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Big feelings

30 Jan

Today is Jade’s birthday. She’s 11 years old. Can I just take a moment to feel somewhat flabbergasted that I have an 11-year-old?

… (Seriously. How can I be old enough to have an 11-year-old? It’s amazing. And also awesome.)

Jade had a sleepover party on Friday, but this post isn’t really about Jade’s birthday, although it started with Jade’s birthday presents this morning. Halia thoughtfully got up early and wrapped a present for Jade; she improvised wrapping paper by using a colourful napkin because she didn’t want to wake me to ask for gift wrap. (Greatly appreciated by me!) Halia was almost as excited as Jade was about seeing what the presents were.

Jade’s last present was a heavy box from Michael, which turned out to be a giant box of dog biscuits. The biscuits were a stand-in for the real gift: Michael plans to take Jade dogsledding. Jade was excited at the prospect and Halia immediately asked, “Can I come, too?!”

Michael said he’d have to see, maybe, but probably not. (Generally, two people can take one dogsled, one in the sled and one behind, so with Michael and Jade, the sled would be at capacity.)

Let me just say that this is not a post about solving the problem of how to give Halia what she wants. I can already feel some of you wanting to give suggestions on how to resolve the situation, because I know you already foresee Halia’s reaction: envy and disappointment.

Jade carried on with opening a birthday card and Halia sat sedately (not like her usual self at all!), blinking a litte faster than usual. I could see she was wrestling with her feelings, so I held her and let her try to sort herself out.

As we moved on to start getting breakfast ready, Halia went and sat in an armchair in the living room, facing away from everyone. Michael asked her what was up, and she burst into tears, wailing that she wouldn’t get to go dogsledding.

It’s a tough reality that our feelings can be inconvenient to others. Small children don’t face any dilemma because they let their feelings be known as soon as they feel them, but Halia has reached the age where she knows that her feelings can conflict with other people’s feelings. I was very proud of her at that moment because I had seen how hard she had tried to be brave in the face of disappointment. She knew that being upset was “inappropriate” and that her disappointment could be upsetting to Michael and Jade. She had done her best to rein in her big feelings and keep them to herself.

So I held her a while and let her ride that out. I told her about a time I remembered feeling envy and disappointment and how difficult that was. I told her I saw how brave she had been.

Later on, after breakfast, I was able to talk to both Jade and Halia about naming our feelings and recognizing them, about honouring and understanding them. Mindfulness meditation teaches us to observe our feelings without judgment, without rushing to “fix” them or make them go away.

When I was a young child, I remember overhearing my mother telling a friend, “Fawn never cries!” (I was a pretty tough little kid. I could fall down and skin my knees and get up and keep going with seeming indifference.) I recognized the pride in her voice and I treasured it. Well into my early 20s, I rarely let anyone see me cry. If I had big feelings of sadness or disappointment, I’d wait until I was in bed or in the shower to sob out my heartache. Journalling was my way of talking through my feelings, but outwardly, I was staunchly stoic.

I don’t mean to imply that this one statement by my mom caused me to hide my feelings for years. It’s just a memory that crystallizes what most of us have been taught to do: to not make other people uncomfortable with our feelings, to not show weakness, and to deny, even to ourselves, the difficult things we feel.

This past year, I’ve been working hard on letting myself experience my emotions fully, without running from them, covering them up, denying them… or wallowing in them, either. It has been a powerful experience. This morning, while talking to the girls about it, I had the insight that my inclination to cover up my feelings contributed to some very unhealthy habits in my marriage. Sometimes I was afraid that my feelings would cause conflicts, which I wanted to avoid. Sometimes, I was afraid of the feelings themselves, because they implied big changes that I didn’t want to face. But how could we, as a couple, deal with conflicts that were never named? How could I, as an individual, deal with a conflict I refused to acknowledge to myself?

For Halia today, simply being seen and understood was enough. I didn’t have to try to convince her that her feelings weren’t okay. I didn’t have to be angry with her for reacting in an inconvenient way. I didn’t have to solve the “problem” by promising that I would take her dogsledding. I helped her to name her feelings and I let her know I was proud of her for her bravery. I let her know that I wanted to listen. I acknowledged the conflict between what she was feeling and what she knew she was “supposed” to feel. And just feeling seen and understood was enough. By the time I left for work, she was back to her usual self.

