How to (not) Explain the Afterlife to Your Toddler

Last night was my turn to put Maya to bed. We still haven’t quite gotten to the point where we can read her a story, tuck her in, give her a kiss and leave the room. That night I reminded her that soon she would be a big girl and mommy would be able to leave the room and she would go to sleep all by herself. She replied “But I don’t want to be a big girl mommy!” We went through a few rounds of her trying to get my attention, with me responding either with silence, or with a robotic “I love you Maya. Go to sleep.” The last time we had this battle of wills she started crying saying “Mommy I have a stinky finger! Mommy I have a stinky finger!! I need to wash it! Mommy? Mommy!!? MOMMY!!!! My curiosity beat out my resolve. “Maya why do you have a stinky finger?” “Because I put it in my bum.” Faaaabulous.

After several minutes of silence, I started to plan my escape. All of a sudden I heard her little voice, sounding like she was on the verge of tears. “Mommy I don’t want to grow up because when you and Daddy grow up I will still be a kid and then I won’t have a mommy and daddy anymore.” Part of me was impressed by her ever more cunning strategies to procrastinate going to bed. My curiosity, as it often does, won again. I responded. “Maya that’s a long way off. Mommy and Daddy will be here for a long time.” “But when I die I won’t be able to play with Pinky Bear anymore. And I won’t have my bed anymore. And I won’t live in this house anymore!” she wailed. I thought, “Where on earth did this come from?” quickly followed by “How the heck do I respond to that?” I had not yet prepared for this level of awareness about death. I was sure I would have at least a few years to prepare satisfactory for these types of questions. I was on the spot.

“Maya I’m sure Pinky Bear will be with you. He’s your best friend. He’ll always be with you.” That did not appease her. “But I won’t live in this house anymore and I want to live in this house forever! And I won’t have my mommy and daddy anymore.” she whimpered. I tried to think of a suitable response. It didn’t help that I do not have the standard answer that religion often supplies. I didn’t believe in heaven or hell. The concept of reincarnation felt a little too esoteric for a three-year old.  

I thought about my own beliefs about what happens when we die. My beliefs were not taught to me explicitly, but rather were revealed to me.  It was during a wilderness program called Guiding Spirit (which I’ve written about before in previous posts). We were camping in a place called Ghost River in Alberta. When the First Nations lived there it was known for giving people powerful dreams or visions. One night I had a terrible nightmare. In it one of the program’s teachers was behaving in a childish and cruel way. I woke up terrified. The dream stayed with me the entire day, leaving me with a terrible feeling. I decided that I needed to dig a bit deeper to understand why it was clinging to me. I went into my tent, closed my eyes and started to meditate. As I re-created the dream I felt the same panic and helplessness. Instead of running from it though, I kept my eyes closed and let the vision guide me where it wanted to go.

All of a sudden, it was like a window had opened in my mind. I could see the entire universe, bathed in brilliant darkness. In the middle was a sphere of moving light and energy, glowing as if it were on fire. And there was a little speck of light that was making its way to the massive orb. I knew that I was that speck of light. It reached the sphere and was absorbed. At that moment I felt the most incredible and complex emotion I have ever experienced. I was overcome with a feeling of homecoming, reunion, joy, relief and love. It filled my body. It overflowed. Tears of joy streamed down my face. As the feeling ebbed, it left me with a sense of deep peace. I have since wondered if there is a word for that mix of complex emotions, and the only English word I can think of is ecstasy. But I don’t really like that word. Maybe there is a better one in Italian. Or French.

That experience resolved the intense longing for something I could never quite define, a longing I had felt for most of my adult life.  It also provided me with an answer to what happens when we die. We go home.

Several years later I was talking to a good friend that I met in law school. I called him my spiritual advisor. He is an Orthodox Jew and one of the most amazing (and hilarious) men I have ever met. At one point in the conversation he asked me about my beliefs. I took a moment to think about it. “Oh! I remember!” I said, and then proceeded to tell him what was revealed to me at Ghost River. I had not told anyone about that vision. He found it quite funny that it took me a moment to remember my beliefs. His beliefs are as familiar as his own skin. What struck me was what he said next, that what was revealed to me was very similar to the teachings of his faith. I wondered if that coincidence was meaningful.

As I sat in the dark, listening to Maya’s whimpers, I recalled that vision.  I tried to explain that when she dies she goes home and sees all the people she loves, but was interrupted by her wails that Great Grandpa won’t get to play with her anymore. Trying to explain to a three-year old that death is like being welcomed home might be a bit too abstract. Her sadness about her Great Grandpa not getting to play with her brought tears to my eyes. He had died of cancer the year before at 91 years of age, just after celebrating his 70th wedding anniversary. We had been able to spend a week with him a few months before he died. It was the first and last time Maya would meet him.

I picked Maya up out of her crib. She snuggled next to me in the big overstuffed chair in her room. Tears fell from my eyes as I reminded her that her dreams were magical. If she wanted Great Grandpa to play with her again, all she had to do was ask him to come and play with her in her dreams before she went to sleep. Then, when she was fast asleep, Great Grandpa would come and play with her in her dreams. “But what if he doesn’t come in my dream?” she cried. “If you ask him to come play with you in your dreams, he will come Maya. Your dreams are magic. Anything can happen in your dreams. You can fly in your dreams, you can breathe underwater, you can swim with whales and dolphins. Just ask Great Grandpa to come and he will.”

She was quiet for a moment and then tearfully said “Great Grandpa will you please play with me in my dream tonight?” We sat together in that chair, with her nestled under my arm, leaning against my chest. Within minutes she was fast asleep. I let her sleep there beside me, soaking in the weight of her body. I marveled at the conversation we had just had, wondering what had all brought it on.

It was the next day that it came to me. She had seen Cinderella several weeks before and wanted me to tell her the story over and over. Each time I told it a bit differently, but that day I had started from the beginning. In the beginning, Cinderella lived with her father because her mother had died, and soon after her father died as well, leaving her alone with her mean stepmother and stepsisters. I hadn’t realized how dark the older Disney movies were until I started watching them through a 3 year-old child’s eyes. Many of them feature a parent dying or a child being kidnapped. The newer ones seem positively sanitized in comparison. Was it a bad thing, I wondered, to expose her to death this young?

The next day I waited to see if she would raise the subject again. Instead she told me proudly “Mommy I heard you leave my room last night and I went to sleep all by myself and I didn’t even cry!” Ah toddlers.

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Three Hopes for my Daughter

As an older parent, I am more aware than most of my mortality and the fact that I may not live to see my three year-old daughter achieve all of her dreams for her life (particularly if she’s as late a bloomer as I turned out to be). In times of doubt I may not be there to offer her my unwavering faith in her if hers should falter. When faced with the brilliance of her own potential I may not be there to cheer her on as she embraces that light. Knowing that she may only have my words as guidance, here are my three hopes for her as she grows up and becomes a woman.

