Perfectly Imperfect Summer Vacation

Today marks the End of vacation mode for me. We were supposed to go to France the first 2 weeks of summer vacation, in honour of 20 years together with my partner. It was to be the first major trip for our family and the honeymoon I never had. While that’s not what ended up happening (thanks Covid!), we did a get an extended cottage break outside the city.

I’m not ready to go back to the city just yet. We’ve been away for close to 2 weeks and it’s been the break we all needed. It’s not France by any means and yet it was the remedy for some hard months.

Here are some of the things i will hold on to:

I swam daily, sometimes more than 3 separate times

I paddleboarded quite a bit and saw the bottom of the lake

I read 3 books while here and am onto book 4, #12 since the pandemic started

I found an abundance of new heart rocks to add to my collection

I saw my parents for the first time since February

I was creative – I sewed, played with clay, and knit a new summer sweater

I slept with my children, as we played musical beds as we would on a vacation

I had mindful moments watching butterflies 🦋

We had family time – in the water, which has always been our salvation, video games and we watched the whole first season of the new The Babysitters Club show

I lead my kids through some witchy classes to give them some routine

I saw the full moon and said hello to the stars most night

I sat in my beloved Donut Donut

That may sound like perfection, or at least an easy vacation. But of course, travel with kids is never that. Anywhere you go, life gets in the way.

Of course this time away wasn’t perfect and there are things I’m sad I never got to do. Maybe my expectations weren’t realistic, and some things were out of my control.

So….to keep it real:

Our yard in Toronto is a small square and we have so much green space here but we never went for walks in the forest.

I only did yoga once and only then because my back hurt too much so it was more for necessity

I never slept well until the last night

I didn’t journal once

My kids still had epic fights and there was some family yelling

I made a huge mistake in the romper I wanted to sew

My parents only stayed for a quick visit even though this is their space

We didn’t play any board games as a family, and we brought several from home

And I only read in the hammock once, because my kids needed me more and this time away was about attuning to each other.

I share both sides because we are prone to compare ourselves to others, making our side the deficit. I know I’m incredibly privileged to have access to an oasis during a heatwave. And ever, for that matter. I also know that I wasn’t able to truly relax into it. I worked still and so did my partner, still had to manage the kids needs, and the dishes were never ending.

One thing i noticed only in retrospect is that some of my expectations were of times past. So while realistic as a teen or twenty-something, now with young children of my own, going to the cottage means something else. I can definitely swim and read, but not for the hours of end i grew up doing. No wonder i was a bit disappointed – my expectation was just out of the realm of realistic.

This is every day life after all, pandemic or not. Vacations are just as imperfectly perfect as every day life and they don’t escape the “full catastrophe” of living.

My son is having a hard time holding on to any good moments. We review each day at bedtime, helping him notice that there were moments in the day that were good, even during a pandemic whhen his life was thrown upside down. I’m not suggesting to avoid the hard feelings, as I’m not a positivity cheerleader. And yet, when we can hold space for BOTH/AND experiences in our body, we allow more space for good feelings. This is Titration and helps heal us when we are going through hard things. It makes it easier to go through it when i know i can also feel good in a day, even for a few moments.

So, instead of focusing on the hard part of life, it helps to notice moments of joy. Our bodies can relax and get a handle on the hard. In a few weeks’ time, when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I’m going to recall this time away. I’m going to sit and breathe in the sounds of the birds chirping, or the cool lake water on my feet, or the grass under me when i read a book. This intentional practice will let me body relax and sigh out a bit more.

I am a bit nervous about regular life as this summer looks so different than usual. So when i need a boost of joy, i will feel the sun on my body, some shared giggles and slowing down these past two weeks: I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.

Dancing the Polka

I recently did the polka with a room-ful of strangers. It was not what i expected to do on a Saturday morning, but it proved to be just what i needed.

It all started with my daughter’s dance class. She has a new teacher this year, and i had a vague memory that it was a special parent-come-to-class day. There is already one in December, but this new teacher added an extra opportunity to meet her and see the dancers in action.