I hope that these “small” moments will let Halia and Jade (whose gentle spirit also gives her the instinct to hide her feelings) figure out healthy ways to acknowledge and understand their emotions. There are more big feelings on the horizon, with tweendom coming in full force. I hope that they can learn to feel compassion not just for others (important as that is!) but for themselves, as well.

I know firsthand how important it is. And how challenging it can be.



A mouse named Mi

25 Sep

Once upon a time, Halia had a mouse named Mi. Halia forms very strong attachments with certain critters, and Mi was a constant companion. He had a little keychain clip on him and usually she kept him clipped to her backpack so he went to school with her pretty much everyday. She’d detach him and play with him around the house, too, and he even went to birthday parties. mi-the-white-rat(Here he is at a birthday party photo booth.)

And one day, sometime in early spring this year, he was gone.

We didn’t think that much of it at first because we figured he’d turn up. Mi is a small mouse and easily lost. Halia’s room was not exactly tidy most of the time.

But he didn’t turn up, and still he didn’t turn up. There were many, many nights when Halia would cry for him. We thought it might ease up with time, but instead it intensified.

Let’s face it, this is not an easy time for the girls. No matter how gentle we are trying to be, the separation and imminent move to a new house are big, emotional changes for everyone in the family.

She did report one day that someone else at school had a mouse just like Mi clipped to her backpack. I told her to ask that other girl where she had got it. Halia reported back that it had been a gift from a friend. (“Well, if there’s another one around, it must be possible to find a replacement,” I thought.)

I tried looking online for a new Mi, but I didn’t know what brand he was. My searches for “white mouse toy”, “white rat keychain”, “small plush mouse”, and every combination I could think of yielded no results that looked like Mi.

Halia couldn’t remember where we had procured Mi; she thought maybe the Vancouver airport or possibly the Ottawa airport. She was pretty sure it was an airport. (But she’s been in a lot of airports.) (“White mouse airport” yielded no better results.)

I realized that the nightly tears were probably mostly a channel for Halia’s tough emotions around our changing family, but it was heartbreaking and persistent. Finally, I decided to ask the school secretary to put me in touch with the older girl’s family so I could find out who had given the gift so I could get in touch with that family to find out where the mouse had been purchased so I could find a replacement.

I talked to the secretary this past Friday, feeling utterly ridiculous. She passed the message along to the vice principal of the school and he called me to assure me that he would put some time into investigating and had already talked to the student’s teacher. I felt even more ridiculous, taking up precious administrative time on a quest for a mouse. He assured me that these are the things we do for our children’s well-being. He promised he would follow up with me on Monday.

But Halia came home from school on Friday and shouted for me as soon as she came in the door.

“Guess what?!”

“What?” I asked, mystified.

And she held up a scruffy white mouse.

The student with Mi had sought out Halia after school and given him to her. And I swear to you that Halia was over the moon and happier than I’ve seen her in many, many months.

image1.JPGNow I could finally look up the brand: Schaffer. A search for “Schaffer white mouse” immediated turned up results. Not only that, but he’s a “Rudolph Schaffer Mi Mouse” and sold mainly in Europe. So it seems Mi was named before we even brought him home and he must have come from the Frankfurt airport. Which means the Mi the other student had been carrying around truly was Halia’s all along.

Such a small thing, but it really feels like a cloud has been lifted. Mi is home and Halia has gone right back to carrying him everywhere with her. I know it won’t last forever, but for now, she has exactly what she needs.


Halia the Brave

14 Oct


This morning, Halia shouted out at the breakfast table in great excitement, “Mama, it’s loose!!!” In the way of small children, Halia has been waiting impatiently for her first loose tooth, feeling as though she is behind everyone else.

Yesterday we noticed she has an adult central incisor already coming up behind the baby tooth, but didn’t notice the baby tooth being particularly loose. But this morning, it was moveable.

