My Mini-Me

If I had to describe myself as a little kid, I would say that I was a scaredy-cat people-pleaser. I was shy and anxious, especially in new situations, but I desperately wanted others, especially adults, to like me and to think I was a “good” girl. Charlotte most definitely inherited my “people-pleaser” trait, which I suppose is fine for now, but I don’t really think of her as a scaredy-cat. She runs around on the playground without fear, makes new friends easily, tries new foods, has little to no separation anxiety, and is in general a pretty adaptable kid. The other day, though, that scaredy-cat trait rose to the surface, and I had the somewhat unnerving experience of interacting with myself at five years old.

We are two of a kind

We are two of a kind

A bit of a back story is needed here. We enrolled Charlotte in swimming when she was about four months old. We wanted her to learn how to swim so that she could have fun in the water without fear of drowning. She stayed in swimming lessons until she was over three years old, and then we took a little break from the lessons so that she could experience other activities like dance and soccer. We figured we had laid the foundation for her enjoyment of the water, and a little break wouldn’t hurt her. We figured she would pick up where she had left off when she returned to the pool. We were wrong.

Not afraid of the monkey bars

Not afraid of the monkey bars

Somehow, in the year or so that she did not attend any swimming lessons, Charlotte developed a fear of the water. She panics in water that is deeper than knee-high. She refused to go in the pool at her sports camp in early July because she was afraid. Upon learning this, Mark and I decided that she needed to be reintroduced to the water. We enrolled her in a week of swim camp. The weekend before swim camp started, we had the opportunity to go swimming at my aunt’s pool. At first, she was terrified and in tears. I calmly swam with her and helped her and coached her and by the end of the day, she was swimming to the deep end of the pool by herself (with her puddle-jumper on). She was definitely ready for swim camp.

No fear at the splash pad, since the water is only slightly more than ankle-deep

No fear at the splash pad, since the water is only slightly more than ankle-deep

And by all accounts, the first day went well. She reported having lots of fun in the water that day. She needed a bath, though, after all that sunscreen and chlorine, so Mark got her in the tub. And somehow, the topic of putting her head underwater came up…and all her fear returned. She was clearly terrified of putting her head underwater, for reasons she could not explain to us. And Mark felt that the best course of action here would be for her to practice doing so in the bathtub. As you may have guessed, this did not go well.

I could tell that she was positively torn between wanting to make us happy by doing it but being absolutely terrified and unable to do it at the same time. She would look at us with those big eyes and sincerely promise that this time, she was going to do it, and then completely chicken out. We tried everything. I was holding her in my arms so that she would feel safe. Didn’t work. Mark dunked his head under water to show her how easy it was. Didn’t work. We practiced breath-holding and nose-plugging. Didn’t work. She just could not do it, and I swear, I was in the same situation as a kid. I was afraid of the water, my dad wanted me to just go under, and even though I really wanted to do it, my fear wouldn’t let me. It was so bizarre seeing my daughter exhibit the exact behaviour I had exhibited at her age. And now I am on the other side of it- as an adult, I know how easy it is to do and how much fun it is to swim underwater, and I just want her to be able to do it. But I also recognize how crippling that fear can be.

Part of me wants to tell her to forget it, she doesn’t have to do it, and to just cuddle her in my arms so that she forgets her fear. And the other part of me wants to push her to get over her fear, so that she doesn’t base her life around her anxieties. I know how terrible it is to make life choices out of fear, and more than anything, I don’t want her to take that path. Sure, right now, it is just a refusal to put her head underwater, but eventually, it can become a refusal to leave an unhappy relationship in her early twenties because she is afraid of being alone or a refusal to change career paths because she is too afraid of the unknown.

