Taking Competition out of Kids’ Sports

Do you think that all kids should get a trophy?  I don’t mean should all kids have the opportunity to win a trophy.  I mean, do you think that when your son is playing in a soccer tournament and his team gets 6th place, he should get a trophy?  He worked hard, right?  He is only 7 years old!  How is he supposed to handle it when he sees the other kids who came in first, second and third place taking home trophies and medals?  He is going to be so disappointed.  Poor little Johnny might even throw an epic hissy fit.  We simply can’t have that! No, let’s just make it fair and give everyone a trophy.

That is an interesting word; fair.

Is it really fair to reward the kids who lost the game in the same manner that we acknowledge the kids who won?  This might be even, but it is certainly not fair.

And while we are at it, giving everybody trophies regardless of who beat whom, let’s also limit the score on the score board if one team is losing too badly.  What constitutes ‘losing badly’ you ask?  That depends on the parent group ruling the score board, but I have seen scoring stop at a difference of merely 2 points.  The kids playing were 9 years old.  Not 2 years old.  Nine. Years. Old!  That means they were in grades 3 and 4. 

Remember, these kids play games in physical education classes and on the playground, where they win and lose all of the time.  Hell, even dodgeball has an obvious loser in every move – ouch!  So this group of children is no stranger to the idea that you win some and you lose some.  Yet still, this practice of scoreboard censorship is happening in competitive community based sports, on fields all across our country.

I wonder if this group of well-meaning parents think that the kids don’t really know the difference.  Do they think that the kids have stopped keeping score in their minds, just because those ‘even is fair’ types have decided to freeze the board?  Have these people ever played anything with kids….ever???  Because I can’t even play a game of 20 Questions or Snakes and Ladders with my preschool aged children without one of them shrieking with delight, “I won, I won, I won!”  And no one is writing down the score. They know about winning and losing very early.  That is not a bad thing!

I would contend that it is actually a really good thing.  The fact is, winning is not bad. Winning is fun!  It is far more fun than losing.  I am sure we can all agree on that.  But losing is a part of life too.  In fact, losing can be quite a motivating experience!  My son didn’t start shooting pucks in the garage until his team had lost 12 games in a row.  What made him want to go out into that cold garage in the middle of winter to improve his slap shot?  The fact that his team lost, over and over again.

His coach would enthusiastically tell the team after every single game, “Good effort kids!  You all worked hard out there!  Don’t worry about the score, we are here to have fun, right?!”  After a while this very encouraging and politically correct chant wasn’t sitting right with my 8 year old.  Almost sheepishly, he came to me after loss #12.  “Mom, I know we are supposed to be having fun, right?  And well, I love hockey and playing is always fun.  But I guess….” He hesitated.  “I guess I wish that we would…..” “Win sometimes?”  I finished for him, knowing that he felt it wrong to even utter such words.  “Yes!” He looked relieved as he met my gaze.

“Of course it is ok to win buddy.” I said.  “It’s time to be straight with you about this whole play-for-fun, the-score-doesn’t-matter thing.  The truth is, winning is always more fun than losing. It is the whole point of playing the game! Get out there and play to win.  Every time.  Don’t play dirty, and don’t throw a fit if you lose.  Respect the refs and your coaches and your fellow players.  Be a good sport, but play to win.  There is nothing wrong with that.”

Developing the drive to do better, and be better, is woven into our western ideology.  The concept that if you don’t like something, you can change it, is a fundamental principle central to our society and market economy.  But I am seeing something change in this value base that has me scratching my head.

How has winning become politically incorrect?  Why are we demonizing winning and shunning the concept of success with such disdain?  And when did losing badly become such a shameful outcome that it can’t even be acknowledged on a score board?    Why are we so reluctant to give our children the opportunity to win and lose graciously?  What is our issue with this idea?

Our kids will need to learn how to compete fairly and work hard to get what they want very quickly.  Universities do not let all kids into all programs.  High marks earn you your program of choice.  Lower marks do not.  Jobs are offered to those who have the best qualifications.  Promotions awarded to those who have the most core competencies and who have not just met, but exceeded their deliverables.

How are our children supposed grow into functional and productive adults, if they can’t embrace this concept of competition, and deal with it graciously?  If we don’t let them experience winning and losing as children, how will they be equipped to deal with an adult world of which competition is a critical part?

As I watch that score not change up on the board, I find myself in a state of internal revolt.   Inside my head I am screaming,

“Our right to compete is important!”

“Learning how to compete well is a critical skill!”

“Allowing our kids the opportunity to experience wins and losses in sport, supports them in life!”

What I finally say out loud is, “Why not let the score reflect the game?!”

