Roots and Wings.

I was thinking long and hard about what to write about this week, and the only thought that came into my brain was back-to-school. I tend to write about the happenings of my life, and the return to September, and now October, routines have been at the forefront lately, as I’m sure they have been for many of you.

This year was a bit different for us, as it was the first year of “nothing new.” We didn’t move, or switch schools, or have my work schedule change. The logistics of our life look essentially the same as they did last school year, so we knew what to expect from a timing perspective. My son entered grade three, and my daughter started into Senior Kindergarten. In Ontario, the Kindergarten program is two years long, and starts the year that a child turns four years of age. Back in 2014, the Provincial government rolled out full-day Kindergarten to replace half-day and alternate-day programs, so my daughter began full-time school last year, at age four. It was rocky.

Not having been a daycare kid (my husband and I have managed to work opposite hours so that one of us could always be home with our kids), she did two years in a three-mornings-per-week Preschool, to get her prepared for Kindergarten and used to the idea of being away from home, and most notably, away from me. Her and I have a special bond and she’s a mama’s girl through and through. Last year, all year long, even into June, she would be teary at school dropoff. “Mom, I don’t want to go to school, I just want to be home with you.” Oh, how she broke my heart.

We tried everything- special necklaces, “kissing hands,” pictures from home, notes in her backpack, meetings with the teachers. We were always told that her days at school were happy and settled, and she was always all smiles at pickup time; but more often than not, she would cry at dropoff. I would pull myself away from the school gate each morning and stand out of sight, watching her cry and wipe the fog from her little glasses, and I would cry too. I would walk back home alone and feel like a monster for the better part of the morning. “How was your day, sweetheart?” I would ask at pickup, “Great!” She would exclaim, oblivious to the torment that she’d put her mother through yet again. The daily text thread to my husband read something like this:

Me: Tears again. I’m dying. This is THE WORST.

Him: She’s okay hon, she’ll get through it.

Me: Why are we doing this to her? She’s only four! Four year-olds should be with their mamas. It’s nature!!!

Him: Her days are good, it’s just the first few minutes. She’ll be okay.

Me: I am the worst mother. My HEART IS BREAKING.  Sob…..

Okay, so I have a touch of drama up my sleeve. But honestly, watching your child cry while knowing that you can’t help them, is quite possibly the world’s worst feeling. If you’ve never been through this with your children, you may not understand what I’m talking about, and you probably don’t think this is quite the big deal I’m making it out to be. But when you’re in it, let me tell you that it’s a very big deal. I’m a bit of an attachment-parent, kind of on the hippie side of the scale- my kids regularly sleep in our bed, I nursed them both into toddlerhood, and I was a regular baby-wearer, so this child-away-from-me stage of life does not feel natural or normal to me. We have very carefully constructed our life to have me closer to our kids. This school-aged-transition was as hard on me as it was on her.

Fast forward to this year, and I was expecting more of the same from her. Through the Summer she spoke about how she was going to miss me when she started school and flashbacks of dropoff haunted me. And we have had more than a few tears over the past few weeks, but I’m happy to report, we’re on a streak of six consecutive cry-free dropoffs. She’s grown and matured, she’s gained independence, she’s built confidence, and I can see a different kid when I send her into the playground in the mornings. She wants to be there. The reluctance to let go of my hand is lessening, the quivering lip is all but gone, and the vulnerability of her foggy glasses has disappeared. Maybe she’s ready. Maybe I’m ready. I’m not sure how it happened, but we’ve turned the page, and my baby grew up.

roots and wings

Little Girls and Big Cities

I am finding that raising a little girl is different than raising a little boy.  I am finding that raising kids in a city is different than raising kids in a small town.  And I am discovering both of these things fast and furiously as I venture into the realm of two school-aged children.

Let’s talk about the gender factor first.  My four-year-old daughter is now coming home from Junior Kindergarten using phrases like “best friend,” “she said she didn’t want to play with me,” and “hurt my feelings.”  These are all phrases that her brother, three years older, has never spoken.  She feels things deeply, she notices friendship nuances, she’s finding her way amongst her peers.

And the big-city versus small-town element, well, this is something that I’ve written about before.  I’m a small town girl, and I was raised in a town of 250 people until I was ten years old and we moved to a town of 2000 people.  Everyone knew everyone, for the good or the bad, so it seems unnatural to me to send my children into a classroom, knowing few other families, and having them talk about kids that I’ve never met.