I know it isn’t realistic to expect her never to be afraid. I just want her to learn to overcome her fears- to know that, yes, she can be scared, but that fear doesn’t have to control her. And the earlier she realizes this, the better. I am thirty-four, and STILL trying not to let fear control me. I don’t want that for Charlotte. And so, I am going to push her, gently and often, to put her head underwater. And I know that one of these days, she will do it. And she will see a world open up to her, where she can do somersaults and handstands and try to touch the bottom of the pool and jump off the diving board and HAVE FUN. I hope she can make the connection that all that fun opened up to her because she did something scary. I hope she learns that doing scary things can have a big pay off. I hope she realizes how strong and brave she really is. Truly, I hope she is not like me.

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Five

Charlotte, today you are five. I don’t know where the time has gone. It seemed like only a minute ago, you were a teeny little baby:

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and now here you are:

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My beautiful girl. You are so much more than simply beautiful, though. If I had to pick one word to describe you today, it would be sweet. You positively ooze kindness and love. You give me more kisses every day than I could possibly count. Sometimes, you get up from the dinner table because you just have to give Penelope hugs and kisses, and you say, “Oooh, I just love you so much, sisty! I just can’t stop loving you!!” And it makes my heart melt every time. You are just the best big sister ever. You are so patient and gentle with your little sister- you have never once shown any resentment towards your sibling who requires so much attention; attention that is diverted from you. Somehow, at your young age, you understand and accept Penelope’s needs effortlessly. You have taught me a lot about the power of unconditional love.

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There is more to you than sweetness, though. You are my multi-faceted girl. You love dresses and T-ball, and combine the two with ease:

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You are smart and creative. You have been teaching me all about how the caterpillar makes a chrysallis and emerges as a butterfly. You recently drew this lovely picture…of me in the shower:

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You are independent and determined:

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It wasn’t long ago that you had to be rescued from this bouncy castle because you couldn’t maneuver your way through it, and now you can do it with ease.

You love flowers and enjoy examining all the insects and worms you come across in the garden:

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You are, quite simply, Charlotte. I am so lucky to have you as my daughter. I love you more than I could ever possibly express. Happy birthday, my darling.

Love, Mommy

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One Year

My sweet baby girl turns one today. I just can’t believe it. It has been quite the year. Somehow, it has been the longest year ever to pass by in the blink of an eye. Whenever there is an anniversary like this, I always think back to where I was and what I was doing the previous year, and if I am where I thought I would be in a year.

A year ago, I was in the recovery room after Penelope’s delivery, doing lots of skin-to-skin time with my tiny little newborn. I wish I could say that I was basking in the happy afterglow that comes after a birth, but my happiness was tinged with worry. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. I was, however, completely in love with my baby. She was sweet and cuddly right from the beginning.

Newborn Penelope

Newborn Penelope

When she was born, I thought about what her first birthday would be like. I imagined that I would be back at work, and would have to fit her birthday party in around my work schedule. I pictured making her birthday cake and how we would take photos of her eating it and making a huge mess. I wondered if she would be walking yet, and what words she would be saying. How would she and Charlotte be getting along? I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I was dreading our house being under siege by a toddler again- that oh-so-exhausting period when these little ones are moving around; crawling, cruising, climbing, toddling, and getting into everything; not knowing that virtually everything they want to do would kill them without interference from someone older and wiser.

And now here we are, a year later. I have extended my maternity leave and so am not back at work yet. Charlotte and I will make her a cake, though she won’t be able to eat it (it brings tears to my eyes to type that sentence). She’s not walking; she’s actually not yet sitting up on her own, and she isn’t talking at all yet either.

What is even better than I had imagined, though, is Charlotte and Penelope’s relationship. Penelope absolutely adores her big sister; everything Charlotte does is fascinating to her, and Charlotte can always bring a smile to her face. And Charlotte is wonderful with her baby sister- she is always hugging her and kissing her, and she does so gently and lovingly. When Penelope had the NG tube, Charlotte would always help me as I retaped the tube- she would distract Penelope by singing to her and stroking her head to keep her calm. Despite all the time Charlotte gets left at home when we take Penelope to her various appointments, she is never jealous or resentful. This loving sisterly relationship has gone well beyond my wildest dreams of how the two would bond.

 

Sisters!