I am deeply concerned that those parents who are consciously or unconsciously demonizing opportunities for healthy competition, represent a shift in the value base which is critical to our society.  Such a detrimental turn away from the freedom to pursue, if desired, as much or as little success as we chose to, frightens me.

Having the ability to compete; that is to work hard, improve skills, earn opportunities, achieve a better income, lifestyle, quality of life or score in our game, is a right and a freedom that are central to our quality of life here in North America.

I value this right.  I cherish this freedom.

And these are ideals that I for one, am happy to stand up for, loudly if necessary, one soccer field at a time.

Wishbones and Turkeys and the Spirit of Giving

It was my little kids’ turn to break the wishbone this Thanksgiving.  (In Canada, our Thanksgiving happens in mid October.)   This is a big event around here. With typically only two turkeys eaten in a year, the turkey wishbone is a coveted item.  Last time it was the big boys turn to battle it out with their pinkies.  The little ones only recently became players in the wishbone game, as their tiny fingers weren’t quite up to the task until just this past year.  And our youngest couldn’t be trusted to wait until the go signal before she pulled!

On the count of three, the kids flexed their mini finger muscles and we had a winner!  My five-year old son held the magic part of the bone.  He grinned.  My daughter looked sad.  And maybe slightly angry.  At least significantly peeved.   This was her second wishbone loss.  This is tough stuff when you are three.

My little guy looked at her, then closed his eyes to make his wish.  I expected him to say something like “I wish we could fly in a spaceship up to space after lunch,” or “I wish I could grow real finger spikes like Wolverine”.

Here is what he said:

“I wish to give my wish to Zoe.  And then I wish that her fingers get really strong so that she can win next time.”

Zoe looked up from the tops of her sock feet.  Her furrowed brow relaxed and her eyes softened.  In an instant she went from looking like a vengeful she-monster to a sweet little angel.  (Perhaps these rapid transformations in mood and demeanor should concern me?! )  He opened his eyes and looked at her.  She reached out and put her arms around him and put her head on his shoulder.  He smiled the sweetest and most earnest smile you could ever imagine and hugged her back.  How amazing is that?  Can your heart melt and swell all at the same time?

Oh yes it can!

This Thanksgiving, I am so totally grateful for our sometimes crazy, often loud, always energetic and also clearly, incredibly loving and generous children.  They are my most precious gifts.

 

Terry Fox Run Teaches Compassion

Recently at school, my older children participated in the Terry Fox Run to raise funds for cancer.  The kids brought money to school, and ran as many laps around the field as they could muster, to honour of Terry’s battle with cancer and support his legacy mission.  They wore stickers on their t-shirts upon which they wrote names of the people they were running for.

This annual event in schools across Canada is an early lesson for elementary school kids about strength, sacrifice and vision.  Terry Fox’s poignant story of courage and tenacity is beautiful and moving.  Since his heroic effort, many other movements of running for a cause have gained popularity.

Thanks to some pretty awesome kids, this simple act of running in remembrance took on a special new meaning for my family a year and a half ago when our fifth son Samuel was stillborn.

Our family was immersed in shock and devastation.  Each of our children were going through their own unique grieving processes.  They were confused.  They were sad.  They returned to school after about a week, tentative and nervous.  We hoped that seeing their friends and returning to their routines would help them heal.  Their teachers were kind and sensitive to their feelings and the entire school community showed incredible love in their outreach to us.

But the kids’ friends?  They were, in a word, amazing.

At lunch, a group of the boys’ friends from grades 1 and 3 took both of my sons aside and told them to come out to the field by the trees.  They had a surprise for them.  For Samuel, they said.  They told the boys that they wanted to have a funeral for Samuel.  They welcomed them into a circle by the evergreens and joined hands.  My oldest boy’s best friend Jonas led the kids in the Lord’s Prayer.  Then they sang a hymn they had learned at hymn sing.  This was their idea alone.  At the time, these kids were just 6 and 8 years old.  They did all of this to honour my boys’ baby brother.

Next they suggested that they collect pine cones just like they had collected coins for the Terry Fox Run, and run laps around the school field to honour Samuel.  And that is just what they did.

They ran to support my kids.  They ran to acknowledge that their friends had lost their brother.  They ran everyday at lunch for one full week.

They ran for Samuel.

Hearing from the boys at supper that evening what their friends did for them at school, was possibly one of the most touching things that happened in those initial terrible, awful weeks after Samuel died.  This beautiful act of kindness and acknowledgement offered spontaneously by six and eight year old children, helped my children heal.  The light returned to their eyes a little bit.  Their friends didn’t offer to fix it or change it or explain it.  They simply stood beside my kids, gave witness to their loss, prayed with them, and honoured their brother.

