent the rest of the night watching Downton Abbey reruns through bleary eyes. I’m afraid that no amount of Earl Grey can produce chipper after a night like that.

We yawned our way through the Museum of Modern Art (which was amazing nevertheless), Times Square (overwhelming), and the world’s worst tour guide. Finally, I understand how very annoying it is to my children when I start a sentence, trail off and leave it hanging in mid-air.

Tired, but still ecstatic to be here, we found refreshment in Little Italy. Is there anything a truly great piece of pizza can’t fix?

We stumbled into bed with visions of Broadway shows dancing in our heads.nyc

NYC is full of New Yorkers

We nibbled at the Big Apple for the next 2 days. And it was delicious! There is something invigorating about this boisterous city and it’s Babel of languages and ethnicities and colours. We saw the Statue of Liberty, the Harbour at nighttime, the Natural History Museum, Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the 9/11 Memorial and the inside of WAY too many stores.

The tour book said not to greet people on the street, because they’ll think you’re crazy. After a few polite smiles and head nods I can report that this is, in fact, true.

Not only that, but they won’t get out of your way. At one point a man came to a dead stop directly in front of me. He wouldn’t shift left or right. Just glared at me, until I scuttled sideways, then continued barreling down the sidewalk. I’m not clear what game we were playing, but I’m pretty sure I lost.

This doesn’t mean they’re not nice. Though no self-respecting New Yorker would cop to a descriptor as wimpy as “nice.” Loud and pushy translates into exuberant and interesting if I remember my place. After all, this isn’t my world, it’s theirs.

When my “thank yous” were overly effusive, eyes rolled. When we stopped and waited for the light to change, people tripped over us. Rude is a cultural construct after all.

On the other hand, advice and opinions are freely offered in New York. Most people we talked to were eager to show off their city and give us their best efforts (the rest were simply hustling us for tips). There was the policeman who gave us directions, then outlined the itinerary he felt we should follow for the rest of the day. And the matriarch of a Greek diner we discovered (read: stumbled into while looking for something else) who knew exactly what we should eat… and was right. New Yorkers have a brusque charm that is strangely appealing.

Our Favourite Things

If you ask my daughter what the highlight of our New York trip was, she’ll tell you all about “Wicked,” the Broadway show that stole her heart. It was brilliant!

nyc2But my highlight didn’t come with a playbill or a souvenir postcard. The best part of this trip was being just us. With a big(ger) family, with the extra demands of special needs children, with her serious dance commitments and homework and paper route and growing social life, I don’t get much time to enjoy her – something I know will only get worse as the next few years fly by.

My Favourite Teenager

Turning 13 is a huge milestone. We wanted our own “rite of passage” to celebrate with our kids, so years ago we came up with a plan. We discussed the bat mitzvah-style parties and coming of age rituals which are becoming more and more popular, but they just weren’t “us.” A trip, however, with its concentrated one-on-one time and attention, a shared experience, an adventure, a memory… that has “us” written all over it.

Of course, NYC is more ambitious (read: expensive) than we envisioned, but it has been priceless.

I thought I would take this opportunity to parent intentionally. I thought we would have an important episode of the sex/boys/self-worth conversation, with forays into girl politics, healthy choices and 14 reasons drugs are for losers. But those are part of our ongoing discussion. She hardly needs an official sermon at this point, because we’ve been talking about it all along.

Instead, we had fun together. Turns out, that’s not a less important parental function after all. Especially when we are navigating a new level of independence on her part and more of a supporting role on mine. Turns out, that’s what we really needed.

Dear Teenager,

You already know that I love you. That I will fiercely protect you, and relentlessly hound you to do chores, and expect the best from and for you, and pray for you, and catch you when you fall.

But do you know how much I like you? Do you know that I WANT to spend time with you? That I think you are interesting, and bright, and kind?

We might not always get along like we do now, but that’ll always be there. When I look at you and when your Dad looks at you, we see more than what is. We see the best version of you.

Hopefully, because of this, you can see her too.

I saw her a lot this week, grinning at the camera in cheesy poses all throughout New York. She’s a lot of fun! I’m so glad I got to know her a bit better this week!

Love
Mom

The best way to see NYC has nothing to do with maps, or itineraries, or even tour guides… the best way is to see it with someone you have fun with.

