I Run With Scissors

When I was a young child, I got ahold of a pair of scissors and teased my mom by flashing them before her and promptly running away. I left her with a very dangerous conundrum: chase me and risk me falling on those scissors, or ignore me and risk exactly the same fate! Not a very pleasant decision to be left with. I can’t say that the rest of my childhood and teen years left my parents in a much easier position, because I had the dangerous combination of intellect, determination and a predilection to all things naughty. That’s not to say that my parents weren’t and aren’t proud of me, or that I wasn’t balanced by ethics and a conscience, but I have heard time and time again that I was not the easiest of children to rear. Now that I can look back with some perspective, I can see why they were right. However, I can also see that with maturity and life experience, that boldness is partly what makes me the resilient woman I am.

Now in my early thirties, my propensity for risk has been moderated by common sense and a measure of wisdom, discretion and patience. I now have a passionate and clever child of my own to care for, admire and contend with. I have a strong focus on setting and achieving important goals around career, education and other personal interests. Personal relationships are important to me so I try to be careful to preserve or enhance them. As an adult, I recognize how my choices colour my own life and its progression, and therefore my decisions have a more evident impact on me than they did when I was a 3-year old with a thirst for making my mother sweat.

Still, I sometimes run with scissors. After all these years, my motivation for doing so is not to make anyone fret, but rather to push the limits of life and see if somehow I have improved a circumstance or come away with a meaningful experience. I firmly believe that life is not really lived if there is no risk involved, and correspondingly we cannot grow if we don’t stretch ourselves sometimes. I don’t believe that people achieve great professional success without some risk; applying for a job we aren’t qualified for or confidently networking with an intimidating professional powerhouse. I think that, too often, we miss out on incredible encounters because we are fearful of outcomes we can’t possibly predict. Then, we spend a good portion of our lives wondering what might have been. And in the end, whether we take the risk or not, we still can’t predict the outcome of the status quo situation.

{Let me stop for a minute to make a clarification. I am in no way encouraging purposeful and premeditated risks directly involving someone else’s life. Though our personal choices inevitably affect others, I am merely deliberating the idea that often, with great risk comes great reward. And having been on the receiving end of pain as a result of others’ choices, I can furthermore conclude that I am a stronger person as a result of those situations. Moreover, I am not trying to indicate that I bear distaste for stability or consistency in life.}

I was reminded yet again this week that we never know when we may have lived our last day. People die in disastrous, unexpected circumstances every day, and scores of others die during their daily commute (excuse the melancholic moment, but it’s the truth). Living according to this philosophy may encourage us to take more risks, and also treat differently our relationships with others. I personally try to build straightforward, fruitful relationships in all facets of life, treating people well and striving to perhaps enhance their lives somehow. Ultimately, I really never know when they might move on. So, it is in the relational matters of life where I tend to take the greatest risks; putting my heart on the line, speaking my truth, going against the grain.

The principle of risk-taking can be applied to nearly everything in life, from career decisions to romantic forays, financial investments to extreme sports. We each have unique risk tolerances in each part of our lives. I would argue, nonetheless, that we don’t gain anything by sitting on our hands and thinking about what we could have done, accomplished or experienced. That’s not to say that decisions involving risk are easy to make, but I have begun to realize that my gut feelings are usually right and over-analysis only complicates matters. That same over-analysis which might strike fear into my heart would also inhibit me from having an amazing and life-altering experience or an opportunity to learn something profound and empowering. Sometimes we must seize an opportunity, however scary, in order to benefit from inexplicable growth or joy. And while our fears may become reality and we might get genuinely hurt, I would challenge that those occasions offer us invaluable life lessons and opportunities for self-reflection. The alternative to healthy risk-taking is that we in fact risk much more: the slipping of time like sand through our fingertips, without having experienced it fully.

“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.” ~William Shakespeare – The Tragedy of Julius Caesar

Love Lessons from a Toddler

Having a toddler is a joy, most of the time. At 21 months old, Elijah amazes me with his intelligence, imagination, and aptitude for learning. He has a wonderful sense of humour and can make me really laugh. He is caring and affectionate, and when he asks for me by name, the sound of ‘mama’ consistently melts my heart. He is talented, too. He can throw a ball like a 10-year old and I’m grooming him for major league baseball (he takes after his mother). Perhaps he’ll be a world-class drummer too. Oh, and a comedian. He’s already a charmer; with those beautiful blue eyes and big dimples, he can flirt with a pretty girl like nobody’s business (yes, we’re going to have our hands full).

For all his positive attributes, I am so blessed. And I’m also blessed by his more difficult personality traits, because they are teaching me patience, perseverance, tolerance, and control. I am sure that he is also preparing me for other difficult situations and relationships in my life, and I am doing the same for him. But darn, sometimes he is a very stubborn, difficult and frustrating little guy! This past week, he has been testing my patience, without a doubt.

Elijah wakes up around 5:15; sometimes earlier, sometimes a tad later. He still has occasional nights where illness or teething wakes him at even more unfortunate times. Though I can manage getting up early, I do love sleep, so the transition to consistently early mornings has not been an easy part of motherhood for me. At times I have felt almost resentful, but I quickly remember my place, and that the trade I have made has been more than worthwhile.

