How I stopped hovering and learned to love the playground

don't worry, baby. mama will catch you.
I have always called the time between a child’s age of 18 months and three years, the heart attack stage. You know why – toddlers want to touch it all, taste it all, see it all – and climb it all. They conceive of no boundaries to their newfound physical abilities and the only thing standing in the way of exploration is their limited arm span. Oh, and their mother.

As somebody who operates on a constant, though low-level, anxiety buzz, the toddler years were especially hard on me. Even my cautious first-born daughter naturally wanted to test the theory of gravity and how it applied to her, jumping from couches, climbing on tables and sliding down staircases. But these feats of physical prowess, though they had me spastically jumping up to act as spotter or catcher on a near-constant basis, were easy to manage inside the house. It was the playground that was my true nemesis.

To a child, the playground is a mountain to climb, a challenge to conquer, a good time to be had. But to me, it was quite literally, a death trap. My toddler would scramble awkwardly up the stairs to the lower platform and I would be there, hands out, ready to boost, catch or grab at the first wobble. She would slide down the small slide and I would run like a mad person to be at the bottom to greet/save her. The area at the top of the platforms that are open to fireman’s poles or climbing walls were my arch enemy. I stood beneath them barking at my baby to keep moving past the entrances to certain doom, and on to the relatively safer environs of the twisty slide.

At the merciful end of our visits to the park (I always gave it a respectable 30 minutes), I would scoop my child back up, plop her in the stroller and walk back home, allowing my heartbeat to slow back down from racing to merely amped. How, I wondered, do mothers with more active children than mine survive this?

I would soon find out.

Child number two was completely different than child number one. She tricked me, with a later start to walking, into thinking that she would be even more chilled-out than her sister, but she soon made up for lost time. She thought of ways to kill me that were way beyond the amateur stuff her sister had gotten into. Stairs? Sure, but only if she can hop down them backwards. Chairs? Ok, but she’s not going to merely stand on them when their slatted backs make for such good ladders. And playgrounds?

Nothing could have prepared me for a trip to the playground with my second daughter.

It was my worst nightmare come true. Not only was she not at all a cautious child, as I had been led to believe that all of my children would be, but in addition to having no fear, she also had the desire to follow older sister, then three and a half. There was no way that I could stay on top of both kids, so I reluctantly shifted my focus to the smaller, more insane child, and tried to keep up. I couldn’t.

Whereas my elder child had wobbled and climbed slowly onto the apparatus, my second catapulted herself up and on. Where my first would actually heed my shrieks prompts to move past the deadly open spots, my second would linger there, leaning out into the abyss, just daring me to have a coronary. Hopefully my body would make a soft landing pad for her when she plummeted off the side. And every playground we went to, I could see that I was not alone. Parents everywhere were readying themselves for certain death every time their kids climbed a ladder. Clearly, I had reason to worry.

I had no choice but to give up. And what I mean by that is, I deemed the playground Daddy territory, and refused to go anymore. Chris could take care of it. If the kids were going to perish at the park, it would be on his watch. I couldn’t take it anymore.

And this is how it was for a while. Quite a while.

Then, in the summer of 2011, we moved out here to the cornfield, where the deer and the children run free. And where a brand new, 17 acre park was just remodeled and reopened, including a 1050 metre splash pad and three full-sized, state of the art playgrounds spread amongst the paths. We lived within walking distance. My children, not surprisingly, wanted to spend a lot of time there.

So we went. And the place was always busy. It’s hot out here in the cornfield, and the splash pad rivals the one at the Toronto Zoo. But it was not the splash pad that gave me palpitations – though on a really busy day I always worried about my kids getting mowed down by the others – but did I mention three play structures, each bigger and more complex than the last, with more things to climb and more places to dangle out into the abyss?

For the first few visits, I wore myself out with the wrangling. Not only was I trying to somehow stay near my kids to ensure they did not break their necks on the playgrounds, but I was constantly trying to convince them to stay in one place, in the same place, preferably near me. Between the splash pad and three playgrounds, the kids wanted to go everywhere, and it was never together. If one wanted to be in the fountains cooling down, the other wanted to climb the giant spider web. If one wanted to play under the fire truck, one wanted to be at the other end, where the swings were. My kids just wanted to play. I wanted to cry.

And then I looked around. Other parents were not freaking out. Other kids were not with their parents. Sure, the kids were running from one side of the park to the other, but the parents were not in a frenzied rush to keep up with them. Everybody was having fun. Everybody was ok. Was this some magical place where kids didn’t get hurt or stolen or try to give their parents heart attacks in their spare time?

Actually, yes. It is different here. Partly because there is not a major busy downtown street abutting the park, as there was at the places we frequented in Toronto, but I just think that here, in the cornfield, people are just more relaxed. I have no other helicopter moms to catch a buzz off of here. My natural instincts do not seem to be the natural instincts of the parents here. Shouting at my kids to watch out for every. little. thing. started to feel embarrassing and excessive rather than necessary. They were having fun. They were being kids. We came to the park more and more often, and more and more often I saw happy kids playing with other happy kids and chilled-out parents chatting with other chilled-out parents. I wanted to be one of those. 