1. I hope that she will dream boldly and without limits   

I once revealed my own bold dream that I could do something important, that I, perhaps, had something valuable to offer the world, that I could even be Prime Minister. That confession was promptly diagnosed as mental illness. I was informed of the many helpful medications available to treat that particular symptom and sent on my way. I am convinced that part of that reaction was due to the fact that I am a woman. It is only recently that women have claimed the right to dream boldly. However in my experience, we are, in many respects, still tentative. I remember being shocked by what seemed like a phenomenon of young women apologizing in advance of stating their opinion. They didn’t want to offend anyone. After weeks of this I finally said “I’m offended by these relentless apologies! I am not so fragile that I can not withstand a different opinion for the love of god!” My favourite quote reflects this reluctance. It is often attributed to Nelson Mandela, but I have been told that he was quoting Marianne Williamson, who said “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” I wonder if this will still hold true for my daughter when she takes her first steps into the “real world”.

I am curious to see how being female will impact, or not, my daughter’s dreams for herself. I hope that the legacy of the women in my family will be passed on to her. In my adoptive and birth family I come from a long line of amazing and accomplished women. My great-great aunt was one of the first female doctors in Canada. When she graduated, however, she was not permitted to do her research in Canada. Why? Because she was female. How did she respond? She left. She took a boat across the ocean (right after the Titanic sunk) to a place that valued her intellect.  People told her she was mad. She went on to discover a mathematical equation that is the foundation of all pharmaceutical research. After her death she was inducted into the medical hall of fame by the same country who had summarily rejected her.

In many ways I have followed a similar path (although I have yet to discover anything useful). I refuse to be devalued. If my contributions are not valued in my field or by my employer or by my husband, and my efforts to change the situation are futile, I will leave and find a place that does value them. There is nothing that infuriates me more than hearing the words “no that’s not possible” in response to a suggestion or an idea or a dream. There is something within me, normally dormant, that erupts. I like to describe her as my warrior, ready to battle the enemy. For that word “no” is the enemy. It represents fear, barricades, doubt and death, which are the kryptonite to the miracles and magic that is possible in this world. I hope that my daughter is as audacious and cheeky as I imagine my great-great aunt was, and that when she hears the word “no”, she will use it to propel her to new heights.

2.  I hope that she will question everything

This is a quality that not everyone will appreciate. It will require an enormous amount of courage, fortitude and a good sense of humour. Even now, as she is fully entrenched in the “why” phase, I do my best to encourage her. Instead of attempting to answer the thousand “why” questions, which are followed by yet another “why” question, I invite her to think about it. “Why do you think that happens?” She has recently adopted the answer “because that is how it has to be”, which strangely enough, is often the best answer to many of her “why” questions.

The reason that this is in my top 3 is that if life has taught me anything, it is that life is complex. There are few easy answers, but many, many questions. When people stop questioning, stop deconstructing their assumptions; their ideas become more rigid and engrained. Support of simplistic ideas can be incredibly harmful and destructive. Take the arguments against gay marriage for instance. My favourite are the slippery slope arguments. If we allow gay marriage people will start marrying their pets! The institution of marriage will come crumbling down! Those “what if” beliefs, which are founded in nothing more than fear mongering, have been incredibly destructive to the LGBT community and the people who love them. They have been impacted by real hate and real violence. Those rigid and engrained beliefs have real consequences.

To all of those Chicken Littles who think the sky will fall if gay marriage is allowed, we here in Canada have had same-sex marriage for over a decade. No one has married his or her pet. The world as we know it has not fallen apart at the seams. The sky has not fallen. In Canada, religious leaders can refuse to marry same-sex couples (but most do not) because it infringes on their freedom of religion. Public officials, on the other hand, cannot because they represent the state. In our definition of democracy, the protection of minorities is a foundational principle. In allowing for the complexities of balancing people’s liberties with people’s rights to equality, we have found a compromise and it seems to be working.

My hope for my daughter is that she will have the courage to question, to challenge, and to protest against oppressive, destructive beliefs and actions, even when it is unpopular.  I hope that her voice will be confident and unwavering. I hope that she will be a force to be reckoned with.

3. I hope that she will never lose her connection with the magic in this world  

What I most love about my daughter is that she is in love with the world. She has the most beautiful open heart. Like most children, she finds the most mundane things fascinating. If there is a spider in our house she will talk to it and follow it and wonder where it is the next day. Each new discovery is magical. She is often filled with wonder and awe. As adults, I find that we are very susceptible to losing that openness, that wonder. We have been hurt so we close ourselves off. We have more important things to do than take the time to really look at a flower and marvel at how nature has created such diversity and beauty.

Without that openness, without those moments, however, life becomes grim. We start to question the meaning we make of our lives, until it is lost all together. Surely there is more to life than the drudgery of commuting, working and a constant state of exhaustion. The staggering rates of mental illness in the modern world suggest that the civilization we have created is not sustainable. What would happen if we reintroduced our connection to the magic of the world around us? If we took the time to appreciate its beauty, its quiet wisdom? Would we be as willing to accept a life that is less than extraordinary? Would we still use our spare moments trying to connect to virtual people trapped in our smartphones? The mystery and magic in the world exists everywhere, inside everyone. It is all around us, just waiting for us to notice.

I hope that my daughter takes the time not only to explore all of the mysteries and magic of her outer world, but also explores the nooks and crannies of her and others’ inner worlds where dreams and hopes and wisdom live. Exploring those worlds has resulted in the greatest adventures and learning in my life. I hope that her love of life endures and is the guiding light to whatever path she finds herself on.

How to Survive the Toddler Years – A Mini-Survival Guide for Parents

Today is my daughter’s third birthday. As I was listening to her dad put her to bed tonight I overheard her say “But I don’t want to be three Daddy. I want to be two again. Next year I will be three okay?” I have noticed that lately she has wanted to play “baby” quite a bit. She will lie down on the floor with her feet and hands in the air making cooing sounds. Then she will show off for me how well she can crawl. After a minute she will announce that she just learned to walk. It drives her dad a bit crazy, but, having worked as a counsellor for several years, I know all too well what is fueling this “regression”. The simple truth is this: change is scary.

We, as adults, might think of all of the changes she is facing as progress, and rather exciting progress at that. We applaud each time she masters a new task and tell her what a big girl she is. But toddlers are no different than we are as adults. Change makes us all a bit nervous. Adults, as a general rule, do not do change well. Think back to the last time you decided to lose weight, or quit your job, or eat healthier, or quit smoking. If you are like most people, before you actually attempted any of those things, you likely spent a good chunk of time in ambivalence; that lovely place where part of you wants to change and the other part is decidedly not as excited by the whole prospect. So instead of changing, we hem, we haw, and we list three good reasons not to change. Then after months or even years of this hemming and hawing, we decide we’re really going to do it this time. And we do it!  We’re off and running for a few months until we mess up or drift back into old habits.

