Twleve years Later, You’re Still My Baby Girl

Daughter, you are now twelve. Such a tender, impressionable age. You are in between two worlds from which you still slip so seamlessly. The confident role model. The energetic gymnast. The mature older cousin. The fun-loving friend.

The Big sister. The Little sister.

And all the while, you are still my baby girl.

I could say that I don’t know where the time has gone. But really, I do. We have spent it well, you and I. We have packed into your short twelve years as much fun as a girl could expect to have at this young age. Camping trips, picnics, play-dates, visits to the park. Library outings. Fun park excursions. Summer boating escapades and winter sledding adventures. Skating on the river. Lazy afternoons whittled away at the log cabin- in the water, on the raft, lying helter-skelter on the hammock. Afternoons sitting with a book or two on the creaky porch swing that graces our own veranda. And hours and hours and countless more hours spent bouncing on our faithful trampoline.

We have both spent many more hours at our school, in the piano studio, at the soccer field, in the rink and in various gymnasiums. I have watched you blossom as an athlete, musician and student. I have observed you as a community leader, a student leader, a friend, a cousin, a sister, a granddaughter, a great- granddaughter and an assistant coach. In each role, you excel.

You have had many interests, many passions and many areas of expertise over the years. And I am at times in awe of your easy style, your ability to roll with the punches. You are so beautiful, so full of life. And in spite of the fact that your height has nearly matched my own, there are still times when I nearly forget that you are almost a teenager. Although those moments are fewer and fewer all the time. And as your mother, I know what lies ahead. I was a twelve year old girl once myself.  Young, eager and waiting.

Time will only fly by faster now that you are twelve.

Guard your heart, dearest daughter.

Guard it with your life, your soul, your all. Do not entrust it to just anyone. Your heart is so precious, so exquisite. It deserves someone to care for it of equal worth. Equal exceptionality. So easy it is to let down the defences and find what is most precious to us has been taken away- lost forever. Guard your heart and always be aware. There are those who do not appreciate the rare value and tremendous worth that we see, we who love you so.

Do not sell out, give up, put out, hand over, release or let go of that which we have cultivated in you for safekeeping. You are so precious. Never forget this truth.

A young friend, a childhood playmate, came knocking on our door this evening- a boy. The same boy, I might add, who walked through a snowstorm so as to hand deliver a tub of carefully wrapped eggs so that I might finish a recipe for banana-chocolate chip muffins to share on a cold winter’s evening. The same boy who made a little snowman with your youngest sister that snowy evening. And the same boy who I drove every second day or week to kindergarten, six short years ago.

Again- where does time slip off to in such a hurry?

Tonight, he was the consummate gentleman. He had a card for you, which he walked over from the house next to ours, only a field away.  A walk made in twilight so as to deliver in person, hand-written birthday greetings. I was struck by the sweetness and sincerity in his demeanor. And while I realize that this was purely a platonic gesture, it gave me pause to consider the kind of boy that I would wish for you. When that time comes.

A boy who is kind. Like your father.

A boy who is respectful, considerate and courteous.

Someone pleasant and friendly.

Someone who truly sees you as unique and special.

Someone remarkable- just like you.

I don’t want to make this short list into something which has as its intent to handpick for you a suitor- that wouldn’t be fair. Darling, I trust your judgement- you are very wise and discerning, even at this fresh age of twelve. I know well your own astute sense of what is best. But I guess what I am trying to say is this: that as your mother, I too want the very best for you. I always have. And I can’t stop wanting this now, even as I see you starting to slip into greater independence.

Happy Birthday, my sweet middlest daughter. You told me tonight that you feared slipping back to the ordinary tomorrow, settling back into your role as “that middle daughter” again. You could never be anything less than my sweet, amazing, beloved Maggie. And being in the middle only means you have been sandwiched in love, enveloped in devoted adoration.

Love to you forever and always,

Mom

Advertisements

To those who’ve been shamed, let me be the one to say…

“You’ll never amount to anything. You’ll never be much. You’re a problem child.”