Could Terry Fox ever have imagined that his legacy could have extended so far beyond cancer awareness?

This year I remember this beautiful moment with such gratitude.  Those children showed levels of compassion and strength and faith which many adults struggle to find.   They supported my boys that day.  But what they will never know, is that they didn’t just support my children.  They supported a whole family.

You kids are amazing.  I will forever thank you all.

 

 

 

 

Let there be Spaces…….

Recently I was sitting on my patio, cappuccino in hand, appreciating my garden.  This is truly my favourite place.   I am amazed at how it has evolved and changed with each passing year.  I have loved deciding which plants would thrive in each one of the flower beds, digging them into the soil and tending them until they fulfilled my vision of our backyard paradise.

Suddenly this summer, a few of those flower beds seemed to have become too full.  There were not enough spaces to really see the beauty of the shrubs and plants within it.  This fall I will begin to divide and move some of those plants.  I will create space.

In the world of art, that area between objects is known as “negative space”.

A terrific art teacher I once had, was the first to introduce this idea to me.  He emphasized the importance of the blank or negative  space in our work as equally important as the lines which create the images which become the art.  It was an interesting idea, but  I was impatient to fill up that paper with as much of my creative genius as possible.  Wasn’t that what art was about after all?”

Isn’t this the way it is in life? Our lives are defined by what we fill them with; the lines we create in the space available.

So with that in mind, we grow up, spending most of our time figuring out what we will fill our lives with.   How and with whom will we spend our time and doing what?   It seems we are designed to do.  We cram our schedules as full as possible as often as possible.  Not everythingwe schedule is necessary, but if there is space, it seems it should be filled.

At some point we all establish a home. Once again we spend our energy and money filling that home with things;  often as many things as possible.  Every empty space seems to beg for a thing to fill it up.  Blank walls are just waiting for something to hang on them.  Rarely if ever would we intentionally leave them bare.

We are all really good at emphasizing these lines on the canvas of our lives.  It is the most comfortable focus for most of us.  Isn’t that what life is about after all?

But without those negative spaces between the lines, it becomes difficult to appreciate the abundant life we have created. The beauty we have so carefully crafted and intentionally tended becomes hard to see without spaces in between.

For me, creativity lives in those spaces.

So does lightness.  And rejuvenation. And calm.

The void in my heart needs this space.  It is where the memories of my baby boy wait.

My patience as a parent comes from having quiet space, and time alone to collect my thoughts so I actually accomplish completing one!  Only when there is room for them do playfulness and humour come out of hiding.  New perspectives then take shape which weren’t obvious before.

I feel most grateful and content when I make the space between the lines as important as the living.

Here in the quiet of the evening, halfway through my glorious west coast vacation, I am reminded of how much I have missed these spaces.  And with that, finally words come back to me once again.

It feels so good to be writing again.

“And let there be spaces…..”

                        – Kahlil Gibran

 

 

Dads Deal With a Lot of Crap

You can tell a seasoned Dad by how he deals with crap.  All crap.  I mean literal crap.  Some people handle certain crap before becoming a Dad without issue.  Dog poop, cat crap, these sorts of fecal experiences are just doing your pet ownerly duty and the job gets done as matter-of-factly as mowing the lawn.  But when baby boy blue comes along and something that resembles hot dog mustard is up this kid’s back, down his legs, and has you wondering why you ever put the diaper on in the first place, y0u my friend, have just launched into Dealing with Crap for Dads Boot camp – DAY 1.

From this point on, your life is ruled by sh*#t.  It completely revolves around it.  One day you look up from your sweet little bundle of joy, and realize you are out of food.  This means one thing.  You must leave the house!  How do you do this with a 12 pound crap machine in tow?  Do you have a panic attack and then decide to skip getting food because you needed to lose weight anyway?  Is the thought of public diapering is so unpleasant that you drive yourself to distraction trying to time these events around your baby’s uh-hem, schedule.

Oh no Brave One!  No!  You diaper on the go;  in the backseat of the van, in the disgusting grocery store washroom, wherever you need to.  Baby bum changing on a change-table in the comfort of your own home is one thing, but now in order to keep living your life with this baby on board, you have to locate appropriate change venues wherever you venture.  It’s just part of it.  There should be an app for that.

