Today is the last day of 2014 and after several days of travelling and visiting various family members and friends I took some time to reflect and think about some of the gifts I have received over the past year. Most of these gifts have come in the form of lessons taught to me by my kids and others.
1. People care about sex-ed
For half of 2014 I had the opportunity to serve as the Interim Executive Director of our local Planned Parenthood and work with an amazing team of staff and volunteers. I was filling this role on a part-time basis in addition to my full-time job so I wasn’t able to put as much time into the organization as it deserved. That said, it was fulfilling work and we had great support for a new initiative to develop resources to help parents talk with their kids about sex and sexual health. I wrote a number of posts throughout the year on sexual health and always had good responses and feedback, including a post challenging misguided assertions by a US conservative blogger. It is a subject that is important to me and through this work and the occasional post on the subject I have been gratified to learn that sexual health education is important to many others as well. They are worthy of your year-end charitable donations – considering donating here to support the work they are doing for all our benefit.
2. I learned to be more comfortable with my body
In 2013 I managed to drop 25 lbs and learned how to make better choices about the food I put in my body. I was also pretty good at going to the gym regularly. Then we had kid #3 and I stopped going to the gym regularly, well at all actually. In early 2014 I decided to get back at it and start going to the gym again and pay closer attention to what I was eating. I made a good effort for a few months and then dropped off again. I did manage to lose some weight again and arrest the growth of my waist. More importantly I reminded myself that I could feel healthy and good about my body even though it sometimes contains more fat than other times. I know that I have the control and ability to reduce my weight and waist whenever I feel It has gone up too much or my pants get too tight. I like food and I like food that is less healthy for me. I make an effort to avoid the less healthy stuff, but sometimes I don’t have the energy to maintain the willpower to stop myself from eating a bag of chips or candy – which may or may not have come from the girls’ halloween stash.
- Kids make me laugh and smile, especially when bouncing up and down.
This wasn’t a new lesson learned, but seeing a kid smile for the first time and laugh is a tremendous gift and with an almost 15 month old and sisters who like to play with her and get her smiling and laughing, I have had many gifts from my daughters this year.
- My stubborn daughter gave me the gift of understanding myself
My now six-year old is a stubborn, stubborn child. She refuses to do things asked of her and now just plain ignores us when we speak to her if we are asking her to do something she doesn’t want to do. This may be a function of being the middle child or because she is six or because she is just like me. Her tantrums and refusals and arguments test my patience and force me to re-evaluate my parenting style and techniques. She challenges me constantly and she exhausts me. I have learned some good lessons from her this year and am sure will continue to learn more in the years ahead.
5. Blogging about being a dad is not as important as actually being a dad
This was a lesson and a gift that is sometimes hard to remember. There are times when I am working on projects, this blog being one of them, and the kids want to spend time with me. Every request from them for my time sparks a negotiation in my head. I have the luxury in my day job of being able to work from home on occasion. The girls know when I am working from home that I am working and that I can’t stop and play with them until the end of the day. Other projects or things I am working on are fair game and as a result of a lesson learned on Father’s Day this year the negotiation in my head now goes something like this “is what I am doing right now more important than what my daughter is asking me to do with her?” Sometimes the answer is a straight-up “No.” In which case I stop what I am doing and spend time with the kid who is asking. Sometimes it is important and it can wait. Other times it is important and I need to get it done and so I tell the requesting kid how long until I think I’ll be done. In any case it is a question of setting priorities and I now force myself to consider whether my kids and their requests of me are more important than whatever it is that I am doing. Now I try to look for opportunities to spend quality time with them and demonstrate to them that they are more important than a computer.
6. Kids are smart and don’t come with built-in hang-ups
This year we bought our two oldest daughters who were 5 and 7 at the time, each a book about sexual health and reproduction. We read those books with them, cover-to-cover and they continue to read them or bring them to us to read with them. They also read them with friends. There were sections that I was uncomfortable reading because I thought the content might be too much for them to process or because I wasn’t ready for the questions I thought would come from the content. I decided to read them anyway because both girls can and do read on their own. I figured they would read the content anyway and it was better if I went through it with them to answer their questions. I discovered that they didn’t ask the questions I expected and they were not phased by the content. I realized that they don’t come with hang-ups about information that they don’t have. They can’t pre-judge something about which they know very little. It also turns out that because my now eight-year old regularly re-reads her book she is now more current in her knowledge about sex and baby-making than I as a former sexual health educator am. A couple of weeks ago we were talking about different religious holidays and she was talking about people who can have exceptions to fasting during Ramadan and included in her list were pregnant or nursing women. That lead her into a discussion about the fact that a pregnant woman needs to eat to feed the fetus and then she clarified to say that it wasn’t actually a fetus until three months, before that it was a zygote. I had to look it up to verify whether or not she was right because I couldn’t remember the timing. She was right…
7. Kids are resilient
I have learned and been reminded several times this year that kids are resilient and can handle and manage more than we think they can. My oldest daughter particularly likes to listen to the radio, including the news and since we tend to listen to our national broadcaster CBC she gets to hear quite a bit of news and analysis of current issues. This year she heard about various wars around the world, passenger jets going missing and falling out of the sky, shootings in schools and in our own city of Ottawa a shooting at the national war memorial and in the Parliament Buildings. Whenever I have asked her what she is listening to or what she thinks about what she is hearing she always has a fairly factual, rational response and explanation of what she is hearing. I think that perhaps because it is on the radio and not accompanied by images or something she is seeing in person, it is just a story and potentially not real. We often turn down the radio when we are quick enough and we know something particularly bad is going to be covered. We aren’t always quick enough or attentive enough to what is being covered and they listen. I have learned to stick to the basics and answers their questions honestly and as straight-forward as possible to help them process what they are hearing. The world makes me tired sometimes, but I am grateful that my kids seem to be building an awareness of the world around them without being emotionally scarred by the violence that gets covered in the media. I am also exceedingly grateful that we live in a peaceful country.