So he was told.

I had forgotten, but she reminded me yet again as we were talking: about the cruelty of  words and how shattering they can be when ill-spoken. When hastily proffered. When handed over without any thought or consideration to the receiver.

And how excruciating when those words are held out to a child, a teenager: as evidence of their failings, flaws and weaknesses. As evidence of their shortcomings. When spoken as a statement to their individual worth. A testimony, if you will: to their person-hood. And when these words of shame are spoken by a teacher, no less: the damage they inflict is often irreparable.

“You’ll never amount to anything. You’ll never be much. You’re a problem child.”

Those words- they have still, at times, been spoken.

And he’ll never forget those words, no matter how much time and space come between. She’ll always remember. For they are there. Forever imprinted in his memory. In her memory. Impressed on his subconscious and thus filtered in and out through his more aware consciousness in the here and now. She’s trouble- or so she thinks; and so she’ll spend the rest of her days either seeking to live up to that reputation or finding a way to prove them wrong.

It’s how the story goes.

And to those students dealing with their own insecurities, anxieties and fears about who they are and what they might become, this is either a death sentence or a fire lit beneath them. A motivation or a deterrent.  It’s pivotal.

This piece of writing I’ve composed: it is not a reprimand to students- goodness knows there are enough of those out there to fill a book. This is a reminder to those of us as teachers to choose our words carefully before we speak them. We can never get those words back again. This is a memo to those of us who educate: to watch our collective tongues. Carefully. To form our opinions with awareness to those around us. To say what needs to be said, but to do so respectfully. With dignity. In honor of the life that stands before us.  For all life is worth that at the very least. Is worth a semblance of regard, out of respect, if nothing else, to the person and all those others they represent. The parents, family and friends. A person is not an island. And words have a ripple effect. Do not think they will fall like a stone to the bottom of the ocean. They will be carried away on the waters and they will oft be repeated. And never forgotten. Do not offer words without thought to what message those words are truly conveying. Words can have more than one meaning. And what we think we are saying lightly can be taken heavily by the hearer.  And buried deep within.

This is a message to we who are adults- we are the forerunners. We have been there before. We know the pain of derision, the wound that is a sarcastic comment spoken in scorn. We remember. And so, we who know better must live better. We must watch what we say and say it with care. There are others listening. Believing what we say. Taking it to heart.  Living up to it, those words.

“You’ll never amount to anything. You’ll never be much. You’re a problem child.”

To that one who has had these words flung in your direction, let me be one to stand up and boldly say:

You are more than the sum of one man or woman’s opinion. You are more than one person’s point of view. You are capable. You are able. You are competent. You don’t have to live down, stoop low to anyone’s minimal expectations of who they think you’ve been destined to be. Prove them wrong. Be more. Do more. Live for more. Aim higher, reach farther. Be inspired to make the change you need to make so as to become the person you were born to be. It’s in you.
You can do this. Be the person you were made to be. The sky’s the limit. And you’re full of potential and possibility.

You’re amazing, I know you are.

Believe it.

I do.

And this one’s for the girls…

I feel strongly compelled to write about an issue that is hitting me square between the jaw, as I am a mother of three young girls as well as a teacher who interacts with girls of many different ages each and every day.

Body image.

It is something that young girls begin thinking about as young as kindergarten. And it often dictates their eating habits, fashion choices, leisure activities, friendships, relationships and self-confidence levels from that point on.

I am really concerned that we as adults are not doing enough to assure young girls that their bodies (and indeed, their soul and sense of spirit connected to which) are amazingly suited for them as individuals no matter the shape or size it might come in. I am really concerned that the message to change the package and make it better, sleeker, more stream-lined, better functioning, more attractive, and just plain improved from its original model is coming from us- the adults. A message which states that they should look less like the original and more like whatever is best for the moment.

