Wednesday, March 6, 2019

A Letter to my Daughter, on the Occasion of her Ninth Birthday

The other day I was in the car and Cats in the Cradle came on the radio and I had a good cry. And when I got home that I night I went upstairs and kissed you on the forehead while you were sleeping.

When I was a kid I used to hate it when people I hadn’t seen in awhile would say to me ‘Oh, you’ve grown so much’.

There was a great big whopping period in my childhood when my only mark of distinction seemed to be how fast I was growing.

But now I look at you and I think the same thing.

“You’re growing up so much.”

I carry that cognitive dissonance in my head. My daughter, who is growing taller and smarter every day, but at the same time is also that colic-y baby that I would walk up and down the hall for hours on end. (Humming in the hope the vibrations of my chest my help lull you to sleep. Which, as near as I can tell, it never did.)

And even though you’re growing up, some part of me will always see you as that baby.

I don’t know what advice I could possibly offer a nine year old that you would take.

When I was nine we moved house and I entered into a nearly decade long period of unhappiness and 
loneliness. It was the worst time of my life.
  • I look at you and I think that no matter what happens at least you’re so much further ahead then I was at the same age,
  • But, for the first time, I’m starting to see the leading edge of adult problems poking through the fabric of your life, and
  • Trouble with other kids at school.

Difficulty connecting with your teacher, whereas previously you were a borderline teacher’s pet.
And a problem learning how to properly express your emotions when you’re angry and upset.

Normal growing up kind of stuff, but a significant hurdle in the life of any kid.

I want to tell you that none of it matters. That the problems of today will quickly seem like nothing at all when you finally get to examine them in the rearview mirror. But I also know that when you’re dealing with them in the moment, it feels more like these problems threaten to take over your whole world.

You are vast. You carry multitudes.

You’re tough as nails and yet you’re compassionate. You’re outgoing and you’re painfully shy. You brim with a bottomless patience and you have a hair trigger fuse.

You are all these things at once, and I’m never sure which facet of your personality will carry the day.
At this age, my role as a parent is to walk a fine line. To help and shield you when and where I can, but to also step back and realize that that its okay if you fail every now and again.

I’m never sure I have the mix quite right. But I know I’ll never stop trying.

Thursday, November 1, 2018


When I first started playing Ultimate Frisbee my motivation was driven solely by the fact that I was looking for some sort of activity to help me lose a couple pounds.

Ultimate had a low threshold for entry by virtue of the fact that it didn’t require a lot of skill to play at a recreational level and I already knew someone who played.

Almost immediately I was hooked. There’s something about chasing a disc floating in the air and the instant mental arithmetic that takes place when you try to determine what its going to take to catch it.

And even in the very beginning, when I had no concept of how to play the sport, I just wanted to do it all the time.

I remember my second or third game, when the friend who had graciously made a spot for me on her team, took me aside and said I needed to start subbing off because people were starting to get angry that I was staying on the field all the time.

I literally couldn’t fathom a world where people would want to leave the field for any reason, the sport was just that fun.

I started playing in an east end multi-sport league, moved to a league which generally had better facilities, and finally to an Ultimate only league where all the ‘serious’ players ended up.

A few years ago I took up running in my off time because my opponents seemed to be getting younger while I had definitely lost a step or two.

During all this I motivated myself to play for what I’d call purely selfish reasons.
·         I wanted to\liked beating the other team.
·         I wanted to see how far I could rise in the sport. (Spoiler alert. Not far at all really, but it was still important to me to set goals)

But recently I found myself needing to use different drivers to encourage me to play my hardest.

My eldest started playing competitive hockey last year. She’s still learning the sport in a lot of ways and part of my job as a parent, beyond being a cheerleader, is to help her develop her game.

I try to help her develop her skills. (She practices taking shots on net in the driveway and I practice not wincing when I get a ball to the chest) I talk to her before (and sometimes after) a game to discuss what it is she wants to improve on. (This year it’s deking the other team)

Basically, I walk that fine line between encouragement\development and unnecessary evaluations of her game.

