Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dear Gwen: Month Forty-Nine

Dear Gwen,

Today you are forty-nine months old.

I think the biggest change this month is not necessarily within you, but due to the fact that I have been reading a brilliant parenting book, Raising Your Spirited Child ,  which has caused me to see you in a whole new light.  I'm sure I'll be blogging more (much more!) about this book in the coming weeks, but for the moment I will just say that I have a completely different perspective on you, your behaviour, your emotions, and the way you and I interact.  It's so great!  I am really relieved to know that (a) you are not misbehaving to get attention, but are truly harder to calm than other kids, and (b) it's not a personal failing on my part that I can't keep up with your energy and intensity.  These revelations have made the past month a whole lot more pleasant for the both of us!

In the past week or so, you have decided to boycott sleep.  Your constant refrain at bedtime is, "I hate sleep - sleep is boring!"  We have tried to explain to you that in fact, you DON'T hate sleep - you hate the part where you lie in bed and wait to fall asleep.  This technique is working less and less reliably, and last week it fell apart altogether and you ended up staying awake for one or even two hours past your normal bedtime, three nights in a row.  Well, to be honest, I had been thinking that with the change in the weather and the lovely spring and summer evenings we (hopefully) have to look forward to, it wouldn't be so bad for you to stay up a little later.  Maybe we could get out for a walk after dinner, even.  As long as you are not dawdly in the mornings or grumpy in the afternoons, I think it might just be time for your bedtime to get pushed a little later.

In only a couple of weeks, we will be leaving on an exciting family vacation, where you certainly will not be going to bed at 7pm.  We are going to Vancouver to celebrate my university graduation and have a lot of adventures planned: the Vancouver Aquarium, Science World, Greater Vancouver Zoo, and of course Playland.  We may even go to the waterslides or an indoor play centre!  I can't wait to share all these things with you.  It's great to be the mom of a four-year-old, because you don't need naps or diapers or special food or utensils or even, it seems, particular attention paid to your bedtime.  We can just go with the flow and do whatever we are in the mood to do.

A few weeks ago, you and I went on a "Parent and Tot Forest Exploration Walk" put on by the local land trust.  It was pretty fun, and we even got to pot a wild strawberry plant to take home!  The forest guide pointed out various types of plants and let us know whether they were dangerous, edible, native, invasive, etc.  One dangerous plant she pointed out was the stinging nettle, which she warned us all never to touch.  "Fortunately, the antidote to stinging nettle nearly always grows right nearby," we learned.  About 15 minutes later, we got to have a real-life demonstration of this, as you suddenly started wailing as a result of having touched some stinging nettle.  We all started looking for the antidote, which turned out in this case to be nowhere nearby, but we did find it eventually and it did seem to soothe your skin.  It's one of the treats of having a spirited child, that I get to experience things I wouldn't otherwise!

Speaking of plants, you are pretty into gardening these days (which makes one of us).  Your garden box now contains a scarlet bean plant you brought home from preschool and a wild strawberry plant from our nature walk.  We are also going to plant some sunflowers in the yard (hopefully this weekend, if the weather is nice).  You have been asking about planting sunflowers for several months, so I'm glad spring is finally here and I can stop telling you no!

Another change lately is that I am trying to learn how to take care of your gorgeous, curly hair.  It seems that your 'baby curls' are here to stay, and since I've never had curly hair, I have been asking my many curly-haired friends for tips.  It turns out, taking care of curly hair is very different from taking care of straight hair!  My hope is that if I can help you learn to take good care of your hair, you will feel beautiful and pampered and enjoy this natural beauty that you have.  Your hair gets so many compliments from everyone around you.  A few weeks ago, one mom - who was seeing your hair down for the first time, instead of in ponytails - asked me if I had curled it with a curling iron!  Yes, your ringlets are that perfect.  It is taking a bit of trial and error to figure out the right hair routine for you, since - unlike an adult - you bathe at night, not in the morning, and we don't use a hair dryer.  We'll keep working on it!

