Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Loss of Innocence

I cannot believe that it has been 10 months since I have posted. Life with 3 kids got in the way, and long story short, my faithful blogging sessions got crowded out. I have had various points along the way where I have said to myself, "I really should write about this" and then the moment passed and the inspiration fizzled. But not this time. So here I am nearly a year later ready to pour my heart out once again...

For the first 5 years of her life, Nicki was pretty much sheltered from any kind of emotional pain at the hand of other kids. Because I was (and am) a stay-at-home mom, she was never faced with the situation of being pushed around at daycare, never had to defend herself against a grabber, hitter, biter, teaser. I was always there to step in should any of those situations arise. Even though she is my oldest, I sometimes feel like she will always be the one that I consider to be my baby, possibly because for her first 2 years she had no siblings around and therefore had my undivided attention. She was my sole focus and with no other children to distract me from her, my opportunities to shield and protect her were limitless.

Fast forward to the present: Nicki is now in kindergarten. Initially my anxiety about this transition revolved more around turning her education over to someone other than myself. Having been her main teacher for the past 5 years, I struggled with sadness over the loss of that role. But, as the months rolled by and I saw her thriving, I began to accept and even embrace the change. I finally started to recognize that even though my role as an academic teacher may have changed, my position as a life teacher never would. Being there to guide my children as they grow up, show them right from wrong, instill moral values, teach them to live up to their potential, all the while being there to encourage, support, console, and help in any way, shape or form is what being a mother is all about.

That being said, this week I was faced with a new realization: that no matter how much I want to shelter and protect Nicki from harm, now that she is growing up and gaining more independence, there are some things that will forever be out of my control.

There is a special kind of innocence that young children have. It's what makes them run around naked without any shame, dance in the middle of a crowd of people without a moment's hesitation or break out into song without a single thought as to who might be listening. It's a belief that all people are good and a total incomprehension of why anyone would be cruel. That innocence is the epitome of childhood and is one of the most beautiful and moving things in the world to behold. Nicki is still brimming with that innocence and until now I had taken for granted that it would always be inside of her. Then yesterday part of it was stripped away and even though the logical and rational part of me knows that loss of innocence is an unfortunate consequence of growing up, my heart still ached for her.

Although she is still relatively sheltered from the older kids at school (the kindergartners have a separate entrance and separate yard to play in), the school bus is the one place where she is exposed to all of the different age groups and all of the bad behaviors that go along with them. I was relieved to find out that the kindergartners were required to sit at the front of the bus and that there would at least be some kind of physical distance between her and the 11 and 12 year olds. I got nervous however when as punishment for bad behavior on the back of the bus, they bus driver began having the 6th graders sit up front with the kindergartners on the way home.

Here was my precious little 5 year old bursting with happiness and telling me all about how she had a 6th grader named Dylan sitting with her on the bus. I smiled and said that was great, but inside I cringed at the thought of what he might be saying to her. In the end, I worried needlessly as it turned out that Dylan was actually quite friendly to her and even now that he has returned to his original seat in the back, he continues to say hello to her and compliment her on whatever art project she may be holding in her lap on a given day. She beams with pride whenever she recounts these interactions to me and I can't help but silently thank this boy in the back of my mind every time she does.

Having averted this potential crisis, I thought it would be smooth sailing from there, but a couple of months ago, the principal got on the bus and gave out assigned seating to everyone. She moved some of the more problematic kids to the front for good which of course meant that some of the well behaved kids like Nicki got pushed farther back. So now Nicki is sitting in the midst of what are, from what I can tell, 3rd and 4th graders. The girl she was seated with seemed to be nice enough and so I told myself to stop worrying and just let it be.

Then Nicki started coming home telling me all about the boy who sits across the aisle from her named Dennis. For whatever reason, she fell head over heels for him and talked about him non-stop, even going so far as walking around the house solemnly one day sighing, "I just wish Dennis was here." When I asked her about their interactions on the bus, she said that she talks to him all the time, but that he doesn't always answer her. She seemed just fine with that arrangement, but I could sense a broken heart coming on fast. Then she began to draw pictures for him on a daily basis and give them to him on the bus. His sister and other friends sitting nearby started teasing him about this and that's when he started being mean. He began calling her "the crazy kindergartner" and crumpling up the art she would give him. The sadness that she felt over this was like none I had ever seen in her eyes before. Then yesterday came the kicker. She was sitting in her seat, staring out the window and singing softly to herself as she does pretty much every day now that she has no one to talk to. He very cruelly told her to be quiet and that he hoped he never had to hear her sing another song for the rest of his life.