I caught myself on the field a couple weeks slow playing my game. It was late and I was tired and I just didn’t have a lot of energy. So I ended up choosing field positions with a low likelihood of having to work hard.

I realized that I was doing the very thing that I had instructed my daughter against doing, taking the easy play just because it’s easy and there’s less likelihood of screwing up.

In short, I was being a hypocrite.

How could I ask my daughter to work hard and be aggressive when I wasn’t able to put in the work on my own game?

So now, some 15 years later, my motivation has shifted.

I don’t play hard just to win or to show off for my kid. (Most of my games take place later at night anyway)

I play hard because I feel its important to hold myself to the same standard I set for others. I put the work in it, because I can’t ask someone else to do something that I’m not willing to do myself.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

A Letter to my Son on the Occasion of his Fifth Birthday

Well damn.

I kind of got out of the habit of doing these didn’t I? In my defence it’s been a crazy couple of years. In and around your birthday we can barely find time to mark your height on the wall or take your yearly picture.

So. What’s new with you the last couple of years?

Well, last year at around this time you got that scar at the corner of your mouth. And wasn’t that a shock. Your mother called me at work and said that you’d scraped your face by falling off a log. Your mom was in surgery so it was my turn to leave work and come pick you up. I took a conference call on the way home, trying to catch up on some work before I got home. I was doing that very parental thing of weighing the variables before I’ve had an opportunity to accurately assess the situation.

Do I tell daycare that about the borderline diarrhea?

If I mask that fever for a couple hours with some meds will he okay to put in school?

He says his neck hurts…he probably just slept on it funny.

Parents all secretly think kids are making something worse then it really is, mostly because we remember when we pulled something similar when we kids ourselves.

But when I got to the school it was pretty obvious that this scrape on your cheek was a BIG deal. There were drops of blood on your shirt and pants and a pretty sizable bandage was taped to your cheek. But most of all I could read it in your body language, how tired, scared, and in pain you were. This wasn’t a case of making a mountain out of a molehill. This was a big deal.

So I took you to the emergency room. Once there I peaked under your bandage to see the extent of the damage.

Your whole cheek was torn open.

And even with your mouth closed I could see teeth.

That was sobering.

So while we waited for the next couple of hours I had to keep you calm (a scared little boy, clearly in a lot of pain), maintain a grip on my own emotions, and keeping your mother updated without scaring her. Your mom kept asking if she should leave work and come to the emergency room. And I said that there was no point, there was nothing she could do to make the situation go quicker. But honestly I was just worried that her being there in a heightened emotional state would freak you out and I didn’t want to make things any harder on you.

Later, after it was determined you were going to need stitches, your mom kept sending me texts insisting that I tell the doctor that plastics do your stiches and not the ‘butcher on call’.

There’s no more inspiring sight in the world then me holding up my cell phone and weakly telling the doctor ‘my wife says…’.

Thankfully, plastics ended up doing the stiches anyway, so it all worked out.

They made me leave the room while the did the stiches though. That was the worst part of the whole event. 

From when I picked you up at school to when they put the stiches in, I was beside you the whole time. I held your hand, cuddled you on my lap, and tried to distract you with my phone or an interesting story. But in doing all that, I was distracting myself as well.

Sitting in the emergency room all by myself, that’s when everything flooded over me. The guilt, the over protectedness, the love, and the fear. I have a very sharp mental image of an IV needled in your arm. How small your arm looked, and how big the IV needled seemed in comparison.

How could this have happened? How could the school have been so negligent? Why wasn’t someone watching you?

When they let me back in after the surgery you were a space case from the drugs they used to put you under. You were dopey and not very responsive. A little confused. You’d look around the room and weren’t able to focus on anything for more then a couple of seconds. It was disconcerting to see the ‘you-ness’ of you disappear and be replaced by this groggy stranger.

There’s not much else to say about it. I took you home. Your mother gushed over you. A week later you took some…questionable….school photos and that’s about it. You’ve never been shy or self-conscious of your scar. In the weeks after it happened I didn’t even hear you complain once that it hurt. In fact we had to try and make sure you didn’t smile (you smile an awful lot) because we didn’t want to rip the stitches.

