Dec 3, 2011

Twinkly Ten

This time 10 years ago, I was biting my newborn baby and he was crying for the first time. A soft whimper of "What are you doing, Papa?" that was a precursor of many odd times to come together. No, I wasn't trying to replace the doctor's traditional spank of this country song:
Baby born in the middle of the night, local delivery room
Grab his feet, slap him till he cries, goes home the next afternoon
Our first-born splashed into the world at 3am in a metal Texan farm trough full of hot water under our indoor Christmas lights, and we spent the beautiful rest of the night sleeping in our bed together as a family. Next morning when we woke up, protective Papa wanted to pull the blankets up over baby without waking him. So instead of flailing my arms, I carefully used my teeth to grip and pull the covers. Not carefully enough, apparently.

An elusively short decade later I'm proud papa of a proud double-digit soccer-playing, whittling, joking, ivory ticklin' and fiddle pickin', origami obsessed, delightful boy who is positively sparkling with the Joy of life. More than any other time of his first decade, he is alive and confident and Happy and fun and funny, a charm to be around and an uninhibited spark of light.

The struggles he's faced socially in the past, these days he's facing head on. Still not the most popular kid in class, he is nevertheless eager to get to school, enthusiastically engaged on the playground and in the classroom, recklessly playing tag with boys he used to shy away from. He's truly comfortable in himself, in his unique dreamy goofy self, and that's all it takes to exude a positive energy that bounces back from those lucky enough to be around him.

This emergence of a valiant knight is what we've been dreaming of and working towards for a long time. While the majority of the credit has to go to him, to his bravery and persistence and refusal to let go of his own identity, some other kudos bear mentioning.

1. His teacher, arriving mid-year last year, has been a true savior to the class, to our family, and to each child in the class. He understood immediately the urgency to establish himself as the loving but strong authority in the class, the centre of gravity around which the levity of the children could revolve, and has done it with a grace and clarity that has let every child (and parent) breathe a deep outbreath of "I can relax, I am safe here, I can enjoy and grow and explore."

2. A community of adults who have Held him. In their prayers, in their loving words and looks, in hugs and gifts and time together. Fellow parents, work colleagues, grandparents and uncles, neighbours, Quaker elders, piano teacher, soccer coaches... the list is seemingly endless of people who have openly and unconditionally shown our boy that he is loved and respected and honoured for who he truly is. It takes a village.

3. Experiences of excellence. He has always found niches in which he excels, and that confidence spills over into other realms of his life. His breakthrough moment in kindergarten was teaching his classmates to make fancy paper airplanes. To this day, origami is a source of wonder and mastery for him. As is singing, piano and now violin. We enrolled him in soccer camp last summer and did a lot of playing/practicing together so that joining a team this fall was a major success that has also given him a place of respect on the playground (just look how he shines in this photo!) I watched his class play kickball, and when he went "to bat" his whole team said eagerly, "Get us a home run Galen!" As he comes to believe in his abilities, his constant "Aren't I good at that" calls for reassurance have given way to a shining confidence in many parts of his life.

4. A Papa letting go. With a lot of help from wife and friends, I finally let go of my own anxiety around my son's popularity and happiness and just starting loving and enjoying him the way I wanted the world to love and enjoy him. Let go of contriving playdates, using that time to just Be with him and let him blossom in the safe warm enduring love of home and parents and brother and constant neighbours. Stopped inquiring about conflicts and just asked about feelings. I do believe that he somehow perceived a different energy from me - "My papa believes in me; he's not worried, so I don't need to be worried either."

There are still soft moments of tenderness and vulnerability, but that's a part of childhood (and adulthood) that we learn to accept. In safe moments he shares that no-one sits with him on the field trip bus, or wonders why he never gets invited to birthday parties. Instead of jumping to a Mr. Fix It or an Angry Injustice mode, or try listing the names of children who do call him Friend, we just hold him and agree that it must be hard. Gord Neufeld asserts that one of our most important jobs as parents is to make it safe for them to be vulnerable, to help them to that place of tears, so that they don't build up a wall. Our ten-year-old is vibrantly happy and openly sad and deeply aware that he is loved and cherished and celebrated (and hopefully safe from being bitten).


  1. Wonderful tribute to your wonderful son, Rick! When we ran into him at the puppet show a few weeks ago, I was struck by the sense of joy and love for life that came from his whole being!

  2. I absolutely loved this. Well done Papa.

  3. Good work Papa; and a very happy Birthday to Galen.