I was not planning to stay as it’s my only Saturday off work for a few weeks and i had a Million Things to Do day. I literally had a list with subheadings that i needed to do while she was in class. You can imagine that is not what happened. Instead, my daughter came running out of class in tears as i was the ‘only mommy’ not in the class watching. While i don’t think for sure i was the only one, it sure looked and felt that way for her. So, we made a deal that i would stay for a bit. I have to admit that i first tried to get out of it. But when i saw her face, i knew it was better to put my to-do list and only free hour aside.

I don’t regret it in the least. I got to see her dance her butt off, her pride in knowing dance moves and routines, and all the special kisses and hugs i got during the class. She would run up to me and steal a kiss before going to the next sequence.

And then at the end of class, the teacher shared with us the polka they have been learning as per the ballet curriculum. The students performed it first and then the teacher asked all the parents and adults to join in. We were NOT expecting that. But you know what, we all did it. All the different body types, awkward feelings, embarrassment and surprise was no match for excited little 5 and 6 year-olds who wanted to share this experience with their families. And so we had to partner up with strangers, and keep moving from person to person. I ended up laughing and giggling, and smiling ear to ear. It was such a humble, authentic and vulnerable experience. I’m so happy i chose to be present with my daughter as it allowed me to dance, to smile with my whole body and to feel connected to this roomful of strangers. It created a lovely community feeling. Most of us have been going to this same school for a couple of years, and i bet we will remember this special class for years to come.

It’s no wonder that i love that my children are into dance – it isn’t just a great feeling for us and our bodies and emotions, but also a chance to connect with others over a shared experience. I carried this happy feeling for the remainder of the day, and it reminded me what dance therapy is such a great tool for me in my practice as well as everyday life.

When you are faced with this choice, i encourage you to also chose being present with your child instead of errands and to-do lists. It’s like that the saying after all – what children want is our presence not presents.

Oh and don’t worry, I got my list done. I did some of it with my daughter in tow and finished the rest when my son was in his dance class. And I think I already knew that was plan B.

I Want to be My Children’s Compass Point

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I was listening to a CBC segment a few weeks ago, with a writer who shared her philosophy on this whole ‘parenting’ movement. While she too wrote a book about it, she wonders if we are doing ourselves a disservice with all this pressure and industry around parenting.

There are a lot of books, workshops, and ‘experts’ that are available to us these days. Each is designed to help you be the best parent you can, and also to find solutions for places that you are stuck. While i guess we fall under this category a bit, i prefer to see our practice as an extra support to you as you guide yourself to the best parenting path. That said, we can be overwhelmed when other parents or even just the regular folk who are waiting in line at the grocery store, ask you if you are an ‘attachment parent’, ‘free range parent,’ or a ‘peaceful parent’ or even a ‘helicopter parent.’ There is just so much pressure and pull to be defined as ____ parent: I just want to be the best parent i can for my children.

So i hope this doesn’t sound too contradictory to that writers point: i really love reading books and finding ones that speak to what i hold dear to me, and what our family’s values are.

As someone who really values being attached to my children, my partner, and to the people closest to me, i relish the chance to integrate this bond in any way i can. Having read Hold On to Your Kids by Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Dr. Gabor Mate, i wish all new parents can read this book. In it, they describe how attachment can play out between our children and ourselves, to the better of our relationship and also for our communities.

Neufeld goes on further to explain that attachment is not just about the practices – things we do like wear our babies in carriers, co-sleep, stay with our babies all the time, and exclusively breastfeed. Rather, it is a relationship between the child and parent. This relationship gives a context to how the child is raised in the family and grows up in the world. I so love the idea that we are to be our child’s compass point, and that it actually puts them at a disadvantage when we hurry them to stop being dependent on us. There is a dance of attachment that we go through with our children, and in order to keep that bond alive, it is our job to remain the alpha in their lives. It may sound daunting in this day of technology, and peer orientation, but i also really hope that my children come to me No Matter What when they are in their teen years. The work i’m doing now fosters that future attachment.

What that in mind, I’m really excited that Dr. Neufeld is coming to Toronto at the end of November, to flush out this theory of attachment and development. He is giving two talks – one is a two-hour discussion on how play can help build attachment, and the other is a full day workshop on resiliency and attachment. If you want to learn more about this theory, why don’t you come check it out!