She was completely crushed. She came off the bus with tears streaming down her face and crumpled into my arms sobbing. She kept asking me over and over why someone would be so mean to her, why didn't he like her, when all she wanted was to be his friend. For a while all I could do was hold her and rock her and tell her it was going to be ok. Once she calmed down I tried to have her see his point of view and explain to her that oftentimes older kids prefer to only be friends with kids in their own grade and that when a kindergartner started paying so much attention to him it made him feel uncomfortable. I tried to get her to see that being teased by his friends made him lash out at her and to help her realize that even though he was entitled to having those feelings, the way he expressed them was completely uncalled for. I encouraged her to continue making art for those that truly appreciate it (there's a boy in her class named Zachary that worships the ground she walks on) and reminded her that real friends do not treat each other the way Dennis treated her.

It took every ounce of discipline I had to remain calm and rational when inside my emotions were screaming at me to march over to his house and wring his little neck. The mother lion in me was ready to roar: How dare he hurt my treasured little baby and who the hell did he think he was talking to her like that? I could tell that something was lost in her that day; a tiny piece of innocence was gone.

Deep down inside I knew that this type of encounter was unavoidable and that what had transpired would amount to merely a tiny scratch on her emotional skin, but the pain and disillusionment I saw on her face that day made me want to wrap her up and hide her away and keep her from experiencing another ounce of pain for the rest of her life.

How on earth am I going to deal with the almost inevitable sorrow over a first break up or the grief over not making the team? How am I going to keep myself from pouncing on every kid who teases her, every boy who rejects her and every clique that snubs her? I haven't got a clue...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How far is too far?

Ok, here is the situation. Having 3 kids in 4 years teaches you to pick your battles wisely. Very Wisely. Otherwise, you are sure to be in constant battle over something.

One of the areas I have never seen necessary to battle over is clothing. Ever since Nicki has been old enough to have the desire to pick out her own clothes in the morning, I have let her dress herself. As long as the clothes are weather appropriate (much more of an issue after we left San Diego!) I keep my mouth shut about her choices. Always. Even if we are going to a birthday party. Even if my in-laws are coming over. Even if people are going to think I must have dressed her myself in the dark. Does she always match? No. Does she look ridiculous? Sometimes. Is she happy with how she looks? Always. So far so good...

Enter Gabe. Gabe has never showed much interest in picking out what to wear each day, so I usually do it for him. He seems oblivious to my choices most of the time - clothes mean nothing to him. What he loves to do is accessorize. Yes, you read that right. My son is into accessories. He loves wearing necklaces, bracelets, head bands, tiaras, and most of all tutus. And I haven't seen a reason to stop him. We have made many trips out with him sporting a pink tutu over his sweatpants, earning us many stares and the occasional comment from passerby. But he is happy as a clam, so I am too. So until now, my "no battle" philosophy had been going pretty smoothly. I have now been blindsided however by something I really didn't see coming.

A bit of history first: Gabe will be turning 3 in a few months. He is not yet potty trained. Unlike Nicki who potty trained in only 3 days at the age of 20 months, Gabe has shown no desire at all to use the potty and refuses any suggestion I might make to that effect. Periodically I will mention something or other about being a big boy now or getting to wear underwear, but he always just says "No thanks." At least he's polite about it I guess. This is the same dance we have been doing for over a year now.

Yesterday however when I mentioned the possibility of him wearing underwear for the gazillionth time, his interest seemed to be piqued. I perked up at the thought of possibly getting somewhere, so I asked him what kind of big boy underwear he would like to wear when he learns to use the potty. His response? "Belle underwear." Yup, that's right, my son wants to wear Disney Princess panties and actually went on to tell me how he would never ever pee or poop in his Belle panties because he loves her so much. I suggested that perhaps he might also like some Lightening McQueen, or Spiderman or Curious George underwear. No go. He only wants Belle.