Well, I think that's it for this month, Gwen.  As always, I love you a million, billion, kajillion and four.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

In the car, on the way to preschool

Gwen: Mom, what are those pink things on the ground there?
Me: Remember when the trees all got flowers on them?  Those are pieces of the flowers that have been blown off the tree by the wind.
Gwen: Why do they blow down?
Me: Well, in the springtime, the trees all get flowers - those are called blossoms.  Then at the end of spring, the wind blows them off the tree to make room for the leaves.
Gwen: I wonder when my apple tree will get flowers!
Me: It might already have flowers, actually.  We should look when we get home.
Gwen: I meant apples.  I wonder when it will get apples.
Me: Apples come in the fall.
Gwen: Is it fall?
Me: No, it's still spring.
Gwen: It's my birthday.  My birthday is in spring, and it's still spring, so it's my birthday.
Me: Your birthday is only one day.  Spring is a season that lasts three months.  Do you know what birthday means?
Gwen: What?
Me: It's the day when you came out of my tummy and into the world, and were a baby.  It's the day you were born.  It was only one day.
Gwen: But it's the day when you turn older.  I was three and then on my birthday I was four.
Me: Yes, that's true.  Your birthday comes every year, but it's still just one day every year.  When you were one, it meant that you had been ONE YEAR since you were born.
Gwen: Mom, let's stop talking about birthdays now.
Me: Okay.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


I have been a faithful reader of Robert Rummel-Hudson's blog, Schuyler's Monster, for years.  Rob is a great writer and an amazing parent, and his blog about his life with daughter Schuyler - who was born with a congenital brain disorder that prevents her from, among other things, speaking - is both poignant and fierce.

One of the things that you can count on at Rob's blog is that he will call out any celebrity, any time, for using the R word.  (That'd be 'retard', for those of you who don't spend a lot of time on special needs websites.)  This seems to pop up especially in comedy, where someone will use this word to try and get a cheap laugh.  Rob will not stand for this - and rightly so.  The offending celebrity will be shamed publically on Rob's widely-read blog, and more than likely an apology or retraction will be forthcoming.  The most recent example of this can be found here.

A couple of weeks ago, Rob posted about a comment he'd made on Facebook and the stir it caused to his readership there.  He wrote:

"I lost ten pounds in the week since I was at the doctor. No joke. Perhaps I should let this infection linger a little longer."

Someone attempted to call him out on this, pointing out that he was engaging in fat talk, but Rob was having none of it.  He believed that his statement was not hurtful, because " was a joke, and again, it wasn't a joke at someone else's expense."
Oh, well okay then.  Is that the rule?  I can make jokes as long as they aren't at someone else's expense?  So I can call myself a retarded retard who eats retard soup for breakfast, and Rob wouldn't be bothered?
Rob points out again and again - and I agree - that the use of the word 'retard' and related terminology, even when used as a joke and even when used without someone being the butt of the joke, creates an environment in which it is possible to see people with special needs as less than human.  It's hostility and prejudice cleverly disguised as humour.  If we simmer and steep in that environment long enough, hearing 'retarded' as a pejorative often enough, our values are likely to subtly change. 
Let's read that paragraph again, with only one substitution.
The use of the word 'fat' and related terminology, even when used as a joke and even when used without someone being the butt of the joke, creates an environment in which it is possible to see fat*people as less than human. It's hostility and prejudice cleverly disguised as humour. If we simmer and steep in that environment long enough, hearing 'fat' as a pejorative often enough, our values are likely to subtly change.
For some reason, Rob can't see how these are parallel.  But I do.
Our society has a lot of value judgments about appearance in general and about weight in particular.  These values are so subtle and ingrained that we probably don't even grasp them consciously.  Rob's original statement from Facebook - go back and reread it - doesn't even make any sense if you don't include the unspoken assumption that losing weight is good, that being thin is better than being fat.  Try, if you can, to erase that assumption from your mind and reread the statement again - it's meaningless.
One of the strongest roots of this fat-shaming problem is that we have conflated weight with bad health.  To a great degree, this is a falsehood.  It is possible to be healthy at any weight.  It is possible to be fit at any weight.  Moreover - and this is the one that shakes me to my core - all those health risks that we read about that are associated with overweight and obesity?  Are actually much more strongly associated with yo-yo dieting.  Who diets?  Overweight people, of course (and don't even get me started on who defines "overweight" and how).  It's actually way more healthy to stay a consistent weight - whatever that weight may be - than to engage in the lose/gain cycle.  And make no mistake, any diet you undertake to help you lose, will also eventually cause you to gain.  There has not yet been invented a healthy, flawless diet that will keep weight off you permanently.  (If you want proof, go to the bookstore and count how many diet books you see.  If there was one perfect method, there would be only one book on the shelf.)
But anyway - why do you need a diet?  If being fat has no effect on your health - and trying to change your weight actually worsens your health - why does it matter?  Well, it matters because we live in a society that shames fat people.  I've only touched the tip of the iceberg in exploring that issue in this post, but I hope you are beginning to see that I think that's a pretty bullshit situation and a pretty bullshit reason to risk your health by trying to change your weight.  For the past six months, I have been reading and learning and working a lot on my own attitudes about weight.  As part of this learning, there are things I will not stand for anymore.  The unspoken assumptions like the one in Rob's Facebook post are among them.  If you say something like that to me, about your own weight/body, I will call you on it.  I don't believe weight is unhealthy.  I don't believe weight is unbeautiful.  I don't believe weight makes people more or less worthy of love, value, privilege, success, appreciation, respect, or happiness.  I am working hard to stop confusing who I am with what I look like, and while it's incredibly difficult work, I think it's profoundly worthwhile.  I hope you come with me, you just might like it on the other side.