When I think of how many changes my daughter has experienced in the last few months, it’s no wonder she wants to re-visit being a baby. In the last month alone we weaned her, as gently as possible (it did not turn out to be very gentle), from nursing and her bottles. A few short months ago she started big girl swimming lessons where mommy doesn’t go into the pool with her, but instead watches from the sidelines. We’ve been talking to her about getting her a big girl bed; which will mean that instead of sitting quietly in her room with her until she falls asleep, she will go to sleep on her own. Then we told her that she would be going to a big girl pre-school in the fall, which will mean that daddy won’t be there with her. When I think about it, being a big girl doesn’t sound exciting at all! All of it seems to involve letting go of something that makes her feel secure. Of course it’s scary. Of course she wants to regress back to being a baby where mommy and daddy were always there with her.

But there is also that part of her that wants to take the risk of growing. It is that part that I see at her swimming lessons: once her little hand leaves mine and she takes those first few steps into the water towards her teacher, I no longer exist. I see her joyous smile after she emerges from dunking under the water after slipping. I hear her tell this story with pride over and over, “At swimming lessons I dunked my whole body in the water when I slipped!” It is that part of her that I see at the playground when she climbs up a tricky ladder, slips, and then catches herself. “I’m okay mommy. I caught myself!”

It is a delicate balance, as a parent, to honour both of these parts. Our own fears can invite us to pay too much attention to her fears and insecurities and stifle the part that wants to take a risk. On the flip side our own impatience can invite us to stifle those valid fears and push the change before the child is ready. What has helped to remind me to be more compassionate to her ambivalence, is to draw on my own experiences of ambivalence and the process I went through to overcome my own fears.  I try to live the mantra “Be what you say.” If I want my daughter to have the courage to take risks and overcome her own fears and ambivalence, well then I better darn well be able to do it myself. Hence my other motto, “Do something that scares the shit out of you on a fairly regular basis”.

My favourite example was a 20-day canoe trip on the Clearwater River in Northern Saskatchewan as part of a guiding course. River canoeing was thrilling, but very dangerous. People die canoeing rivers all the time. To paddle a river safely takes skill, skill I did not have confidence that I even possessed. On this trip we were learning to be guides. The river we were paddling was a class two river, while we would only be certified to lead a class one, which was much less dangerous.

It was near the middle of our trip that it was my turn to be the guide. I had been dreading it. My experiences of guiding our hiking trips thus far had not gone smoothly, apart from the meals I prepared. That morning, as got everyone up, I tried to portray an air of confidence.  But in reality I was filled with anxiety.  I felt completely incompetent. This trip was supposed to be as traditional as possible, no fancy stoves or freeze-dried food. That day, of course, it snowed. Starting a fire to cook breakfast for our group of 20 was a nightmare. It was not a good start to the day.

My co-guide for our paddle that day was my friend Vicki. She took the stern of the canoe, and I was in the bow. The role of the person in the bow was to follow the orders of the person in the stern. When we came upon a set of rapids, we instructed the group to paddle to the shore so that we could plan our line down the rapids. The goal was to avoid tipping at all costs. The water was very cold and there was a real risk of hypothermia. To paddle the rapids safely we needed to plan how to paddle the rapids, what strokes to use and when to use them. Vicki and I made the plan and instructed the group on how to navigate the rapids. Each canoe made it through following our directions. I felt a small burst of pride – our plan worked! Finally, it was our turn. Everything was going well until Vicki misunderstood the signals from our instructors. Instead of slowly paddling backwards, which everyone had done successfully, she changed her instructions and yelled at me to paddle forwards at full speed. I could hear the panic in her voice. I knew it was not the right call, not what we had planned, but my job was to obey. “Paddle harder!” I heard her yell. I felt helpless to do anything but obey her. We struck a rock and the canoe slowly overturned. I felt the icy October water hit my body. Then I did what I was trained to do. I rescued the canoe and started swimming to shore with it. My instructor had to yell at me three times to let go of it and just get to shore. Once there everything went into full alert. I had to get out of my wet clothes to prevent hypothermia. Someone had to find me dry clothes as my pack was in the water. Someone else had to start a fire. I could tell that Julian, one of the instructors, was worried. I felt like a complete idiot.

That night I made dinner for the group. Dinner was usually my strong point. That night, however, I ran out of food before everyone had eaten. I scrambled to make another meal, knowing that people were cold and hungry. Once I had served everyone, Julian noticed that I wasn’t eating. I told him that I wasn’t hungry. He asked me if I was the type of person who didn’t eat when I got stressed out. I said yes. He gently told me to eat. I listened. Later that night I walked as far away from everyone as I could. I cried and cried. The day I was supposed to prove myself was a disaster. Everything had gone wrong. At least, I thought to myself, the next day I would go back to being a follower and not a leader. Tomorrow would be better.

When I woke up the next morning I was told that we were staying there for the whole day. When I asked why I was told that we were staying because they recognized that I was scared shitless. We were going to spend the day going down the same rapids over and over again until I regained my confidence. My heart sank. If there was one thing I did not want to do, it was go down those rapids again. I heard later that when I got into the canoe with Pat, our other instructor, my face was white with fear. What I remember most about that day was Pat’s determined gentleness. He knew I was scared to death, but he also knew that I could do this. He never sounded discouraged, or impatient, or frustrated. He showed me that even paddling in the bow, I had more control than I thought I had had. We paddled down those rapids together over a dozen times. The last time we went down we did it with me in the stern, barreling right down the middle at full speed through the waves and filling the canoe with water. I was calm and breathless from joyous laughter.

Later that evening, I found myself bawling again. But this time I wasn’t alone, and it wasn’t from despair. I was surrounded by people and felt a strange mixture of joy, sorrow, love, relief and gratitude. They had seen me. They had really seen me. They saw my fear and my courage and they had honoured both. They didn’t berate me for being afraid, but didn’t support me in that fear either. They supported me through my fear with compassion and a belief in my abilities. I will never, ever forget that.

That is the memory that I hold on to when I see my daughter struggle with her own ambivalence. I see my daughter. I see her fear and her courage and I honour both. I have compassion for her fear. I honour it by comforting her and holding her close to me. I tell her that I know that feeling discouraged and disappointed and sad feels yucky. I tell her that I am here for her. I tell her that she’s my little baby. But I also honour her courage and her desire to grow. I gently push her towards her goals and clap with pride when she tells me “I did it mommy! I did it all by myself!” I say “Of course you are!” when she reminds me that she is not a baby or a little girl, but a big girl now. I want her to feel seen. I want her to know that I love and accept and honour all of who she is, her fears and her insecurities as well as her courage and abilities and strength. I want to see her barreling down her own rapids, breathless with joyous laughter.