I am really concerned that our young boys are discovering at ever younger ages that this is a sore-point with their female counterparts and as such, they know from listening to the adults that girls should look a certain way, eat a certain amount, exercise and dress a certain way. And if the girls don’t, somehow the memo came down to the boys at ever younger and younger ages that it was okay to let the girls know how they could improve. And then some.

And I am even more concerned that the girls themselves have it in their heads that they can lord it over each other- that if they happen to ‘have the goods’, it is their God-given right then to make the ‘other’ girls feel ‘less than’. Turning friend against friend. Sister against sister.

Friends, this ought not to be so. We need to stop this, one person at a time. We can make a difference. We can.

We need to stop RIGHT NOW sending these messages to our children that special is a size. That better is a number. That best is a weight or a proportion. That beautiful is one size fits all.

Because we know within our heart-of-hearts. It’s not. We know that the people we truly love are more than just a shell. They are what’s inside. The package fades, the soul does not.

I want my daughters to know that I will FIGHT TO THE GRAVE so that they come to know and appreciate their worth as individuals. I will fight to the grave so that they come to see that their personal value must be in things of substance, not shallow fading fancies. And I will crusade TO THE END for this: for all those kindergarten girls I teach, for all those in-between girls I coach and mentor, for all those older girls I talk and listen to. They are not a number. A shape. A shell.

Yes, they are body. But they are also soul. And radiant spirit. Personality. Character. And so much more. And at the end of the day, it matters not what they look like. It matters what they are.
It matters who they are completely.

What I’d Change (If I Were Queen of the Schools…)

When my son was little, I lost natural hair color over stressing about his day at school.  I don’t know if his initial school experience was typical or not, as he is my only boy, and I merely have his one experience to go on.  But, I am starting to think it might be.  Although the variables might change from boy to boy, there are certainly some parallels to be found when it comes to educating boys.  When it comes to boys and their indifference- and lack of interest in, the whole school experience.

My boy fretted and worried about school from the get-go.  His first day home from kindergarten, I waited patiently under the old maple, picking at the moss growing along the spreading roots.  I watched the bus go by, and then watched as it swung back again, up our side road, dropping my son off at the end of the lane.  And, as eagerly as I chased him down to hear stories about the first of all experiences at school, he equalled my enthusiasm in stridency, storming past, eyebrows in a furrow.  Pounding feet against the stone walkway, as he stormed into the house.  What a mother fail for me.  How I wanted to sit in the late summer breeze hearing about all the wonderful things he’d done, all the magical experiences he’d been part of.  He’d have none of that foolishness.  He had some unwinding to get to, and sitting with me waxing poetic about his school day, was not on that list of after-school priorities.

Grade 1 was even harder.  He clung to my leg for the better part of forty-five minutes.  He was anxious, worried about making friends, scared of being alone, frightened of me leaving.  I held one babe on my hip and clasped another toddler with my free hand.  Three little bodies stuck to me like crazy glue.  And while I tried to un-peel his little hands, I thought to myself, “There’s got to be a better way.”  I knew this was awkward.  I knew there would be eyebrows raised.  And I felt that pressure to let go his hand, even as my mother instinct was telling me, “No!  We’re both not ready for this.”  And yet, I let his hand slip first, turned and walked away.  Hoping for the best.

Each year got both easier and harder.  He began to distance himself from me…no more clinging.  But there were new worries to be had.  There was the whole adapting to classroom structure to fret over.  Homework routines to make and then stick to.   And the issue of his making and finding friendship, to add to the mother lode.  Not to mention the usual childhood rite of bullying to endure, that helped to establish the playground pecking order.  Somehow, he often found himself on the bottom of that pile-up.

And woven into each additional year was the stress of performance anxiety.  He was not a behaviour challenge inside the school setting.  Indeed, his teachers raved about his smarts and his ability to focus.  But, there was something awry that I just couldn’t seem to put my finger on, at the time.  It seemed to be the combination of his trying to find his place in this new world of norms, along with trying to please both his peers and the adults around him, along with the very high expectations he placed on himself.  All combined, becoming a triple threat of trouble.   Perhaps the most taxing of all was the pressure he placed on himself to stay in tip-top academic shape, as that was often the only area he was able to truly control about his school experience.  And in doing so, school became difficult at times.  Tedious.  Even dreaded.