8. Sometimes we find perfection where we least expect it
I found a marble in my pocket and it turned into a time machine transporting me back to my childhood. I was reminded of the freedom I enjoyed playing with my friends all over the neighbourhood and the good times we had playing marbles in particular. Marbles in good shape are perfectly round and smooth and if it is a glass marble, unlike the Hungry Hippos plastic marble in my pocket, they will change temperature with their surroundings. Marbles are amazing and I was reminded that I can find perfection and peace at unexpected times and in unexpected places.
9. My kids come up with pretty good solutions to things that frustrate me
I have a thing about being on time and I have written in the past about how my children manage to frustrate my efforts to be on time and how that aggravates me. This year before school started in September I sat down with my two school-aged daughters and we talked about our morning pre-school routine. We talked about when they wanted to get to school and how much time they wanted to have to play at school in the morning. Then we worked backwards from that and identified all of the tasks we needed to complete in the morning between waking up and getting to school and how long each of those things would take. We created a visual of that routine and taped it to the wall as a point of reference.
It was a very successful exercise and most days we make it to school before the bell rings and we have eliminated most of the frustration points in the routine. We need to take a look at it before school starts up again in the new year to make some adjustments to the amount of time they have to get their winter gear on since it takes much more time to get snow suits, boots, mitts, scarves and hats on than it does to put on shoes and walk out the door in warm weather. It has made our mornings so much more relaxed and has significantly improved the start to our respective days.
10. I found out that sometimes a lot of people like what I write.
On October 22nd, a man decided he would shoot a soldier standing on ceremonial guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa where I live and then head to our Parliament Buildings and shoot people there. He was successful in getting into the Parliament Buildings and he was then stopped and killed by the security forces in the building with no other deaths. Downtown Ottawa and schools throughout Ottawa were locked down for the day since the police did not know if this was the start of a larger attack or if it was a lone gunman. All evidence to date indicates it was a lone man.
I wrote a post about the need for a rational response and a call for politicians to avoid a knee-jerk reaction that could clamp down on our civil rights to prevent the very low-risk possibility of an attack like this in the future. As it turns out quite a few people wanted to read my thoughts on this attack. In fact more than 36,000 people have read that post so far and it continues to get attention every few days. It was also syndicated on iVillage.ca. It was my first experience having so many people read my words ever since I started writing this blog and it was gratifying to discover that sometimes people think what I write is worth sharing broadly.
11. I met the daughter I placed for adoption 23 years ago
This was definitely one of the biggest gifts I received this year. I have written about my experience as a teen birth father a number of times as well as doing a radio documentary for CBC so I won’t go into the story here. I got a response to a letter that I wrote to the twins more than three years ago now and have had the opportunity to meet one of the the children I placed for adoption when I was 16, who is now a 23 year old woman. I am so glad to have learned that she has had the kind of life I had hoped she would have when we chose their parents. We would not have been able to give them all the things they have experienced and learned and it was great to have our decision as teens affirmed in such a positive way.
12. Healthy kids in spite of injuries
I have active kids and they, like most kids are often to be found sporting at least one bruise from falling or running into something. My now eight-year old had stitches above her eye when she was little more than a year old after crashing into our bed frame a few months after she learned to walk. The same kid was sporting a black eye – same eye for Christmas the same year after falling and catching her eye socket on the bottom of a rocking chair. All of our kids have fallen off of couches, chairs and beds and this year we added a broken bone to the mix when my six-year old fell off of a bar she was hanging upside down on at school. She broke her arm just above the elbow – apparently the most common break kids experience and typically as a result of falling off monkey bars. She was in a cast for three weeks with pins in her arm to hold the bone in place. Then another week in a removable cast after the pins were removed. She is now fully recovered and has regained the full range of motion in her arm.
I am so grateful for the staff and physicians at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario who took care of her and even more grateful that in spite of the various bumps, bruises, stitches and now broken bone my kids are all healthy. So many families have to deal with far greater health challenges than has been our lot and while I often think about this (I work in health care) this most recent experience only served to remind and reinforce for me who fortunate we are to have healthy kids.
13. Resilient kids who respond well to emergencies
A couple of months after my daughter broke her arm, my wife cut her hand seriously and required stitches. I was on a snow-delayed flight home from meetings in Toronto when the incident occurred. Laura was home with the three girls and my older two daughters responded to the situation with confidence and grace and I am so appreciative of the way they responded, and I took advantage of the opportunity to talk with them about what to do in a real emergency. I have confidence that they will be able to get help and manage the situation if Laura or I or any other adult is felled by an accident or injury. I will periodically reinforce this information and perhaps start to teach them basic first aid to build their skills and confidence for dealing with emergency situations. They were great in this situation and as I mentioned above, I am so grateful to have a healthy family.
14. A long-lost passion rediscovered
Late in the year I laid the foundation for a new business based on a passion for woodworking that I had nurtured when I was younger and have since lost in the mix of life. I am excited for 2015 as I turn the ideas in my head into products and marketing strategies and with any luck and a lot of hard work – some sales! It is so energizing to find something or in this case rediscover a lifelong passion and make the time to rebuild my skills and knowledge and turn it into a creative outlet and hopefully a revenue stream. It has been a great way to finish out the year and lay the ground for the new year.
I look forward to the new year and all the lessons and gifts that will come my way in the next 12 months!