 

My Top 3 Not So Easy Steps to Raising a Daughter

When I was an angst-filled teen I remember a family member saying to my mother “It’s so much easier raising boys. I’d rather raise 10 boys than 1 girl.” I recall feeling rage, initially, which morphed into a kind of shocked surprise. I had no idea that girls, as a group, had a reputation for being difficult. I thought it was just me! Perhaps I wasn’t as alone as I had felt after all. Looking back on those cringe-worthy teen years, I suppose it was not surprising that one might think raising me was a tad more difficult than raising my brother. I snuck out of the house in the middle of the night to meet up with boys, got sent home from a junior high dance for being completely drunk, and so on and so on. When my parents suggested I should see a psychologist for my bizarre behaviour, I informed them indignantly that I was completely normal, which would be proven when my little brother started rebelling in the same way when he got to be my age (I think it was 14). Unfortunately, my hypothesis was flawed. My brother was a perfect child who grew into a perfect teen. He never got into trouble. Not once. (He may dispute that). So much for that!

When I discovered that I was pregnant four years ago, I knew that the little bean growing inside me was going to be a girl. She had to be. All of the first born children in my complicated family tree have been women. I was right. Now I have my own daughter (which still seems surreal). Dave, my partner in crime, is already preparing for her tumultuous teen years by practicing the line, “Go ask your mother.” Having worked with troubled teens for several years, I am well aware that many young women struggle at the age that I did, 13 or 14 (or in my case from 13-21). It seems to be a well-known phenomenon. Being one who handles anxiety by being as prepared as possible, I have developed a list. It mostly represents a blind hope that something I do now can help to inoculate her from the misery of being a teenage girl. Or at least make it slightly more bearable.

1. Encourage mastery

Mastery, in my experience, involves two things that are equally scary; failure and stepping out of one’s comfort zone. Some of the most important learning I have experienced, however, is when I was nudged out of my comfort zone. Even (maybe especially) as an adult, I think it is important for us to do things that scare the crap out of us. It helps us discover that we’re made of stronger stuff than we had thought, that we can master more than we thought possible.

I remember one moment distinctly when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I had been taking piano lessons since I was 5 and had been asked to play in front of the whole school. I had agreed without comprehending how terrifying it would actually be. I stood backstage waiting for my turn. I could feel my whole body shaking with anxiety. “What if I screwed up? Everyone would laugh. It would be the worst thing in the whole world. I can’t do it.” As those paralyzing thoughts were going through my head, I experienced something completely extraordinary. I can only describe it as another part of me appearing from within, rising up through my body and becoming me. This part was totally calm and confident. She knew, without a shred of doubt, that I would play beautifully. My body stopped shaking. I became totally focused, like I imagine athletes are right before the shot of the starting gun. I walked to the piano with confidence and I did play beautifully.

That part of me may never have appeared had I not needed her to help me navigate something new and scary. She has come to my rescue many times since and is the source of much of my confidence. As a result I encourage my 3 year-old daughter to try new things and to take risks (within limits of course). I do my best to encourage curiosity by providing opportunities to explore the world around us. Walks in the forest are adventures where anything can happen. At the playground I let her climb things that the worried part of me thinks might be too high. When she falls I hold her and soothe her, and when she’s ready, I encourage her to try again. I am there to offer small, barely perceptible assistance when she needs it, but not more; what Vygotsky called the “zone of proximal development”. The look on her face when she has mastered something difficult, all by herself, makes my heart soar.

2. Encourage generosity and gratitude

In a world that seems to be ever more focused on consumption, generosity seems old fashioned, like hand-written letters. I admit that I am not immune from its seductive power. Maya is an only child and I like to spoil her by buying her things. Part of it is likely guilt from working full-time. I want her to know how much I think about her when I’m not there. I tell myself that spoiling her now is inconsequential, as she won’t remember any of it, but the truth is that I am creating a set of expectations that will be difficult to break. Consumerism reminds me of addiction. It fills people’s feelings of emptiness, but it is a temporary fix. The good feelings that come from new things are illusory. There is no substance to them. I remember reading a study about people who were chronically depressed, helpless and hopeless. What turned their lives around was not consuming. It was giving; giving of their time to their communities. It gave them a sense of purpose, that what they did mattered. Their emptiness was filled up with something real, solid and lasting; generosity and compassion, which in turn led to self-confidence and a feeling of being connected to the world around them.

A definition of generosity that really challenged me was to be given something you coveted and to then immediately, with an open heart, give it away. I wondered if I was even capable of that kind of giving. There were possessions I had that I treasured and couldn’t imagine giving away, let alone with an open heart. So I decided to experiment with this. I had dolls that my grandmother had given me. She had died several years before and they were the only things I had left from her. The thought of something happening to them filled me with grief, as if I was experiencing her loss all over again. But the dolls were not her. If they all burned in a fire I would still have her memories, would still feel her love. I decided to give one of them to a friend of mine who would take good care of it. That act of giving was very powerful.

Giving invariable leads to feelings of profound gratitude from recognizing just how much we are given. I have often found that in encouraging myself to feel gratitude, to really feel it right into my bones, is the best antidote to depression. It opens my heart, helps me to understand how connected I am to the world around me, how much I am loved.

Even though Maya is not yet 3, and in the “mine!” stage, I try to encourage generosity. I try to involve her in daily routines like cooking and cleaning to show that we are a giving, helpful family. We put together care packages of her old clothes, books and toys and talk about how we are going to give them to the new baby and how happy the new baby will be to receive all of her things. Weeks later she will talk about how the new baby will be “sooooo happy” to have all of Maya’s clothes.

At Christmas Maya helped me wrap presents for my aunt’s mother, Old Gran. We talked about how much we hoped Old Gran would like them and how happy she would be to receive this gift from her. Maya was so excited to give her these presents. Every twenty minutes or so during dinner she would get down from her chair, walk to the Christmas tree, take them from under the tree and bring them to her. “We have presents for you Old Gran!” she would exclaim excitedly and with a huge smile. Even though she likes presents, I have yet to see that huge a smile on her face when she opens them.

Even mundane acts of generosity are important to acknowledge. During our dinners together I will make a point of thanking Dave (when I remember) for making us such a delicious dinner. Now Maya on her own will often say “Thank you Daddy (or Mommy) for making such a delicious dinner! It’s so yummy!” Of course it’s a daily commitment; she still demands things with a furious look on her face (I want JUICE!!!), we still have crying fits when she doesn’t get what she wants, and when she has opened her last present at Christmas or on her birthday she be disappointed that there aren’t more (“Are there more presents?”). It is a work in progress.