Now what do I do?! This is the first time he has EVER even remotely shown any interest at all in using the potty. My first instinct is to jump all over it before the moment passes, buy him 10 packages of Belle panties and get this ball rolling. But part of me just can't do it. As liberal as I am, I just don't know how I would feel seeing a delicate pink waistband peeking out of the top of his camouflage pants. I need to think about this some more...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Letting kids be kids

Yesterday I went to an "orientation meeting" for Nicki's future kindergarten. The parents were together in one room with the principal, while the kids went off to a kindergarten classroom with the teacher. One of the things they had the parents do was fill in a short questionnaire about their kids. Most of the questions were pretty straightforward: name, age, did they go to preschool, how much French have they been exposed to, etc. But there was one question that I faltered on. It asked us to list our child's hobbies. It seemed innocent on the face of it, but really what were we supposed to answer? I mean seriously, hobbies? At 4 years old? Is there some sort of group of 4-year-olds out there taking up stamp collecting and needlepoint?

I was drawing a complete blank at that point, so I glanced around the room to see if others were struggling as well. No such luck. Pens were scribbling away, no doubt telling tales of their children's unwavering interest in classical violin or impressionist art. Even more discouraged at this point, I forced myself to calm down and think; what do my kids actually do? Then it hit me square in the face: they PLAY. They build with blocks, they draw pictures, they do puzzles, they get dressed up, they chase each other around the house, they feed their dolls, they race their cars, they look at books, they run and jump and climb and slide. THEY HAVE FUN.

In the school's defense they were clearly just trying to get to know my child better, but me being me, took it as a loaded question that really should have read "What extra-curricular activities do you force your child to be shuttled around to every day?" So instead of marking down the one activity that Nicki actually does participate in (swimming), I instead marked "playing" as my answer. I hope that the teacher who reads it will see beyond the simplicity of the answer to the deeper meaning behind it: my kid gets to be a kid and we are just fine with that. After all, isn't playing what childhood should be all about?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

TV Wars

Ahhh, TV. Moms fall all over the spectrum on the subject of how much is too much, ranging from the permissive "let them watch as much as they want" view to the strict "no TV at all" standpoint. While I disagree with forbidding TV completely, I will admit that I do fall on the stricter side of things when it comes to screen time, allowing my kids to watch only one show per day (20-30 minutes max). We rotate who gets to choose the episode each day (one day Nicki, next day Gabe, next day me) and they only get to choose from a group of shows or DVDs pre-selected by yours truly.

Too stringent? Some might say so, but I would have to disagree. There are so many better uses of their time, no matter how "educational" certain programs might be. (I have heard this refrain so many times: "Yeah, my kids watch a lot of TV, but it's ok they only watch educational shows.) My kids do not turn to the tube out of boredom. When left to their own devices they are more than happy to look at books, listen to music, build, dress-up, colour, run, dance and (gasp, are you ready for this?) use their imaginations to entertain themselves. My kids never ask me to turn the TV on. Seriously. Never. We have a time set aside for it each day and that's it. Sometimes I wonder if they think that the TV won't even turn on outside of that time. They've never tried. I don't watch much TV myself, only 2 hours a week - House and 24 for those who care! So while I only watch TV 2 days a week, I read 7 days. Hopefully this will rub off on them. So far so good.

I have wondered to myself though if I am setting them up for failure by being too rigid when it comes to TV. By not allowing them to watch more am I somehow glamourizing it, making more seductive, more intriguing? Am I dooming them to a couch potato future once they grow up? My ultimate goal here is to teach my kids that moderation is the key to a happy and healthy lifestyle, whether we're talking watching TV or eating less than healthy foods.

Now before I really start to sound like a kill-joy, I need to say that I am flexible when the occasion calls for it. For example, I take the kids to the gym with me on Saturday mornings where they have a TV set up in the child care area. They often play movies there and my kids have come to look forward to their special mornings at the gym, in part because they are getting to do something they don't get to do at home, which makes it an enjoyable time for both them and me.