My younger daughter, the fearless one, started school this fall, where she is obviously allowed to play on the playground virtually unattended. And when I pick her up at the end of the day, the first thing she and her wee friends do, is run right back to the equipment. And there she shows me what she’s been practicing – flips on the bars, jumps off the platforms, heights climbed on the apparatus. She is proud of herself and her physical accomplishments, and for almost the first time, so am I. I do not yell, Be careful! or the less manic version, Pay attention!

Show me again, I tell her. And I actually mean it.



A SOUPER Giveaway for Canadian Readers

At Blissdom Canada this past October, I had the privilege of attending the day two Foodie excursion that led participants on a delicious tour of Toronto. Our excursion culminated in an exciting Top Chef-style soup-making challenge. Hosted by Longos and Cuisinart Canada, we were put into teams of 3 and let loose in the store to purchase fresh and beautiful ingredients to turn into a delicious soup using Cuisinart's most excellent Blend and Cook Soup & Beverage Maker. (You can read more about our challenge and other Blissdom Canada excitement here.)

The soup-making challenge was a ton of fun, and not just because my team WON. Ok, we shared the win with another team, and I think that a big part of it was that our Cuisinart soup maker was a practically no-fail appliance. It was like magic! It was super easy to use, (even for the non-cooks out there) and could not help but inspire our cooking. Here is a link to the recipe that we based our winning soup on. 

So now, because I truly loved the product and I truly love my readers, I WANT YOU TO HAVE ONE! 

What to make first? A smoothie. No, soup. No, a smoothie.

A little bit about this beauty:

- Hot and cold settings
- Purees, blends, mixes and then cooks and simmers your soup right in the jar
- Large capacity thermal jar for family-sized soup, sauces and smoothies
- Seal-tight lid with built in cup for adding ingredients
- Pre-set temperature and cooking settings for great results
- Precision stainless-steel blades

I have seen this appliance on sale right now for $179.99, but you can have one for free! Of course, this would also make a fantastic gift for someone else this holiday season if you think you could part with it. 

To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment telling me what you would make first if you won. Cuisinart Canada will ship directly to the winner - sorry, Canadian residents only! 

Contest open until 6pm November 25, 2012. One winner will be chosen at random. 

Good luck, and happy cooking!

A huge congratulations to our winner, Alyssa @runanc, as chosen by random.org. Thanks for entering, everybody! 



Tripping the Daylight

Grief is not a mathematical equation summed up in weeks, months, or years. It is not a neat and tidy compartment of tears and tissues, nor is it a photo album on the shelf; we do not flip through memories until we reach the end of the book then put the sadness away as if nostalgia has taken grief’s place.

Grief is messy. No. Grief is clumsy. It comes at you in fits and starts and knocks you over and trips you up and laughs at your attempts to right yourself and just keep walking. 

It can go away but it can come back again making you wonder if you were ever not sad, or if your happiness is simply a ruse. But wait, you say, why are you here when I am good and strong and smiling and true, and the sun is shining, or at least it promises to.

And grief will reply, because this is my job, to remind you that the sun is always accompanied by a shadow, now watch your step; I do believe you’re about to miss one and tumble down the stairs.

And this is where I reside each year, from September to December. Here, in the changing of the seasons and here in the weeks that are smothered between the anniversary of the death of my father and the anniversary of the birth of my daughter.

It’s confusing when your father dies and you are 32 weeks pregnant.
Even though his illness wove its way through almost the exact timeline of my pregnancy, getting bigger, getting stronger as we both neared the end, only I came away with something to hold, my body emptied, his simply gone.

And even five years later I recall those weeks in between with such clarity, the sadness never quite giving way to the anticipation of meeting my second daughter; my happiness over her impending arrival never quite being fully dampened by my grief.

Five years ago we were at a family Thanksgiving celebration at exactly the halfway point between those two events, and the conversation turned to a loss that a cousin had just suffered. A cat had died. A cat. She had been given pamphlets on the bereavement of cat owners and advice on how to get through it. There was much shoulder patting and earnest nodding. I rubbed my huge belly and I hated humans that day. I didn’t blame the dead cat.

I look at my daughter now and try to find a sign of my father. A sign that he has somehow given his spirit to my blonde, clever, funny little girl and I can’t find it anywhere. That he would love her I don’t doubt for a second; that he would find her as fascinating as I do, I don’t doubt for a second. But I don’t see him in her, anywhere.

It would be so much easier if somehow my father had reincarnated a worthy and recognizable part of himself into my lovely daughter; it would be so poetic and comforting to be able to say, you are the spitting image of my father, or you have my father’s hands/eyes/sense of humour. Comforting to me, that is.

But I can’t say that. Because that’s not how these things always turn out. Dead loved ones, no matter how close you were or how much you miss them, don’t always resurrect their spirit into those that come next, and grief doesn’t always peter out and move on.

These are confusing, in-between days and I will get through them just fine, like I did five years ago. But I will hold the bannister as I make my way down the stairs and watch my step as I walk into the crisp sunny day. Because these things have a way of tripping you up.