Now, to be fair, we moved into this neighbourhood less than two years ago; we’re still finding our way and meeting people as we go.  But I suspect that this not-knowing-everyone is simply a side effect of city living, even though my kids attend a school of just 300 students, small by city standards.  So, while there are more and more familiar faces at pick-up and drop-off, and more and more hellos at the playground gate, the fact remains that I want to know my children’s friends and their families.

I was chatting about these things with a friend; this friend lives in a different neighbourhood and has children that are older than mine.  She’s been down this road before, and like the good friend she is, she sent her parenting wisdom down the motherhood pipeline: she suggested that I host a friend party for my daughter.  Now, why oh why, I hadn’t come up with this simple solution on my own accord is one of the reasons I often preach that “The World Needs More Girlfriends.”  Girlfriends help and support, and help and support she did.

A friend party it would be.

We printed off eleven invitations, one for each girl in her class, and asked her teacher to put them into the children’s backpacks.  “We’d like to get to know you,” the invites said, “please join us on Sunday afternoon.”  So, this past weekend I had six little girls running around my basement, laughing and playing and building their friendships.  And I had six families in my kitchen, meeting and talking and building their community.

This friend party was for her, but as it turned out, it was also for me.  You see, she’s nurturing relationships with girls that she’ll go to school with for the next decade and beyond (girls like this and this), and I’m nurturing relationships to build my small town within my big city.


Come with me.

The sweetest moment happened to me in the early hours of Sunday morning.  Two days later, it’s still making me smile, so I want to share it here with you.

I had my alarm set to wake me at 6:30am, wanting to get in a run before the rest of my household was up, so as not to miss precious weekend family time.  In my mind, I was planning for a fast 8km, much of it at tempo pace, as I’m doing a 5K race on Friday and haven’t tested much speed since my shortened half marathon four weeks ago.  I was looking forward to the glassy lake, music in my earbuds, and to feel the burn in my lungs.  This run had been scheduled into my online calendar many days prior, and as I often do before a run, I had visualized my route and mentally prepared for the welcomed discomfort that a hard effort brings.

My alarm beeped softly, and sunlight was already streaming into the bedroom, a nice change from the cold, dark Winter pre-dawn runs only a few months prior.  My four-year-old daughter was snuggled up against me; as I’ve mentioned before, since our move last September she’s taken to crawling into our bed halfway through the night- something I cherish and know won’t last forever.  As I snuck out from underneath her embrace, her sleepy eyes started to open.  “Where are you going?” she whispered.  “I’m going for a run,” I replied. “Go back to sleep, it’s too early to get up.”

Now, she often stirs when I head to the gym at 5:30am and a simple “go back to sleep” puts her right back into dreamland.  But this time, her eyes welled up and as she laid back down I could see her little mouth turning into a soft whimper.  She began to suck on her fingers for comfort, something she’s done since she was a newborn.  She was crying because I was leaving.  My heart broke.

“Do you want to come with me?” I asked. “Yes,” she nodded and pulled back the covers, her bedhead on full display and her little body still warm from slumber.  In less than five minutes we were out the door, with a Chariot full of breakfast snacks and a little girl in pyjamas.  It was a sunny Summer morning, and because we were so early, we got to enjoy quiet streets and sleepy houses, with bunnies and robins abound.

I changed my run plan from push-the-pace to savour-this-moment, and savour it I did.  We did that 8km along the lake, as I had originally planned (and we got the glassy lake that I love so much), but my heart rate stayed low and my heartstrings pulled high.  I stopped to open snack containers, to play at the park, and to point out the geese and the paddleboarders.  We talked about every thought that popped into her head, every bike that rode by, and every seemingly-mundane thing that fascinates a four-year-old.  It was quite possibly the best run I’ve ever had, and my runner’s high is still going.

Running with my kids is not new- there are thousands of miles on my running stroller I’m sure, and they are both very used to joining me.  But this time was different because our family is at such a time of transition.  You see, this smart, inquisitive little girl is heading to full-time Kindergarten in September, and I’m having a hard time with it (see my previous post on the topic).  She’s growing up and gaining independence, and the days of me pushing her in the running stroller, the days of her sobbing to join me on a run, and the days of her sleeping beside me are numbered.  I’m hyper-aware of this the second time around.

Have I mentioned that I’m an emotional sort?  Add in life changes, my children, running, and a glassy lake, and I’m done for.  But my tears were happy ones, they are happy ones; it’s just that sometimes the love and gratitude overwhelm me.

So if you saw a crying mother and a chatty little girl zipping along the lakefront on Sunday, that was us.  “Run fast Mommy,” she said.

I will, sweet girl.  Come with me.