As it turns out that like my mother before me, elephants make me cry.

How reading a book about elephants reminded me why it is so important for parents to read with their children.

Long ago:

When I was young, on Sunday nights at 6 p.m. on CBC (channel 5, cable 6 in Toronto), The Wonderful World of Disney would sometimes play a full-length movie, much to the delight of thousands of Canadian children. Escape from Witch Mountain, Herby The Love Bug, you know, well-loved Disney fare. Remember, this was before the days when every household had a VHS player and a video store rental membership, or even just cable. CBC was available to anyone with a t.v., rabbit ears and a working knob dial that turned to change channels.

It was on one of those Sunday evenings, that I remember seeing the animated full-feature movie, Dumbo for the first time. My mother watched it with me and (spoiler alert) when baby Dumbo went to see his mother in elephant jail and she pushed her trunk out between her cell bars to reach out to stroke and rock him gently, my mother lost it. I was shocked by her tears, and I remember laughing at her for being so silly. It was just a cartoon! I remember her starting to laugh too and she was still dabbing her eyes when she tried to explain to me that having a baby (me) had turned her into a weepy mess and just the idea of that poor baby elephant being separated from his mummy was just about the sadness thing ever and it just killed her every time she saw it. I listened without really understanding and eventually just shrugged and turned back to watch the rest of the film. But that moment stayed with me.

Present day:

My mornings start at 5:30a.m. I put my first small on the bus at 6:45 a.m. and my last on the bus at 8:40 a.m. Between the third and fourth departure, there is approximately 20 minutes. I have been using that time to read to small number four. We usually read a chapter from a book that is just for her (currently Mallory Towers by Enid Blyton), as the books we read at dinner time or bedtime are of interest to all four of them. This morning though we could not find her book in any of the usual places. So, rather than waste more our time looking, she (wisely and practically) suggested that we read her school library book about elephants. Great, we love elephants! Except that it was a book based on the true story of three female elephants (two born in the wild and one born in captivity) who were slowly dying at the Toronto Zoo and were (finally) allowed to go to a sanctuary in California in 2013. Remembering Dumbo, I understood my challenge almost at once.

I made it through the entire book, not a tear in sight. No lip-biting or quivering voice. Until the last sentence.

At the end of the story were a few pages about elephants, their statistics, needs, health and habits. The last few paragraphs were specifically about one of the elephants in the story who was relocated to California with her two friends. While she showed improvements at the sanctuary, it was, sadly, too late for her health to improve enough. She was 46 when she died (around mid-life) and that last bit, about how happy the author was that she (the elephant) was at least able to enjoy her last couple of years of captivity living comfortably, happily and closer to her natural environment broke me. I couldn’t make it through the sentence. Tears spilled over and my voice cracked. I had to stop reading. In that moment, I became my mother.

I did finally pull it together and finish the last seven or so words, and wiping my tears away looked at my girl and said “ah then, what a lovely story!” And while she looked a bit taken aback, she simply gave me a hug and nodded in agreement, putting the library book in her backpack to return to school.

I love that we have this precious time in the mornings together, a quiet moment without the chaos of our ‘real’ lives. I love that she loves animals, big and small, and that she actively seeks out opportunities to learn more about them. I love that she wants to include me in her learning. I love that rather than laughing at me (as I did to my mother), she sat quietly and cuddled in, understanding that it was genuine empathy and caring for that poor elephant and the tragedy of her life circumstances that was the cause of my tears and not merely silliness.

I have always read to my children and I have also always advocated for others to do the same. Aside from encouraging literacy (very important), it creates these precious moments of connection between a parent and child, whether that connection is based in empathy, humour or excitement stirred up by the story being read.

So,

If you like elephants, or you like crying in front of your children, or you like crying while reading about elephants to your bewildered children, here is a link to the book on Amazon.ca. The story itself is fine and the illustrations are lovely. It’s that last page you need to look out for.

How reading a book about elephants reminded me why it is so important for parents to read with their children.

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Parenting: I’ve learned that there are only degrees of failure. And that’s okay.

When I first became a mother, I was young. Not Loretta Lynn young, but young enough to still have a head full of delusions of grandeur and invincibility that only come with youth, or serious mental health issues or head injuries. At that time, it was my youth at play. Now, well, the jury is still out but the youth defence is out of the running. Since I wanted to be a mother SO badly, I just knew, no, really I KNEW that I would do everything right and that  my child would be totally amazing and surpass any of my wildest ambitions or aspirations for him.

