A letter to Bean, who is three

Airplane and cloud cake

Dear Bean,

Last weekend you turned three. Three! Just yesterday you were two; last week you were tottering around speaking your own language; last month you were a wrinkly, squirmy, squishy bundle in a too-big sleeper. And now, while I’ve been sleeping I think, you’ve transformed from baby into boy. Your round cheeks have lost some of their chub. Your squeaky baby voice has matured into an even tone. Your wispy baby hair is coarser now, with a cowlick that sticks straight up in the back. You’re still so little, but you’re trying so hard to be big.

I’ll tell you a secret, my Bean. I sneak into your room most nights before I go to bed, just to see you sleeping. I carefully open the door, just enough so that a slice of light from the hallway spills into your room. I tiptoe in, avoiding the creaky spots on the floor. I listen to you breathe. Still in your crib, some nights you look so big, stretched out on your back with your hands up behind your head. And some nights I am reminded of the baby still in you as you sleep on your tummy, knees tucked up under you and your bum up in the air.

Some days I miss the baby you. Mostly though, I’m proud of the person you are becoming.

Bean, you are strong-willed. Once you have a plan, nothing can distract you from it, and you always have a reason. If I ask you to please put the spoon back on the counter where you found it, you are likely to inform me that it is actually a robot shark, and it has to rescue the elephant (a cookie cutter also pulled from the counter), who is stuck in a deep, deep pit. I have learned that, while it may be more time-consuming, it is best to go along with this initial gravely important task. Once I’ve gone along with the first bit, I’m better able to persuade you that the garbage truck on fire portion of today’s adventure is best completed with actual toys, not sticky kitchen implements. You are becoming a master negotiator.

You love stories. Reading stories, listening to my made-up stories, telling stories of your own. I love to listen to your stories, full of pirates and robots and trees and dogs and boys and fire trucks and garbage trucks. I hope with all my heart that this never changes; that this spark of imagination grows as you get older. That nothing and no one can ever stifle your creativity, or stifle you.

Our days together are filled with action. Complicated rescues with every truck in your possession are frequent. There is always a hero, and as a recent development, there is often a bad guy (you typically play both roles). The trucks all talk to each other, and you make a different voice for each one. It cracks me up.

When we go to the park or a playgroup, you usually pick another adult, often a stranger, to be your “person.” You take them by the hand, show off for them, tell them your stories. Usually you have good taste – it’s a grandmother who is delighted with the funny little boy at her feet, or a young man happy enough to play along. But on the odd occasion that you pick someone who isn’t as enthused to be your person, my heart breaks for you a little. You keep trying. You don’t understand rejection, not yet.

A couple of months ago, we went to drop-in kindergym at the local rec centre. As soon as you’d entered the room you started running. In a constant loop, you went from one ride-on toy to another, to the mini trampoline, the music toys, the slide, the pirate ship play structure, and then back again for another round. And another. And another. Always running, usually yelling, a wild man having the time of your life. I noticed other parents noticing you.

Maybe at times I envy these other parents their placid kids; maybe I would like a few minutes of calm once in a while. But, as wild as you are, you are also the boy who spontaneously decided to give hugs to each of the adults in the room. (We will have a conversation about hugging strangers another time.) When you knocked down another boy’s blocks and saw that he was sad, you ran up on your own and said sorry, and you meant it. Yes, you are wild, but you’re also sweet and kind.

I’ve learned so much from you, Bean. Patience, flexibility, presence, love. You are the boy who made me a mother. Before you came into this world, I suppose I had an idea of what parenting would be like, and what my kids would be like. I believed that you would conform to my expectations, simply because I had them. Because I willed it. But here is what I’ve learned. You have your own will. You are your own person. You are not particularly pliable. But you’re sweet, and underneath the stubbornness you are eager to please; with love and space and security, you come around on your own time. You’ve taught me that in shaping your behaviour and guiding your path, my love is a thousand times more powerful than my will could ever be.

Bean, I won’t lie; it can be challenging to be your mama. But it’s also thrilling. Belly laughs are a daily occurrence. My heart bursts with love and pride every day.

Happy third birthday, sweet Bean.

Love and hugs and ten thousand kisses,

Mummy

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Happiness

What does it mean to be happy? Are you happy now? How do you know?

happy (2)
Happiness is what we all want. A happy family, a happy home, happy children. A happy life.

I’ve struggled with happiness this year. I’ve searched for it. I’ve found it where I least expected it, and lost it where I was sure it would be safe. I’ve misunderstood it. And I’ve learned about what happiness means, at least for me.

Right now, in my life, I am happy. And here is what I know: happiness isn’t a permanent state of being. It’s not an overall glow that brings smiles to my lips and infuses my life with light, just because. Happiness doesn’t just happen. It’s a choice. It’s waiting in the everyday moments for me to grasp it and hold on. And so I’m doing that, or trying to. I’m choosing to notice and celebrate the good and beautiful that occurs in the midst of the ordinary, and I am happy.

Here is where I’ve found happiness today:

The way Bean wrapped his lanky arms and legs so tightly around me this morning, so that as I carried him downstairs for breakfast he seemed weightless in my arms.

Listening to D and Monkey in a dad-baby conversation, imitating each other’s sounds and laughing.

Pushing my body through a hard workout and feeling sweaty, drained, and satisfied at the end.

Finally booking a long-overdue date with D.

Wearing my favourite scarf, for the gazillionth day in a row, because who cares if I wear the same thing every day? It’s my favourite.

What makes you happy?

Facial injuries: the unofficial badge of the bad mother?

For my son, it’s a moment of pain soon forgotten. For me, it’s a visible outward sign of my failings as a mother. Too dramatic? Probably.

