Ode to Our Children
by Paula Toledo
My youngest looks out the window and screams, “Snow! Mom! Mother Nature is bullying us!”
As much as I despise winter and the social isolation that comes with it, there is one good thing that I have grown to lean on - the impulse to turn inward and think about things. And in my case ink about things.
Deep dives into writing, projects, reading, listening to podcasts and discovering have been the ice-cold silver living to these days. I have always found winter feeds of inspiration to create bountiful blooms come spring. There is a certain comfort in the committed, yet unpredictable transition into a new season.
On the subject of nature and life, “Bird by Bird”, Anne Lamott’s book on writing, has found its way onto my nightstand. Books, as if my mentors in the wings, always reach out to me at the most precise moments.
I dog-eared the page where Lamott quoted, E.L. Doctorow, “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you make the whole trip that way.” She shares, “You don’t have to see where you are going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything that will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard”.
And so just like that. The headlights went on. Details of the trees ahead, metaphorically speaking, became sharper. With a clearer glimpse, the nagging feeling accompanying me over the past month became more conspicuous.
After speaking at WE Day in Montreal, I was asked by a local high school to speak on the subject of Well-being for their school’s wellness week.
As with most speeches, I prepared my speech and rehearsed. Somehow, I was aware that this talk would be different. And while I couldn’t quite pin the exact feeling, it seemed to morph into all shapes and forms. With the light came the reveal of sheer vulnerability, a sense of responsibility, filtered through the parental lens of speaking in front of a younger demographic. “Build trust, don’t preach, arm with tools, inspire, share hope”, my backseat drivers were incessantly nagging me about my destination.
“….You just have to see two or three feet ahead….” I told myself.
And with the thought of the students, came the thought of my children that I speak in front of daily. How do I speak to them? They were my ‘two, three feet ahead of me’ little people. My most important audience…my words indelible.
As a 7-11 parent, open 7 days a week, up until 11 pm, solo parenting occupies my heart and mind-space. Orbiting around, in a constant ‘feed me’ state - akin to teenagers sipping their slushies loitering in the parking lot, my kids are bottomless pits. And so I feed them. Food to equip their learning. Food to nurture resilience. Food to build lasting friendships, respectful and cooperative relationships. Food to stoke their curiosity for life. Food to nourish gratitude and joy. Food to feed their intellect. Food to understand when to stop eating/to establish healthy boundaries. Food to create a life of well-being.
And with the headlights, it became clear to me…that maybe, just maybe, I was one of those solo parents that overstocked their cupboards for fear that there was never enough food in the house. Was I one of those parents that cared just a little too much? Was I too concerned or anxious about the destination?
When you become a parent, everything is so much more apparent. For maybe the word apparent riffs on how our children reflect back to us. Maybe they are our headlights. Children show us the short distance before us that we need to travel with them, not for them. If as a parent, I can be mindful enough and resist the urge to flick on my high beams to ease my own worry about what lies ahead, then I can slide into the driver’s seat more comfortably, confidently. Our children intuit what they need, steering us all along the way. All we need to do is safely keep our hands on the wheel.
So as I took to my keyboard, I had a think and unscientifically reflected on my personal case studies in support of my new theory. Pausing, in the sheer guilty pleasure of distractibility, I clicked the tab on my Facebook feed.
“Langdon gives children permission to be themselves. They can be giggly, silly, awkward and test it out on him without judgement.”
Langdon Abel is a 9 year old living in Sechelt, British Columbia, Canada. His parents Poppy Hallman and Thomas Abel are friends of a dear friend, and have been advocating for his well-being in his school. At first teachers and administration were not responsive to his needs, unsure of how to educate a child that fit outside of their norm.
Langdon was born with a variant chromosome SPTAN-1, resulting in the degeneration of his brain. Legally blind, eating with the aid of a feeding tube, educators were not prepared for his arrival and were unsure the way he would fit into the education system. But thanks to two very strong parents and the beautiful spirit of Langdon’s special needs worker, the school now says they can’t live without him. “Kids go out of their way to say hi to Langdon, they go outside and push him on swings. They all want to read to him”, says Poppy. “He naturally makes kids want to do things. Langdon doesn’t speak, but he is entertained so easily by the sound of children and their laughter. Kids can be goofy and fun around him, without having to put on an air. But most importantly, they feel safe with him, like they can tell him anything. Langdon coos in excitement, which lets the other kids know he loves them unconditionally”.
As there was no real room with a sink for Langdon to eat and connect to his feeding tube, teachers found a staff room where he could go for lunch. Little by little, other students would wander in and sit with him. One kid would play piano, while other children with social challenges would decompress through the warm connections and interactions with Langdon.
It struck me how children are intrinsically motivated to do good. To be there for each other. To, in fact, teach each other how and what it means to be human. As parents and teachers, it is our job to observe them in these moments and from that starting point understand what tools we can provide them to help them on their way.
When I shared this heart-warming story with my children on our school run one morning, I looked in the rear view mirror and saw their faces beaming. Clearly they were moved by Langdon and the kids involved in “Langy’s Lunch”.
My eldest segued into how much fun him and a group of school friends were having on the latest Discord App, an all-in-one voice and text chat designed to replace the old-school Skype with a more gamer-friendly group communication. Their Discord group has become an on-line after school club and hub.
“Mom, me and my friends from school are having so much fun on Discord. I am the moderator with two other friends. And one of the moderators is the boy I told you about that was being bullied on it. So now we make sure that nothing inappropriate gets shared and we kick people off if they don’t follow the rules”.
This from the kid who on his own accord decided to program a video game in Roblox to make sense of his father’s loss to his mental illness by way of suicide. In his game, he depicts a main character, ‘Bob’ who lives with depression. In an obi (aka obstacle course for us adults who don’t game), Bob jumps from grey block to grey block. As he succeeds, signs pop out explaining facts about his mental illness. The more he climbs, the more he learns about ways to recover and the better he feels. Slowly the grey blocks turn to colour and when he reaches the ending, fireworks explode and lead him to a playground where he can go socialize with friends.
When my son showed me the game, I nearly started crying. Tears, more out of happiness for my son, than out of sadness for the way he has had to make sense of his loss.
As a parent, we all share our challenges and questions surrounding our children’s future, the ways in which technology and social media will affect them adversely. With technology being the interface to new relationships, how can our youth learn to relate to each other in person? Troubling statistics surrounding declining mental health among our youth population leads me to instinctively and protectively reach for my high beams. Where are we going? Where is the destination? The desire to feel safer in the predictable, the desire to protect our children from the dark road ahead of us. These questions are the scary lurkers that can keep many of us parents awake at night.
And yet all along, in the background, away from their parent’s pre-occupations, unattended, our children are finding their ways. They do good amongst themselves. They relate to each other in new and different environments. Most impressively, they adapt in light speed ways, showing us what it means to be resilient.
It’s humbling and extremely reassuring at the same time. As adults, we like to think we have all the answers and solutions that can help short-cut our children away from the pot-holes or dead ends.
When in fact, unbeknownst to me and all my ‘parenting’ efforts, I can attest to many more examples where my children have curiously come up with their own solutions.
Our children are showing us the two, three feet ahead to their beautiful every-changing journey towards their mystery destination. I have faith that if we pay enough attention to them and what presents itself immediately before us, they will organically show us what they are in need of to be mentally well, psychologically safe and prepared to thrive in the future.
Here’s to our children and the light that they shine.
Where Discovery Meets Gratitude ©