I hear the sound of the stepstool being scraped and shoved across the tiled bathroom floor. I'm in another room helping your big sister with her homework. Your dad is somewhere else in the house, trying to tackle a science fair project with your brother.
I don't stand up. I don't go to you.
I'm a different parent than I used to be. Maybe you've benefited from that or maybe you were always this way and we both got lucky because I was ready for you.
I don’t know your child, and I don’t know you. But I do know there are parents who find this hard. I do know there are parents who lie awake at night wondering if their child will have the courage to hand out the invitations in the morning. I do know there are parents who hope there are other parents teaching their children to have the compassion it takes to show up.
When my parents brought me and my sister into the world, they proved love can exist outside the boundaries of race. And they handed me a responsibility to continue demonstrating that truth. But I still felt boundaries imposed upon me when I was young. I still felt the need to prove my belonging among my peers. I still had to fight through years of insecurity to embrace my ethnicity and speak out against prejudice. And I have been telling myself I triumphed, because I put it behind me.
Maybe I thought it was a sign they had allowed staleness into their relationship, like they weren’t trying hard enough or too easily letting a distance grow between them. At the time, I was still greedy for outward gestures and declarations to reassure me of my romantic partners’ love. Losing myself to that togetherness was part of what I thought united a couple that had declared themselves in love.
Maybe that mindset was part of my youth; we were so young then. I believed commitment and love were made stronger if they were marked with outward gestures. And if that symbol could so easily be lost, so early in our marriage, how easily could the strength of a relationship meant to last a lifetime be lost, too?
When they were babies, my children would look for my face whenever something shifted in the room. Whether it was happy, surprising or sad—they wanted to see how it affected me, so they could decide how it should affect them. If I smiled, their mouths would turn up at the corners. If I was upset, worry would cross their brows. If I pretended to cry, their faces would crumple, too.
As we get older, we begin to mistrust that instinct. We forget that sharing pain can help to lessen it. We forget that sharing joy won't diminish our own. We forget that being able to sit quietly beside someone and her feelings is one of the most beautiful aspects of being human.
Besides the achy feet and sore back that go along with standing in one place for too long, being at concerts in this phase of my life means being able to enjoy the music without getting distracted by my age.
Happy 13th birthday, my girl.
There are so many letters of advice I could write as you head into this new phase of life, because you're ready and wise enough to hear it.
But there are some things I don't want to tell you.
There are some things I would rather that you see.
I asked why they were using the sirens and she distracted me by telling a story about how hard it was to get Taylor Swift tickets for her daughter, who was the same age as mine. I had managed to get tickets to a show in Toronto, while she had to get tickets to the show in Buffalo. We joked about the lengths mothers will go to make their kids happy, and then I started to cry.
Will the baby be okay?
She held my hand.
Our first baby would have turned 14 this month.
And every year around this time,
a tiny shudder will run through me when I step into a bathroom.
It will always be a room where I first said hello and good bye to motherhood.
I'm writing this as the sounds of bath and bedtime trickle down the stairs.
I'm not part of the routine tonight. Actually, I'm not most nights.
In the earliest days of our shared parenthood, I would have been in the room (if not right on top of him) while he made his best attempt at helping. Because of course it wouldn't have been right, and I would have had to do it anyway.
I was always a let the other kid go first, because she'll do it better kind of kid.
I wasn't brave.
Not when it came to talking in front of the class, calling a friend on the phone, putting my hand up when I knew the answer.
With four kids to raise, I find it takes a lot of mental manoeuvering to honour each child's nature—so s/he feels seen and valued—while also establishing a family code of conduct that works for all of us.
There has been no greater push for me to rise to that challenge than parenting my youngest child.
The moment is seared in my mind, like parenting moments often are.
It came during a dinner party with three other couples. Two of the couples were still childless, and the other had one child. We were sitting pretty at three kids then.
We landed on the topic of family size, and one of the childless guests said, I would never have more than two kids.
My little loves:
There are some ugly things happening in the world. You will read this post when those days are part of history. I'm not ready to talk to you about them yet.
But I can't keep you from them forever—I know there will come a time that you see the ugly with your own disbelieving eyes.
Growing up, Sundays meant country and western music on the radio and a sink filled with soapy water and dusting cloths. My sister and I were expected to clean our rooms while my parents did the rest of the housework—together.
I've never seen my dad cook a meal, but I've never seen my mom push a vacuum either. They each had their domestic strengths, but the workload was divided. Even though he worked long hours outside the home, my dad never hesitated or balked at being part of the work that happened at home.
I'm about to lecture my grade five kid about the stuffing of her snow pants into the secret compartment of her backpack, when the memory of a winter coat creeps in and silences me like the overnight snowfall waiting for us on the other side of the front door.
This post took its time.
It was hard for me to write. It's a topic that reveals some of my greatest failings as a parent. That's never easy.
The first time I heard Michael Reist, he was on CBC radio speaking about differences in the way boys and girls perform in school. I had to pull my car over; I wanted to take in every word.
Sometimes what I need is a good swift kick in my parenting behind; a new perspective.
Today, I got one.
And the giver of that kick has no idea what he's given, because as much as he deserves to have a poor me approach to life, he never does. Telling a story about his childhood is never meant to be a comparison or a lesson, but somehow it always is.
It's report card time around here. A couple of days ago, I received a courtesy call from our son's teacher. She wanted to warn us about a mark that didn't look like the rest. It was no surprise to hear it was in an area of oral evaluation.