3. Encourage wisdom

Looking back on my youth I often marvel at the fact that I survived. I got myself into so many messes that it is truly by the grace of god that I made it through adolescence relatively unscathed. Since Maya has been born I have wondered, often, what I can do to help her through her own messes. How will I help her know who to trust and who not to? How do I help her embrace life to the fullest, but with awareness that there are people out there who may want to hurt her? The only thing I have been able to come up with is helping her to trust and honour her own wisdom.

One of the most difficult lessons in my own life has been to acknowledge and value my wisdom. There have been countless times where I have experienced intuition or a gut feeling and ignored it to my peril. In the aftermath I would wonder, “Why I had ignored my own knowing?” It has been a long process filled with successes and failures to learn to first recognize my knowing, and second, to give voice to it. I grew up in a time where children were supposed to be seen but not heard, although this was changing. The unfortunate consequence of that is that a child’s fledgling knowledge about themselves and the world around them is also silenced. It is in that silence that terrible things can happen.

When I was in grade 4 my science teacher, Mr. Alan, was overly friendly with the little boys in the class. He constantly brought them up to the front of the class and put his hand up their shirts to pat their backs, and patted them on the bum. He never called on the girls, despite me having my hand up to answer every question. I remember thinking that the way he touched those boys was not right. No other teacher did that. But instead of trusting that knowing and speaking out, I decided that my unease must be wrong. My mom and dad touched me like that and they are adults, Mr Alan is an adult, so it must be okay. My mother remembers me telling her that Mr. Alan didn’t like girls. I wonder if she had been curious about that statement, if she had asked me more about it, if he would have been caught sooner. One day when I arrived at school we were told that Mr. Alan was no longer a teacher, but not why.

I know that standing up and giving voice to one’s intuition is a scary prospect. It makes you vulnerable, the lone deer in a crowd of wolves. There is a reason that people don’t do it, that they conform to the silence. It takes courage to speak up, particularly when all you are relying on is the little voice inside your head or that feeling in your gut that is telling you that something is not right. I want to help Maya develop the courage it will take for her to trust and give voice to her own wisdom. I have already shut her down once, out of embarrassment. It was at the Christmas dinner at my cousin’s house. Their two boys are older than Maya and weren’t particularly excited to play with her. Dave and I spent a good chunk of the evening trying to lure her away from them and their toys that they didn’t want her wrecking.

At the end of the evening, when we were at the door getting our shoes and coats on to leave, Maya looked at my cousin Matt and his wife Tracey and said, calm as can be, “I don’t really like Matt and Tracy.” I was mortified. I told her sharply that she was being silly and to please stop it. She repeated herself, more forcefully. Tracy, bless her heart, said “If that’s how you feel Maya I think you should just go for it.” I could feel the discomfort, and heard Tracy’s dad jokingly tell Maya, who was 2 1/2, “that’s my daughter I’ll have you know!” I suspect he was only half joking. I just wanted Maya to be quiet. Instead, she used a version of a line I had used to try and explain why some kids won’t play with her. I would say to her “Some kids are friendly Maya and some kids aren’t. That’s just how it is.” Still calm, Maya held up her hands in an “I can’t figure it out” posture, and said to Tracy “Some people you like and some people you don’t.” And on that note, we left.

What bothered me later wasn’t the fact that she expressed herself, I was sure it was directed more at the boys, but the fact that I had done my best to silence her, purely out of embarrassment. I never did ask her more about it.

Since then I have made a conscious effort to ask more questions and to coax out her own knowledge into the open. When she asks her million “why” questions, I more often than not respond with “why do you think?” I encourage her to tell me stories, instead of me telling stories to her. I am trying to refrain from offering my opinions on her accomplishments, and instead invite her to explore her own opinions. It’s not much, but it’s a start.

I’m sure that as I ponder this question of raising a daughter more steps will come to mind. What are your thoughts? Your experiences? What have I missed?

How to Mess Up the Weekend with your Toddler in 5 Easy Steps

As a full-time working parent, to say that I look forward to spending the weekend with Maya, who will be three in a week, is a massive understatement. I cherish the time I get to spend with her. Saturdays are special time just for Maya and me, so that Dad, who stays home with her during the week, can finally get some work done. Sundays are our family days. This past weekend, however, it was special time with Maya all weekend long. I should have realized, from experience, that it is not wise to place high expectations on things that are likely to fall far short, things like an entire weekend with your toddler. In hindsight, there were several things that I did that messed up my weekend. You can learn them too! Here they are, in five easy steps.  

1. Have ridiculously high expectations

It is difficult not to do this. I cannot help but look forward to the weekend and envision everything going perfectly well: a perfectly behaved child who listens and immediately complies with all commands and requests; a child who asks for nothing, but when given something remembers to say thank you; a child who is gracious and humble; and most importantly a child who gives me random hugs whilst telling me she loves me. We walk hand in hand, skipping along through the day like Mary Poppins. The sun shines a little brighter for us. Flowers bloom as we walk by. Birds and small animals come right up to us to say hello. That was my hope. I forgot to factor in two important things, however. One, she had just gotten over a fever a few days previous, and two, she was, after all, a toddler. High expectations are just a recipe for tears and disappointment.  

2. Go to places where they will legitimately expect treats, and then deprive them

As per Maya’s request, on Saturday we went to the Vancouver Aquarium. After perusing the fish on the upper floor, we went to where the real action is, the play area at the bottom, where Maya can take a large stuffed seal and pretend to nurse it back to health. After about an hour of this I dragged her away so that we could go outside. It was the first sunny day we had had in days and I wanted to take advantage of it. Being a weekend parent means that I am not as familiar with schedules as I should be. This is coupled with the fact that I have an organization deficit. If I remember to eat during the day it is a small miracle. I often come home from work ravenous and irritable, having forgotten that bodies and minds need sustenance to function properly. When I was the full-time parent, I was quite proud of myself that Maya and I had made it through a day, properly fed. It was quite an accomplishment. 

But I have not been her full-time parent for almost a year now, and my awareness of her routine has faded. By 11:30 she was starting to get irritable. She was probably starving. I sat her down near the beluga whales and took out the snacks that Dave had prepared. I forgot, of course, that the last two or three times we had been there she had had a slice of cheese pizza. And a juice. What did I have with me? Water and slices of cheese, apple, and ham.