The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander: We Are All Responsible, Part 1 - In the Home

Recently, I had the privilege of being in the audience as parenting expert and author, Barbara Coloroso addressed hundreds of parents, educators and community members on the subject of bullying.

With wit and wisdom, using points from her bestselling book and speaking series, The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander, Ms Coloroso offered the most reasonable, democratic and accountable solution to ending the cycle of bullying I have yet to encounter.

Bullying is not a problem specific to the schoolyard. It is behaviour applied to another with the intention of being mean, with no concern over how that behaviour might make another person feel.

Bullying is effective when the perpetrator dehumanizes his victim, reducing him to an ‘it.’

Bullies do not think of their victims as girls or boys or classmates or people – they think of them as less than human, undeserving of the most basic respect or safety.

Simple enough to understand and explain to even the smallest child, but for those that may still argue that bullying is no big deal, or just a part of childhood, Ms Coloroso encouraged us to see the issue couched in a more global view:

Perpetrators of war are bullies with more power. Hitler wasn’t exterminating Jewish people, because he did not think of Jews as people, he thought of them as rats. He was exterminating vermin. And hate crimes are criminal bullying. It’s not that slippery of a slope, and while we incriminate and decry such behaviour when we see it in the headlines, most of us do nothing when we see it in our neighbourhood.
(Well, the truth is, most of us do nothing when we see it in the headlines, but we'll save that for part 3 of this series.)

In a concise and engaging way, Ms Coloroso explained how, in the home, in the schoolyard and throughout the community, we each play a part in preventing bullying or putting a stop to it when it happens. She showed us that we are all culpable when it comes to allowing one person to dominate and terrorize another, whether our role is that of bully, bullied or bystander. And some of the things she said were not easy to hear.

As parents, we must give our children two things to help combat bullying: confidence and language.

The confidence is so that our children feel worthy of fair treatment, trust their judgment and feel self-assured enough to be:
  • A witness
  • A resister
  • A defender

A child armed with enough confidence to be those three things can identify injustice, stand up to injustice and will feel compelled to protect those to whom injustice is being done. In other words, we must teach our children to respect, care for and expect equality for themselves and their fellow citizens.

And how do we do this?

We enable our children to make good decisions. We increase their choices and responsibilities constantly and consistently so that they know how to make good decisions. Our children must learn how to do this, to feel confident in their ability to make good decisions.

Here, Ms Coloroso stressed giving our children age-appropriate choices and limits. We would not ask a 2 year-old whether or not they were ready for bed. When to go to bed is decision we, as parents must make. But we can ask our 2 year-old whether they would like to wear the blue pajamas or the red pajamas to go to bed in.

We then continue to unspool our thread of control over our children, so that eventually, they will be able to leave the house and make reasonable decisions, which will help ensure that they do not become active participants in bad decisions. 

We can’t just tell our children what to do, or else, in absence of us, they will simply listen to someone else. Let’s teach them to how to think, not just what to think.

We also teach our children to become witness, resister and defender with language.

For if a child does not know how to properly communicate what she sees happening, she will never be able to help stop it. We have to give them, and allow them to use, the words necessary to stand up for themselves or to tell somebody else what is going on.

Do you use the proper words for body parts at home? Because an unfortunate truth is that, by middle school, most bullying includes some form of negative sexual behaviour. And I don’t mean flirting, which is fun, usually harmless, and quite frankly, necessary for the propagation of our species. I mean, if a bully is taunting your child because she developed earlier than the other girls in her class, have you taught her that it is totally ok and not embarrassing to say the word, breast? Because if she has never heard the word out loud in a healthy, normal way, chances are, she won’t tell somebody what is going on.

Another way that we have to look at the use of language in the home is when we consider what kind of a role model we are being to our children. What kind of language do we use at the dinner table? Is it inclusive? Is it democratic? Is it kind?

Ms Coloroso used this kind of an example: Uncle George has just told a joke that is by any measure, racist. What do we, as parents do?

Do we say nothing?

Do we dismiss the behaviour with a wave of the hand because it is crazy uncle George and that’s just the way he is?

Or do we act with integrity and compassion, modeling it for our children by telling uncle George that is not the way we choose think of other people, and that his joke was mean and derogatory?
Because the truth is, it’s not just a joke. It is degrading and dehumanizing behaviour, and if you do or say nothing, you have just taught your child that the behaviour is acceptable.

How do we speak of our neighbours? Do we speak of the people that moved in across the road, with different coloured skin and different beliefs and different customs, with respect and kindness? Or do we refer to them in terms that are intolerant, unjust?

(Sidenote: interestingly, Ms Coloroso stressed that our goal is not to teach our children tolerance. Tolerate others? Is that really what we want? Or do we want them to care for others? Let’s teach them that.)

I’m sure you understand Ms Coloroso’s point here. Are you teaching your kids to dehumanize others? Are you teaching them meanness and hate? Are you teaching them to be a bully?

You don’t have to like everybody. But you do have to honour their humanity. Let’s teach our children that at the dinner table. Let’s teach that to crazy uncle George.

Next up, Part 2 - In the Schoolyard