On Baby #1 journey you think that diapering baby will be your most intimate experience with your offspring’s crap in your life.  And you rationalize that it’s ok because this phase doesn’t last forever.  Or at least that is what your laughing parents tell you.  But then you realize as that baby becomes a pooping toddler, that in fact yes, the crap phase really does last forever.  Now the crap not only stinks, but there is more of it.  And you find yourself battling your own gag reflex with a clothes pin squeezing your nostrils shut 3 times a day.  (What can I say, he is a prolific kid.)  “When will this end?” you shout.  BTW, you are also still cleaning up the dog crap and the cat crap because that job didn’t ever got re-delegated.  You just got a bigger dog.  With bigger crap.

So now you and your wife, who appreciates, so she says, that she is not the only one changing the stinky diapers, are so used to crap all day long that you begin to make a game out of it.  What the hell else are you going to do?  She even delights so much in sharing this experience with someone who is at least half as obligated as she is to change it, that she makes a rock, paper scissors competition out of the event every time the kid poops his pants.  So now each time junior does a big ugly in his Diego Pamper’s Cruiser, you guys are doing best out of three to determine who gets THIS one.  Luckily for the winner, there is now another baby in the mix quite happy to even out the tally as he is filling his newborn size 1 with that same foul looking mess you became acquainted with only 18 short months ago.

Deciding this is clearly insane, you embark on potty training your number 1.  Your mom assures you it will only take 5 minutes to do this.  Her kids were trained almost with no effort at all at 15 months.  So, in a moment of rare optimism and confidence, you buy a potty, some tighty-whities, and show them to your totally unphased son.  You put them on, show him the potty, and then change his tiny little briefs 30 minutes later.  Because he doesn’t care where he poops.  Only that you change him.  So you do.  And then you begin the bleaching 18 month old underpants as well as running around trying to convince him that all the cool kids go on the potty, not in the diaper, nor the underwear.  No one ever told you that crapping toddlers are way harder than the perpetual pooping babies.  How did that rather significant tidbit of info get left out of the ‘Baby and Me’ class you went to?

Fast forward for a second and a few more kids later, you are now the proud parent of a couple of young school aged boys who almost eat as much as you do at the young ages of 6 and 7.  They have the to power to clog a toilet like a man as well.  Guess who gets that excellent job?

You betcha.  ‘Cause you Da Man.  The Crap Man.  Now you have earned the title of expert.  Your wife doesn’t even touch that task.  She just turns her back, shaking her head and scrinching her nose.  And then she asks you to deal with the toilet.

“Why not me?” you ask no one in particular.  “Why the hell not?”  As you furiously plunge the disgusting downstairs toilet, your four year old starts yelling from the upstairs bathroom “DAAADDDD!  I pooooped!  Can you come and wipe my bum?  And check out how huuuuuge it is Dad!  It is EPIC!”

That weekend your house gets new heavy-duty high-efficiency toilets which could flush a basketball.  And you feel like the crap battle might almost be won.  You are getting smarter at this.  And by god you have earned the fancy new toilet.

Life is looking easier.  Increasingly now your kids’ toilet habits are usually not your problem.  Oliver mostly can reliably wipe his own backside, and your wife manages the exceptions most days.  So you get your kids some ferrets.  Because you think the kids need more exposure to little creatures and they will be fun.  And they are litter trained when you buy them.  This should be a crap-neutral experience.  “What is another litter box?” you think to yourself.

And then the morning after you get them, your boys run upstairs out of breath to your side of the bed.  “Dad”, they pant.  “Dad!  The ferrets…….the ferrets have pooped all over the wall!!”

That’s right.  They call YOU.  Why?  Because no one deals with crap the way a Dad does.  That honour is fully yours to enjoy.

Happy Father’s Day guys.  Thanks for taking so much, well, crap.

We love you for it.

This time will be different

“You said this time will be different!” he said indignantly.  Maybe even self-righteously.

“How?  How will having another baby this time be any different?  I just saw you at your wit’s end, yelling at the kids!   How would having another baby have made today BETTER?  We have our hands full enough as it is!”

The words stung.

But there was truth to them.  The question was legitimate.

A new baby wouldn’t have.  It wouldn’t have made. Today. Better.

I would have been more tired.  (Is that possible?)  I would have had less free hands to do more things.  And there would have been another really good reason to tell kids to bring the noise level down. “The baby is sleeping!” I would have been pleading.

So what is the difference now?  Now meaning, since Samuel died.  Does the very rational reason that we have our hands full enough as it is mean I can simply stop wanting another child?  It doesn’t seem to make much of a difference to my desire to try for another baby.  The practical limitations of having more kids did have an effect on our family feeling complete after our fourth.  So why isn’t this sense of pragmatism having a significant impact now?

Maybe I am just different.  Certainly, my expectations are different.