So here’s us, travel buddies, explorers, friends… a great way to start the teen years. I’d highly recommend it.

Still to come… visiting my nephews (oh, and the grown ups who live with them, whom we also love, though they will forever be eclipsed by the cute babies).


Nine Years Old

5504996471Dear 9-Year-Old,

I’ve always railed against my children growing older. But none more than you. You may be a big sister and a school kid and a joke-teller and a rider of three-wheeled bikes… but you are still my baby.

You’ve gotten so tall lately. Objectively, I know that’s not true, since you aren’t even on the growth chart for your age and only hit 5th percentile on the Down Syndrome version. But each night when you climb into my lap and we sing our made-just-for-you-that-moment lullaby, you are all lanky arms and legs. When you dance with arms akimbo, they seem to stretch so far and so wide. When you “stir” the salad for dinner, you don’t even need a stool anymore. You are still my baby, but you are getting big.

Not just physically either. You are becoming more independent. You like to play on your own in your room, then tell us the story about your latest pretend, or that dream you had last night. You occasionally tidy up without being asked. You prefer to read at school with your teachers and bask in the familiar routine of listening to Mommy at home, but you’ve begun to interject a word here and there when we read Caps For Sale and Dr. Suess. When we can bribe you to read a book on your own, it is always a masterpiece in my ears – especially your silly favourite, No, David, where each page brings a new gale of uproarious laughter.

You are someone who loves to laugh. What your jokes may lack in intelligibility you more than make up for in sheer enthusiasm. I may not understand every word of the build up, but when you shout “MEATBALL!” then crumple into a fit of giggles… I can’t help but join in.

You are a gentle soul, the first of my children to pet me when I’m sick and reassure me when I’m sad. No matter how spitting mad you might get (literally spitting over and over again), it doesn’t occur to you to hurt someone. You are sensitive and have a great capacity for kindness. You are the cheerleader of the entire world – you say “Good job!” to everyone: the lady who waited on our table, the man painting the walls at school, your sister for opening the door… every classmate for every accomplishment. You offer applause at every turn. We clap a lot at our house.

In a world of pretenders, you live without masks or defenses. This isn’t always socially acceptable, but it’s often refreshing. We don’t wonder how you feel or what you want.

You are easy to love. Not always easy to parent, with your iron will and refusal to be rushed through life. But effortlessly and entirely loveable!

I don’t care if you are nine-year-old or ninety, you are still my baby.

I love you!

Happy Birthday!

Mom

And now, from Daddy…

Dear B,

How can my baby girl be 9 already? It hardly seems possible. And yet I can hardly deny it. Wherever I look, I see signs that you are growing up.

This was a year when some things that you’ve been working very hard on for a very long time really started to snap into place for you. You’re a stubborn little girl, and that comes with some challenges to be sure, but it also comes with a tenacious drive to accomplish whatever you set your mind to.

We were so excited when you brought a book home from school and read it to us for the very first time. Your favourite teacher, “Ms. Smelling” spent time with you every day at school, helping you learn how to read. We were amazed at how quickly you learned, and the proud beam on your face as you read to us showed that you knew just how big an accomplishment it was.

And then there’s potty training. We’ve been working on that for six years, and sometimes it seems like it’s never going to end! But this summer, you made up your mind: this is going to happen! We’re not done yet, but we can see that day coming… and when it comes, boy are we going to celebrate!

And that’s what’s wonderful about being your daddy. You celebrate harder than anyone I know, putting your whole body into it: singing, dancing, laughing, jumping. You are absolutely infectious; the grumpiest person in the world can’t help but smile when you’re excited. And you make your daddy so proud when you belt out Airborne songs at the top of your lungs as we drive around in the blue van!

I think Ms. Smelling said it best. She wrote a paper about you, and she expressed how we all feel about B:

“You have been and will continue to be a source of joy, humour, inspiration, and learning. You have been the greatest gift and teacher I have ever known; unknowingly you have led me to a greater understanding of what is truly important in life.”

There’s nothing more important in my life than being your daddy. I love you Becca. Happy birthday!