20 days into this whole motherhood thing, and it's a piece of cake. Easy-peasy. He's a little squirmy, but nothing I can't handle. (March 1994)

20 days into this whole motherhood thing, and it’s a piece of cake. Easy-peasy. He’s a little squirmy, but nothing I can’t handle. (March 1994)

Seven days later. I'm still smiling, still too dumb to know what was coming my way. While he is very clearly starting to understand just what a newbie he's been stuck with and when the realization hits, it hit hard. Poor bub.

Seven days later. I’m still smiling, still too dumb to know what humbling lessons are in store for me. While he is very clearly starting to understand just what a newbie he’s been stuck with and when the realization hit, it hit hard. Poor bub.

I turned my nose up at ‘old ways’ of parenting. Let my baby cry? That’s barbaric! That’s abusive! Never! Force him to sleep in a crib, alone? Make him deal with it alone when he is very clearly sad, hungry, dreaming of monsters, gassy, teething, fussy, lonely, etc. Nope. That this better, smarter, mother. No. He was going to know that Mummy was there. That Mummy would protect him from *everything* bad, scary or painful and encourage and lead him towards everything healthy, good, smart and successful. No public school for my baby when it came time for kindergarten. He was too sensitive, gentle, clever, kind and the other kids would just ruin him. No way. Private school only. Single mother, constant university and college student, living in my mother’s basement, sending my child to private school, because he was THE BEST. There was no better boy or child anywhere. See? I told you, I was completely delusional.

Two months in and he knows. He already knows. I, however, wouldn't figure it out for around another twenty years or so.

Two months in and he knows. He already knows. I, however, wouldn’t figure it out for around another twenty years or so.

And then the years past and I got married, puberty hit (him) and I moved us from Scarborough to Keswick. All in the same year. And KABOOM! Toss in a new-found interest in girls and all the other treats that come with hormonal changes in adolescent boys, and it sank my battleship. Like, totally and completely torpedoed that fucker. Granted, I was fairly unprepared for how all of those changes would affect all of us, especially my relationship with my son and his with me but still the world fairly imploded. And it no longer mattered that I had sent him to private school for all of those years. Or that I had enrolled him in art lessons, music lessons, rep baseball, swimming, martial arts, skating, etc. It no longer mattered that I fed him a healthy diet of fresh foods, little-to-no refined sugar, no artificial sweeteners, colours, additives or preservatives. It no longer matter that I paid three-times more for natural, organic shampoo than regular drugstore shampoo for him or that I breast-fed him for over a year rather than formula fed him. None of it mattered or made a bit of difference. Life as I thought it would be was no more. Humbling lessons to learn indeed.

Fast forward again and he is now only weeks away from turning 22 years-old, older now than I was when I gave birth to him. He is not at university and about to finish his last year with his degree in hand, nor is he away at college, and either of these two scenarios is where I thought we would be today and what I single-mindedly determined the plan to be in the beginning. No, it is not where we have landed and he is making his own path through life now. Whether I agree or disagree with his choices, whether I think that he should just listen to me and do what I say because I just fucking know better than he (being twice his age and all), just does not matter. He is going to be the person, the man, the partner, the friend, the son he chooses to be and I honestly believe that is the way it was going to be no matter how I parented him.
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And now, with over two decades of parenting experience behind me and more decades of experience to come, I believe that is how it is with all children. We do our best. We make the best choices and decisions we can in the moment, with an eye to the future, with our hopes, dreams and ambitions for them in mind. We love them, we guide them, teach them, discipline them and care for them. We screw up, make mistakes, do or say things we regret, and we sometimes act in anger, even when we should know better. But at the end of the day, they will be grow into being the kind of people they are meant to be. Each and every one of them. Some will be doctors, lawyers, activists, or leaders. Others will be villains, lazy, shiftless, or deadbeats. And still others will be somewhere between the two extremes. Neither society superstars nor the dregs of society, but rather somewhere safely in the middle, you know, where most of us live. I mean, let’s face it, our world is not full of wonderful, motivated, helpful people, but rather it is a place with all types of people, good, neutral and bad and all of those people have parents. Just like we have and we now are. And we can no more take credit for our children who become doctors than we should carry the blame for the children who become villains. After all, can we reasonably blame or credit our parents for how we all turned out as adults or the choices we’ve made along the way? I know that I (sometimes regretfully) cannot.