I know now that it was actually never possible to do this, meaning have a larger family and maintain some semblance of balance and harmony, without outside help.  And that is what we had been doing.  We had help from our parents who each took the kids once a week when I went to work, but otherwise, this ship was powered exclusively by yours truly and my husband.  When I say “outside help”, I mean someone you hire; a cleaning lady or grocery delivery, or a nanny; whatever the current situation calls for.  It means paying a guy to paint the window trim, or cut the grass on occasion.  It means finding resources which help take the pressure off, allowing you to relax a bit and actually enjoy the life you have spent so much time creating.  

We have never embraced this idea as a couple.  We actually (mostly) enjoy our DIY approach.  However, when we were expecting Samuel, our fifth child under age 8, we sponsored a nanny to come from the Philippines to help us.  This idea of a live-in nanny had never ever appealed before.  We had never been prepared to make the adjustments required to make it work.  And the truth is, I kind of felt like for us, having a nanny would be cheating.  We signed up for lots of kids after all.  Being time and energy challenged was just part of the deal. 

Oh how I think differently now!!

Once I got pregnant with Samuel, I knew that unless I suddenly became capable of bi-location, or auto-cloning, I would need another set of full-time hands around here.   Suddenly, hiring a nanny seemed not only justifiable, but necessary.  There was only so much that caffeine and extreme organization could accomplish.  I finally had admitted my limit.  

And that changed everything.

Claire’s presence in our lives was undeniably positive.  We embraced her as family, and hoped to sponsor her child to come to Canada as soon as she have us the green light.  She gave me the gift of time so that I could heal my heart.  There were challenges to our arrangement, but they seemed very manageable….. to me.  I had begun to feel balanced, and had started to make future plans for this first time since our baby died.

Last week, quite out of the blue, our nanny quit.  It shocked us and has thrown us sideways a little.  But not completely.  (Most things don’t seem to be a crisis now, unless they really are.)

This was simply a momentary set-back.  Yet once again, I found myself adjusting to change and re-assessing every facet of my life.  But this change in circumstance has not change my desire for another child, nor has it made me want to abandon my other new-found goals.  What has changed is who is going to be the person we hire to help us, not if someone is.

So how do I think this time will still be different?”

It will be different because  I will not pretend that we can easily accomplish the goal of another baby or any of our other goals for that matter, without a few critical people on the payroll.  No way.  Just because that nanny decided to jump ship, doesn’t mean that having her hadn’t been helpful.

The fact that I get that is what is different.

The answer to that other largely rhetorical question, “How would having another baby have made today better?”  is this.

A new baby wouldn’t have.  Made. Today. Better.  Having extra help would have made today better.  Baby or no baby.  And if we are blessed with one more bundle of joy, (insert hopeful prayer) without question, we will also hire another nanny.  Sure, there is risk that she too might come and go, but in the end, there is always someone else willing to fill those shoes.

And now, I am happy to let them.

Sweet Success

I sit here in the afterglow of a perfect Friday night supper, the taste of grilled sirloin and sweet summer salad of nectarines and avocado still lingering in my mouth.  It is a moment of spontaneous peace; husband and eldest out for a bike ride, my second boy Jacob off to a sleepover and the Littles finally asleep.

Today was a good day.

All four kids were out of the house by 8 this am, dishes done, beds made, and everyone clothed and fed without any drama or fuss.  I didn’t even get kicked in the face while putting my wee one in her car seat, nor did I have to count to 1, 2 or 3 for my four year old to get into his booster and do up his seatbelt.  I did the school bus drop, the dayhome drop and the before care preschool drop then made it to work on time.  No road rage.  Whoop!

Work was work, but I squeezed in a workout that counted, as in not the just the going through the motions kind, before picking up the big boys from the school bus. Got home, made a cappo, prepared snacks for the boys, then managed to do a load of laundry and vacuum before whipping up a quick supper.  Ok, nothing gourmet tonight, just scrambled eggs and veggie sticks, but still, healthy and fast.  High five!

Today was successful.

I consider the irony of that assessment however, given that not more than an hour ago my oldest son lost his temper in a remarkable meltdown during which he called me a couple of choice names and after which I resorted to wrestling him out of the back door to “provide” him with some cool down time.  My mother in law witnessed the entire display.  She was almost lost for words!  (My mother in law is rarely if ever lost for words.  She is a language scholar.  Appropriate and grammatically correct wordsmithing is her thing.)

My son is a really lovely kid but his occasional Jekyll and Hyde transformation involving temper, outbursts of graphic disrespect and defiance leave their mark.  They threaten to throw the most even keeled of parents off their centre. But I handled it.  Quite calmly in fact.  When I say calmly, I mean that I didn’t strangle him or even shout much at all. Now that IS something.  (Confession:  I can be a bit of a shouter.)  I managed to talk him down get him back into the green zone.

