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To my daughter, after your first week of school EVER

Dear AB,

It’s been an important week, your first week of school. Junior Kindergarten. Such a big step, but for you, who were so ready (even though you’re not yet four), the most natural thing in the world.

When you first visited your class in June, you were really proud of how you walked right in, and Mummy went away for the whole hour… “And I was totally fine!” The same was true for your other hour-long visit last Friday, in your real classroom with the senior kindergartners there: you did school like a pro.

Leading up to your first full day, you were nothing but excited. You were counting down: “I can’t believe the day after the day after tomorrow I’ll have my first full day!”, “I can’t believe the day after tomorrow…” and so on.

This past Monday, we had our last official “Mummy Day.” I was entranced listening to you play in your bedroom with a family of hair clips… They are the kind with jaws, so they can talk, hug, exchange fond words. There was a Father clip, two daughters who are tiny clips, and one in two pieces that you dubbed “Little Broken.” We played and had lunch and read stories. We had a lovely, mellow day in which I got all nostalgic (though I kept it mostly to myself).

I’d say you spend at least eighty percent of your time pretending. Sometimes you’re a character (Elsa or a kitty or Hermione or a grownup lady). Sometimes I have to be a dragon for a few seconds so your stuffed unicorn can cure me back to being human. Sometimes you’re busy mitigating the trouble your best imaginary friends (Golla and Sparkles) are getting into. Sometimes it’s your own kids (Asuna, Anuna, Alella, and Sybo) who are up to shenanigans. Sometimes you’re taking business calls on your defunct flip phone. Sometimes you’re singing in your own language. Sometimes I’m your daughter and you’re my mom (and you get to call me “Dinah” in satisfied tones). Sometimes you’re building schools out of MagnaTiles and populating them with your small friend toys (family of fairies, family of monkeys, family of turtles, etc.).

Being bored never even occurs to you. Your imagination keeps you fed. It’s awesome.

On Tuesday, your first full day of JK, I got to accompany you to school, along with both your aunts. You had picked out your outfit in advance, and you were so confident and adorable we could barely stand it.

first day of school

You gave us all hugs, and you let the teacher show you where to line up, and you trooped right in the door with total poise and trust.

first day of school doorway

I’ve seen a lot of small kids at drop-off time, and many, many of them have trouble saying goodbye. I know you’re brave, but I was still impressed – and a little surprised.

Last year, you had quite a few sad drop-offs at day care. And (I hope) I’ll never forget the moment at Family Camp this summer when I was leaving to run an errand… I’d already said goodbye, and as I was getting into the car I waved and called “I love you!” and you called back “I love you!” And then, as you stood there all tiny and strong, that Love jumped up into your throat, and even though you knew I’d be right back, tears sprang to your eyes. You didn’t really cry them, you were bravely watching, but I had to come back for one more hug. Then one of your Family Camp other-mamas swooped you up and I knew you were okay. (But I was teary-eyed. I knew exactly that feeling of when you say goodbye and suddenly Love gets a bit overwhelming.)

In truth, on that first day of school, after you’d hugged Auntie Emi, you wiped one eye, but you were so composed that it might have been a head-cold tear rather than a sad one.

On each of the four days of school, you were happy at drop-off, and happy at the end of the day too. If you’ve had sad moments at school, you’ve never mentioned them (although you have said, on two days, “I missed you today,” but not in a tragic way). I, on the other hand, got all weepy on Wednesday evening, having to admit to myself I was having some withdrawal after so much kid-time this summer – and fully realizing that my baby is in school, and things will never be the same. I miss you already.

There’s no question that you’re tired. There have been lots of meltdowns in the evenings this week, compared to over the summer. Some rebellious behaviours are intensifying as you test boundaries – and as fatigue makes rational decisions more elusive. We try to get you to bed earlier and earlier, but it seems you could always sleep more. I hope we’ll soon find the right groove for you to be rested.

Still, you are eager to go to school. You say, “All I do is sing songs and play and have snacks!” And there are lovely things in your classroom; when we asked you about your second day, you said with delight, “I discovered something that was new to me: a basket with a pegasus inside!” And you’ve made some friends and learned some names. You’re happy. I wish there were a way I could witness you in your new environment.

I wish it could always be this way. You are full to the brim of sheer you-ness. You are fierce. You mean business. You’re imperious, eloquent, wise. You possess a degree of empathy that’s unusual even in older children. You also have buckets of snuggly affection to spend on those you care about. Your dancing is of an earthy lyricism that must be seen to be believed. You love to look at yourself (especially when accessorizing) in the mirror; Daddy and I say nothing, because although we hope you won’t obsess about your appearance, we also know there will come a time when you look at yourself and don’t feel the pure pleasure you do today. You are beautiful in so many ways, and right now, you really know it.