And although my son has succeeded academically, there are many ways in which I feel he has fallen through the cracks.  Because he is prone to performance anxiety on a personal level, yes.  But also because in a more general way, he is a boy.  A boys and school can often make for an unstable combination.

Although I am a mother, I am also a teacher.  And I have gone through my fair share of navigational mishaps in trying to find my way as a teacher of both male and female students.  I have made many mistakes along the way.  But, in gaining experience, I have come to believe that there are some ways in which the school systems could better service boys, and girls for that matter.  Helping students who don’t fit the usual mold better adapt.  If it was a perfect world, and I was Big Boss of the Education System, here is what I would change. (And might I add, many of these beliefs/ideas about learning are already at play in some awesome classrooms of colleagues and fellow teachers)

Students need choice.  Students need as part of their day, time built in for choice.  Time where they decide what their learning will look like.  Time when they set the learning outcomes and strive to meet their goals.

Students need responsibility.  Students need to learn to follow through on choice.  When they make a mess, they clean it up.  When they make a mistake, they initiate the change.  When they do it wrong, they find another way to do it right.  When they make a poor choice, they are given instruction on how to make a better choice next time.

Students need flexibility.  When students are starting to zone out, students need options.  School is hard work.  Some kids can only last for a short period, and they need a break.  Some kids need physical activity interwoven into every part of their day.  Or they can’t survive.  Some students only learn when they are out of a chair.  Some kids can’t handle a desk.  Some kids need to run.  Kids need lots of different things to learn. We need to get better at helping them cope with their differing learning styles.

Students need less structure.  I did not say ‘no’ structure, I said less.  When I think of a well-balanced, healthy home environment, I think it is an ideal learning atmosphere.  In a typical home, at any given time, a child can be on the computer fine-tuning their problem-solving skills, all while one sibling is measuring ingredients for an after-school microwave concoction and another is practicing their tuba.  Or, if you will.   While one is resting on the sofa, texting messages to a friend and another is sketching designs for the latest fashion show.  What the home environment does for learning is allow for freedom from rigid structure.  There is structure, it is just more fluid.  And learning takes place in a less rigid environment.  It just looks different than traditional, formal education.

Students need more student-led learning and less teacher-led instruction.  The days that talking heads are the ‘be all and end all of instruction’ have already gone the way of the do-do bird.  Sure, there is a place in instruction for lecture-style learning.  Sure, some students learn best in a structured, traditional classroom setting.  But, many students don’t.  These students need application and hands-on experiences, they need trial-and-error, risk and adventure, opportunity and choice.  What everyone needs is the opportunity to put into practice what they are learning.  And what better way to do so than when following an interest initiated by said student themselves.

Of course, these all rest on the commitment of teachers to best teaching practices.  And past that, teachers rely on school boards enabling them the time, resources and space to follow through on  these best teaching practices.  And school boards rely on government, and so on and so forth. Change is always hard coming.

Little by little.

And sometimes it’s the simplest things that matter the most.  Like an upper-elementary boy being allowed out of class to come down to the Kindergarten room to color.   Like an over-active boy in Kindergarten being allowed time to go for a run in between learning goals.  Like students being given time to dance in music class.  Like showing kids that physical activity counts as an important part of learning.

And its these smallest of changes that often make the biggest difference in the life of a child.

Keep on Keeping On

That moment. When you feel so very, very horrible. And all because you have left your middlest child at the rink, waiting for the better part of an hour because you had no way to get in touch with her. And all because you were driving from Point A to Point B to Point C to Point D. And on the way you nearly ran out of gas.

And then. When you finally did arrive and met your crying child at the door of the rink, her friend says to you, eyes raised as she breezes by, “She sure was getting worried.” And you later find out that ‘said’ friend also asked your child, “Does she always forget you like this?”