When my hubby arrived home from a really long week at work, he handled the news of this conflict like a pro.  We ended the day helping our temperamental but sweet, loving kid edit an incredible story he wrote about dragons and wizards, sharing a Q Kola, then shooing him and his dad out the door for a bike ride.

Success to some is doing million dollar deals or saving lives.  Those successes are self evident.

My gold medal moment is what happeneded today.

Today I managed to do my daily round with ease and connect with my kid through conflict, without losing my centre or expending my last shred of energy doing so.

This is my success.  It sure tastes sweet.

Full Circle

In the spring of last year, my friend told me that she was expecting her third child.  Her due date was March 25 2014.  Samuel was born on March 21. Watching Sara on her pregnancy journey was like revisiting my own pregnancy with Samuel week by week.  In the two months preceding Samuel’s birthday and Sara’s due date, I was barely able to see her.  The anticipation of her birth and the site of her belly were triggering my own experience of loss something fierce.  It was almost too much to bear.

Up until Samuel’s year anniversary I had been missing his physical presence so much that the pain of that missing seemed to get in the way of allowing his spirit to lift me and help me to feel joy and embrace life.  It had been painful for me to hear babies crying at the grocery store.  I could not be around pregnant women without feeling uncomfortable.  Listening to other mothers’ conversations about the woes of nursing or the challenges of juggling newborns and toddlers was almost nauseating.

I have hated this experience.  I have always related to woman wearing these similar shoes of motherhood and relished in our similarities.  Simply witnessing conversations surrounding pregnancy, childbirth or rearing of these little beings has always made me feel connected to my own experience of motherhood even more.  Being alienated in those same circumstances was completely traumatic.  I have felt ashamed of myself, yet unable to do anything about it.  There was no shoving it aside.  Allowing space for the discomfort and moving through it was the only way to get it to fade to the background a little.  I wondered how long I would have to endure these triggers.  How long before I would connect instead of withdraw in the same circumstances?

The anniversary of Samuel’s death and birth passed.  I made room for the sadness and relived each moment.  I made space for celebrating his life too and our love for him.  My friend Sara was there every step of the way, and stood by me in my grief, even when I couldn’t share in her imminent joy.  I navigated this milestone well.  I did it!  Somehow now, I feel lighter and more peaceful.  I feel steadier on my feet, and dare I say it, more optimistic.  I am more comfortable with the way it is, and less focused on the way it was supposed to be.  I feel my little guy’s essence in everything I do, and am embracing it as a gift.

As we talked one day, I realized that discussing the birth of Sara’s baby wasn’t as hard as it once was.  I commented on how exciting it would be to give birth to her precious baby girl and how I love the labour and delivery.  (Yes I am weird like that.)  She laughed, and then invited me to witness her baby’s delivery.  She said that she and her husband had discussed it and wanted to share the experience with me.  They thought it could be very healing for me to be there, if I was ready.

I was lost for words in that moment.  The selflessness and generosity of this offer was overwhelming.  But I didn’t know how to answer.  I really didn’t know if I was ready.  How would I know?

Sunday evening, only a few weeks ago, Sara text messaged me that she was in active labour and would let me know when she got into a delivery room.  I felt nervous.  I still wasn’t sure I would be able to be there.  I continued to prepare for Monday morning, and decided to see how I felt when she texted next.  My heart was beating fast and I couldn’t relax.  The moment her husband messaged me that she was 6 cm dilated, I sprang into action.  I knew right then that I was ready to witness her daughter’s birth.

I stumbled out of the door into the most peaceful night.  Snow was falling lightly as I drove to the hospital.  I spoke to Samuel as I travelled and asked him to be there with me and help me to be able to feel the joy of this experience, and to not let my own fear and pain get in the way of being present to my friend.  I stepped into the elevator and arrived on the 5th floor.  I moved through the doors to the labour delivery unit.  Although I paused and remembered entering them that awful day just one year ago, that memory didn’t hold me back.   I could recall going through those same doors, not just the time I had Samuel, but for the delivery of all of my other babies too.  I felt Samuel’s spirit willing me to remember the beauty there.

I found Sara’s room.  She was working hard in labour, lying on her side, grasping her husband’s hand with each contraction.  I stood on the other side of the bed and encouraged her as the pain became more frequent and intense. The wonderful nursing team attended to her, and I watched in amazement at my friend’s strength and endurance.  She was gracious as always, even in that pivotal moment when pain of labour threatens to take sanity and will.   Sara’s husband whispered to her that yes she could do it, and yes it really was too late for an epidural as the baby was going to come any moment. I merely nodded my head in agreement as she looked at me pleadingly.