One Saturday morning the child care provider told me that one of the other moms had requested that she keep the TV off. I was surprised by this and asked why. Apparently it was because the mom was trying to limit her kids' screen time and if they watched TV at the gym that morning they would not be able to to watch any more at home that day. My first reaction to that was "So? What's the problem?" But then I understood. The mom was obviously using the TV at home as a way for her to get some time to herself, for chores or other things, and without it she wouldn't be able to keep her kids occupied long enough to get these things done. She "needed" them to watch TV at home, so in an effort to keep a cap on how much TV they watched in a day, she didn't want them to watch any TV at the gym. How convenient.

To me this was completely ridiculous. If she was so concerned about their viewing habits, then the changes should have been made at home, not when they were out in the world. This is exactly the type of thing that I never worry about. I know my kids watch only minimal TV at home, so if they get to watch a little extra at the gym on a Saturday morning, no big deal. Same goes for junk-food or sugary treats. These types of foods are not a part of our daily living, so when a special occasion rolls around and they eat a slice of pizza or a piece of cake, again, no big deal.

What I find most ironic is that this mom, who was leaving these kids at the gym child care so that she could do something she wanted to do, could not even be lenient enough to allow them a little fun of their own. How unfair. And the most hypocritical part of the whole thing was that while she was on the exercise bike working out she was...? You guessed it! Watching TV herself. Ugh.

There's a time and a place for everything and moderation really is the key. If I can lead by example and ingrain these concepts into their heads now while they are young and have them carry these values into adulthood, at least part of my parenting will have been successful. Here's hoping!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The rocking chair

Many years ago when I was first moving out on my own, I went to a garage sale and bought an old wooden rocking chair from a woman who actually seemed quite reluctant to sell it. As I handed her my money, she looked at me with brimming tears and a sad smile and said "Treat it well, I rocked my babies to sleep in that chair." At the time, my 19 year-old brain thought her sentimentality over a piece of furniture was sweet but a little over the top. Today I get it. Oh, do I ever get it.

Upstairs in my baby's nursery sits a blue and white gingham patterned rocker. It's nothing special to look at, the same as many other rockers you will find in baby stores all over town, although even a casual observer would have to admit that it looks darn comfortable. But what that observer wouldn't and couldn't know is that my heart has seeped so deeply into its fabric that it's practically a part of me.

How can a simple chair become a part of you, you wonder? Well allow me to shed a little light. Over the past 4 years I have nursed 3 babies in that chair, hour after hour, day after day, night after night. I have cradled newborns as they slept, I have rocked crying babies as they teethed and I have soothed weeping toddlers when they were frightened. In that chair I have been graced with first smiles, first giggles, and first coos. From that chair I have watched the sun rise and fall, the seasons change, and my babies grow up. Week after week, month after month, year after year.

In that chair I have felt happiness beyond belief and exhaustion beyond comprehension. In that chair I have felt both helpless and invincible. In that chair I have felt a love more powerful than any emotion I have ever experienced. In that chair I have felt alive. In that chair I finally became who I was always meant to be: a nurturer, a protector... a Mother.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Personality profile

A couple of weeks ago my friends Cindy and Wilson loaned me a booked entitled "Positive Personality Profiles" by Robert A. Rohm, Ph.D. Always a sucker for self analysis, I took it home and read it in less than a day. The book basically confirmed what I have known for years: I am an extremely anal, task-oriented, anti-social, controlling perfectionist - or what they call the "C" personality type. It also revealed that I am weary of other people's kindness, always looking for a hidden meaning behind it. The author summed it up perfectly when he said that when faced with a display of appreciation, a person with my personality type will wonder: "Am I being manipulated? Are you trying to get something by me? Hmmmm, what's going on here?" I had to laugh out loud at this. It's so true.

Self-scrutiny aside, this book was an interesting read for a whole other reason: trying to peg my kids' personalities. I think that I managed to get a handle on Nicki's fairly easily. She has always struck me as a people-pleaser, a girl who likes being around people but is essentially reserved. According to the book, this would make her an "S" personality. As I read more about this particular personality type, I saw more and more of Nicki in every page. They enjoy routine and believe readily in "a place for everything and everything in its place", they need a lot of security, they are submissive and take orders very well, they like the status quo or sameness and they are very sentimental. The author noted that "S" type children are often the easiest to parent and I would definitely have to agree.