Love,
Daddy


Ugly is a Matter of Perspective

The downside to 11-year-old slumber parties is clear – a very big mess, very little sleep and the very real danger of permanent hearing damage. If you have not experienced the extraordinary pitch and volume of excited pre-teen babble… well then, I’m happy for you.

On the upside, it’s a fascinating peek into the mind of children-becoming-women. I mostly hung out in the background at my daughter’s first sleepover party, as per her strict instructions. And if I happened to lurk in the hallway listening from time to time, who’s to know? After all, it is my house.

It’s a lot like I remember. A lot more OMG and iPod usage than I’d like, but the silliness and the shrieking and the inhuman levels of energy ring a bell. The enthusiasm of childhood intersecting with the concerns of growing up.

The birthday girl wanted a “fancy dinner,” so she and all her guests dressed up, then big sister played waitress and Mom played chef and somehow everyone got fed. There were candles and flowers and the good china and the good white tablecloth. It’s possible that more food ended up in the “wine” glasses than in their stomachs, but they weren’t complaining.

After cheesy party games, presents, a movie, pranking poor big sister and several hours of whispering (until Mean Mom made an appearance at 2:30 am), they managed to get a few hours of REM in.

Enough, apparently, that the next morning they found a few minutes to wax philosophical. They even asked me to weigh in on the conversation. I think the question had originally been asked in jest, but the discussion seemed pretty serious for pajama clad partiers.

If you had to choose,
one or the other for the rest of your life,
would you rather be pretty or smart?

On the surface, it’s a simple conversation starter. Like, what kind of superpower would you choose? Or where would you go if you could go anywhere in the world? Fluffy and unimportant. But in this day and age, for a group of young women just discovering who they are, it’s a serious question.

What’s most important to you? Who do you want to be? Why?

Of course, this is a rhetorical argument – we don’t have to choose, though it may seem like it sometimes (but that’s a blog for another day). And on some level, our physical appearance and natural intelligence is not within our control. We are who we are. Accepting that is the first step to contentment. Still, we can nurture and enhance both our mind and our look. With limited resources, we tend to focus more on one or the other.

Our priorities and values, especially as women, can be largely determined by our devotion to either appearance or substance. It affects how we see ourselves and others. It affects our goals and our dreams and our sense of purpose. It affects how we spend our time and our money and our lives.

I gave the girls the “Mom Answer” they expected. Of course, I’d rather be smart. That’s what I was supposed to say.

Afterwards I wondered… is it really true? I mean, I definitely want to be pretty. I’d love to have movie-star good looks and wear size 2 and fend off drooling hoards of admirers. Who wouldn’t?

But would I trade the power of my mind, the things I know and have experienced, my connection with God, my common sense, and my hard-won slivers of wisdom for that? Even just a little bit?

Never. Not for all the pretty in the world. I wouldn’t lessen myself that way.

Yet, women do that all the time. We live in a world that tells girls, in thousands of different ways, that their value lies in how they look and what they weigh and how well they can attract a man. Sometimes we even slap a “feminist” label on it and call that power. But real power isn’t being noticed or shaking your ass – real power is being confident, unique and strong in a way that is MORE than skin deep. The world doesn’t need more pretty women, it needs more smart ones.

Without time to prepare, I didn’t offer the eloquent, inspiring comments I would’ve liked. I said something about looks being temporary. That I need intelligence to understand and enjoy the world. That I want to do something good and important and make the world a better place, not just decorate it.

One little girl looked at me, then said, quite sadly,

“But then you’d be ugly.”

There was a pause then, before other conversations intruded and crepes wanted flipping and sleeping bags needed folding and the party carried on.

I carried that sad comment with me all day. And I wondered about the nature of ugly, about the world we live in and the world we’re making.

If a girl chooses smart. If she chooses substance. Could that, ever, be ugly?

So here’s my answer girls: don’t pick pretty. Pick smart. Even better, pick kind or brave or outstanding. Because there’s nothing uglier than a pretty face with nothing behind it.


What is this “Teenager” You Speak Of?

It’s a made up thing. Adolescence. Teenage-hood.

It’s a modern phenomenon. In other times and places, there is no unique life-stage between childhood and adult responsibility.

But here and now, we put a lot of emphasis on it. We paint pictures of wild rebellion and terrible angst and exhilarating adventures. A lot of things happen during the teenage years. A lot of things change. It seems like a really big deal.

