As I was sitting next to my toddler’s bed the other night, waiting for her to decide that she is done playing with my hair and ready to go to sleep, I realized that for someone who is not even two yet, there are a lot of things she has to teach. I am not talking about the obvious ones that children at any age will teach you:
It’s not diamonds, it’s coffee that is a girl’s best friend.
Sleep is overrated.
Your house will never be clean again. Deal with it.
The lessons I am talking about are the kinds of lessons you only start thinking about when you’re trapped in a dark room with nothing to do but wait for your child to go to sleep. I’m talking about the deep stuff.
1. Celebrate Your Successes
“I peed in the potty!!!” Both my husband and I rush up the stairs, opening the champagne bottle on our way, confetti in hand, and there she is, beaming as if the Wiggles had entered the building. “I peed in the potty,” she continues to yell and proudly points to the tiny puddle in her Froggy Potty. We are now jumping up and down in excitement, we yell down to our only semi-interested teenager to share the good news, we exchange high fives and praises. “SHE PEED IN THE POTTY!!!! Good job, sweetie, that’s amazing! Oh my gosh, you are going to help us empty the potty and flush, too? What a good helper!” My daughter will probably still need months until she’s actually housebroken. Until then, we will celebrate each and every day, about three times a day.
Because of this, on occasion, when I came out of the washroom, she waits outside the door for me (creepy, right!) and exclaims to everyone else in the house: “Mommy peed in the potty!!” “Yes I did, baby-girl! High five!”
So my question is: when and why do we stop doing that? What happens from here to there? Even with our teenagers the best I can manage most of the time is something along the lines of: “Oh, so you do know where the dishwasher is, good news!”
This year’s Niagara Leadership Summit for Women was all about owning our strengths. My toddler reminds me every day that we probably started out that way; that most or at least some of us started out with someone cheering us on. We, too, used to stand tall, proud of every accomplishment, no matter how small. If we all stayed a little bit more in that mindset of both, owning our own strengths and celebrating those of the people around us, I am convinced this world would be a better place.
2. No Means No
“Do you want some milk, sweetie?” “No.” It’s 7:30pm, this is what is next in her night routine. At around this time, every day, she has her milk. She loves it. “Mom has some warm milk for you, would you like some?” “No, Mama.” She is just saying ‘no’ because that’s the first thing they learn when they move from the infant to the toddler room, the word NO becomes a tool, a weapon, the ultimate crisis communication plan. Surely, she’s just saying it to be funny. “Here is your milk, sweetheart,” I say, coming at her with her favourite evening beverage. Armageddon is what follows. And I don’t mean the Bruce Willis kind. She flings herself onto the ground, within seconds there is a screaming and kicking mess where there was a peaceful child only moments ago. “NOOOOOO! NO MILK!!!!!” It is dawning on me that she may not have been joking after all. That kid does not want milk.
When I go over those lovely moments in my head at the end of the day, I find myself asking again: When, and more importantly, WHY do we stop doing that? Why don’t I start kicking and screaming when the boss adds something to my already overflowing plate? When do we start making up excuses instead of yelling: “NO! I DON’T WANT TO GO OUT FOR DINNER TONIGHT, I WANT TO EAT ICE CREAM AND BINGE WATCH GREY’S ANATOMY.” What do we as parents, teachers, role models, faith communities, as society do to our children that might make this very same girl think one day that she can’t say no when her soccer coach corners her in the change room?
Take it from my toddler, no means no. It is not always easy, especially for us as women, but practice it. Get better at it, one NO at a time. No, I cannot attend this meeting today. No, I cannot contribute to the bake sale. No, I don’t want to watch Sharknado tonight. No, not tomorrow either. And please! Don’t make excuses, don’t feel like you have to offer an explanation. The story didn’t go: And then the toddler said “no, mommy, I am still very full from dinner, I would rather skip the milk tonight.” She said NO. Period.
3. Feel The Feels
When our toddler is angry, she gives it her all. When she did not want that milk, she did not try to be polite about it. She didn’t force it down to then complain to her older sister later about the time I forced her to drink the milk. She just unleashed the anger. In the same way, there is no holding her back in her excitement over jumping around in a puddle. When she is sad, she lets herself sob and cry until she can’t catch her breath anymore. When she is happy, she giggles and snorts and laughs without thinking twice about it. She doesn’t need mindfulness training, this is just how she came out. This is a human before a lifetime of being shushed and distracted and shaped into what we have decided is right and proper and appropriate. One of my favourite chapters of the book Tuesdays With Morrie is the one where he speaks about emotions.
“Turn on the faucet. Wash yourself with the emotion. It won’t hurt you. It will only help. If you let the fear inside, if you pull it on like a familiar shirt, then you can say to yourself, “All right, it’s just fear, I don’t have to let it control me. I see it for what it is”.”
Be scared, be happy, be nervous, be sad… be what you please but be it all the way.
Franziska Emslie is the YW’s Community and Public Relations Coordinator