By the time Halia got off the bus after school, the tooth was positively precarious and Halia spent a lot of time crying as she ate her afternoon snack and kept accidentally bumping it. Finally, while I was cooking supper, I had a closer look and realized it was barely hanging on.

“Halia, do you want me to just pull it out for you?” I was surprised when she nodded a tearful yes.  (Jade has adamantly refused to let us touch her loose teeth.) “It will hurt for a moment,” I said.

“I know,” she said. “I want you to pull it out.”

I decided the best method, rather than using my fingers, would be to do the old string-attached-to-the-door trick. We got a long length of floss and it took me three tries to get a good knot around the wibbly-wobbly thing. Then I got Halia to stand right by the door and tied it onto the knob.

“Okay,” I said, “now stand back a bit so we can slam the door.” She stepped back. Further than planned. And the tooth was suddenly hanging on the end of the line, swinging from the doorknob. Halia and I looked at each other in surprise and she burst out laughing.

I’d tied such a good knot to the tooth that it took me a minute to extricate it. Halia gleefully took the prize into her eager hands and ran off to show her sister.

As you can see, she’s pretty proud of losing her first tooth.



These girls in a nutshell

3 Mar

I couldn’t have made this better if I’d written the script.

Autumn leaves

5 Oct

This is the very essence of a perfect autumn day.

Halia’s heartbreak

19 Apr

Several months ago, my kids started borrowing stuffies from their friend A down the street. I don’t really know how or why it started, but first Jade had “Poofy” the puppy for a couple of weeks, and then he went home. Then other critters would come for short visits. I tried to keep track of which toys belonged to A, although sometimes they came home with things that A said they could keep (yeah, like they needed more toys) and I stopped keeping track.

Except when it came to Chippy.

Not Chippy

When Jade brought Chippy home, Halia claimed “her” for herself. Chippy became her bedtime companion. She played with Chippy in the morning and showed her off to visitors. She took Chippy places, against my better judgement. Some nights, we couldn’t find Chippy, and Halia would cry a little. I’d give her another stuffie and promised we’d look for her in the morning. We’d find Chippy, in the bathroom, or under the dining table, or on the couch. And all was well.

I warned Halia that Chippy belonged to A, and that someday Chippy would have to go home.  Chippy’s stay was granted a couple of extensions, since A truly is quite a generous girl.

But finally the day came when Chippy had to go home. I braced myself for the inevitable heartbreak.

It didn’t come.

Astonished, but happy at my daughter’s resilience, life carried on. For a week or so.

Cute, but also not Chippy

At that point, Chippy came back. Halia and Jade had gone to play at A’s house, and Chippy came home with them. Halia resumed sleeping with Chippy every night. At bedtime, I had to tuck them in just so, with Chippy’s head out of the covers. I had to give them each a hug and a kiss.

When Halia and Jade headed back over to A’s house to play on Tuesday afternoon, Halia had Chippy tucked under her arm.

“Are you sure you want to take Chippy back?” I asked her. She insisted, saying that she’d bring Chippy back home again at suppertime. But, of course, Chippy is still A’s stuffie, so Halia came home with her hands empty.

She was fine that night, and last night, too, but tonight she had a full-on breakdown. She was very clearly heartbroken, with tears pouring down her cheeks, and sobbing between words. I tried to remind her that Chippy was not her toy to keep.

“But I really, really want her,” she cried. “I miss her so much! Please, please, can you go get her?”

She was so sad, she asked me to stay in her room with her while she fell asleep.

I haven’t seen her at quite this level of sad before. Yes, at age three, plenty of things can be overdramatic. But today, she was sincerely heartbroken. It’s a little thing. But really, not at all a little thing for her. And I’m just a bit heartbroken for her, myself.

Pretty close, but definitely not Chippy

Walking together

17 Apr

Jade and Halia are walking to their friend’s house (5 doors down) to play. I suggest they hold hands and tell them to stay by the side of the road when they walk.

Jade: “Yes, we will.”

Halia (to Jade, after the door is closed behind them): “You will hold my hand, so the cars don’t get me and make me dead.”

I can see them walking over, jumping over the cracks together, one dark sweater, one bright pink shirt. And life is beautiful.