Today you are 13. Today you are a teenager. And it kind of is a big deal.

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Ideally, you will gain independence as you gain the ability to handle it over the next few years. You will begin to see us, your parents, not as your foundation, but your support. The picture of who you are and who you want to be, something we have carefully nurtured for many years, will guide your decisions – and not the tide of conformity, with its pseudo-wisdom and sexy marketing. Your beliefs will become your own – God, relationships, values, priorities… It’s your life, not ours. We’re just here to point the way and cheer you on.

I see all this happening already. The woman you will be is taking shape. And she’s cool. I really like her. What’s even better, I respect her.

At your very core, you are kind, patient and gentle. Your littlest siblings think of you as another parent. We try not to expect too much of you, but you jump in to help out without being asked. You can coax a smile and occasionally co-operation out of them, far better than we can.

You are responsible, disciplined and a hard worker. When we realized that Dance Camp was too expensive for our budget, you didn’t whine or feel sorry for yourself, though many would have… you got yourself a paper route, and paid for it yourself. We don’t even have to keep track of the funds, because you are so diligent in making sure you pay us back for exactly the right amount.

Although you are by nature a quiet person and an introvert, you are a lot of fun too! You love to play games and are fiercely competitive. You dance and perform, not to show off, but because you truly appreciate the art. You are interesting, and interested in others and the world around you. I am SO looking forward to our big trip together this fall. There’s no one else I’d rather see New York City with!

(Long ago we decided that to celebrate 13th birthdays we would plan a one-on-one road trip with a parent. In this case, a judicious use of air miles, staying with family and birthday/Christmas funds has allowed us to plan an amazing Mother-Daughter trip in October, complete with a Broadway show and a side trip to Boston to visit my sisters families AND visiting NEPHEWS!!!)

You’re not perfect. You need to remember that being accurate is not always the same thing as being right, that the sister your share a room with is a human being too, that “she’s SO annoying” is NOT a good enough excuse, and that it’s okay not to have everything figured out, all the time. But you’re definitely on the right track.

Most parents dread the teen years. I know I’ve felt twinges of terror. It’s hard to let go. It’s hard to watch you make mistakes (and FYI you WILL make mistakes). It’s hard to remember all the angst-y and hurtful and stupid in my own teenage-dom that you might have to face. It’s hard to remember all the thrilling and wonderful and safe in my own teenage-dom that you might not.

But, it’s your life, not mine. You’re doing a great job so far. I am SO proud of you! Enjoy 13!
Happy Birthday!
Love
Mom

Sometimes we let Dad get a word in too…

Dear L,

It occurs to me that the last time I wrote a letter to a teenage girl, I was writing your mom (instead of paying attention in high school social studies). How did we all get so old, so fast?

I was thinking the other day how easy life was back when it was just you, me and mom. You were such a content, easy-going baby. We could take you anywhere. Thanks for taking it easy on us.

Now, as far as teenagers go, you’re still content and easy-going. Let’s face it: our life is a three-ring circus. Somehow, even with only two little kids, it still feels like we’ve got kids running in every direction all the time. And yet, through it all, there’s steady L: unflustered, unflappable, and (almost) always ready to lend a helping hand.

The world is noticing the remarkable young woman you’re becoming. When you dance, people marvel at your beauty and your grace. When we spend time with aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, the adults are quick to marvel at your sense of responsibility, your patience with the little ones, and your obvious caring heart. When you’re in school, your teachers tell us what a pleasure you are to teach, how well you get along with others, and what a strong student you are.

I’m noticing, too. I’m noticing how you’ve got your mother’s beautiful face, and your father’s winsome personality (ha ha). I’m noticing that I can trust you with important things. I’m noticing that you’re willing to work hard for what you want, like when you took on a paper route to pay for summer dance camp. I’m noticing… and I’m proud.

One day a long time ago, I came up with the brilliant idea of having each of our girls take a trip with their mom when they turned 13. I never imagined that you would be going to New York. But most of all, I never imagined that day would come so quickly. I hope you have a fabulous time together and make memories that the two of you will share for a lifetime. I love you! Happy Birthday!

Love,
Dad


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