Moments later, she was 10 cm dilated, and I watched as Sara bore down against the pressure with all her might.  Her wonderful husband was shouting joyfully for her to push and my exhausted friend did just that.  A full head of curly hair began to emerge.  Samuel had the same dark curls.  But not for one moment was this his curly hair, in my mind.  This was the first glimpse of baby Mishl, the beautiful daughter of my beautiful friend.

She entered the world blue, then pink, and her cries made me laugh out with utter happiness.  She had arrived!  She was safe.  I breathed a prayer of thanks.  The nurses placed the baby on Sara’s tummy but exhaustion had overcome her and she struggled against shock in the aftermath of her experience.  “Let Shannon hold her'” she whispered to her husband.  “Let her hold her.”

I was awestruck.  Mine would be the first arms to hold this child.  I picked up this perfect baby, sniffed her wet head and kissed her little face.  I held her against me and whispered in her ear.  “Welcome sweet girl.  Welcome to the world.  You have no idea how much love is waiting for you here.”

She is the first baby I have held to me since I held Samuel in my arms.   There was no sadness in my heart in that moment, just simple joy.

As I left to return home, I tentatively walked past the room where I had delivered Samuel.  It was empty.   I stood in the doorway and looked in.  I saw the window through which the sunrise found me as I delivered him.  I saw the bed I lay in and the chair his Daddy sat in and cried.  But it was just a room.  Samuel was not there.  The memories were not held by those walls.  I turned to leave, and remembered the heaviness of my steps on the floor of the hallway as I left my son there in that room, cold and alone.  Everything in me had yearned to break from the arms which were holding me up and run back to take him with me.

Leaving that night, I put new foot steps down, lighter ones this time.  I walked down that corridor, my heart healed.

Sharing this intimate event had helped me come full circle on my journey through grief.  This was my friends’ most generous gift to me.

Witnessing the birth of their daughter helped me remember the joy of giving birth to all of my children, not only our loss of Samuel.

Holding their baby helped me feel peace instead of pain.

This experience had allowed me to rediscover aspects of motherhood I had disconnected from; the part of me that could embrace the delight of brand new life.

Thank you baby Mishl for helping me find the light again.  You are my beacon through the storm, a torch lighting the way on a dim path.

To you Sara, I am so deeply grateful.

Meaning of the name Mishl – beacon, light, torch

Gift Worthy Storytime Titles

Reading stories when you can still both fit on one chair and curl up in a blanket is one of my favourite parts about being a Mom.  Nothing beats it.  I loved story time as a child. I still have many of my favourite books stored in a treasured antique bookcase; titles from Richard Scary to Laura Ingles Wilder.  I read them to my kids, telling them about how their Grandma used to read them to me.  I love sharing my favourites with them.

In our attempts to make these little kids become avid and independent readers, sadly as they grow up, story time suddenly shifts to reading time, which is often a solo pursuit.  I miss those cozy bedtime stories with my big kids.  And it wasn’t really that long ago that they were the ones cuddled up with me reading Goodnight Moon and The Cat in the Hat.  The nice thing about having more children is that you really know how fleeting these cherished moments like story time are before they pass you by.  You relish in them even a bit more with that truth in your back pocket.  In our house, bedtime stories are an essential part of the bedtime routine, not just a really nice and preferable option.  Often now our big kids just happen to show up at story time with the Littles.  They crowd in around the old favourite book and relish in its memories for them.  I love when they do that.  So do their little brother and sister.

It is amazing to me that no matter how many times I read a particular book to one of my kids, that they will notice something new or have a different question about the characters or the story or the pictures than they did just a week before.  It is completely fascinating to me.  I honestly never tire of reading, or reciting, the same words over and over again.  This is what happens when you have tons of children.  You really do recite words by heart and do so often with the lights off, after a middle of the night waking requires a story to get back to sleep.

Here are some of our favourites; the ones you have to have in your collection as a new Mom.  Or the ones you need to replace if you are an experienced Mom like me and the spines are coming unglued with so much wear and tear.

These are the ones to give as gifts.  They are keepers.  I really tried to do a top 10.  I had massive protest from the kids.  They prohibited me from eliminating any of these.   So here is the complete and unabridged list.