*I have used the word 'fat' throughout this post as I believe it is the most honest, authentic and unvalue-laden term available - as opposed to 'overweight' which implies there is a 'right' - and wrong - weight.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Interview with Mom

Check out this beautiful animation of a child with Asperger's interviewing his Mom.  Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 11, 2012


Lello - the colour of bananas.

Brefikt - the meal you eat in the mornings.

Jippy - "I'll be back in a jippy, Mom.  That means a not long time."

Mewzam - a place to learn about history.

Jinastics - a class that can teach you somersaults and balancing.

Type-rope walking - something you might learn at jinastics.

Restaronnit - a place where waiters and waitresses bring you food.

Old McDonald's - a restaronnit where you can buy Happy Meals.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Night on the Town

Recently we took Gwen and a friend out to see a movie.  It was super fun and the kids were very well-behaved.  It was also an opportunity for me to see how different life is with two kids.  I picked up Gwen from daycare and our friend Aidan from his house, then drove to McDonald's where we were planning to meet Chris for dinner when he finished work.  Right away when I got to the parking lot I anticipated difficulty.  Juggling the unbuckling of the children and the locking of the car and the holding of the hands could have been quite tricky.  Fortunately, it soon became apparent that Aidan is an incredibly well-behaved child and was unlikely to bolt off across the parking lot.

I was also charmed by his willingness to hold my hand, his trusting me to keep him safe.  We've only met a couple of times.  Soon Chris joined us - he had never met Aidan before, but Aidan was content to accept him and trust him as part of the clan as well.

Then it made me think about how trusting children are.  It would indeed be heartstoppingly easy to walk up to one of these children, greet them by name, and tell them to follow you.  They probably would, because they are sweet and trusting and innocent and have every reason to believe the world is a wonderful place.

In any case, we did have a wonderful evening together: dinner at McDonald's, a viewing of "Pirates: Band of Misfits" on the big screen (in 3D, even!), popcorn and candy, and then a bit of playtime at our house before Aidan's mom picked him up.  It took me a while to get used to Aidan's manner - he is very different from Gwen, by which I mean he is not constantly talking, moving, and seeking attention.  I kept asking if he was alright, because, you know, he is so quiet!  I'd forgotten that some kids are like that.  Despite their different personalities, Gwen and Aidan got along really well, and I hope we'll get to spend more time together soon.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Talent Show

On Saturday evening Gwen participated in her first talent show.  Pretty sure it won't be her last.  She is - and always has been - a born entertainer, eager for the spotlight, ready to make you laugh and cheer.  But not quite in the way you might expect.

The talent show was a fundraiser for a church project - for the past five months, we've been raising money to build a well in a village in Malawi, Africa.  (As a side note, I'm thrilled to say that we have met and exceeded our $7,000 goal, thanks to the children's talent show which raised $300!)  We had attended practices earlier that day and the previous week, so Gwen was familiar with her roles.  When we arrived at the church for the show, she marched straight down the centre aisle and up to the microphone, where she greeted everyone with a loud but charming, "Hello?  Hee, hee!"  Keep in mind the show has not started yet - people are just finding their seats.  But trying to keep that kid away from a microphone is a losing battle.

She participated in a few group numbers, including the "Hip Hop Water Drop" where she really shone.  There were four kids doing this chant, and Gwen - no surprise - decided that everyone really ought to notice how well she knew the words, so she stepped right up to the supposed-to-be-shared microphone and let 'er rip.  She was enthusiastic and adorable, and the other kids didn't seem to mind her hogging the spotlight.  Gwen's solo "trick" was later in the program: she chose to do a "gymnastics demo", aka a somersault on a yoga mat I'd brought along.  She of course did a flawless job and then took a great bow.

The end of the show was supposed to feature all the kids singing a song together.  By this point Gwen had spotted the small mirror kept on top of the organ (I guess so the organist can maintain eye contact with the pastor during services?).  The only thing more exciting to Gwen than singing into a microphone?  Singing into a mirror.  I watched as she slowly inched closer and closer, then eventually found herself singing "how wonderful you are," and similar lyrics into the mirror.  Very enthusiastically.