But that was last year. What’s new THIS year?

Let’s see. A couple weeks ago you were the ring bearer at your cousin’s wedding. In your suspenders and bow tie you charmed just about everyone at the wedding, including your cousin Ayla who was most distraught when you stopped dancing with her in order to climb a tree and run around the olive mill.

You started hockey. I’m not sure how this one is going to pan out yet. You’re very much like your old man was at the same age. When I didn’t want to do something, I didn’t refuse to do it, I just did a bad job of it. That way no one could force me to do something I didn’t want to.

I haven’t decided if that’s your approach to hockey yet. Its new to you. And challenging. For an hour’s game or practice you’re mostly good for about 45 minutes and then your enthusiasm plummets. You have to go pee, you’ll invent a phantom pain, or you’ll just skate over to me and tell me you’re done.

But last week you skated using two legs for the first time ever and I was so excited just watching you do that. I used to take you to family skate for hours trying to get you to skate with two legs. But you doggedly insisted on planting your right leg and only pushing with your left. No matter what I did.
I’m trying to help you get over that initial hump of dealing with something that’s new. Your sister had similar growing pains with hockey at this age. Your mom and I would run back and forth across the rink, trying to encourage her to stick with her drills. While all she would do is send us dirty looks and glower angrily.

But we’ll see the season out. Every time you touch the ice you’re improving. And who knows how you’ll do by the end of the year? And if you don’t want to go back? That’s okay too.

Your big passion is art. Its only October and your teacher has sent us lots of pictures of your drawings.

You like doing school work, which is also a pleasant surprise. When I restrict your screen time you’re quite happy to work on school based learning like IXL or Sum Dog. You’ve got your letters and numbers down pat and you’ve grudgingly acknowledge that you know a couple words.

(I STRONGLY suspect that you can read a LOT of words, but don’t want to tell anybody because then you’ll be asked to learn even more words…and that’s just to much work Dad, come on.)

You’re a sweet kid, with a much gentler disposition then your sister. Although, as you get older and your personality develops I can see the steel that lurks underneath. You’ll do what you want to do on your time, thank you very much, and would you please get off my back?

You’re also a tall kid and you’re going to be a tall adult. Like, maybe me tall. And if that’s the case I just want to apologize in advance. You’ve got some painful growing pains coming your way and hand\eye coordination will be absolutely non-existent for awhile.

You’re going through a Transformers\Power Rangers\Mario Brothers\Lego phase at the moment and are currently drowning in all the toys you’ve been given as gifts from your birthday.

Anyway, that’s it for me. I’m very aware that you and your sister are getting older. And sometimes I’ll see you playing independently or watching TV and my heart will absolutely ache at the sight of you, because that’s just how much I love you.

I’m trying to be HERE, be present in the moment. To put aside my electronics and press pause on my own problems. Because we’re only going to have one chance to do this and I’m worried that in the hustle and bustle of school and sports and sticking to a schedule that I’m going to miss something important in your life and fail to recognize how rare this time really is.

So let’s keep this party going, shall we? Let's enjoy it while we can

Friday, September 21, 2018

Sporting life

You should see her move.

She plays soccer like has an invisible rubber band tethered to the ball and the other tied around her foot. With a sharp kick she sets its free, sending it careening down the field. But suddenly it’s on her toes again and she’s weaving in and out of defenders who lash out in an attempt to knock her off the ball.

And, unbelievably, this is my kid.

I’ve never been athletically gifted. In high school I ended up playing more sports then I should have because I was freakishly tall.

I made the basketball team despite my inability on the court to do…well anything. The thinking was that occasionally our all-star center would need a break and that I’d be a good replacement, because the law of averages would dictate that once or twice an errant ball would clang off the backboard and careen into my hands.

When I played soccer for a couple years as a kid the coaches learned pretty fast to stick me in net, where I was likely to cause the least amount of damage.