Best Story Time Reads for the Wee Little Kids

  1. Goodnight Moon
  2. The Big Red Barn
  3. Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball
  4. Birthday Monsters
  5. Hello Baby
  6. But Not the Hippopotamus
  7. Where the Wild Things Are
  8. Time for Bed
  9. Someday (This one gets me all teary eyed.  I’m not gonna lie….)
  10. Spot Loves His Mommy
  11. Where’s Spot – a peek-a-boo book my kids love
  12. Dr Seuss titles – The Cat in the Hat / Green Eggs and Ham / Oh the Places You’ll Go/ Hand Hand Fingers Thumb
  13. Mommy’s Best Kisses

Fave Book Titles for the Not Quite as Wee Preschoolers…and well beyond

  1. Widget
  2. Sadie and the Snowman
  3. Don’t Forget to Come Back
  4. Farley Follows his Nose
  5. Officer Buckle and Gloria
  6. Click Clack Moo, Cows that Type
  7. How Does a Dinosaur series:  How Does a Dinosaur Say Goodnight? /Say I Love you? / Eat his Food
  8. The Kissing Hand
  9. I Love you Forever – Robert Munsch *This book was written for Munsch’s stillborn child.  I loved it before, but even moreso now.
  10. The Giving Tree – Shel Silverstein
  11. Corduroy
  12. The Pokey Little Puppy
  13. The Boy and the Tiger
  14. Don’t Forget to Come Back
  15. Charlie’s Superhero Underpants – one of our all time top faves
  16. Slinky Malinky
  17. Bark George
  18. The Boy Who Wouldn’t Share
  19. The Story of Dog – great bold illustrations and delightful concept
  20. Two Little Pirates
  21. Some Dads
  22. You are Special – Max Lucado (A favourite of ours to give for a christening or baptism gift)
  23. Charlie Anderson – great one about a well loved cat which gently introduces different family configurations
  24. I Love You Little Monkey
  25. I Love You Stinky Face
  26. Little Owl
  27. The Biggest Thing in the Ocean
  28. The Boy Who Loved Bananas
  29. The Velveteen Rabbit
  30. my old worn copy of Tibor Gergely’s Great Big Book of Bedtime Stories

Now I read bedtime stories to my little ones, and after they are settled, I climb into bed with my big boys and read to them from a chapter book we chose together.  We finished Stuart Little and are now reading Freaky Friday.  What a blast from the past!  I think the Hobbit might be voted in next.

I guess I just can’t let story time go yet, no matter what the ages of my kids.

Feel free to add your favourite titles in the comments section.  I am always looking for new stories to add to our collection!

In Our House, Barbie Plays with Batman

In our house toys are toys.  We have consciously attempted to avoid labelling things as boys’ or girls’ toys and have encouraged exploration outside of what conventional marketing would dictate.

My nine year old son just finished playing Calico Critters animal doll set with his 3 year old sister and 4 year old brother.

Earlier today my daughter came in from outside, upset that her brother didn’t want her to play the make believe soldier game.

When my big boys were younger, I bought them a toy kitchen. (Gasp!) They loved it.  They also had a grocery cart, toy food, a cash register.

There are all sorts of costumes in the kids’ tickle trunk; superhero costumes, wigs, funny glasses, animal costumes, old skirts of mine and funky hats.  The skirts were in the tickle trunk long before my daughter was even a glimmer.  My boys use it for capes and wear it as a skirt when their creative play requires a femme fatale.

These same boys have watched the Little Mermaid movie over and over.  Currently, my daughter’s favourite move is “Zoro”.  Clearly, our children do not realize that they are breaking all of the gender limitations on toys and play.  What rebels!

We have embraced the idea that all toys are for all kids,   no matter their colour or target market audience. Imaginative play should be just that, imaginative.  The whole point is that kids can be any character and wear any costume, no matter the gender.

A few years ago my mom brought over my old worn out Barbie dolls from my childhood.  The boys played superheroes and civilians with them.  One afternoon my oldest sons had two of their friends over.  The Barbies were in a pile with the “guys” a.k.a the superhero figures.  These two boys laughed.  They asked my big kids why they played with ‘girls’ toys.”  The question was asked with a distinctive mocking tone of voice.  Not one that was lost on my sons either.   My children were surprised.  It hadn’t occurred to them that these were girls’ toys.  They had always just been…….toys.  Sadly, then my boys felt embarrassed.  I could see it on their faces.

My boys came to me confused and upset that their friends were making fun of their toys.  I approached the kids and explained that in our house, toys are toys and colours are colours.  There is no such thing as toys only boys or girls can play with and enjoy, or colours that only boys or girls can wear or call their favourite.  These boys looked shocked.  This idea was completely out of their frame of reference. They had never heard of such an insane idea!

“Now,” I said to them, “imagine the possibilities.  There is a world of toys out there that you didn’t even know you were allowed to enjoy!  Have fun!”  Then I left the room.

Upon returning, worn out Barbie was battling Batman in an epic save the world battle.  And all of the boys were playing.