Sometimes I involuntarily imagine the things that will bring you down from this place of innocent clarity. I want to cry when I think of the people and the pressures that will make you doubt yourself, or tell you you’re un-beautiful, or bring shame into your self-concept. The world, for all its progress, can still be a cruel place, especially to women and girls. I know you have to be challenged and hurt to grow strong – but I still cringe at the thought. I hope the confidence you have at this moment will survive to get you through the hard times.

Oh, my little girl. In less than two weeks, you’ll be four years old. I could not possibly describe how much, or how ferociously, or how tenderly I love you. Please just remember it’s true.

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Happy Second Birthday, Rainbow Baby

AB's second birthday

Dear Delicious Little Girl,

Two years ago yesterday, you came peacefully into the world, and immediately began howling. It was a day joyous beyond description for the people who love you.

Since then, we’ve learned a lot about you. Some things we learned right away:

  • You like to be snuggled – but not every second.
  • You are unafraid to use your voice to express yourself and your needs.
  • You have a strong set of pipes.
  • Your beautiful eyes can break hearts.

Other things it has been our privilege to watch developing:

  • You love music and dancing.
  • Your smile and your excitement are infectious.
  • You are really into books and stories.
  • You learn fast – when it comes to things you care about.
  • Your verbal skills are, quite literally, off the charts.
  • Your dramatic skills are also pretty stellar, especially the trembling pouty lip + tragic wilting combo.
  • You know exactly what you want (even if it’s the opposite of what you wanted three seconds ago), and you will furiously stand up for it.
  • You will try any new food that’s going – in fact, you insist upon it.
  • You are independent such that if we weren’t watching, you would just wander right off without us.
  • You are determined, and you really, really, really want to do it yourself.
  • You are very observant of people, and somehow, you already understand how to be compassionate.
  • You adore your big brother and want to do everything he does.
  • Your cheeks are so kissable, we can hardly stand it.
  • You give wonderful hugs.

There are many moments every day when I just marvel at the fact that we are the family who gets to take care of you.

Here is a little video to celebrate you. It includes many of the people who love you – but I wish it could show all of us who know the heartrending gratification of loving your adorable little self, and watching you grow. So fast.

Happy birthday, Sweetie. You’re the best.

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Celebrating One Year of Baby AB

Dear Baby AB,

It’s hard to believe it’s already, and only, been a year since you came on the scene in person.

The night I laboured with you, so many people could hardly wait to for you to arrive. There were people scattered across the city, the province, the continent, who were thrilled to hear about you, but none more than your family. Your big brother E was so excited, but the waiting was hard for him – we’d been trying to get things going all weekend. Auntie Em stayed with him that night, reassuring him and answering all his questions, while Daddy and I were helping you out into the world.

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Your first day of life: at the hospital with E, Auntie Em, Grammie and Papa.

Your healthy birth and your spirited presence were such a relief and such a joy – and a huge adjustment, too.

At twelve months of age, your personality is a force to be reckoned with, one that has changed and elevated all our lives. You’re like a shining rainbow balloon – apt to awe the world with your round, tranquil beauty one moment, and explode noisily the next.

People often comment on what a good-natured baby you are. You love people and engage with others readily, using your incredibly expressive (and deliciously kissable) face and hands to draw them in. No one could be hard-hearted upon hearing you laugh or seeing you play peekaboo.

Most people don’t witness you asserting your INALIENABLE RIGHT to have things EXACTLY AS YOU WANT THEM. That’s when you use your earsplitting shrieks, your most tragic expressions, your gymnastic writhing and arm-flailing. It’s quite a sight to witness. When you decide you’re being wronged, there is very little that will soothe you. And yet, your joy is palpable and contagious when things go your way.

So, at the first birthday mark, what matters to you? What takes you from agony to ecstasy and back?

Things you love:

  •  Your family: You love to nap in the crook of Daddy’s arm; seeing your brother in the mornings makes you wiggly and excited; you and I have wonderful snuggles; and you have so many doting grandparents and aunts and uncles you love to be with, too.
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Two peas in a pod.