Although all the kids were terrific in their various contributions, I had a lot of comments from various audience members on Gwen's performance specifically.  She just has a spark.  If there is a group of kids on stage together, Gwen is the one who is going to draw your eye.  But it's not necessarily because she is on cue and on task, singing the right words, doing the right actions, and delivering a flawless performance.  No, it's because she is completely immersed in her own little world and she really wants you to join her there.  In Crazyville Valley in the great City of Narcissism.

Friday, May 4, 2012

This way to Spring

"Mom, what is a red bird called?"

"Well, a red bird could be called a cardinal.  Or a parrot.  Or a robin."

"A robin?"

"Yes, robins have red tummies and brown backs.  And they are one of the signs of Spring!"

"A sign of Spring?  Hmm ... but I thought they were real birds!"

"They are real birds!"

"But how can they be real birds if they are signs?  Signs are made of wood!  Silly Mom."

This way to Spring.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Curly or Straight?

A couple of weeks ago, during our morning snuggle in the Big Bed, Gwen told me she didn't like her hair.
(I know!  I thought I had about ten more years before I had to start fielding that particular complaint.  But no, four years old is apparently time to start feeling dissatisfied with yourself, these days.)

There is a little Asian girl who goes to Gwen's daycare, and Gwen told me she loves this girl's hair and how it is "all flat like a waterfall".  She wants to have hair like this, too.

(And how clearly I remember spending many months and years wishing MY hair were as curly and voluminous as Gwen's now is.)

I told her that her hair was lovely just the way it is, but that if she wanted me to, I could straighten her hair with my straightening iron.  To be honest, I thought she'd be totally against the idea once she understood just how long she'd have to hold still.  But no - she wanted hair like a waterfall.  So she sat ever so patiently and I straightened her hair.

I could hardly take my eyes off her for the rest of the day.  But not for the right reason.  She just didn't look like herself.  I don't like straight hair on her.  And part of that is that it REALLY highlights the fact that she hasn't had a professional haircut in over a year - curly hair hides a multitide of sins, and sometimes those sins are at-home quick-job get-the-hair-out-of-her-face hair cuts by Dad.  Plus I just really like her curly hair.  It kind of signifies her personality (crazy, obvious, untameable).

But on the other hand, as much as I don't want her subverting her own image of herself to be someone else - a sweet, quiet Asian girl with waterfall hair - I don't want her to be who ~I~ want her to be, either.  I've got the responsibility to teach her grooming and self-care and basic rules of decency, but I don't get to tell her how to dress or how to look.  (Again, kind of thought I had another decade before pondering these things.)  In general, she picks her own clothes and I don't get in the way of that, other than making sure she is warm/cool enough and, as I said before, decent. 

So my response to this is that while her hair was straight, I commented often that she is beautiful with straight hair and she is beautiful with curly hair.  I make sure to tell her each day while I comb her (now curly once again) hair that it is so lovely, and that lots of people wish they had such beautiful curls.  I try not to make a big 'thing' out of her choices.  Hopefully by the time she *is* fourteen, we will both have had a lot of practice at this attitude, and we'll be ready.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

An Unquiet Night

The part of parenting that I never gave much thought to, before deciding to jump on in, is the part where you might sacrifice whatever other plans you had on a given Saturday night to instead Google "fever seizure".

Yeah, not exactly a ringing endorsement for procreation there, is it?

It's all part of the package.  Chris and I were watching a movie when we heard Gwen whimpering upstairs.  We both rushed to her room; by the time we got there, her whimpers were verging on shrieks and she was tossing (convulsing?) on the bed.  My reassurances went unheard, and as I reached out to her she pushed me away, fighting me off with her arms and continuing to flip around on the bed.  Chris took a turn, and he was finally able to still her.  Whether she was actually awake or not, we still don't know.

Was it a seizure brought on by the low-grade fever she'd had that day?  (She spent most of the afternoon snoozing on the couch, not complaining but certainly not quite herself.)

Was it a night terror, perhaps made more intense by her slight fever (delirium)?

Or were my worst fears coming true and she had been possessed by Pazuzu?

And how did I become the person in charge of figuring this stuff out?  I'm really not that grown-up.

We soothed her and gave her some Tylenol to reduce the fever.  She went right back to sleep - in my bed, of course, because I wanted to be there if anything else happened.  Nothing did, and the next morning, she remembered nothing.  Her fever was totally gone and she was her usual spirited self.

Of course, it takes me a little longer to bounce back, both from the feeling of helplessness I felt while watching her flop around on the bed in terror, and from the delightfully unrestful sleep I got with her feet in my face for the rest of the night.

She remembers nothing, but meanwhile we're the ones who worry now at night.  Hope this never happens again.


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