Maya has amazing recall for an almost three-year-old, and remembers every single pattern of behaviour. These become her routines. If we deviate from these routines, she will protest. Loudly. “Mommy I want cheese pizza and a juice!” “Maya, mommy brought nice snacks that Daddy made us. Look we have cheese slices! And ham! You love ham!” I reply. She ups the volume. “Mommy I want cheese pizza and a juice!!!!” After several minutes of this, with the pitch of her whines getting higher by the second, I try the scolding tactic. “Maya we are not having pizza and juice. Now I want you to stop this or we’ll just go home right now.” This was followed by howls of despair. When your toddler is having a mini meltdown in public, it really is difficult to ignore the fact that people are watching you. If you don’t calm your child down immediately, you can hear the judgment “Look at her! She doesn’t even know how to be a parent. If that were my child well let me tell you…”

I ignored the real or perceived judgment and took her in my arms. I used the tactic that works best with me. A calm voice and a dash of creativity. “Look Maya!” I said excitedly, “I bet those seagulls over there would love your ham and cheese snack! Why don’t you show them how good it is?” And she calmed down and started eating her ham and cheese, while the seagulls watched from a distance. I was quite pleased with myself. Which leads me to step number three.

3. Ensure your toddler returns home wounded

Just as Maya was happily enjoying her snack and wondering when we would give the seagull some of her cheese, a gull took flight and flew right towards her. I stared at it in shock as it swooped right in front of Maya and tried to take the cheese right out of her hand, biting her finger in the process. I was so shocked that I barely reacted, except to say, “Maya watch out!” which was completely and utterly useless. It was another parent who had the sense to shoo the gull away. Maya, of course, burst into tears, with the cheese still in her hand. I did my best to comfort her, but I knew, immediately, that I had lost. I had lost all credibility as a person who could make things better. If anything I was the one who invited the gull to attack her for her cheese snack in the first place.

I took her into the line for the cheese pizza. The only battle I won was that she settled for water instead of juice. Wound or no wound, I wasn’t paying $4.00 for a juice for the love of god. I asked an employee if they had some kind of bacterial wipe or handwash. The gull had broken the skin. I was pretty sure that gulls beaks were teeming with all kinds of exotic bacteria that were now making their way into my child’s bloodstream. I may have made it sound worse than it was. Two first aid attendants rushed over with a gigantic first aid kit. Seeing that there was no blood, they got on the walkie-talkie, “It’s not a Code Two, just a Code One.” One sighed, with relief or disappointment I couldn’t tell. But in between bites of her cheese pizza Maya got two bandaids and a sticker. I wondered if they had a sticker for “worst parent ever.”

4. Only visit playgrounds where no one will play with your toddler, no matter how cute she is

The next day I couldn’t decide what we should do. It was going to be a beautiful day and I wanted to go to the beach. I had hoped to go to Crescent Beach, where I had spent my summers growing up, but we had quite a late start to the day and it was a long drive. We settled on a beach closer to home that had a playground. Maya LOVES playgrounds. I love watching her interact with other kids. Her eyes light up when other kids play with her and she smiles the most wonderful smile that is reserved for the pleasure she gets from playing with new friends. Knowing she will be an only child, watching her can be an emotional experience for me. I am always so happy when other kids play with her.

But this time, no matter how hard she tried, the other kids ignored her. It didn’t help that she tries to play with kids a bit older than her, or that all of the kids seemed to come to the playground in pairs, not needing or wanting a third. I watched with distress as Maya’s attempts to join in the play were rejected. She is so good-natured that she kept following these kids, scampering after them, saying “I’m coming!” so that she could go down the slide with them, never noticing that they weren’t really interested. For whatever reason, that day, watching her broke my heart. I felt like weeping. I am weeping now as I write about it, and wept earlier today as I told a male colleague about it. He was mortified that my tears just kept coming. I couldn’t stop them.

I struck up a conversation with one of the moms of the child that Maya was following and lost sight of her. I peaked around the corner to where the stairs were, and saw her. Her mouth was open in a silent cry. I ran towards her and saw an indent in her forehead. Within seconds it grew into a terrible, giant lump. It made me wince just looking at it. As I held her and walked to the bench, one of the dads told me that she has slipped on the metal steps. It looked like she hadn’t even the time to brace herself. I held her and did my best to soothe her. She cried and cried. But, being a toddler, within a few minutes she was fine and wanted to go back and play. Luckily all of the older kids, that I now wanted to throttle, had left. There was a little girl with her mom. Maya went right up to her, and she looked up adoringly at Maya. Maya took her hand and led her to the slide and we all went down together.

It finally looked as I might have turned the corner on the weekend, but no! Any semblance of redemption was eliminated by the fifth and final step.

5. Make sure your toddler does not nap under any circumstances 

We have been experimenting with Maya and her nap schedule. There was a period of time where she wasn’t going to bed until 9:30 or 10:00 at night. I would put her to bed, then walk from her room to mine and go right to sleep. No time to myself. It was intolerable. That is when Dave and I had “the talk.” His eyes widened in horror when I told him we should take away Maya’s afternoon naps. “I’m not ready for that yet!” he exclaimed.

So we experimented. The days she didn’t nap she went to bed at around 7:30 and wasn’t all that grumpy. But there were some days where she still needed it. Desperately. Saturday was one of those days. Of course because we were out for the entire day doing fun things, napping was not part of the schedule. We had recovered from the seagull incident and had relocated to Second Beach, with the best playground in the city. There were lots of kids there, and Maya found friends easily.

On the way home, Maya fell asleep in the car. I had asked Dave to meet us at the shops so that we could pick up a few things. I figured he could use a nice walk. He found us in the parking lot and got into the car. Maya woke up. She was not happy to see her daddy. She screamed the entire way home. She screamed and thrashed when I got her out of the car. She screamed when we got into the house. She wanted juice. Dave brought it to her and she almost kicked it out of his hands. She screamed for juice again, and again thrashed wildly when he tried to give it to her. She struggled to get out of my arms but then screamed if I wasn’t holding on to her.

Normally, in situations like this, I would use my super powers and have the situation immediately under control: super powers being my boobs (see Bye Bye Num Nums for a more detailed description). But my super boobs were out of commission. Dave and Maya had gone to Ontario for 10 days and when they returned, I had tried, as gently as possible, to let Maya know that mommy didn’t have num nums anymore. That first night she arrived home was terrible. After a long day of flying and time zone changes, she settled into my arms all set to nurse. I tried to remind her that mommies don’t have num nums forever, and she wailed in reply, “I don’t want to be a big girl mommy!” After several minutes of her hysterically trying to withdraw my boob from my bra, we both sat in the big chair in her room and cried. She finally fell asleep with me stroking her hair saying, “You’ll always be my baby sweetie pie. Mommy will always be here. You’ll always be mommy’s baby.” The next morning she protested slightly, and that was it.

But that Saturday, I would have given anything for those super powers. I had never seen her like this, completely unable to calm down. I was at a loss. Then I remembered how terrible it is to have feelings like these that are completely out of control. I had felt like that before. It was an awful experience. I felt a deep sense of compassion for how horrible she must feel. I contained her thrashing as best I could and cooed to her “I know it’s really hard to have these yucky feelings sweetie. It’s really hard to feel all of these yucky feelings. I know. Mommy is here and we’ll just wait for all of these yucky feelings to go away. I know it’s hard sweetie. We’ll just wait.” This seemed to do the trick. She quieted down and eventually drank some juice. Then she was back to my loving child. Sundays “no nap tantrum” was thwarted by the arrival of my friend Jeremy, who Maya adores, particularly because he drives the same Triumph Bonneville as her Uncle Jason.