  • Mama’s milk: there are still some situations that only nursing can soothe, and you’re very possessive of it. You clearly believe that my “milk jugs” are your territory.
  • Kisses: you have recently learned to give kisses. We who receive them are so charmed by your “mmmah” that we always exclaim, “Thank you!” It was pretty much the cutest thing ever in the universe when you started giving kisses and then saying “Thank you!” yourself.
  • Food: we’ve been encouraging you to try lots of things so you will have an easier time with food than your brother, and it seems to be working. You are happy eating practically everything we’ve given you so far, including curried lentils, quiche, lasagna, perogies, chili, tahini-mustard sauce, and most recently and voraciously, seaweed snacks. It’s awesome. (The other day at the park, along with your apple slices, you inadvertently also ate a wasp. That was NOT so awesome. Well, you didn’t actually eat it, but you certainly munched on it, in spite of my [apparently inadequate] vigilance – it was well dead when I scooped it from your mouth. Gah, heart attack for Mommy.)
  • Music and dancing: we put on the tunes and you hold onto the table edge or someone’s knee and bop up and down. IT. IS. ADORABLE. We try to do lots of dancing with you.
  • Cats: one of your first words was “GATTT!” They always make you smile. When you were still tiny and nursing all the time, and poor Nico would try to share my lap with you, you would just grab his ear and hold on. You are still learning to be gentle.
  • Bonobo: there’s a picture in our kitchen of a bonobo with its simian mouth wide open – a picture that used to fascinate your brother, too. You love to point to it during meals and say, “Bobo!” with your big eyes and your ooo-mouth.
  • Babies: whenever you see a baby’s face on anything, you get all grinny and pointy and say beebee a bunch of times. You immediately latched onto your brother’s baby doll the first time you saw it, and you lick her face whenever you get the chance.
  • The bath: you seem to love being in the water, especially now that you get to share the bathtub with your brother and his toys. There’s drama when we remove you.
  • Exploring: you are going to be a climber, I think. You would dive headfirst down the stairs if we let you. Although you haven’t started walking yet, you have experimented with no-hands standing and seem to find it exhilarating. Watch out, world.
  • Tickles: you get lots of these because hearing you laugh is fantastic. And now you’ve learned to say “Tico tico tico!”
  • Being a ham: it’s one of the funnest things about you. You love making silly faces, and putting your arms way up, or on your cheeks, for emphasis. Irresistible.
  • Stuff you’re not supposed to play with: cat food, toilet paper, pencils, markers, small/sharp things, squishy balls you can take chunks out of with your teeth. You’re all over that stuff.
  • Talking: you babble very expressively, especially when we read to you. And you’re learning new words so fast our minds are boggled (34 at last count). Yesterday you said something that sounded exactly like “It’s a ball!” (A sentence? Can that be real?? It’s a little freaky.) Also, I’m pretty sure you were speaking Parseltongue last evening when you were lulling yourself to sleep. I kind of expected snakes to emerge from the plumbing.

Things that elicit bloodcurdling screams:

  •  When I take your (my) milk away before you’re precisely, exactly ready.
  • Too many kisses: you love them, but you do have a limit and DON’T CROSS IT, people.
  • Diaper changes: wrestling! Flipping over! Unholy screeching! It’s impressive. And tiring.
  • Sitting in your eating chair when you’re not precisely, exactly in the mood.
  • Too much car time. We had a few dicey moments going to and from Cape Cod, but overall you were a trouper – especially considering that you used to scream through ANY car ride, particularly at stoplights.
  • Getting out of the bath, as mentioned above.
  • Having your face wiped. How dare we?
  • Not enough snuggling, or too much snuggling, or putting you down, or picking you up, before you’re precisely, exactly ready.

So… you’re not the easiest baby in the world. But you are wonderful.

And actually, I’m glad for your toughness. For one thing, it has kept us from romanticizing (too much) your status as our Rainbow baby, so wished-for and worried-over… You being so forthright and determined and loud means that we live firmly in reality. No danger of over-idealizing or coddling this kid – which wouldn’t do you any favours anyway.

I hope you keep this, too – this knowing what you want and don’t want, and making no bones about it. I’m glad you object when someone crosses your personal boundaries in a way you don’t like. (Though I hope you will learn a bit of diplomacy someday.) You go right ahead and be a tough kid, and a flinty kind of woman. We are all proud of you.

I love the time we spend together. I love watching you and your brother being silly and making each other laugh. I love watching you get absorbed by a book or toy (or some other random item) on your own: the way your dimply little fingers handle things, the studious way you examine them. I love the kisses and snuggles, and I even love (on some level) the screams and thrashing, because that’s you being YOU.

And you are sensational, little girl. We love you beyond all description. Go get ’em.

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Photo by Daddy, with love.

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A Post About Beauty

I started worrying about my children back when they were zygotes. With a daughter, I have worries that are completely different from those I have for my son.