But to be honest, I had never really given much thought to what her personality type would mean for her in the future, how it would help or harm her in the years ahead. Knowing that she is a people-pleaser raises questions for me on how she will behave as a teenager for example. Will she be able to say no when not-so-well-meaning friends try to steer her toward behaviours she should avoid? Will she cave into peer pressure? Will she have enough self-esteem and confidence in herself to be her own person and live by the values we have taught her throughout her young life? What can we do now in the early years to bolster that self-esteem, ingrain those core values and teach her to stand by her convictions?

Gabe's personality on the other hand was much harder to pin down. Before he even reached a year old, it was obvious that he and Nicki were polar opposites of each other and as time went by the differences became even more pronounced. He learns in a different way, responds to discipline in a different way and interacts in a different way. According to the book, the opposite of Nicki's personality would be the "D" personality, and I while I have to admit many of the characteristics do seem to fit - demanding, strong-willed, defiant - they probably also characterize 99% of all of the 2 year olds out there.

So while it may be too soon yet to determine exactly what personality type Gabe is, one thing is for certain, these two kids are VERY different from each other, which means I have my work cut out for me in the months and years ahead. Add Roxy to the mix and who knows what her emerging personality will bring to the dynamic! The same parenting style is definitely not going to work for all of them, which means I am going to have to tailor my parenting to each different child and each different circumstance - not an easy task for a control-freak "C" type like me!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A time for bonding

The sound of your cries breaks through the wall of my sleep and pulls me back into the conscious world. I pry my eyes open and squint at the clock, barely making out the big green 2:38 am that is staring back at me. I close my eyes for a second more, wondering if it was just my imagination, but you cry out again and I know that I wasn't just dreaming. I haul myself out of my warm cocoon of a bed and pull on my bathrobe, trying but failing to recreate the effect. Your cries are becoming more insistent now and I know that I need to hurry. I stumble down the hall to your room, flicking the light switch on as I go, still more awake than asleep.

I slowly open the door to your room and tiptoe in. The floor creaks under my feet as I cross the room to pick you up out of your crib. As soon as I envelop you in my arms your crying stops, almost as though you know that your need is about to be met, that now that I am here everything is going to be ok. I carry you back across the room and over to a rocker that evokes so many emotions in me, I can't even begin to put them into words.

I open up my bathrobe and put you to my breast, finally giving you exactly what it is that you needed. You latch on immediately and drink with the vigor of one who has just run a marathon, scaled a mountain, or simply spent the last two hours growing while she slept. I close my eyes as I listen to the sounds of you sucking and swallowing, so rhythmic that it's almost musical, so fulfilling that it's incredibly beautiful. I force myself to open my eyes, not wanting to miss a moment, determined to stay awake.

As you slow down your pace and begin to drift off yourself, I gaze in wonder at the perfect little human being that you are. The dim light from the hall illuminates your features in such a way that they appear almost angelic in the glow. I let my eyes wander over the features of your face, the delicate slope of your nose, the curve of your ear, the length of your eyelashes. The contrast that the juxtaposition of your dark hair and your pale skin creates is mesmerizing.

I look down at your tiny hand, fingers splayed across my breast as though holding on to the source of your contentment. I let my mind wander toward thoughts of the future, of what those hands may one day accomplish. I watch the hypnotic rhythm of your chest rising and falling with each breath that you take and my own breath is taken away as I realize that I had a hand in creating the life that is nestled in my arms.

Tears cloud my vision for a while as these thoughts swirl through my mind and when they spill over onto my cheeks, I suddenly realize that you have fallen asleep. Not wanting this moment to end quite yet, I take a little more time to soak in every last detail, making sure to sear this image of you into my memory forever. Then ever so slowly I rise from the rocker and carry you back to your crib, laying you down as gently as I would a porcelain doll. You squirm for a second and then sigh as your body goes slack and sleep envelops you once more.

I tiptoe out and close the door behind me, making my way back to my own bed. I crawl in and curl up into a ball, still feeling your warmth on my chest. I let images of you fill my head as I drift off, knowing that you will soon be calling for me again and feeling joy for the privilege of being the one to sustain your precious life.

Mommy loves you Roxy. Sweet dreams.