I was as uninterested in soccer as I was unskilled, and for years family members dined out on stories of me wool gathering in the net while the play carried on around me.

Sports weren’t my thing.

But my daughter? Oh man. You should see her mooooove.

When my wife and I first started talking about signing her up for extracurriculars I suggested we do a team sport, conveniently forgetting the lackluster performances from my own youth.

Unfortunately, in the beginning, she took after me. A lot.

While other kids joyfully waddled around like a penguin, learning to tap the ball from foot to foot, she would walk sullenly around the field, barely nudging the ball forward with her toe.

Disdaining to even be on the field with it.

“You can do it sweetie,” my wife shouted encouragingly. Then to me she would add softly, “Maybe we should think about something else.”

“Let’s just stick with it for a bit,” I replied, avoiding the withering gaze directed my way from the pitch. “No kid enjoys learning something for the first time.”

Every practice was an ordeal, a mixture of bribery, pleading, and strong arming just to get her into the car. We were horrible parents. We were awful parents. Didn’t we understand that she didn’t want to do this?

But the next summer we dutifully signed her up for soccer again. It was important to see this through, we told each other. It was important to give the thing a serious try before we made up our minds to abandon it.

Only this time around it was about more than just learning the basics of the sport. It was about playing games.

And it was like someone had flipped a switch in her head.

This was a competition. She thrived on competition.

Suddenly the sullen little girl who had to be coerced and bribed to put on her shin pads every week was replaced by a plucky little fighter dutifully firing the soccer ball into the back of the pop up net.
It was amazing to watch and it was as far from own experience with the sport as it was possible to get.

Soccer night instantly became my favourite night of the week. My heart would catch in my chest every time she touched the ball and then leap into my throat whenever she shot it on the net.

There was a connection there that was absolutely foreign to me. An easy grace that I’d never have come close to matching at any point in my own childhood.

My dad came to watch her play one day.

“I wonder where she gets it from,” he said, looking pointedly at me. “It certainly can’t be genetic.”

 (I’m not going to lie, I get a chill every time a parent from the other team groans when she touches the ball.)

“Oh great, the blond one has it again!”

At the start of every season I’d wait for the other kids to catch up. For my daughter to lose her advantage as the law of averages has its say.

And it hasn’t happened yet. 

I’ve never had dreams of sporting glory. Too much work. I’d much rather lose an afternoon to a book or a good movie rather than chase a ball down the field.

But I can’t adequately describe the feeling of satisfaction I get seeing her in motion. In knowing that she’s lucky enough to have found a ‘thing’ that speaks to her, that gives her confidence and helps set her up success down the road.

That composure and self-assurance can be fleeting sensations at any point in your life. And as an adult I can think of occasions, when I was growing up, when a little more confidence would have been a welcome addition to my arsenal.

At times, I’ve struggled with determining where the ‘line’ is. Am I encouraging her to be her best, to find the upper limits of her ability? Or am I pushing too hard?

Doing something well can be its own form of gratification, but how do you teach a child the value of practice and dedication, of developing your skill without ruining it in the process?

When does the pursuit of getting better at the ‘thing’ come at the expense of your enjoyment of it?


When I know the answer, I’ll tell you.

Right now, I’m just happy to watch her play. To help her see just how high up that mountain she can climb. And if one day she turns to me and says “Daddy, I don’t want to play soccer anymore,” well then that’s okay.

Because she’s given it more than a fair shake. She’s take every last ounce of joy she can get from the sport and then some. And if it ever stops being fun for her, well, then it stops being fun for me too.

Watching someone else exercise their talent, being their truest self, well, that’s a gift all on its own.

You should see her move.

Monday, January 11, 2016

An open letter to my daughter on the occasion of her six birthday

Hello Roo.

Six years old. Wow. I've been working on a project for you (that won't be ready in time for your birthday unfortunately) that's had me poking about in the family photos.

It's a cliché that kids grow up so fast, but its one rooted in truth. Looking at those old pictures the sleepless nights and the arguments over meals seem a little more hazy. I find it hard to care so much about all the little aggravations of parenting that creep up on you and instead I find myself amazed at the person you're becoming.