That moment. When the semi-middlest child tells you that you never give her enough attention, that you always favor the youngest because they’re the baby. That you never listen to her. Oh! That dreadful word never. Never, never, never.

That moment when Oldest tells you that you never (there it is again…) go to the rink to watch his games; or that, at the very least, you are not there as much as he would like. That you never pick out the right kind of jeans, that you don’t buy the right kinds of cereal. That you don’t live up to all his wildest expectations of what a mama should do and say or be.

And you think you might be a fail.

That moment. When your older child takes a compliment you’ve given to a younger child and turns it into a stab in her own back. As if to say. That in complimenting anyone else, it automatically means attacking someone other than them in the process.

That moment when you are trying to tell everyone how well they’ve done, how very proud you are. And no one is listening because it is not about their own very selves, at that very second.

And you feel so very tired.

That moment. When you are worn down and drug out and used up because of life. And because you went to bed late the night before. And all because you were booking a solo ticket south FOR YOURSELF. For the very reason that you dropped a chair on your foot earlier in that same evening. And that incident was the last straw that broke the camel’s back.

Because you’ve hardly given your own worn-out self any attention lately.

That moment, …THAT MOMENT. When you look at your hands, at your feet; and they look…old. When you look at your body and it seems flabby. When you look at your eyes, and they seem tired.

That, my dear Mama, is the moment you realize. That being a mother is the hardest gig you’ve ever had to do. Harder than anything. Ever. And a secret part of your own self knows this to be true: that the reason God doesn’t let us look forward is because in His great wisdom, He knows a mother’s heart would fail if she knew all that was to come. Yet. In His great mercy, He allows us to look back and see how far we’ve come.

That moment. When a Mama gives herself grace. When she forgives herself, even when her four precious off-spring in their immaturity cannot. And she tells herself:

“Well done, Warrior Mama. You are doing a bang-up job being a Mom. You are doing me proud, Self. I know how hard you work at this. Keep on keeping on, Soldier Mama. There will come a day when this too will pass, and you will forget how hard it was and only remember how awesome you did at the hardest job know to human-kind. Mothering. You are beautiful, wise, full of grace upon grace. And your children will one day rise up and call you blessed. Don’t you ever give up.”

That moment is what keeps me going.

Keep on keeping on, soldiers.

I’ll Love You Forever…

Little voices, tiny hands.  Baby hair still wisps, framing round faces.  Wide-eyed.  They move, and squirm, roll and tumble.  And I try to quiet them, but they are alive with energy.  Full of life.

We read on the blue rug, I’ll Love You Forever.  As I begin to form words on the tongue, I can feel the tears welling behind the wall I’ve built.  My game face.  Trying to be strong for everyone.  Not wanting to let emotions show.  Making this about them, not me.

Their sing-songy lilt joins mine with the refrain, I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living, My baby you’ll be.  I focus on the words- the pictures, as I read.   Remembering those infant days twelve short years ago when I thought I would never again be able to do another thing but sit and hold an infant.  When I took walks up and down the river-road, trying to console that colicky baby-boy.  Holding him tightly, fearing the worst.  Bundling, swaddling, comforting, adoring.   And I remember.  Those crazy days led on.  To crazy days with two.  And how much more mischief can two get into.   Both into cupboards pouring out boxes of cereal on the floor, smearing Vaseline all over the couch.  Baby voices then, calling me, hugging me, wanting me.  Oh, the tender joy to hold chubby, little hands.  And yet, there were times.  I wanted to put them in the zoo.  I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living, My baby you’ll be.

I remember still.  The days are not so long and far removed from now. When there were three- and four.  Could a heart hold that much love?  Days of highs and lows, of joys and sorrows.  Days when they walked through the house as if they owned it, full of spitfire and gumption.  Of battles over clothing, movies, free time, chores.  Sibling rivalries.  Of embarrassing parents who like to tell stories.  Of wanting to be close, but pushing away. These days of feeling like I am in the zoo.  Of sulky stares and stolen hugs.  Those days are now.  And yet.  This I know for sure.  I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living, My baby you’ll be.

