The Summer I Saved an Alligator

Each year, at the beginning of summer break from school, my family and I go on a vacation to the cottage. It has become such a family ritual that that we start to anticipate it weeks in advance. It’s a chance for us to unwind, relax, be in nature, and an opportunity for us to get a break from our everyday life.

The timing of this time away is impeccable: I am in the middle of a three-month long course that is offered by the Neufeld Institute. While it’s simply named Intensive I, it’s actually a very in-depth course on attachment and how it helps us reach our full potential. So as I’m taking this course, things are coming to my mind’s eye around the behaviour and emotions that my children are experiencing. This year, I found the time at the cottage to be even more important as it’s a chance for us to be alone as a family. I’ve been noticing my younger child becoming more and more attached to her peers. As an Attachment-based therapist and parent, I know it’s my role to remain the anchor for my children. Being the answer for them helps them to live their life as fully as possible. Watching my daughter become more more attached to her peers even at such a young age has been an interesting experience for me as a therapist and parent who is making very intentional decisions.

So, in order to help re-connect and be that anchor for my kids, off we went to our week away from the world. The weather was glorious, we ate S’more‘s and we swam more than once every day in the lake. Even though it was rather cold, the water has always been our happy place as a family. We could be cranky, tired or bored beforehand, but we always emerged from the water happy, content and refreshed. During one afternoon in the water, we were playing with our beloved water donuts. I of course brought to my favourite doughnut-doughnut, and we also had on hand the inflatable alligator that had been mine as a child. This summer my daughter has a goal to work on her swimming and so she and I were playing with the alligator as an opportunity for her to feel more confident in the water. Luckily she was still wearing her puddle jumper water wings because in one quick moment, the alligator overturned and slipped from under her. My quick instinct tended to her to make sure she was safe and well we were cuddling and checking in together and the allocator quickly started to drift off. I had first thought it was going slowly in the direction that would take it to shore but then I quickly noticed it was actually going deeper into the lake. I’m pretty confident swimmer and had been on the swim team in high school so I was pretty convinced that I would be able to reach the alligator in time. Because in one quick moment overturned from under. My quick instinct tended to her to make sure she was safe and while we were cuddling and checking in together, the alligator quickly started to drift out. Instead of going slowly in the direction that would take it to shore, it actually went deeper into the lake. I’m a pretty confident swimmer and was on the swim team in high school so I was pretty convinced that I would be able to read to the alligator in time. I was wrong. After a leisurely paddle where i was in my donut, i soon realized i was not going to reach the alligator in time. I have memories of this toy from my own childhood, and didn’t want to lose it so soon after my kids were able to play with it. So, i ditched the donut (this time int he right direction) and started to frantically swim at full speed towards the bright green animal floating in the water.

Luckily, we were the only people in the water and it was so calm (or maybe that was a problem). I used all the swimming strokes i learned (front crawl, breaststroke, backwards) and there were a couple of times where i had to quickly assess if this damn toy was worth me drowning or having a heart attack. I have to say there was a moment of panic of not reaching the floating device in time. Of course i did, as otherwise i wouldn’t be here writing this, but wow, was it a stressful moment for me.

I was able to use some de-escalation tools to help me get there, i used all the positive thinking i could, and worked on some radical acceptance that it was truly okay if i did’t reach it. A part of me know it would come to shore eventually. Another part of me wanted to be my kids’ saviour – of the alligator anyway. And you know what?

They didn’t even notice.

They didn’t realize how hard it was to get the floatie. But my partner did, and he tended to me and gave me some space to breathe. Literally.

So on that note, because i’m a glass half-ful gal, i’m going to leave you with some links to great articles about how to embrace summer, and how to make it meaningful for you as a parent. I work from a place where setting intentions help me live the life i love, and that summer means as much for me as it does my kids. So, here are some great resources to help you if you are stuck:

10 ways to stress less and flourish more
Mothering Arts Best Summer Ever list
Summer vacation: Freedom from or freedom to
18 summers – though i think this is too much pressure and not only 18 years, the article has some helpful tips

What are some of your favourite summertime family rituals? How do you spend the summer doing things you love?

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

img_2270
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!