Its great to see how much you love school. You can't wait to get out of bed and go and see your friends every day. And its a perpetual battle between Mommy and yourself, on the days where she picks you up from school, to stay and play a little a longer.

But I honestly think you love learning almost as much. Every night you can't wait to read another book and fill in another line in your agenda. More than once I've found you with a stack of books, diligently reading them and then painstakingly entering them into your agenda. You even went as far as copying Mommy and Daddy's signature in the process. If your future as a lawyer\brain surgeon\captain of industry doesn't pan out you'll have a bang up back up career as a master forger.

My favourite part of the week though is watching you play hockey. You might not remember but you used to HATE anything to do with hockey or skating. I used to have to use every tool in my bag to get you to do another lap around the ice with me during family skate. I'd bribe you, try to trick you, or even threaten to without something (usually TV) if you didn't do another lap with me. And skating drills at hockey school? Forget it. You'd sooner do just about anything else if it meant you could miss out on those. Instead you'd trudge wearily up and down the ice, using your body language to let everybody know just how much you hated all of this.

But play a few games though and everything changed practically over night. Now I couldn't drag you off the ice at family skate for anything. You even like doing EXTRA drills at your optional skills practice. Its clear you've got a competitive spirit, which I'd like to take credit for but you know your mother so I think at best its a 50\50 split. I've watched you chase after a puck or dig at in the corners against girls a foot taller than you. You're the only 5 year old on your team but watching you work you'd never be able to tell.

You're even a better skater than me. I might be able to keep up with you in terms of pure speed. But I don't have your control or your skill, especially when it comes to skating backwards.

Watching you stride up and down the rink during a game fills my heart with joy. Because you don't look like a little girl trying to play hockey, you have the look and profile of a hockey player doing something she loves.  It may have been three years of seemingly unending sacrifice from Mommy and I, but I'm glad we did it.

We've also had some down moments this year. Your Nanna died in May. I miss her every day. More than anything else Nanna loved being a grandmother. She loved spending time with all her grandchildren, reading to them, playing with them, teaching them. Whenever Nanna and Grampa came to visit Nanna would be toting some game or activity for you to do.

I'm sad that she'll miss out on all the wonderful experiences that you have to look forward to. Every time you accomplish something, like winning the principal's award this year for empathy, I want to call her up and tell her all about it.  (Conversely, when I'm struggling with some new parenting challenge I want to do the exact same thing).

Nanna loved you very much. I can only hope that I'm able to pass on to you some of the many things that she was able to teach me.

What else? You learnt to ride your bike without training wheels! (Very exciting) And then promptly forgot a day later. So we had to work up to that again.

You graduated in swimming from Ultra 4 to Ultra 5. Just like in hockey, you're the smallest and youngest in the group but you refuse to let that hold you back.

We did indoor Sky Diving as a family. You had a permanent grin stapled to your face as the instructor guided you around the room.

I took you to your first ever Comic Convention. You got a drawing of She-ra and carried it around with you all day.

AND Mommy and Daddy took you out of school for the day to see the new Star Wars movie. You were more cautious than excited, but maybe when you're older you'll be able to look back on it as a once in a life time opportunity.

Its been a very crazy year for all of us. Lots of ups and downs. But I look at you, and I see the fierce little warrior who won't back down for anything or anyone and I'm proud. Because you are going to end up being one of those rare people who makes life bow to your will, and not the other way around. Although, having said that, it wouldn't kill you to maybe bend on some things ONCE in awhile. Seriously, having a disagreement with you requires a carefully planned pre argument strategy and some serious thinking. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A letter to my son on the occasion of his first birthday

Hello Jojo. (Or Joey, or Nate Bate, or any one of a dozen nicknames given to you by a sister who can’t keep her hands off you)

I never thought I’d have a son. Given the high number of girls that run through both sides of the family I thought for sure when we decided to find out your gender in advance of your birth the answer was going to be ‘it’s a girl of course’.