Today, as an adult child, I honour the hard, sometimes (okay, most of the time) thankless job that my parents had raising me (and the job they still have parenting me, the over-grown baby that I am, although I try to thank them more now). Today, as a parent of an adult child, I love and cherish my grown child, not just for the child he was or the history we share, but for the man he is becoming. His life and future are in his hands and I am excited, interested, and terrified to see where his journey takes him. But I will always be here, in his corner, ready to offer him the benefit of my experience when he asks, guidance when he’s lost, and Tylenol when his head aches from the stress and pressure of ‘real life’ adulthood. ~Sigh. ????

 
 

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~A


You never realize how ignorant you are until you have kids

Sometimes I really wish I would have listened to and believed my parents when they told me (often) that no, I really did not yet have all of the answers. Right or wrong, I’ve always considered myself to be a fairly well-read, educated, informed and knowledgeable individual. That has changed. Now I have kids who talk and ask questions that make sense and think deeper thoughts than how to fit a spoon into their mouths sideways.

Case in point. Deacon and Mason were talking about Easter and chocolate bunnies and egg hunts and I interjected with “well, you know it’s actually a religious holiday and not about chocolate or bunnies at all, right?” That bit of trivia was met with skeptical stares and uncertain glances at one another. “Um, what does that mean?”

“Well, it’s a religious, um, certain religions observe Good Friday because, um, well yeah. Easter has to do with the resurrection of Jesus, and other important religious things. It’s religious. No bunnies.” (note to self: shut up, you sound like an idiot)
“Oh! Because the old people didn’t have bunnies or something?”
“What exactly is religion?”
Oh shit. This is why I shouldn’t be allowed to talk. Like ever. I always end up talking myself into situations that I really should be relying on a reference book or at least Google to get me out of but instead of deferring to one of those superior sources, I press on.

“No, honey. Because as society has changed, it has commercialized Easter into being about chocolate and egg hunts and bunnies, but in all actuality, we are supposed to be celebrating the resurrection of Christ. But I’m not sure of the whole story, because, well, I don’t remember it, and well, we’re not really religious, I guess.” (I would add that we are spiritual and do hold beliefs deeper than MTV but we have never actually adopted an organized way of expressing that spirituality or those beliefs)

“Oh. Well, they must have been sad not to get any Easter eggs and stuff.”

Then, I did something that it has taken me YEARS of parenting to do. I let the subject drop. First, because I did not want to ruin the Easter they know and love by beating them over the head about how commercial everything is these days and how we need to rise above that type of superficial existence (yes, I recognize that’s a bit heavy for an eight and ten-year-old) and second because I realized that I didn’t have a fast fuckin’ clue how to explain the meaning of Easter to them and that fact was a ginormous hit to my ‘big brain’ ego.

So now, I have homework. Self-imposed but not really. Because while I don’t feel like I need to pretend to have all the answers or know everything (anymore, don’t ask sixteen-year-old me how she feels about that!), I do feel very strongly that part of my job as a parent to these beautiful minions is to guide them, to help them discover what they believe in and why and to give them a sense of and reality of strong traditions that help root them, comfort them and give them strength when life or circumstances try to deplete their reserves. My homework is to make sure that I know and can explain why we are celebrating any given occasion and what it means to me, what it may mean to others (may or may not be the same thing), and find out what it means to my children. Opening up discussions, sharing ideas and thoughts, educating and discovering together, being mindful and purposeful in our traditions and consciously choosing to create and perpetuate those traditions. That is my homework.

This is one tradition that I bring from my childhood. Grandma's Crimple Top. It's like Apple Crisp or Crumble, but about eleventy-billion times more delicious.

But whatever else I discover while attending to my homework, this is one tradition that I bring forth from my childhood. My grandma’s Crimple Top. It’s like Apple Crisp or Crumble, but only about eleventy-billion times more delicious. And all of my kids, except for Paxton (who is a story unto himself) LOVE it!

And just because this weekend has been about family and family time, here is most of mine:

4 out of 5 captured today. Declan-san was working but one day soon I shall capture his image with his siblings once again. Heart = Happy

4 out of 5 captured today. Declan-san was working but one day soon I shall capture his image with his siblings once again. I love being a mom.
Heart = Happy

P.S. My proofreader/spell check only found one error in this post. I don’t trust that ratty old pecker but at the same time I want to believe that it is true and that no errors exist (big brain ego at work again) so in trusting the proofreader it necessarily follows that I must claim any and all spelling and grammatical errors as my own. It is only right. U no? 😳

P.P.S. I post a lot of nonsensical blithering on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It’s worth ‘Liking’ ‘Following’ or just checking out The Keswick Blog in those places as well. Because on too many days right now, micro-blogging is all that I can do. 😉

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