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I lack parenting prowess.
Quite often, I wonder when the grown-ups are gonna show up and say, “Great job, kids, you passed the test, now go get washed up for dinner, we’ll take it from here.”
They don’t show up.
“They” are “we” now. But the happy irony is that we don’t have to have all the answers. Indeed, if we listen closely, our wee dependents are, quite often, the ones showing us the way. Albeit in loud, chaotic, sticky-handed, easily-distracted, hyperactive, crusty-nosed ways.
Children are wise. A couple years ago, I had a cringe-worthy audition for the musical “Chicago.” Picture a terrified boy in the vocal throes of puberty, shriek-grunting “All That Jazz”. A capella. As I sat, pouting, on the patio later that afternoon, my then-four-year-old paced back and forth with his hands in his pockets, Tony Robbins-style. “You can sing or be anything you want,” he told me, “and people might laugh at you. But they’re not really laughing at YOU, because YOU are sweet and kind and special. And all the things you’re afraid of are the things that make you special.”
A-whaaaaaa? This little dude used to be a clump of cells clinging to the inner lining of my uterus, and suddenly, I felt like I should be booking his next TED talk.
Children are unabashedly honest. Three months after my second son was born, my firstborn lay in bed one night, in a post-story-time reverie, staring up at me with (what I was sure was) profound adoration, when he whispered, “Mommy, your belly is fat.”
I guffawed at the confused little tyke. “No”, I laughed, “mommy’s belly WAS fat when the baby was in there. But he’s not in there anymore, remember?”
He looked pained. “No, yeah, I know that,” he replied, hesitantly. “Your belly was fat when the baby was in there. But now he’s not…” - the adoration suddenly eerily resembled pity - “...and it’s still fat.”
Sure, it stung a little. But he wasn’t wrong. In a way, it was refreshing. Now, I would never condone him going around declaring people’s body types at them. But what a novel concept: making simple, unfiltered, non-discriminatory observations.
It was with this same endearing candor that my child, two years later, would shout to me across a sun-soaked pool of Florida retirees, “What are you having for lunch, mommy? Wine?” Again, probably not an incorrect hypothesis; perhaps, even, a helpful suggestion.
Eager to please
Children are eager to please. It’s been a hurdle trying to convince the toddler that, yes, farts are eternally hilarious, but we need to say “excuse me” after each one. We reiterate this daily in our house (side note: Have you ever had a five-minute conversation about farts without smiling? It’s extremely difficult). Then finally, one morning, 4:25 a.m., I was awakened by that two-year old, proudly bellowing, “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy!” directly into my inner ear. With a face full of drool and arteries teeming with fight-or-flight hormones, I shot up. “What? What? What’s wrong?!” He was beaming. “'Scuse me!”, he proclaimed. “I barted!”. Nailed it.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am also eager (desperate?) to please, but it’s not as adorable. Theirs is pure and organic; mine is more rehearsed and off-putting. Case in point: during the Florida trip (the one in which I clearly wasn’t adequately concealing my liquid lunches), we visited an aquarium with a stingray petting tank. I was stoked. I found myself surrounded by a group of children on a field trip; they seemed a little apprehensive about touching the diving, swirling, sword-tailed creatures. Be cool, act casual, I told myself. And I was doing great. Until a purple, vengeful bugger torpedoed its slimy self toward me. I man-yelped and yanked my arm away (and may have soaked the horrified children, but that’s not the point of this story). Yet, minutes later, a calmer stingray happened to be lingering near me and I touched her. Well. Look out. Suddenly I was a stingray expert. "Wow," I said to anyone in earshot, including my husband, as I admired my underwater pets, "stingrays are really a docile creature. They're quite social, actually. See that one? He's very social. And you have to make sure you pet him here, not here. See right here? You pet him here."
My husband stared at me dumbfounded, which made me happy because I like knowing I just created a teachable moment. I read the moment wrong. "Jeez,” he retorted, “thanks, David Attenborough. But we can read the sign, too."
Bravery in kids
Children are brave. Last week, we travelled with our now-six-year-old to Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L., to get grommets in his ears after years of recurring infections. Now, I am a seasoned fainter; just the smell of a hospital makes me queasy. I did my best to distract him with talk of an imminent purchase of Pokémon cards and fast-food, but I’m not gonna lie, my legs were wobbly. As I held his hand and waited for the sedation to kick in, I smiled down at him with what, surely, must have resembled the face of someone in the midst of a painful bowel dis-impaction. I could feel the trickle of sweat down my back. The nurse’s voice began to echo in my head.
But lil M was stoic. He didn’t flinch a muscle. He looked so peaceful as he succumbed to sleep. And his last words prior to the Darth Vader drug mask? “Poor Grammy.”
Poor Grammy! He was concerned about inconveniencing his grandmother, who was alone in the waiting room. Meanwhile, his pale, sweaty, cotton-mouthed mother was nanoseconds away from asking for a cold cloth and a juice box before they sent her back to the waiting area.
See what I mean? Children give us so much more than adult-onset acne, meatless tits, and anxiety. They may, indeed, be our greatest teachers (spoken in a painstakingly practiced David Attenborough voice).
Heather Huybregts is a mother, physiotherapist, blogger at heatheronarock.com, wine advocate and puffin whisperer from Corner Brook, N.L. Her column appears monthly.
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