As I took the sea bus to work this morning, I couldn’t figure out why I was in such a terrible mood. It was a gorgeous sunny day. Flowers are blooming while the rest of the country is under a thick blanket of snow. I should feel good. But I felt miserable. It was when I started weeping while talking to my mortified colleague about the playground rejection incident that it hit me. The weekend I had so looked forward to wasn’t perfect. There were some terrible moments in there, moments where I felt like a failure as a parent. There were moments that were heart wrenching. I know that part of it is that I’m not there for her the majority of the time. I need to grieve those bad moments. Because when I do, when I look at these moments with compassion, the magical moments appear. As we were driving home Sunday, after a weekend of emotional highs and lows, a part of my dream weekend did come true. Maya said to me, out of the blue, from her car seat in the back, “Mommy I really love you.” I really love you too Maya.

Potty Training for Dummies

As I’ve been making an attempt to cultivate gratitude in my life, I thought I would write about another thing I am hugely grateful for, and that is the fact that Maya is potty trained. I have been told that girls accomplish this most magnificent of feats earlier than boys, but whatever the reason Maya accepted this sacred teaching, I am grateful. When I tell people how easy it was to potty train Maya, Dave informs me that I have romanticized it because I wasn’t the one stuck home with her for weeks sitting on the floor of the bathroom. He may be right, but here is my version anyway.

The motivation to potty train Maya was partly (okay mostly) financial. We had just moved to the most expensive city in North America. Maya had just turned two and I had gargantuan student loan payments. My piddly little salary was supposed to provide for our entire family for the next year and four months. Diapers did not fit in the budget.

I had seen potty training books at my brother and sister-in-law’s as we made our way out west, and realized that I had not a clue on how potty training actually happened. Judging by the number of books available on the topic, it seemed complicated. We had bought a potty months ago which we left it in the bathroom, and we had a book called “The Potty Book for Girls”, given to us by Dave’s cousin, but that was it. Luckily, Maya loved the book and we read it over and over. It taught her important lessons, such as the fact that potties don’t go on your feet; instead, they are for sitting on, which to her, I could tell, seemed like a lot less fun.  I had to ad-lib at this point and point out that while sitting, “You can go pee pee on the potty! You can go poo poo on the potty!” which was said with greatly exaggerated excitement. The one thing I’ve noticed about parenting, is that if there ever was a small, maybe secret part of you that regretted not being a cheerleader in school, that part gets a second chance. Parents of babies and toddlers cheer wildly at the most inane accomplishments.

It was also about this time that I realized that Maya’s toys often had more influence than Dave and I did, as her parents, and that we could exploit this fact. Dave often uses Maya’s beloved Pinky Bear to encourage her to eat (he is constantly worried she will actually starve herself to death). I have used Pinky Bear to help me get her to floss her teeth, a task which used to involve chasing after her multiple times.  “Maya why don’t you show Pinky Bear how great you are at flossing your teeth? He’s never done it before you know.” Pinky Bear will look at her and agree. “Maya can you show me how you floss your teeth?” She will jump right up on the bed and be so proud to show Pinky Bear what a good flosser she is. “Pinky Bear look! Look Pinky Bear! I’m flossing my teeth!”

But Pinky Bear, as beloved as he was, would need help. Luckily, Maya also loved Elmo, who unlike Pinky Bear, had his face plastered on everything. So I bought an Elmo seat to go on the toilet, and an Elmo potty book.  The Elmo book talked about underwear and how great they are. That was my in. I told Maya how cool panties are and promised her that we would go shopping together for new panties and she could pick them out in all different colours. Wearing panties is the greatest thing in the entire world, and when she was a big girl, she would get to wear them too, just like mommy.

Up until that point we hadn’t really pressured Maya to use the potty. We had put her on the potty to try it out and sometimes she had actually peed. So of course we made a huge deal out of it, and phoned all of the grandparents and aunts and uncles to tell them the big news, really loudly and with great fanfare. “Guess what Maya did Grandma? Maya went pee pee in the potty! Isn’t that great?? We’re so proud of her!”

After months of introducing the concepts, but without any pressure, Dave and I decided to take the plunge. She had shown most of the signs I had read about in the potty training I had flipped through (i.e. hiding behind the curtains when she went poo) so, we figured, let’s give it a shot. Maya and I went on our first mommy/daughter shopping trip and bought about 20 pairs of panties in all different colours. The whole time we talked about what a big, big girl she was and how exciting it was that she was going to get to wear panties.  

I think what really worked, however, was that every time we talked about panties, and how awesome they were, I would tell her, “But when you’re a big girl and wear panties you can’t pee pee or poo poo in your panties.” “I can’t go pee pee in panties?” “No. You can’t. When you’re a big girl and you wear panties you have to use the potty.” The result of those conversations, was this: Maya would ask us, “Mommy am I wearing panties or a diaper?” “You’re wearing panties Maya, you have to use the potty.” And off she would go. But if I told her she was wearing a diaper, she knew that meant she didn’t have to use the potty, she could, as she always had done, go in her diaper.

This tactic, I realized, fit with a “no diaper” philosophy I had heard of, where right from the beginning parents learn to watch for their child’s cues and then sit with them on the toilet, thereby rarely, if ever, having to change a poopy diaper. The benefit was that the child would then learn how to use a toilet from the start and never have to unlearn (and you unteach) two or three years of what has become, for most children, an absolute truth – that they can take a crap in their pants and someone else will clean their little bottoms while they lay back and relax.

We, of course, did not subscribe to that philosophy at birth, having neither the time nor the patience. But like that philosophy, our own muddled way involved learning, but no unlearning. Maya didn’t have to transition from “When I wear diapers it is my absolute privilege and right to, at any time I desire, release my bowels in my pants” to the knowledge that this cherished liberty has been unjustly and arbitrarily curtailed. When we put Maya in panties, the diaper truth never changed. She knew if she was wearing diapers, nothing changed, if she pooed her pants all would continue to be well in the world. Since she was wearing panties all the time now, if she ignored the new lesson and went while wearing panties, it was to her peril.

She learned rather quickly that it is both an uncomfortable and unwelcome experience. My Dad and his family came for a visit within weeks of this experiment.  We decided to walk to a neighbourhood cafe to have brunch. During our 1.5 hour long meal I took Maya to the potty twice. She went neither time. Five minutes after leaving the restaurant, however, she realized she had to pee. I tried to get her pants off so that she could at least pee on someone’s lawn, but no such luck. It got all over her and her pants were soaked.