And some nights, when they are really asleep, I tip-toe into their rooms and I touch their cheeks with a mother’s kiss.  Tucking the blankets around their slumbering bodies.  Holding them close in my heart. And I know then, as I know always.  That I will love them forever.

As long as I’m living, my babies they’ll be.

How to love the boy…

He sits beside me.  Calm, quiet-like.  In between me and his father.   I have just nestled myself into a seat, in a row of black chairs connected by a small hinge along one side.  We call them a pew.  That’s church speak.  They’re really just uncomfortable, black chairs with a slight cushion to ease the back on those days when time stands still.

Here we sit.  The older ones remaining, as little ones have left for nursery, ready to take in the Sunday sermon.  Me, a bustle of movement until this moment.  And now that I’ve stopped, I collapse. My days and moments, leading up to this one, have in fact been peppered with much motion, activity and energy.  Emotional energy, physical energy with all our familial comings and goings, events, visitations, preparations and the like.  All that energy exerted.  Wears me out.  Add to all the busyness the stress of four kids, a messy house and a bunch of stray cats that sit meowing on my doorstep.

Hungry, as usual.  Well, join the crowd.

It has been a wild few days of fear and anxiousness and uncertainty.   And that’s just speaking of the boy.  He sits now, as still as a statue.  And I feel him lean into me.  He, who has uttered those dreaded words a mother fears hearing.  Those words that tear a mother in two, sometimes.  Words about who he is and who he is not.  What he wants and what he doesn’t.  Words that sometimes are ill-spoken.  Words that cut.  And yet.  We are all learning that words are just that.

Words.

And sometimes they fail us.   A mother knows.  He is growing up,  growing into the man he intends to be.  Like it or not.  And he is trying to find himself.  Pushing back, sometimes.  Pushing away at others.  But still holding on.  And so am I.  Holding on.

And I am still trying to hold him close.

More words were exchanged the day before. Trying to sort out the tangled web of emotions from the days before.  He, with a hood pulled over his face.  Me, raw emotions and bundled nerves pleading for answers.  We two, feeling raw and exposed.  On a road of good intentions, going nowhere fast.  I concede him the victory.  Whatever that means.  And then I walk away, determined to let it all go.  And start over.

Best decision I’ve made yet.  Things start to simmer down.  And I feel the house let go a sigh of relief.  I know I have heaved a weight off my shoulders.  And so has he.  I can tell.  Small things matter most.  And his shoulders are more relaxed, of late.

We sit waiting for the sermon to begin, and I feel the weight of him.  His twelve-year old self leans in to my shoulder.  I keep my eyes fixed on the speaker at the front.  I dare not look to my left or to my right.  I don’t want to look, in case this is not real.  He wouldn’t lean against his mama in public, now would he?

But I feel him.  Heavier, now.  It is a touch of two bodies.  One I did not initiate, but will gladly accept.

And on a dare.  I reach out my hand, move it down to his.  And I feel for the hand he has shoved so deeply inside his Sunday best trousers.  The black ones I ironed for him just last evening while we watched a family movie.  That he opted out of because it was too tame.  It was too childish.

And I feel his hand there.

I grab onto those fingers, tentatively.  And I keep my hand over his.  All the while, looking forward.  Afraid to break a delicate bubble that has so gently appeared before me.  Rising.  An apparition.

And I know he feels his mother’s love over top his hand.  Because he draws out his rough, Man-child hand and slips it into mine.  Curling his fingers inside my hand.  Not too tightly.  For that might indicate weakness.  No.  Just slack enough to prove his manliness is intact, but that his boyishness is still there.

And to say my heart swells, an understatement.

Because a mother knows.  That a child is still a child sometimes.  Even when they are becoming a Man.