Sisters!

Penelope herself is a wonderful baby. She has a bright smile that lights up the room. She loves to cuddle and to be held. She likes playing with soft, crinkly books and biting on anything plastic. Actually, it doesn’t have to be plastic- those chompers have taken bites out of my finger on more than one occasion. She is, surprisingly, quite self-regulating. Nursing her was a nightmare those first seven months, but it was because she was smart enough to limit her feeds to volumes that she could handle without choking. When she does something out of the ordinary, it is money in the bank to bet that something is going on- teething, virus, whatever. She is a creature of routine. She now sleeps through the night, which is just so amazing. I love her so much and wouldn’t trade her for anything.

 

Mommy and Penelope selfie!

Mommy and Penelope selfie!

So, yes, things are not at all how I thought they would be. This past year has been fraught with heartache and challenges. But there has also been a lot of joy- like the first time Penelope smiled or the first time she rolled over- and a lot of love.

And on this day, I am thinking ahead to next year, Penelope’s 2nd birthday. Will she be walking and talking by then? What difficulties lie ahead of us this year? I don’t know. No one knows. But there is one thing I know for sure; no matter what Penelope is doing, no matter what milestones she has met or missed, no matter what her capabilities are, she will be very, very loved, by a lot of people, just like she is this year. And that is more than reason enough to celebrate.

 

The happy birthday girl!

The happy birthday girl!

The Shoulds

Beep. Beep. Beep. Penelope’s feeding pump alerts me to the fact that her feed is done. It is just before 9pm. I turn on the hall light and slip into her room and turn off the pump. As I disconnect her and flush her tube, I gaze upon her peaceful, sleeping face, and I’m struck by the thought, How did we get here? I don’t want this. The sadness hits me, and it’s so powerful that I can barely breathe. I shouldn’t be cleaning out enteral feeding equipment, I should be cleaning out bottles and plastic baby dishes, stained with vegetable puree. I shouldn’t be adjusting feeding rates and volumes to find an intake that she can tolerate, I should be experimenting with different flavours and textures of baby food to discover her likes and dislikes. And while Penelope is taking some puree and rice cereal, she’s recently had a bit of a setback in that area, and she gets most of her calories from the feeding tube.

I shouldn’t be taking her to doctor’s appointments all over the city every week, I should be taking her to Mom and Tot swim classes and sing-alongs. I should be baby-proofing the house, moving all small and delicate items out of the reach of a baby who is starting to crawl and get into everything she can. Instead, I am doing exercises prescribed by an occupational therapist, hoping that today will be the day that she will roll over for the first time. I shouldn’t be covering her hands with socks to prevent her from pulling out her NG tube, I should be putting toys in her hand and watching her explore and discover the world.

As these thoughts fill my head, I can feel that familiar lump in my throat, and the tears that threaten to fall once again, and I think, Enough. I cannot keep dwelling on the shoulds. I need to be happy and accepting of what our life is- that is what Penelope needs, and it is what I need, too.

And so, I’m going to think about the way her face lights up with a smile when I walk into her room in the morning. I’m going to listen to her cooing happily, and revel in that beautiful sound. I’m going to watch her as she stares at her big sister, completely enthralled with everything Charlotte does, and I’m going to enjoy seeing the strong sisterly bond that is already forming.

 

Penelope is completely fascinated by Charlotte

Penelope is completely fascinated by Charlotte

I’m going to cuddle her, and sigh with pleasure at the way she just curls into me, much like a newborn baby does. I’m going to cover her with kisses and tickle her toes and sing to her and play Pat-a-Cake and I will watch the happiness the fills her eyes as I do so. I’m going to enjoy her and love her for who she is: a wonderful, beautiful, sweet, bright baby. And I’m going to stop thinking about the shoulds.

Beautiful, happy baby

Beautiful, happy baby

Well, I’m going to try. Let’s face it, I’m not perfect, and I know there will be days when the shoulds start to creep in. But I’m going to be a lot more vigilant at pushing them out.