As I took out a new change of clothes (thank God Dave and I had taken our good parenting pills that day and there actually were fresh clothes in our bag, unlike that one diarrhea accident) Maya looked up at me with shock. She said “I don’t like that Mommy!” And that was that. She never peed in her panties again. A few weeks later she didn’t even need a diaper at night.

I am, in actual truth, really proud of her and of us. Potty training, according to Freud, is one of life’s most important developmental achievements. If, as a parent, you screw this up you are sentencing your child to a lifetime of anal retentiveness, so the theory goes. The fact that we got through it relatively unscathed taught me an important lesson: Dave and I make a good team. And for that, I am very grateful.

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Cultivating Gratitude

Yesterday Maya and I spent the morning on top of Grouse Mountain in the North Shore. It was foggy in the city but when we reached the top of the mountain the sky was a magnificent blue and the sun was beaming. It was glorious. The North Shore spends much of the winter under every possible type of rain imaginable. I have always said that people who live here develop a type of episodic amnesia, similar to what women experience after child birth. The type of amnesia that helps women forget the pain of giving birth so that they will actually contemplate going through it all again. Here, it can rain for months straight. It is truly a miserable existence. But every now and then you will have a brilliant sunny day and it erases the collective memories of all of those rain filled days.

I love going to Grouse with Maya. She loves playing in the snow. The benefit of living in the North Shore is that if you want snow, it is a mere 10 minute drive away. Previous to this trip we had gone to Mountain Equipment Co-op to use some of Grandma Sue’s Christmas money to purchase better winter clothing for Maya. The last few times we had gone to Grouse it had started well, but ended in tears. Her feet were cold. The tears turned to wails. “I want a hot dog!!” “Maya mommy has snacks for us. We’re not having a hot dog.” “But I WANT a hot dog! That girl is having a hot dog and I want a hot dog mommy!!!” She sobbed as if it was the most devastating thing in the world. Then the screaming started. I did NOT want that happening again. So off we went to MEC to get her pink long underwear and a good pair of socks (purple of course). I bundled her up in layers upon layers of clothing, her new snow suit, and packed 3 extra pairs of mitts just in case.  It was so surprisingly warm that she didn’t even need a jacket or mitts.

To get to the top of Grouse in the winter you must take the Gondola. Maya loves it because the Gondola sways back and forth when it goes by two towers. It is just the perfect amount of scary to be fun. I have heard many people complain of how aloof Vancouverites are, but I have had lovely conversations every time I have taken that Gondola. It must be the mountain air. It makes everyone friendlier. On this trip I learned two things that had actually been on my mind: when the best time is to buy next year’s pass (from an Aussie) and whether the International French School is good (from a woman from Lebanon). My abnormally friendly encounters could also be as a result of me turning into my mother, who is possibly the friendliest woman alive. I am in awe of her ability to have a lovely chat with anyone within a three foot radius.

Maya and I made it to the top of the Gondola, had our breakfast of strawberries and hot chocolate, and then went outside to play. We had an amazing time. There were hardly any people there and therefore no line ups to take the sleigh. It was so relaxing I had to remind myself that we were not on vacation. We watched people ski and skate and go snow shoeing. Maya was fascinated by the snowmobiles. After explaining why she couldn’t slide down her bum all the way down a ski run, we took the sleigh back and she spent about an hour climbing up some snow steps to slide down a little hill. I sat on a bench to soak up the sun and watch her enjoy herself. Climb up, slide down, stand up and repeat 30 – 40 times. In the process of all of this sliding she made two new friends. One was a little girl Maya was convinced was a baby, but who was actually two years old. Maya took her hand to lead her up the stairs and show her how to slide down the hill. She cooed, “Here you go little baby. You just walk up the stairs like this. I will show you. Don’t worry.” Then she shouted at me “Mommy what’s this baby’s name?”

I love watching her make friends. The combination of her being an only child  and me working means that I don’t have a lot of opportunities to see her interact with other kids. Last week I had taken her to the Vancouver Aquarium. There was a volunteer reading a story to several children in the kids’ area. A little girl sat next to Maya and asked if she wanted to hold hands. Maya took her hand and looked up at me with a big smile on her face. She said excitedly, “Mommy I have a new friend!” It was so cute it almost broke my heart. You can tell who are the parents of only children. We get very invested in their friendships. When the story was finished, Maya and I went to leave. We passed by a man (the girl’s dad) who said to us “Did you see them hold hands? It was so adorable!” He looked a little teary and I totally understood.

This mornning was Maya’s fourth big girl swimming lesson. The last two didn’t start well. Both times Maya was cold and started to cry right before the lesson. She wouldn’t let go of my hand and wouldn’t go with the teacher. Luckily there was an assistant who took her both times (with the promise of toys). The last lesson, however, Maya’s tears were contagious and resulted in both boys in her class sobbing and refusing to go as well. So today Maya and I had a talk before the class. We talked about how to stay warm if she is cold, and how important it is for her to be brave, because if she cries the other little boys will cry too. But if she is brave the other little boys will be brave as well. When the lesson started she started to cry. She was cold, but this time there was no assistant to help. I could hear the voice in my head say “DON’T PANIC!! DON’T PANIC!!!!”. The voice was accompanied by a woman running around in circles, in complete panic. Not helpful! Her teacher then walked away with the two other boys and I was left with Maya by the side of the pool. I was out of ideas. The lure of wearing life jackets did not work. Luckily, she was intrigued enough by what the three of them were doing to brave the cold and walk towards them, her little shoulders all hunched up, shivering. In a few minutes she was smiling, and I let out a long breath. Who knew swimming lessons could be so tense??

As I write about our weekend, I realize how little time time I have with Maya. Two full days is not enough. I feel this pressure to ensure that every waking moment is amazing. But of course, that is impossible. I remind myself that every moment with her is precious, even the moment today where she was wailing and sobbing for no discernible reason (the real explanation being that Dave and I likely waited about 15 minutes too long to give her lunch and get her ready for a nap). It was in that moment that I was hugely relieved that my plan to wean her had not been fully realized. My super boobs worked, she had her num nums, calmed right down, and had a lovely nap (see Bye Bye Num Nums for the scoop on my attempts to wean).

I know that If I focus too much on the little time I have, it is an open invitation to my neuroses and guilt to wreak havoc in my life. To combat that, I have decided to spend some time cultivating gratitude, which, I have found, is an awesome antidote to many things including grief, anger, resentment and guilt. I’m sure there are others. Here are the things that I am grateful for tonight. I am grateful for this weekend with Maya and Dave. I am grateful for the sun that warmed my face for a few lovely hours. There are likely several million things I am grateful for, but for now, Imagethis is a good start.