My kids don’t hurt themselves all that often, but when they do, it’s usually in the face, which is just super great. There was the time that 10 month-old Bean fell forward and caught the corner of the coffee table right between the eyes. He has a thin white scar. A few months later as he was learning to walk, he tripped over the edge of a mat at baby boot camp* and landed on his cheek, on my stainless steel water bottle. The bruise added some colour to the vacation photos from our  friends’ wedding in Mexico the next week. Monkey has suffered a couple of truck-to-face injuries, courtesy of Bean. And, if I put off trimming their fingernails one day too long, both boys will invariably seize the opportunity to give themselves a gash on the cheek or nose during the night.

As I am pretty much a walking guilt factory, until those bruises or cuts heal they’re ongoing reminders of how I somehow let my boys down – even if the injury wasn’t preventable, isn’t serious, or didn’t happen on my watch.

Yesterday I was on my way out the door when my cell rang. It was daycare. Bean had tipped over in his chair and hit his mouth against the table. He was bleeding a lot, and very upset, and I should come get him.

I rushed to daycare and found all the kids sitting at the table, Bean whimpering in the teacher’s lap. He had blood around his mouth and on his hands. He reached for me and I picked him up, only to realize that he had just wet his pants. He hasn’t done that in ages. I took him downstairs and changed him, as he sobbed that his tooth and his mouth hurt and begged me to make it better.

I am a feeler. And strong emotions make me cry, whether it’s sadness, anger, fear, or happiness. When I see another person’s genuine tears, there is a 97% chance that I will tear up too. And it’s only gotten worse with age. Now that I’m a mother, I can pretty much forget the possibility that I’ll get through a day without crying at least once. At first I blamed the pregnancy hormones. Then I blamed the new mother hormones. Then the pregnancy hormones again. Then I tried blaming my postpartum depression. But whatever the reason, all the blame-throwing in the world can’t change the simple fact that I am a huge, sappy sap.

Yesterday with my own child, I was helpless. On the drive home as he cried in his car seat, I cried too. Because he was in pain, and because I was worried. Because his tooth might be damaged, might turn grey and fall out. Because it was my fault. Because I was the one who put him in daycare, even if it was just one day a week. He didn’t need to be there – I’m on maternity leave. He could have been home with me. He might not have gotten hurt.

Thankfully, he couldn’t see my tears, and I had them under control by the time we got home. But it was still a struggle. (Side note – at least my inner empathy sensors can distinguish the difference between legitimate and not-so-legitimate toddler trauma. Otherwise I would be facing some serious dehydration.) Bean spent the afternoon with cuddles and movies, and was feeling better by evening. Still, his gums are bruised and puffy, and I’ll be on dead-tooth-watch for a few days. (We called the dentist and he said there was nothing to do but wait.)

So here are my questions to the other mothers and feelers out there. Am I as ridiculous as I feel to be so torn up over a tooth injury? How do you keep it in when you feel your kids’ pain? And do you feel the guilt too? Do you beat yourselves up over the bumps and bruises?

* Despite the name, baby boot camp is for the mums, not the babies. But hey, boot camp for babies could be great too! Teach them some discipline right from the start. Am I right? Anyone?

Letting it go, together

spoonMonkey enthusiastically bashes a plastic sippy cup against the high chair tray, again and again, until it slips out of his grip and flies through the air, narrowly missing the serving dish on the table. A toddler fork clatters onto the floor, collateral damage in Bean’s tirade against pasta that is the wrong shape.

As long as I continue to shovel food into his mouth, Monkey shouts with excitement. Once the bowl is empty, he shouts in frustration until I’ve mashed up some more of the food off of my own plate and can resume shoveling it into his mouth. Bean complains and refuses to eat. The pasta is the wrong shape. It is too hot, and then it is too cold. The peppers are orange, and he would prefer red. He isn’t hungry. He wants to play.

As the noise level escalates, so does my irritation. Both boys are shouting now. My shoulders tense and my breathing becomes shallow. I catch D’s eye across the dinner table and see my irritation mirrored there. At that moment, Monkey yanks his spoon out of my hand and it drops to the floor, splattering tomato sauce onto my feet. I look up at D again, our eyes meeting. And we laugh. We laugh until I am breathless and D is wiping a tear from his eyes, and Bean is demanding to know what’s funny and Monkey is bemused. And then we laugh some more.

Once upon a time, in our pre-kids life, dinner time was peaceful. It was a chance to unwind and reconnect after a busy day apart. We could talk, or we could be silent. We could enjoy a complicated meal or a simple sandwich. We could relax.

Now, dinner time is non-stop motion. One of us is always up. There are bowls to refill, spills to mop up, forks to retrieve. Something is always missing from the table. Bean wants the construction placemat, not the alphabet one. Monkey’s dropped his cup. Bean has to go to the potty. Monkey needs more food. We are telling stories, asking questions, reminding about manners, persuading a stubborn toddler to eat his food, convincing him to remain at the table just a little longer. By the time I take my first bite of food, it is often cold.

The connection that used to be part of the evening meal can be hard to find, night after night in the chaotic dinner time grind. But in these sudden moments of synchronicity, when we catch each other’s eye and surrender to the mayhem, I feel more connected to my husband than in any memory from our pre-kid, peaceful life. Because this is the life we’ve created, the family we’ve built, together. Yes, life with small ones can be maddening, and we don’t have to enjoy every moment. But we can make the choice to let go of our expectations, to give in and hang on for the ride together.

I’ve heard it said that the season of small kids is one of the toughest for a marriage. I believe it. I feel it. And I look across the dinner table at my husband, and I’m grateful to have him as my partner.