Your mother and I had to take a moment to recover our wits when the ultrasound tech told us it was a boy. (Your mom had gotten the ultrasound first while I was in the waiting room and apparently a wandering tech from another room had popped their head in, looked at the screen and pronounced you a girl before wandering off to give more misleading advice to other excited parents. So when I finally joined your mother to watch the end of the ultrasound she was fully prepared to for the declaration of girl and was just as gobsmacked as I was when the word was given)

It didn’t take very long for the differences between you and your sister to become apparent. Whereas Roo was always pushing herself, always upset at her perceived limitations (why can’t I walk yet!?) you have a much more relaxed attitude about life. Roo was up and running around the house by eleven months, always reaching into shelves and pulling things onto the floor before moving on to the next target and gleefully continuing her reign of terror.

You’re going to have to forgive me if I make a few comparisons with your sister in a letter that’s meant for you. It’s just that Roo is the only basis of comparison I have for anything related to child rearing and I’m constantly surprised at how different your two personalities are.

I’d have thought that given identical parental origins and a similar upbringing that, at this young age at least, the differences between your two personalities would be akin to variations on a theme, instead I find that you two are playing completely different songs and sometimes my mind threatens to melt into a puddle of goo reconciling the two melodies.

Whereas Roo fought me on everything I find you much more laid back. I can put you down in a pile of sweaters or with a single toy or even a pair of my sunglasses and you’ll run your fingers over it, feeling and prodding it for what seems like forever - before inevitable shoving it in your mouth. Which is great because that means I can stick you in one spot and then run around frantically, usually cleaning or trying to get everyone ready to go outside.

I’ve come to the conclusion that everything below knee level in the house tastes delicious. That is the only reason I can come up with for your unstoppable predilection to shoving even the most foul tasting object into your maw. Shoes and dirty clothes are like teethers to you. We’ve had to become extra vigilant when insuring that the lid to the toilet seat is down because you apparently look at toilets as your personal tasting bowl and your sister is still learning to remember to flush.

(I’ve washed your mouth out with soap because of that unfortunate experience twice now and both times you sat there and grinned at me with barely contained delight even though soap bubbles were cascading over your lips.)

Smiling. Good God, but do you like to smile. Big soppy grins when I walk through the door after work, or when I’ve caught you doing something that maybe you shouldn’t be. Shrieks of laughter when I toss you into the air, endless giggles as you crawl across the floor in pursuit of the cat or fleeing the ‘tender’ embrace of your sister. You only have a dozen teeth but every time you smile I can count each and every one of them because that grin of yours is so big you could get lost in it.

Sleep. Again. So different than your sister. Roo would fight sleep, cry for hours on end. Refuse to lie down unless someone was in the room with her, holding her hands between the bars of the crib. You, on the other hand, finish your bottle with a burp, grab hold of your stuffed Gator, roll over onto your stomach and I’m pretty sure you’re asleep before I leave the room. Now you balance that out by sometimes waking up at 2am and screaming bloody murder for two hours, but that seems to be tapering off these days. Thankfully.

Cars and strollers. Again, you’re like The Dude of the Wheels. We can make a three hour trip to the cottage and you’ll stay awake the whole time. Blissfully taking the scenery in. The first time we did the trip I kept waiting for you to throw a rod and start screaming - but it never happened.  Your sister would protest even the shortest car ride or walk where she was strapped into a car seat or stroller, but as long as you’ve got a toy to play with you couldn’t care less.

I used to say you were obsessed with sports. Whenever I flipped the TV on you seemed to gravitate towards anything hockey or baseball related. Although now I’m pretty sure you’re just following the colours and motions. But I’m not ready to pack away the theory just yet. I’ve seen the way you hone in on your sister’s hockey stick or how any ball instantly becomes your favorite toy.

Having even one child can feel like an insurmountable challenge. Having two (or more) adds a degree of difficulty that even parenting veterans probably aren’t prepared for.

But I am fully aware of how lucky I am that a sweet and happy little fellow like yourself is making my job that much easier.