The last week, Elijah hasn’t quite been himself. He had a cold which turned into a minor ear infection that is just now clearing up on its own. I couldn’t figure out why he was so ill-tempered, but now that he’s back to his cheerful self, I know it was just because he wasn’t feeling well. For a couple of days there, I was afraid we were entering an unpleasant phase. Though he is saying many new words and even stringing together short phrases, he can’t yet explain when something is wrong.

All children cry of course; it’s a natural part of development, and hopefully a normal, respectable part of adulthood too. Nevertheless, it hurts to see Elijah’s eyes well up with tears when he is really upset or hurt. On the other hand, he has his “I want what I want and I want it now” cry. When he cries for something he really wants but can’t have, he screams in a way that hurts my ears and conjures instant and extreme irritation in me. This doesn’t happen very often but as he has gotten more mobile, able to reach higher places and has gained a greater understanding of his limited world and all the things he could potentially have, his determination has also grown stronger. We are navigating the difficult period when he sees all his options, but does not yet understand why he cannot always have his way.

During the week, I drop Elijah off at daycare at 7:30. I send breakfast with him and he eats it there. I often pack a breakfast pita accompanied by fresh fruit or a homemade smoothie. Sometimes, he is hungry enough that he eats some or all of his pita in the car. Late last week, I decided to send hot oat bran with cinnamon, dried figs, coconut oil and honey. I knew he’d love it, and I often feel I should mix up the breakfast offering at least a couple days out of the week.

We got into the car, and within a couple of minutes of pulling away, Elijah began asking me for bread, which is what he calls his pita. “I don’t have any bread for you today”, I told him. “Bread!” he asked louder, emphatically using sign language to say ‘please’, hoping that being polite would deliver his request. “I’m sorry, Elijah, Mommy didn’t pack bread today”, I replied. I had packed some cheerios for the ride, anticipating he might get hungry. I reached into the back seat and put a handful into the cup holder of his child seat. This was utterly unacceptable to him, and the screaming began. He became red faced, closed his fists tightly, kicked his feet…..and the cheerios started flying. I tried over and over to calmly explain to him that I had chosen a very tasty breakfast for him today, but it wasn’t possible for him to eat it in the car as it required mixing with milk and heating. Unfortunately, he couldn’t hear me because he was shrieking at me. And as hopeful as I was, he realistically couldn’t understand the rationale I was trying to relay to him. I decided to just ignore him. The more he screamed, the angrier I started to feel. It took every fibre of self-control I have not to yell at him. Then, it took every fibre of self-control I have not to cry. I felt in that moment like the ‘little mama that couldn’t’. Why is my child screaming like this? Why can’t he understand that I don’t have bread, and cheerios will have to do? I didn’t want to teach him to react to a difficult situation by yelling; I didn’t want him to remember his mother’s loss of control; and I knew that yelling at him would only escalate the situation.

Suddenly, he stopped crying for a moment and said “Go-Go”. “Go-Go” is Elijah’s name for Gordon – one of the trains from the Thomas & Friends series. Gordon is Elijah’s most recent favourite in his expanding collection of engines. I looked around, and there was Gordon on the seat beside him. “Is that what you want?” I asked. “Gordon?” I stopped the car on the side of the road, got out, and gave him Go-Go. A smile crept onto his face; he giggled to himself, looked at me thankfully, and was again in good spirits. After a couple of minutes, he called me. I turned to look and he was offering Gordon back to me, kind of like a gift of apology for his recent outburst. I took the train and put him on the dashboard. Elijah enjoyed this immensely, and Gordon kept that place the remainder of the day. Somehow, that wooden train with the smiling face reminded me to keep calm and remember that Elijah is effectively still a baby, and it is my job to teach him how to behave. My example is the greatest lesson I can provide, and by using my self-control to stay calm, I showed him that even in the face of a difficult situation, there are appropriate ways to react. It’s a very good thing he didn’t know what was actually happening inside of me.

Throughout the day, I reflected on the events of our drive and how frustrated I felt. I began to feel irritated with myself for being so hard on Elijah, considering that he is going to be 2 years old the day I turn 32. I have had the benefit (or in some cases, the disadvantage) of 30 extra years of experience. It reminds me of my childhood and being told that, as the older sister, I should know better. He needs to test his boundaries; it’s part of normal child development. So, I decided that as I have regrets about some of my parenting choices, I will try not to dwell on them, but rather learn from the experiences. Hopefully I can pass that same message on to Elijah.

That evening, when I returned home, I was enthusiastically and joyfully greeted, and I felt relieved and content. Elijah ran over to me and planted a kiss on the end of my nose. I’m sure he had no idea how mature, meaningful and utterly needed that perfectly planted peck was, but I realized something important in that moment. In his 21 months of life, he has already learned two of life’s most important principles: he understands that he is unconditionally loved, and he unquestionably knows how to show love to others. This greatly pleased me and motivated me to keep trying my best as a mother, while remembering that just as I don’t expect him to be perfect, neither can I expect perfection of myself. And even when I miss the mark, he will love me just the same.