Self-esteem and body image issues are some of my biggest concerns for her. She’s only seven weeks old, but already I find myself wondering how best to foster a positive self-image that will get her through the tough times… like puberty.

As I see it, we can talk as much as we want about how physical appearance doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but the fact remains: beauty – or at least our perception of it – IS important.

I want my daughter to feel and know she’s beautiful. Unfortunately, I think that’s one of the toughest achievements out there.

It might seem silly to care about physical appearance. After all, we’re all just a bunch of cells. We’re made up of un-pretty things like skeletons, eyeballs, and intestines. We see only the very surface. Furthermore, if we have naturally nice skin or lustrous hair or straight teeth, it’s accidental – not the result of any hard work or particular worthiness on our part. Still, somehow, appearances are a source of judgement.

I’ve known it since childhood. There’s that line in the Free to Be song, “When We Grow Up“, where the girl says, “I don’t care if I’m pretty at all.” I knew, even back then, that I should feel the same way, but I didn’t. I wanted to be pretty. And even before age 10, I worried that I wasn’t. I fretted about my crooked teeth and my stubby fingernails and my freckles and my flat chest. Then, by the time the braces were off and the breasts showed up and I quit biting my nails, I was already worrying about being too fat. (Looking back, I know I was in no way too fat.)

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Dilovely at age 20 or so…? A LONG time ago, anyway.

I thought a lot about looks when my university boyfriend entered medical school in my fourth year. I was taken aback when I visited him at school, because I quickly realized that basically 100% of his classmates were somewhere on a continuum between Quite Good-Looking and Downright Gorgeous. I remembered the process my boyfriend had gone through to get into med school – a rigorous series of essays, interviews, and references, not to mention the MCAT – and figured there had to be a correlation. Not that beautiful people are smarter, or more cosmically deserving of success, but that beauty facilitates confidence. Confidence is an undeniably large factor in success.

Doesn’t seem fair, but it’s true. Naturally, I want my daughter to have that confidence. I wish I could just install it in her psyche like software… but alas, instilling it is a much trickier process.

This video is a nice attempt to break through the self-esteem angst.

I like all the different, lovely faces, and I appreciate the positivity. Some of the advice is great (2, 7, and 10 are my favourites), but two of them really annoy me: “Control your perspective” and “Another word for sexy? Confident.” As if it’s that easy. If your perspective is getting you down, just fix it! And if you’re not sure you’re sexy enough – simply BE CONFIDENT. What have you been waiting for?

Sadly, it doesn’t work that way.

Why don’t more of us grow out of this dissatisfaction? Don’t we adults know better? Not always. I recently read a memorable blog post by a thirtysomething mom who had included a photo of herself that she hated.

The photo was neither pretty nor horrendous. There are other photos on the blog of this woman looking very appealing – but that’s not how she sees herself. I was impressed by the raw way she wrote about her appearance, how she considers herself ugly, and how often she feels inadequate because of it – in spite of a happy marriage, good family, friends, and readers.

I was touched by her post, because most of us can relate to feeling ugly sometimes – I definitely can… but it depends on the moment. I have times when I feel pretty, too, which makes it easier to get through the ugly times. How hard would it be to feel ugly every day? Because no matter how other people perceive us, it’s how we feel about ourselves that makes the difference.

A wise friend, in response to my post about my pesky wrinkles and grey hairs, sent a link to this wonderful piece by Amanda King, “I’ve started telling my daughters I’m beautiful.” It is full of love, pain, protectiveness, and amazing words. This lovely mom has nailed it: she’s beautiful to her daughters, and she doesn’t want to tell them they’re wrong. So she says it aloud – she is beautiful. She writes, “I see it behind their shining brown eyes, how glad they are that I believe I am beautiful.”

Oh. So true. I think of my sweet daughter and my heart squeezes.

I tried to imagine saying to her, “Aren’t I beautiful?” My mind balked at the idea, because, well – isn’t that conceited, somehow?

Wait – NO. It hit me. Society gives women a preposterous goal: work endlessly to attain beauty, but don’t acknowledge that you have it. We’re not supposed to be satisfied with ourselves. How perverse – and dumb. After all, I admire tremendously the people I know who seem most comfortable and happy in their own skin.

I also realized… my children are worth the effort of tossing that stupid goal in the toilet. If anything can convince me to own my beauty, it’s knowing that my children might need me to.

The clichés are true: beauty comes from within, and it’s also in the eye of the beholder. If my child sees me as beautiful, I am. My friends get more beautiful to me the more I know and love them. It’s not that I stop seeing “flaws”; it’s that inner and outer beauty are all wrapped up together.

We ARE beautiful.

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